Basic Roleplaying: A Played It Review

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

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.

Ben Aaronovitch explains what BRP contributes to the Rivers of London RPG in this interview:

BA: I’m going to echo Lynne (Lynne Hardy from Chaosium). Why should you play a modified BRP system for Rivers? You could knock up your own house system. However, this will be a system tailored to fit the atmosphere. BRP is designed to be modular and it is fluffy. More about fluff than crunch. That suits Rivers of London: the atmosphere, the environment, the little details of life.
 

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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.
I think it CAN be pretty clear, but it isn't always, depending on the character! Skills overlap, a LOT in BRP! Especially in games like CoC where you have characters that are scholars, scammers, psychologists, mystics, etc. and the various skill sets can be VERY VERY similar.

And as @pemerton says, the game really doesn't present a PROCESS, you and the GM sort of bargain (I guess) to decide which skill is going to be useful and to what degree, and what might be the outcome of using each different one that might apply. Then you roll, but you still don't have any real idea if what you got was substantive or not, as the checks simply require the GM to narrate some sort of task-oriented 'success' or 'failure'. Nor is there any sense of how MUCH you will have accomplished. The game DESPERATELY needs a way to define GOAL instead of TASK to deal with that (it would also tend to help with which skill to use, though that problem is inherent in all 'long-list' skill systems).

So, yes, you can look at a sheet and say "well, this is a such-and-such sort of character" but is that really telling you anything substantive about what will actually work for that character in play? Is it really better than a D&D-esque class system? That will surely tell you the same thing "yep, fighter!" but with less doubts. As I said, I just find it an obsolete system. It might have been state-of-the-art in 1979 or so, but we moved on since then.
 

So, yes, you can look at a sheet and say "well, this is a such-and-such sort of character" but is that really telling you anything substantive about what will actually work for that character in play?

Yes. If my PC has Firearm 55% I'm a Professional and I have a 55% to hit what I'm shooting at if the outcome is in doubt. My PC can make a living in jobs that require shooting. If I have a 33% in Track I'm an Amateur (maybe a part-time hunter) and I have a 33% to track if the outcome is in doubt. So my PC is a better shot than he is a tracker.
 
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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.
The Sorcery rules include summon spells - Summon Demon and Summon Elemental as stated. The Sorcery system is essentially the same system used in the Elric!/Stormbringer 5th edition and the newer version of Magic World.

However, it isn’t the same used in earlier editions of Stormbringer.

Slightly confusingly, the Magic system (not the Sorcery system) is the same basic system for magic used in the Magic World setting found in the original Worlds of Wonder box set, I think.
 

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.
CoC7E didn’t really prune the skill system that much, to be honest. For example, there are still separate entrees for Listen and Spot Hidden (instead of an overall perception skill), or separate entrees for Jump, Climb and Swim (instead of a general Athletics skill).

Also, a number of the innovations cited in CoC7E were really already in BRP just in another guise, like having Fate points rather than Luck points. Indeed, my main beef with CoC7E was not the fact that they wanted to address issues in the system with new innovations, but rather that the designers could have achieved similar developments much more efficiently within the scope of what was already provided by previous incarnations of BRP.

I don’t regard BRP as dated at all, incidentally. It was certainly, widely regarded as the best of the first wave of classic RPG rulesets, but frankly it has never really gone away. I think there have been plenty of systems to have come and gone after BRP that have proven to be less sustainable. If one considers how much D&D has changed since the OD&D, released only a few years before BRP debuted in Runequest, one can see just how robust the latter has been by comparison.
 

foolcat

Explorer
you and the GM sort of bargain (I guess) to decide which skill is going to be useful and to what degree, and what might be the outcome of using each different one that might apply. Then you roll, but you still don't have any real idea if what you got was substantive or not, as the checks simply require the GM to narrate some sort of task-oriented 'success' or 'failure'. Nor is there any sense of how MUCH you will have accomplished.
The GM is always the ultimate arbiter if the question of what skill should be rolled arises (or any question, for that matter). At least that's how I've both played and mastered RP games for the past 40 years. It curbs unnecessary discussion at the table and leaves more time for actual play. And with five degrees of success and failure, it is clear in a quite unambiguous way what an action has accomplished, I think. A critical hit on a foe has more dire consequences for them than a simple success, for example.

The game DESPERATELY needs a way to define GOAL instead of TASK to deal with that (it would also tend to help with which skill to use, though that problem is inherent in all 'long-list' skill systems).
I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Simply put, whenever a player wants for his character to do or achieve something (a goal), they tell the GM about it, the GM tells the player the possible courses of actions/tasks that are best to achieve said goal (or whether it's unfeasible), what skills to use (the player can of course make suggestions), then the player makes rolls, and the GM tells the player the outcome, based on the levels of success or failure of the rolls. Of course, there are ways the player may influence said rolls, depending how important it is to him to succeed. Pendragon did it 30 years ago with passions and vices/virtues. In other BRP-based games it's called inspiration or augmentation. Later, other games picked this up and introduced fate points, Bennies, or any other old way. So it's very fitting there's an optional rule in BRP UGE that uses power points for this purpose.
 

pemerton

Legend
The GM is always the ultimate arbiter if the question of what skill should be rolled arises (or any question, for that matter). At least that's how I've both played and mastered RP games for the past 40 years.

<snip>

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Simply put, whenever a player wants for his character to do or achieve something (a goal), they tell the GM about it, the GM tells the player the possible courses of actions/tasks that are best to achieve said goal (or whether it's unfeasible), what skills to use (the player can of course make suggestions), then the player makes rolls, and the GM tells the player the outcome, based on the levels of success or failure of the rolls.
I'm pretty sure @AbdulAlhazred is making a comparison to resolution in games like BitD, Apocalypse World, Burning Wheel, 4e D&D skill challenges, etc.
 

Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
A few days ago Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine hit Platinum best seller status at DriveThruRPG! The Chaosium team thanks everyone for your support of the new edition!

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Basic Roleplaying: Universal Game Engine is also available at Chaosium.com, with a print version coming in October.
 

CapnZapp

Legend
Regarding


It's funny, but as a Swede, I have always been struck how traditional and non-inventive Chaosium have played it with their BRP editions.

In my not so humble option, Äventyrspel and Järnringen progressed the BRP engine far better than Chaosium have even done, which is saying something since we're comparing a game from 2014 to the current Chaosium edition, almost a full decade more recent...
 

grimmgoose

Explorer
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).
Shockingly, this version of BRP doesn't do that.
In fact, it seems to ignore some of the (in my opinion) quality-of-life upgrades that CoC7E received.
  • Characteristics aren't percentages, but still have a "Rolled Skill" which is a percentage? It's a level of abstraction that isn't necessary
  • Instead of set Hard/Extreme difficulties, you have to figure out the difficulty modifiers on the fly. Special Successes are 1/5 the skill rating, and Critical Successes are 1/20 the skill rating. You have to do the math each time. I assume this is done because BRP uses modifiers again.
  • There isn't a simply way to modify a roll. In CoC, you can add bonus/penalty dice. In BRP, you have to work with formulas. For example, "Easy Actions" require a characteristic roll (which aren't a percentage roll) x10 or double the normal characteristic roll. Difficult actions require you to divide the appropriate skill in half.
I realize I'm being overly negative, but I was very excited to use a generic BRP to build out some future campaigns. I ended up being very disappointed in the book. If I do anything with BRP, it'll use CoC 7E's base, because it's smoother to run at the table.
 

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