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Draft of the introduction to Basic Roleplaying


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Copied from Chaosium's website, a draft of the introduction to Basic Roleplaying. Due to the size, it's posted as three posts. Personally I don't like this introduction at all, but then who reads the introduction anyway? What's your opinions?



Introduction to Basic Roleplaying

Welcome to Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system, a set of rules aimed at bringing together into one place one of the original and most influential role playing gaming systems in the world.

If you’re already familiar with roleplaying games and know how to play them, and if (and bless you if you have) you’ve played some of the Chaosium Inc. games using the Basic Roleplaying rules, you can skip this section and move right to the next section. The next few pages cover the basics of roleplaying games, some introductory notes about the Basic Roleplaying system in general, and won’t really contain anything surprising or new. The only section in this intro you should pay attention to is the grey box titled “Optional Rules” at the end of this section.

The book you hold in your hands is a roleplaying game system, a framework of rules aimed at allowing players to enact what has been called a sort of improvisational radio theater, only without microphones, and with dice determining whether the characters succeed or fail at what they attempt to do. In roleplaying games, one player takes on the role of the gamemaster (GM), while the other player(s) assume the roles of player characters (PCs) in the game. The gamemaster also acts out the roles of characters who aren’t being guided by players: these are called non-player characters ( non-player characters).

This introduction is aimed at you, the player, though it is also secondarily addressed to the gamemaster.

Roleplaying is a form of social gaming, akin to acting out a novel. You, as a player, act out a primary role in a game: you and your fellow players are the protagonists around whom the stories revolve. Your character might be a swaggering gunfighter, depressed private eye, brightly-clad super hero, or a humble spacefarer trying to make ends meet. The gamemaster, on the other hand, devises and presents the situations you and other players adventure through, describing the world where you roam and how that world is affected by your actions. While you as a player act out only one role, the gamemaster presents the entire game setting—he or she is all of its people, places, monsters, and even gods.

The gamemaster will have a story he or she wants to present to you, an interactive scenario in which you will be challenged to interact with imaginary other characters that the gamemaster personifies. Play is mostly conversation: the gamemaster outlines some situation or encounter. Next, you and the other players say what your characters propose to do. Through this conversation, you and gamemaster enact the roles of the characters and describe the world and events in it. They use the rules to provide impartial guidelines for successes and failures at actions attempted. Your character will face challenges and use skills that he or she has defined through the rules to face these challenges, to oppose these imaginary other characters (these could be monsters or other people), and to explore the setting the gamemaster has created for you.

As a player, you usually create your character, defining him or her with rules that help measure him or her in quantifiable terms. These terms include things like strength, intelligence, speed, education, skills, and other abstract elements that make up a person—though your character’s ‘personality’ is evoked by how you plays or describe your character. For example, though there is no numerical value for “irritable”, you may speak in such a manner and give that sort of personality to your character. Your character’s abilities are a cross between a resume and a report card: they define what he or she can do, and how good he or she is at it. The rest is your roleplaying that brings your character to life.

Using the game rules, the gamemaster tells you how your character’s actions will work in the game world. You and gamemaster roll dice to determine whether your character or a non-player character (non-player character) succeeds or fails at an action and in some cases, how well or badly. The randomness of dice keeps everything consistent and fair. Dice rolls—with their unpredictable results—keep everyone honest and can deliver surprises, triumphs, unexpected reversals of fortunes, dismal defeats, and hair’s-breadth escapes. The combination of rules and odds is what keeps everything from being entirely random.

There is a major difference between what you, the player, know and what your character knows. At the gaming table, you will be privy to behind the scenes information that your character doesn’t have, and you must be careful not to take advantage of what you know about the game versus what your character would reasonably expect to know. Dice rolls are what will tell you if your character will know something, even if you (as a player) already know the answer.

For example, in a horror film, the audience sees a teenager walking toward a door. The camera switches to the other side of the door, and we see a deranged killer waiting silently, knife out and ready. The camera cuts back to the teenager’s hand on the doorknob, and then back to the killer’s eyes. The assumption is that the teenager does not know about the killer. The door opens, and the killer leaps out and attacks the teenager.

If this scene were in a roleplaying game, the gamemaster would ask the player of that teenager to make a Listen roll. If the roll fails, the gamemaster may begin rolling dice secretly to see if the killer hears the teenager. Since the player knows that the roll failed, something is up. Since there is no way that the character would know about the killer on the other side of the door, the player of the teenage character should open the door and act surprised at whatever happens.

In some ways, you as a player are also the audience, watching your character get into the way of danger, and potentially working on incorrect information. The drama is in seeing how your character perseveres through the experience, not how it can be avoided.

Part of the pleasure in roleplaying is the interaction and cooperation between players: a novel gives solitary pleasure, but roleplaying gives the satisfaction of theater. Cooperation among players is important in successfully completing the task or quest the scenario set forth, and in making the game enjoyable for all. You are not only the actors, but the audience as well. Success in roleplaying comes not from players bent on eliminating each other, as in chess or backgammon, but in memorably adopting the personas of characters quite different from themselves, and in reacting as those characters would to otherworldly scenes and creatures.

The rules in this book provide guidelines first for you to create a character in the gamemaster’s world and for the gamemaster to represent the world he or she wants you to explore in, with rules to cover most situations and conditions. Many optional rules are provided allowing the gamemaster the ability to add complexity to the system as desired.

Ef plest master, this mighty fine grub!
b1.gif 116/420. High Priest.

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Responsibilities of the Players

You have the duty to roleplay your character within the limits of his or her personality and abilities. When roleplaying, try to act as if you know as little or as much as the character would in life; the skill rolls the gamemaster requests will aid you in this. If you develop your character well enough that everyone knows what he or she will do in a specific situation, you’re among the best role players.

You don’t need to know much about the game rules, especially if you’re just getting started. Read the two-page spread “Creating a Character”, since you’ll want to create someone to play. Examine the “Terms Used in Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying System” section later in this chapter. If you have time, skim Chapter Two: Characters and Chapter Five: System and Chapter Six: Combat to get some familiarity with the game rules. If the setting you’ll be playing in has powers of any sort, read Chapter Four: Powers for more information on those. As you can, become familiar with the rules.

The first eight chapters of this book are directed at you, as a player. Chapter Nine: Gamemastering through Chapter Twelve: Appendices are specifically directed at the gamemaster, though he or she should obviously be familiar with most of the game rules and contents of the player chapters.

Responsibilities of the Gamemaster

Oftentimes, the gamemaster has the most fun in the game, but this is balanced by the largest share of responsibility. Using a published scenario or one he or she has created, the gamemaster narrates the game universe and acts as the player characters’ opposition. That opposition must be smart and mean, or you and the other players will be bored, and it must be presented fairly, or you will be outraged. Whereas each player must share the spotlight with all of the other players, the gamemaster is always “on-stage” and constantly interacts with all of the players.

To be a gamemaster, you should read all of the rules sections, and then become familiar with the rest of the book. The gamemaster chapter has some useful entries and a stock of non-player characters. Know the general procedures for combat and powers, but don’t feel you need to memorize everything—most questions can be answered as they arise.

As for scenarios, there are a vast range of scenarios for many different settings and games. Chaosium Inc. has published many adventures for Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, and other game lines, most of which utilize the Basic Roleplaying (BRP) system. Other games are plentiful—and converting a scenario from one of them to Basic Roleplaying is fairly easy. Ideas for scenarios are also easy to come by—almost any film or book with some aspect of danger and excitement can be turned into a roleplaying scenario. Photocopy some character sheets, then invite some friends over and have them create characters. Summarize the rules for them, and you’re ready to play.

The Purpose of Play

The purpose of roleplaying is to have a good time. It’s fun to deal with dangers that are not truly dangerous, threats that vanish when everyone rises from the table, and monsters who evaporate when the lights go on. If you play well, you and your friends enter an exciting new world for a while, find strength in coping with it, and perhaps know victory. Emerging, you return to a world that is a darker or a brighter place because of what you experienced, and you see yourself as more active in it.

Length of Play

How long does roleplaying take? It depends. There are three ways to measure time spent roleplaying. First is the session. This is the actual amount of time you and your friends meet to play the game. Usual durations for game sessions range from three to five hours, though some are shorter and sometimes they go for longer. The second measure of game time is the scenario. This is a chapter of the story. There is usually a beginning, middle, and an ending to a scenario, consisting of some roleplaying, some action, and a dramatic resolution. The longest measure of game time is the campaign, a series of scenarios linked together to form an epic or engrossing longer story. The term campaign comes from the origins of roleplaying games as offshoots of military wargaming—a campaign represented a military campaign. For an easy way to wrap your head around it, liken it to reading a novel. The session is the amount of time you read a chapter. The scenario is one or more chapters. The campaign is the whole novel itself. “One-shot” games are scenarios that do not have a place in a campaign—they’re like short stories. They may take longer than one sitting to read, but they do not continue beyond the end of the story.

An Introduction to the Basic Roleplaying System

The Basic Roleplaying system was first created in 1978 for RuneQuest, a roleplaying game set in Greg Stafford’s fantasy world of Glorantha. The basic mechanics, designed by Steve Perrin, Steve Henderson, and Ray Turney, were viewed as an easier and more intuitive set of game mechanics than those few other roleplaying game systems existing at that time. A second edition of RuneQuest was published in 1980. The next incarnation of the Basic Roleplaying rules came from the game Stormbringer, an adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s Elric dark fantasy series. The Stormbringer rules were a bit looser than the Basic Roleplaying system, but introduced many exciting variants. Sandy Petersen then rewrote the system once more when he adapted H.P. Lovecraft’s world of cosmic horror in Call of Cthulhu, one of the first horror roleplaying games, and perhaps the most popular version of the Basic Roleplaying system.

Worlds of Wonder, a boxed game set, illustrated the strength of the Basic Roleplaying system with three games set in distinctly different genres—super hero, fantasy, and science fiction—using the same basic rules system. The power system rules are a direct descendent of the rules systems presented in Worlds of Wonder (and in some cases, paraphrase them explicitly) and special thanks are offered the authors of that work; Steve Perrin, Steve Henderson, and Gordon Monson.

Other variations of Basic Roleplaying followed Worlds of Wonder, with roleplaying games based on Larry Niven’s Ringworld science-fiction novels, the comic-book series Elfquest, another Moorcock world with Hawkmoon, Arthurian adventure in Pendragon (which used a highly modified version of Basic Roleplaying), more super heroics with Superworld (expanded from Worlds of Wonder), a new edition of the French occult roleplaying game Nephilim, and others. Furthermore, Basic Roleplaying has influenced many other game systems directly or indirectly, particularly in Europe, where many games are openly based on its system. Some examples are Fantasy Games Unlimited’s Other Suns and Äventyrsspel’s Drakar och Demoner (Demons and Dragons). Despite its age, Basic Roleplaying is still one of the more popular systems in gaming, and many of its innovations are considered to be standards in roleplaying games today.

From its origin, Basic Roleplaying was designed to be intuitive and easy to play. While character attributes follow a 3D6 curve, most of the other Basic Roleplaying mechanics are even simpler. Virtually all rolls determining success or failure of a task are determined via the roll of percentile dice. This means that there’s less fiddling with dice of different types, and the concept of a percentile chance of success is extremely easy for beginners and experienced players to grasp. There aren’t many easier ways to say a character has a 70% chance of succeeding at an activity.

The core virtues of the system are as evident today as they were when it was first introduced. Primary characteristics of Basic Roleplaying that have emerged from decades of play, across many different varieties of the system are as follows:

  • The system is remarkably friendly to newcomers. It is easy to describe the basics of the game system, and the percentile mechanics, to non-gamers.
  • Players of other game systems often find Basic Roleplaying to be much less mechanistic and less of a barrier to the actual act of roleplaying. Less time spent on game systems usually equals more time available for roleplaying and thinking “in character.”
  • Most of the information players need to know is present on their character sheets.
  • Characters tend to evolve based on practicing the skills they use the most. They do not arbitrarily gain experience in skills and qualities based on ephemeral elements such as levels or experience ranks.
  • Combat can be very quick and deadly, and often the deciding blow in a conflict is the one to land first.
  • Basic Roleplaying is remarkably modular: levels of complexity can be added or removed as needed, and the core system works equally well with considerable detail as it does with a minimal amount of rules.
  • The internal consistency of Basic Roleplaying allows for rules judgments to be made rapidly and with little searching through the rulebook for special cases.

This book represents a first for Basic Roleplaying—a system complete in one book, without a defined setting. Previously, Basic Roleplaying has been an integral part of standalone games, usually with rich and deep world settings. Due to differences in these settings, Basic Roleplaying has had many different incarnations. Variant and sometimes contradictory rules have emerged between versions, to better support one particular setting over another.

Ef plest master, this mighty fine grub!
b1.gif 116/420. High Priest.

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Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system reconciles these different flavors of the system and brings many variant rules together into the covers of one book, something that has never been done before. Some of these rules are provided as optional extensions, some as alternate systems, and others have been integrated into the core system. By design, this work is not a reinvention of Basic Roleplaying or a significant evolution of the system, but instead a collected and complete version of it, without setting, provided as a guide to players and gamemasters everywhere and compatible with most Basic Roleplaying games. It also allows the gamemaster the ability to create his or her own game world (or worlds), to adapt others from fiction, films, or even translate settings from other roleplaying games into Basic Roleplaying.

Materials Required to Play Basic Roleplaying

As a player using Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system, you need little other than this book, a pencil, maybe some scratch paper, and a set of gaming dice. Dice are available at most gaming and hobby stores, and come in a variety of colors, shapes, sizes, quality, and prices. See below for more information on dice and dice-rolling methods. Some gaming groups use miniatures as a representation of the characters, so if this is true of your group, you might want to bring a miniature that resembles your character somewhat. Generally, though, you merely need to bring your creative energy to the game. Snacks are appreciated, too.

As a gamemaster, you will need a little bit more than a player, but not much. You should have a copy of this rulebook, and more blank paper for your notes. It is a good idea to make copies of the character sheet provided, or found online at this address:


You will need at least one full set of dice, but more will make your job much easier. If your group likes to use miniatures for roleplaying, then you might want to have a small assortment of those to represent the various non-player characters and creatures the player-characters will encounter.

Additionally, you should have an adventure prepared if you are the sort who likes to do so, or you can purchase one or many ready-made adventures from Chaosium Inc. The Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer game lines use slightly different versions of Basic Roleplaying, but are readily adaptable to the system presented in this book. Many other adventures are planned in support of this game’s release. Alternately, you can readily adapt an adventure from another game company for other game systems. You can prepare other materials depending on how much you like to prepare handouts or reference sheets. You will learn more about all of this in Chapter Nine: Gamemastering.


Basic Roleplaying uses four-sided, six-sided, eight-sided, ten-sided, twelve-sided, and 20-sided dice (abbreviated as D4, D6, D8, D10, D12, and D20). Dice are generally rolled and the results read as shown, and if multiple dice are rolled, they are added together. Thus, 3D6 means roll three six-sided dice, and add the results. For example, a 3D6 roll resulting in 1, 4, and 6 would be a total of 11. Dice can also be added together in different denominations, such as 2D6+1D4, meaning roll two six-sided dice and a four-sided die, and add their totals together.

Dice results are sometimes modified by adding or subtracting numbers to the initial roll, such as 1D6–1, meaning roll one six-sided die and subtract 1 from the total, meaning that the roll has a range of 0 through 5. Other times dice totals can be multiplied, such as 1D10 x 10, meaning that the roll has a range of 10 to 100.

Sometimes dice rolls do not seem to correspond to exact dice numbers, such as D3, which is the result of a D6 roll divided by two and rounded up. A roll of D2 or D5 utilizes a D4 and a D10, respectively, and are rolled and divided in similar fashion. These sorts of rolls are rare.

Percentile dice are two D10s, rolled together, with one die designated as the tens figure, and the other as ones. For example, a roll of two D10s might yield a 7 and a 3, or 73%. A roll of 01% is considered ideal, while 100% (rolls of 0 and 0) is usually a failure and the least-desired roll. It is common to use dice of different colors for the tens and ones digits, though percentile dice are now easily available with the tens being denoted by 00, 10, 20, 30, etc. for greater ease of interpretation.

Here are most commonly-used dice:

D2: This yields a result of 1 or 2. It can be achieved by rolling a D4 (or any other even-sided die) and dividing it in half, with a coin toss (heads = 1, tails = 2), or taking any die and rolling it (odd result = 1, even result = 2).

D3: The result of a D6 rolled and divided in half, rounded up.

D4: A four-sided die, yielding a result of 1 through 4. It is often used with damage bonuses.

D6: The second most commonly used die type, this yields a result of 1 through 6. It is the most commonly used die in roleplaying games, as well as in many other types of games.

D8: An eight-sided die, yielding a result of 1 through 8.

D10: A ten-sided die, yielding a result of 1 through 10, with the 0 face representing 10. It is most commonly used in conjunction with another D10 as part of a percentile dice roll (see below). Some D10s come as tens, with the faces numbered 10, 20, 30, etc. making it easy to read a D100 roll (see below).

D12: A 12-sided die, yielding a result of 1 through 12. This dice type is not used very often.

D20: A 20-sided die, yielding a result of 1 through 20. This dice type is rarely used outside of the optional hit location system.

D100: Two ten-sided dice, rolled together with one die representing the tens value and another representing the ones value. This is often used as a percentile roll, but is sometimes rolled for a basic result. For example, the gamemaster might determine that each member of a group of bandits has D100 copper pieces in his or her possession. If the bandits are defeated, the gamemaster rolls the dice for each one. As noted above, D10s made to be tens digits can simplify the rolling and reading of D100.

The less traditional die types (D2 and D3) can be created by buying special, unmarked dice at your local hobby store and marking an equal number of sides as appropriate.

Some older incarnations of Basic Roleplaying have utilized only increments of 5% for skills (5%, 10%, 15%, etc.), reflecting the increments of the resistance table, with all skill levels rounded up or down to the nearest 5% increment. This edition of the rules does not support this method of rounding, but does not explicitly rule it out. Though the 5% increment makes for a slightly more streamlined system and modifying or dividing base chances becomes sometimes easier, it also presents less diversity in skill improvement, and can result in more rapid skill improvement. However, bookkeeping for experience is correspondingly easier, with no additional skill point roll required. If the gamemaster chooses to utilize this 5% method of rounding, it is recommended mostly for one-shots or limited campaigns, or games where long-term experience will not be utilized.


roleplaying games, historically, were initially inspired by miniatures-based wargames. Because of this, roleplaying games have long been linked with the use of miniatures to represent tactical simulations on a map or an abstracted type of game board. The Basic Roleplaying system has always been more narrative in tone, and even though many early Basic Roleplaying games referred to and were presented in conjunction with miniatures, the game system is not intrinsically tied to the use of miniatures. Currently, roleplaying games are less focused on the necessity for miniatures in combat resolution, and Chaosium’s Basic Roleplaying system follows suit. Though they are not required for use here, the optional rules section “Miniatures and Maps” covers the use of miniatures in brief.

Ef plest master, this mighty fine grub!
b1.gif 116/420. High Priest.

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So what's the problem with it? It's just a standard 'introduction to roleplaying game' spiel. Perhaps your expectations are a bit high?:confused:

It's too long! Way to long! AND, it's just a standart introduction. I expect perfection from Chaosium! :P


Ef plest master, this mighty fine grub!
b1.gif 116/420. High Priest.

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I think the introduction is great. To me it is reassuring that they are willing to take the time and space to describe something properly instead of cutting it short to save money.

Also the quality of writing and editing is obviously top-notch. No previews with glaring errors that then show up in the printed copy even after it is pointed out to the publisher. Not that that has ever happened to me. :rolleyes:

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

Bertrand Russell (1872 - 1970)


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