Tips for Gaming on the Cheap

[EDITOR’S NOTE: We interrupt our regularly scheduled series on accessible gaming to take part in January’s RPG Blog Carnival, hosted by The Renaissance Gamer himself. If you are joining us from there, welcome to The Rat Hole. Look around and enjoy your stay. -dc]

Over on Renaissance Gamer I’m hosting the January RPG Blog Carnival, so I thought this would be a good time for The Rat Hole to get involved. If you aren’t familiar with the Carnival, you can check out the master post and take a look at past topics and posts. In short, the RPG Blog Carnival is a monthly event in which bloggers write about a topic picked by that month’s host. Links to all the posts are kept in the comments of the host’s kick-off post, and then summarized in a post at the end of the month. The topic I chose for January was gaming on a budget, which seemed appropriate and useful just after the holidays.

While I am reasonably financially secure these days, it was not always so. I have had many, many years of enjoying the tabletop hobby on a budget, and along the way I’ve picked up some habits and resources that have helped me keep enjoying myself even when money was tight.

SRDs are Your Friend – System Resource Documents, or SRDs, are a resource created by a game publisher for the use of their freelancers and third-party publishers. They generally contain all the textual elements of a game system and are updated regularly, to ensure that anyone contributing to the game have the same and correct information. You can usually find them for a game by searching the game’s name and SRD. If you’re a gamer looking to save some pennies, these are a great way to try a game out and see if it’s for you before you commit to buying the rulebook.

Never Throw Out Paper – Borders on hoarder territory, but I have a milk crate into which I toss every piece of scrap paper I come across. Half-used notepads, printer paper I’ve only used on one side, junk mail; if it has a blank side I keep it. Our hobby, even in the age of computers, largely runs on paper. If you’re a game master you’ll use a bunch of it, whether for campaign notes, player handouts, writing secret notes to players, terrain crafting and so on. As well, my players are always forgetting to bring paper for note-taking, so it’s handy to just hand them a ¾-used notepad for a session.

Gift Wrap Keeps on Giving – As an aide to ham-fisted gift-wrappers, may wrapping paper companies have put 1” square grids on the back of their gift wrap. While I’m sure that’s helpful to the wrappingly challenged, it’s a particular boon to us in the tabletop hobby. While I would certainly recommend getting yourself a good erasable flip-mat if you can, wrapping paper makes a cheap alternative. It isn’t terribly expensive to begin with, but your local Dollar Store will likely stock a huge supply of it just before the holidays. Twenty dollars will easily get you enough paper to last months, and while it isn’t reusable it is easily recycled. And if you’re giving gifts to gamer friends anyway, just leave the maps on the paper as an extra treat.

DriveThru RPG – I’ve talked about them before, but DriveThruRPG is an amazing resource for any gamer looking to play or GM on a budget. Using the Keyword Search “Free” will yield thousands of sourcebooks, magazines, papercraft terrain and figures, map sheets, and even whole games, all free and just a download away. I’ve built entire campaigns around material I’ve found on their site. If you do use anything that you find there, though, do take a moment to write a short review for the publisher. If you liked their product enough to use it it’s only polite, and it helps them get noticed so they can sell some of their other items. I’d also recommend bookmarking them, so you can find them later when you have a bit of cash.

Public Libraries are Dragon Hoards – But with no pesky dragon keeping you away. Besides the books, which is the obvious reason to go to a library, many branches also offer maker spaces, which can be accessed freely or for a very small fee. If you’ve got terrain building materials but are short on tools, this is the space for you. Maker spaces usually have 3D printers as well, and with any number of terrain piece and figurine files available for free online, you could make the perfect piece for your game. And libraries often attract gaming groups (I know my public library back home did), so if you’re in the market for a new group, check out their bulletin board and put up a poster. Libraries often offer course which are free and often online, and you can learn any number of useful skills to help your gaming.

Game Store Events – It may seem counterintuitive to suggest going to your game store in order to save money, but your Friendly Local Game Store often runs gaming events for free. Of course they would love it if you bought the game as a result, but it isn’t mandatory. These events are an excellent way to meet new gamers, try games you’ve had your eye on, and decide if you’ll add it to your “Later” shopping list. Two suggestions for taking in these events without being a jerk. One, if you can, buy something while you’re there even it that something is just pop and chips (and DO NOT under any circumstances bring your own into the store). Two, if you do like the game and enjoyed the event, try to pick it up from that store when you can afford to buy it. In the meantime, talk the store up to your friends, preferably your friends with money to spend.

One Page RPGs – Probably the most well-known of these is Lasers & Feelings, but there are a bunch more in a variety of settings and styles. These are generally free to download (although tipping the creator, if that option is available, is always polite) and can be a great way to pull together an evening’s entertainment for your friends. Similarly, if you’re a GM then One Page Dungeons are an invaluable resource and worth checking out.

That’s it for now. Check back next week for the continuation of my series on accessible gaming!

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