Friday, March 15, 2013

Get Rolling: Starting with RPGs pt. 3 (The Money Thing)

This past week, Budd over at Scifi Media posted about his discouragement at trying to facilitate his daughters interest in Dungeons and Dragons. She and her friends wanted to try it out. He was interested in helping them do that, but he was very hesitant to make a major monetary investment in game materials because a.) he had no idea what he needed to buy b.) a lot of the stuff seemed really expensive, and c.) he was trying to help out a group of easily distracted and mercurial tweens. If they lost interest, it was money down the tubes.

Tabletop RPGs, like any hobby, can quickly turn into an obsession-driven money pit. When you know you are interested and you really want the stuff, this can be okay as long as you keep some money behind for rent and food and stuff. However, when first starting out, it is best to take it easy on the spending. When I started my current campaign, I only had a Player's handbook and a set of dice. I was also unemployed, and so had very little money to gear up. As such, I had to come up with ways to save on supplies. If you are strapped for cash, but looking to start gaming, Here are several ways you can save big bucks.

Buy only what you need to get rolling

The basic requirements for a tabletop RPG are:

  1. A game system. This usually consists of a rule book or, in the case of D&D, 3 rule books. (The Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide and Monster Manual).
  2. Dice. You will want to check the type of dice system your game uses. D&D is a d20 game, which uses several different types of funny-shaped dice. There are also d6 systems that use big blocks of 6-sided dice, and d10 systems that use... you guessed it, 10-sided dice.
  3. pencils and paper. for keeping track of everything that happens in the game.

...and that's it for the required stuff. Really. That's all you need. Well, plus some imagination and people to play with. That being said, many RPGs these days encourage folks to add things like minis, battle mats or power cards, which brings us to the next cost saving tip...

Get creative with your extras

There is no need to run out and blow a wad of dough on pewter minis or expensive dungeon tiles right off the bat. There are many ways to get the same tactical feel at a fraction of the cost.

  1. Make your own character tokens. We used Lego people and M.U.S.C.L.E. men that I had in my supply of leftover toys from my childhood. These made excellent options for monsters and characters. We also used bottle caps, Go pieces and even extra dice to represent various critters. RPTools also has an excellent free token maker that you can download and use to make paper figures.
  2. Make your own battle map. You can make an excellent, modular battlemat with just a printer, a few sheets of card stock, Mylar page protectors and a set of wet or dry-erase markers. Just print out a 1-inch grid on the card stock, slip the sheets into the slip covers and draw on the Mylar as needed. 
  3. Make your own power cards. Sharpie on a 3x5 card is all you need to jot down the important bits so you can more easily track expendable powers and their associated rules.
  4. Don't use a battle mat. Most games that use grids use 1 inch per unit of movement (in D&D it equals 5 feet). If you don't want to worry about a grid, mark and cut pipe cleaners or string to specific lengths and use them to mark off the positions of your tokens. In some ways this might make for more natural movement than a grid.
  5. Pick used stuff up from game resale sites like Troll and Toad or CoolStuffInc. You can occasionally find individual minis for less than $0.50 each!

Go Used or Indie

When I was starting out, I bought all of my rulebooks from used book stores. This was partly because I was playing an out-of-print edition of Dungeon's and Dragons, but mostly because I could get the used rulebooks for a fraction of a new book's price. Oh, and if you are going this route, don't pick up books at a game store. Used book stores will likely have them far cheaper. The game store near my house was charging out of print prices for the stuff I wanted. The used book stores charged used book prices. You might have to hunt a little more, but that's half the fun!

If you select an independently produced game, your rule books will likely be a lot cheaper. Many indie game producers also put stuff out in pdf format. You can pick up electronic manuals at a lower cost than the print editions. The same goes for battle maps, tiles and other peripherals. I LOVE the stuff from Fat Dragon Games. Granted, it takes some assembly and printer ink, but the finished product can be very satisfying.

Start with the Sample Pack

Dungeons and Dragons really wants to lure in new players. They care about making their game accessible. To that end, they have put out a boxed set called D&D essentials. It contains dice, stripped down rule books, a battle mat and tokens, all for less than the cost of a single full-sized rule book. While your character, monster and adventure choices might be more limited, if you are just getting your feet wet, this approach might be just what you need to ease into the pool.

Once you are in, chances are, you'll end up spending more money and your set up will grow and grow, but hopefully it will happen on your own terms. All the peripherals are just that... peripheral. All you really need to game is a group of friends, an agreed-upon rules set, dice, and a way to keep track of the things that happen in your adventure.


  1. Great article! The most difficult part of the hobby is actually getting into it. Fortunately, many systems are going "free to play" in a matter of speaking. If you didn't want to go with a beginners box set-up, Pathfinder has all their stuff available online (for free!) under the PRD.

    Similarly, there is the Hypertext D20 resource for those still playing 3.5e. I'm not sure if there are resources like that for 4e, but it would be great if there were!

    1. Excellent suggestions! Unfortunately, I think WoTC clamped down on 3rd party distribution of 4E rules, but there are definitely tons of free 3.5 references out there. I have the D&D Wiki bookmarked for quick reference when planning games. Though it doesn't have descriptions of "how" to play, it has all the crunch you need once you have the basics down.

  2. I'm fundamentally against blowing a big wad of cash on what non-gamers would consider to be "junk". I bought nearly all of my books used on Amazon - sometimes it's a bit of a rub when the shipping is more than the item itself - my dice and several maps I bought at brick and mortar price, and my battle mat I also got online. I refuse to pay $ for minis. So instead I make stand up, paper minis. It really saves on a $90 toner pack to hit up Hobby Lobby for some cheap wooden pegs and scotch tape. I then tape drinking straws onto the backs of the cards and many minis as you can throw a balrog at!


Follow by Email