How to Play D&D 5e on a Budget
If you look online you’ll find a lot of people with big collections of books, awesome miniatures, detailed maps, and custom-made character sheets. It’s intimidating, especially for those that want to get into the hobby and don’t have hundreds of dollars to throw down on something.
The cool thing about tabletop RPGs is that you really don’t need any of that, but if you have the money and the passion you’re more than welcome to go all out. The quality of the game isn’t dependent on the quality of the materials that you’re playing with. It’s more about who you’re playing with and how you’re playing than what you’re playing with.
In addition to that, not everyone in the group needs all of these materials either. A group of people can share a couple of books or could even split the cost together.
You don’t need a lot to start playing D&D 5e (and other RPG systems) in fact you could play a whole campaign for just a few dollars per person! Let’s take a look at how we can accomplish this in today’s post.
What do you need to play D&D 5e?
So hanging out with people doesn’t cost money, technically. But sometimes it does. Gas and transportation costs can add up if your friends are 30 minutes+ away. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, we need to find a group of people to play with.
Personally, I prefer to play games with people I know, so friends and family. I tend to start here. Now, for D&D 5e you’ll want 3-5 players and a Dungeon Master.
If you’re able to get a group together by now all you need to do is determine a place, time, and day to play. You could set up a schedule or you could just say “every other Monday from 7 pm – 10 pm” or you could figure it out after the session.
If you’re not so lucky don’t worry! There are plenty of places to find groups. /r/lfg and Roll20 are two platforms I hear about a lot that offer ways for people to find groups. These are primarily aimed at people who play online using things like Roll20 or Skype. As someone who plays RPGs entirely online nowadays, there’s nothing wrong with this.
However, it’s understandable if you want to find a group in person! Check out your local game store and see if they have programs like D&D Adventurers League, or just ask if they have D&D or other tabletop games that have open spaces for new players!
Books are absolutely the most important part of any RPG system. They define the rules, character options, and really anything that it takes to make a game within the system. The problem of course though is that said books can be pretty pricey and depending on the system you may need a few books.
I’ve written a comprehensive guide on which D&D 5e books are the most important to own. The guide in a tier system, so when you own a book you go down to the next level of the tier and look at the options for your next gift or purchase. Even then, though, the books aren’t necessary to play D&D 5e and a lot of other RPGs.
The 5e SRD is available online and is distributed by Wizards of the Coast for you to use for your own games. It doesn’t have all the rules and options that can be found in their printed books like the Player’s Handbook, but it has enough rules and options for a group of people to play a proper game of D&D 5e.
Classes, races, creatures, magical items, equipment, spells, and of course rules can all be found within the 5e SRD. This is a great way for a new group of people to figure out if they might want to make the plunge and purchase some of the books in the future. Think of the SRD as a free trial, but it has enough content in it that it’s a proper game in it of itself.
Alternatively, you could also splurge or split the cost of The Starter Set which includes everything you need to play D&D including a rulebook, pre-generated characters, dice, and an adventure.
I’ve seen a lot of custom-made character sheets pop up as of late and they’re seriously awesome. If I ever got the chance to play a long-term game in person again it’s something I’d have to think about getting for sure.
That being said it’s not necessary to play the game. You don’t need artwork of your character or any of that stuff. Simply grab a character sheet off of the official D&D website and go to town with creating your character.
Alternatively, you can search online for character sheets that members of the community have created. For example, these class-specific sheets by Emmetation are particularly great for new players so they can see the new features they get when they level up.
I regularly see people get very excited about dice, especially on Twitter. I’m not much of a collector so I don’t feel the same way, but I understand it. It would be cool to have a thematic set to match your character.
That being said though a lot of those custom dice sets can be pretty pricey, especially if you’re looking at metal dice. But they don’t have to be! Websites like Tabletop Loot have some great custom dice sets for a very reasonable price.
Your group could also do what I did a while ago and grab one of those giant bags of dice off of Amazon and you’ll literally never have a dice shortage.
Or you could just spend no money for your dice. If you have a phone or a computer – which I assume you do since you’re reading this – download a dice rolling app and use that! If you’re playing on a virtual tabletop like Roll20 you’ll already have dice built-into the system so no need to worry about that.
Miniatures, Maps, and Handouts
None of these are actually needed, but they can all be done cheaply for those that want them. In college, a couple of my roommates printed out a big grid on the printers and we used beer bottle caps for miniatures. You can learn how to stain paper to make some very cool looking handouts too!
For a long time, I used to draw out the maps on regular notebook paper. As the DM I kept track of everything in a simple notebook with a pencil and pen. Players would also have this same setup for their notes. So cheap that you probably have all this stuff in a drawer somewhere in your living space.
You can draw out battle maps like this as well. Just be sure to use a pencil and erase your markings as creatures and PCs move around the battlefield.
But you don’t even need to do any of that. I’ve talked about using theater of the mind for combat encounters before. This is a way to not have to draw out maps on the fly and limit the consumption of paper. Some groups just prefer this style of play anyways!
Here’s a quick TL;DR for those of you that want the final list of what I believe to be necessary for playing D&D 5e for the first time or on a budget!
- A group of 4-6 people including the DM
- The 5e SRD or The Starter Set
- Free or ~$20
- A character sheet
- Free or cheap to print
- Dice or a dice rolling app on your phone/computer
- $7-10 or free
- A notebook, pens, and pencils
- Around $5
If you went all-out you’d be spending a grand total of $25 and your group only needs one Starter Set and the set comes with a set of dice. Everyone else then can themselves a set of dice, a notebook, and a writing utensil you’d probably clock out at around $15 a person if that.
Even then though, each player doesn’t need a set of dice. You can share these since only one person will be rolling at a time. Seriously, it’s not an exaggeration to say that you could play D&D 5e for under $20 or even under $10.
RPGs are a hobby where you can spend as much or as little as you’d like and still be able to enjoy them to the fullest. You don’t need a decked-out Dwarven Forge set with custom miniatures and metal dice to have fun, but there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having that stuff.
With the internet, we have so many great ways to find new free homebrew content and software that can enhance our games. Not to mention things like Roll20 which can bring people from all over together online to play games like D&D 5e.
Like I said before, it’s not so much what you have to play with, it’s who you have to play with. Find a group of people you enjoy hanging out with or playing games with and block off a few hours every week or so to play some games.
I guarantee that you’ll have fun, but if you don’t then check out a different RPG system, because there are tons and many of them are available online just like the 5e SRD.