Friday, October 2, 2015

An Action Plan for My Return to GMing Pathfinder

Last week was my freak-out week, the "oh my god what did I get myself in to???" event. This week....with great focus and alacrity borrowed from my seriously over-stacked work schedule, I have figured out how to run Pathfinder without having a heart attack. In four easy steps, no less!

#1. Stick to Core
Can't stress this enough. Pathfinder is a big ol' game and trying to tackle all the weird extra stuff that's built up over the years is a bad idea. Truth is, if you just grab the Core Rulebook, the Bestiary and maybe the Gamemastery Guide you have literally all you need to play Pathfinder into perpetuity, and without much stress. Let the players sweat the weird alt-classes; make them learn their stuff....and stick to your (my) job: getting  a fun game together. That said, I'm gonna use all the Bestiaries, the Occult Bestiary, Monster Codex and NPC Codex.....all the good GM stuff, basically!

#2. Stick to pre-statted NPCs
This is easier than ever thanks to the endless Bestiaries and if you don't mind breaking out a bit Pathfinder has so many tomes full of pre-statted foes that it's just ridiculous. I don't need to stat anything out....I just need to use what's already been done. Books like the NPC Codex and Monster Codex make this even easier if you want variety beyond basic monster stat blocks.

#3. Write the scenario/area without stressing mechanics
In my case I'm detailing a region of my Enzada setting in a free-form hexcrawl environment, minus the actual hexes (because all I have is graph paper). At best I'm going to restrict all the initial possible encounters and interesting bits to an assumed CR range of 1-9 and I will extract from my five years of prior Pathfinder GMing experience to eyeball when an encounter looks too TPKish. I'm really aiming for overland exploration and a serious effort at minimizing "dungeon" environments.....I want a bunch of areas to explore, but I want them to be comprised of just a few key areas; no immense dungeon slogs. I'm also (for my players' sakes) avoiding too much "plot extra" as I call it. This leads into the fourth step...

#4. Keep it to Three Easy Things
I'm going to structure the tale and manage my own GMing habits to try and keep the action and events centered around three easy things. This could be "Explore the ruins of the Adavareshta Temple," "Find out who the mysterious witch is that cursed the town of Emparas," and "Look for clues as to who the player character's real mother is" or whatever.....but the idea is always have no more than three "things" the PCs must worry about. Make sure each thing is something different.....something combat, something exploratory, something RPish, and make sure that the goals are clearly understood. This last bit is really just for my poor Saturday group, which has a mix of intense, hardcore players who delve deep into the plot and an equal number of plot-light players who get confused and bored if the plot moves past kicking down another door or having an immediate and obvious action/goal. Plan here is to see if I can mix the two together. This advice isn't really Pathfinder's just a useful approach to help me as GM navigate the needs of my oddly mixed group.

In the course of going over all my old Pathfinder stuff I realized something: I really, really love the Pathfinder Bestiaries. Not the stat block format, I mean, but the gorgeous art, interesting array of beasts and great effort put into making such a diverse selection of monsters pulled from many exotic mythologies. Pathfinder may be the most diverse game out there when it comes to needing exotic monsters now....not sure if it's surpassed 2nd edition AD&D yet, but it's getting there.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

State of the MMO in late 2015: Five Things a Lapsed MMOer Can Do This Year

So what's going on in the MMOverse these days? A subject near and dear to me when I have nothing else to write about and no material planned for real (cough) gaming -- tabletop, that is -- is of course video games. I may be too tired on busy work weeks to write much at the end of the day, but an hour of Destiny, Halo or The Elder Scrolls Online is easy enough to fit in...and only one of those is (arguably) a real MMO.

Anyway, 2015 has been for many the year that the MMO bubble burst and pretty much sputtered out of existence....almost. We have an aging population of MMOs that many of us are burned out on, a smattering of titles that command loyalty across the years and pretty much three games I know of that are still brazen enough to demand a subscription fee (EVE Online, World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn). Virtually all other MMOs have moved to some sort of free-to-play or buy-to-play model.

Worse yet, there don't appear to be many --or any!-- new MMOs on the horizon. News revolves around modest expansions (The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic having notable expansion packs this year) while the Big Daddy World of Warcraft continues to spew out news bits about a new expansion even as it has dwindling subscription numbers that look like a torrential loss to some --and yet still their surviving base is larger than any other MMO could dream of.

Of course, on the side we are now seeing a new breed of stealth which are effectively MMOs in function but do so through other styles of play (Destiny) or other mediums (various Android titles) that eschew the traditional MMORPG model made so popular by Everquest, Ultima and later WoW.

So if you're an MMO fan, what do you do in this environment? Here are five suggestions:

5. Revisit old favorites
You can go home again it turns out, although home might smell weird and suffer from some low polygon counts. I did this recently with Dungeons & Dragons Online and enjoyed reminiscing about my grand mess of old characters before being brutally reminded of the many weird hoops one had to go through to play that game on its odd F2P model, with its elaborate henchmen system designed to suck money from you slowly, and its oppressively slow experience system which only serves the truly dedicated. I had more success with Rift, which I have since returned to playing regularly.

4. Go explore the Asian MMO market
You've seen those strange names and listings on or in random ads on different sites, often using busty armored women as clickbait lures to get you to check out yet another oddball Korean MMO. While the US market is stagnant, the Asian market for MMOs is grinding them out like there's no tomorrow, and some of them are actually really interesting or even playable.

3. Return to WoW
I can't do this. I just can't.....I played too much, though compared to many I played hardly at all. WoW is a game that I will always fondly remember when it was new, and also remember with much pain as it morphed over the years into something that looks very much like the prettiest pig in lipstick on the market. It's still the default "I'm going back to...." game out there, though.

2. Explore New Horizons
As I mentioned earlier, games like Destiny are pushing the boundary on what you can blend with the MMO genre. It's not 100% like an MMO--yet--but it comes damn close. So does Defiance, and there are other games out there for which the medium is shaping into something entirely different. I am told that there's an entire wave of MMO-like games on Android and iOS which are functionally providing the same "experience" that many people crave in an MMO. For these specific iterations, if the desire is not to play an MMORPG in the traditional sense, then you've got a lot of options to explore.

1. Use this nebulous period for the industry to break free
That's right....while there are no significant new releases on the horizon, and the ex-packs for the current crop are mostly inclined to see if they can lure you back to the cult compound happy customer camp, you can use this lull in the industry to get the hell out of dodge. Go find a forest trail and hike down it. Just remember that in the real world wild pigs are probably gonna kick your ass.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Halo 5 Cinematics

It hit me this weekend (a busy weekend, not much blogging done) that I think I may be looking forward to Halo 5 more than I am Star Wars VII....what has happened to me?!?!?

That video....just amazing. And of course the Blue Team trailer, with Master Chief:

Between Destiny: The Taken King, Halo 5 and Fallout 4 I am completely set for video gaming this year.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Last Parsec - Look at all this stuff!

Pinnacle's new setting for Savage Worlds, The Last Parsec, is just about complete and out. You can get a ton of Last Parsec goodness for a nice deal over on Pinnacle's website.  The Last Parsec Core was the last tome in waiting and I just secured my box along with an early copy thanks to Sara Quinn (Pinnacle) and Jim Searcy (Studio 2) who I want to add have excellent and very responsive customer service, some of the best I've experienced online so far.

I've barely done more than crack open the shipping box and start perusing its contents, but if you're curious what it's all about The Last Parsec is a space opera SF style setting aimed squarely at the high concept "real" SF of fiction and film.....unlike other SF offerings for Savage Worlds such as Slipstream this is an actual science fiction setting rather than a pulp space fantasy universe. There are three setting books, one core book, and a ton of extras you can secure to enhance your Last Parsec experience. The complete set (with all options added) includes:

Hard cover core book:
The Last Parsec Core (setting book)

Three hard cover setting/scenario books:
Eris Beta V

Supplemental stuff:
Enigma Equation (module and GM screen)
Two map packs
Last parsec Double Action Deck (two decks of cards)
a pack of Last Parsec dice
A bunch of bennie chips (actual poker chips with Last Parsec art!)
A mess of metal figures and stands - 12 total (my wife shall be assembling/painting them)

I don't think everything listed above is still available....from the looks of it the website is not showing physical copies of the map packs as still available for example. Per Sara they are there, I just failed my Notice roll.

But let me tell you: if you like your Savage Worlds, and you love your hard-hitting science fiction (and especially love stuff with a feel like Mass Effect or Neal Asher's novels), I think this series is a must-buy. I'll be blogging more about it soon, got to spend this weekend absorbing the entire setting.....especially since my Wednesday group is itching to get back to some Savage Worlds Sci Fi soon!

GURPS and Fantasy: a Tour for the Uninitiated

GURPS has two flavors of fantasy: GURPS Fantasy is a wonderful sourcebook for how to make a deep, meaningful fantasy realm that might truly be inspired by the wondrous epic fantasy novels that fill our shelves and e-readers to the brim. Then there is Dungeon Fantasy, which is the flavor one gets when you grab GURPS Fantasy and spike it into a mosh pit of Mountain Dew, Cheetos, and Frazetta painting blended into a thick slurry of awesome.

So yeah, a lot of choices. There’s also “historical fantasy” which works really well in GURPS, especially if you poke around with GURPS Thaumaturgy to get exactly the sort of quasi-historical magic system you would like to play with. The point, of course, is that you can do a lot of interesting fantasy with GURPS in this genre.

GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is ostensibly all about a quick and dirty way to kit out regular GURPS for some craziness. Hidden within the madness is a metric ton of stuff that, while regarded as entirely whimsical and not serious by certain GURPS standards (including Kromm, the author!) is seen as serious bizness when you come from the Dungeons & Dragons side of the spectrum. Want to make a tiefling paladin/rogue? Easy enough, make a half-spirit infernal holy warrior-swashbuckler. Dungeon Fantasy was carefully designed to emulate D&D in spirit and form.

However, the timbre and approach of GURPS Dungeon Fantasy is not quite on par with the actual GURPS Fantasy book, in which 100-150 point characters are normal (DF starts with 250 points), and the notion of deliberate min-maxing in the tradition of the D20 era of D&D is anathema….or at least discouraged in favor of more realistic character building. This can be problematic because…well….all the COOL stuff is in Dungeon Fantasy, and the GURPS Fantasy tome only provides a modest medley of templates, races and other features, topping it off with a tepid but sorta fun “fantasy Rome but with dinosaurs” overview. Plus the Dungeon Fantasy line is the only 4th edition resource for GURPS that even tries to offer some decent monsters and other fun stuff for adventurers.

Some of this is due to the problem with GURPS as a generic, universal system: its built to do everything, but in the process “everything” isn’t necessarily universally represented in the game’s body of resources. As a result, we have in 2015 a universal game system with one very good book on literary and historical fantasy, and a vast swathe of PDF resources on how to kick down dungeon doors and beat monsters up in contrast. So what should one do with all of this?

Don’t dismiss Dungeon Fantasy just because the subject is a deliberate mash-up of Dungeons & Dragons, and don’t take Kromm too seriously when he disses the genre even as he creates a masterful utility to run dungeon crawls in GURPS. They’re up to sixteen sourcebooks now, and the most recent ones (Wilderness Adventures and Henchmen) actually look at more normalized, gritty templates (which work well for henchies or low-level dungeon crawling just fine) and the Wilderness Adventures book even dabbles in what amounts to wilderness sandboxing. So the DF line is pretty diverse, and I would suggest poaching from it as much as you feel like you need to flesh out your regular GURPS Fantasy games, especially if you really want to have a more measured experience without as much gonzo. Use GURPS Fantasy to set the feel, but pillage the hell out of the GDF line to get all the weird races and concepts that make a good game setting come to life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

GM Dedication and the ease of game prep time

So here's the situation: I started thinking about prepping for a new Pathfinder campaign. This led to an initial moment of excitement, then gradually dwindled to a series of increasingly odd headaches and phantom pains that I realized were due to the painful conditioning of just how onerous and problematic the task at hand was going to be.

Running Pathfinder requires a lot of time. Prepping a game properly requires a lot of time. Being a Pathfinder GM requires.....dedication. Perhaps more dedication than I am capable of mustering anymore.

In the time it would take me to stat out one interesting NPC or opponent for Pathfinder, I could produce a dozen 5E foes or two dozen S&W or C&C foes. In the time it takes me to properly read up on the player's choices of race and class I could completely learn two or even three entire OSR game systems from cover to cover.

I feel bad. I know my players want variety....they want weird classes with weird options; they are all burned out on the same core classes in every iteration of D&D. Something like Class Compendium can't interest them because....despite the fact that my crew is largely of the right age for the OSR crowd.....they still crave more complexity as players. But Pathfinder does not offer what I as the GM need, which is less complexity.

I could wing it all....and may end up doing so.....but I don't know about you, but that usually leads to a less satisfying experience with Pathfinder. I mean: why run a game that requires short cuts and concessions as the GM to find time to prep and run for, when you could play a game that actually designs the GM experience to be a streamlined, smooth process to begin with?

I haven't got any good answers yet, other than to push hard to keep my current 5E game going on Saturday for as long as possible....stall any change! Yeah, that's the ticket.....

If I stall long enough maybe Paizo will release Pathfinder 2E, now with 200% more player-friendly crunch and 50% less GM prep time requirements. I can dream, anyway!

Sword Coast Legends Delayed....Again

Sword Coast Legends, for those of you not keeping score, is the new isometric CRPG being produced by n-Space. It's original release date was September 8th. Then it got pushed back to September 29th. Now it's being delayed again, this time until October 20th.

Wizards of the Coast just can't get a break anymore, can they?

The reason for the delay is time for more polish....which is a damned good reason, of course. But the fact that it's this close to release and still desperately needs polish is kind of concerning. I'm not one to advocate reading the PC Gamer forums, but a few posters on the news announcement over there have some interesting (and coherent) critiques of the closed beta on the game.

Let's just say that we should all downgrade our expectations from "The Next Neverwinter Nights" to maybe "hopefully better than Daggerdale."

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Devil is in the Details: high concept Raiders of the Lost Ark Style Gaming in Pathfinder

Actually, the situation which prompted this musing is the reintroduction of Pathfinder to my Saturday night routine. After the high-level 5E game concludes (possibly in one more session) we're gonna start a new Pathfinder game at level 3. It's set in my Enzada setting, which was effectively built from the ground up with Pathfinder in mind. It's also the setting that uses the following concepts as key building points: too many gods to count, all non-western fantasy based, and rife with exploration and Indiana Jones-esque adventure themes.

Going back to Pathfinder has left me certain of a few key things I want to avoid, if at all possible:

1. no dungeon slogs. I'm not burned out on them, but returning to the methodical minis+map methodology of dungeon crawling is making my skin crawl; put another way: 5E handles the dungeon crawl better I feel

2. mitigate the maps and minis; use the "lessons" of 5E (by which I mean: the deprogramming back to a kinder, gentler era before 3E that 5E has helped us to remember) to make Pathfinder's battles run more smoothely and without the need for rigorous application of locational grid mechanics.

3. Speed it up....a lot. I have a confession to make: I have an unnatural fondness for overland travel and encounters. I like hexcrawls, and as a player that's my default state. Hell, as a DM that's my default state. But I'm doing hexcrawly stuff all over the place in my 5E games right now, and Pathfinder is just mechanically slower when it comes to this stuff. This leads to #4....

4. Focus on the big stuff and use the "Red Line of Travel" to get there. The Red Line is that path the plane takes on Indiana Jones's maps in the movies, where he managed to go from Tibet to Egypt in ten seconds without an array of random wandering nazi encounters. The principle here is the same: don't do travel stuff unless it's important, and don't do encounters unless they are worth reading about. No trash encounters, basically. Those familiar with D&D 4E should be familiar with the concept: the entire game was self-aware of the fact that trash encounters slowed everything down to no discernable benefit. I'm coming back to Pathfinder with the same general encounter ought to be significant in some way to the plot, or the direction the PCs have taken. If it isn't, scratch it.

One of the reasons for #3 and #4 aren't system related: it's tied to the fact that my Saturday group only meets once every other week for the game, and even then every third or fourth meeting gets skipped due to scheduling issues, so we probably have only 20 actual sessions in a year. Given that we only have X number of sessions, it makes sense to tighten up the plot/narrative a bit and focus on the cool stuff.

This focus on the cool stuff can be hard though for someone like me who tends to run freeform, open-world exploration games which are while not technically hexcrawls (because I use regular graph paper) are still ultimately a variation on the same concept. If my party of adventurers are all in the city of Uralhat, for example, I need to be equally prepared for if they sail off to the port of Syrhaba to investigate the haunted monastery or if they forge inland to Sholtira to find their cohort's missing father. The idea is that.....whichever direction they go....I will promise myself not to make the sea voyage or overland voyage last a session or two just because travel and exploration are fun. Sure, it is fun....but if we want to resolve a plot or two in a dozen sessions or less it's a good idea to gloss over the minor stuff.

Of course, I could be wrong....and it might be worth talking to my players. Maybe they love traveling. Maybe all they want to do is explore the Emerald Spire Superdungeon or something. But part of me really loves the idea of running a Pathfinder game (or any other game) at the breakneck pace of Raiders of the Lost Ark, with periodic locational transitions that happen narratively in the blink of an eye. Anyone else tried it this way? I know I used to run ALL of my games this way back in my 2E days in College....but when I was in school I had to build all my campaigns around the semester, because I had no guarantee my same players would be back at the end of that semester.

All that aside....and despite my head swimming at the layered complexity of Pathfinder once more....I am really keen to play it again, if only for a single campaign, with the right group (of regular players who don't power game). Pathfinder is like a glorious encyclopedia of fantasy, full of everything, and all you need to do to unlock it's secrets is dedicate your every waking hour to deciphering its mad secrets. There's something freakishly compelling about that.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Alephtar Games no longer licensed for Chaosium products? Revoluton to come...

There's a thread here on which does not provide details but does indicate that Alephtar Games no longer has a license to produce official Chaosium content. It suggests that they are looking for a "Revolutionary" solution which some have taken to imply is the Renaissance! RPG, a D100/BRP variant based on the OGL version of Legend. We could be wrong on that last one, but I'm hoping not. (UPDATE: and further browsing revealed this announcement. So they'll be doing their own D100-based system variant. Hmmm. On the plus side it will be OGL-based with an SRD, so if they do a good job on this then maybe Revolution will fill a void that Chaosium seems to be trying to close right now.)

Not sure what this means, other than that it seems that Chaosium is once more drawing tight on the third party publishers out there. Design Mechanism and Alephtar.....hmmmm.

I'll say this much: I am glad I already own all the Alephtar releases to date, and I have recently polished off my collection of Runequest 6 books so that I now own everything Design Mechanism has produced so far.

I better really, really, really like Call of Cthulhu 7th edition when it arrives. (Especially since I can't use my spanky new Cthulhu: Dark Ages 2nd edition which does not, in fact, contain the rules of play.....sigh....)

Why I Love Basic Roleplaying

A while back Dyvers proposed an interesting idea: a collection of blog posts and stories that were love letters to our favorite games. The principle idea was that these talked about how great the game was while (and this was, I felt, the important part) not down-talking other games in the process. I'm not sure all the essays succeeded in this regard (gamers have a hard time not trash talking the stuff they don't like) but a lot of them were great. I'm not sure where the project is right now, but decided since it seems to be in limbo maybe I should put my Love Letter up to BRP for posterity on RoC....

Why I Love the Basic Roleplaying System

Basic Roleplaying isn’t just a fancy gold book that gives me virtually everything I need under one cover to run a game in any genre. It’s a sort of history lesson on role playing games and a system I’ve been playing with since I was a precocious eleven year old in 1982. Basic Roleplaying’s inception was with the rise of Runequest in 1978, and at the time was regarded as one of the “big three” in the industry next to Traveller and D&D. By the time I discovered this system it was already in a 2nd edition for Runequest, as well as a boxed set called Worlds of Wonder, the first effort by any publisher anywhere to make a multi-genre roleplaying game. In 1983 I got my hands on a copy of the Games Workshop edition of Call of Cthulhu…and that was pretty much it for me. By 1984 I was playing anything but AD&D; the BRP-powered games had ruined me forever more from being “just” a D&D gamer.

So what makes BRP such a good system? Why has it been the single engine to power the majority of Chaosium RPGs, and the foundation for so many others? Why is the Gold Book edition (the nominal 4th edition of BRP) the best version out there, the one book I would keep with me on a desert island (presuming there were also players on said island)? Even though BRP is the core engine for dozens of RPGs and spin-offs, from different editions of Runequest to Legend, Renaissance RPG, Openquest and so many others, the current BRP core book is a special beast unto itself. It’s a sort of “glue” edition….the book which binds the rest together, if you will.

BRP isn’t good just because it’s consistent. Even the most divergent versions of the game (such as the Legend-based spin-offs) are still 95% compatible with other editions; you can pick up a Legend supplement or an old Stormbringer sourcebook (Rogue Mistress remains one of my favorites) and still use the content with almost no conversion required in BRP. That’s some amazing consistency in design over time, and only recently has anyone considered rocking the boat--Call of Cthulhu 7th edition mixes up the core conceits of BRP just a tad. In fact the divergent game systems often introduce rules which make for fine optional mechanics in other editions of BRP….the core conceit of the mechanics is that tight. That’s not something you find in the history of many game designs over time.

BRP also isn’t good just because it’s extensive. The Gold Book edition of BRP is specifically designed to emulate a variety of genres well, and provides enough rules to do almost anything you could want. Every other BRP-derived or powered game covers additional genres in amazing depth. The inter-compatibility means that it’s one of the few systems out there where you can grab a few books and do your own genre mashups. Pick any three and make it your own terrifying beast: Val-du-Loop, BRP Mecha and Gladiators of Legend? Sure why not. The Green, Elfquest and BRP Rome? I’d play that.

BRP isn’t good just because it’s grounded in a core conceit of realism. The game mechanics are rooted in a core sense of realistic verisimilitude; this remains consistent across editions, variants and genres such that you have to push hard to make BRP act outside the norm. This means you can run a BRP game….any BRP game, even Supers or Nephilim or a Legend game with all the legendary abilities pumped to the max, and it will still feel “grounded” in a fantasy version of our own world’s physics and expectations. I tend to think of it like this: over the decades I’ve run a lot of games, and sometimes a rules system will surprise me in unexpected ways, those “hmmm” moments where you scratch your head and question the outcome of a certain set of rules. A certain cognitive dissonance sets in as you work to equate what has happened with what the rules tell you has happened. This has never happened to me in all the years I have run BRP; it has always demonstrated a consistency in design and intent that matches my expectations of BRP and the worlds I have used it to model.
Nope, BRP is good because it does all of the above, and a lot more. It’s a reality-based set of mechanics that are consistent across a wide variety of genres and flavors, with rules inter-compatibility that makes utilizing sourcebooks from different editions remarkably easy, and encourages borrowing rules, mechanics and ideas from different iterations of the game. Someone who has only ever played the BRP Gold Book will still be able to have a conversation with someone who’s only ever experienced Runequest 6 or Legend, and the differences will simply provide new, optional rules concepts to deploy in your own games. I could grab an old copy of Ringworld right now, for example, and use it with BRP as-is.

The Gold Book edition of BRP is the great grandkid of the original tiny BRP core rules, a modest brochure-like booklet which accompanied Worlds of Wonder, a boxed set with three additional rulebooks for SF, fantasy and super hero gaming. It was the hobby’s first efforts at making a multi-genre RPG, something which could handle more than one type of game flavor. WoW was superseded by Champions and later GURPS, but the point of the set remained a core driver behind Chaosium’s use of the mechanics to power any game they produced. From licensed products like Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Ringworld and Elfquest to unique innovations like Nephilim and Supers, BRP was the engine that made it happen.

It wasn’t until the 00’s that BRP got to really return to being its own thing, however. Initially there was an effort to release a version of the rules in monograph format based on a generic version of the Runequest 3 mechanics; there is much history on the Runequest version of the game that doesn’t really relate to the current iteration of BRP, so I will leave this part with the relevant fact that everything worked out in the end, and led to the plethora of choices we have today as BRP fans. This initial foray into a monograph edition paid off for everyone when eventually the Basic Roleplaying gold cover rulebook was at last released. Following BRP’s core rules were a range of supplements in the form of Chaosium’s monographs and official releases, as well as licensed support from Alephtar Games, Cubicle 7 and others. The support level was second only to GURPS and Hero System in terms of diversity of resources. Of special note is that BRP now commands some of the best and most extensively detailed historical sourcebooks available. BRP Rome, Val-du-Loop, Crusaders of the Amber Coast and others continue to show that historical roleplaying has a home here.

BRP as a rulebook is a thick single-volume tome of rules which gives you everything you need to run any genre you feel like. It provides a load of information, and a ton of optional rules and variants that you can deploy to suit to taste. It can look a little daunting to a new player, yes….but once you realize just how much of it is marked as optional, letting you customize your gaming experience, then the formidability begins to evaporate. You can run BRP in a very slim, easy version with few bells and whistles…or you can run a mean, hungry mechanically robust version with all the strike rank mechanics, hit locations and elaborate skill modifiers pumped to max. And the best part is no matter what character your player rolls up, you can make it work….the optional mechanics are layered effects and the game’s core conceits never change.

So what are the core conceits? One obvious one is in the alternative name used for BRP systems: the D100 mechanic. Almost all task resolutions in BRP are done on a D100 percentile roll. Skills are based on percentile scores; and attributes, while rolled with a typical array of three six sided dice (give or take), also offer up a set of percentile scores for task resolution outside of skills. Every current BRP game works this way, without exception. Some of them vary exactly how you resolve certain percentile tasks, and the most common rule that varies from one edition to the next is how to manage contested or resisted rolls….but each version of how to do this is a perfectly functional alternative mechanic you can poach for your own preferred version of the game. The BRP Gold Book itself utilizes the classic Resistance Roll table, something which has held true for the game since its earliest days, but I admit I have a fondness for the Legend/Runequest 6 resolution mechanic myself, which has a simple and functional elegance to it.

The BRP Gold Book provides rules for an array of character types, which are built with a 3D6-style mechanic for ability scores (strength, intelligence, etc.) and percentiles for skills. You have a variety of optional modules that can be turned on according to genre, including mutations, psionics, magic, sorcery and super powers. These modules cover all sorts of sub genres….for example, superpowers will work for a comic book adventure game, but will also work for building cybernetics in a dystopian cyberpunk future setting. Mutations can let you craft a post-apocalyptic wasteland of mutated survivors but, coupled with super powers, expand your supers game into something more akin to X-Men or Doom Patrol. Or pair it with psionics and go for a future based on Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai or the movie Scanners..or even Akira if you want some dystopian body horror in the mix.

Two magic systems in the core reflect a smattering of the diverse options out there for magic and fantasy in BRP. Add supplements like The Magic Book and you can include four more magic systems based on Runequest 3. Grab Magic World and you can include magic based on the old Elric version of the game. Add Advanced Sorcery and you can add eleven more weird magic systems in. Enlightened Magic lets you replicate the weird Victorian era mysticism of the turn of the century….then there’s BRP Witchcraft….you get the idea. Magic can be done in a lot of different ways in BRP, but in the core book you get the two core systems that let you replicate 99% of the adventuring fantasy we’re all familiar with. And so far we’re only talking about official BRP books; there’s a lot more out there for the extended BRP family.

As a new GM this might sound daunting, but remember: it’s all optional. You don’t need any of it in your game if you don’t want it, and the rules make no assumptions about which, if any, of these systems you will use, other than give you the ones you will find to have the most universal applicability. Certain genre books will have their core conceits, but for your game? You can do whatever you want. You can even scrub all of the optional plugins and go with your own. One suggestion if you are not sure about how simple or complex you can set your rules: sit down and play two games, one with the current edition of Runequest (6th edition), and one with Call of Cthulhu 6th edition (since 7th edition is still not quite out as a physical thing in meatspace yet as of this writing so I can’t vouch for it yet). You’ll learn quickly just how different the game can be depending on whether you like to play with all the rules “on” as in Runequest 6, or just go with the bare minimum (as in Call of Cthulhu). It really helps set the stage for imagining just what you can do with BRP. It also shows how, at its core, no matter how many (or few) rules options you use, in actual play you’re mostly still just roleplaying and occasionally rolling some percentiles.

Keep in mind that you can also experience BRP directly and with minimal fuss by grabbing the Quickstart edition, which even includes an array of short adventures. Nothing like actual play to demonstrate how easy BRP is! BRP is also supported by a fantasy-themed ruleset as well, called Magic World, which is a direct demonstration of how you can take the full rules of BRP and customize them to suit your needs. Magic World is a great primer on how to play BRP as well as a fully functioning fantasy iteration of the BRP system in its own right.

Once you’ve settled on your comfort level of play with BRP…noting that even at its most rigorous BRP is not a difficult system to run…you’ll want to settle on a genre. The BRP Gold Book supports pretty much any genre, although a few might need a bit more prep work than others, depending on how much additional crunch or flavor you want to inject into the process. It also provides you with all the core support you need to design your scenarios and settings, although some sourcebooks go into much greater detail. As an example, you can design mecha in the core rules as impressive gadgets as written, and examples are provided. However, if you really want to dive deep into the fountain of mecha madness, there is a BRP Mecha sourcebook waiting for you with more construction design rules than you could ever want.

Is BRP perfect? For many it is, or can be. It has some limitations, of course, as all systems do. BRP’s baseline focus on realism and verisimilitude means that you have to push the system in strange directions if you want to make it function on levels of more abstract reality; if you wanted to emulate a video game level of physics or survivability, for example, BRP is probably not the best system for your needs. Some genres work well as long as you remember that they are spinning out of the baseline assumptions of the rules: BRP for Supers is an excellent system to run a gritty superhero campaign, such as one might see in Batman, Watchmen or Top 10. It is probably not the best system for a more abstract comic book hero game like something modeled after Young Justice or He-Man.
BRP is also what I would call a mixed toolkit/creator’s system, at about a 60/40 split between out-of-the-box features and do-it-yourself needs. The game provides enough material in the core book to run any genre….but at some point you as GM will want to add to that. Designing new material for BRP is as simple as figuring out how it works, but BRP does not offer point buy mechanics in most cases (except when you use plugins to design stuff), so rigorous point buy/balance systems aren’t really a core part of the experience. The important question on how much this impacts you depends really on your aesthetic needs. For example: if you run a cyberpunk game, as I mentioned earlier you will likely use super powers and maybe mutations as a mix to replicate cybernetic enhancements. If you want a consistent baseline for what sort of cybernetics are available (say, modeled after Cyberpunk 2020’s lists), you’ll probably want to sit down and work out the rules and options using the powers and mutations as a base of design. If you’re not so concerned about this consistency, then the process is as simple as letting your players know what powers are available, the starting points they have, and the key rule that their choices must be defined as cybernetic.

Ultimately, BRP does something that I love more than anything: it keeps all of this under one cover. You really don’t need to buy any other books (even though you will probably want to simply because there are so many interesting BRP-powered and compatible resources out there) and having just the Gold Book alone will give you an infinitely re-usable rule system with the foundation for any genre you want to run, and a set of core rules that any player can quickly grasp. It truly is a one-stop shop for role playing, and will remain on my shelf for the life of my gaming career. I’ve run adventures in all sorts of weird genres, including:

· A grim dark fantasy world of humans who survived a Cthulhu-level Stars Are Right Apocalypse

· A future space federation in which humanity seems alone in the galaxy, as cultures of earth spread out to entire worlds, all while a hidden threat in the form of non-baryonic lifeforms threaten to destroy us all

· A gritty film-noir inspired near future tale of government agents who discover there’s a conspiracy with bug eyed aliens

· A “set in our home town” zombie apocalypse tale that starts with Day Zero and ends when everyone is dead or a zombie

· A post-cataclysmic future Earth where a rogue planet wiped out humanity on Earth, and an alien seed ship recolonized it with xenoforms, while humanity hangs on in its space colonies.

· A planetary romance about humans on a crashed colony worldship that landed on a planet of psionic insects

· And once even a story about old world gods reborn as mortals, facing off against ancient awakened threats

I have other multi-genre systems I absolutely love….but every time I imagine a new setting and start thinking about what system to use, I come back to BRP. It involves the fewest steps between “imagine a new campaign” and “we are actually playing” of all the multi-genre systems I own, and for that it will remain my “Trapped on a Desert Island book” forever more.

You can find BRP and all of its many supplements and variants here at Chaosium’s website: