14 March 2022

Free Roleplaying Games

A wallet, being held open to show that it is empty.

I have been engaged in a debate on social media about whether it's acceptable to refuse to try any roleplaying game that isn't Dungeons & Dragons. One of the arguments that I keep hearing people make is 'I'm poor, and roleplaying games are expensive.'

This is a valid point, but I have a solution.

Ok, I have a solution and a comment. First, the comment: Hasbro has worked very hard to make people believe that you have to have every book in order to play (and more to the point, that each player needs a copy of the Player's Handbook, at the very least) in order to take full advantage of Dungeons & Dragons. That is very much not true. Most games work just fine if all you have is a single copy of the core rules. Supplements are optional, and in some circumstances, it's annoying to share a single rulebook (I remember trying to level up a character in D&D 3.5 when sharing a single copy of the Player's Handbook, and it was a challenge to say the least), but many games don't require the rulebook as much when advancing characters.

But now, on to the solution. There are a ton of free roleplaying games out there. Let's talk about some of them.

To start, there are plenty of 'Pay What You Want' titles available. If you go over to DriveThru RPG and click on the Pay What You Want filter, it will bring up a lengthy list of products, from core rules to a staggering array of supplements, for which you can pay whatever price you like, even if that price is $0!

Technically, Fate is offered as a Pay What You Want title, although the publishers encourage you to try it out for free, and come back later and pay something if you decide you like it.

But there are a number of titles on that site that are completely free! So I thought I'd compile a short list of some core rulebooks that are free on DriveThru RPG, sorted by genre. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it should serve as a good starting point.

Fantasy

  • Ironsworn by Shawn Tomkin - Set in the dark fantasy setting of Ironlands, you are a warrior who has sworn to quest through untamed wilds, develop relations with isolated communities, and learn the secrets of the harsh world.
  • Polyhedral Dungeon by InfiniBadger Press - An ultralight rules set that allows you to play in the classic style of fantasy roleplay with a minimum of preparation.
  • Blood Red Blossoms from Rooster Games - Players take on the role of Red Hats, pilgrims who have vowed to wander the rural areas of Japan in the Age of Warring States defending the people from both mundane and supernatural threats.
  • Malifaux by Wyrd Miniatures - Set in an alternate Earth that mixes elements of gothic, steampunk, Victorian, and wild west populated by monsters, necropunks, and gunslingers.
  • For Gold & Glory by God Emperor Games - A complete game of exploring dungeons, building kingdoms, or saving the world.

Historical

  • Magnomia by Shewstone Publishing - Take on the role of a Renaissance wizard. The magic in this game is based on authentic sixteenth century folklore.
  • Chained Mosaic: Noir by Mundos Infinitos - A 'film noir meets the supernatural' game, including a module describing the version of Buenos Aires from the game world.
  • Legio by Qwein - This game is set in ancient Rome, and includes rules for playing as purely historical or as fantasy by adding monsters and magic.
  • Thrilling Adventures: Cards of Destiny by tolleSpiele Games - a pulp adventure game that uses cards instead of a rulebook. Everything you need to play is in the print-and-play cards that you get for free!

Science Fiction

  • Icar by Rob Lang Games - A space opera game set in a distant future in which humans must fight against a race of killer robots that they created.
  • Atomic Highway by Gallant Knight Games - a Mad Max style post-apocalyptic game.
  • Cephus Light: Upgraded by Stellagama Publishing - A space opera setting of exploring alien worlds and encountering all sorts of extraterrestrial wonders.
  • Fleshscape by Rooster Games - A strange post-apocalyptic setting in which the earth itself is made of flesh and bone and sinew, and characters are the leaders of nomad tribes wandering the lands... flesh? ...in search of resources, knowledge, or refuge.
  • Stars Without Number by Sine Nomine Publishing - In the year 3200, centuries after the fall of the empire cut off interstellar travel, humans have finally rediscovered the technology to depart their planets and are once again exploring the stars.

Modern

  • White Lies by DwD Studios - This game is intended to let you play games of modern espionage and paramilitary adventure.
  • Dog Town by Cold Blooded Games - A game of New York City crime lords, inspired by films like Donnie Brasco, Goodfellas, and Carlito's Way.

Universal

  • Tri-Stat dX by White Wolf (originally by Guardians of Order) - A simple universal system that lets you scale the power level of your game by choosing what type of dice to use for task resolution; the larger the dice, the more powerful the characters!
  • Those Who Play by WhisperingWizard - An easy-to-learn game that focuses on player freedom.
  • Krendel by Grayscale Games - A modular game that blends tactical simulation with co-operative narration.
  • Forge Engine by Hero Forge Games - This system focuses on fast, streamlined tactical play with endless customization opportunities.
  • x6 by George Chatzipetros - a quick and easy game engine designed to be fast to learn and flexible.

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