This is a list of tabletop RPGs that have attracted my attention one way or another. That doesn’t mean I like all of them! I have omitted games that no longer have a home on the Web, and most commercial games. More exhaustive lists are pointed out at the bottom.
- Risus is a tiny (only six pages for the core rules!) RPG based on extremely simple dice pool rules. A variety of supplements exist, some commercial, by the same author, some fan-made. Free for personal use; derivatives allowed.
- Sacred Steel, a once-lost fantasy RPG, brought back to life through the miracle of free culture.
- The Window, an elegant ruleset designed for grittiness, suspense and horror, that skimps combat in favor of story. Free for personal use.
- Shadows, an RPG for kids, with a simplistic but interesting conflict resolution system. Free for personal use.
- Sherpa is a little RPG by the author of FUDGE, designed to be used on the go. Unusual randomization device. Free for personal use.
- Puppetland — highly original RPG with unusual mechanics. Freemium.
- Shadow of Gilgamesh / Swords and Lanterns are two retro minimal games with unusual rules; the former even allows solo play.
- Pirates! is a simple RPG for cartoonish piratical adventures that make Captain Sparrow seem realistic in comparison. In English and French.
- The Basic Rules for D&D 5e are freely downloadable.
- Likewise the quick-start PDF for Call of Cthulhu 7th edition.
- So are the Eclipse Phase Quick Start Rules. CC-BY-NC-SA.
- Uncharted Worlds is a flavorful space opera ruleset under a CC-BY-SA license.
- The Star Wreck RPG, a goofy inversion of space opera tropes… and also RPG tropes: the heroes are fighting their own incompetence rather than any serious enemy. CC-BY-NC-SA.
- Mazes&Minotaurs started out as a bit of a joke, and was defictionalized so skillfully, it turned into quite a serious thing. No license specified, so, free for personal use?
- FUDGE is a flexible RPG system toolkit based on attribute ladder. Uses very unusual “FUDGE dice”, but can make do with ordinary six-siders. Freely redistributable; anyone can make supplements.
- Tri-Stat dX, the rule system of the highly regarded games Big Eyes Small Mouth and Silver Age Sentinels is free for personal use. Detailed list of superpowers and skills; very complete and flexible rules.
- Mini Six is a very condensed version of the OpenD6 rules. The core book tries to squeeze a magic system and several settings in only 38 pages, with poor results. Open Game License.
- The fan supplement Rocket Rangers brings an excellent retro-sf setting to Mini Six.
- GURPS Lite: the oldest generic RPG system condensed to only 32 pages. Freely redistributable.
- CthulhuTech, a crazy world combining mecha, magic and otherwordly horrors on a vaguely cyberpunk-ish backdrop. Original dice pool mechanics. The Quick Start Rules are freely redistributable.
- Engine Heart — the humans are gone; only their robotic servants endure. Intriguing setting, somewhat dubious (dicepool) mechanics.
Classics gone free
- Star Frontiers (warning, 1990es website layout!) is a generic, but good space opera RPG from the 1980es. If you remember the Xindi story arc from Enterprise, the alien races were swiped from this game. Comes with detailed rules for space combat.
- Talislanta has built its reputation on having a very original fantasy world, nothing like the more common Tolkien-esque cliches. Unfortunately, it tries so hard to be different, the results are often ridiculous. YMMV, though.
- Timothy Groves’ RPG page offers for download Caverns and Creatures, an old-school fantasy supplement for GURPS, complete with huge spell, equipment and monster lists, as well as several supplements for Risus, namely adaptations of Star Wars and the main World of Darkness games.
- Gratis Games offers no less than three superhero RPGs, along other games (including a couple of roguelikes), all under various open licenses.
Other similar lists
- 1000 Monkeys, 1000 Typewriters lists new independent RPGs as soon as they appear, and runs periodic contests.
- John H. Kim’s Encyclopedia of role-playing games – unmaintained since 2008, but still useful. Includes a section on free games.
- List of libre games on the Year of Living Free wiki.
List of free roleplaying games at Scifi 411.
- Libre Tabletop Games at FOSsil Bank.