April 25, 2016

Questing GM's Guide to Playing 5th Edition D&D for FREE (AND LEGALLY)!

Between the published books, supplements, adventures, dices and the tools you need to play the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, the cost of getting into this edition may seem daunting and need a large investment at first. But that isn't the case. Far from it. One might say that getting into this edition of Dungeons & Dragons has never been more easier and cheaper than previous editions.

In fact, it is very possible to have a fully functional group playing the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons without spending a dime, and without resorting to any illegal means at all.

So for the cash-strapped player who wants to get into the new edition, here are some possible ways and suggestions to help you:
  1. Get the Basic Rules.
    The first essential buys anyone would tell you to get at almost every edition of D&D would always come down to the what is commonly known as the core rules; the Players Handbook, the Dungeon Master's Guide and the Monster Manual. While players are usually required to buy only the Players Handbook out of the three, going at around RM150-250 apiece (depending on where you buy it) certainly won't be going easy on your wallets.

    But before the 3 core rulebooks were released, Wizards of the Coast had actually released the Player's Basic Rules, which you can get entirely for free (legally) here. In it you already get the bare essential races (elves, dwarves, humans and halflings with their associated sub-races), classes (the standard 4; fighter, cleric, rogue, and wizard), and it has ALL the rules you need to play the game that you would find in the Players Handbook.

    In the Dungeon Master's Basic Rules, aside from giving you the tools to create the building blocks of an adventure or entire campaigns, it has the stats of monsters from the lowly Rat to the majestic Adult Red Dragon, not to mention the most common Magic Items your party will ever need. This is practically the Dungeon Masters Guide and Monster Manual combined into one. That's like killing two giants with one spell.

    In fact, one added advantage of the Basic Rules over the hardback and printed rulebooks in this edition is that they are updated and incorporated with the latest erratas that Wizards put out every now and then throughout the lifecycle of the edition. You only need to re-download the latest version of the file for the latest updates, but try adding new paragraphs or writing over your expensive hardbacks.

    Basically, with just the Basic Rules alone, you already have the main engine to play (and even run) the game. The only thing you are missing out are just more options, but nothing is stopping you from replicating the Barbarian class with the model of the Fighter class, and a creative DM can make do with the guidelines and stats of the monsters to make their own version of an Aboleth. The only thing you need is just an electronic devise where you can view the downloaded files, or an internet connection to peruse the web (and mobile friendly) version of the Basic Rules (Players, DM).
  2. Embrace the Digital Revolution.
    Tabletop roleplaying has come a long way from its paper, pencil and dice days. If a gamer from the early days of roleplaying time traveled to the technological options that we have today, he would have failed that Wisdom saving throw against awesome. There is a huge selection of apps (mobile, web or otherwise) that can help from creating characters for players to managing your game as DMs, and they are only going to be more the longer the edition ages. Even non-RPG/D&D specific apps can be used, if the GM has the right gaming and organising mindset too. (You can find more suggested apps from this thread at the Dungeons & Dragons in Malaysia Facebook Group)

    Until you can afford your first set of shiny (and hopefully blessed) physical polyhedrons, dices have now been codified into random-number generators (for Android or iPhone), so you should probably be praying to the algorithm gods (or RNGesus) until you are initiated into the mercy of the One True Dice God.

    Even the entire tabletop experience has been put on online virtual platforms, and has highly improved from the days of forum-based roleplaying or real-time web clients. Decent free virtual tabletops (VTTs) like Roll20, provide not only just the most basic (and some pretty advanced) tools you need, but the endless possibility of playing with anyone and anywhere with a decent internet connection (that probably needs much less than a typical MMORPG).

    While there are top-notch apps and software that you can pay for, there are just as many if not more free apps for the thin wallet gamer. The only investment you need to use these tools is the time to learn how to use them.
  3. Buying as a Group.
    A gaming group is a sacred bond than most realised. Having the perfect gaming group is harder than finding that perfect girlfriend (and if she is not a gamer, she is not the ONE). Taking bad relationship advice from a gaming blog aside, having the perfect gaming group means that you are almost guaranteed to have endless hours of fun and memories, a lasting friendship, but also an avenue to the powers of Economies of Scale. Yes, having a gaming group can drastically reduce the burden of paying up the expenses of gaming.

    Think about it this way. If you are in a group that plays together, how many PHBs do you really need to have on the table during the session? If there is only one DM in the group, wouldn't it be cheaper if everyone chipped in to buy the DMG or MM, since he or she is doing all the hard work to run the game for the group anyway? If another person in the group wants to be the DM, the current DM can just handover the set the group had already bought, rather than the new DM having to buy their own set.

    Just on a rough calculation if a group of 6 (5 players and 1 DM) buys 2 copies of the PHB, and 1 DMG and MM at an average price of RM230 for each book, it splits into just over RM150 per person (RM230 x 4 / 6). That might be a heavy initial investment to make at first, but it is certainly cheaper than having to buy one of the books alone, and at RM150, you probably wouldn't be able to even put one on your shelf. Also remember that these books have a high reusable value (or ROI) because they are fuel for anything that can happen on the table. It certainly makes that new PlayStation 4 game look less worth its money.
  4. Remember the Bare Essentials.
    Although there are plenty of shiny stuff and cool tools to buy for tabletop RPGs, when it all comes down to it, just remember that you only need very few things to play a tabletop roleplaying game.

    Aside from a character sheet (that can be just an empty piece of A4), a makeshift dice (or RNG) and the free rules, you already have the most powerful and cheapest tool to play; imagination. A single person's imagination is already more vivid and memorable than the most cutting edge graphics that a computer can render, and a shared imagination can be an almost transcendental experience.

    With just the barest essentials, a session can be as impressive as one that has the fanciest technology and gaming tools at their disposal. Remember that it's not about the tools at your disposal, but how you use them. So don't let money be a barrier to you from playing a game of Dungeons & Dragons and having fun.

Last Updated: 27/4/2016

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