Best FREE tabletop rpg?
June 8, 2014 5:25 AM   Subscribe

Looking for the best freebie pen and paper rpgs.

So some buddies and I thought it would be fun to play around with some tabletop rpgs on the weekends. They play Warhammer and I am an AD&D 2nd edition/Shadowrun player from, god, almost two decades ago now. Point is I'm pretty out of the loop. What are some of the best cc/free rpgs going at the moment? Sci fi or fantasy would probably be easiest to dm, for me (since I'll be running it), though a horror setting could be neat too. Your recommendations please!
posted by turbid dahlia to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Pathfinder? It's basically a D&D successor. You can buy books in paper or PDF if you like having them, but the full rules are online:

reference docs.
posted by yarntheory at 5:46 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

Lady Blackbird.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:10 AM on June 8, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the idea of FATE. Very rules light and free form, could be adapted to whatever setting. (Maybe too light, I've not actually played it yet.)

Look around a bit on the site and you'll see free download links (presently under Resources).
posted by mattu at 6:33 AM on June 8, 2014

My group pretty much exclusively uses the One Roll Engine. Links to PDFs with rules are in the Exeternal Links section of that wikipedia page.
posted by BeerFilter at 6:35 AM on June 8, 2014

* Eclipse Phase is THE free RPG success story right now, and I highly recommend it. Sci-fi post-apocalyptic transhuman conspiracy and horror that will rock your socks off. Also, they offer a great quickstart to get you up and running.

* C J Carella's Witchcraft - If you're looking for modern horror and urban fantasy for free, you need look no further than Witchcraft. Playing out like Buffy and Supernatural, Witchcraft uses an easy system - Unisystem, that allows for a lot of variety in your game.

* D6 System - Bundling 3 settings for one great price of nothing, the D6 System is a simple and effective ruleset used in games such as Xena and Star Wars. For diddly squat you get Adventure, Space and Fantasy. You can't ask for much more than that.

* Barbarians of Lemuria - This game rocks all kinds of socks. BoL is set in a low fantasy, sword and sorcery world and contains some amazing streamlined rules. My favourite part is the freeform magic system, which allows the player to pretty much do whatever they like with their magical powers. Great free game.

* Four Colour System - Ah, the golden age of comic books, when heroes were heroes and villains were nasty but loveable. 4C has a great set of rules to run a supers game for free!

* Mutant Future - Gamma World gets the old school re-skinning treatment with Mutant Future, a madcap post-apocalyptic RPG where you can play as a plant. Oh hells yes.

You like AD&D, you say? Check below out:

* Labyrinth Lord - Labyrinth Lord is a wonderful re-imagining of the Dungeons and Dragons B/X rulesets. As long as you don't mind text-only.

* Swords and Wizardry - This is one of my all time favourite games. Swords and Wizardry is a great free roleplaying game that emulates the original D&D edition. This is pure old school mayhem and it doesn't get much better than this.

* OSRIC - Here's a cleaned up ruleset based on 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Worth a play if you feel like harkening back to the glory days of roleplaying for free.

There's also a metric assload of free RPG Quickstart sets out there. Quickstarts give you streamlined rules, pregenerated characters, and everything you need to try the game on for size. I especially recommend Savage Worlds' Quickstart and the above Eclipse Phase QS.

Have fun!
posted by magstheaxe at 6:46 AM on June 8, 2014 [7 favorites]

How could I forget? Bill Coffin's Septimus. This was the last product from West End Games, released for free when they went belly-up a few years ago.

Also, you can get Ars Magica 4th edition for free from the publisher.
posted by magstheaxe at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2014

Just to chip in on the above:

* Pathfinder is D&D in all but minor details. It's a big sprawling traditional RPG. Character classes, levels, THACO, all very familiar. You may find that good or bad.

* Fate is very cool and clever, good on the storytelling and larger than life exploits, but it's a generic system and you're going to need a setting / sourcebook for your given genre. That will probably need to be purchased.

* Savage Worlds is another generic system, a popular one. Here, you may also have to pay for an appropriate world book / setting.

* I've always felt that D6 deserved more love. It's slightly coarsely grained but good for those larger-than-life settings.

* Eclipse Phase is a great, interesting setting. Less sure about the rules, but the key decision will probably be whether you're interested in the gritty, posthuman, post-singularity genre.
posted by outlier at 7:18 AM on June 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

Went to run a few errands, and then remembered:

* Cascade Failure - a sci-fi game is set after an intergalactic apocalypse wipes out most of society. A very well-designed game and a great change of pace to the traditional sci-fi setting.
posted by magstheaxe at 12:37 PM on June 8, 2014

Dungeon World. Dungeon World, dungeon world.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:16 PM on June 8, 2014

MagsTheAx recommended Eclipse Phase; the good folks at Bundle of Holding are putting together some of the PDFs at a special price in a few minutes right here.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 12:25 PM on June 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Thanks very much everybody. All of these look really good, and will be fun reads regardless (I love reading RPG rulebooks), but I reckon Swords & Wizardry will be the best starting point for our little group at this exact moment. Thanks again, happy gaming!
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:15 PM on June 9, 2014

I'm going to add a few more, because I love tabletop RPGs, and you might decide to come back to this thread to check out other games:

* JAGS (Just Another Game System). Winner, Best Free Game Indie Awards 2006

* RISUS - another compact universal RPG. I myself have not played it, but I knowa few fans of simple-and-fast systems who love it.

* You may not be aware that some years ago, Steve Jackson Games released a version of GURPS called GURPS Lite. GURPS List is a 32-page distillation of the basic GURPS rules. It covers the basics of character creation, combat, success rolls, adventuring, and game mastering for GURPS Fourth Edition. GURPS Lite was geared to help introduce new players to GURPS without scaring the pee out of them with the full GURPS Basic Set and the mountain of source books in the GURPS line.

* In a similar vein, Chaosium (the good folks who frightened the shit out of you with Call of Cthuhlu) has released the Basic RolePlaying QuickStart. It's simple and straight forward, with its famously intuitive percentile skill system. Speaking of CoC, you can get the QS for the 7th edition here.

* Much like Swords & Wizardry, Heroes Against Darkness is rooted in Dungeons & Dragons. Unlike with S&W it pools from all of the various editions of D&D to create something new that feels familiar.

* Remember Aaron Allston's fantastic D&D Rules Cyclopedia? Dark Dungeons is inspired by the D&D rules in that book. Like the "cyclopedia" version, DD is a complete game in one volume allowing characters to advance through 36 levels and then try to become an immortal. Unlike most retro-clones, DD includes rules for high level characters with strongholds, mass combat, other planes, immortals (i.e. "deities"), and even includes rules for fantasy space travel.

* Dungeonslayers is a game designed for traditional, straight-up dungeon plundering and monster battling, but with a system based on modern design sensibilities.

* Tunnels and Trolls Free Rulebook - This is a combined abridged rule set, solo adventure (to get a feel for the mechanics) and GM adventure for you to run for your victims (read: players). It's fully playable, and good enough for running through many of the commercial solo adventures for the game. Simple, fast, fun.

* Warrior, Rogue & Mage - another simple, lightweight fantasy-themed roleplaying game. It's a very easy game to learn and play and it features a starter adventure and some great advice for for first-time Guides (Game Masters). WR&M is also available as Resolute, Adventurer & Genius (a version of the game set in an Indiana Jones-esque world of pulp adventure); Wyred (a cyberpunk version of the game that would do William Gibson proud); and Main Sequence (a space opera take that should make any planet-hopping gamer happy).

* 13th Age (designed by none other than Jonathan Tweet and Rob Hinsoo) was one of the most anticipated RPGs of the last couple of years - essentially a d20 game fused with the kind of story-oriented mechanics usually associated with Dungeon World or Fate Core, only with the excess number-crunching trimmed away. The SRD for it is available for free.

* Stars Without Number - a fantastic example of the creativity of the Old School Renaissance. Takes the older D&D rules as developed by Tom Moldvay and Frank Mentzer, and adapts them to space adventure! Think classic Traveller meets D&D, and the awesomeness that can result. :) Please note that the supplements for this game are not free.

* Spirit of the Century, a pulp game based on the FATE system (PDF version here), which is in turn based on FUDGE.

* Marcus Rowland offered his game Forgotten Futures free for years online. It was steampunk before anyone was using that phrase. I'm not a fan of the PDF layout, and I think their Skills section requires far too much math...but it is free, and its setting is amazing.

* Atomic Highway - cinematic post-apocalyptic Mad Max style roleplaying!

* This game isn't technically free, but Always/Never/Now is available using the Pay-What-You-Want model from It's a complete, stand-alone RPG adventure with pre-generated characters set in a high-action cyberpunk future. When you buy, you get the Player File and Scenario File in one archive.

* As a general recommendation, you can search DriveThruRPG's Free and Pay-What-You-Want categories for RPGs. Take a little work to sort find the diamonds in the gravel, but it's always wonderful to find them when you do.

Happy reading! :)
posted by magstheaxe at 10:44 AM on June 10, 2014

Hey TD, one valuable resource I've found for free tabletop RPGs is 1km1kt (stands for "1000 monkeys, 1000 typewriters"). People post all kinds of lunatic shit to this site. There's a lot of noise, but also some gems to be found (po-mo stuff like Stalin's Story, feather-lite rules like Dungeon Squad, not to mention batshit concepts like Appliance Adventures).

One interesting title that caught my eye a few years back was Dogtown. This is basically the RPG of street crime in the NYC of the 70's. The rules are a bit complex for my tastes; I like my RPG rules on the light side (Over The Edge remains my favorite system after all these years...but alas, it is not free). But the background material and plot hooks are fantastic. This game used to be commercial, but the author/publisher wasn't making money so it's now freely available.
posted by Edgewise at 9:53 PM on June 10, 2014

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