Tabletop RPG gaming (Dungeons and Dragons usually being the default) is a perfect fit for Library programs – RPGs develop imagination as the players help create the world around them, foster literacy due to the need to familiarize themselves with the rulebooks, and encourage socialization and teamwork among a disparate group of players who might have been strangers before the game began. Perhaps best of all is the fact that these games can be run with a minimum of investment – pencils, paper, dice and the rulebooks are the essentials, and more can be added to develop a campaign in interesting and engaging ways.
For those really strapped for cash, though, or who are looking to try something different than the old standby of Dungeons and Dragons, there are a lot of free and dirt-cheap options available, and several of them are actually really good…
Risus: The Anything RPG – A simple, yet solid RPG that makes for excellent one-shot adventures. The rules, based on “Clichés,” take up four pages (with one page devoted to purely optional rules). Easy to learn and get going.
Pokemon Tabletop United – This is a fan-made ruleset that explores, in a great deal of depth, the world of Pokémon, allowing players to take on roles they’re not able to in the games, whether as Gym Leaders, law enforcement personnel, or researchers.
Pokethulu – For those looking for a more tongue-in-cheek treatment of Pokemon, there’s this mashup of Pokemon and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. It’s disturbingly cute, albeit a bit thin.
Dungeons the Dragoning – Created as a parody of several roleplaying games including D&D, World of Darkness and Warhammer 40,000, it is surprisingly detailed and well put together. It’s definitely worth a look.
Engine Heart – This is, in many ways, “Wall-E: The Game.” It takes place after an unknown apocalypse has eliminated humanity, leaving behind sentient service robots that scrounge for a place in the decaying ruins. It’s an interesting world, and the ruleset is easy to pick up.
Broken Gears – Set in a steampunk future world in which technology is based on spirits called “chaids,” the nations of the world struggle for dominance while at the same time keeping a close eye on users of advanced technologies, which have the potential to become dangerously sentient. The world-building in this is very well done.
StickGuy – StickGuy is about as simple as it gets. It uses 1D4, a piece of paper, and one stat – Power – and one goal – get Stuff done. A very good introduction to RPG mechanics.
Old School Hack – A simple, fun, free fantasy RPG with a well-designed set of rules that are easy to follow. The downside to this one, though, is that the rules only accommodate up to Level 4 characters – the rest is still in development.
Fate: Core and Fate: Accelerated – Fate is a very flexible rule set that can accommodate whatever setting you have in mind, whether it be space, the Wild West, or 12th-century China. It’s simple, approachable and fun, and while the Core rulebook is $25, the Accelerated rulebook (which strips it down to the basics) is sold for only $5.
Bundles of Holding – Finally, this site provides bundles of RPG rulebooks in e-book form at heavily discounted prices. It’s always a good idea to check back periodically to see what’s on offer.
So get out there, take a look, and see what kind of world you and your patrons can create together! And if you have more, please add them to the comments!