Friday, November 13, 2015

What are the BRP Essentials?

The Tinkerage has great respect for Chaosium's Basic Roleplaying, or BRP, a system that feels rules light even though it's packaged in a rules-and-options heavy compendium known as the BGB, or "Big Golden Book".

Now Chaosium has announced that BRP will become BRP Essentials, the core 32-page rulebook for a BRP family of games. But what are the essentials of a BRP system? Are they BRP itself, Runequest, in its current or past incarnations, or even one of the OGL offshoots, such as Mongoose Runequest (MRQ), Legend, or OpenQuest?

Here's a purely speculative take:

Characteristics: STR, CON, SIZ, DEX, INT, POW, CHA (or APP)... EDU perhaps? They go back a long time, the roughly 1–20 scale connects us to the early RPGs. SIZ modifies HP, but do we ever roll against it? Could they sit directly on a percentile scale and still work? I like characteristics to modify skill scores. I like a characteristic roll when no skill applies.

Skills: Percentile skills are the core of BRP. Move them around, rename them. The only thing that puzzles me is why Resilience is a skill in certain versions: you can train to get tougher and fitter, that's how CON and STR go up, but how can you learn to be tougher, especially as you age?
Adding up skills and skill category modifiers is the longest part of character creation, so can this be easier? The MRQ system of base skills defined by adding characteristics is tempting, and cuts out skill category modifiers.

Rolls and resolution: BRP uses a 5% critical and a 20% special. Other version derived from MRQ use a 10% critical. This is a big difference. Which is more essential? Well, players love to roll specials, and specials that happen about 20% of the time when they succeed feel about right. But 10% is easy to calculate.

Combat, Initiative, Hit Locations: Action points, Strike ranks, DEX ranks, combat actions. Options make combat more tactical, but draw out the encounter. Over time, I'm found that most excitement in combat comes from setting, strategy, and fast resolution. I favor the simple system of DEX-based initiative. And no hit locations. They slow down the action, impose odd results, and make designing and running encounters a chore for the GM.
Are there good reasons for different critical types by weapon (slash, bash, impale)? Surely, but in practice we usually just roll double the damage dice and move on.

Experience: The elegant system of rolling against a skill once it has been used for steady, incremental gains through experience is surely one of the essentials of BRP.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2E review

This is a long review, as befits an interesting and playable system with genuine appeal.


The Fighting Fantasy gamebook series has long been the first, most memorable step into fantasy RPGs for many players, and the Tinkerage has long thought that SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK, and two dice, can encompass an accessible, rules light RPG system. So a true Fighting Fantasy RPG carries a lot of promise. The Tinkerage still has the books of the first version of Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and though the system is fundamentally flawed, the books are a great resource and a strong introduction to roleplaying. So how does the second edition in one volume from Arion Games, substantially rewritten and revised by Graham Bottley, compare?

Well, for starters, Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2E is an eminently playable RPG, with a fun, evocative setting that can be broadly adapted and simple, direct rules which nevertheless enable plenty of options. The rulebook, however, looks and read more like a dedicated fan project than a professional publisher's product. Though this is part of its charm, that the core book could also stand to be significantly edited only points to its inherent potential.


After a brief introductory adventure in the spirit of the original Fighting Fantasy rules, with incompatible creatures lurking in a magical dungeon complex, the character generation section is the first substantial revision of the rules, and some of AFF 2E's best work. Bottley was absolutely right to make character generation points-driven rather than random (which led to hugely unequal characters in the first edition). The system allows players to select and customise their characters, but the limited pool of points drives some interesting decisions, as well as quite flexible design (as the sample characters demonstrate). Skills, or special skills, have been rationalised and cover a variety of character approaches and pursuits. Although I doubted the value of Talents at first, Talents, as particular character knacks or abilities, allow another level of individualisation. And since they fit within a page and a half, they are hardly challenging to scan and select from. Overall, the character section gives players the power to imagine, build and run a character that fits their intentions, and I can see this working for any number of fantasy styles, from High Fantasy to gritty dungeon-delving.


The rules of play are simple, based on the roll of two dice with modifiers where appropriate. That tests require a low roll under the governing ability (usually SKILL) and contests require a high roll over the opposing ability (as in combat) does not seem inconsistent as much as a clear way to distinguish the two basic sorts of action (although there is an optional rule to make all checks roll-high). For a rules light system, there is an extensive set of guidelines for the use of skills and special situations, such as sneaking, traps, trickery, hazards, and so on.

Combat is simple and fast, based on an opposed roll. The only weakness in this section is that damage and armour effectiveness are based on a die roll where the results are read from a table. Although it is easy to roll all the dice at the same time, this requires an awkward look up, and the weapon damage lines are the most fiddly part of an otherwise clean character sheet. While it is clear that the designers have wanted to keep weapon damage and armour protection fairly bounded, there is perhaps a more elegant way to do this. Despite the quick resolution of combat, there are several combat options which encourage a tactical approach and situational awareness, and some interesting tactics implicit in the Combat Situation table for GMs and players to explore.

An oddity buried in the combat rules is that shooting attacks with bows and arrows are also an opposed roll, rather than a test. This means that, correcting for range and size and so on, your chance to hit also depends on the SKILL of your target!


In the spirit of light rules with many options, there are three magic systems: wizardry, a very workable system based on Magic Points and learned spell; the flavoursome sorcery system, based on Steve Jackson's Sorcery series, where magic is fuelled by STAMINA; and priestly magic. Priestly magic uses a new system, which no longer draws on the same spells as wizardry, and introduces unique powers based on allegiance to certain gods. It's an elegant system that gives priests unique powers, and is an excellent addition to the rules.

Setting and adventures

There are the usual sections on equipment, encounters, world, and notes for designing adventures. The advice on adventures is refreshingly straightforward, running over hooks, locations, enemies, and possible subplots. There is also a random dungeon/location generator system. Shifting focus to locations and encounters, a little like the old gamebooks, means that adventures feel less scripted. The world of Titan is a glorious patchwork: it's meant to be a world of monsters and magic and strange places, not an exercise in faux-Medieval realism.

Other matters

Since the rules are so good overall, it's disappointing that the text is riddled with errors that should have been caught with proof-reading. There are also some larger mistakes in the expression, such as labelling the villain or antagonist in the scenario section the protagonist. And although the layout is attractive overall, with good use of the illustrations from the original AFF series, the justification is a mess, with distracting and erratic spacing between words on almost every page – which makes the text look like it was set in Microsoft Word, even if it wasn't.

Finally, there are some oddities or inconsistencies in the rules which could stand some clarification. For example, the target number for the optional roll-high method is 15+, which is actually harder to reach than the same combination of SKILL and Special Skill for roll-under. And the rules suggest in several places that it is possible to substitute LUCK for SKILL in certain rolls, including attacks in combat, but there is no plain statement or example of this rule. Of course, with such a simple set of base rules, it is easy enough to patch or house-rule the right option, and AFF 2E encourages this. But because AFF 2E really is an ideal introductory game, this is a potentially puzzling to new players.

All this means, though, is that there is an excellent system and game-world here, with genuine scope for a revised edition (not a new edition) that addresses some issues, and gives AFF an even better foothold as the favoured system for beginners or players who first picked up a sword and lantern in the shadowy passages of Firetop Mountain.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Adventures in Garedaron Vale

Scenario seeds for adventures in Garedaron Vale

Roll a die, or simple select an interesting scenario element for motivating a journey into the valley of tombs.

A character:

1 - A houseless, and near penniless, nobleman, seeking to restore an old property.
2 - A seemingly pious cleric with a taste for forbidden magics.
3 - An (apparently) scatter-brained antiquarian with a garbled collection of notes and maps.
4 - A pompous merchant with designs on a derelict noble title.
5-6 Any combination of the above characters and motives.


1- A vile heirloom, such as a blood-stained blade.
2 - A piece of massive jewellery – only a occult scholar can decode the inlaid map.
3 - A key, to another tomb: always the return to the dark.
4 - A casket of mouldering scrolls.
5 - A neglected and inaccessible shrine – did we not mention the sacrifice?
6 - Discourse with one of the dead – try to keep it civil.


1 - Respectable tomb-robbers, whose guild rules do not permit interlopers.
2- An archaic order of guardians to a select set of tombs.
3 - Adventurers, like yourselves, led by a character, as above.
4 - Treachery: your patron has no intention of fulfilling the bargain.
5 - Terrors: you couldn't very well not expect to alert some ancient evil, could you?
6 - Vagrants, with no interest in the tombs but lurking nearby to hide or pick up easy loot: brigands, outlaws, or vermin such a gallyjaws.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Garedaron Vale - mini-scenario

No one knows which reign or empire it was began carving tombs out of the Garedaron Vale. The mouth of the vale faces West, and the setting sun strikes the end of the valley once a year, on the eve of High Winter. There's a road, also, faced with black stone, in which the weeds never grow. The hillsides are full of cracks and holes, where the cold rivers flow out from unknown paths in the dark.

Some say the first true tomb conceals a path into the mountains which leads to the realm of the dead, but what of that? Tomb-robbers have journeyed to the vale for many years. Some bring out treasures, and some come back shaken and with a dark tale; some don't come out at all, and some speak of rare finds slipping from their hands at the end of a dark hole.

Off course, there are taemsprits and parson-hawkes lurking in the scattered tombs and barrows, but the worst of it (the old thieves say) is what the vile curses of the sorcerer-priests do to living things that shelter all unknowing in an enchanted crypt. What of a spider and toad and rat all blended together, hungry and foul and half-dead?

Barrows, tombs, monuments, caverns and ossuaries, they're all there to see by daylight, but after dark, what looks down on you from the valley walls?

Monday, February 23, 2015

Missile weapons for Fighting Fantasy

Curiously, the original Fighting Fantasy before Advanced Fighting Fantasy had no rules for bows, spears, or thrown weapons. This makes sense in the close-quarters of a dungeon, but even Firetop Mountain features a bow with a silver arrow (the bringer of sleep) for slaying the undead.

This raises another issue: how much damage should an arrow or spear do? If we begin at the standard 2 Stamina points for a hit, an archer would have to pepper their target with shots before the target fell. The 2 points damage makes more sense in combat, if we treat these hits as the scrapes and knocks that wear down the opponent rather than debilitating wounds, but this makes less sense when it comes to the impact of an arrow, which simply strikes a body part or doesn't. 

As a house rules, the Tinkerage suggests that aiming a missile weapon be treated as a test of Skill. Apply penalties for range, size of the target, light and wind conditions, and so on.

Damage should be somewhat higher than normal battle damage, with 3 points for a lighter weapon (hunting bow, thrown object) and 4 points for a heavier weapon (spear, crossbow, longbow).

The higher damage reflects the fact that, if one is hit with a missile weapon there is no way to parry or deflect the hurt, unless by armour, or if one is rather lucky and the impact is a mere graze (test for Luck). Feel free to ignore this if you go ahead and use the simple damage roll option.

There is a precedent for this in Out of the Pit, where the arrows of the various elves do 3 points of damage on a hit (with a 5 in 6 chance of hitting!).

This makes a missile weapon a considerable threat in play, but remember that bows, and especially crossbows, take time to aim and reload, are hard to use in close quarters, and leave the wielder vulnerable to a charge or surprise attack.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

BRP for Middle-earth

Over the last few years, I've had great success running a Middle-earth campaign in Basic Roleplaying (BRP) using the compiled rules from the BRP "Big Gold Book" (BGB).

Why BRP? Because it's a very flexible rules-medium system which runs smoothly at the table and makes sense even to beginners, and once the rules are understood in principle there's little need to frequently reference the rule book. The relatively realistic rules fit with the tone of Middle-earth, the details and the sense of hardship, but there are still opportunities for heroism. Combat is swift and decisive. And most of what a player and the GM need to know is located on the character sheet.

But because BRP is such a broad collection of options, here are the particular options I use for adventures in Middle-earth.

I'm also sharing my BRP-ME character record sheets, as character sheets in BRP contain a lot of rules information, as well as my thinking on this adaptation.

Character creation

  • For skill point allocation, use the BRP heroic option (325 points), so that character can be highly capable in at least a few areas. However, no skill should begin at higher than 75%, as 80% is the point were success begins to feel almost automatic. 
  • Use the personal point pool (INTx10) for custom and cultural skills. 
  • The extra skill points from personality type option (Step 6) are not used.
  • I also use skill category modifiers to add a connection from ability to skill for characters, but prefer the simpler bonuses (based on INT or DEX, see p. 31). In future, I plan on basing Communication on APP/2, Physical on CON/2, and Combat on STR/2).
  • For typical Middle-earth races, such as elves, dwarves, or hobbits, I use the stats in the creatures section of the BGB or the old Runequest 3 Creature Book, making adjustments on the fly as necessary. As a rule, the tall Edain get a bonus for SIZ.


  • Obviously, many of the BGB skills, from Psychotherapy to Science to Demolitions, are not suitable for Middle-earth, so strip these out.
  • Not caring for the clunky skill name Fine Manipulation, I use Devise to represent tampering with locks, traps, and other small mechanism (in any case, mechanical locks will be very rare in Middle-earth).
  • All characters have a knowledge of their own culture equal to their Own Language skill.
  • I use the skill Bearing rather than Etiquette. Bearing represents how well characters carries themselves in social situations, whether the rules of etiquette are known to them or not: think of the first meeting with the Riders of Rohan, or Frodo greeting the elves in the woods, or even Bilbo welcoming unexpected dwarves into his parlour.
  • I allow martial characters to train in the Martial Arts skill, representing their combat discipline, be it the Dunadan longsword or elvish blade. This is a very powerful skill, which should advance at no more than 1% a step, to a maximum of DEX+STR. It reflects the fearsomeness we see in characters like Boromir or Aragorn, who can slay many foes with a single strike.
In general, characters make the most use of their weapons skills, as well as Spot and Stealth and Track. First Aid is often in use. Insight is a popular skill with my players, for getting a read on NPCs.

Combat options

  • To speed combat, use Hit Points with Major Wounds (not location hit points).
  • My players, however, are particularly fond of aimed shots with missile weapons. I assign these a difficult rating, but adjudicate a Major Wound like effect if the shot hits a particular target (such as the knee joint of a troll).


The RuneQuest 3 fatigue points option being too cumbersome to track, I use a simple fatigue check, to represent the weariness that often afflicts characters in Middle-earth. Fatigue is based on a Stamina roll. The first failure inflicts a -10% weariness penalty. The second failure makes all rolls difficult due to fatigue. The final failed roll brings exhaustion. This Stamina roll is adjusted by whatever amount current encumbrance exceeds STR (if Enc is not more than STR, there is no penalty).


Magic can accomplish grand and marvellous things in Middle-earth, but it is also rare and often subtle. And it is not clear that the mortal races, such as common men and hobbits, can inherently use magic of any sort. Hence, the magic options in the BGB are not well-suited to Middle-earth. The simplest option is to restrict magic to figures other than adventuring PCs. However, if you think it necessary to introduce limited magic:
  • Elves use spells similar to RuneQuest spirit magic, with effects that could be taken for extraordinary skill or grace (such as bladesharp or sure-shot or silence). A simple Luck roll is used to activate a spell. The spells add bonuses (5% /+1 per magic point) to actions.
  • Wizardry, if used at all, should be skill-based and centred on certain skills or areas of study, such as Smoke and Fire, Silence and Disguise, Beasts and Birds, and so on.
  • All spells that dominate the will of others are sorceries, and inherently corrupting.
Finally, the BRP Central site downloads page has a wealth of options and rules for BRP styled Middle-earth, based loosely on the Decipher Lord of the Rings RPG and many other sources.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The One Ring RPG - a review

The One Ring Roleplaying Game, from Cubicle 7, the latest game that aims to create a roleplaying experience specifically for Tolkien's Middle-earth, is a fine game: well-designed, beautifully produced, closely and thoughtfully integrated with the background material. It is also one of the most restricted and procedural games in the Tinkerage collection.

Character creation, for instance, shows a lot of thought. Characters are deeply rooted in their cultural background, and character traits are evocative and interesting. But creating a character is largely a question of choosing options from a list, and although the cultures of Wilderland (Woodsmen, Beornings, Bardings, forest elves and dwarves) are represented, there's no option to play, say, a roaming Gondorian knight or a Rohirrim tinker – although in honour of The Hobbit, halflings are perfectly plausible player-characters. Now, other cultures are slowly being added as new sourcebooks are produced, but this restriction of the scope of character creation in the core rules to the types of the area represents the game's aims: narrow focus with exceptional depths, leading to guided play.

The core mechanic is elegant and nicely evocative, combining a single linear roll for effort on a d12 (with a "Sauron" face for automatic failure and a "Gandalf" face for automatic success) with a pool of d6s for skill and extra levels of success. These dice are rolled against a simple target number (with a nice fatigue mechanism to boot, meaning only the upper digits of skill dice are counted if the character is weary). But with this simple mechanic, there are procedures for almost every aspect of play. There are procedures for encounters with potential patrons and allies, based on a "tolerance" rating and multiple rolls. There are detailed procedures for travelling – one of the strengths of the game is this journeying system. And the abstract combat system requires a multistage approach from surprise to initiative to combat advantage and positioning. All this means that new loremasters will, unless very familiar with the rulebook, find themselves skipping or forgetting many of the stages of play. Speaking of which, there are even procedures for abstracting adventuring play (the adventure phase) from experience and character development (the fellowship phase).

If this weren't enough, there are points for everything. Attributes aren't just standing values, you need to spend a point of Hope to add an attribute score to a roll, unless it's going to a favoured skill, in which case you add the attribute's favoured value. Along with Hope, you spend Endurance; just keep it above Fatigue, or you become Weary (and keep Hope above your Shadow, or you end up Miserable). For encounters, you get Valour and Wisdom, and there are also your Fellowship points, and your Standing, which you keep up by spending Treasure points, and so on. To be fair, all RPGs have their lists of tallies and expendable hit points and fatigue points and so on, but play in The One Ring feels like a great big character points economy with a lot of interdependent values always in flux.

All of this helps to encourage deep, considered play with a detectable Tolkien theme, as characters are pitted not just against external dangers and weariness but the influence of the Shadow and personal corruption as well, but there is a fine line between rules that encourage a particular style of engagement and rules that force a  structure onto player choice, and the shadow of TOR's game design is this sort of prescriptive approach to play itself. Overall, TOR does a fine job of evoking and instilling a sense of Middle-earth and Tolkien themed roleplaying, but one can't help but think that a lighter hand on rules and sub-systems and more evocative and entertaining setting detail could have made this game into a true classic.

[This review is based on a reading of the core rulebook in PDF format, and is not a report on actual play.]