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December 23, 2010 12:23 PM   Subscribe

List of Libre Games. Open Game Systems. Compendium of Free Role Playing Games. Free RPGs at 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters. Tired of role-playing game books the size and price of textbooks? You've got a lot of alternatives.

Risus, the Anything RPG, by S. John Ross, author of The Big List of RPG Plots, is an RPG in 6 pages. See also the Risus Thought of the Moment group blog and Risusiverse wiki.

Fate is a popular and influential system that's been remixed in all shapes and sizes. Streamlined Fate is a single double-sided legal page. Free Fate is a 48 page take on it. Previous discussion of Fate and its family tree.

ROLPUNK-X mashes together Risus and Fate; see the ROLPUNK manifesto (or its NSFW PDF version.)

Nemesis is a horror RPG in 52 pages by Dennis Detwiller (one of the creators of Delta Green) and Greg Stolze. Insylum is another horror RPG by Detwiller centered on one scenario.

JAGS 2 is the 65-page "rules-medium" version of JAGS; Wonderland and The Book of Knots are impressive horror scenarios for it.

The Pool is a 4-page game; Microcosm is 6 pages.

PDQ (prose descriptive qualities) is an RPG in 13 pages.

Wushu is the Ancient Art of Action Role-Playing in 26 pages

Mini Six is a variant of Open D6 weighing in at 38 pages.

d20 spawned a zillion derivatives, from the 2 page Microlite20 to the 15 page Simple20 and 40 page Perfect 20.

Tri-Stat dx is the longest I'll mention at 106 pages.

For more recommendations, see the Indie RPG Awards' nominations and winners for best free game of 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009; the ENnie Award winners and nominations for Best Free Product for 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 and this previous thread about 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters. Another excellent list of Free RPGs on the Web was posted previously.
posted by Zed (18 comments total) 85 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks, this is an awesome list. This is the type of thing where the round-up post itself becomes best of the web.
posted by jaduncan at 12:31 PM on December 23, 2010

This is the best Christmas gift ever! Thank you Santa Zed!
posted by KingEdRa at 12:32 PM on December 23, 2010

I have to pipe up for certain chargeable books here - SJ Games' GURPS books are amongst some of the best researched and presented RPG books I have had the fortune to read. If you want to learn a shit load of different historical periods, technologies and other random subjects then you could do a lot worse than pick yourself up a GURPS book and read it through for a basic understanding, then straight to the bibliography for more awesomeness.

I've lost track of the number of fantastic recommendations I've gotten from GURPS bibiliographies and have nothing but respect for the hard working writers for SJ Games (S. John Ross among them I should note...). I'm not big on systems over story but for sheer background, research and presentation I really can't give them enough kudos. Hence me supporting their e23 store so very much over the past couple of months (Low Tech and the two Low Tech Companions being just the start).

Most of all - the more I support SJ Games and GURPS in general the more they can afford to pay Ken Hite, Sean Punch, William Stoddard, Hans-Christian Vortisch etc meaning they can try and earn an actual crust for all their hard work. They've now got a goodly portion of the 3e books in .pdf now, including several out of print books and they're only $7.99! That's only £5.17 in real money and that's a price that can't be beat.

Enough whoring! Now I shall read the links and steal everything awesome from them!
posted by longbaugh at 12:57 PM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've been really digging Shock: Social Science Fiction. It's not free, but it's only a hundred pages, and produces GM-less, no-preparation games that have been really fun every time we've tried it. A friend described it as what the surrealists would have invented if they had been into roleplaying games, due to the collaborative nature of the story-telling.
posted by kaibutsu at 1:00 PM on December 23, 2010

Eclipse Phase's corebook was released for free in pdf format under the Creative Commons license at one point, though they're currently selling it for $15.00. It's one of the best sci-fi settings to come along in a long time. It's a very cool mix of transhumanism, anarchism/autonomism, post-apocalyptic horror and hard sci-fi.
posted by Pseudoephedrine at 1:42 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I mentioned this a couple of weeks back - you can get Bliss Stage and/or Polaris at whatever price you're willing to pay, including free.
posted by yeloson at 1:57 PM on December 23, 2010

They've now got a goodly portion of the 3e books in .pdf now, including several out of print books and they're only $7.99!

And the physical 3e books all seem to be just $9.95, even GURPS Weird War II (which I probably should have included here) which doesn't seem to be available for cheaper than $50 anywhere else. Their shipping's not cheap, though.
posted by Zed at 4:22 PM on December 23, 2010

Eclipse Phase's corebook was released for free in pdf format under the Creative Commons license

Sure enough, here it is.
posted by Zed at 5:44 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second Eclipse Phase. Sheer genius. Anyone into sci-fi RPGs who hasn't given it a look yet - do it now.
posted by jet_manifesto at 4:03 AM on December 24, 2010

There are so many sweet, focused small-press games out these days. My favorites are those that address a specific theme or setting, or help you tell a specific kind of story, and use the system and mechanics to hit that dead on. Some of my current favorites:

Fiasco, a pick-up-and-play game that puts you in a Cohen Brothers style movie. It's sure-fire fun, even with non-gamers, and you're in and done within two or three hours. It's basically the RPG analogue of Dominion, and may very well dominate your play schedule similarly.

(Also check out Bully Pulpit's Shab-al Hiri Roach, a Lovecraftian academic romp, and Grey Ranks, which follows the lives of teenage freedom fighters in WW2 Warsaw.)

Danger Patrol is high-octane sci-fi pulp action from start to finish. A quick read through the free PDF, and you'll be ready to roll. Again, good fun for people who aren't used to playing RPGs, and there's no prep time. John Harper's other free games (Lady Blackbird and Ghost/Echo) are equally awesome for pick-up games.

Vincent Baker's games probably need no introduction, but his new Apocalypse World is utterly fantastic. It requires a bit more experience and reading, at least on the GM's part, but the payoff is totally worth it.

Paul Tevis's A Penny For My Thoughts is specifically designed to be able to be played without any preparation or reading at all, as well. Literally, you can get a bunch of people together and start reading the book, and have a great time as the game is revealed to you in the text. It helps that the game is about a group of amnesiacs attempting to regain their lost memories, of course. Again, it is guaranteed to surprise and delight.

I could go on forever. I won't, but if you poke around places like Story Games and IPR, I guarantee that you'll find something that you'll like.

Shameless Self-Promotion: I would be remiss if I didn't mention my own book of super-short games, Twenty-Four Game Poems. They're designed to be played in around fifteen minutes with no setup, by anyone, gamer or not. All the games in the book - and then some - are all available for free at my Game Poems site, and there are plenty of others floating around, from contests and Norwegians, and really, it's not hard to write your own and play with some friends.
posted by majcher at 9:46 AM on December 24, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here's a new Compact FATE on 2 A4 pages. (I should've warned originally that most of these PDFs are letter size, but some are A4, so no matter where you are there are some you'd want to convert before printing.)

And if you're in the SF Bay Area (or, even better, the East Bay) and might like to check out some of these or others (I recently acquired Trail of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Unknown Armies, Over the Edge, Esoterrorists and a stack of GURPS books) in the year to come, send me MeMail.
posted by Zed at 10:27 AM on December 26, 2010

Nemesis, above, is an ORE ("one roll engine") game -- more free resources for it and other ORE games are here and at Project Nemesis (with a side of Delta Green scenarios.)
posted by Zed at 10:26 PM on December 28, 2010

One more aggregation: The Free RPG Blog's Free RPG Directory.
posted by Zed at 1:56 PM on December 31, 2010

How did I miss this post?!
posted by JHarris at 12:45 PM on January 10, 2011

I haven't stopped looking for (and finding) free RPGs, so here's some of what I've found.

Barbarians of Lemuria is sword and sorcery in Lin Carter's Lemuria.

4 Color System is a retro-clone of FASERIP, the system behind the old Marvel Superheroes game.

SLA Industries is a free release of a commercially published modern horror/conspiracy/paranoia game.

All of the old Talislanta game is available free on-line.

Openquest is a game based on the open game license parts of Runequest II; Runequest SRD is the source material, but that site is down at the moment.

Micro Fudge is a much shorter variant on Fudge, taking inspiration from Elegant Role-Playing. Edge of the Century and DIP-Styx are two 24-hour RPG challenge entries; MicroFudged DIP mashes up all of the above. 3d6 Fudge is another Fudge variant for people who really don't want to get or make or fake Fudge dice.

Mutant Bikers of the Atomic Wasteland is a Fudge-based game that does just what it says on the tin. There's a Savage Worlds adaptation; the Savage Worlds test drive might be enough to play with it; we discussed Savage Worlds previously.

The free portion of the Fate-based sf game Diaspora is available; we've talked before about its cousin, Spirit of the Century. F# is another light version of Fate.

Several books' worth of West End Games' D6 System is available free. The free portions of several d20 books are available; if you don't feel like using d20 rules, you could try this d20 to Fate Conversion Guide.

44: A Game of Automatic Fear is an interesting looking paranoia/horror one-shot.

If you can see fit to shell out $10 for Reign Enchiridion, a fantasy system, there's a huge amount of supplemental material on Greg Stolze's website, as well as the ...in Spaaace! and Meatbot Massacre games and some good articles on How to Play RPGs and How to Run RPGs. Star ORE is a lightweight application of Stolze's one-roll engine to a Star Wars-ish setting.

Zen and the Art of Mayhem is inspired by action anime (an earlier version was called Animenia.)

Magicians of England is an RPG inspired by Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.

Danger Patrol is an RPG in beta-test inspired by fifties sf TV serials.

The Microlite20 Thread on the rpg.net forums provide a zillion links for variants and applications of the Microlite20 system mentioned in the original post.

Historical Folks is what would have been a GURPS sourcebook, but the project was cancelled and the author put it online for free. Requiem is a cancelled GURPS worldbook for an sf setting.
posted by Zed at 11:47 AM on January 18, 2011

I forgot a couple I meant to include in the follow-up.

Wheel of Fate is another Fate variant. C.J. Carella's Witchcraft is a free release of a commercially published book using the Unisystem rules, a variant of which was later used for the Buffy and Angel RPGs and several others.
posted by Zed at 7:46 AM on January 20, 2011

And since it's still not closed for a couple more days...

PDQ# is a somewhat more complex version of PDQ, mentioned above. Stars Without Number is an SF RPG. Cosmos-2 is the world-generation system for the Alternity SF RPG.
posted by Zed at 10:00 PM on January 20, 2011

thanks for the updates, Zed! I should say that I downloaded, read, and then ordered a physical copy of Eclipse Phase, one more point of data in support of their business model. Thanks!
posted by kaibutsu at 1:45 PM on January 21, 2011

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