So, I’ve covered various BRP-based RPGs on this blog over the years, and it seems to me about time that I actually reviewed the original, foundational Basic Roleplaying document from 1980. This is a brief 16-page document covering the bare essentials of the system.
It’s dull as shit.
I mean, don’t get me wrong. It’s a reasonably good introduction to the system and incorporate a thing or two that I didn’t expect to be in there – most particularly, Impales are included in the combat system, I suspect primarily because they act as handy ways to break deadlocks in combat. However, despite being penned by Greg Stafford and Lynn Willis, it doesn’t really fire the imagination very much. The reader is encouraged to sit down and use the Resistance Table to work out their odds of loading various different items into a cart in one example, and whilst that’s one way to learn the system, it may be the most boring possible way to do it.
Of course, perhaps part of the reason Basic Roleplaying is this way is that, so far as I can make out, it was never intended to be sold separately. Originally, it was a little bonus in the Runequest box; a bit later, it came with early editions of Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer, and then a bit later it was a centrepiece of the Worlds of Wonder boxed set. Then it disappeared and Chaosium more or less stopped pushing the idea of BRP as a standalone generic RPG until they put out the Big Yellow Book.
It makes sense, given those appearances, that the booklet was as bland as it was. As a companion to RuneQuest, it seems to have been penned with the assumption that RuneQuest would provide the tempting, flavourful treat that would draw you in, and the Basic Roleplaying booklet would be there for you to consult if you found yourself way over your head and needed something to help you get your bearings. The problem there was that the 2nd Edition of RuneQuest was actually very good at providing helpful examples and is one of the better-explained RPGs of its era; many customers would never need to read the Basic Roleplaying booklet, and those who did would never really need to consult it again after glancing over it once since all the rules for playing RuneQuest were provided in the RuneQuest book.
As far as Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu went, it was at least essential – the 1st edition of those games relied on the booklet to provide the basic rules and then had the other rulebooks in those boxed sets provide the setting-specific information. This was a clumsy and awkward way of doing things because it required regular cross-referencing between the main book and Basic Roleplaying, and also diluted the set a little by providing a slice of bland genericness in a product otherwise infused with (and sold on the strength of) a distinctive setting with an atmosphere and style rigorously supported by the rules. Subsequent editions folded the necessary rules into the main booklet.
As for Worlds of Wonder, its three terse setting booklets took the blandness of the core Basic Roleplaying booklet and translated them into utterly bland take on superheroes, traditional D&D fantasy, and science fiction. It was deeply uninspiring stuff, and I feel sorry for anyone who paid full whack for the set back in the day.
In short, Basic Roleplaying was doomed in whatever context it popped up in to either be irrelevant or actively irritating. Its discontinuation is unsurprising.