Tabletop RPG Review: Basic RolePlaying Quick-Start Edition

I’ve mentioned Basic RolePlaying on more than one occasion.  It’s the tabletop RPG I got started with.  When I first tried my hand at writing, somewhere around the age of 11 or 12, my father introduced me to Chaosium’s Worlds of Wonder, which used Basic RolePlaying as its core mechanic.  For many years, it was my “house system.”  If I ran a game, no matter the setting, I’d modify it to use BRP.  So, I thought it was time I checked out the latest version’s quick-start rules.

Twenty two of the book’s forty eight pages are taken up with game mechanics, and even those pages are filled with art and explanations.  The rules really are quite simple.  There’s added depth available, but the core is intuitive, easy, and somewhat modular.  I don’t think any game is truly “universal,” but BRP definitely comes close.

BRP is a skill-based game, as opposed to class-based.  This means that instead of choosing a class and then improving only within the specific confines of that class, you improve in the things that you actually do during game play.  It also doesn’t have levels, so your developments and improvements happen incrementally, not in sudden across-the-board leaps.  In other words, if you want to be a great hunter, you should strive to do hunting-related activities.  Tracking, shooting, etc.  The more you do those things, the better you’ll become.  But if you call yourself a hunter and you never actually do hunting related activities, you’ll never be a very good one.

Basic RolePlaying is a percentile system.  This means you use a D100 (100 sided dice).  You don’t, thankfully, have to go out and find one of the actual 100 sided dice that are on the market.  You just use two 10 sided dice.  In the early days, you’d use two different colors, picking one color to be your 10s and one to be your 1s place.  Roll a 7 on the 10s and a 2 on the 1s and you’ve got 72.  If your skill is rated at a 72% or higher, you’ve succeeded.  If it’s rated below 72%, you’ve failed.  I like the percentile thing because it’s very easy for me to comprehend my relative ability at any given time.  If my skill in climbing is 22%, then I’ve got a chance, but not a great one of climbing without incident.  If that same skill were 78%, I’d know that my chances were pretty good.  I’ve seen the argument that the D20 is basically the same thing, only simplified (12 = 60%, 13 = 65%).  While it’s not wrong, I find percentages a bit easier to keep in my head, and I like the nuance.  I like the progression from 20% to 26% to 40% to 42% better than 4 to 5 to 6 to 7.  In addition, I like the way improving skills is handled.  When you reach an appropriate point in a game (between stories, during longer rests, etc.), you look at any skills you’ve used successfully since the last GM instigated improvement phase.  Roll for that skill, but this time, you’re trying to fail.  If you fail, you are able to improve the skill.  The idea being, the better you get at something, the harder it is to improve.  If you only have a 10% in something and you successfully use it, you have a 90% chance of getting better.  However, if you have a 90% in a skill, you might be successful in using that skill a lot, but your ability to get better is now only 10%.

There are other rules, many that you can add or subtract as you see fit.  And various games that are based on Basic RolePlaying have their own mechanics.  Call of Cthulhu adds a few things like sanity and chases, while RuneQuest has hit locations and magic.  The simple core remains.  The book references several pages in the full length Basic RolePlaying rulebook where there are expanded rules and options.  The only one I thought was odd in its absence in this book was the critical hit/critical failure rule.

The second half of the book is made up of adventures, though I think they’re really more encounters.  You could either drop them into a game or you might use them as means of experimenting with the system if your group just wants to try the rules out.  There are a few handy maps, but I think the most interesting thing is that they really illustrate the wide variety of settings and genres that BRP works with.

The quality on the printed version is not amazing.  But if you’re not wed to physical media, the PDF is free from Chaosium or DriveThru.  I definitely recommend it.  I’m not sure that this specific presentation is the best for someone new to tabletop RPGs generally.  However, someone with experience in other games, like D&D 5e, who wants to try something new, might get more out of this.  If you’re interested in Basic RolePlaying and are new to tabletop RPGs in general, you’d probably be better off getting the Call of Cthulhu Starter Set or the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Starter Set.  Each of these features slightly different versions of BRP, and each is tailored more specifically to a genre/setting (Cosmic Horror in the 1920s and Bronze Age High Fantasy respectively).  But each is more specifically intended for beginners.  Though maybe you’ll want to download a free copy of this just to get a taste. 

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