Punitive vs Beneficial/Rewarding
The thing that makes me like or dislike a RPG is whether it goes to an effort of corralling a player in at every step to play a certain kind of game or way, or whether it blows the hinges off the doors to give the player freedom to play the way they want.
I also look at how the rules hinder or help the character actually adventure.
I’m happy to say that BareBones Fantasy RPG (BBF) inspires creativity and is full of nice touches that make a character really fun to play in a no-nonsense straight up style that doesn’t try to hold your hand around every corner. This game assumes you know something about RPGs and basic level of intelligence of the reader. Thank you! And if not, what are doing with this anyway?
Let’s look closer.
BBF starts right off with Character Creation and the first 1/3 of the book is devoted to what the player needs to know to create and play their character.
There are four Attributes Strength, Dexterity, Logic and Will. These attributes set the baseline for everything you can do and how well you do it.
All of the rules are presented as generic fantasy. Which is great for home brewers. The races presented with a once sentence description followed by game mechanics. Races in the book are Elf, Dwarf, Halfling and Human.
Next you select a starting skill. This skill will be at level one. You must have a level in the following skills in order to use them: Cleric, Enchanter, Leader, Scholar and Spellcaster. The other three skills, Scout, Thief and Warrior can be used without having a level in them. Putting levels in skills makes you better at them of course.
You choose what to be good in right from the get go. And if you later on want to put levels in other skills, no one says you can’t! Make the character you want to play. See them grow the way you wish.
A note on skills. Skills are a catch all for all the things you’d expect them to be good at or able to do. Each has game mechanics associated with them. I also must note at this point that things such as Low Magic which lets a spellcaster do all those minor things a wizard should be able to do is fantastic! No more shackles of intricate rules for simple everyday things you’d expect a wizard to do.
Next you choose a beneficial and a hindering descriptor for your character. This not only helps you develop your character but you get points you can use to improve your character by bringing them up in play. Note: the PLAYER decides if a negative descriptor comes up during play or not. And it they do bring it up in play they get a development point for their efforts. Development points work much like experience points in other systems.
Next you define your character’s moral code. This is really smart. A few helpful descriptors that you circle and check off whether they are strong or weak aspects is easy, informative and can really help the player decide how they’re character would act in typical gaming situations.
Starting equipment is handled better than I’ve ever seen. You get to pick 6 items from the equipment list costing 100 GP or less and yes your bow does come with 20 arrows and your horse does come with a saddle, bag, tack and harness. A few examples of the well detailed and thought out equipment list: each 10’ of rope costs 1 gp, each day of rations costs 1 gp.
A Survival pack is a terrific single purchase every adventurer needs, and at a discount. I was really pleased seeing something like this that lets a player get his character actually ready to adventure.
10’ pole – yep, got that too.
The next part of the rulebook contains Game Guidelines. Not rules, guidelines. With GM fiat stated as a major part of the design of the game, there is no pandering to rules-lawyers. Period. The rules make every effort to give you what you need to play but don’t box you in by trying to predict everything that could happen in a game. This saves on page count, needless looking things up in the book during play and so very much headache.
Movement is FREE! I say that really loud. Every game that makes movement an action favors the person who stands still and waits for others to come to them. BBF doesn’t make that mistake.
Help for the GM is astounding. Two thirds of the book are devoted to the GM with helpful tips on using Ad-hoc modifiers, resistance checks (which are half of the meat and potatoes of action in this system), typical hazards and conditions. With magic item creation tools, an adventure idea generator, a dungeon generator, a sample setting (complete with maps), and rules for making unimportant NPCs, and monsters BBF really helps the GM launch their game with well thought out tools. There are over 45 sample monsters to play with.
Travel time is done quite well. Even though your dwarf might be slow during combat, that won’t stop your group from travelling one hex per day. Oh, yes travel on the sample campaign map can be done in hexes since so many of the travel rates match up to 1 or more hexes per day. Again, smart smart design.
There are a few places in the rules where suggestions are given if you don’t want to do things a certain way. I found this very helpful when I was trying to price out a basic healing potion and found it could cost anywhere from 11gp to 110gp. Then in the next paragraph there was a quicker method presented that solved the issue nicely. It is touches like this that show the designers haven’t slapped this together in a few weeks’ time.
All in all I’m very happy with BBF. It’s strengths lie in it’s simple rules system but it has longevity because it is based on percentiles. This gives it a lot of granularity that other rules-light games lack. And I should mention that while this game touts itself as rules-light, and it is. Don’t let that fool you. There is a lot under the hood and you should get several years of gaming before you see it all in play.
With all of the tools in BBF, it makes you wonder if they couldn’t have put just a little more. And that is a positive thing. Any game that makes me want more out of it’s great potential rather than lack of covering things is a good thing. I’d like to see simple chase rules. These are becoming more popular and really add to dramatic tension in RPGs.
More to Come
There is a campaign setting book called the Keranak Kingdoms coming out in a week. There is also talk of an expansion book. It is rumored to contain mass battles rules. Along with that I really hope they go the extra mile to create a simple rule set for running small kingdoms. BBF just seems to have everything leading up to characters becoming great heroes. Let’s hope that is included as well.