Does anyone know any simple tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons available for free? I just want to try out this type of game with my friends to see whether it's worth spending time/money on.
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There are thousands of role-playing games in many genres, and hundreds (at least) of free ones. So in general, there's lists like the Free RPG Blog that catalog them all. Fantasy, science fiction, cyberpunk, horror, superheroes, artsy stuff, etc.
If you specifically want something like Dungeons & Dragons, the successor to D&D Third Edition, called Pathfinder, has its rules free online. There are also "clones" of entire old editions of D&D available online; here's a list of retroclones - OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord, and Swords & Wizardry are all pretty popular.
For the latest edition of D&D, Fourth Edition, there are some quickstart rules and a free adventure to try on the Wizards Web site.
There are LOTS of free RPG's.
There are several ways to find them.
Finding them, however, is getting tricky. The key is to search for the term "Quickstart"... and see if one shows you the genre you want.
Some games I'll Recommend
D&D Clones - these games are actually old D&D rules restated (avoiding the copyright issue). In my order of preference:
- Dark Dungeons - This is the same rules as my favorite D&D edition. It's simple, and the book is VERY complete, well written, and free in PDF. If you like it, you can also buy a commercially printed version.
- Labyrinth Lord - D&D clone intended for beginners. Free version has no artwork inside, but the game is very playable.
- Basic Fantasy - Good set of beginning rules.
- Swords and Wizardry - 1st edition D&D mechanics presented in a clear and readable format. Not a modern game design, but still very workable.
D6 System - Excellent game system, with several core rulebooks in the bundle. All were once commercial releases,now free because the owner decided he had a case of real life interfering with supporting them right. D6 Fantasy is suitable for D&D like play, but is mechanically not compatible with D&D modules. The system is simple, easy to learn, and readily adapted to a variety of settings.
- d6 Fantasy Core Rules - While this is in the budle above, the supplements are not. It's very D&D like.
- D6 Space This is the same game system that West End used for Star Wars… It's in the bundle above, too… but again, the supplement isn't. All they did was strip out the Star Wars references.
- D6 Space Ships Expanded space craft rules and lots of samples.
- D6 Adventure This is the same system as the others, adapted for "Modern" (19th-21st Century) adventure settings, like Indiana Jones or Dirty Dozen. Also included in the above bundel.
- 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 as: players). It's fully playable, and good enough for running through many of the commercial solo adventures for the game. Simple, fast, fun.
- Danger Patrol - pulp sci-fi action in the same light as Jason of Star Command or the old B&W Saturday Movie Matinee Sci-Fi serials (Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, etc).
Any of the ones I've listed, and many that are not, are good systems. Each is a different style of play. T&T, D6, Basic Fantasy, Dark Dungeons, and Labyrinth Lord also have advice for new players. Danger Patrol doesn't, but has rather clear rules.
If you want something like D&D but free, take a look at Dungeonslayers. It's a game designed for traditional, straight-up dungeon plundering and monster battling, but with a system based on modern design sensibilities. For your first taste of roleplaying it's a good bet, and it's well-supported enough with supplements that you could stick with it for as long as you like.
GURPS Lite is a condensed version of the GURPS basic set.
GURPS is a well-supported RPG with a long history and tons of material an knowledgeable community members out there. It operates on a different paradigm from D&D (any edition) or its imitators. Let me explain:
A class-and-level system is basically the one D&D invented 30+ years ago. Many games, including most computer RPGs, have copied this system. It offers classes, which are like professions, and your character attains new levels as you progress. In essence, the game tells you, "You can be a Fighter, a Wizard, or a Thief, pick one."
A point-buy system like GURPS works differently. Instead of choosing a prefabricated character, you build one. Instead of telling you to pick a type of character from a list, GURPS asks, "What kind of character do you want to play?" You'll spend points to make your character smart, fast, strong, and healthy in varying proportions. You'll spend points to make him familiar with swordplay, or helicopter piloting, or lockpicking. You can decide what skills are important to the character you're making, instead of taking someone else's template.
Another difference is that for d20-based system or a similar system, success at tasks is based on a target number chosen by the Game Master (GM). If you have a lock to pick, the GM has to decide how hard it is and choose a target number. The player rolls a die and hopes that the number on the die plus his skill in picking locks exceeds the target.
In GURPS, most tasks have their difficulty set by the game system itself. If there is a lock to be picked, the GM doesn't have to set a target number - the player rolls 3 regular dice and hopes that their total is less than or equal to his skill in lock picking. This is nice because a new GM has enough to manage without being responsible for deciding how hard every action is, too.
I hope you and your friends find something you like!
You can actually try D&D for free. Wizards of the Coast has sample adventures, premade characters, and quick start rules available. You'll still need some basics, though, like dice, a gridded map, and tokens to use for miniatures.
A relatively recent addition to the crowd, Warrior, Rogue and Mage may be what you want. The core book contains all the data you need to start a Fantasy game right away. And there's already a nice range of supplements in both fluff and crunch categories. All there for your downloading.
I would recommend getting the Basic RolePlaying QuickStart, available here. It's simple and straight forward, with percentile skill systems being quite intuitive for almost anyone.
I've checked out Labyrinth Lord which is a nifty re-make of the original Dungeons and Dragons. I've also played Warrior, Rogue, and Mage which is a decent, and fairly simple game. I'm pretty sure Pathfinder had a free electronic version of their game out somewhere. It's essentially the latest revision of 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons and is quite popular.
You could also try typing in "Free RPG" and setting price to lowest on RPGnow.com or Amazon Kindle and see if something good comes up. You'll probably have to weed out a lot, though. Chris' RPG Compendium and Wikipedia's list of all RPGs might be handy, too.