lunes, 31 de julio de 2023

Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine (BRP) review

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Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine (BRP or BRUGE for short) is a multi-genre roleplaying game by Chaosium. Originally created by Steve Perrin, it was later updated by Jason Durall and Sam Johnson, and now accompanied with wonderful art by Loïc Muzy, Ossi Hiekkala and many other artists. It is a toolbox of rules with many customizable options so you can adjust it to any desired setting and to your own tastes and needs. Below you can read my review, including a sample character and some advice. But first, a couple details about its history and the ORC License.

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The cover of Basic Roleplaying honors the previous edition with an updated Vitruvian Man by Loïc Muzy

A bit of history

This book started as a 16-page booklet published in 1980 as a way to introduce the roll-under D100 system Chaosium had created for RuneQuest to beginning players. Stripped down to its most basic core, it was included in every box set for their D100 games, starting from RQ2 and Call of Cthulhu, because they all shared that basic structure. As an example of what could be done with this stripped-down generic rule system, in 1982 they published the Worlds of Wonder box set, which included that same revised booklet and three others, each with additional rules for specific genres: Magic World for fantasy, Future World for sci-fi, and Superworld for superheroes. In 1983 they even published Superworld as an independent RPG. Much later, in 2002, they published a second edition of the revised generic booklet. Later, in 2011 Jason Durall and Sam Johnson put together again most of the rules and subsystems Chaosium had produced for their different D100 systems in the Basic Roleplaying generic ruleset, with a version of Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man on the cover to show its multi-genre purpose. This hefty 400-page book would be nicknamed the "Big Gold Book" or BGB. Finally, in 2023 Chaosium published the full-color updated edition I am reviewing here (you can read the differences with the previous edition). Following the original spirit of the system, they released it under the ORC license to make it easy for anyone to create and sell their own D100-based games and scenarios. 

Covers of the different editions of Basic Roleplaying previous to the updated edition of 2023

What is the ORC License?

The Open RPG Creative License or ORC License allows creators to make their content open for other creators to reuse in their derivative works. It fosters a "virtuous circle" of sharing published rules mechanics so anyone can use those rules to create works that are compatible with the original work or even to add to the licensed rules while making your own money from it. Paizo Publishing spearheaded the creation of this license as a reaction to the "OGL Debacle" when Wizards of the Coast tried to alter their OGL License and make it more restrictive. Unlike the Wizards' OGL, the ORC License makes sure no one can ever change it and revoke its openness.

In short: since the whole Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine is under the ORC License, you can publish your own scenarios and supplements compatible with these rules without paying any royalties to Chaosium or requiring their permission. However, all the rules content you add is also under the same license, so everyone will be able to use it for their publications (but only the rules, not your art or setting info). You can even publish completely new games and settings using these rules.

Chaosium stamped the ORC License on the Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine hoping people will use these rules to create their own content and thus spread the number of publications compatible with their trademark roll-under D100 system. Even before Wizard's OGL, it was Chaosium's goal to turn the BRP system into a tool anyone could use, and now that is easier than ever. It remains to be seen if they will achieve that, now that there are other similar D100 systems like Mythras or OpenQuest. However, unlike these other games, BRP covers all genres in just one book. Moreover, having the "BRP-compatible" logo on your book's cover may drive sales, and the attention the ORC License has gathered may rekindle the interest in the Basic Roleplaying rules. So let's have a look at the rules.

A buffet of rules

Basic Roleplaying is an easy to learn, intuitive, simulationist skill-based system. If you know how to play RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu, you already know how to play because BRP is a distillation of its common elements: characters are defined by seven characteristics (Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Power, and Charisma) with scores usually from 3 to 21 for humans, and by a list of skills defined as percentages. In order to succeed in a certain skill, you roll a D100 and try to roll equal or under your score in that skill. Since your skills are expressed in percentages it is instantly clear what your chances are. The seven characteristics are also rolled as a percentage multiplying each by 5. For example, your Constitution score times five is your chances of resisting poison and sickness. These rolls have 5 possible results: critical success, special success, normal success, failure, and fumble. Characters also have hit points that measure how much damage they can endure, and power points they can spend to use supernatural powers (if they have access to them).

The character creation section starts by defining up to 4 power levels for characters/campaigns

These are the most basic rules. Since the 80s, Chaosium has used this basic structure with many games and each has added its own flavor of extra rules and subsystems to it. The Basic Roleplaying book includes all these extra rules and puts them at your disposal. This way you can add the ones you need or like the most to suit your own particular campaign and desired level of crunch. Pick and choose. For example, if you want to play superheroes, you can use the list of superpowers taken from the Superworld RPG (BTW, G.R.R. Martin ran a superheroes campaign with it that spawned the Wild Cards novels, comics, and games!). If you feel like running a fantasy campaign, you can use the magic spells taken from the Fantasy booklet in the Worlds of Wonders box set, or the sorcery rules taken from the Elric! game, plus the fantasy creatures in the Creatures section. If you fancy a galaxy exploration campaign, you can use the sci-fi equipment list and the spaceships originally created for Future World or even the psychic powers originally included in ElfQuest. If you want to play a modern espionage campaign, you can add the Education characteristic and use the modern weapons and vehicles in the equipment section. And if you want a post-apocalyptic campaign, you can even add the mutant powers originally created for the Hawkmoon RPG. You can even use the simplified sanity rules from Call of Cthulhu if your campaign includes mind-bending horror elements.

In the section about superpowers, this piece of art suggests a cool setting: superhumans in World War II!

The rules also offer 4 campaign power levelsnormal, heroic, epic, and superhuman, with each one giving more points to assign to the skills and characteristics of initial characters. Still, having "superhuman"-level characters just means they can start play with skills over 100%, but they can still die from a single gunshot. This means that for your players to really feel "superhuman" you need to choose carefully the rules you are going to use. With just the basic rules, this is a lethal simulationist game that strives to offer a fairly realistic outlook to combat and danger. For example, an average character has 10 hit points, and a pistol causes 1D8 damage, or 2D8 with a special success. If you lose half your hit points or more in one go, you suffer a major wound, meaning you will fall unconscious in a few turns. Therefore, the system at its most basic is particularly suited for historical or realistic campaigns where combat is risky and characters are therefore encouraged to look for other means to resolving situations, resorting to combat only when there is no other way out. 

Your character's profession determines a group of skills you can assign points to

However, if the tone of your campaign is more pulp and cinematic, there are options to make it way less deadly. For example, you can use the Fate points rule, which allows you to spend power points for rerolls and avoiding damage, and combine it with the double hit points option only for player characters to increase their survivability. On top of that, you are not only limited to adding or ignoring the rules presented as optional. It goes without saying that you can also ignore some of the core rules of the game to better suit the tone of your campaign. For example, for a pulp game, I would just drop the major wound rule for player characters and their main antagonists. I would also allow pulp heroines and heroes to dodge bullets and other missiles. Finally, you can also give characters some powers to represent the typical "unrealistic" abilities of movie heroes. For example, giving the Defense superpower at level 4 to a character inspired by Indiana Jones will subtract 20% from any attack roll against him, and this could represent how his enemies just seem to fail when they shoot at him. I would limit that to attacks by minions though. In fact, I have created Indiana Jones with these rules (at the heroic level) and I'm pretty happy with how it came out. Check it out here!

This is my version of a heroic level Indiana Jones created with the BRP rules. Follow the link above to see it larger.

Navigating the multitude of optional rules and spot rules you want to use in your campaign can take some time. Luckily, the book includes a helpful Settings chapter that shortlists the rules you may want to choose for particular settings or genres. Some of the settings listed here are: prehistoric, Bronze Age, Reinassance, Pulp Era, World War II, Superheroes, Modern, Cyberpunk, Space Opera, and more. It also includes some advice on how to adapt settings from movies, TV shows, or novels. BTW, if your players wish to check out the specific rules you are using in your campaign, I would advise copy-pasting them from the PDF version of the book to a separate document (if you buy the book from Chaosium you also get the PDF for free, and the same goes if your friendly local store is part of the Bits and Mortar program). This will avoid confusion, and allows you to also include your own houserules. Although the book suggests marking the pages of the book containing the rules you use, I can't really imagine anyone doing that.

Close-up of one section in the Settings chapter with advice on the rules to choose for the cyberpunk genre.

It bears saying the book is oriented to help gamemasters with no prior experience. This is reflected in the introduction, where care is given to describe the terminology used in the book, and in the Gamemastering section. It includes sound advice for designing adventures, to prepare campaigns, to deal with rules arguments, to recognize the different goals of players, and much more. It also stresses that «player characters are the stars», and presents techniques such as «show, don't tell», foreshadowing, cutscenes, or flashbacks. Nothing really groundbreaking if you are an experienced GM, but still worth reading, and definitely useful for beginning gamemasters.

Some advice and techniques for gamemastering

I also like the book includes 3 rules in particular. Firstly, rules for chases, as they make for exciting scenes that do not necessarily involve combat. These rules are simpler than the ones in Call of Cthulhu, and look very much like the ones in RuneQuest. I also love they have included the reputation and passions rules from RuneQuest, which in turn were inspired from the ones in Pendragon, because passions make characters more rounded than just a list of skills, characteristics, and powers, they tell you about their emotions, fears, loyalties, and drives. In short, they give them a soul of their own. For example, your Indiana Jones character can have passions like "That belongs in a museum!" at 75%, "Nazis, I hate these guys" at 70%, or Fear snakes 60%, and this is telling you more about the character than even the skills he is proficient in. Thirdly, I like the way you can purchase items of equipment in an abstract way by means of the Status skill, as it removes the need to keep track of every coin characters have. Still, there is a bit of an overlap with the Reputation rules.

Some of the rules: autofire, helpless opponents, surprises, big and little targets, broken weapons... and chases!

Other pleasant surprises are the possibilities this book offers for incorporating rules to other existing D100 games. For example, you could use the rules for special successes with slashing, piercing, and crushing weapons instead of the ones in RuneQuest if you like these more. Or you could incorporate the allegiance rules (I think these were the elan rules in Stormbringer) to keep track of how close characters act as their Gloranthan deities. They would also work great in a Star Wars game to measure how close characters are to the light or dark side of the Force. And if you think any other D100-system is too deadly, the Fate rules can solve that nicely. However, I would make Fate dependent on Charisma so it is less of a dump stat. At any rate, in settings where characters can have powers, I would have a separate power points track only for spending in rerolls and such, otherwise you are penalizing power users who need to spend power points to use them.

The basic combat rules in this edition have been simplified and just use Dexterity instead of the Strike Rank system.

Finally, the creatures section includes 29 different creatures plus 19 animals including a tyrannosaurus, but also NPCs for different settings and genres. These not only can be useful to use in a pinch in your campaign, but also as examples of what you can create by using the skills, weapons, and five different sources for powers in the book (superpowers, magic spells, psychic powers, mutations, and sorcery spells). There is a gray alien, a cyborg, a demigod, a supervillain, a pirate, a gunslinger, a ninja, etc. for a total of 27.

Werewolves, angels, and demons in the creatures section

It could have been even better

Despite all its goodness, this updated edition of Basic Roleplaying could have been improved by including some rules I feel are missing. Some fans were expecting to find in it also the most recent rules in Chaosium's newest D100-based games like Call of Cthulhu 7th ed. and Rivers of London. That is not what I mean. I understand they haven't included these most recent rules because they don't gel that well with all the rest. For example, the rules in Rivers of London diverge too much from all the other systems while still being a D100 game, so they were not a good fit. What I do miss are other things.

There are several ways to oppose skills, the Resistance Table being just one option. Choose the one you like the most!

First, a mechanic to make any kind of obstacle as exciting as combats or chases, by requiring more than one roll to overcome it. Something like the extended conflicts in Revolution D100 or M-Space would have been a great and necessary addition. Otherwise it can feel too simple when a particularly decisive non-combat scene is dealt with just one roll that leads to either complete success or failure. Of course, you can add those rules to your BRP campaign anyway, but it would have been great to have them in the book and thus under the ORC License.

Second, the list of equipment includes only 3 spaceships so I feel it lacks a greater variety. Yes, you can obviously create any spaceship you need by tweaking those samples, but some guidelines or even rules for creating any kind of vehicles would have been useful. Still, I love the sample "Skyhammer" mobile exoframe aka mecha. It is a cool example of what you can build with the superpowers rules applied as gadgets. Still, I would change some details, like using the Projection skill for firing the laser cannon as it was a personal superpower. I think using the Artillery skill makes much more sense here.

There are many vehicles, sci-fi weapons, ancient weapons, modern weapons, armor of all kinds, and 3 spaceships.

Lastly, the equipment section includes some rules to create items with characteristics like Strength, Intelligence, and even skills. This same characteristics and skills could have been used in rules for creating factions and organizations, such as kingdoms, tribes, corporations, cults, and guilds. That would have been great to spice up your homebrewed setting with factions to help or oppose the adventurers. These three rules would have made the book more complete than what it already is. Hmm, perhaps I should create those rules myself using the ORC License!

Need more?

The Basic Roleplaying system has its own supplements. These were published for the previous edition but are obviously totally compatible, although some are only available in PDF format. They are not under the ORC License, but they can be useful anyway if you want even more options for your campaign. To begin with, there is a free Quickstart including a short introductory scenario. Then The Magic Book includes 4 additional magic systems. These are actually the spirit, divine, wizardry, and ritual magic rules from RuneQuest 3rd edition. If you want to run a fantasy campaign, Magic World includes almost 100 spells, enchanted items, over 60 creatures to use as foes or characters, enchanted items, and even a sample campaign setting. Advanced Sorcery includes even more magic systems such as deep magic, necromancy, or arete. For pulp campaigns, Astounding Adventures includes rules for taking on a dozen Nazis single-handedly, and even rules for using miniatures and map grids in your games. For Westerns, Devil's Gulch describes a town with all its NPCs that can also be used for steampunk campaigns. The same author published a fantasy dungeon-crawl called In Search of the Trollslayer. Finally, Mythic Iceland is a complete campaign book for viking adventures like the Icelandic sagas, with character creation, creatures, a scenario, etc. Chaosium has promised a new edition, but it is still not out yet. Hopefully, thanks to the ORC License there will be more supplements and scenarios soon!

Covers of the BRP quickstart and supplements by several authors

Summing up

I had not read the previous edition or Big Gold Book, so reading the Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine was a nice surprise. What took me so long? The sheer amount of rules to choose from can be staggering, but it also offers endless possibilities. Reading the book makes you start thinking of settings and adventures you would like to play in by mixing some of the rules included. Therefore, combining this effect with the ORC License is a great invitation to letting your creativity run free and publish your own creations that others will enjoy. BTW, if you are looking to create a new D100 setting, you may have a look at the list of published settings for the D100 family of RPGs.

If you have experience in playing other D100-systems, either from Chaosium or other companies, you already know how easy it is to substitute some rules for others you like better. In that case, this book is a must, because it offers many more options to tinker with. If you are a beginning gamemaster, or have never played any other D100 system, this book offers you generic and consistent rules you can use for any setting and genre, which are also easy to learn. So imagine a group of friends tell you they would like to play something like that TV show they all like. With Basic Roleplaying, you don't need to look for the perfect RPG that best matches that show, you just need to choose what you need from this book.

A quick leaf-through so you can see how sturdy the print version is. Video by Albesias.

Yes, it could have been better, and perhaps Chaosium just rushed to update a bit the existing BRP to profit from being the first to use the ORC License. Although passions and reputation are a very welcome addition, they could have take the time to add some other missing pieces like the ones I mentioned earlier. Still, it is worth the purchase. In other words:

This is for you if...

  • You love homebrewing your own settings.
  • You want a generic, flexible, intuitive, and easily customizable simulationist rule system.
  • You want ideas for houserules or tweaks to add to an existing BRP-derived system you love.
  • You are planning to publish your own scenarios, supplements or even a BRP-derived rule system using the ORC license and sporting the sexy "powered by BRP" logo on the cover.

You should avoid it if...

  • You hate roll-under D100-based systems.
  • You expect to find in it every rule of all D100-based rule systems by Chaosium.
  • You already own the previous edition and do not plan to use the passion and reputation rules.

You can create any setting or genre with the Basic Roleplaying rulebook!

Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine is available from DrivethruRPG in PDF for 25$. The hardcover version is available from Chaosium's website for 50$ and it includes the PDF. You can also get the PDF with your print copy from your friendly local store if it is part of the Bits and Mortar programme. Oh, and check out the free downloads. Well, I hope you liked my review, please leave a comment below and let me know your opinion! :-)

6 comentarios:

  1. Great review! I have the old Gold Book and I loved how customizable the entire d100 family of games always had been. I still have to read the ORC license to see the limits a designer have when using it, but I think is a great step forward from Chaosium and for BRP.

    1. Thanks a lot!
      Yes, it was about time they did something like that.

  2. Thanks for the detailed review! I also think a (simple) vehicle design system, abstract conflict rules (beyond combat) and organization rules would all be great additions for BRP.

  3. It's an amazing book! An updated version of BGB is a dream come true. I miss the SR rules (Runequest) included in BGB but is not Jason's cup of tea and I can live with it.
    The equipment chapter is deeply modular, all the stuff in there seems to be treated like a layout better than an exhaustive list.
    This book gives me tons of tools and a huge sense of freedom to customize my games.

    1. You are so right. And thanks a lot for letting me use your video! :-)


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