Wednesday, April 21, 2010

In Praise of BRP

When I purchased my first Chaosium RPG -- Call of Cthulhu -- back in 1981, included in that first edition boxed set was a little 16-page pamphlet called Basic Role-Playing (or BRP, as it's become known since). At first, I was rather baffled by its presence, since the box already included a much larger Call of Cthulhu rulebook, which I assumed included all of the rules needed to play. As it turned out, it didn't, or rather, the rules in the larger book built upon concepts introduced in Basic Role-Playing. Thus, to more easily understand Call of Cthulhu's rulebook, one more or less needed to understand BRP.

Young kid that I was, I thought this a rather odd way to present rules, but, in retrospect, the wisdom of Chaosium's approach was borne out. For one, reading and internalizing 16 pages (of which only about half consisted of actual rules) took no time at all, thereby creating a solid foundation on which to add further complexities. For another, it nicely emphasized what rules were the important ones, the ones on which everything else depended. The BRP booklet thus admirably served double duty as both an introduction to all the games derived from it and as a treatise on rules economy.

It's this last aspect of that 16-page booklet that's stuck with me all these years. In an age in which even "light" games are typically many times larger than BRP was in 1980, it's difficult not to admire the way that Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis distilled Steve Perrin's original rules design into its essential components. Re-reading it recently reminded me just how few rules are necessary to run a roleplaying game if those rules are well chosen and presented. There's little question in my mind that BRP is both, which probably explains why it's remained more or less the same in its more than 30 years of existence and has powered some of the most well regarded RPGs in the history of the hobby.

Quite an impressive feat for such a tiny ruleset!

7 comments:

  1. I love BRP: it's my go-to system for anything. Nowadays it's out in a 400+ page (iirc) multi-genre behemoth, but it's still very simple to pick up.

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  2. This was my favorite system when I was younger.

    The current equivalent of the introductory guide that James describes can be downloaded for free here.

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  3. BRP in the form of Runequest 2 was my 1st real RPG love. My experiences with early D&D weren't really that much fun at till 2nd edition came out so I switched to the excellent Runequest 2e soon after.

    It was a favorite of mine till I discovered GURPS and I'll still play BRP given a chance. Played Mongoose RQ1 a couple of years ago in fact and while the MRQ rules need a bit of work it was still fun.

    As an old fan its nice to see the game so well supported. I think in its own way its in a golden age as much as any of the OSR games

    I do not believe there has ever been this much stuff coming out at one time.

    Not only are most of the old titles available, at least 3 companies support it (Chaosium, Cubicle 7 and Mongoose) and there are even new licenses (Charles Stross's Laundry Fantasy series)

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  4. It's the system I wish more people played.

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  5. Let the record show that Rotwang! agrees.

    You know.

    In case anyone asks.

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  6. Indeed, even today, the core rules of Call of Cthulhu only take up a handful of pages, around about the same number as back then. This does have its drawbacks, as there are some bits and pieces which need a bit of polish after thirty years, but the benefits outweigh the flaws by a massive margin. It's my favourite ruleset by far; as a GM, I appreciate the lightness of the rules, and the intuitive percentile approach is wonderful for introducing new gamers.

    All that said, I've really only used it as part of CoC. I've played one or two sessions of both Runequest and Elric!, but nothing else. I'd like to use it for a fantasy game one day, but my current group is a little ambivalent towards the system, alas.

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