Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Why BRP Frightens Me

It is a semi-constant refrain of this blog that I regret never having played as much RuneQuest or Stormbringer as I ought to have when I was younger. I think very highly of both those games and consider them classics of old school game design. I frequently amuse myself with thoughts of starting up a campaign for either system and, given recent events, those thoughts have popped up much more than usual. But every time I consider such a thing, an image comes into my mind and it's this one (or one like it):

That's a page from Apple Lane that provides the combat stats for five trollkin -- five. Gamers complain about the stat blocks of 3e monsters and rightly so, but it should be noted that Basic Roleplaying, at least in its RuneQuest and Stormbringer forms pioneered the lengthy stat block by providing ability scores, skill percentages, and hit points for each body part for every NPC the characters might conceive engage in combat against (which, of course, means all of them -- this is old school, after all).

Certainly it's true that those stats are still much simpler and more straightforward than those of D&D III, but they're also much more complex and convoluted than those of OD&D (or AD&D). BRP combat isn't as abstract as OD&D's; that's one of its selling points and I can tell you from past experience that, done well, combat in Stormbringer (with which I have the most experience) can be a lot of fun. But it's also a lot more work than that in OD&D: takes more time, requires more dice rolls and more paperwork. I have no doubt that, with time and experience, it can run very smoothly.

Still, the thought of it frightens me. I'm just not sure I have what it takes any more to run a very complicated RPG, which is kind of a shame, because, one of these days, I would like to play Stormbringer or RuneQuest or Chivalry & Sorcery. Ah well.


  1. I don't know about Stormbringer or C&S, but BRP by itself doesn't use separate hit points for each body part. (At least the old one, from the early 80's). It can be added as an option in the new one, but isn't required.

  2. Samwise7RPG over on youtube has some reviews of BRP, both the overall game and the "Classic Fantasy" variant, where he talks about the flexibility of the rules, according to which, as Will Douglas said, you can play with or without things like limb-specific hit points.

    BRP Review Part 1:

    BRP Review Part 2:

    BRP Classic Fantasy Review:

  3. I can see where you are coming from here as I have mostly lost my taste for rules medium and rules heavy games.

    Besides while BRP is a very good system, I'd rather play GURPS when I am into that sort of thing . I have better system mastery and it suits my needs better.

    I will say though, while that stat block is sizable, its very intuitive and easy to use in actual play.T That goes a long way at the table.

  4. Indeed. I think one of several reasons why I never really took to RuneQuest back in the day was the rule for hit locations, which to me seemed (and still seems) needlessly cumbersome. On the other hand, I loved Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer and still consider them nigh-on perfect systems. And neither of them uses hit locations!

    Like you, James, I don't feel like running games with complex rule sets. But BRP's beauty is its modularity, and (as Will says) hit locations are presented as an option in the Big Gold Book. I just ignore 'em, in the same way I always ignored speed factors and weapon-vs-AC adjustments in AD&D.

  5. I made a u-turn recently based upon just those considerations. I want to run it, L love the game, but... Runequest will always have a fond place on my bookshelf, but this DM has at last & forever learned that extraneous detail undermines the imaginative conjuration of great roleplaying moments in play, particularly in combat. 3e has PERMANENTLY rid me of any patience for round to round combat grind. I want it flowing or not at all. That's how I feel about it...

  6. I can tell you that RQ, Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer combats run very smoothly, and are not all that lengthy.

    D&D combat has some impenetrability surrounding it that makes it difficult for the non-hobbyist to understand. RQ is very understandable: a percentage to hit, a percentage to parry/block/dodge, armor stops damage. D&D: an arbitrary number on an unevenly-distributed matrix and somehow armor makes you harder "to hit" (unfortunate terminology).

    It's what drove me to other systems for awhile. You're right though, James -- RQ is nowhere near as complicated as 3E (which is why I keep 3E at arm's length).

    Chivalry & Sorcery is quite complex, although there is a "lite" version out there. Character generation alone was a pain (I had 2E C&C). But BRP is pretty easy, overall. One of the things to make it much, much easier is to run the CoC version of it. The rules pretty much get out of the way in Call of Cthulhu.

  7. Maaaaaan, I wouldn't run BRP with stat blocks like those. Ever. I'd go like this:

    Mofos with guns
    Pistol 60%, Dodge 45%, Brawling 55%. HP: 10. CON 14 [in case I need it]. Pistol: 1d8.

    Done. Options, man...all that stuff, the HP-per-location stuff? Options.

  8. James, have you taken a look at OpenQuest? Fewer fiddly bits and the charts/stats didn't make my eyes glaze over. :)

  9. Stormbringer never used hit locations, so that cuts down quite a bit on the stat blocks. It doesn't seem much heavier, rules-wise, than CoC.

    I'm playing in a MRQII campaign right now, and running CoC. CoC seems just as 'rules light' as Classic D&D (0e/Basic). RQII is 'heavier' but very intuitive. Moreover, MRQII has an optional rule for not using 'hit locations' for minor NPCs/monsters (which could easily be transferred to other versions of RQ).

    I wouldn't give up on running BRP!

  10. Oh yes, OpenQuest is a nice streamlined version of RQ!

  11. I don't believe Stormbringer ever used hit locations (at least, not in the way RQ did) and, if I ever ran RQ 2, I'd drop them. Too much work for not enough gain. They're also optional in the current "big book" BRP manual.

    As for the rest of the system, I call it "medium crunch" -- somewhere between, say, Moldvay D&D and HERO. For me it's intuitive and at just the sweet-spot for detail. Opponents need only have the skills you want them to have, not a fully developed block, unless this is an important NPC. For a typical spear carrier, you could with with as few as you think required.

    One thing about the D&D-style games that has always annoyed me is different stat blocks for PCs and "things you fight." I'm not saying it's wrong, it's just aesthetically ugly to me. I prefer how BRP, WFRP 1E, and GURPS (among others) do it: everyone is statted the same way.

  12. I only played SB5e/Elric! a couple of times back in the day, but I don't think it used hit locations. Though there was definitely some limb-shearing mechanic involved, IIRC (Major Wounds? Or was that a crazy houserule?).

    Of the current, in-print versions, BRP 4e (the "big gold book") presents hit locations as an option; OpenQuest does away with hit locations entirely; and MRQII uses them for PCs as default, but suggests adopting them only for important opponents.

    By the way, James, I seem to recall you commenting on picking up MRQII. Care to give us a review, however cursory? I'd love to read your take on it.

  13. Speaking of OpenQuest and other Runequest derivatives, there is a free one called Fire and Sword written by Raymond Turney (who co-authored RQ1 and RQ2) which streamlines combat even further -- there are no hit points at all, let alone hit locations. It also uses d20 instead of d100 for skill checks and has very interesting mechanics for economics and politics to boot. I think it would be a great game to transition from d&d to brp.-style.

  14. As others have stated, there are a lot of options when it comes to running BRP: cranking up the complexity to the level of RQ3 or MRQ2; or dropping it down to a minimal level of Call of Cthulhu's version of BRP. Since you're coming from a more 'light' system, perhaps it'd be easiest for you to gradually work your way in.

    As a side note: it's been a while since I've looked at Stormbringer (or Elric!), but from memory it seemed like a pretty basic version of BRP to me. Far from a "very complicated" version, like RQ1-3. No hit locations, for one.

  15. I like Doc Rowtang's approach. Though you can simplify it even further:

    Combat 45% HP 10 Pistol d8

  16. Ditto what Dr Rotwang said. I kept the minor NPCs very basic when I ran BRP games such as Stormbringer. Combat ran very smoothly.

    As for the hit locations, I don't have a problem with them in general. What I didn't like was the way BRP determined the hit points for each location (at least in Ringworld, which was my exposure to it). The hit points were so low for most locations that very often weapons doing minimum damage could maim or dismember a character. That fails the credibility test in my opinion. I don't know if the rules are the same in the current edition of BRP, but that would be something I'd tinker with if I were using those rules in my own games.

  17. Hey, Doc Rotwang, love the stat block! That's almost how I'd do it.

    But I'd include Dex, so I knew when they'd fight in the round.

    Other than that? Spot on! Kudos to you, sir.

    (Actually, it's kind of because of your blog that I gave BRP another look, so thanks for that!)

  18. But you can change stats! Ok, Stafford like to give a stat to every NPC, but you have your own fashion. Remember: the point is enjoy the game! If anything is boring or complicated, change it!

  19. Doctor Rotwang has the truth of it. Chaosium provide full stat blocks in their games, but you'll find you won't use anything other than the combat skill and maybe Dodge.

    Also, echoing what others have said, hit locations are used only in Runequest, and are either optional or absent in most other versions of the system.

  20. The BRP derived games that I have run and played in (mostly COC and a smattering of RQ) did not involve nearly as many combats as my D&D games. If there are only going to be a couple of combats in a session then a bit more detail on them isn't a bad thing. I've never tried a straight dungeon crawl with BRP. I imagine that since the combat is pretty deadly it might not end well, but I have no real experience with that.

  21. For me, the rules for hit locations are on the things that adds a lot to the grittiness (and the fun !), without being overly complex.

    I'm still wondering about investing in MRQ2.

  22. One problem with Runequest, if you come on it cold from D&D, is that combat can entail considerable risk, especially if you don't armour up and have sufficient healing ready. There is a reason it earned the sobriquet LimbQuest in it's early days. This was a reason why a lot of people didn't use hit locations in their games and instead said that any hit doing more than half damage caused a major wound (which then affected a body part) and any hit that did more than hit point damage caused a sever(e)* wound.

    Another problem is that melee combat can take a long time if both sides are equally highly skilled (and to a lesser extent if both sides have low skills).

    In both cases there are plenty of alternative options available, many of which (but definitely not all), are listed in the 4th edition of the BRP rules.

    While Foes, Creatures of Chaos, and Trolls and Trollkin existed, they were very early supplements and reasonably unsuccessful once people learned that the average creature could quite accurate represent a typical opponent. So you'd generally only end up detailing major NPCs (usually after the fact).

    [* please excuse the attempt at a pun]

  23. Hate hit locations systems with a passion! But perhaps that's just a RQ artifact; Stormbringer and CoC work well without.

  24. Thanks for mentioning my BRP videos Bard. I always tell people to start with a very basic version of the rules, and then add on optional rules until you get to your sweet spot of complexity level. It's like starting out with a stock car, and then adding on extra perks till you like it.

    There are also other RPGs out there that you can steal ideas from and bolt on with little to no trouble. Open Quest is a good one, and the BRP Big Gold Book has plenty of options for any genre of game (or genre-mashing games).

    BRP is a recent love of mine, but really, the whole D100 roll under crowd of games are just one big happy family.

  25. James,
    I too find RQ and D&D 3rd Ed + stats unwieldy and stifling to adventure writing. For that reason I stick to 1st Ed AD&D and I use Runequest rules in my campaign to make it more realistic. I use AD&D combat system with weapons versus AC table and a Ruenquest skill system, with the skill development from RQ. Also broke away from Vancian magic, I find it too unrealsitic and am using an RQ type machanic. A Wizard must adhere to a spellcasting form to successfully cast a spell, elements which involve declamation of the spell, sleight of hand and the use of body to channel the spell's energies. As the spell caster casts spells, he gets stressed, out, tired and destracted, until he can no longer cast any more spells. Once the wizard starts casting spells, he is on a fadeout curve, but a first level magic user can get away with casting three magic missiles if he gets lucky. With Clerics, they PRAY for miracles, using percentile dice. If ckleric rolls critical failure, he loses his ability to channel miracles and must seek his spiritual advisor to regain the lost power, if the result if a critical success, then the cleric might heal the sick to th full stats, or just migt heal all of the members of the party.

    Not quite AD&D or RQ, I know, BUT non-linear batlefield is a lot of fun and is VERY realsitic. Withr egards to players, I run a story driven sandbox camppaign with a lot of context, which translates into consequences and represcussions fro the player characters' actions leading to further adventures along a story arc. For that reason, we only play if ALL of the players can get together for a game. Granted, we are a small group, BUT it inadvertently made for a very tight group of players.

  26. Anyone GMing RQ will very quickly learn that all you need is one statblock with average stats for the creature type (the rulebooks provide these, see also the FOES book for RQ1-2 or MONSTER COLLISEUM for RQ3 if you want a little more variety) and you can just endlessly re-use that - if they're humanoids maybe give them different weapons (and if they're Chaos beasts of course give them individual chaotic features) but as far as skill-values, hp, armor, etc. that can just be the same for everyone (unless, of course, you LIKE rolling up tons of individual statblocks...). And when you're really experienced it becomes second nature enough that you probably don't even need that -- you "know" what the typical values are for any given creature so you just use those and don't need any written notes at all. Just like D&D, but with a marginally higher initial learning curve.

  27. (Jim Mora)


  28. My experience with BRP (CoC, Stormbringer, and our own 'Dungeon Crawl' style campaign) is similar to those above: each group can pick where on the scale of complexity is right for their style of play. The nice thing for me is that this seemed accommodated for in the system itself (i.e., we didn't have to have 'house rules' that needed explaining to new members)

  29. I run RQ and BRP more than D&D. I only generate stats for what I think will come up. One or two skills, hit locations, and a stat or two that is necessary. Only do real stat blocks for bosses/longterm NPCs.

  30. As others have said, Stormbringer did not use hit locations. I have always found it simpler than even OD&D. But it was the second game I ever played, after Star Frontiers. That may have something to do with it. Still, it is an easy and very straightforward game.

    I have never understood Chaosium's obsession with extensive stat blocks for every NPC and monster. It makes the game look far more intimidating than necessary. A good GM can make up a number if an odd situation arises.

    Elric and Stormbringer 5th are different beasts altogether. A lot more complicated than the previous versions.