Late to the Party: Basic Fantasy Role-Playing

My game time as of late sure is getting its fill of older D&D. And I’m not bitching; the old systems are surprisingly refreshing after long nights of the more modern systems.  I’m highly appreciative of the experience so far, getting back to my gaming roots and, in a way, getting a better understanding of what appeals and detracts from the different styles of gaming. I’ve also been learning what I can take from different iterations of the game, and bring it to the other systems. Don’t tell my AD&D group, but I’ve been using Skill Challenges on them to speed up wilderness travel. And my 4E group knows that from here on out….I’m not calculating XP wallets for encounters, and treasure parcels are thrown at the window (hell, they have been for some time.)

Last Friday, prior to our basic D&D session, I got into a discussion with one of the other group members about different variations and systems of “old” D&D there were (even before we counted the “retro clones.”) He brought up to me that he had an interest in Basic Fantasy Role-Playing, and explained to me one of the features was using a “modern” Armor Class system (as opposed to the old THAC0 systems.) He even suggested that we should probably convert to that system….but at the time I waved my hands and said “We got the versions a lot of peeps are trying to copy…..no reason to change things up.” But, being the curious one that I am, I decided to look into it.  Normally, I respect retro clones if nothing else for providing free, open gaming to the masses. Other than that, I haven’t really had the urge to truly use one particular system over another because, well, I already own the damn originals. Exceptions have been Dangers & Dweomers, which I did a review of back in the day, and Mutant Future, which wasn’t a “clone” of Gamma World as much as it was Labyrinth Lord with a post-apocalyptic skin. Both of these attempted to emulate a style, but weren’t necessarily a “clone” of a system.

It Casts Charm on Me

Tickle me impressed. This whole time, I had written BFRP off as being another copy (of a copy of a copy.) I also think there might have been times I mistook the name for being a derivative of Chaosium’s Basic Role-Playing. This seems to be a “simulacrum” game that I’ve been waiting for someone to make, and it’s been available the whole damn time. And while I have yet to actively engage with the community for it, lurking their forums the past few days seems to be relatively free of some of the elitist ass hats that I despise in any gaming crowd. Please, don’t prove me wrong right now, I’m enjoying my rosed colored glasses on this for a bit.

I love the approach. The core game very much feels like “basic” D&D, with just four classes and three races, but I like that the races aren’t considered classes here. Yet, the class mechanics seem to stay true to basic D&D than original AD&D rules, which I like a lot. Yes, it has an ascending Armor-Class mechanic, but it also has a few of the nice little “modern” combat mechanics that I like. It seems they took some bits that got popular in later editions, and re-wrote them to fit under Basic-style. I like that they kept “Ability Rolls”, but treat it as a d20+modifier roll vs a difficulty. It’s like the more flexible modern mechanic meets the flexible, broad stroke philosophy of the old-school gaming. Everything just seems to zing, and is written out pretty clearly as a cohesive system and not just a shoe-horning of different mechanics from different editions.

A Great Amount of Content

The book is laid out well, indexed well, and organized neatly enough that even novices should be able to dive in and get a good feel for where to reference everything during play. Although, minor nitpick: Why no bookmarks in the PDF? Regardless, not only do you get the usual gamut of character creations, gear, spells, monsters and treasure like you would expect in a game book…you get the stuff that I always go bat shit over when it’s included in a core book (and bitch when it’s not!) Siege Weapons, hiring retainers and mercenaries, strong hold building, traveling over land, sea and air….as someone who regards the D&D Rules Cyclopedia as probably one of the best gaming books ever, this game is right up there. Oh, and blessed the stars, these guys even included a printer friendly version.

Perhaps it was best that I was late to the party, because the other huge draw to me is the modular expansions to the game. In addition to the core rules of the game, their download section is filled with additional documents adding classes, races, combat mechanics….you name it. This makes it easy to stay within the same system, but expand on an as-needed basis. There’s even a really neat conversion guide that assists you with converting d20/3rd edition NPC’s and monsters to BFRP stats. I’m probably going to abuse that regardless if we make the switch or not!

Besides, any system that provides optional character classes like Pyromancer and The Jester is freaking cool in my book.

Lastly, the open-sourced nature of this game rocks. One thing that really turned me off from other retro-clones was how they gave permission to make 3rd party works compatible with their games, yet you couldn’t reuse and edit their source material for your own projects. BFRP not only provides free copies of the rules, but provides the Open Office documents for the majority of their gaming documents, and as long as you don’t use the name or the artwork you’re free to butcher and re-publish to your heart’s desire (staying within the terms of the OGL of course.)

So, whether you’re new to the old….or an old looking for something a bit new, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing seems to be a good enough mash-up that is flexible, complete, yet easily modifiable to suit your tastes. Give it a look if you haven’t already.