Gaming can be one of the least expensive hobbies you have.
- A movie is close to $10 these days. For the cost of two movies for yourself and five friends, you could buy one of the most expensive RPGs out there (the D&D 4E core books) at full retail price, and have far more than a few hours of alleged entertainment.
- A new videogame is $40-50. Unlike the CRPGs of the late 90s, most of today’s games can be completed in 20 hours or so, and some of them require a thousand dollars worth of computer to play. Sure, you could get a console, but then you couldn’t look at porn surf the net with it.
- Netflix’ cheapest membership is slightly less than D&D Insider  (if you pay by the month). If you pay a year at a time, DDI is far cheaper than Netflix.
- And let’s not even compare the costs of an evening gaming to an evening hanging out at a bar. Sure, one may get you laid, but if you like to drink and drive, it may also be by your new cellmate…
And these are some of the more expensive gaming options out there.
How Low Can You Go?
How about “Free”? There are free role playing games out there. Fellow Gnome Scott Martin covered a number of these in his excellent survey of open source RPGs . Even more are noted in the comments.
Many gaming systems provide a free introductory set of rules, for example Wizards of the Coast’s Quick Start  intro to 4E (complete with adventures), or Pinnacle’s Savage Worlds Test Drive . With a bit of groundwork, these can be used to do more than just the initial adventure, but check the legality before you create a full-blown system from the bare bones of a playtest.
And then there are some inexpensive alternatives. The core rulebook for my favorite game  costs only $10, which includes all the mechanics needed to run any number of genres. All you need are dice and an imagination.
We gamers are famous for extensive collections of gaming aids, but they are not necessary to the game. I don’t like to admit it, but I can still game without Tact-Tiles, minis, and props, and with far fewer dice than I own.
If you’re reading this, I bet you’ve got at least one complete RPG on the shelf. If it was fun when you played it back in the day, then nothing should make it “less fun” now. Unless you’re one of those shallow “gotta have the latest” types. (Just kidding! But I’d bet that a few modern tweaks does a lot for some of those old awkward systems.)
Tips And Tricks
OK, you say; I’ve already got a game. How can I cut my expenses, and game for cheap? And why do I speak in italics? I’m not Italish…
Let’s look at some expenses for gaming, and how to cut them.
- Supplies – Hopefully, you’re in one of the lucky/smart states that has a tax free weekend  before school starts. Many stores compete with loss leader  prices on school and office supplies in order to make more profitable sales. It may behoove you to buy a year’s supply of graph paper, notebooks, pens, pencils, wet or dry erase markers, folders, index cards (and boxes), etc.
- Sourcebooks – You do not need the latest sourcebook to play a game. I say again, you do not need the latest sourcebook to play a game. I don’t care if it completes the set, or if you’re curious about how they handled Dire Plankton in this edition. More is not always better.
- Props – Your prop will be used once, set aside, and hopefully remembered fondly; don’t spend too much on them. I find cheap props at craft stores, the cheaper toy stores, and dollar stores (but remember to wash the lead off first). And you’d be amazed at what you can do with tea and instant coffee .
- Food and Drink – What would gaming be without the Bottomless Bowl of M&Ms and an endless supply of Mountain Dew (or Dr Pepper down here in Texas)? A whole lot cheaper, that’s what it’d be. You can try to forego the time-honored tradition of processed sugars, or ask that the players bring their own. Or you could be like me, and shop the warehouse stores. (And try in vain to resist the siren call of Mexican Coke .)
Posting this article the week before Gen Con will probably get me uninvited this year, but those tax-free weekends are almost upon us. Do you have any advice for cheap gaming? Sound off in the comments and share the, uh, wealth!