Monday, March 26, 2012

System vs. System: Character Building in 4E vs. BRP

I was messing around for the first time in a good while with actually writing game material, and got inspired to make a character using the Heroes of Elemental Chaos book for 4E, and compare it to an equivalent character build in BRP. I'm seriously entertaining the idea of going all BRP all the time right now, but one selling point is to make sure that the system can and will support the many weird fantasy archetypes that I love in my games, and which are already supported by a wealth of info in D&D and Pathfinder.

So for this experiment I first made a genasai stormsoul who is a hexblade with the windlord theme. She's a blue skinned, crystal haired woman with a perpetually shocking quality to her. The short version of her character write-up is like so: she's bound to an elemental pact, which grants her a blade of chaos, through which she can channel devastating blows. She has the traditional eldritch blast, can occasionally fly in the air and strike foes as she does, moves fluidly through rough terrain, and can conjure up some powerful armor that damages foes around it. Her 4E character sheet looks like this:

Okay! So lots of text. This is a sample of how I stat out 4E characters for home use, just for reference; I try to condense the necessary info on one page or as close as possible. I use short hand like "uteoynt" and such for "until the end of your next turn" and so forth. Anything that ended up requiring thumb-flipping through the books would be a Bad Thing in terms of game pace. I don't like the 4E Character Builder PC records, either; they're okay, but if I don't have a hands-on design, then I tend to lose touch with what and why my character is doing what it does mechanically.

So anyway, enough of that. Good functional planetouched warlock hexblade stormlord adventure. This is one of the things I like about 4E: it has a lot of stuff you can cram onto even a 1st level character, in terms of thematics and flavor. One of my players (who is not a 4E fan) however once mused that the problem he has with 4E was fairly simple: never did he play a character who felt so godlike in description but in actual play was relatively pathetic. How true this can be.

So designing an equivalent character at level 1 in Pathfinder is nigh impossible, but you could probably get something that simulates the power range and effects by maybe 3rd to 5th level. BRP is a different beast entirely, however. It's not level based at all, for one, and it doesn't specifically have genasai and such, but you can fake it a bit and make one anyway.

For BRP, I picked "heroic" to start her for character generation, as  heroic feels comfortably at the same power level as low level 4E characters. I made her a wizard specializing in sorcery with the option to spend her bonus skill points on general magery if she so desired. I am calling her a genasai planetouched on the sheet, but did not bother to work out any special genasai stats; we're going to let the sorcery do all that work for us. In the end, I generated this:

 Not bad, eh? I even added a few extras in that she had the points for (heal, moonrise....two things her 4E counterpart can't do) to make up for one omission involving her armor spell. She has Sorcerer's Armor, which protects her, but it doesn't also deal damage, unfortunately; there may be spells that would do this, which could be linked, but I was going for quick and easy. Likewise, Sorcerer's Razor simulates the blade of chaos element (to which I provided her a broadsword she can enhance for damage), and wings of the sky provides some of the elemental knockdown effect for her. She learned two basic magician's spells: blast (to simulate eldritch blast) and lift (for flight).

Anyway, the BRP version of Atalasia injects the flavor (albeit with some player caveat toward what she is) but with better overall functionality; this character can do a lot more than just fly 30 feet and then spin someone off 5 feet with a quick sword thrust. About the only thing I didn't get right was the armor that damages with intense cold....will have to play around with BRP's sorcery a bit (or look in the BRP Magic Book) and see if there's a way to do it.

(EDIT: it did just occur to me that with giving her the ability to summon an elemental, then maybe what's really going on here is she's summoning a cold elemental that she binds to her armor, which in turn generates cold damage through its attacks against those who come too, problem solved!)


  1. When you contrast 4E's power system with a more conventional RPG's traditional mechanics, it does show an interesting (and weird) issue: 4E is technically a much more elaborate and potentially time-absorbing game because virtually every single power has a different stat block; every power is essentially its own miniature ruleset. BRP, by contrast, is like most RPGs, where you have limit stat blocks over time to reference, and can therefore more easily memorize how given items work.

    So what's 3.5 D&D's excuse? Why was that system so elaborate and time consuming in the reference/loo-up department that 4E was actually a more suitable answer? All 4E really did was repurpose how the information is presented (while slimming out/streamlining the mechanics a bit). I guess the problem with 3.5 (and Pathfinder) boils down to sheer volume....

  2. Cool stuff!
    I know nothing about 4e (or 3e or 3.5e) but it's always great to see weirdness built up for BRP. Having the elemental bound to her armor is a good thought too.

  3. I plan a lot more BRP here....and soon....also, I envy you for not being familiar with 3.X-4.X, tis a rare pure soul who hasn't been tainted by those systems! I really burned out on 3rd edition back in 2006-2007 and Pathfinder is refreshing that burnout all over again; only good stories and good players are keeping my interest up; the system itself is so tired, convoluted and overdone.

    As for 4E, I love the details of the game to death, but the mere thought of dragging out another map and minis set for yet another round of "30 minutes of story vs. 4 hours of combat" just makes me cringe. I don't think any 4E fanboys read my blog, but if so, be reminded that I've run a couple hundred sessions of that game and I also run it heavily old school....and I still think the game's weighed far too heavily on the tactical/gameist/combat side.

    If WotC doesn't get 5E out in time, I may finally have been able to quit cold turkey (again) on D&D entirely....a gaming future consisting entirely of other non-D&D games....sounds so pleasant! No more edition wars...ahhhh yesss....

  4. Nice write-up, I tried 4E...DM'ed several games of it and played several also, I came to some of the same conclusions you mention above. I've also ran and played several Pathfinder games, but at this point I'm ready to trade in my Pathfinder books just too much "stuff" to it. From your two recent posts I'm gonna have to reread BRP. I've got the big Gold cover edition but it was so massive it kinda put me off.

  5. I've had my back and forth on BRP....I think Magic World is a smart move for Chaosium, because it will distill the core of BRP into one genre, with one focused ruleset; The big gold book edition manages to overwhelm with its optional rules and effort to slide through every genre, so it has some of the same issues in focus as GURPS (albeit with an easier system to manage, since while GURPS 4th also expects you to customize it out, it gives less advice/direction on how to do so). When you cut out all the optional systems in BRP that you don't want and chuck all the optional combat rules, at its core the game is really simple and straight-forward.