Getting Started with Free RPGs
A frequent complaint I have heard about my list is "There are too
many of them." Now, of course, this is good news in general. However,
it can be very difficult to find what you are looking for. A lot of
the games on the list are incomplete, not well tested, or otherwise
inadequate. However, there are also a number of really good games --
easily the equal of many printed RPGs.
So how can you find them? Well, I simply do not have time to review
even a small fraction of the games on my list, and I feel that a
half-baked attempt would do a disservice to the games that I
overlook. Online games often change and improve over time, so even if
I do a thorough review, it might not be relevant six months later.
However, I have been convinced by requests that I need to give some
sort of recommendations. Thus, below are some of my picks for a few
cool games. This list is deliberately short. It is meant to give a
taste of what is out there. If you like the games on the list I
strongly recommend you bite the bullet and go through some games on
the full list.
The Action! System
by Mark Arsenault, Patrick Sweeney, and Ross Winn
- This is a complete and well-supported universal system,
similar to Fuzion or GURPS, whose version 1.1 is released
under the WotC Open Gaming License. The free version
is 92 pages free rules (PDF or RTF), plus ~60 pages
supplements and variants (RTF format). There is an
extended commercial version (released in print or for
download) with 10 extra pages and added artwork.
Ars Magica, 4th edition
by Jonathan Tweet, Mark Rein*Hagen, Jeff Tidball, and John Nephew
- This is the complete and up-to-date version of the full
commercial RPG, made available for free in PDF form by
Atlas Games. It is set in a mythic version of medieval
Europe, and the PCs are magicians who gather in secret
covenants to learn their Art. It includes a highly in-depth
magic system widely regarded as a classic of design.
272 pages rules and background (PDF).
Forgotten Futures by Marcus L. Rowland
- Keywords: genre scifi fantasy long
- Not technically free, but a great shareware RPG based on
turn-of-the-century science fiction (Rudyard Kipling, Arthur
Conan Doyle, et al.). Download them for free, and pay if
you like them -- which you probably will. Hundreds of pages
in eight collections.
FUDGE by Steffan O'Sullian
- A well-written and long-standing set of freeform rules. The
complete rules are available free as well as in print from
Games, who also print FUDGE supplements and special FUDGE
Fuzion by "The Fuzion Group"
- This is a universal system based on the HERO system and the
Interlock system from R Talsorian Games, available for free
download. 50 pages core rules (PDF).
Puppetland by John Tynes
- Keywords: genre fantasy rules-lite
- ``A storytelling game with strings set in a grim world of
make-believe.'' This is a diceless game set in a bizarre world of
horror where puppets are oppressed by bloodthirsty Punch. There
is a published version from Hogshead Games for cheap ($7 bundled
with another mini-RPG: "Power Kill"). The published version is
about 30% longer than the still-available free version.
~14 pages (HTML or RTF).
There are some people who have been giving more thorough reviews
of free RPGs. I would recommend some of the following:
The Forge - Indie RPGs
This has 109 links as of April '02 plus 11 RPG reviews.
This has dozens of commercial RPG reviews, but there are a number
of free RPGs reviewed as well. Unfortunately, it does not
categorize them separately.
John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Wed May 9 22:21:08 2007