This month the New Year is being kicked of with the RPG Blog Alliance by focusing on how to play RPGs on the cheap. The subject is being hosted by Renaissance Gamer and I have had the opportunity to look at one of the entries. For those of you looking for some free RPG options you can head over to Loot The Room! For my part I want to talk about ways that you can stretch your money and get the most bang for your buck when you are looking to spend a little bit.
Where To Invest
The first thing that someone new to RPGs, or someone looking to pick up a new one, needs to do is choose what game and invest some money into it. The obvious place to start is the core rule book that you need to play the game. The question becomes which game and if you are looking to save money you might be thinking with your wallet. I urge you not to think too much with a price point in mind. If you are a new player, or looking for something especially good to try, I would focus on the big names in RPG publishing. The fact is there are a few of them out there and they are well known and well supported. By picking a big name there is some weight to the games they make, some experience behind them, and some community you can draw from. Don’t get me wrong, you might find a great game for $10 or even for free, but we are looking at spending money in this article and if you are limited on funds that is the place to go.
Now, this doesn’t mean go straight for the eldest of RPGs and buy Dungeons & Dragons. Two reasons I suggest against D&D, despite it being my primary game, is that it isn’t the best bang for your buck. With it you are looking at buying the Player’s Handbook and the Monster Manual at the least. This is not much more expensive than the other options I will provide but the free basic rules will get you really far. Not to mention all the free community stuff you can find. Still, if you are looking for fantasy I wouldn’t tell you not to buy it since all that just supports that investment. The other option for this type of game that I might suggest is Paizo’s Pathfinder. I would suggest this before D&D for those with tight purse strings. Buy the core book and it has, honestly, just so much information. Beyond that the fact is you can find all the rules and stats online because of the OGL it is under. Still, the core rules are best to have on hand at any moment and that book combined with the internet will get you limitless campaign time for a single investment.
While D&D and Pathfinder are good options I would try to steer folks towards a different investment. There are universal rules systems that have been around for many years now and can handle a lot more than the fantasy that you get from the other two. Horror, contemporary, apocalyptic, super hero, science fiction, whatever. These are all possibilities with universal systems. For my part i can suggest two magnificent systems: Savage Worlds and Cypher System. I have played both and both are wonderful, elegant systems. Cypher is more expensive, but it is also a bit more robust in content, including sections on how to play different setting with the rules. Savage Worlds is, in my opinion, a little easier mechanically and lends itself well to hacking and adaptability for what the GM wants to do. It is also less expensive.
Whatever way you want to go I urge those of you one a budget that there is one thing more important than any other. Make use of the communities around these big games. Look at the free starter samples and test them out. See what people like about them and what they don’t. The investment is made to take you far with the initial purpose, but it won’t get you anywhere if you buy a game that doesn’t click with your group!
After You Have Your Game
Okay so you took your small starter fund a threw most or all of it at a company and invested in a rules system to play. There is little need to buy more, unless you specifically want a written adventure to run. Even then there are free options all over the web. Play the game for a while and selectively purchase the expansions and supplements you feel will get the most use. Buy the Pathfinder Ultimate Intrigue if you are all about spies and deception in a city, but only once the campaign is making its way there. Try not to by books from hopes of what you’ll be doing. You are much better off investing any money you can on tools and aids. Flip mats and dry erase markers are a great investment for those playing visually. A GMs Screen is also a great investment for efficiency at the table and to hide notes. Dice are great to have, of course, and can be obtained cheap if you don’t mind plain. None of those things are needed though. One book and a lot of imagination can get you everywhere. The right aids can often get you farther than more pages of text. Being patient before deciding any purchases is the take-home though.
How To Pinch Pennies
Okay let’s talk about some of those things you want to buy. How can we get the most for what little we have? Supplements I only have one more piece of advice: look for PDFs. Unless there is a lot of info that you will use regularly at the table, get the PDF and print pages you need at the table. It will save you money. As for aids there are lots and lots of options. Binders can make good GM screens, but they can be super expensive so remember what you could pay for the real deal. Dice rollers can be found online for free to save money, you can buy the cheaper plain dice, or buy everyone’s set in a bulk pack and split it. You can use paper until you can splurge on a flip map, but miniatures can be costly. Back when my collection was small we invested in a battle map and had no minis. Instead we used things like gummy bears which would double as a snack when the enemies were defeated. Pennies, buttons, and pieces from board games are all usable. The point is don’t worry about all these things, worry about the fun and what will enhance that when you’re making decisions about spending. Another option is Roll20, a virtual tabletop, which has a pretty significant series of free miniatures and map tiles available these days. This is a great way to go about representing the battlefield and characters without spending money.
Over time you will probably buy a supplement or two, depending on the game, but you might also want to get some other stuff. Number one for those at the table: go for the flip map. Just do it. I have been using mine for over a decade and while I WANT to buy the specialty ones, I ALWAYS use the plain one to great effect. Next, definitely go for the GM screen. I didn’t for years and I cannot imagine why anymore. They have lots of rules you always look up. You can put sticky notes of other things and page references on them. You can tape more useful things for you to them. You can put index cards over the edge to track initiative. It is so useful! After that we’re talking about miniatures. My suggestion. Start slow and think about paper. Paper minis can be re-printed and take up very little space. If you want “real” miniatures than start by spending a little extra to get characters you want. It will feel good to have a unique mini for each player. beyond that purchase singles of common monsters on the cheap, slowly collecting what you want or need. If you can splurge go for a blind box but there is no guarantee you’ll get anything you like or want. Finally we come to dice. These can be addictive buys, but I suggest get a bunch of cheap ones. Then, over time buy nicer ones for yourself. They do NOTHING for the game, but we are only human and it does feel great to play a game with a special dice set for the character or campaign. When it comes to digital playing there are two things to buy: tokens and map tiles. Invest in diverse and generic. Never buy more than you need and always try to find free ones. Maybe practice some photoshop and make your own from images you find on Google. The nice thing is you can spend a little bit every now and then, building up a robust collection to play games with.
When it comes down to it there are a few pieces of advice this rambling comes down to. The first is research a bit online before you buy things. Look at book in the store and try the free stuff you can find online. Invest in a robust and supported system that works for you. Remember that all you need are the rules, nothing else. Everything else is extra and icing on the cake. When you do want to expand on what you have, no matter what it is, be cautious and chose wisely what you spend money on. Yes you can simply get plenty for free, but part of gaming on a budget is properly allocating what you can spend.