Friday, March 28, 2014

Review: Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game
by Chris Gonnerman
174 Pages
MSRP - Free or see below.

Yes, seriously, the rules are free, and a beautifully done print copy is under $5. I got the entire game system plus four nice-looking adventures for under $15, including tax and shipping. That's because they are apparently selling at cost. At that price, they could have thrown in a buck or two for profits and I'd still have picked up a copy. My only regret is that I got this and it's second edition - there is a more current version of the rules out now. It would have been nice if I'd realize that, I could have waited for 3rd to come out before getting a copy of 2nd edition.

Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is a retro-clone that mimics the D&D Basic set in its sensibilities. Like the other retro-clones I've read, it feels like it's heavily true to the source material but with a few tweaks the author(s) disliked about the original set. In this case, you've got:

- Ascending AC
- different armor and equipment weights/capacities for halflings
- race is distinct from class
- No Alignment! (Not at all, that I can find - not even on monsters or clerics)

But you also have things true to the original:

- 1d4 HP thieves with utterly awful chances to pull off their skill rolls (which are percentage based)
- clerics get spells from 2nd level on
- Morale on monsters
- simple +1 to +3 bonuses for high stats

and so on. Basically, if you like Basic D&D but dislike the same things about it that Chris Gonnerman does, you'll love this. I personally like the removal of alignment - it's actually done so quietly I didn't notice until I was double-checking after a read through. But like any other retro-clone it's got that "house rule changes" aspect to it; if you're unhappy with that you can always go and buy the original D&D Basic Set for a few bucks.

The game is well written, well organize, and pretty closely edited. Tiny errors creep in but it looks like a professionally written, edited, and produced game book. Although some of the art harkens back to the amateurish art of original D&D (before they got real artists to do the art), it's not actually amateurish itself. It feels more like a well-done callback to "remember those pictures Gygax sketched himself to fill space?" with higher quality art. This book looks like I like my own books to look, reads like I like mine to read, and is produced like something I'd happily show people as an example of what my hobby is all about.

It has a minimum of New School Bashing in it, which is also nice. A few things sounded like backhands at whiny players, but nothing really contrasting "old school" vs. "bad" gaming. Nice. It falls under my rule about not telling me what your game isn't, and I like that. It's focused on telling how to play, and makes the basic tonal assumption that you're here to play the way the rules suggest.

Would I play it? Yes. Run it? I'm not sure - while I like it, I could just as easily run B/X D&D and draw on an even larger pool of resources. All in all, though, I really like this rules set. Recommend. Go read it, and if you like what you read, thinking about dropping $5 on a print copy. You won't regret it.


  1. Thanks for the kind words! I'm the (principal) author, and I'm glad you found the game to your liking. It's very much the game we played back around 1982, with a few of the rough spots sanded down. For instance, I'd have used ascending AC way back then if I'd thought of it... I suck at doing even basic math in my head. And while I started with race-classes, I always preferred race and class separated.

    Again, thanks for the excellent review!

  2. Oh, incidentally, in re-reading your review I see you mention 3rd Edition is out now; actually, if I'm lucky it may be out by Christmas. So don't feel bad, you have the most current print edition available.

    1. At the price point you set, I'll certainly pick up a copy of 3rd when it hits print!

  3. Just a little update... it appears we're on track to release the 3rd Edition in print before Black Friday 2014. So, real soon now...


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