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Gaming on a budget

V.Hobbs asks about gaming on a budget in the suggestion pot.

Because I have little money to spend on all of the gaming materials that I wish that I could, and so I always end up looking at my friends’ impressive collections and wondering how they do it.

How do you accumulate a large collection? There are several ways to do it– I’ll list a few below. Let’s see if anyone else contributes more in comments.

How to Build a Collection

Over time. I have a lot of roleplaying books, and if you include the ones I purchased but have since sold or given away, I probably have 20 lineal feet of books. It sounds impressive… but it’s actually a relatively slow acquisition that began 25 years ago. A book or two a couple of times a year really adds up if you keep at the same hobby for a long time.

Help gift givers. Less than half of my books were purchased by me. One thing that works very well is giving your family and friends very specific “hints” or a list. I’ve found that a little reconnaissance helps– if you want a cool indie title, send your gift giver a note about how cool X is– and include a link directly to the purchase page. If you’re interested in something for a big system (White Wolf or 4e) and the gift giver lives in your town, see if it’s in a bookstore that they’ll already know. If it’s there, let them know what section it can be found in. If it’s not there, let them know it’s hard to find– “hey, this book is cool but hard to find– the only place in town that would carry it is Local Game Store”. Check to make sure that the game store has easily googled directions, or provide an address.

Buy on sale.: Some books I picked up on a whim because they were marked way down. At one time, I thought I was going to design a game system (I’ve since come to my senses), and figured that lots of research material would be a good thing. Yard sales are great for picking up used books cheap. Game stores with a used or consignment section can be another good source. Some stores deeply discount supplements for old editions; if you want lots of inexpensive material and are willing to do some work updating stats, you can get a lot of good ideas cheap.

Friends who quit gaming. An extreme version of the “sale” idea is being friends with someone who cuts back or gives up gaming. If parents or a smaller apartment are pushing the purge, they might just want you to store the books. Often you’ll get stuff for free, just so they can be reclaim the space.

Hidden Weaknesses of Impressive Collections

Obsolescence. Many of the books in my collection are for systems and supplements that I enjoyed once upon a time, but will probably never get back to. While occasionally good as idea mines, these books are mostly wasted space. Many of my books in this category are in cardboard boxes (or have been given away), but many gamers have space enough to display them all. How much of the collections you envy aren’t being used any longer?

Many are reading books, not gaming books. Many games, like Legend of the Five Rings and White Wolf, provide a lot of interesting detail in their worlds to read about. Still, if you’re only reading them as entertainment, you might as well classify them as strangely shaped novels and not count them as useful parts of the collection. The same goes for those games you like to read, but never run or play in.

What book is that in? Great ideas can really be annoying when you have no idea where the information is when you need to reference it. Are the rules for crafting masterwork items quickly in the PHB, DMG, Complete Adventurer, Complete Scoundrel, or the Rules Compendium? Searching through five books isn’t much fun, when a quick house rule works just as well for something that comes up so rarely.

Immediate Solutions for Gaming on the Cheap

Visit the library. When I was a kid, the local libraries didn’t carry any RPG books. Now they’re an extension of my book shelf. A lot of books are great for one read– enough to get the ideas in your head. If you’re looking for supplements, check it out from the library first and make sure it’s worth your limited funds.

My virtual bookshelf is huge! If you want to explore cool ideas for free, John Kim’s free RPG page [1] organizes over 500 free RPGs. How much shelf would that take up? This includes great systems, like FUDGE, FATE, Risus, Wushu Light, plus many more.

Non-game book references. Good history books, atlases, and how things work books can be great resources at normal book prices. If you want a history of South America, you could buy GURPS Aztlan… or you can buy a couple of novels and casual history paperbacks for the same price. Combine this with your library for free research on anything.

Build your own. If you have time but not money, you can build something custom for your group. Unlike gramma’s knitted scarves, players really do appreciate the home made touch. Few people would rather play in a prebuilt module– a GM’s ongoing campaign is a labor of love. Props [2] can add a lot to the experience very inexpensively.

Buy one book systems or PDFs. If everything you need is in one book, you don’t have to work about spending month after month on the same game. PDFs are usually much cheaper than the printed book, since there’s no printing cost in the price. If you’re just going to print it yourself, make sure that you won’t wind up paying more after kinkos gets its cut– I find PDFs useful mostly when I’m not going to use the book at the table. (If you use a laptop at the gaming table [3], PDFs are an even better option.)

Your turn

What other advice do you have for stretching your gaming dollar? Do you have to leave breadcrumbs for the gift givers in your life, or do they already know the way to the your local game store?

9 Comments (Open | Close)

9 Comments To "Gaming on a budget"

#1 Comment By Rob Lang On December 17, 2008 @ 11:05 am

I’m something of a Freevangelist and when I started The Free RPG Blog ( [4] ) I had no idea there was so much cool free stuff to review. Updated weekly every Tuesday and includes some great sites there too. Ever heard of One Thousand Monkeys, One Thousand Typewriters? [5] Another cool place for free RPGs.

#2 Comment By Rafe On December 17, 2008 @ 1:23 pm

Another option for building a collection on the cheap is to pool resources. Yes, this means you don’t have sole ownership of the collection, it often means there’s even more in that collection. While it’s great for the GM to have the minis and the books, it’s also costly. Share the expenses: perhaps one player has the battlemat and map tiles, another has PC minis, another has monster minis and the GM has sourcebooks.

This obviously presupposes that the group is a stable one (likely comprised of good friends) and always games together.

This style of sharing works really well for the group I play in.

#3 Comment By melchizedek On December 17, 2008 @ 2:42 pm

I’ve found a fair number of my gaming books on ebay. With some patience and careful bidding, its often possible to get $35 dollar D&D books for $10. You can’t always find exactly what your looking for, but there’s usually something available for cheap.

#4 Comment By BryanB On December 17, 2008 @ 5:06 pm

Having a huge gaming collection is often more of a curse than a blessing. If I still had everything that I have bought over the years, I would need to rent a 10X20 mini storage unit or get a bigger place to live.

I used to be a collectivist. I’d get into a system and start buying up books for it. I had to have them all. This was when I lived at home and had plenty of disposable income. Strange that I make more money now but have less disposable income. Life is funny like that.

Anyway, I’ve been in the hobby for 27 years and one can build up a lot of stuff. In the past ten years, I have realized that A) I don’t need to keep so much stuff, B) I don’t need to buy so much stuff, and C) The old and never used stuff can often be sold to pave the way for far more selective purchases. Many gaming forums have auction/sales sub-forums and e-bay or Amazon marketplace is not a bad way to go either.

Scott mentioned Legend of the Five Rings. I had the entire 1st Edition line for that game. I loved the artwork and the fluff material about the setting. I never ran the game once in ten years. I never even had the chance to play the game in ten years. It was taking up a full shelf in my bookcase. It had to go. I kept the core rulebook and a setting boxed set, figuring that it would be all I would ever need if I wanted to try the game out. The rest got sold last year.

I’ve tried to adopt a buy only what I will use approach. It has cut my purchases down tremendously. If I don’t use it within a couple of years, I will sell it off. What I am trying to say is that huge collections are nice but they have no value if they aren’t being used at some point. Don’t be a collector for collecting sake. You can game on much less of an investment.

As for buying on a budget, E-Bay is a great place. Gaming forums are a great resource for finding books in the five to ten dollar range. I purchased eleven D&D 3.5 hard covers in new condition for only $50 including shipping. Just make sure that you ask about the condition before you buy. You don’t want stuff that is beat up so badly that it falls apart.

#5 Comment By Tommi On December 18, 2008 @ 5:30 am

Build your own games. That way, you’ll have a library of components from which to contruct a suitable set of rules for any game you’ll want to run, it takes no space (even electronic), and is with you everywhere.

The only weakness is that handing out rules compilations requires typing them first.

#6 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On December 18, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

A part of the reason we have huge gaming libraries is to impress our gamer friends. (It’s similar to how gym rats work out partly to impress other guys, and how women get all dolled up partly to impress other women.) So get over it, and move on with your own life. 😉

Another part of the reason is that you don’t have a computer yet. (So, how are you reading this?) Nothing finds an obscure rule faster than a PDF search of the book, or even a Google Desktop search of your PDF collection.

I just sold off nearly all of my D&D 3.5 collection on eBay, along with some other games I’ll never need the resources for. I’m actually reducing my gamer footprint, and making some nice Christmas cash to help out with presents. Add my voice to the chorus claiming that eBay is the way to go.

Other options are to look for local game shop sales or online sales. The OGL is apparently expiring at the end of the year, and d20 books can be had for pennies on the dollar. (Caveat: I’m not sure exactly what’s happening with the OGL.)

As for actually gaming on the cheap, cardboard minis can save a bundle, and battlemats can be found on eBay. Not everyone needs a copy of the core rulebook, and nobody needs the full collection of supplements to play a game.

Heck, Savage Worlds can be played for $10 a rulebook, and the Wizards and Warriors book that retains some of the D&D feel is a free download, as well.

#7 Comment By Samuel Van Der Wall On December 21, 2008 @ 4:57 am

That is like hitting a gold mine, buying out a friend who’s leaving gaming.

#8 Pingback By Christmas Weekly Link Adventure « Jonathan Drain’s D20 Source: Dungeons & Dragons Blog On December 21, 2008 @ 2:54 pm

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#9 Comment By mattereaterlad On December 23, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

You can get new books on the cheap too, if you’re willing to shop elsewhere than your LGS. I know Borders sends out coupons every week to those in its “rewards” program, and the amount ranges between 25-40% off a single title — great for when a new book drops and you’re cash-strapped.

#10 Comment By pseudodragon On January 6, 2009 @ 9:56 am

I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the SRD (System Resource Document) for D&D. It’s a collection of the base rules that WOTC designates as open content and is extremely comprehensive. Several sites have copies of the SRD and some add material from other OGL sources, too. (I use Crystal Keep – [6]). RPG Objects also offers the Modern20 core kit (including the Modern d20 SRD) for free, if you know where to look ( [7]).

Another great source is Free RPG Day. Once a year, several game companies post one of their products as a PDF for free downloading! The files are generally only available for a day or a week, but there is a ton of great material available. I probably downloaded a few thousand pages this year just from this one event. They included everything from a huge monster manual to an extensive swamp setting book and a pirate ship layout. There were other genres and systems represented, too. Totally cool!

Still another suggestion is to use any of the various book or game swapping sites. Maybe you have some old game books or just plain paperback novels that you can part with. Some of these sites allow you to post your books and send them to other members who ask for them. You acquire points that can then be used to request books from others, even if they weren’t your trade partners. You get rid of some of your dust gatherers and get a game book that you might actually use! You’re not likely to find the latest titles, but you can pick up d20 material or other “classics”. It generally costs less than $2 for media mail postage, so trading can be very cost effective.

I could go on, but you get the idea.