Blake’s BRP

Although Doctor Who has had multiple official RPGs, its younger sibling Blake’s 7 never has – but fear not, fans of Terry Nation serials with even thinner budgets than Who, for fandom will often fill a gap that official canon refuses to touch. The Blake’s 7 Roleplaying Game by Kin Ming Looi and Zoé Taylor was published via Horizon, an officially-endorsed fan club for the show, so whilst it’s still in the realm of a fandom product (and certainly looks like a mid-1990s fanzine in terms of production values) it sails about as close to being official as it can without actually being official.

Dated to August 1994, in system terms it’s clearly inspired by Basic Roleplaying-powered RPGs: the attributes do not map precisely to BRP, mind, but they play a similar role much of the time, there’s percentile skills you can improve by succeeding at tasks in a manner exactly like BRP, and in general it’s sufficiently close to BRP in its basic principles that I’m happy to consider it part of the extended family.

Given that Horizon is a UK-based group and I suspect Blake’s 7 fandom is generally healthiest in Britain, this might be due to the prominence that Chaosium’s games enjoyed over here thanks to Games Workshop giving them important early promotion in the mid-1980s through their editions of RuneQuest, Call of Cthulhu, and Stormbringer. If you were a British RPG fan looking to make a homebrew system and you didn’t feel like starting 100% from scratch, and your subject matter clearly wasn’t suitable for adapting to Dungeons & Dragons, it feels likely that you would consider Basic Roleplaying, especially in 1994 – an era that’s before the proliferation of open gaming licences gave you more system options to adapt, before the Internet made widespread research of systems cheaper on a budget, and when Chaosium was still in good health.

That said, it is interesting that Looi and Taylor don’t seem to have looked to Traveller for inspiration; Classic Traveller was also brought over by Games Workshop, and UK Traveller fandom had a strong presence in the 1990s, with British Isles Traveller Support ending up putting out some great fan supplements during the lean years between the collapse of Traveller 4th Edition and the rise of Mongoose Traveller. Maybe it came down to personal taste, or which systems Looi and Taylor were more personally familiar with.

As far as setting depth goes, you don’t get a whole lot here, but that just makes sense: ultimately, this was a product made by fans for fans, and the authors probably didn’t expect anyone would touch it who wasn’t already familiar with the show. You get some stats for stock NPCs, Blake and company, and some starships, but that’s it. Want the players to take on Servalan? You’ll have to stat her up yourself.

In system terms, the starship combat system looks fiddly but otherwise things avoid being excessively rules-heavy. There’s a neat concept where all of your attributes yield a pool of skill points, and all the skills have an affinity for at least 1 attribute (it’s usually just one, but a few have two or more associated attributes). When you are buying skills at character generation, each point you spend from an attribute pool that has an affinity with the skill counts for one percentage point, but the points cost is double if you are trying to buy a skill with points from a pool that doesn’t have that association with it.

This can be fiddly, but it’s a complexity which goes away once character generation finishes, and it’s a significant improvement over, say, Call of Cthulhu‘s process where at this time you got all your skill points from INT and EDU and that was it. (7th Edition has finally addressed this issue.) I like it because it means if you are determined for your character to be particularly good at a specific skill, you will likely be able to ensure that, but depending on the luck of the draw you might have to spend your points a little suboptimally to do it – whereas on the flipside if you go for maximum optimisation in how you spend your points you might have to accept a shortfall here or there, but you should at least be able to have a range of areas of expertise.

A quirk comes up in that not all the attributes have affinities with the same number of skills – WIL (willpower) only has an affinity with a couple, for instance (Leader and Interrogate, the latter of which isn’t on the character sheet or the character gen worksheet) and EMP (Empathy), SIZ (size) and END (endurance) have no affinity for any skills, so their skill points are only ever going to be spent suboptimally to top up other skills. (That said, if the optional psionics rules are used, WIL and EMP are connected to a number of the psionic skills which then become available – SIZ and END remain out of luck, however.) On the flipside, DEX (dexterity) and REA (reason) are both associated with tons of skills.

On balance, though, I don’t think this is a major problem: it just means that if you are going for a full-efficiency build and you roll well for WIL (for example), your character will likely be quite good at Leader or Interrogate or both, whereas when you are spending your DEX or REA skill points you will most likely want to choose an area your two you want to focus on rather than diffusing them a lot.

Another nice mechanic is Stress, an optional psychological mechanic; Stress builds up through traumatic events, and unless characters can get some relaxation time or otherwise divest themselves of it they suffering increasing penalties as it accumulates, and risk a mental breakdown if it accumulates unchecked. It’s clearly a riff on Call of Cthulhu-style Sanity in concept but differs in execution, and it’s quite a neat way of mimicing the action of the series: a recurring theme of the show is how the characters get more and more frazzled and in need of rest as the toil of their guerilla struggle against the Federation weighs on them, and how the characters tend to make their biggest mistakes when they crack under pressure.

One thought on “Blake’s BRP

  1. Pingback: Routinely Itemised: RPGs #158

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