I'm looking for a way to get a hold of the manuals and handbooks for D&D 4th edition, but I don't have any money; and I don't know any sites that will let you download them for free legally. Does anyone have any advice on how I can legally and inexpensively get a hold of them?

Note: Answers to this question shouldn't advise or advocate illegal methods of obtaining these books.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Other than get a job. I have one but all my money gose into bills \$\endgroup\$
    – Lee Bell
    Jan 1, 2018 at 20:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is asking for a place to obtain non-free rulebooks for free, which goes against the Terms and Conditions of StackExchange. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I chose to read this as ignorance rather than a request for illegal goods and have answered accordingly, giving some legal options and an admonition against piracy. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 20:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ThomasJacobs That's not true. It's only against ToS if it's illegal, which this question is clearly not asking about. For example, the text of the official version of the Bible for the Catholic Church is copyrighted and not freely available in a legal sense, but can generally be obtained for free in physical format by asking at any church, and can be accessed online for free for some personal uses (like reading it). Assuming a product can only be obtained for free by stealing it is silly. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 21:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've updated the question to clearly request a legal method & added a reminder not to advocate piracy. I've also updated the question to request these inexpensively as opposed to free -- inexpensive covers free, but also covers paying, say, just $10 if that applies. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 22:50

3 Answers 3


The page that used to house the System Reference Document for 4e is still online freely. You can look at the links from that site and search for them on the Internet Archive. For example, Feb 27, 2009 version of the SRD is available at this link.

It is worth noting that the SRD is not enough to play the game; it only lists what WotC material was made available for 3rd party developers to build on. However, you should be able to find such 3rd party materials on the web, such as 4e retro-clones.

There are indeed several 4e retro-clones.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That System Reference Document link (on the page you linked to) actually gives me a 404, making it weirdly not so freely available... I wonder if it moved elsewhere? \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 20:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Does this link here work for you? It's that link on that page which is broken for me, and which ought to contain the SRD. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik "Sloppy" maybe... but they also did wantonly destroy an awful lot of D&D 4e information when 5e was released, so it might not have been entirely just negligence. :( \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 21:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Isn't 2.2MB tiny? If I remember correctly the 4e SRD did not really contain enough information to get a proper game going. \$\endgroup\$
    – ZwiQ
    Jan 1, 2018 at 23:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ "The System Reference Document (SRD) is a reference document detailing Terms, Tables and Templates that are available for license under the GSL. The SRD is an appendix to the GSL." Not the same thing as the SRD as presented for 3rd or 5th, apparently. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2018 at 2:24

There are very few options available to you. You can try your public library or ask them to perform an interlibrary loan if they do not have them available. Ultimately, this is a temporary solution, since they are by definition time-limited. Also, some libraries charge a small fee for an ILL.

Beyond that, see if you have any friends from whom you can borrow copies.

Unfortunately, though the game is out of print, it is still protected by copyright laws, and has intrinsic value. You are unlikely to find anything free. Any site you found which had them available free of charge would almost certainly be a pirate site, and illegal.

If you do have some money available, but not much, you could try eBay, secondhand bookshops and similar solutions, but rpg.stackexchange does not answer shopping questions, and you would be on your own for such a search. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Oddly, "How do I buy X thing it's hard to buy" is a totally okay question here. "What thing to buy?" is what's meant by shopping questions. It's confusing, admittedly. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 1, 2018 at 21:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I thought that also included "where can I buy?" \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2018 at 1:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ It does, but not "how can I buy". Basically if the answer the question is looking for is 'best buy' or 'walmart' or 'target' or whatever, it'd be a shopping question, but if the answer it's looking for is 'a brick and mortar store is your best bet' then that's not a shopping/recommendation question anymore. 'Shopping questions' and 'recommendation questions' mean the same thing; I find it easier to think in terms of the later. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2018 at 6:09

Ask Around!

I have found that RPG literature (handbooks, campaign guides, magazines, etc) has a way of accumulating quickly and subsequently getting stashed as people change interests. It's often pretty easy to get things by simply asking around your personal circles.

I stressed about trying to get books one-by-one as gifts when I first started playing. I mentioned to a family member that I was DM'ing for some friends and he retrieved a large box from his attic with the entire 2nd Edition series of books and stacks of campaigns/content!

This happened for me repeatedly. One of my mother's coworkers married a judge, who happened to have all of the Forgotten Realms campaign settings in his garage. One of my own coworkers was throwing away his "Dungeon" magazines and started passing them to me instead. A customer at work brought me his old dice bag, full of cool d20s he'd collected in college.

In turn, I've passed most of my collection on to others in the local gaming scene. Most of my friends have similar experiences - I know very few people who bought much new from retail outlets. Your best bet may just be mentioning D&D to everyone you meet and seeing what shakes out. :)

Shop local!

D&D is a recognizable brand and their books command a "collectible" premium (read: $$$). Most chain stores are wise to this - our local 2nd & Charles always has used D&D gear at a slightly-less-than-retail price. Even chain thrift stores like Goodwill will keep this stuff in glass cases for substantially more than they charge for most books.

On the other hand, fewer people who have moved on from gaming have kept track of collectible value. Sites like craigslist are great places to throw inquiries about free/cheap guides and local thrift stores or secondhand shops may have a good selection that they're not marking up too much.

Local stores might have gaming groups or meetups as well - these folks likely won't give anything away, but if you'd just like some quick inspiration or need some reference, you might be able to borrow someone else's books for a while. This is a bit of shared point with "Ask Around", I guess!

  • \$\begingroup\$ I was writing this answer, but now I think I'll bounty yours instead ;) Got all the original Traveller books that way. Gotta wait 48 hours to bounty, though. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 2, 2018 at 6:12

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