basicgameRole-playing games have been a big market for e-books ever since e-book formats first started getting popular. One of my earliest blog posts on e-books, from well before I started writing for TeleRead, was on that subject. By and large, most of these e-books are PDFs, which I don’t really consider a proper “e-book” format at all (though Nate Hoffelder would disagree with me), but at least they’re digital and portable.

In 2009, Wizards of the Coast stopped selling Dungeons & Dragons material in PDF format, only resuming sales again in 2013. Meanwhile, in 2012, WotC announced a new Fifth Edition of D&D, and this year the company launched a store to let D&D players self-publish their own supplemental material and adventures. As I noted then, it’s certainly a far cry from when TSR attempted to force fan-created D&D content off the Internet in the 1990s.

But there is more to Wizards of the Coast’s D&D e-books than allowing self-publishing. Although some D&D-related material, such as D20 and D20 Modern System Reference Documents, has long been freely available, Wizards has stepped up its game with the new fifth edition.

Taking a lesson perhaps from Baen, or from shareware game developers, Wizards has made available complete, if basic, Dungeons & Dragons Player and Dungeon Master handbooks. They can be downloaded in regular or printer-friendly PDF editions, but they also have on-line web versions—and their formatting is simple enough that they can easily be converted into EPUBs with a little Calibre expertise. (If only more RPGs were available this way!) Furthermore, there’s a System Reference Document for D&D 5E that includes some rules and classes the basic set lacks, and some other free supplemental rule guides as well, though these are only available in PDF format.

You get access to a lot of additional material if you go out and buy the full-fledged Fifth Edition rulebooks, but the free rules are complete and playable in and of themselves, and gamers are long used to using e-books in their gameplay. And coming out with a free version of the game like this is a very wise move on Wizards of the Coast’s part.

Dungeons & Dragons has gone through three (and a half) dramatically different editions in the last 16 years, and acquiring a set of even just the core books for any one of them can be expensive. It’s to be expected that gamers who are already happy with an earlier edition will be hesitant to get into the newest flavor. Making a fully-functional version of the basic rules available to read and try out at no cost is a great way to address that reluctance—and to see about getting new players into the game, too. It also makes it less difficult to get new players into your game who don’t have the books themselves, as they can just download these and roll up a character.

So, if you want to see what all the D&D fuss is about, there’s nothing stopping you from getting into it for free. You just need to find yourself some dice, some players, and a good Dungeon Master. But be careful—once you start using your imagination, who knows where you might stop?