Wednesday, September 17, 2008

More BRP Comments

More things to discuss about BRP - this time a little more systematic. One of the things I'm really liking about this rulebook is that while there is a "standard" rule for everything, most of the major rules have one (or more) optional rules for doing things as well as comments on how the optional method may affect your game - and even comments on how it will affect it differently in other play styles. So not only are there a number of built-in "house rules", but the writers take the time to explain how these house rules will affect game play.

Other thoughts...

Characters: The rules give you the standard 3d6/2d6+6 method for rolling attributes, as well as a point-based optional method. There are other optional rules here, such as not one but two ways of generating attribute-based skill modifiers. Profession packages are provided and are generic enough to span most settings - the Soldier profession could cover a Roman Legionary as well as an Army Ranger or a Space Commando. There are also guidelines for designing your own Professions if the ones in the book don't suit you.

Skills: There are rules for determining how many points get distributed across skills for each campaign "power level". Points are distributed across your professional skills, as well as INT based points that can be spent on anything, representing non-profession based "hobby" skills (which can be of any skill level - just not limited to your profession). The skills are generic enough to be widely applied, but are still pretty clear as to what they accomplish.

Powers: There are five different "Powers" in the core book. Magic Spells, Psychic Powers, Mutations (think X-Men), Sorcery, and Superpowers. Magic spells function as skill based spells you roll to see if you cast, while Sorcery works more like a D&D style "fire and forget" system where you can load up on a certain number of spells at certain power levels up to your POW limit in "points". So if you have 12 POW points, you can have six spells at level 2, two spells at level 2 and two spells at level 4, etc. etc.. Psychic powers are essentially skills much like Magic Spells. Mutations are in general effects that are almost always "on", while Superpowers are somewhat like Mutations but more controllable. Given these five types of "powers", it would be trivial to mix and match to get whatever flavor of supernatural ability you want in a campaign. Again, very handy and very flexible.

Combat: The one thing I've always been a little shaky on is how combat - especially attacking and defending - works in BRP. For instance, is it better to parry a melee weapon, use your shield, or dodge out of the way? Which makes more sense in any given situation can be a little confusing - for example, since you can attack and parry with a melee weapon once a round without one penalizing the other, there is little need for a shield or dodge if you're good enough to parry with your weapon. However, there are certain attacks you can't parry (like missile weapons), and some weapons are better at parrying than others. There are other optional rules for things like dodging bullets (because you're dodging the aim of the attacker, not the actual bullet flying through the air...) and even parrying missiles such as arrows in more cinematic campaigns. Deciding which combat rules you're going to use and which to leave behind will probably be one of the more difficult problems facing a BRP GM, but this is little different from any other universal system (such as GURPS). There are also optional rules for things like Hit Points (giving PCs more, or everyone more in general), as well as optional rules for variable Armor Values (because otherwise a character even in mail and a helmet is all but invulnerable to most weapons that don't score critical successes). It short, go ahead and cherry-pick the rules you want based on the sort of campaign you want to run, and go with them.

Equipment: There is a pretty generic, but comprehensive listing of weapons, armor, vehicles, and other generic pieces of equipment. As mentioned in my previous post, BRP keeps things nice and general ("Assault Rifle" or "Light Revolver") so that you're not having players agonize over range brackets for THIS model of light assault rifle rather than THAT model, etc. etc.. You can easily go in and design a more detailed range of stats if you so choose, or just leave things where they are. I'm typically of the opinion that while equipment lists are "fun" and it's nice to give your PC some cool gear to kick ass with, worrying too much about all the nitty-gritty of equipment very quickly drains the fun out of things.

Game-Mastering: There's a nice big section in the back of the book about GMing, and while I haven't given it a very hard look, there'a s lot of advice in there useful to both newbie GMs and even older vets. Again, chock full of optional rules and suggestions. There's also a section on Settings, with a bunch of various examples - High Fantasy, Space Opera, Cyberpunk, Victorian, Renaissance, Gothic Horror, etc., each example listing some good inspirational material the GM and players can read to help capture the mood.

Bestiary: The book contains a modest but well-planned selection of creatures, from classic fantasy monsters such as orcs, dragons, unicorns, dwarves and the like, to common beasts such as bears, lions, and snakes, as well as a couple of Sci-Fi creatures and Horror monsters like vampires and mummies. There are enough creatures here to get a good toe-hold into monster design for pretty much any campaign setting you're looking at running.

In the end, my best compliment towards BRP is that it provides a clear backbone to work from while at the same time also providing a wide variety of good optional rules that let you tailor your game the way you want to run it. And in the end, the BRP system in general is so basic that picking up gameplay is almost trivial - just about everyone has a grip on how percentages work, making the core mechanic more intuitive to new players than some other system mechanics (I for one still find it hard to mentally process what skill ratings in GURPS mean in terms of percentage chances of success, or how Savage Worlds die codes translate into a chance of success for my character).

If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that, like the Savage Worlds of Solomon Kane RPG, it is a pretty massive publication and carries with it an equally impressive price tag. I'd rather see this book broken down into two volumes - one for Players, and another just for GMs. This would not be that difficult, and would reduce a lot of the "sticker shock" involved when you ask a player (or players) to shell out $40 for a new system, instead of, perhaps, only about $20-25 for a player's handbook. This would have been completely doable in my opinion, and would make the book a lot more accessible as a system to bring in new players/GMs. A gaming group's interest in a new system is often directly related to how easily they can all acquire the player-based rules. And also, as a general preference, I've got a bit of a problem with core rulebooks, meant for players and GM's alike, that present things like monster stats and other "GMing tidbits". This was especially bad in the Solomon Kane RPG where an entire mini-campaign is in the back of the book (something which has no business being in a core book, and taking that out would probably have cut the book down by a third, at least). Yeah, you can put a little notice at the beginning of the section that says "Players shouldn't read beyond this point!", but we all know how useful that is.

Ok, venting complete. I'll have more to say about BRP in the coming months I'm sure, but that's it for now. Comments/Questions welcome!


Dr-Rotwang said...

I've been dorkin' around with this thing since I got it in the mail (say, oh, about 3 weeks ago), and I'm dig-dig-diggin' it. I always liked CoC, but I like this new BRP maybe a little better. It's's like it reminds me of GURPS, but without the need for butcher knives.

Badelaire said...

A good way to look at it. GURPS is fine and all, but there's something about it's regimented nature that makes it difficult for me to get into it too deeply. BRP offers the flexibility of GURPS without the need to make all the pieces snap together nice and neat, because it's not all based on lots of modifiers and point values and the like. I think you can do the same thing with both systems, but they appeal to two different kinds of setting/campaign designers - the "RPG architects", and the "RPG tinkerers". By my nature, I fall more into the Tinkerer category.