Free RPG Day is this Saturday, June 25. That’s your signal to visit a participating friendly local game store to grab some free stuff. But if all you’re doing is a flyby to see what goodies you can make off with then you’re missing the point. Free RPG Day is about creating community, not gobbling up merch. Instead, why don’t you pick up a pamphlet, plop down at a table, and start playing one of those games right away?
Polygon had the chance to preview all of the materials being given away during this year’s Free RPG Day. Here’s our pick of the five best tabletop role-playing games that you should be able to get off the ground with just a handful of inexperienced players and very little prep time.
Dungeon Crawl Classics: Danger in the Air
Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is a throwback ruleset by Goodman Games that evokes the same feeling of danger and exploration present in the original 1974 version of Dungeons & Dragons. The system has been “modernized” in such a way as to be extremely familiar to fans of later editions of the game — including the most recent 5th edition.
Danger in the Air is a funnel for level-0 characters that requires little more than a working understanding of the d20 system. (If that gives you anxiety, there’s also a 44-page quickstart guide available online.) By the end of an hour or two expect to have a handful of level-1 adventurers ready for their first real quest — and dozens of bodies of those who failed in the task. What is that task? Well, it’s exploring a drifting extraplanar craft of mysterious origins that has been hovering over town for the past few days. It’s a great way to kick off a larger Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign — or to tease folks hyped for the pending reboot of Dungeons & Dragons’ Spelljammer setting.
Level 1: The Indie RPG Anthology, Volume 3
Level 1: The Indie RPG Anthology is back with its third issue this year, and it’s basically a bag of holding crammed full of thoughtful rules-light RPGs. This year’s gem is called Old Gods of Media by Graham Gentz, which encourages you to appropriate several of the world’s most beloved characters and turn them into Eldritch forces bent on world domination.
Imagine that all of the passion, love, and attention that fans pour into their favorite fictional characters also imbues those characters with power. Now imagine that these characters exist as immortal gods, their power relative to their peers — and even humankind itself — fluctuating with each theatrical or video game release. Just roll for Brand Awareness to get started. The matchups are endless, especially when you consider just how deep a reserve of power must be granted to demonic entities old enough to enter the public domain.
A Familiar Problem
A Familiar Problem is a lighthearted game with excellent bona fides; it was co-created by Critical Role’s Marisha Ray and Honey Heist creator Grant Howitt. A Familiar Problem puts players in the role of “scrappy and stressed out” familiars — magical, sentient animal companions of spellcasters — trying to keep up with a party of adventurers. The project was announced earlier this month, and now that I’ve had a chance to get a look at it I’m really impressed. It has all the charm I’ve come to expect of the crew of actual play stars, and all the randomness and open-ended design that Howitt’s work is known for. It’s the perfect ice breaker for an event like Free RPG Day, or perhaps for your next regular at-home game.
Rolled & Told Volume 1
The most substantial offering for Free RPG Day this year is Rolled & Told Volume 1, which is a full-size hardcover book first published in 2019. It’s a collection of seven adventures from the Rolled & Told series, which is a hybrid publication that combines serial comic book adventure and a complementary set of 5th edition-compatible adventures. Originally priced at $39.99, it may just be that publisher The Lion Forge had a lot of them sitting around in the warehouse and wanted to get rid of them. But that doesn’t make the excellent and lengthy adventures contained inside any less worthwhile.
Finally, of the officially licensed goodies on offer during Free RPG Day, the most interesting by far is the softcover quickstart guide for Homeworld Revelations, the high-concept tabletop RPG based on the beloved real-time strategy series. While it doesn’t include all the delicious fluff penned by the game’s original writer, Martin Cirulis, you do get a healthy peek at how the mechanics of the game will work in motion ahead of the general release.
Other licensed games include modules for Paizo’s Pathfinder and Starfinder settings; Steamforged Games’ Epic Encounters series of 5th edition-compatible adventures; a new quickstart for Root: The Roleplaying Game; Cyberpunk Red Easy Mode, which is an outstanding pint-sized version of the full-fat TTRPG that serves as a prequel to Cyberpunk 2077; and a new one-shot for Privateer Press’ Iron Kingdoms setting called A Strange Light Breaks.