Friday, April 19, 2024

Class Structure

Staying with 5E, even the Open 5E versions, is hard. However, it is easier for groups to play class-based games since roles are easier to define. You are the mage, rogue, fighter, and healer. These roles are iconic and easily adopted. You can pick a class and play.

Class and level games are better for groups.

I play solo.

The 5E game structure gets in the way. I still like A5E and ToV and will keep and support them, but I need to see myself playing them regularly since I have better. Even with ToV's pillars of play support, I have games designed decades ago that do far better overland survival and social encounters.

New games are not always better.

I am slowly switching to GURPS and Dungeon Fantasy for my fantasy gaming, and I could not be happier. A more deadly system with fewer hit points, more combat options, and better character customization than anything I could ever get in 5E, no matter how much money I spend. I control how much magic is in the world, not the game designers.

The big difference here is that the rules aren't meant to be exploited but intended to be used. Sometimes I feel D&D has gotten too "Magic: The Gathering," where every class, subclass, multiclass combo, and option can be exploited and abused for maximum winning potential. The game is defined by the abuse of the rules.

I am also looking at Runequest. The BRP system does not have classes either.

Can GURPS be abused and exploited? Yes, but the exploit and abuse culture isn't ingrained here. A group can say build cheese and ban it, or pare it down to a level that works, doesn't blow out the game, and makes it unfun for everyone. Put a cap on Dodge and Parry. If someone is getting too many attacks, reduce them. Or you can play blown out, and every group will have a different feeling on how they like things to work. Put a cap on character points and disadvantages. This game has many ways to limit character power and complexity, and it isn't hard to recognize builds that exploit an area of the rules.

Then again, one-trick ponies in GURPS who put all their points into one combo usually die quickly once they realize a balanced character is better for survival. One freak ice storm will promptly sort out the cheese builds, so natural selection will care for characters who abuse the rules.

I am doing a GURPS Pathfinder game because I have all of the pawns for PF 1e and like that set. This is in the original world; the 3.75E rules never happened, and we are in the early days of the world. The world isn't 3.75E at all; it is more the classic Dungeon Fantasy and GURPS magic systems, where magic is still a mystery and strange to the world. It isn't low magic, more like medium magic. Magic isn't typical or every day, but some practice and are known - and feared.

One thing D&D gets wrong about magic is "free" arcane magic. Cleric magic can anger the gods, and you get turned off, so you may have to do quests to keep in good favor. Wizards and sorcerers are free spigots of magic power, and it leads to abuse. While I like DCC's costs to magic, the actual cost of magic should be societal, and reaction modifiers to magic should be based on the cultures and suspicion levels. Demons should offer "free spells" and "free character points" - just take this slight disadvantage, and more power can be yours! That should be enough to make the general population mistrust casters, and those seen playing with "evil magic" like necromancy could be run out of town or killed.

I hate the D&D and Pathfinder neutrality towards evil magic. My character is a necromancer and proudly proclaims it! I am a warlock who serves the elder gods of madness! What do you mean the town is trying to lynch us? Even druids could be seen with suspicion, and that has historical precedent. Witches? There is a lot there to unpack. Good towns will not see their characters as welcome, and they could even be hunted as enemies.

But you are punishing players by taking away options!

I'm sorry, but the town does not like you. They don't want you raising dead grandpa to use as a minion.

Too often, modern fantasy games put your mind in a state of the "MMO stupid zone" and force you to treat every option as equal and acceptable to all cultures. But it is fantasy! That is not a blanket excuse since fantasy can mean so many things - to put one definition on the word is highly rude to others who may have other points of view. Fantasy is what the group says it is, and it can be anything.

So, players need to be careful about how they build their characters. Even a thief with a kleptomaniac disadvantage could cause serious trouble for a party. Certain disadvantages are minor, while entire power systems and character types may have the peasants getting out the pitchforks and torches.

This also opens up evil campaigns if you look at it another way. Go to the World Wound and join the forces of evil. Start your beginner adventures there, spreading corruption and darkness. The rules do not "default to a heroic reality." If you play an evil demonologist, go live that life and get stabbed in the back—maybe. Stab them in the back first and prove your worth; this is evil.

This is another problem with 5E rulesets, the default hero mentality. Even the art is overly happy and heroic. The game isn't a simulation of anything; it is that typical "heroes doing dungeons" thing. GURPS doesn't have alignment; it has social and mental disadvantages. The world will react to your actions accordingly.

When you remove the Pathfinder 1e rules (or 5E, for that matter) and really think about how this world could be, your mind opens, and you realize there is much more depth here than that heroic party of level-one adventurers killing rats and goblins.

Off the Shelf: Open Quest (3rd Edition)

I found this one at the bottom of one of my storage boxes and forgot I had it. With all my interest in BRP and Runequest, it seems appropriate to take another look at this game.

First off, why?

I have BRP and Runequest. I have Mythras.

Why another d100 BRP-style fantasy game?

Open Quest aims to be easier to play and dramatically simplifies the d100 rules. This is on the same rules lineage as Legend, M-Space, and Mythras. From the rulebook explaining the differences:

So, like a Basic Fantasy or other "simple" implementation of a B/X system, this is the d100 answer for the "quick and easy" BRP-style system. This game is better for new players starting with d100 instead of 5E or B/X. It is definitely easier than Mythras, Runequest, or BRP. Also, some are tired of all the minutiae and simulation in BRP games, so stripping out all the cruft and boiling this game down to the base elements makes the game more approachable.

That is a good thing, and the new BRP book tries to do that, strip off the excess, and present a simple core engine; Open Quest takes it a step further and rewrites the game in a one-book format. Is it a "full game experience" like the complete Runequest or Mythras rules? No, and it isn't supposed to be. Sometimes, a simple dungeon-focused game without a world is all you want a game to be.

This is still on the old OGL license, and I hope it gets updated to ORC, using BRP as a base. The Mythras team is busy with new open-gaming licenses and a few new titles in their "Imperative" line. It is past time that the rest of the industry broke from Wizards; it's Wall Street garbage, which controls communities by fear, and players should follow suit and walk.

Also, OQ is more Runequest than B/X; it still keeps the concept of "personal magic" that everyone can use. So, this game still has a different feeling than a B/X-style game with magic haves and have-nots. Everyone using magic doesn't make the game more complex; it just unifies the "special power system" seen in 5E subclasses and lets people pull from a pool. It is actually a simplification over 5E subclass "gimmie" powers.

For example, Weapon Enhance is a spell that adds hit and damage to melee weapons. A fighter-type may want to learn that and use that to enhance attacks. Personal magic replaces subclass features, and it is a more straightforward and more democratic system of "special powers." Could a rogue-type character learn that? Why not? No need to take a level in fighter here; just learn the spell you want.

Open Quest is a worthy game. It is an excellent introduction to BRP-style games and a gateway to games like Call of Cthulhu, Mythras, and Runequest. For some, this is all the complexity and game you will ever need in one book.

Thursday, April 18, 2024

Mail Room: Runequest Starter Set

A few notes: The Runequest Starter Set does not have a character generation system and uses a simplified subset of the rules in the full Runequest game. You will play with many relatively attractive pre-gens (on the cover, plus many more in the box).

Runequest also has some vast misconceptions from the D&D crowd. You are not playing in the Renaissance, and not having European castles, plate armor, crossbows, gunpowder, iron, and giant-masted sailing ships does not mean this game is any less fun.

You are not King Arthur; you are playing the epic heroes of ancient times, like in Odessy, Jason and the Argonauts, and many other classics. You all have magic, even fighters. In some ways, you are more epic and capable than starting D&D characters.

Less gear and technology means a greater focus on characters and story. I have had players in D&D whose characters' motivations were "plate mail, shield, and longsword."

You are not playing a creature cantina of different races. Your starting characters will likely be humans, who can be wonderfully diverse—just look at Earth.

Fighters have magic to sharpen their blades and do extra damage, plus damage to magic creatures. Archers can use a spell to ignite arrows and cause massive damage if they hit. Rune spells expand the possibilities, and every character has them.

Also, characters are linked to both elemental and power runes - which have oppositions and hierarchies. These form your powers, but they are also roleplaying cues. Characters also have passions, which are more roleplaying ability scores, and these can even be used to buff a skill roll. There are more ability scores for roleplaying - directly linked to powers and story - than in any other game.

Runequest puts the D&D inspiration system to shame.

This game puts story games, like FATE, to shame.

My character's loyalty to a people can be used to buff a combat roll if they are threatened. On a critical failure, I can become wracked by despair and have my passion level decrease. Passions gain experience, just like skills.

There is a rune called disorder, which covers disorder, egocentricity, greed, strife, thoughtlessness, and the self. Let's say you have this at 70%. You now have a 70% chance of getting a buff (inspiration) to a roll that this rune could help. If you are a greedy thief, this rune helps you. It can level up. Also, if it gets above 80%, it may guide your actions over your best wishes, for good or bad.

If you want to change your ways or tamp down an extreme personality type, you can work on the opposite rune, truth, and try to level that up. Every point gained in disorder takes a point away from truth, and vice-versa. You can pursue a balance or go all-in on one.

This also means if you are water-aligned, you will swim very well and fast and be able to hold your breath underwater longer (less effort). Air rune characters will likely have the breath-holding thing, too, but not the swimming (more air). There are many roleplaying ways to use these, which will blow your mind.

These scores are also used for casting rune magic linked to your powers.

Your runes and passions make you a hero. They can be used for buffs. They are used in roleplaying.

Sometimes, I wonder why streaming shows like Critical Role aren't playing games like Runequest, where the roleplaying stats are real and matter. If the entire premise of your show is characters and their personalities, why are you playing D&D?

Wednesday, April 17, 2024

To 5E, or not to 5E?

Every version of Wizards' D&D is designed to break compatibility.

The previous version of books are worthless.

You have to rebuy it all.

I see shelves full of great OSR content being released that does not break the original hit point, save, AC, damage scale, and attack bonus of the original B/X framework - and all those books, adventures, and class and spell expansions still work today.

If the game doesn't have the core AC, damage, hit point, save, and damage scaling of B/X, it isn't D&D. This is the same as the core mechanics of Monopoly; those can't be messed with and still be able to call the game by its original name.

Open 5E preserves 5E's numerical model, which is good. It is still "scaled damage" and is not the best system. They did this back in 3E to break compatibility. I hope 2024 keeps 5E's numeric compatibility, but looking back at 3E, 3.5E, 4E, and 5E - nothing they do gives me confidence. Even the 3E to 3.5E jump was so messy that rebuying the books was more straightforward than converting.

That said, Tales of the Valiant is a CR+1 system that is a step more powerful than base 5E, just like Pathfinder 1e was to 3.5E. If you want a stricter numerical CR+0 5E compatibility, stick to Level Up A5E. The 2024 books may also be CR+1, and I strongly feel they will.

But I feel myself drifting away from 5E, even with Open 5E. For one, the excellent Dragonslayer game hits all the right OSR notes for me, and I see this becoming the de facto OSR game (B/X and Advanced blend), mainly due to its POD nature and the books' availability and consistency of presentation - in addition to the available mega-dungeon and campaign support. OSE is a challenging game to get physical books for, hurting the game's popularity.

All my OSR, B/X, and AD&D adventures work with this. One book and done. Castles & Crusades is moving up fast since it just works.

5E takes a shelf full of books, and the game is too big, as the old wargames of the 1980s got too big. Advanced Squad Leader took binders full of rules and options to simulate simple small unit battles. I don't want games this big anymore. Pathfinder 1e was my last one, and while I said 'never again,' I made the mistake of buying into the 5E hype.

And how much inertia is there with Open 5E? We need the open framework, but playing with basic set classes and races seems like stepping back 10 years. The only real difference between the OSR and 5E is the overpowered characters in the latter.

The real problem here is I am slowly mastering GURPS. As I gain system mastery, I become the game designer of my system and world. I just need one book in GURPS to build two shelves full of character options for 5E, plus more. I get exactly what I want, and there are no compromises.

Be my own game designer? Or pay more money to get half-baked filler-packed 5E books?

Not a hard choice.

5E professes to have many options, but I see books piling up on the shelf. And even better, I can change how character powers work. Does a cleric use a "healing spell," or is the "healing power" more like a healing superpower that uses fatigue? I can go traditional Dungeon Fantasy magic and have those "cleric spells" or just design a healing power that a cleric can use and buy with points.

Any way you want to do it, it works.

People need to understand this about GURPS. If you want to be told how it works, play 5E. If you are a game designer, play GURPS, and don't waste your time or money on other things.

Once I have complete control, I don't need all those 5E books. What is better: having character powers that a designer gives you or the power to design anything you want? The combat isn't bad; it can be "hit and damage" if that is all you want, just like in 5E.

Also, buy too many books and invest too heavily in 5E, you are locked into D&D Beyond. Without it, there is no way to "get value" from that many options spanning that many books. GURPS does infinitely more in fewer books.

Also, if an option breaks the game or a combo is too powerful - ban it. You are the game designer. They give you the tools. Set internal limits for your games and use them.

I don't need 5E at all.

Open 5E I support because it does the most good in that space.

But as a system for a professional player?

It still falls short.

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Basic Roleplaying Solves the Runequest Problem

I see many reviews of Runequest from a few years ago that say the game is too tightly tied to the setting, and they wish it wasn't. Most complaints are from those who did not use the setting but liked the rules. Mythras, the BRP fork supported by the creators of Runequest 6, solves the problem by creating a set of rules not tied to a world.

I like Runequest 7 being tightly tied to the setting, making the game different and unique. I am tired of the cookie-cutter, planar-linked, faux-modern, non-colonial, neo-Renaissance, Harry Potter meets pop-culture settings that Wizards puts out, and they are all the same at this point. Baldurs Gate 3 takes the entire D&D genre into sci-fi, and it is hard to call anything D&D fantasy these days. Call them Spelljammers, but they are starships, and most D&D settings are now wannabe sci-fi settings that force characters to start as primitive stick-using townspeople.

There is so much sci-fi in fantasy these days. This Conan meets Buck Rogers stuff gets tiring, and all it serves to do is put every genre in a blender and press the highest number on the machine to create flavorless multi-genre scop paste.

The science-fantasy fad also subconsciously tells every fantasy character, "You are a low-intelligence primitive." It is the designer's way of describing the audience as inferior for wanting to play fantasy archetypes and is also colonialist in theme. Fear not, stupid barbarians and primitive peoples of the world! The space people are here! Sorry, our cleaning robot killed you. Don't kill yourself figuring out our space artifacts!

Sci-fi in fantasy, unless this is the game when it starts, sideswipes the players and their expectations and feels like the DM and module writer talking down to the players.

And how do you return to caring about the everyday fantasy world when you know UFOs are out there? Do I care that the Black Knight ruined the King's celebration? Am I mad that the Dark Elf raided the Border Keep? Do I care about the lost island? We need to rescue the princess, but we really want to be chasing aliens.

I have never had a fantasy campaign recover from a sci-fi incursion.

And frankly, Gamma World is a better mix of the genres. Post-apocalyptic is the place to be for mixed sci-fi and fantasy, and it does the genre the best, with mutations as the power source. You belong here, and the great mystery is figuring out what happened to the world and who the ancients were.

Dungeon Crawl Classics does it right, too. The sci-fi elements are so crazy and strange that they are alien and unrelatable. You are not getting a "Star Trek" ship that is more civilized than you up there, with a crew teleporting down and telling the characters what primitives they are.

Runequest is pure bronze-age high fantasy, with even everyday people using magic. You think "everyone knows magic" as something that blows out the game world, but it works here with a heightened sense of spiritualism and magic being a part of life. The magic is minor and more like charms or incantations, something used to help clean a room, like the old AD&D cantrips. In 5E, cantrips became "laser" attack spells like a video game (and fell into the 'why take anything else' category). In AD&D, they were minor incantations, like magic tricks, with no combat use.

If I were using Runequest for a generic fantasy game, I would use the old Basic Roleplaying game 'Big Yellow Book' before using Runequest since the assumption that 'everyone knows magic' is nonexistent. These days, we have even better...

The only answer here is the same one that was true back then as it is now: the Basic Fantasy Game is the generic d100 system for non-RQ fantasy, and it always was. These days, we have an ORC-licensed system ready to expand upon and use, and it works out of the box for generic fantasy, high to low. It also works in Gamma World-style settings.

But letting Runequest be Runequest is a strength. I love runes and passions as part of the character. I love the tight tying to tribe, cult, and family. No other game does this! Let the game's systems reflect the world, culture, and experience of living there.

BRP is for everything else except Cthulhu. BRP is designed as a toolkit and fits better as a generic fantasy starting point. And the starting point is an excellent way to describe it since fantasy games are always better when the generic part is tossed out, and the group adds their ideas and magic to the system.

Mythras is also a great option if you go off-Chaosium, and they have a classic fantasy supplement if you want less Bronze Age and more high fantasy. Yes, the font size is small, and I use a PDF on a tablet (and I bought reading glasses). Hopefully, when this team goes ORC license, they reprint the book with a larger font.

The BRP-like d100 systems are a great place to play and are also very compatible with each other.

BRP is the best thing to happen to all of Chaosium's games since it takes the 'universal system' pressure off them. This also allows Runequest and Call of Cthulhu to be their own thing, with system-specific game rule extensions. This also sets the model for your worlds and creations, inviting you to build subsystems to add to the game.

I love GURPS, but with Chaosium games, the parts unique to the world are essential to the flavor and play of the game. You need to flip optional rules in GURPS to get the same thing, but there is a freedom in BRP that allows the designers to customize the game for the setting—and it invites you to do the same.

Monday, April 15, 2024


The Runequest 6 ruleset switched companies and became the d100, BRP-like Mythras game, spawned a sci-fi game called M-Space. This is almost a rules-light implementation of the Mythras engine, and it is a complete sci-fi game with alien creation, starship construction and battles, and character creation and combat. There are exploration rules, too.

Runequest 6 had many fans. The new Runequest is also excellent; it is another flavor of BRP worth supporting. If you are in the d100 BRP world, you have a lot of excellent choices.

The only weak parts of the M-Space game are the equipment and gear, with only a sample selection. I can pull in a gear list from many other games, from Star Frontiers and Cepheus Engine to Space Opera, so this isn't too much of a problem. However, it will vary if you use this game to play in another universe. Sometimes, a considerable default gear list will limit what you can use the game for since a gear list for a hard-science Traveller-style game will not fit in a Star Wars-style universe. Also, in Star Wars, that universe is not as "gear dependent" as a game like Star Frontiers, where characters are more defined by their collection of gear to activate their skill and abilities.

There is also an argument in sci-fi that the genre should not be so dependent on gear. The presence of it should be more determined by an oracle roll; the situation, or even skill possession, should assume the relevant gear is on the character without them needing to buy and track it.

If you are a technician, your skill grants you a "tool vest" for free. If someone in the story "takes it from you, " you will make technician rolls at a substantial negative modifier. The vest is also easily replaceable by access to any tool locker, where you can grab a tool belt and load it up with the things you need. The same goes for a medical kit, investigative gear, or any other piece of gear a skill may need.

Secondary "skill enabler" gear is assumed to come with the skill and is easily replaceable enough that you don't need to track it other than "has it" or "doesn't have it." In a survival situation where characters start off prepared, assume every character possesses "skill equipment," at parts of the story, they use it up, lose it, or eat through their survival rations in 7 days.

There will always be "unique items" like a teleportation belt, which must be tracked, purchased, and written on a character sheet. Weapons and armor are also significant enough to buy and track. If it is a weapon, unlinked to a skill, story item, strange find, or a unique item - track it on the character sheet. If it is everyday "skill enabler" gear, if you don't have it, put an "X" by the skill, and try to replace it as soon as possible.

Why does sci-fi need giant equipment lists? This definite "survivalist theme" in many sci-fi games turns it into a game of, "Didn't explore the planet with salt pills? You're dead." Players must go down the gear list, check 'do we have this' boxes, and buy dozens of minor items, such as a compass and lighter. Gameplay turns into, "What did we forget to take camping this time?"

The Star Trek TV show may have had under 5 or 6 props for the series used regularly. With the communicator, big phaser, women's shaver phaser, tricorder, and medical wand thing, Star Wars never worried about huge gear lists. Many sci-fi shows handwaved gear as something of lesser importance to the story.

Sci-fi games get into D&D "shop at town" mode, and we have shopping lists. Some games even have books full of gear. This is only bad if you assume this is how you must play. Yes, gear lists are more of an OSR thing, but if I am playing a Star Trek TV series-inspired game, I don't need a list at all, just a few item descriptions. It seems strange, but many sci-fi genres do not need gear lists.

However, if you look hard enough, there are good sci-fi equipment guides out there that are mostly setting neutral. This one by Angry Golem Games works well for most sci-fi settings. The OSR weapon damages are primarily in line with BRP and M-Space, and it contains enough general gear and tech trinkets to keep you shopping and geared up for quite a while.

Pick up a copy of the Space Opera PDF for really old-school games, which has powered our sci-fi gear lists for decades (even Star Frontiers). This is a solid 40-page list of sci-fi gear that covers a lot of genres, and since the gear is a multi-sci-fi genre, it fits well in many games. Weapon damages don't exist in an OSR or BRP format, but they do give a "wound factor" number that is easily convertible into a damage die; just count a +0 as a d6 and step up a die for each +1 (0 = d6, 1 = d8, 2 = d10, 3 = 2d6, etc.). Ignore the armor and penetration numbers here, too.

Is M-Space worth playing?

My feeling is yes since I have nothing like it, and it fills a need from a d100 sci-fi role-playing angle—especially with the BRP-style "improve as you go" game style. Frontier Space is the ultimate Star Frontiers replacement since it solves SF's broken action economy and higher-than-100% skill system.

So why not play Frontier Space?

FS is a more straightforward game but is more gear-dependent. FS also does not have a ship design system. FS has a character-point-driven improvement system (with a talent system) that is a crowd-pleaser since SF sorely needs this. FS has a very pulp feeling.

M-Space feels like hard sci-fi, almost like a Traveller. There is a de-emphasis on gear, like the Star Trek or Star Wars universes. In most situations, you can "assume" skills have gear, and characters either have it or not. In Star Trek, Spock has his "tricorder" in that pouch, and you don't need to track it, buy it, or write it on a character sheet (unless it gets destroyed or lost, X next to the skill until the skill-gear is replaced). Only track weapons, armor, unique, and story items.

Otherwise, head out into the universe, explore, and use the skills you want to improve.

Okay, my next question is, why not BRP?

M-Space has starship design and combat, which you could use with BRP, too. The beauty of the d100 systems in this family is a level of cross-compatibility on par with OSR games. You could use ORC BRP for characters and M-Space starships—no problem! M-Space is a more rules-light implementation, with far fewer rules than Frontier Space and BRP. It leans on Mythras for special case rules, but the game is complete. On another note, BRP suffers from the same sci-fi equipment list problem M-Space has, but my fix works well enough.

Also, M-Space has sections for simplified combat and starship combat rules. The game falls on the most rules-light of the BRP-style systems, streamlining the system even more than the BRP book.

What would an M-Space game feel like? Based on the art, I get this almost massive, open-ended, expansive, and vast sense of wonder only games like Tales from the Loop give me. Lots of sci-fi games "get in your face" like Star Wars, Starfinder, Star Frontiers, Star Trek, and others - they come at you hard and tell you, "This is how you play." The play structure is predefined, and social interactions and expectations are pre-set. An infinitely large game like Traveller can feel confining and small because everything is known. Even Starfinder feels small since there are no mysteries to the universe, and magic does everything.

M-Space feels like my first time in Minecraft. The only other game that gives me that feeling is Stars Without Number. But unlike SWN, M-Space is open-ended on progression and develops as you develop your character. Does your space pilot become a merchant, space miner, or mercenary? Unlike SWN, no classes exist, and your future is up to you.

The stars seem like a more enormous place without character classes telling you where to go.

M-Space is also rules-light like the original Traveller little black books but without the setting. Frontier Space feels set in either its universe or the original Star Frontiers universe, and the heavy focus on gear makes it a "shopping game" style of sci-fi instead of an "experiences-based" model. Tales from the Loop is also an equipment-light game; you decide if someone has something, and that is it. You are not going to Uncle Farley's General Store and trying to spend 5 dollars and 35 cents on gear and writing down bubble gum, comic books, playing cards, dice, and Swiss Army knives on character sheets.

So, I don't know where this would go or how it would play. In Starfinder, I know I am heading into a space dungeon or abandoned starship, and there will be football-headed space goblins in there to kill and take their weapons because we are eternally poor. In Star Frontiers, there were only a few good adventures. In M-Space, I don't know what this game is or does.

And all that is mine to make.

That freedom, while frightening, is fantastic. I will never worry about a book contradicting my universe or living up to the original game. I will never feel like I need to have a Star Wars adventure. I will never need to feel guilty that I am not "boldly going" anywhere. I will never be tied to "fighting the evil space aliens" - unless I want to. I will never have a galaxy so large I will feel hopeless. I can never explore it, and most of it is the same anyway because of UPP codes.

The universe and the expectations around that universe are mine.

I don't know what to do with it, which is fantastic.

BRP gave me that feeling back in the day with the big yellow book. It was always a game that seemed hard since it gave you everything and told you nothing. I now see how beautiful 'zero-story' games are like this. Why do I need game designers to tell me how to play their games? BRP, Hero, and GURPS are like that for me. Cypher falls in the middle since there is much designer influence around the play structure, yet the game has no story.

BRP games are excellent. Once you break free of your d20 dependence and class-based systems, the training wheels come off, and your mind opens to infinite possibilities.

Saturday, April 13, 2024

Mail Room: BRP (2023) Gold Leatherette

The gold leatherette book for the Basic Roleplaying System arrived today and is an excellent volume. The paper quality is the same non-glossy satin, a sort of "soft, not slick" paper stock that is heavy, sturdy, and pleasant. It is also lighter than a heavier clay-glossy paper book; while those are nice, this is nice, too.

BRP is a one-book GURPS replacement for me. Nothing will beat GURPS as a character designer, but as a more straightforward game that does roughly the same thing GURPS does, but with a character development system that rewards using the skills you use, not those you don't. BRP is good enough for me and does the classic open-ended percentile system about the best.

This is far different from a level-based system, where if you do not use a dagger for 20 levels and pick one up, you suddenly become a master knife fighter. In BRP, if you want a skill to improve, you must use the skill. If you want magic, learn magic and use the magic.

In GURPS, you can just "buy magic" and say, "I learned it." Typically, a good referee requires a good reason, but out-of-the-blue stuff can happen. In an initial purchase, it can also occur in BRP, but improvement is directly linked to use. Level-based systems are even worse. They give you freebies. You never have to explain how you learned, and I find that I never use many of them because they never fit into my character concept. You can multiclass and never explain how, all of a sudden, a warlock became a part-time paladin.

BRP reminds me of the classic Top Secret System, but it has been highly evolved and refined over 40 years of development. This separates BRP from any DriveThruRPG or Kickstarter percentile system; while those may have the buzz and flash, BRP has had 40 years of development, play, and experience. Is BRP slightly heavy in terms of rules? Yes and no, most of the system is optional, and you can just use the system as a clean combat and task resolution system, roll 1d100, apply damage, next turn, and ignore almost all of the special rules. Every old-school system does this at heart and does not expect you to "follow all the rules," while today's games often depend on the rules to keep them working correctly.

BRP could easily create a Top Secret or even a James Bond 007-type RPG, maintain that percentile-game feeling, and have the crunch and skills to make the game more than a 5E-style "room-based combat simulator." Spy games need a good skill base, with various specialties for experts and character types. If you think back to the Mission Impossible TV series, you will have disguise specialists, art experts, infiltrators, technical people, and all other types assembled for a team mission.

If I did a Mission Impossible-style game, each player would have a few characters with different specialties, and the team leader (who would rotate) would choose the characters from the group. That way, a player could have an 'art expert' character and another character as an 'Olympic Triathlete,' and different missions could call for various experts. BRP is simple enough to run multiple characters, while other systems are far more complex.

Top Secret and the 007 game never had a robust character advancement system like BRP. Even Gangbusters or Star Frontiers could be implemented just as effortlessly by BRP. The latter would need a few items ported in, but the Chaosium percentile system is decades beyond the abandoned TSR ones and, frankly, likely what TSR was trying to implement and compete with. Yes, the TSR systems were more simple, but BRP stood the test of time and outlasted them by decades and companies.

Also, since BRP is a more streamlined system, it is far easier to get into than a more robust implementation of the same system, such as Runequest. While this is the same engine that powers Runequest, the rules in RQ are more in-depth and layered than those in BRP, with many more subsystems and specific character options for the RQ world.

BRP is supposed to be more of a "base system" that is to be layered upon. You can play BRP as-is, but the book says you must put on your game-designer hat and add world-specific rules that your game needs. Granted, BRP comes with many options to use; encouraging players to become game designers is how old-school games were played.

I do feel BRP is easier to begin that RQ, but they have a beginners box for RQ that is coming soon.

What is so great about BRP and Runequest is the Skyrim-style improvement system. Your character starts without a class with beginning abilities based on background and choices. To improve a skill, you must use it successfully. In d20 games, you can never shoot a bow, get five levels, and be better at it. Some classes even give you free bow powers while you were never using that bow! I can do the same in GURPS by adding character points that improve bow skills without using them, but I would disallow that as a referee.

Too many people like the d20 freebies and automatic advancement. This is even present in the OSR and almost every class-based game design.

Earning my skills through use gives me greater satisfaction and connection to my character. It also gives me a greater connection to my character's story since I can look at those skills and know why they are as high as they are. If I have a character with high stealth and dagger skills, that tells a story of every advancement. I wonder why they are that good in a class-based system. Did they find a 5,000 gold piece gem and get a few levels in a 1 XP for 1 GP system? Did they complete a roleplaying quest as a part of a party (and only really did something to earn them) and just ride along for the XP?

I wonder why that class-based system character is good.

In BRP and Runequest, I can look at my character sheet and instantly know why. The story is a part of my character, as are my choices and the good and bad things that happened along the way. When you start a character, you still determine where your character will go, depending on your choices. Very few OSR games use this sort of "open system." If they do, I guarantee they haven't been around for 40 years and have also tested this well.