How to Play D&D for the Rest of Your Life for Free
Approximately every single day someone, somewhere asks the D&D community how to get started, the resources they need and what books and accessories to buy. Content creators love this question! It’s like candy and they might as well ask for links to everyone’s third party products. I kid (but not really). The most common response points people towards the core rulebooks: Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Master’s Guide. For tighter budgets, the PHB makes a solid standalone start. Those looking to invest more money into getting started could do worse than Volo’s Guide to Monsters, or Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for more player options. Then of course there’s widely beloved products like Tome of Beasts from Kobold Press. You could add The Lazy Dungeon Master and Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master to your shelf for deeper insights into running the game. And adventures! Holy moley there’s a lot of them. Gotta have adventures to run for the burgeoning game group, right?
You don’t need any of these things. And you could play D&D on the regular for the rest of your life without spending a single copper piece.
D&D for free?!
Anyone who searches online for how to start playing D&D almost certainly finds the official D&D site near the top of the results. Along with links to an overview of D&D video games and Adventurers League organized play you can find the Basic Rules, a 180 page PDF updated in November 2018 with streamlined layout and art. All you need to do is download it.
“We want to put D&D in as many hands as possible, and a free, digital file is the best way to do that.” — from the Basic Rules for Dungeons & Dragons website
Congratulations! You’re all set. The D&D Basic Rules covers character creation, rules and mechanics, magic and tools for Dungeon Masters like monsters stat blocks and advice for building encounters. There’s a lot of more material in the three core books, but for a new player looking play D&D for the first time there’s more than enough to get a campaign started and continue playing for what I contend is the remainder of your days. Or just one time, if you’re a curious sort who’s been hearing about D&D more and more and thinking you’d like to try.
An even better choice than the free Basic Rules PDF is D&D Beyond, the official digital toolset and game companion for Dungeons & Dragons fifth edition. There’s a lot of features available for free through DDB, so we’re still in the not spending any money zone. Anyone can access the same Basic Rules with DDB, and they’ve got wonderful search and filter options to help find exactly what you’re looking for plus you can create and maintain up to 6 characters, create and participate in Campaigns, join the forums and best of all create your own homebrew content. There are subscription tiers for DDB but everything I just listed is available totally free.
After a while of playing D&D with these free resources, maybe your group yearns for something more. Everyone has taken a turn playing a Life Domain cleric, Champion fighter, Thief rogue and School of Evocation wizard. The adventurers fought all the monsters, found all the magic items and gained all the levels. Everyone wants to continue playing but no way is money being spent on this hobby.
Thankfully an overwhelming number of creators in the D&D community share new content all over the place for free. New subclasses, entirely new classes, new player character races, feats and spells vastly expand on the Basic Rules. Keep in mind we’re using only free resources here and the Basic Rules only contain four of the 13 character classes in 5E D&D. One of them, the artificer, will remain off limits to the thrifty gamer. It only appears officially in Eberron: Rising from the Last War.
Content creators and you are in luck for the remaining eight classes because of the Systems Reference Document (SRD). This massive digital tome is 403 pages! Unlike the Basic Rules, meant to be a bare bones resource for D&D, the SRD is the nuts and bolts of the game. Here you’ll find monks, warlocks, rangers and the rest, each with a single subclass. The intent of the SRD is guidelines for publishing content under the Open-Gaming License. This allows third party creators to make and market new content for Fifth Edition.
Protip: D&D, Dungeons & Dragons and many other elements of the official game are Product Identity, which is why you won’t see us or other creators selling products for D&D. But thanks to the OGL we can create products for Fifth Edition, the system 5E D&D runs on, sorta like how America’s runs on Dunkin. If you’re really interested in the noodly world of content creation and marketing products and services related to D&D, check out the Fan Content Policy. Wizards of the Coast appreciates the vibrant community surrounding their game and they’ve made resources for creators to help answer questions about what you can and can’t do.
Now you’ve hit the jackpot when it comes to free content to keep your D&D game going ad infinitum.
Since you’re here reading this right now, perhaps you are the very person described throughout, curious about D&D and unsure about investing money into the hobby. No worries, we’ve got you covered. Browse around our site and you will discover nearly 2000 posts. A tremendous number of them focus on D&D — but not all of them! We really do sometimes talk about other roleplaying games.
Using categories like Homebrew, Player Tips and simply Dungeons & Dragons you’ll find a ton of new player options for your games, from the very first step of character creation with races all the way to new subclasses and spells. As always it’s best to check with your Dungeon Master before bringing new content into a campaign.
And we’re only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to sites with more material to inspire your games whether you’re a player or DM. Here’s only a small sample of other sites where you’ll find free stuff for your games.
- RPG Writers Network. This collaborative magazine through the Flipboard platform features all Nerdarchy the Website’s content along with several other bloggers. We all teamed up to make this digital magazine with all our online posts in one convenient place. We’re joined by Mike Shea, The Kind GM, Johnn Four, Andy Hand, Jacky Leung, James Introcaso, Sean McGovern, Teos Abadia, David Hartlege and DM Neal. That’s a lotta RPG writing to keep you going.
- Tribality. A multiple author blog and two-time ENnie nominated website about tabletop RPG games from the Game Master perspective with homebrew creations, exciting news, upcoming events, crowdfunding projects and campaign adventures.
- Gnome Stew. An award-winning multi-author blog about tabletop games and game mastering, written by gamers and GMs.
- Sterling Vermin Adventuring Co. This site is dedicated to creating original content for D&D 5th Edition.
- D&D Blogs. This is an aggregator of the latest Dungeons and Dragons articles from across the web. Several sources listed above also appear on this blog roll along with a whole bunch more.
Those are a few places off the top of my head. Again it’s my strong conviction the Basic Rules and your imagination can keep you playing D&D without end and never drop a dime but there are so many people out there sharing their love for the game along with endless amounts of awesome content and ideas for games it only reinforces my belief. You can search online for pretty much anything you can think of + D&D and you’ll find something to inspire you, quite possibly for free.
What about free D&D adventures?
You can have terabytes of free D&D content to expand player options but when you gather at the gaming table all those neat homebrew things won’t do much good without an adventure to challenge the heroes. The Basic Rules get you so far, but there’s really nothing about what to actually do when you’re playing D&D in the PDF.
Guess what? All those blogs and websites you explored have just as many adventure hooks as thoughtpieces. They might be presented unconventionally but what do you know? You’ve haven’t spent a cent so you’ve got no idea what could be missing compared to a published adventure like Ghosts of Saltmarsh.
If you really want some bonafide free D&D adventures though, there’s one place I cannot recommend enough. The Dungeon Masters Guild is an online marketplace for creators to produce and sell their own D&D products. What’s this “sell” though? You’re going to maintain your zero dollar investment in this hobby so even if you exhaust every idea in your imagination (impossible, I know) you can still find over 300 FREE D&D adventures there. A large number of these are Pay What You Want, and even if you snag a title for free, it’s a common custom to go back and pay a little something if you enjoy or use the product. But, I understand, you don’t want to spend any money at all on this D&D hobby.
Here’s a handy link for you directly to all the DMs Guild adventures you can add to your digital bookshelf free. Check them out here. Before moving on I want to mention there are a number of resources created by Wizards of the Coast that are not free, but all monies received from sales of these products benefits Extra Life, a charity that unites thousands of gamers around the world to play games in support of their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. You can learn more about those right here on our website.
The DMs Guild search features are pretty good, and you can narrow down the results by what level characters an adventure is intended for, theme, campaign setting and so forth. Depending on how much you care to fiddle with rules and mechanics, you could scale adventures up or down to suit the characters in your campaign. But for ultimate search flexibility I will point you to Adventure Lookup. This ever-growing database currently contains over 2000 adventure references and you can get super specific with your searching. I don’t know if every single one has a link to where you can find the adventure but a lot of them do. Note these aren’t all free and in fact I suspect the majority of them are not at all free but you might get lucky.
Is it really possible to play D&D for free forever?
You’ve got all the rules for free, a digital campaign and character manager for free. Resources all over the internet offer expanded content for your games, both player character options and tools and resources for DMs — all free. I didn’t even touch on YouTube, where hundreds (thousands?) of channels dedicated to RPGs offer tips, advice, ideas and yes, more free material. You can always find people playing D&D on Twitch too, and pick up some ideas there. You’ve got free adventures, and I’ve even come across cartographers who share their maps free. One of my favorites is Elven Tower. I’ve been in a pinch for an upcoming D&D session more than once and snagged a map here to get me through. Many of them include notes and suggestions for adventures to take place at the location.
In sticking with the strictly free D&D for life scenario, I will lean more towards suggestions D&D Beyond than the Basic Rules. Say what you will about electricity use, you’ll save a ton on paper and pencil lead!
Now, there is one element of the D&D experience you don’t necessarily have to put any money towards, but if you were to spend any money at all on this hobby I’m going to advocate for dice. Those funny shaped polyhedral objects are an integral part of the experience. Sure, there are dice roller apps out there. Wizards of the Coast has one of their own I frequently use that you can find here. But whenever I’m playing I’ve got to have me some tangible dice. Virtual tabletops can have all the fancy dice rolling features they want, I will always and forever prefer rolling dice.
You can get by just fine without them but really, every time you fail a skill check or attack roll a little part of your brain will be thinking the computer stuck it to you. I never leave the house without a set of dice on me. A nerd never knows when the D&D will happen. But you do you and starting playing D&D for totally free. Play for the rest of your life and never give up a single coin to support the hobby you love. It’s cool!
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to tempt you with really cool dice. You can check out our longtime friends and sponsors Easy Roller Dice and use a one time promo code New2DND for 20% off your order here, or you can browse around some of these snazzy selections: