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 Grey Ghost Games, who also print FUDGE supplements and special FUDGE dice.
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:

John H. Kim <jhkim-at-darkshire-dot-net>
Last modified: Wed May 9 22:21:08 2007