Basic Roleplaying: A Played It Review

If you haven’t investigated d100 RPGs, BRP is a great place to start

Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine is to d100 games what Dungeons & Dragons is to fantasy d20 RPGs and the OSR. If you haven’t investigated d100 RPGs, BRP is a great place to start if you like to create your own setting and adventures. I couldn’t be happier that this book is coming back to print, now in full color and open source.

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Thanks! and Disclosure


I want to thank Michael O’Brien at Chaosium for providing me with a copy of the PDF to review. Full disclosure: I wrote Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea an adventure for Chaosium’s upcoming Lords of the Middle Sea but I did not contribute in any way to this book.

Overview of the Rules

If you are a big fan of d100 games already you likely already know what is in this book. Since it hasn’t changed much in this version (although there are wonderful additions), the rest of this review assumes only a passing knowledge of d100 games.

BRP powers Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, and Pendragon and a variety of RPGs that have followed including Mythras, Delta Green, and M-Space. BRP is a toolkit for GMs to use to build worlds of their choosing. Three dials allow a wide range of customization: power level, powers, and options.

Before diving into those three dials, let’s take a look at the basics. Player characters in BRP are built using characteristics and skills. Skills are percentage based. If you have Dodge 55% then you can dodge attacks 55% of the time. That makes it easy to understand. Like D&D ability scores, characteristics range from 3 to 18 and characters have hit points as well. Characteristics, skills, and hit points form the basis for a PC.

Both the campaign and the PC are then shaped and molded by those three dials. Power level creates starting PCs of four types: Normal, Heroic, Epic, or Superhuman. Powers include magic, mutations, psychic abilities, sorcery, or superpowers. Not all powers will be in every campaign; the GM turns these dials off or on and up or down as needed. Options include a host of optional rules that a GM can check to turn on or leave unchecked to leave off.

The GM sets these three dials to match the world and the abilities of starting PCs needed for a campaign. The rules can cover everything from normal humans trapped in a horror movie up to powerful superheroes and demigods. Again, the GM sets the dials to create the setting. Everything in this book will not be used as the same time in the same campaign.

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Liberty Agency Actual Play

An example of setting this up is the setting I ran called the Liberty Agency. The PCs were Heroic investigators in a near future setting becoming infused with the weird and supernatural. The PCs were Heroic humans without powers but they started running into beings and creatures with magic, mutations, and psychic abilities. The PCs had access to powerful military weapons but ran into surprises like a werewolf and an undying serial killer. The PCs had higher starting hit points as an option and other options to enhance combat were included. I even pulled in the automatic fire rules from Mythras Firearms because I prefer systems in which burst and auto fire decreases your chance to hit.

This campaign did not use sorcery or superpowers at all and the other powers were rare. The game focused on investigation, the weird, and explosive combat. The PCs were tough and could take a hit or two but werewolves were dangerous and unnerving. It was amazing and a joy to run.

Should You Get BRP?

If you want to branch out from D&D, then is an excellent place to start. If you are eager to build your own setting and are willing to do a bit of work up front, this ruleset covers a huge range of campaign options from traditional or urban fantasy to superheroes to modern action and horror. And a huge range of RPGs use d100 and can be used with minor modifications.

A review of this length can only scratch the surface of the range that an RPG like Basic Roleplaying covers. But jumping into d100, whether starting with a toolkit like this or a full RPG like Call of Cthulhu will support GMs working to create great campaigns and entertaining adventures. I am glad this book is coming back into print.
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

foolcat

Explorer
I think it’s worth mentioning that while having characteristics, skills, and hit points like D&D, there are no classes or levels in BRP. Neither is there a hit point progression—raising the contributing characteristics after character creation is possible though, albeit time consuming. Skills are improved by using them. All in all BRP makes for grandiosely varied and detailed characters, without the pigeonholing nor power creep of class- and level-based RPGs. Experience levels of starting-out characters can be tuned with the amount of character points available at creation (the above-mentioned power levels are but baselines for the intended style of play), but even going with the Normal level tends to yield characters that can be quite competent in a few selected fields—so no Zero to Hero either in BRP.

My first contact with BRP was in the early 90s in the form of RuneQuest III, then published by Avalon Hill. AH had separated the basic rule book from the world of Glorantha, and RQ3 was marketed along the lines of being a generic fantasy system. It was great for worldbuilding, and I’ve played both Glorantha-based and homebrew campaigns with it. Back then, BRP was a sight for sore eyes to me.

I’m glad that BRP still gets the love it deserves, and while the Big Gold Book did a lot for BRP back in the day, this new incarnation is just awesome.
 
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Autumnal

Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
Do the powers include magic via summoning, from Stormbringer and Magic World?

I really like the new cover for its combo of heritage from the old big gold book and a much more colorful and dynamic new style.
 



Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
The hardback version of Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine will be released in October.

You can currently get it in PDF at Chaosium.com and DriveThruRPG. Purchase the PDF now directly from Chaosium.com, and we'll deduct the cost of the PDF when you purchase the physical book. They way that works is we email you a discount coupon on the day of the hardback's release.

 

Celebrim

Legend
There are lots of things to like about BRP, but the difficulty in dealing with "this thing is harder to do than this other thing" in systems with an expectation of fixed difficulties makes BRP a second-tier system for me. The fact that dealing with that often involves employing division at the table makes BRP really awkward without some sort of automated calculations.
 

Darth Solo

Explorer
Does anyone else expect a transcript of a game when he or she reads "actual play?"

Oh and thanks @foolcat , your post was a great supplement to the OP!
This. I was looking for a link to the actual play. Is it available?

Sort of on topic: those familiar with both GURPS 4e and any edition of BRP, which do you prefer and why?
 

foolcat

Explorer
Sort of on topic: those familiar with both GURPS 4e and any edition of BRP, which do you prefer and why?
Oh dear… heartbreaker question. To me, GURPS is the ultimate universal RPG system there is, and has been since the 90s. The level of detail of characters is unmatched, and the mechanics always stay consistent, no matter how many optional rules (and there are a lot) you choose to bring in or leave out in order to achieve almost any desired level of complexity/realism. Very few other systems can pull that of. But therein also lies its crux.

It has often been said that GURPS is not a roleplaying system, it’s a simulation. It has tons of excellently written crunch, and the genre books are a must-read when you look for inspiration for developing your own setting. There’s nothing that GURPS can’t handle; and before you reinvent the wheel with some mechanic you need, someone, somewhere in some supplement has already written something that you can use, and it always fits swimmingly into the rest of it. But for me, GURPS has never been fast.

As a GM, I found that prepping anything (e.g. major NPCs, vehicles, entire species, etc.) can be very slow work—plus, I have to re-familiarize myself every time I return to it, which takes me quite longer than with other RPGs for some reason (ahem tons of excellently written crunch), and for the last couple occasions, I said bugger this, I’ll just use Savage Worlds (another great universal system, but with its own can of worms). Then there’s the player situation: I’ve made the experience that when casuals are among your players (i.e. people who cannot under any circumstances be bothered to read, let alone understand, the rules, not even the nifty one-page major rules & combat actions summary I’ve spent hours preparing), things can really bog down at the table. So, GURPS is a great system in theory.

In direct contrast to this, said casuals have next to no problem with simple percentages, and games of Call of Cthulhu for example are usually a blast (granted, CoC adventures tend to be less combat heavy in general—Running is the best ability to have).

I’ve said above that I’ve used RQ3 (Glorantha-less Avalon Hill RuneQuest) for worldbuilding (e.g. fantasy peoples with their own cultural backgrounds and professions, among other things) back in the 90s, and RQ was so much better suited for this than anything else that I had available at the time. Now with the new BRP book being explicitly promoted as a universal RPG, I’m thrilled to use it for a future pet project of mine. I’m comfortably familiar with BRP and have been so for decades (even longer than with GURPS), my players know it well, and there’s yet another big aspect to all of it: GURPS has been on the backburner for several years by now; that’s OK, because it isn’t SJG’s cash cow by a long shot, and it’s commendable that they still support it with small, but regular PDF-only publications. But even though all major 4E books are still available as POD for the most part, there won’t be any major new releases in the foreseeable future, let alone a new edition.

Jason Durall has said in a recent YT interview that they are already working on a supplement book for the new BRP, to be released this year, and that he can imagine that 10 years down the line, Chaosium might just do it again and make a new edition.
 

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