19 April 2012

What are the best free RPGs for beginners?

I have been hard at work on writing a good, system-agnostic beginner's guide to tabletop role playing. I want a guide that any group of role players can point a prospective player at that will give them a good overview of the hobby along with some starting points. One of the sections in this guide recommends games for beginners and I really want a solid set of free games that I can recommend.

There are a lot of free games out there, many of which are for simple systems. A great example is Microlite20. It is a very simple system, it's 100% free and it's fun. Unfortunately, when I look at Microlite20 with a beginner's eye it is borderline incomprehensible. It is great for someone that knows what they are doing and just needs a few rules on a sheet of paper to keep them on track, but new players deserve something that will engage them as a reader and guide them through a good first experience.

I have found this same problem with a lot of the free games that I have looked at, so many of them assume that their audience knows how to role play already. I guess that is not much of a problem when the majority of the people reading and playing these free games are already familiar with the hobby. Still, I can't direct a prospective player to them if I want them to have a smooth and easy introduction to the hobby.

What a Beginner Friendly RPG Needs

  • Straightforward, easy to explain and use rules.
  • The basics of actually playing an RPG. It can't assume the players already know the basic structure and flow of play.
  • Easily obtainable. There can't be any hoops to jump through to get the rules. The necessary gear should also be minimal.
  • A starter adventure and examples of play. Ideally, the adventure would be written such a way as to teach the GM to GM and the players to play.


After a lot of looking around and wading through forum posts I think I have found find the a good set of suggestions for my guide.

Open d6/ WEG d6

If you're well versed in RPG news then you already know that WEG's d6 was re-branded as Open d6 and opened up to the community to do with as they will. The great thing about this is all of the core d6 games became available to anyone with an Internet connection.

Open d6 is a universal system with a very simple and easy to understand set of rules. It has three independent and core rulebooks: d6 Adventure, d6 Fantasy and d6 Space. A new player can pick up whichever of the three setting books appeals to them and get started right away. The writing is great and each book comes with an introductory choose-your-own-adventure section which introduces the rules and concepts of role playing with Open d6. I can't think of a better game to direct a new player to.

 On top of all the great things you can find in just the core Open d6 books, a large number of supplements are also available for free. Since the system went open we have also seen a number of fan conversions and reinterpretations of the system. Cinema 6 is a great example of this in action.

Swords & Wizardry

Swords & Wizardry is what is known as a “retroclone” of the very first edition of Dungeons & Dragons. The original rules have been rewritten and re-published so that anyone can enjoy them even though the game went out of print many years ago. S&W isn't the only retroclone available, but of the free options I think it is the most beginner friendly.

S&W doesn't have as much information for a new player as Open d6, but the simplicity of the rules along with the friendly tone and some solid advice for beginners is more than enough to make it stand out among free games. I am also confident that if we could figure out D&D by ourselves all those years ago that a new player ought to be able to manage with S&W.

Warrior, Rogue, & Mage

In the game's own words, "Warrior, Rogue & Mage is a simple, lightweight roleplaying game that allows a group of players and a game master to experience epic adventures in a fantasy world filled with wondrous magic."

WR&M is a very easy game to learn and play and it features a starter adventure as well as great advice for first-time GMs. WR&M is also available as Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, a version of the game set in an Indiana Jones-esque world of pulp adventure. There's really not much else to say about the game. It looks nice, it is free and it provides a good, solid set of advice for new players and GMs alike.

Final Thoughts

Each of the above games could be improved so that they are a better introduction to role playing, but as far as free games that I've looked at go they are a cut above. I think a box set like the Pathfinder Beginner Box is a superior starting product, but I also think there is something to be said for being able to download a game right now to look at and play.  (Speaking of box sets, I will be going over the ones aimed at new players in a future blog post.)

Am I on the mark with my selections? Do you think there is a game better-suited to be on this list? Let me know in the comments.


  1. When i saw your blog title my first thoughts were of Open d6, but I think after posting this I'm going to go check out Resolute, Adventurer and genius.


  2. Thanks for your kind words about WR&M and RAG. Reading posts like yours make me very proud. :)

  3. I humbly submit Heroes Against Darkness:


  4. Good article, and in line with my thoughts.



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