01 October 2010

The BRP Renaissance

The ‘Old School Renaissance’, at least with respect to D&D and AD&D, is a well known and (by now) a well-established phenomenon within our strange little hobby.

However, it seems that the gaming community is in the midst of another renaissance, namely, a renaissance of ‘Basic Role-playing’ (‘BRP’) or ‘d100’ games and settings.

BRP-based games never ceased being published altogether by (at least one) professional RPG company, unlike ‘classic’ D&D and AD&D (0e, Basic, and 1e). And even though Chaosium, like many other RPG companies, had a ‘near death’ experience during the 1990s, it never actually went under.

Impressively, Chaosium’s role-playing games always have been ‘powered’ by BRP, the essentials of which have remained largely unchanged for three decades now.

Things looked pretty grim for Chaosium and BRP early in the twenty-first century. As far as I know, the only BRP-based role-playing games still being published were Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer (5th edition). (Although I believe that Pendragon also saw sporadic support.) Stormbringer was barely supported. Only one supplement was produced for it during the 0s, namely, the superb Corum book from Darcsyde Productions. (Although Elric! supplements were fully compatible with Stormbringer 5e, those all had been produced during the 1990s.)

These days, though, things look dramatically improved for BRP!

Chaosium published a complete ‘core book’ for BRP in 2008. It includes the core BRP rules, as well as most of the optional rules found in various BRP games and supplements published by Chaosium over its long history.

Call of Cthulhu, of course, continues to be supported by Chaosium, as well as some other companies, such as Goodman Games.

Alphetar Games has published a number of books for BRP, including what I believe must be the best single RPG book on ‘Rome’ ever published.

Cubicle Seven has just come out with The Laundry RPG (as well as a few CoC books). I recently purchased The Laundry PDF, and my first impression of it is very favourable indeed. I’ve only read Charlie Stross’s first Laundry book, but I liked it very much, and plan to read the rest in the series. It strikes me as a great setting for a (not-fully-serious) CoC-flavoured game. (Alas, Yog-Sothoth only knows when I’ll be able to give the Laundry RPG a proper read…)

And although out of print, most of Chaosium’s back catalogue of Stormbringer (first and fourth editions), Elric!, and Hawkmoon materials are now available in PDF (thanks to an arrangement with Mongoose Games).

Then we have Mongoose Games’ RuneQuest II. My impression is that Mongoose’s first attempt to resurrect RuneQuest was something less than a ringing success. I know that I decided against purchasing anything for MRQ when I skimmed through the initial book. Subsequent reviews confirmed my early negative judgement. Moreover, Mongoose’s long record of poor editing and spotty quality control in their books made me decide against giving MRQ a shot.

However, based on some favourable initial reports, I decided to give Mongoose’s second effort at RuneQuest a shot. I’m very glad that I did, as the core book avoided the usual Mongoose missteps. Moreover, the system looks very, very well designed. I think that Lawrence Whitaker and Pete Nash did an excellent job! (Sadly, I suspect that MRQII is too ‘rules heavy’ for my regular players. But perhaps I might eventually convince them to give it a shot…)

Probably my favourite new BRP setting produced in recent years is Clockwork & Chivalry – a MRQII campaign book published by Cubicle 7 that describes an ‘alternative history’ version of 17th Century England. I drooled in anticipation over this setting in this post. Now that I’ve received the book and looked through it, I believe that my earlier enthusiasm has been entirely vindicated.

Last – but certainly not least! – there is RuneQuest’s ‘lighter’ and ‘simpler’ cousin OpenQuest, written and supported by a friend of this blog, Newt Newport. I’ve raved about OQ in past posts here, so I shall refrain from doing so again now. However, interested readers may want to look at my comparison of MRQII and OQ.

So, lots of cool things are available for BRP these days! Among them:

· The glorious golden BRP corebook from Chaosium

· The usual wide range of Call of Cthulhu material

· The brand new Laundry RPG

· Mongoose’s RuneQuest II

· The Clockwork & Chivalry Setting for MRQII

· OpenQuest

For such an old system, BRP looks to be in surprisingly good health! J

22 comments:

  1. BRP is either my second or third love. It and WFRP 2e are going to have a knife fight over that one day. D&D will always be where it's at for me though.

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  2. Yup, it's a great time to be a BRP fan. There's also the extensive line of BRP-related monographs that Chaosium's been putting out. The post-apocalyptic monograph has been calling my name recently...

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  3. (Oh, and Alephtar's Teutonic Crusade book pushes all the right buttons too!)

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  4. @ sirlakins

    That book is wonderful.

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  5. Although BRP seemed dormant in the early 2000s, you really do have to count its moral victory in influencing many important aspects of D&D 3rd edition - the player skill customization, the single resolution system, full statblocks for monsters, even something as minor as "disease = stat damage".

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  6. BRP is my first love. While I started with MERP/RM, BRP is the real love story.

    I am not surprised you didn't became convinced by MRPII. The "throw shit against the wall and see what sticks"-style of MGP have won them some scepticism among some comsumer circles. When they got the Eternal champion licence I began to waver, though. Loz knows what he is doing.

    I have actually started considering using the BRP tome for Glorantha, to kind of make the snake bite it's tail. Since I have never played in Glorantha with RQ, only those newfangled story first games, it will be interesting.

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  7. And Masks of Nyarlathotep will (maybe) return this year!

    BRP will always be my first love too. I don't get to play it as much as I'd like nowadays, however.

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  8. What single PDF would you suggest if I'm mostly interested in inspiration and stuff to populate my Wilderlands with and not so much the mechanics?

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  9. I am fortunate enough to be basking in the radiance that is the BRP Renaissance. I'm running a regular Arabian Nights style game with the Big Gold Book (and a heaping helping of Elric! material mixed in where it feels right) and my players are all loving the system.

    Over the years (I've been gaming with at least some of the same folks since the early 80s) we never really did much with BRP, focusing instead on TFT, Hero and eventually GURPS. But I had the booklet of BRP shown at the top of this post and always thought that there was something really great there. So when the BGB came out, I hopped on it and I've been riding that bronco ever since.

    BRP hits a sweet spot for me and my players. It's meaty enough for them to feel like they can mechanically differentiate their characters and make meaningful combat choices, while still being light enough for me to enjoy running. It also provides some degree of niche/archetype protection while not constraining characters (and players) in artificial "class" constructs, which my players abhor.

    So here's to BRP! As much as I adore even lighter games (Hello, Barbarians of Lemuria) and have an affinity for D&D (notably Moldvay Basic & 1st Ed. AD&D) and enjoy writing stuff for both, BRP is the perfect spot for the actual "at table" gaming I get to do these days.

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  10. You know I am all for this, I'm just posting so you know I didn't miss this post.

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  11. I haven't had much experience with BRP, but based on the warm fuzzies it seems to get around here, I feel the need to close that gap in my gaming education.

    I have, in my collection of second-hand gaming materials, MERP 2nd edition and Rolemaster 2nd edition... so the materials are there, but...
    the consumer inside me wants to buy OpenQuest just for the cover.

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  12. Alex, if it's setting fluff you're after, I'd go for something from the Stormbringer/Elric! line, but it's difficult to pin down to just one.

    You might also find some inspiration in the Dreamlands supplement for Call of Cthulhu. I never ended up using it, as I was a stupid teenage Keeper and wanted to be all serious and scary with my horror gaming, but looking back now, it's a great pulp fantasy setting with loads of good ideas. The pdf of the latest edition is available for $26, and if it's anything like the Complete Dreamlands volume I had in 1996 or thereabouts, it's worth the money.

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  13. Ryan, MERP and Rolemaster 2e are not BRP games, although they share some similarities (d100 mechanic, comprehensive skill systems, etc.). The main difference is that MERP and RM2 are 'class-and-level' RPGs, whereas BRP is the original 'classless and levelless' RPG (not sure 'levelless' is a word, but it should be clear what I mean).

    I still love MERP and RM2 after all these years (see: http://akraticwizardry.blogspot.com/2010/07/rolemaster-merp-nostalgia.html). But those games are pretty different from BRP.

    If you want a costless way to check out BRP, I believe that the BRP 'quickstart' rules are still available for free in PDF from Chaosium.

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  14. @ Roger the GS:

    While I've heard that RuneQuest had some influence on the design of 3e D&D, I think that Rolemaster had a much greater direct impact. All of the essential 'innovations' of 3e had been present in RM for two decades: skill points for every character class every level; different costs for skills depending on the character's class; a single core die mechanic (d20 in 3e, d100 in RM); rolling high is 'always good'; etc. It needs to be remembered that (the much overrated IMO) Monte Cook worked for ICE for years before moving to TSR/WotC.

    I recall that my first reaction upon skimming through the 3e PHB was: "these guys have rewritten Rolemaster!" :P

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  15. @ Alex Schroeder:

    I second kelvingreen's recommendations.

    Some SB 4e supplements seem especially well suited to the Wilderlands (e.g., "Perils of the Young Kingdoms" and "Sea Kings of the Purple Towns"). Also, the Elric! supplement on Melnibone could probably be used as a basis for the Viridians.

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  16. Aha its a BRP Renaissance! Its about time someone declared it ;)

    Expect big things from OpenQuest in the coming months, new adventures, two spin off games (Hard sci-fi + Modern Warfare), and a big book of OpenQuest.

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  17. Some interesting comments here but not convinced I agree with them all.

    On the D&D3 issue, Jonathan Tweet was quite the RQ and BRP fan and an awful lot of D&D3.0 is derived either from RQ or specifically in reaction to. For example, D&D kept AC rather than damage reduction because Tweet didn't like the way in RQ that as PCs got tougher the tended to be either completely invulnerable or taken out by a single blow. I must admit that I don't see any great links between RM & D&D3.0 beyond the fact that RM existed and would have been read by the designers.

    Also, for all that MRQ1 was horribly flawed, I reckon that it was responsible for putting a rocket up Chaosium's collective donkey. The flaws rule set and Mongoose's slapdash quality control allied to the fact that it was released with an OGL meant that it was begging to be done properly and that there was an avenue to do so. The first OGL d100 system, GORE, never took off but OpenQuest certainly did. I also think that the negative energy released by MRQ1's publication meant that those upset by MRQ1 poured a lot of work into BRP, primarily through Chaosium's monograph publications. In response Mongoose committed to RQII which, in my eyes, is the best version of the RQ rule set yet.

    Without MRQ1, I'm sure that BRP would eventually have come out but I doubt we would have seen OpenQuest and I doubt there would have been as much fan energy behind BRP. It'll be interesting to see where things go from here. With the exception of CoC, BRP games are still pretty niche and I don't get the impression that RQII has been the mainstream hit for Mongoose that Traveller is. That said, the emergence of 3rd party publishers - especially Cubicle 7 - means that there's potential for some really big successes.

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  18. I can verify you wouldn't have seen OpenQuest without the MRQ1 SRD, for it all started out as an innocent tinkering project in my lunch hour. If it had been a more considered effort which I had built up from scratch, I wouldn't have done it.

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  19. In fact here's a big blog post explaining it all

    http://openquest.d101games.co.uk/2009/11/04/the-making-of-openquest/

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  20. Regarding: "I must admit that I don't see any great links between RM & D&D3.0 beyond the fact that RM existed and would have been read by the designers."

    Well, I thought that I pointed out a few important 'links' between RM & D&D 3e in my comment. :) And one designer of 3e, at least, did not merely "read" RM, but rather worked actively on RM for a number of years (viz., Monte Cook).

    As for the 'links':

    1. A class-based system with skills (RM was the original FRPG to do this; 3e strongly resembles RM in the way in which it combines a skill system with classes).
    2. Different costs for improving skills depending on the character's class (i.e., characters receive 'points' every level to spend on skills, the costs of which depend on characters' classes).
    3. A single basic mechanic for determining all actions (roll d20 and apply modifiers in 3e, roll d100 and apply modifiers in RM).
    4. Rolling 'high' is 'always good' in both 3e and RM.

    Those would seem to be the main ones.

    Perhaps one of the designers of 3e, Jonathan Tweet, was more influenced by RQ than RM, but I find the similarities between RM and 3e much stronger than any similarities between RQ and 3e. And, as already mentioned, Monte Cook worked on RM for many years for ICE.

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  21. the topic's also being discussed here:

    http://www.gamingtavern.eu/tav/viewtopic.php?t=3364

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  22. Thanks for that link, Sean. It seems that a few folks there misunderstood what I was trying to say in this post. I never claimed that the 'BRP renaissance' (so to speak) was part of the OSR. Oh well.

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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who divides his time between Milwaukee and Toronto.