Looking Out for the Players a Bit.

All of the above are just recommendations. I’m sure there are plenty of games/systems I’ve missed. There’s just something about having your own book.


As GMs/DMs, we’re regularly faced with the challenge of picking the game system we want to run.

I love Basic D&D. Ya know, the one from back in the day? The original? The Rules Cyclopedia? Many good times were had with that game.

Would I run a campaign out of it tomorrow? Probably not. The books aren’t what you’d call, “regularly available” to most players. That’s the first thing I look at.

If I have the only copy at the table, there’s a problem.

D&D editions 3-5 have a common problem. There are tons upon tons of books out for these games. Third and Fourth editions have been out of print for ages. DMSGuild and Half Price books still have most of the stuff still available if players are willing to shell out for whatever character options they want to invest in.

Fifth Edition is what some of us call, “bloated.” Third suffered from this problem as well. There are so many options for players to choose from. Where do you even begin? And what is the DM going to do?

Sure, the PHB is cool. You’re going to want one for the basic rules, anyway. But then what’s next? Tasha’s? Xanathar’s? DMSGuild guide to X class/race variant? The amount of source material out there is staggering.

Some DMs ban homebrew or third party material outright. Others say PHB only. Still others stick to PHB and anything officially printed by WotC. But some players always want that extra edge, the unique advantage or something completely different than what we’d consider canon.

I want the players to have access to everything the game has to offer without having to take out a second mortgage.

I have gone so far as to buy table copies of rulebooks for some games. I have extra copies of a lot of 4th Ed D&D books for my players. Unfortunately, I haven’t run 4E for a long time, but it was there when I needed it. Werewolf the Apocalypse was another game where I kept a spare core book for the table. It was just easier and cheaper back then for my group.

Nowadays, I really appreciate my players having their own physical copy of the rules handy because my copy is bookmarked to hell and gone. Many times I have both the physical book and at least one digital copy open at any given time for monster stats on one and rules lookup on the other.

If my copies are tied up and I’m going to ask the players to acquire their own, I don’t want a system that will break the bank. In most cases, I don’t think a pdf copy or even a single, physical copy per player is too much to ask for an ongoing campaign. I know there are plenty of games that are expanded to the nines and practically require a winning lottery ticket to keep up with.

One thing to avoid.

Okay, let’s be honest. How many of us frequented a certain website that offered free download pdf copies of all of our favorite games? Most of these sites eventually get shut down and for good reason. Those sites aren’t just socking it to the corporations, but hurting smaller creators as well.

Tempting though it might be, printing or copying pdfs for players is really something to steer clear-of except in the most dire of circumstances because it tends to rob creators of their money. I might print off just enough for someone to play their character or get by for a few weeks until they can acquire their own copy. I’ve found on many occasions a little taste of the book is enough to sell a full copy to a lot of players.

I am loathe to admit there are still free pdf copies of some things out there. I won’t ever link any of them. IF you acquire a book this way, I strongly urge you to track down and pay for an official copy. Be kind to designers. They have to eat, too.

Here are five alternatives to D&D and Pathfinder that are easy on the wallet.

I love Dungeon Crawl Classics from Goodman Games for this exact reason. My core rulebook cost me $25.00 at my FLGS and the pdf was free. I’ve rarely seen a better deal.

Another example is Runehammer’s Index Card Roleplaying Game Master Edition which just recently went on DriveThruRPG in Print on Demand with pdf for almost half what the hardcover cost. Heck yeah! Thanks Hankerin!

ICRPG is easy to learn, affordable, and fun! A lot of time and effort went into this game. It’s easy to GM and rules lite for the players. Plus it has tons of homebrew potential. More on that some other time.

FUDGE is good, as I have said before. The FATE dice are easily substituted or faked using regular d6s. FATE is another good recommendation for a single book as the Condensed version retails for around $8.00. I tend to lump these two rulesets together as they are similar.

I’ll also give another shout out to Open Legends RPG for being rules lite and all in one book for the most part. If I had to steer a first time gamer to something other than D&D, this would be close to the top of the list. Free is good last I checked and the whole group can have access to the book on their various mobile devices or GM printouts if they wish.

Another thing I look at is Open Licensing.

OGL games have become a mainstay in my book collection. My overall goal in life is to get something published on DriveThruRPG. I find that OGL games with only a few core books are far easier to work with because there isn’t as much competition and it’s easier for players to get behind. If I can put out one $4.99 sourcebook with quality material to go with a mostly free or inexpensive core book, is it worth the investment?

I’m starting to think it’s the best way to go in terms of publishing. True, it’s harder to find an audience for than D&D 5E. Many of the games I really get behind are fairly obscure in comparison. But sometimes a dedicated niche audience is more willing to invest a little to help the game grow.

All of the above are just recommendations. I’m sure there are plenty of games/systems I’ve missed. There’s just something about having your own book.

Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate you. Stay hydrated. Stay safe. Have fun!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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