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

billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him) 🇺🇦🇵🇸🏳️‍⚧️
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.
Call of Cthulhu 7th edition incorporates hard and extreme success levels on the character sheet for each skill and characteristic. I don’t know if this edition of the broader BRP will do so, but it’s easy enough to do and makes it easier for the players to manage.
 

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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.

I don't think so. Magic is included (casting spells like skills) and sorcery (short magical incantations
that cause a supernatural effect and automatically works except when successfully resisted). There is a spell to summon a demon and a spell to summon an elemental.
 


Celebrim

Legend
Call of Cthulhu 7th edition incorporates hard and extreme success levels on the character sheet for each skill and characteristic. I don’t know if this edition of the broader BRP will do so, but it’s easy enough to do and makes it easier for the players to manage.

I think 7th edition is the first edition that addresses the issue but does things like (IIRC) set difficulties at 1/2 and 1/5th of the skill level - turning what was a common house rule kludge used over many editions into something official. But that still turns out to be a rather crude distinction in difficulty. What the system really needs is something like 4/5th, 3/5ths, 2/5ths, and 1/5th of skill level to give you some graduation that are more useful. But even that has issues, as most systems have "things you can't do without high skill" whereas BRP only gives you, "If it is hard, you have a slightly better chance of being lucky." You could do it with something like -30% chance, but that's also awkward, especially given that you also have the option of altering the skill chance by some multiplier (there is more than one way to do things is almost always bad for a system).
 

Celebrim

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

I learned a lot from trying to run GURPS and it has informed for me how I run games and how I house rule. There are artifacts of my experience with groups in even my D&D house rules.

But one of the things that GURPS taught me is that a lot of the "logic" that was pervading how rules were evaluated in the '80s and '90s weren't in fact logical. For example, it was commonly taken for granted during that period that a dice pool with a normal curve so that extreme results were less likely than average results was just more logical and more realistic. Well, that turned out to be rather pointless in practice, whereas in practice dice pools had two difficulties that were serious - first that it was not intuitive what odds you were as GM setting on a roll and secondly that it was not intuitive what a modifier on a roll like +1 or +2 actually did since such modifiers were highly situational depending on where on the curve you were.

So I generally don't consider GURPS to be a game system as much as I consider it one of the ultimate examples of "lonely fun" from the '80s where almost all the customers of the books weren't actually using them for actual games but were enjoying them for the creation of hypothetical games or for just the pleasure of reading them. Yes, you could play GURPS and I've done so, but I think once you understand Game Mastery to a sufficient degree you'd never choose to run GURP.
 

I'm less a fan of BRP. At least previous versions were very poorly organized in terms of finding and using stuff at the table. It seemed almost more aimed at being a reference for game development than anything else. I guess that might be corrected in 7th.

7th ed CoC did fix a few things, like drastically pruning the skill list, though IMHO the real core of the issue is endemic to this kind of system; the open list of skills invites overlap and the question of what makes you competent.

Overall it feels dated to me, like in the early '80s this was pretty cutting edge, but today I feel like I expect more from a system. Not that interesting games can't be written on too of it, but I'm not sure what BRP itself would be contributing exactly.
 


foolcat

Explorer
Overall it feels dated to me, like in the early '80s this was pretty cutting edge, but today I feel like I expect more from a system. Not that interesting games can't be written on too of it, but I'm not sure what BRP itself would be contributing exactly.
BRP (and by this I include all incarnations of it, like RuneQuest, CoC, or Pendragon) already did things in the late 70s/80s that many contemporary and younger RPG systems took their own sweet time to adopt; or expressed differently, some things we take for granted in modern RPG systems have already been done by BRP three or four decades ago (cf. the “Stafford Rule”). Things like different levels, or qualities, of success and failure, for example.

I’m curious, what exactly is it that you expect more from a system today?

With BRP, I like the fact that I can take one glance at a character sheet and immediately see the strengths and weaknesses, the areas of expertise and ineptitude; I can literally see the percentage probability of successfully using any skill in normal circumstances, it’s right there in writing. This makes it incredibly beginner and casual player friendly. I think a certain amount of skill overlap is a strength (it’s always the GM’s decision what skill should ultimately be rolled, anyway), because with mechanics like augmentation, i.e. rolling on another, related skill, a passion, or a virtue to boost the success chances of specific skill rolls, this turns into a player asset. Concerning character creation, the point based building system, which allows at the least differentiation for cultural heritage and profession, or even hobbies or religious cults, makes for very diverse characters with more than one area of expertise (if so desired).

I’ve played a lot of different RPGs with a group of friends over the past 8 years, and this group included absolute rule wizards, as well as absolute casuals. The two occasions when we played Call of Cthulhu were the most relaxed—in spite of the subject matter—from an ”applied system” point of view; very few questions regarding rules and best courses of actions arose, in comparison to a more “modern” system, like Savage Worlds.
 

pemerton

Legend
I’m curious, what exactly is it that you expect more from a system today?
I'm not @AbdulAlhazred, but I've read some of his previous posts expressing dissatisfaction with CoC.

The sorts of things I would expect from a RPG system would be (i) what happens on a successful check, not just in terms of does the PC do their thing but do they get what they want out of it?, and (ii) what happens on a failed check, similarly understood.

And related to this, instructions to the GM on how to frame and narrate consequences that will ensure that play progresses without the need for "illusionist" GMing techniques.
 

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