the wonder of role-playing games: reviews, solo rpgs, old-school & narrative games

19 Dec 2014

Thoughts on Basic Fantasy (Part 2)

This is part 2 of my look at Basic Fantasy. (Part 1 can be found here). This whole series took longer than anticipated plus a stomach flu threw me back in my writing efforts. This part of the series will deal with The Adventure and The Encounter. Part 3 will deal with “GM-only stuff”: monsters, treasure and GMing advice.

The Adventure

This chapter gives you advice on general game play and especially on Dungeoneering, Wilderness Adventures, Hirelings and Character Advancement.

The rules are easy to understand and well written. The content is on par with the original source with some slight adjustments.
For instance, carrying capacity depends on character strength and race and is measured in pounds. In B/X it’s measured by coins and is adjusted if you wear armor and other things.

There are rules for mapping, light, darkvision and how to deal with (secret) doors, traps and dungeon survival. BFRPG gets rid of the Caller, the role of one of the players to relay the actions of the whole party to the GM. Interestingly, the game adds a section about Dungeon Survival which deals with how much food and drink the party will need and the consequences of neglecting it.

The part about Wilderness Adventures deals with adjusted movement rates, overland travel, waterborne travel and travel by air as well as rules for becoming lost.

Hirelings are divided into Retainers, Specialists and Mercenaries. BFRPG has a slightly better organisation than B/X but also profits from being one book instead of two. For example, the loyalty of your hirelings depends on your Charisma score. Basic refers you back to the pages so you’ll need to turn pages to look it up. If you look closely you’ll see that the base score is 7 adjusted by your CHA score. BFRPG tells you that the basic loyalty score is 7 adjusted by attribute bonusses and penalties. So the rules are the same but BFRPG presents them a bit more intuitively and in a way that you won’t necessarily need to look it up at another page.

Character Advancement is of course measured in XP. Oddly enough, experience is only handed out for monsters “and other challenges as the GM sees fit”. This is a clear break from XP for treasure in most old school games. That also means that the XP value handed out for defeating monsters is slightly higher. Perhaps the author didn’t want to eschew XP for treasure completely but made it more abstract by handing it out for “other challenges”?
Bonus XP for prime requisites also isn’t an issue for BFRPG as there are no prime requisites during character creation.

I’m a bit torn about the XP rules. I can see the congeniality of XP for treasure and it’s a very iconic characteristic of old school D&D. It rewards players for being clever, for avoiding unnecessary fights and adds the idea of carousing to gain a level. One can argue though that determining the exact nature of the treasure troves involves a bit of math, careful thinking and some artful sprinkling of treasure over the different dungeon locations. Getting rid of the mechanic makes the game easier.
However, if you really like the idea of XP for treasure there’s an optional rule in the Game Master Information section of the book. 1 GP equals 1 XP, easy enough.

BFRPG handels hit point gain identical to B/X but doesn’t mention it in this section of the book. You need to refer to the rules about character creation.

Players of newer editions of D&D will note that character advancement doesn’t allow you to raise your ability scores.

Altogether, this chapter mirrors the original very well. The content is almost identical, the rules are more or less the same (with a nod to the differences in character creation) except the guidelines for experience points.

The Encounter

The chapter starts with a little prose about a combat situation. The party fights some skeletons.
This is quite nice as it helps new players to imagine how combat might work in the fiction.

Encounter rules are a mix of the original B/X rules and the D20 SRD 3.5.
For instance, there is a monster reaction table as it isn’t assumed that monsters automatically attack. Surprise is rolled on a d6 (a result of 1-2 means you’re surprised) instead of determining awareness via skill checks as in the SRD.

Gonnerman strays from the explanations from B/X. E.g. both system use wandering monsters. B/X explains the rules here in the Encounter chapter under the heading “Order of Events in One Turn” which begins with rolling for wandering monsters and might end in combat. BFRPG stashes the wandering monsters part into the GM section but leaves the bit about monster reactions in this chapter. Nonetheless, the result is the same, it’s just a different presentation.

Grognards might find it curious that BFRPG sticks to the individual order in combat as in the D20 SRD (and the optional rules of B/X). However, initative is rolled on a d6 adjusted by the dexterity bonus instead of a d20 as in newer editions of the game.
Combat rules are the biggest deviation from the old school. For example, there isn’t party initiative where the winning side goes first in order of movement, missile, spells, melee and afterwards the other side can act.
Instead the combat rules are like the newer editions of D&D: if the initative number comes up (highest first) the player or monster can move up to the encounter movement rate, then attack. After that no movement is possible in this round. This also means that there are rules for charging etc.
Attacking also uses the ascending armor class system where you roll a d20, add your attack bonus and strength for melee/dexerity for missile and try to roll equal or higher than your target’s armor class.
Attack bonusses differ regarding your character class.

BFRPG also adds rules for grenade-like missiles but the rest is similar to B/X. For instance, in both games there are guidelines for cover.

Saving Throws are the traditional 5 from B/X instead of the 3 from the newer edition.

I must say I like the way the author changed the rules from the original but as you know, I began playing with D&D 3.5. Individual initiative and ascending armor class comes naturally to me. This chapter shows how BFRPG has a certain bridging quality between old school games like B/X and newer games like 3e and thus can help bringing older and newer players to the table.
Personally, I like the group initiative in older games so I would revert back to that but stick to the ascending armor class.

The final part of this series deals with Monsters, Treasure and Game Master Information, here.