Thursday, March 3, 2011

Thoughts Occasioned by BRP

Thanks to everyone who commented in response to my post yesterday about the fear BRP combat elicits in me. As many of you noted (and as I should have remembered), it's really only RuneQuest that's fiddly enough to care about hit points for each body part. At the same time, that fiddliness is, for me anyway, part of what makes RuneQuest RuneQuest. Remove it and it starts to feel different somehow.

I realize this probably puts me in the minority but I'm generally disinterested in ripping out rules systems in a RPG because I don't like them or because they intimidate me. Nowadays, there are so many different games available that, if I dislike large enough sections of a given game's rules, then I can simply discard it and find another game that better suits me. In the ancient days, this wasn't quite as viable and so there was a greater perceived need to "kit bash." Consequently, this talk of "get rid of X" or "ignore Y" doesn't appeal to me as much as it once did.

This is a big part of the reason why I favor OD&D over AD&D at the moment. To me -- and, again, I realize this is likely a minority opinion -- playing AD&D with large segments (no pun intended) of its rules removed, ignored, and/or replaced seems to defeat the point of AD&D. If I'm not using the published initiative rules or weapon vs. AC adjustments or material components or whatever, I might as well be playing OD&D plus whatever bits I like from the Supplements.

And, as I said, I feel similarly about RuneQuest. Ditching strike ranks or hit points by body part or whatever would likely speed up play and make it less intimidating to me, but to do so would be, in my opinion, to change the complexion of RuneQuest enough that I'd wonder why I was bothering to use the rules at all. If I'm going to play RuneQuest, I'd like to play it as close to what the designers intended as I can, house ruling only when absolutely necessary, but then that's my feeling about every RPG I play.

I'll have more to say on this topic in days to come. I've been planning to do reviews of both Mongoose's unfortunately named RuneQuest II and D101 Games's OpenQuest, each of which has points in its favor (and disfavor) and highlight different aspects of what I like (and dislike) about Basic Roleplaying. I'll try to get those up soon so that the discussion we've been having can continue.

14 comments:

  1. RQ is a lot simpler to run than any iteration of D&D.
    Strike rank is pretty much 2e initiative.
    Hit locations take a few sessions to run smoothly, but they come easy after you memorize the numbers.
    95% of everything else is rolling under a number on percent dice.
    I've never used the resistance table, I opt for opposed skill checks, but to each their own.

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  2. I prefer AD&D 2e. It cleaned up the fiddly bits of 1e or made them entirely optional. It loses the personality and flavor of Gygax's writing but it's my favorite of the D&D iterations.

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  3. Increasingly desperate to simply play more, I definately agree with you regarding the annoyance of system-fiddling. For myself, I've always been rather literal about the rules, mainly because I've always been disinclined to tinker too much. It's rarely the system that interests me so much as the imagined world it evokes. AD&D evokes just the flavour I want, straight from the books. It's harder work for me- I'm no rules lawyer and never was, but I'm willing to make the effort because it's that world, that flavour of fantasy, that I wish to immerse my group in.

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  4. Perhaps you should have titled this post "Thoughts occasioned by Runequest," since your problems seem to be caused by that particular implementation of BRP, rather than BRP itself. Take CoC, Stormbringer/Elric, or the BRP core book, and you have something similar to OD&D: a simple system to which you can add what you want, unlike, as you point out, having to strip out the offending parts of RQ.

    I'll be interested to hear what you have to say about OpenQuest and MRQ. I don't have either, so I'm curious about how they implement BRP-like rules. I'd suggest including GORE, but it doesn't look like Goblinoid Games actively supports that anymore.

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  5. Honestly the notion that its better to add to a game (OD&D minus desired supplemental material) than to subtract from a game (AD&D - whatever rules one doesn't care for) seems like splitting hairs to me. Yes, there are a few places in AD&D where Gygax insists that one cannot be playing AD&D unless all of the rules are being used, but seriously, did anyone ever pay attention to this? Even were it possible to understand and interpret every rule and system consistently with the whole of the work, I wonder if anyone ever actually used all of the system. Even Gygax admitted that not only would he have kept some rules out of the game in hindsight, but that he never used a ton of rules from AD&D at his own table. The argument that the AD&D rules all hang together and the system falls apart when tinkered with is absurd. Not absurd just prima facia, but absurd as shown by how the game has been played by the vast majority of players and referees that use or did use the system.

    I can understand folks enjoying OD&D more than AD&D because its more of a rules lite system, or because the power curve is no where near as steep as AD&D (the "bigger numbers" in AD&D versus OD&D), or because OD&D is somewhat more neutral in terms of implied setting, etc. But if one were to take OD&D, plus Supplements, plus early Strategic Review and Dragon articles, and mash them together, we're darn close to AD&D. I think that works the other way as well; take AD&D, subtract some of the more "egregious" rules that are held up as the most likely suspects, and you end up quite close to OD&D.

    I start with AD&D as my base and subtract what I don't want to use from it and alter the rest as I see fit, and it doesn't seem like I'm defeating the "point of AD&D" at all. Gygax wanted "uniformity of play" because he wanted AD&D to remain the 800 lb. gorilla in the room as long as possible, not because he was all that concerned with the purity of the game. It was about business (and I'm not knocking that, just saying), and even then it was viewed (at least among those I knew who played the game) with a bit of scorn and a chuckle, because it was an unenforceable stricture. Not to mention the fact that Gygax was obviously asserting his control over the brand over and against any claims made by Arneson in regards to OD&D and Holmes (both of which eventually disappeared completely from the TSR stable).

    In a way, I think this notion that its easier to add to a game, than subtract from a game, is simply another way of saying that game A is better than game B. If one points at OD&D and says "I like it better because its rules lite" or whatever, at least that an honest appraisal of one's own gaming interests vis-a-vis the type of system enjoys more. When one states that playing AD&D with subtractions is pointless, and that one might as well play OD&D, I think there is a bias showing.

    Its just as easy to say that adding Supplements and Dragon articles to OD&D is pointless, and one might as well play AD&D in that case.

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  6. Continued b/c I had to many words in last post....

    I actually think OD&D (when Supplements are considered) and AD&D are a lot closer than most want to admit, but because OD&D is now all the rage and folks want to wear the game as a badge of honor that point is completely glossed over. Certainly there are differences between the games, but once OD&D plus Supplements plus SR/Dragon articles are thrown into the mix, its obvious (to me) that AD&D is the direct evolutionary descendant of the Original game. Holmes really had little to no influence on AD&D as far as I can tell, nor does Moldvay. There is only one game upon which AD&D was consolidated, and that was OD&D.

    Personally, I think that the strongest argument for OD&D over AD&D from the OD&D crowd is the fact that its easier to limit the options available to the player by using OD&D rather than AD&D. This is the one failing (to my mind) of AD&D for Referees of the edition. I think AD&D would have served better if it had a "Core" game that dealt with basic mechanics for combat, adventuring, chargen, etc., and then optional rules for subclasses, other spells, more detailed combat, and so on. Uniformity of play from table to table could have been established with the Core game, while allowing the Referee more latitude to include or not include things like elves, paladins, psionics, initiative segments, weapon vs. armor, etc. The PHB had appendices for Bards, and I think that format would have served the game better for other things as well.

    Food for thought, and hopefully my post comes across as constructive rather than overly critical.

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  7. I fundamentally agree with James here.

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  8. I haven't played Runequest in 20 years, but we played it quite a lot back in the day. We were running those games concurrent with AD&D and whatever else, and RQ never felt overly fiddly or slower paced by comparison. Combat moved along very quickly, in fact. It just felt more deadly, largely in part because of those hit locations. In RQ, limbs fly, or get crushed to a pulp, and that's part of the fun of the system. Taking them away would make it something lesser, I think.

    Also, though the RQ stat blocks tend to look intimidating, you never needed half that information unless it was an important NPC. A GM running a home-brew adventure would only jot down the important bits, just like if you were running a D&D game. There tended to be a bit more prep time for important characters, but not so bad as it might seem. And you quickly learned to get lots of mileage out of reusing stats for different encounters.

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  9. I find this viewpoint interesting, because to me the hallmark of an old school game is one where the rules are not sacred, and where there is no attempt to impose a uniformity of play or ideas on the games. Sure it meant that if you entered a strange game there often would be a degree of negotiation (or more likely trepidation) on how the new group interpreted the rules. But you learned and adapted or found a different group.

    For a lot of rules that are considered "old school" this was actually a necessity (rather than a feature), because they were highly incomplete. You had to customize the rules to your game. Take a look at your Dwimmermount game. Highly customized (with stuff removed). And no less enjoyable for it being so.

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  10. To me, rules exist to supplement story telling and make for realistic combat and other task resolution, which would best translate the players' initiative and decisions into palyable game terms. I was lucky enough to create a unique setting that is absolutely unlike anything that the palyers had encountered before. I prefer to base it on the AD&D over any other system because AD&D has most spells, most monsters, the most varied treaure and magic item system to give random rendition to the minute parts of the campaign setting. This complexity of sertting from AD&D becomes the skeleton on which my campaign is enfleshed. Let's take schools of magic. OK, so I decide to base them ion the secretive cult-like organisations that wre schools of philosophy in ancient Greece - the Platonists, the cynics, the stoics, the sophists, etc. With the OD&D and RQ I would be left on my own, with AD&D I have a list of hundreds of Magic user spells grouped into various "schools" of magic alteration, etc, now I can have different schools of magic with treaured spells that are treated as esoteric and sacred knowledge to be granted only to the most dedictaed and desrving of Magic Users and now Magic User PCs have to TREK across the world to learn new spels and to unlock the myteries of their schools. And this adventuring for the sake of charcater development is in additon to the "regular" advenrtures that are part of the campaign. What other game system offers rhe sheer variety of AD&D?

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  11. @Twitt Me too. I use the 2e books for clarity and 1e books for flavor perhaps in the same way people use OSRIC for clarity and 1e books for flavor.

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  12. James... Try it, you'll liiiikkeee it. ;)

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  13. RQ combat is fine at middling levels, plenty of stabby action with people being run through, shields being shattered and heads severed at a fair old rate, but at low and high levels it fails a bit.

    Low levels are comedy gold as bungling barbarians with 30% to hit swing mighty axes at thin air, not that the legionary he is after could do much about it with a 25% parry if he connected. At high levels characters have so much magic available that they can put up damn near impenetrable magic shields. I had a battle involving a couple of rune masters that went on forever as they needed special hits to come close to damaging each other.(Everyone invested heavily in Dispel Magic after that).

    But the combat system in RQ does do the game good - getting the swords out is a big deal and few fights are a foregone conclusion, leading to more roleplay and more attention to the excellent world setting of Glorantha and how its cultures clash and interact.

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  14. The gaming community I come from, and still play in now, has such a strong season-to-taste tradition that I have no idea why you would feel like using the rules other than as written would undesirable. When I spend the time and energy to play a tabletop game, I'm doing it not to experience the game the designer created - which had better be good, or I'm going to have a lot more work on my plate - but to entertain and be entertained by the other 3-6 people at the table. If what the designer wrote flagrantly fails to serve that driving goal and/or our need for a balanced game, it's often easier to fix that problem than to go on being unhappy with the game as we're playing it, or to start something new in a different system.

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