Lemme Tell You A Story…

by Solomoriah

Twenty years ago I started a new RPG campaign. Basic Fantasy RPG didn’t exist yet, and I was running the game using some house rules I wrote which I called “Project 74;” we did eventually switch to BFRPG a couple of years after I published the first edition 1000 dollar loan with bad credit.

The group was composed of Mike and Alan, two of my oldest friends, people who had been players in my games in high school and college in the ’80’s. Since the group was small they ran two characters each; one of Mike’s characters from that game was the half-ogre fighter Garag Onyg, and one of Alan’s characters was a fighter from a foreign land named Kyron Ristan.

They had other characters, as I said, but some of them didn’t live very long. Project 74 was as brutal to low-level characters as any old school game, after all.

It was in their very first adventure in the tunnels under the city of Lyrwenn in Enterone, one of the countries in my world of Glain, where they discovered Garag’s half-ogre half-brother, Og Onygson. He was abducting children because they were tasty, you see, and Garag and Kyron and their friends had been asked to rescue the last two he’d collected. While they were busy fighting him, Og’s “boss,” a magic-user named Jarvan Margrave, appeared on the staircase and attacked them magically.

Kyron made his saving throw vs. Jarvan’s wand of paralyzation and then pursued him up the stairs, out of the dungeons and into the magic-user’s tower, finally cornering him on the uppermost floor and doing away with him. Meanwhile Garag and the others defeated his half-brother and freed the children. And of course, they looted the tower.

Little did they know that Jarvan Margrave was in fact Lord Jarvan Margrave. His family had him raised from the dead, and with the help of his uncle (the Count) Jarvan swore out a warrant for the arrest of the adventurers. Thus they became fugitives, having many adventures as they wandered the borderlands. Eventually they rescued Vadarin, the “Iron Duke” to whom Count Margrave was a vassal, and the Duke cancelled the warrant and pronounced them innocent.

Jarvan never forgot this defeat. He meddled in their affairs on many occasions before he found a new goal… becoming a king.

You see, the land of Enterone has been ruled by a council of seven people, three high priests and four dukes, since the last king died without leaving an heir. That king, known as Gallus the First, chose this intentionally; he hoped that a democratic form of government would grow out of the change. But though the Regency Council reigned as he intended, nothing else really changed.

Jarvan Margrave learned that there was an heir, descended from an illegitimate cousin of Gallus Oberon. The heir himself did not know he was an heir, and so Jarvan was able to get close to him, capture him, and take what he needed to “prove” himself a proper heir to the long-empty throne of Enterone.

Both Enterone and Roslane, the rival land to the north, had ancient artifacts that could prove a man to be a proper heir to their thrones. Roslane’s founding dynasty had been exterminated long ago, and the Flaming Crown lost; they were ruled by a different family who took power after the fall of the so-called Undying Emperor. In Enterone the device was called the Royal Orb; installed permanently in the old, “retired” Ganelonden Castle in the capitol city of Vallerin, the orb would reputedly glow when touched by a true heir to Oberon the First.

Jarvan was no such heir, of course, but he took the true heir’s right hand, skinned it, and made from it a glove that could activate the orb. He made the glove invisible so that he could use it without it being detected. He did not kill Galen, the heir, but rather cast a feeblemind upon him and released him in the city of Ruonest. Galen, known as a mute half-wit, somehow fell into the service of Duke D’Angelo. He became a stablehand working in the stables beneath Castle D’Angelo, where our heros met him while dealing with a resurgence of the demonic influence that had nearly ended the reign of Duke Vadarin. The entire situation was a setup engineered by Jarvan to keep the most magically-capable member of the Regency Council from attending the ceremony wherein Jarvan would activate the orb.

By the sheerest of coincidences, Kyron Ristan managed to be near Ganelonden Castle just as this entire event was about to transpire, and his ownership of a certain ancient intelligent sword gave him status to attend that ceremony; he watched in amazement as Jarvan’s hand fell upon the orb and made it glow.

Fugitives again, the party began traveling outside of Enterone. We began to add new players, some who came for one or two sessions before disappearing, others who came and stayed. In the land of Derympi they discovered the lost Tomb of Karsma Megalos, and inside they found him not dead but petrified, They chose to restore him, not realizing that he was the Invincible Warlord of the Seren, enemy of the rulers of Enterone, and this decision would come back to bite them later.  And in Kyron’s land of Kel they discovered that the country was secretly under the control of the supposedly-extinct Golden Elves, and they managed to bring them down and free the Kelites.

This turned out to be the last major adventure Alan participated in, as not long afterward he succumbed to the kidney cancer that had dogged him for several years. Kyron Ristan became a high minister in the new government of Kel, and the remaining adventurers moved on to other lands.

They went north, defeating an alchemist who was refining the dangerous aqua lumina made by the ancient Amun-Synites. They learned the secrets of the ancient and powerful wizard known as John of Zor, and visited his tower in that far-off land. They even saved a beautiful dragon from a horrible princess, and delivered that princess into the hands of the King of Roslane.

They returned to Enterone when their ally, Pons III, Duke D’Angelo was declared a criminal by King Jarvan. A council of war was established at Castle D’Angelo, searching for a way to resist the king and eventually overthrow him, but the situation looked dire; not only did King Jarvan have obvious plans to remove Duke D’Angelo from power, but it also seemed likely that Roslane would use this period of unrest on their border as an excuse to attack. Duke Pons presented a two-pronged proposal: Some of the adventurers would go in search of a magic crown they had once found in the dungeons beneath the Roslanian capitol, which they had sold to the king of that land without learning its power. In fact, it was the Flaming Crown which could reveal an heir to the line of the first kings of Roslane. This was an item the present Roslanian king could not allow to fall into the hands of his opposition, which is why he bought it. Stealing it back would give Duke D’Angelo leverage to prevent an attack.

While part of the adventurers went about that mission, the remainder went in search of a hidden castle where King Jarvan had imprisoned the true heir. The trip was difficult, requiring the utmost in stealth, but at last they reached the castle. The courtyards were filled with animated hill giant skeletons, and a dragon and several powerful NPCs guarded the heir himself.

So of course, the adventurers bypassed the whole thing, flying over the castle invisibly while the dragon’s attention was diverted (for in my campaign, dragons can see invisible things) and entering the central tower with almost no bloodshed. Galen was thus freed and taken back to Castle D’Angelo.

Having the true heir and the Flaming Crown at Castle D’Angelo was meant to prevent either king from attacking; it worked, at least in the case of the Roslanians, but King Jarvan was not so easily swayed. After all, to prove a claim as the heir, Galen had to enter Ganelonden Castle in the Enteronean capitol, Vallerin, and place his hand on the Royal Orb. Jarvan reinforced the city and the ancient “second castle” of Enterone, and then he ordered the offensive against the northern Dukes.

By now it was late fall, and the snow was falling; it was clear to everyone that Jarvan’s troops would have to wait to attack until the snow melted in the spring. Still, the usurper ordered Duke Vadarin to be reduced from the high position the Council had given him, and Jarvan’s own uncle the Count raised up at the Duke in his place.

Some of the adventurers, led by Garag Onyg and his wizard ally Aleron Rowentree, left the castle to seek allies in nearby towns. Messages were sent to many whom the party had helped in the past, in hopes that they would come to the aid of the newly-formed Resistance.

One of those messages was sent to Nyalorix, the cloud dragon who they had rescued from the evil Princess Dulcetta. Nyalorix had been held in thrall by the Princess by the simple means of stealing the dragon’s eggs; so long as Dulcetta held the eggs in a secret place, the dragon had no choice but to obey her. The adventurers had found the eggs and restored them to Nyalorix, and she was in their debt. But it was a debt she could not discharge, for her eggs had hatched and she was busy caring for the hatchlings.

A man approached the adventurers in a tavern as they paused in their travels. He introduced himself as Nuridnorix, father of Nyalorix. He told them his daughter had asked him to attend to her debt, and he said he would willingly fight by their side… but if they wished, he could instead direct them to a hidden army of automatons built to fight the Undying Emperor in a long-past century. The army was never deployed, as it was not finished when the Emperor fell by other hands, so the location of the army was carefully concealed and barriers were put in place to prevent them falling into the wrong hands.

Of course, the adventurers chose the army of metal men over a single dragon, and Nuridnorix directed and guided them so that they could find the mountain where the army had been built and hidden away. It was a long series of adventures, including a dungeon containing practically nothing but traps, a city full of kobolds who welcomed them to a feast, a catacomb full of undead horrors, a workshop protected by various prototype metal warriors, and a magical maze of stairs containing a machine that extrudes gelatinous cubes to replace any that are slain therein.

In a secret room they found a portal leading to a small, closed world called the World of Crowns. They knew from the story told to them by Nuridnorix that they were looking for a crown that would control the metal army; in the clearing where they exited the portal they found a tombstone engraved with seven crowns.

There were, in fact, eight crowns. They eventually figured this out and found the iron crown they needed, though they did collect a few others along the way.

It took them a bit to figure out how to work the portal device so that it would give them access to the space where the army was kept, but eventually they found their way and led the army out of the mountain through a wall that had been designed to collapse. They marched them through a bit of Roslanian territory, suffered a turncoat in their ranks who almost stole the army for King Jarvan, and finally arrived at Castle D’Angelo just in time to aid in the defense of the Resistance.

Duke Vadarin held out for a time, but in the late spring that part of his army that was loyal to the Margrave family turned on him, and he took the remaining soldiers westward to Duchy D’Angelo. Combined with the forces of Pons III and the army of steel soldiers, they held the line against the King’s forces.

But he had available five times as many troops as the Resistance could mount. Even with all their magic and six thousand automatons, they knew it was only a matter of time before the Resistance fell.

The fighting had started with an early thaw; the high holy days of the spring equinox, called Festival throughout the world of Glain, were still some days in the future. The council of war met to discuss the situation, and Aleron Rowentree suggested a bold plan.

Leaders and other powerful people were notified by messages sent using the young wizard’s own spell, Aleron’s Express Message, that Garag Onyg would enter Ganelonden Castle accompanied by the true heir on the last day of Festival. In Glain, Festival begins on the last day of the year, spans one or sometimes two days that are “outside” the year, and ends on the first day of the new year, and it was on this day that Aleron’s messages said the true heir would be proven.

This was the most nervous I’d been as a GM in decades. The climax, or rather, the first climax of a twenty year campaign needed to be epic, Hollywood-worthy stuff. Three high priests and their closest assistants, the dwarf ambassador and three members of his staff, the elf ambassador and two members of his staff, Duke Tarkan, his wife, and her bodyguard, and of course Jarvan and his closest allies (and 80 hand-picked fighting men of his army) would all be present, and that only after they entered the castle. First, they had to get there, crossing the expanse of the great Lake Dyasa and somehow getting into the city; this was the focus of our previous session.

Duke D’Angelo loaned them the black pegasi his family bred and maintained in secret, revealing their existence for the first time. Part of the adventurers chose this method of entering the city. They were intercepted by griffon riders loyal to King Jarvan, accompanied by the same green dragon, Rashdenarung, who had been assigned to guard the true heir. They outflew the soldiers, using the greater speed of the pegasi to climb above the griffons, and they simply flew away; some fire was exchanged but neither side suffered major losses.

Meanwhile, however, the true heir himself was to be transported by Aleron using his ring of spell storing (which could hold a single teleport spell). To increase his transport capacity, he drank a potion of giant strength first, giving him more than an hour (in fact, an hour and a half) of such strength.

As seemingly always happens, though, Aleron failed the teleport roll, landing partway to the capitol city. After rolling the distance and looking at the map, I realized he had landed them just outside the city of Lyrwenn, where the campaign began two decades ago.

Entering the city in a hurry, they asked around for a magic-user who could recharge their ring. Time was of the essence, because there were no more potions of giant strength at hand. They were told that a wizard had moved into the tower once occupied by Jarvan, and so they went there and bargained with him.

In return for a favor to be named later, the wizard recharged the ring, and the party quickly teleported away. But Aleron’s player failed the roll… again. This time the result was “similar location,” and as they were trying to land just in front of the elvish embassy in Vallerin, I decided the nearest “similar location” was the elvish consulate in the city across the river. That city, Jacinta, lies in the country of Derympi, which under the control of Karsma Megalos is hostile to Enterone.

They discussed many options for crossing the river, and chose to do so while flying (using the obvious spell) invisibly. But the dragon had returned to Vallerin, having just arrived in fact, and he saw them and flew toward them with murder in his eyes (and breath).

Garag quickly drank a potion of dragon control he had traded for quite a while back… and the dragon failed its save! It greeted its new friend warmly, but said it really shouldn’t let them land; the drinker of the potion talked the dragon into turning away from them and leaving them be, and then they were able to land and hide within the great city.

One of the members of the pegasus-riding party was Irithiel Kelquirrelle, agent of the Elf King, Order of the Leafy Crown. She had been captured, interrogated, and killed by order of King Jarvan after she was discovered snooping around the castle of Duke Tarkan by his wife Duchess Evaine. By a peculiar twist of fate she had been raised from the dead by one of the party members who had himself been slain by an agent of the king and then interred beneath Ganelonden Castle for later interrogation via a speak with dead spell. Jarvan had collected a number of potions of alchemical waters of sulfur, also called potions of raise dead; poured into the mouth of a corpse, they had the same power as the spell. A mad thief trapped in the dungeon had found them and used them to restore a single one of the dead characters, the gnome wizard Bannan, one of Mike’s characters. Their escape a month or so earlier had itself been epic, and it was after this that the Elf King assigned Irithiel to join the adventurers.

Emily played the part of Irithiel, previously an NPC in my online game, and at the end of that adventure chose to continue playing her.

The party of pegasus-riders landed outside the city, and simply walked in; Irithiel was the only member of that party who might be recognized so she was made invisible to prevent this.  The two parties had agreed to meet at noon in front of the elvish embassy, and this at least went off without any further hitches.  After some discussion, though, they took shelter in a temporarily-abandoned warehouse, bribing the guard to let them have it for the night.

Meanwhile, the pegasi were returned to Castle D’Angelo by the “decoy heir” that party brought with them; a terrified young soldier pressed into service at the last moment, and only too relieved at being allowed to return to his home.

Somehow despite the party being warded against scrying, the Elf Ambassador had learned of her presence in the city and sent for her; she would join his party in the morning, the first day of the year and thus the last day of Festival, as they went to the ancient castle to witness whatever might transpire.

Another player character, Jeanne’s gnomish cleric Einsturzende Altbaten, a devotee of the god of death, Mors Cain, went to the Triune temple that morning to ask their aid in protecting the true heir. The three high priests were already in procession to Ganelonden, accompanied by their assistants and a number of temple guards, but they stopped when the gnome mentioned the name “Garag Onyg.” “Unfortunately,” said High Priest Faber, of the order of the god of wisdom, “we can’t help you. To take a side would be to violate the law, at least until such a time as the heir is proven.” But after some negotiation the three high priests agreed to wait outside the castle for two hours before entering, to act as witnesses to anything that might happen.

The dragon rested atop one of the gate towers of the outer bailey, watching for invisible interlopers. A grassy, tree-dotted park lay between the wall of the outer bailey and the last street of the city, and a crowd of commoners lined that street. Scattered groups of city watch, commanded by officers from the Royal Guard, were in the park to hopefully quell any insurrection that might arise. The adventurers simply had to walk across the park to the gate to enter the outer bailey…

So, they did. Two party members who would not be recognized as such stood among the crowd sowing discontent, and when Galen appeared at the edge of the park and began advancing toward the gate the crowd was aroused to action and surged forward; but the dragon leapt down from its high place and faced off against Galen, and the crowd turned tail and ran back to the relative safety of the buildings at the edge of the park. Two player characters were with him, invisible but seen by the dragon, and at his instruction they appeared. He knew Aleron Rowentree, and began preparing to attack.

Garag Onyg had approached at a different angle, keeping the trees between himself and the dragon’s perch. When it came down and prepared to fight, he broke into a run, drank a potion of speed, and then drew his greatsword.

Aleron cast slow upon the dragon, and it failed its save; it was attacked, and suffered significant damaage, while not being able to hit with its claws. Badly injured and with Garag Onyg running toward it, the dragon took flight, but slowed by the magic it could not fly far nor rise very high.

Garag used the magic of his boots of traveling and leaping to soar upward and slice into the dragon’s belly, slaying it. Even better, he managed to avoid having its entrails spill down onto him.

With the resistance to their advance thus defeated, the adventurers went with the heir and the priests into the outer bailey, and then entered the inner bailey through the open gatehouse without opposition. In the huge foyer of the keep they found the elf and dwarf ambassadors and their parties waiting, and together they entered the corridor leading to the court.

The great court room was lined with pillars down either side, with long balconies overlooking the room; at the far end were several sets of steps leading up about eight feet to a raised stone platform holding the thrones of the King and Queen of Enterone. In front of them, firmly attached to an ornate stone pillar, was the pale white marble Royal Orb.

It was not the architecture that commanded attention, but the occupants. Forty guardsmen with halberds stood in rows behind the pillars, beneath the balconies. Forty more armed with crossbows lined the balconies themselves, able to fire twenty at a time and then rotate each round to reload while the other half fired. At the top of the steps on the left side, a woman warrior in black armor holding a very black sword, while the right side steps were guarded by a strikingly orange half-elf in plate mail attended by a huge black hound. Standing on the floor before the platform were Duke Tarkan, his wife Duchess Evaine, and her steel-clad bodyguard.

And of course, sitting in the king’s throne was King Jarvan. He stood and challenged the ambassadors, who all said they were present only as witnesses. But Irithiel stood among the elves, wearing a gown which actually indicated (in its traditional quilting and colors) that she was a victim of someone from whom she planned to exact payment. Jarvan did not address her, but whether or not he knew how to read her gown, he certainly knew what she had come for.

The ambassadors mentioned the true heir, which angered Jarvan; he arose from the throne and stepped forward, laying his right hand on the orb and causing it to glow. “There is a true heir, and he is me,” he said in reply.

The high priests pointed out that the three of them and Duke Tarkan together formed a quorum of the Regency Council, should such a body need to be seated again. They moved forward toward the right-hand stairs, even as Garag Onyg advanced toward the left-hand stairs; the guardsmen moved to block the way, using their polearms to barricade the way.

The black-clad woman looked at Garag Onyg as he entered the room, and called out, “Captain of the Guard!” and that officer replied, “Aye!” She smiled and continued, “Send a page to the temple of Mors Cain. Tell them they’ll need an extra-large coffin.”

“Shut up, Sirella,” said King Jarvan. Just then Galen entered the room from the corridor, and King Jarvan pointed at him and yelled, “Fire!”

Twenty guardsmen on the balcony raised their crossbows and took aim. Garag noticed that there was a gap, and determined that he could make a running leap with his magic boots and he would be standing beside the orange half-elf. For Garag Onyg, to have a thought of an offensive strategy is to enact it, and so he leapt, and as he flew in front of the orange man and his dog, the dog breathed seven dice of fire upon him. Garag failed his saving throw, but has so many hit points that he was still in relatively good shape. Under the effect of the potion of speed he began trading blows with the orange-skined cleric.

Duke Tarkan would not leave flee, of course, but sent his wife and her bodyguard up the steps to one of the doors out of the court. Serella, the black-clad warrior, ran across toward Garag, cursing the “damned dog” for being in her way (and of course it was a “damned dog” after all). And at that moment the gnome cast a silence 15′ radius spell in the area of the dais, affecting Jarvan and his allies.

King Jarvan walked toward the left side of the dais, out of the silence, and cast a spell which seemed to have no effect (a shield, of course). Then the guardsmen fired. Twenty crossbow bolts flew toward Galen, but every one missed, for he was wearing a cloak of displacement loaned to him by Aleron. The players actually kind of cheered at this.

We began another round, and most of the initiative numbers were close. The gnome rolled well and cast a hold person on the orange-skinned enemy cleric, who failed his save and fell to the floor. King Jarvan and Aleron Rowentree were tied. Jarvan saw that he had a good line on Galen and Aleron, and realizing that a fireball would take out too many of his own men, chose instead to fire a lightning bolt from his staff of power. But Aleron was simultaneous, and cast dimension door to transport both himself and Galen to the area beside the Orb. The lightning bolt could have struck them or not depending on the exact order of actions, so I made a roll and determined that Aleron was just a bit faster. The lightning bolt struck only the gnome cleric, who failed her save and fell, unconscious and dying.

Now standing beside the Orb, Aleron waited for Galen to touch it; but the heir stumbled, unprepared for the sudden teleportation. (He rolled a 1 for initiative.) Chris’ fey mage Talas dispelled the silence so Aleron and Galen could be heard. At almost the same moment, Cody’s magic-user Zorel stepped out from behind a pillar and unleashed a lightning bolt on Jarvan, injuring him significantly.

Meanwhile, Irithiel asked the ambassador if helping a friend would constitute a violation of their vow to observe, and he said, “Under the circumstances, no.” She moved toward the gnome, even as the high priestess of the goddess of life also did so, and the gnome was saved.

The guardsmen on the ground floor were ordered to block the way to the stairs, and except for Garag getting through they had done so; they were also ordered not to attack the high priests unless they took some offensive action, which they did not. So a significant part of Jarvan’s fighting forces were unable to act. As for those on the balcony tasked with slaying Galen? I rolled percentiles to figure out how many of them saw where he went, and basically none of them had, so they wasted the round trying to figure out what to do.

Garag hacked and chopped at double speed. The hellhound obeyed Serella, moving down a couple of steps as it bit Garag, doing him little harm. Serella swung but missed, and Garag chopped at her, inflicting major wounds. He had a bad feeling about the black-bladed sword she was wielding.

Then at last Galen’s hand fell upon the Orb, and it glowed. Brilliantly, brighter than the sunshine streaming through the skylights above, far brighter than it had for Jarvan. Aleron proclaimed loudly that Galen was the true heir.

In the following round Jarvan rolled badly for initiative. I honestly hadn’t decided what he would do on his turn, but it didn’t matter as Zorel blasted him with another lightning bolt, and ex-King Jarvan fell.

But the fight went on, though the guardsmen were thrown into disarray and took no further action. Serella used a spell from a ring, which she (in other words, I) had forgotten to use earlier… haste. But it did not help her as Garag cut her down before she could attack him again.

And then, it was over.

When Jarvan lay dead at last, Duke Tarkan proclaimed “Long live the King!” and bowed toward Galen. He called Tarkan and the high priests forward and informed them that he intended the Regency Council to continue running the country on a day-to-day basis, as they already knew what they were doing; he also indicated his intent to leave no heir, as Gallus Oberon did before him, restoring the country to the rulership of the Council upon his death.

In the following days, many arrangements were made, much rest was had, and numerous XP were distributed. I’d like to say it was a good time, but honestly it so much more than that!

So, you want to be a Magic-User? (How to Use This Website, Episode 2)

by Steve McKenzie

Magic is at the core of Fantasy Role-Play. In many ways, a campaign without magic is just historical recreational role-play in a parallel universe. Magical spells, items and creatures provide the fantastic element, and it’s hard to imagine any fantasy game without magical spellcasters.

This post is aimed at players and GMs alike. In later sections, it gives advice on how to design Magic-User classes using the rules at Basic Fantasy RPG, and how to decide what supplemental resources are right for your character or campaign. BFRPG is a modular system and there are a variety of different supplements available that you can use according to your preferences.Let’s begin by asking a few basic questions about magic in your game. What do you want it to be like?

What is Magic Like?

Rare or Common?

One of the strange ironies of magic in an RPG is: the less you include, the more your game will centre on it. Some campaigns feature magic as a replacement for technology; it’s so common that the streetlights are run by magic, and many PCs and NPCs knows a few spells. While the action in these games will certainly include magic, the plot will usually centre on other things, because you don’t have to look far to find magical knowledge and training. On the other hand, if you make magic rare and elusive, you can bet that your characters will chase after it and finding it will become a focal point of your narrative.

Old School Role-Play is typically somewhere in the middle. Magic isn’t exactly ubiquitous, but it’s certainly not unknown. That’s a comfortable middle ground if you don’t want to go to the Low Magic or High Magic extremes.

An unusual alternative is to make magic something only the bad guys use. Your Cleric or Druid will be the only caster in your group, and perhaps an evil electricity wizard named Tesla Doom is the main opponent….?

Old, New, Hidden, or Rediscovered?

Most fantasy role-play games include magic that has been around for hundreds of years, if not thousands. This means that skills like ‘Arcana’ and ‘Spellcraft’ might reasonably exist, because it would be possible to learn about what other mages have done in times past. It also means there might be a wealth of information about where to find magic spells and items, as magic will have become fully embedded in written and oral culture over the centuries.

Another possibility is that your characters are among the first people to discover magic. Your MU character gets one spell to begin with, which he has discovered after many hours of experimentation and study. After that, new spells may be invented using magical research techniques. You can’t go out and find new spells and items in the world, because there aren’t any…until you make them. There probably isn’t much call for a skill like ‘Knowledge: Arcana’ because there wouldn’t be any extant knowledge that characters could possess.

A third option is that magic has been suppressed (usually by a government / religious organization), and so magical practitioners are scattered in lonely villages, taking pains to not get found out. It might be hard to get them to give up their secrets, and you might have to be secretive yourself. A fourth choice is that magic has been lost or forgotten in some Dark Age, and your characters are on the trail of it and must hunt around in old ruins to find it.

Feared or Revered?

A related question regards the cultural status of magic. Are wizards revered, feared, mocked, shunned, or thrown in jail? Perhaps they run your starting kingdom or take powerful positions in the court. Or perhaps they are crazy loners who live in towers on the edge of the woods? Magic might be frowned upon, the sort of thing only desperate people would do, or considered to be the domain of the upper-class and not a thing for commoners to meddle with.

You might decide that some magic has been deemed acceptable (light spells, protection charms, and so on), bit other types of casting (charm spells, necromancy) are considered abhorrent. In this case it’s best to develop different traditions of magic, some practiced openly, some in secrecy.

Cultural Magic

Once you have thought about these basic questions, there’s an even bigger question to ask, one that will determine many of your choices later. Are you using the simple, universal understanding of magic, or one that locates magic with cultural traditions?

The Core Rules for Basic Fantasy say that Magic-User spell-books “are written in a magical script that can only be read by the one who wrote it, or through the use of the spell Read Magic.”

The conception of magic in early editions of the original Dungeons and Dragons system is based on the notion of a universal magical language (a series of sounds that make magical effects occur). This language is the same across all races and cultures, but each culture has discovered it independently. The verbal component of all spells is spoken in this language. Essentially, each spell-caster has invented his or her own alphabet to describe the sounds of the magic language.

This universal understanding of magic makes magic easy to understand and use in basic fantasy campaigns. It answers the following question: what is the exact nature of the skill that the MU has that other people do not have? The answer is: knowledge of the universal magic language.

For me, the universal understanding of magic leaves a few questions unanswered. For example, if a wizard is trained by a teacher, surely their teacher would teach them a certain way of writing the magic? Otherwise, what are they teaching? If magic was taught in such a way, cultural traditions of written magic would develop. You might have a series of traditions in your campaign.

Here’s a sketch of the magic traditions in a recent campaign of mine.

  • Old Imperial is a magical tradition using a script like Latin. All basic European-style wizards know this language for free. Most of the spells in the Basic Fantasy Core Rules are available, except ones that fit better with the traditions outlined below.  Many spells from the supplements are also available.
  • Elf Magic is written in Elvish, and only elves can use it, as it is linked to their blood. The spells focus on flight, forcefields, and telekinesis spells.
  • Gnome Magic is written in a special code. Read Magic is required to decipher it by non-Gnomes. Gnomish spells focus on charm and illusion spells.
  • Old Bone is a rare tradition of necromancy in an ancient and demonic script. Casters are usually bad guys rather than players.
  • Wild Magic is sorcery. Sorcerers don’t need spell-books; magic just happens when the need it to, although there is always a risk of something crazy happening instead.

Those are the five options if someone wants to be a caster in my campaign and I have spell-lists for each. If a player suggested a new tradition, I’d listen, but only if what their new idea was significantly different to what I already had.

Tweaking The Core Rules Magic-User

Now you’ve thought about what sort of Magic-User class (or classes) you want in your game, we’ll start to look at resources available on the BFRPG website. Remember that this is an open-source site, so there is going to be lots of overlapping material and different versions of the same archetypes presented. If you pick some supplemental material, you won’t be able to use other versions of the same idea.

The basic MU, with no tweaks at all, knows one spell (and Read Magic) at 1st level and must find or create all other spells they use. The spell may be chosen by the GM or rolled randomly. The Core Rules MU can learn and cast one first level spell per day. They do not get their Intelligence modifier in additional spell level. (They get additional languages based on their Intelligence, but not additional spells.)

The creator of this system, Chris Gonnerman / Solomoriah, has done a lot of playtesting and worked out that the MU class in the Core Rules isn’t too weak at lower levels (provide the spells are used in an inventive way and the player is pretty careful). Further, the class is very strong at higher levels. Many of us know the joys of slowly watching your newbie low-level caster turn into a mystical powerhouse as the game goes on. Nurturing the character in the meantime is part of the character and narrative development in the game.

Nonetheless, many players – especially in one-offs or shorter games – will want to tweak the MU class from the outset, and it’s always to beef it up; no-one ever wants to tweak their character to make it weaker. There are a variety of ways to tweak the basic MU. The best place to start is Magic-User Options, a supplement co-written by Gonnerman, and one of the original supplement volumes to the game. Incidentally, the Backgrounds and Specialties supplement in the Showcase section contains an entirely different set of ideas for how to develop an MU character. I’ve chosen to work with the Options supplement as it is more explicitly about Magic-Users in this post but do have a look at the other supplement in case you prefer it.

The Options supplement contains a handy list of all the all the other supplements relevant to the MU class on page 5. There is also a list of which options to pick depending on what type of campaign you want to run. I will add my own thoughts to that list here.

1 – More Spells Known. The Core Rules say that some GMs may want to give the starting wizard more spells in their spell-book (i.e. more than one spell and Read Magic). In my game, I allow a choice of one known spell, or, the player can roll two.

2 – More Spells Prepared Per Day. Use the Wizard’s intelligence bonus to grant extra spells per day. See the table on Magic-User Options, page 4. I use a variant of this rule because otherwise there’s no major incentive for a Magic-User to have a high Intelligence score, and the player is often better off putting their best score on Dexterity. Also, I have a campaign in which finding or researching new spells can be quite hard, and so I want characters to get maximum value out of the spells they already know. In a game where magic is more commonplace, you might choose to have a character who knows more spells but is more limited in terms of how many they can cast per day.

3 – More Choice in Casting. Some GMs like their players to have greater choice on which spells they cast at any given moment. See Magic-User Options, pages 2-3. For me, this takes out some of the challenge of being a Magic-User; you no longer need to pick exactly the right spells for the situation you are planning. For this reason, I don’t normally use this option, but it’s good for light-hearted games, especially with kids.

Another strategy is to make some basic spells (especially Read Magic and Detect Magic) free to cast. This will free up the character’s prepared spells for other spells. I do this in my game because the party are always searching for old magical secrets, and the MU character would rarely get to cast anything else, unless I used this option.

A third strategy is to use the ideas in the Spell Channeling Items supplement. These are special items that allow you to cast the energy in one prepared spell as though it were another spell. The items don’t give you additional power, they just allow you to be more flexible with your casting choices.

4 –  Zero Level Spells. Some GMs include ‘cantrips’, a type of minor spell that is lower than 1st level. There is a list of them in the 0-Level Spells Supplement. Another supplement in the Showcase, 0 Level Magic, gives an alternative set of rules for the same thing. Some GMs allow cantrips to be used freely. Most GMs will have a daily limit based on the rules in the supplements. I do not use cantrips because they make magic seem too commonplace. In my campaign, magic is very rare, so it doesn’t make sense to have casters using it to hold a saucepan or mend their robes.

A word of warning: inventive (and pushy) players will try to take advantage when using cantrips – i.e., they will want their Flare cantrip to blind foes, or their Push cantrip to knock over an ogre! The spell descriptions are brief in the supplements and there’s room for interpretation, so the GM should be careful that these spells do not end up taking on the power of 1st level spells or higher. Rule of thumb: if the player wants their low-level spell to do something that a higher-level spell is designed to do properly, the GM’s answer should be no.

5 –  Arcane Bolt. Many players want their caster to be able to fire off a bolt of energy at will, without using spell slots. See Magic-User Options, page 1. The damage done isn’t great. In many ways this has the same outcome as having an MU throw darts or daggers every round once their spells have all been used. I use this rule in my games because most wizards in the movies are not seen wearing a bandolier of darts or daggers! It;s a good option for adventuring wizards, but you should avoid the arcane bolt rule if you want your Magic-Users to appear as bookish scholars who would never go anywhere without an armed guard.

6 – Battle Wizards. It’s possible to tweak the Basic MU class by allowing the use of armour, better weapons, giving maximum hit points at first level, and so on. All of this is covered in the Options supplement. I avoid doing this, because I would rather the player just pick a Fighter-Magic-User multi-class package and be done with it.

7–  Familiars. Familiars aren’t in the Core Rules, but many players expect to have one, and there is a Familiars Supplement to cover them. I include Familiars in my game, but I make the spell a 2nd level ritual that is acquired for free.

8 – Automatic Spell Acquisition: This isn’t an option I have seen listed anywhere on BFRPG, but I have certainly seen it in play many times. When a character acquires the ability to know a new spell, the GM declares they automatically get one, somehow, without doing any research, finding the new spell, or having it taught to them. I never do this because finding or researching magic is the whole focus of my campaign, so giving it away for free would be self-defeating. But that’s a personal preference. Some players find the research and training aspects of the game tedious. If you have that sort of player, it’s a good idea to include spell-books as treasure every so often, just to give them new spells to learn. It’s a good idea to discuss this sort of thing with your players before they level up their Magic-User.

Incidentally, there is also an option (in MU Options supplement) to lower the EXP requirements for an MU so they level up about the same as a Cleric or Fighter, but I never use that option in my game as I like the idea that magic is harder than other classes.

A word on game balance

Obviously, a Magic-User with 2 hit points, a staff, a robe and a ‘Ventriloquism’ spell, is very different to a Magic-User with maximum hit points, free casting of three spells, cantrips, a powerful familiar, a sword and chain mail. If you use the Magic-User Options supplement you need to be careful that your Magic-User class doesn’t unbalance the game. (If you are going to let one class use options to increase power, it’s a good idea to let the other classes do so, as well.)

In the immortal words of Mr. Gygax, it is never wise to bow to the wishes of munchkins. Many of your players will want all the options that make their MU character more powerful. At your discretion, MU option selection could be limited to three or four of the options presented – with more powerful options counting as two choices.

Arcane Bolts 1
Wear Armour 1 or 2
Better Weapons 1
Bonus Spells based on Intelligence 2
Liberal Casting 1
Cast At Will 2
Acquire New Spells More Easily 1
Cantrips 1
Free Cantrip Use 1
Inherent Detect and Read Magic 1
Familiars 1
Material Components -1

(I haven’t included New Spells or Equipment in this list because they don’t necessarily make the class more powerful. Equipment must still be found or purchased, and spells must be learned and cast according to the same rules, no matter what resource they come from.)

Things That Aren’t In Basic Fantasy

Anyone who grew up with the original Advanced Dungeons and Dragons might expect their MU to be carrying around a pouch full of material components, like grasshoppers’ legs and so on. Well, in BFRPG, you don’t need to do this. There is nothing in the Core Rules about it, or in the Options Supplement either, and there is no mention of components in the Equipment Emporium or other sources describing a Magic-User’s starting equipment. If you really want your MU characters to use material components, you could recognize that it is a disadvantage in play, and you may wish to give them some appropriate advantage. (There are no Core Rules for somatic components either but that is less of an issue.)

You may also expect to see ‘Schools of Magic’: Evocation, Conjuration, and the like. These definitely aren’t in the Core Rules or Options supplement and are not generally part of the OS ethos. I prefer the notion of different traditions, described above. Drawing up different spell-list for your traditions is a good replacement for the ‘Schools of Magic’ idea.

Finally, there are some campaigns where casters may use their hit points as spell points, drawing on their physical reserves to power their magic. This idea is present in the Tiny Magic Companion by Alexander Lars-Dahlmann but is otherwise generally not part of the OS ethos represented on this site.

New Classes, Spells, and Skills

New Classes

Once your Basic Magic-User class has been established, you might want to add in new ones. These might be because your campaign stretches into new cultures, and you want to develop the magic of the Sea Elves, or the Ogre Magi, for example. Or you might just want different styles of magic in your starting kingdoms. Either way, there’s various ways to add in new classes.

1 – Basic Rules tweaks and options described above. You might decide that an Orthodox Mage uses the Basic MU model plus free casting of Read Magic and Detect Magic, and the ‘Hand of Gotar’ is a special type of battle mage that gets to wear chain mail and has extra spells based on intelligence and, liberal casting rules. These now function as different ‘classes’ in your game without having to use anything but the Core Rules and the MU Options Supplement.

2 – New classes in supplements. As I write this (2022) there are supplements in the Downloads and Showcase pages for Illusionists, Fey-Mages, Necromancers, Sorcerers (and Blood Heritage Sorcerers), Pyromancers (Fire Wizards), and Spellcrafters. (I haven’t fully checked the Workshop, there are likely to be new Classes as WIP as well.) That’s not including other classes like ‘Mystic’ or ‘Bard’ that could easily be redefined as MU classes in your campaign without changing their content at all. These classes work quite differently to the Basic MU and have their own spells listed in the supplements. In my game I use a variant of the Necromancer, and the Sorcerer, and that’s it. I find that less is more when it comes to magic.

3 – Multi-Classing and Quasi-Classing.

As I said before there are good rules for creating interesting MU characters through multiclassing in the Core Rules. You could also use Kevin Smoot’s Quasi-Class mechanic to overlay an additional archetype onto the basic MU – for example, an archer mage or an MU that is also a Sage. (Martin Serena has another supplement of the same type with even more options).

4 – Flavour

There is nothing wrong with using ‘flavour’ to distinguish between your MU classes. Your Basic Mage might wear robes and a pointy hat, use a wand and speak in garbled Latin. Your exotic Desert Mage might wear dark glasses and cast spells from gemstones. The actual rules used might be exactly the same, and the players will still get the feeling that the two are totally different types of magic.

New Spells

There are numerous sources of new spells on the BFRPG site. I strongly recommend developing different spell-lists for your different types of MU. Nothing distinguishes more effectually between different types of magic than the fact that only one type gets access to a certain spell. If your party discovers that only Gnomes know Invisibility, your party will be tracking down Gnome NPCs soon enough. It’s a great plot driver in my experience.

New Spells Supplement does exactly what it says on the box. Plenty of new spells beyond the basic list to hep you add in new classes or new ideas in your game.

Libram Magica compiles spells from other supplements and adds new ones. I recommend you look at the alternate magical research rules in this supplement and think about how you are going to handle this aspect of the game.

There are also new spells in the Options supplement, and in many of the class supplements as well.

New Skills

As a final word, there are two common skill archetypes in fantasy role-play that the GM may need to address: Spellcraft and Arcana. These are not present in the Core Rules and in many early versions of Dungeons and Dragons, but they are present in later editions and some of your players – especially ones who have come back to Old School gaming from newer games – may expect to see them in your ruleset. Omer Golan-Joel’s Background Skills supplement does not include either skill. It is probably the closest skills supplement to the spirit of the Old School. Conversely, Ray Allen’s Secondary Skills supplement does include both these skills and using it will bring your game a bit closer to 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons. The choice is entirely yours.

The use of a Spellcraft skill is a decent addition to Old School games, in my view. It is reasonable to assume that if a caster knows the universal magical language and another caster performs a spell in front of them, the first caster would be able to work out what just happened. However, the GM needs to determine how the idea of different cultural traditions affects this. If you have very different traditions of magic in your campaign, you might rule that a caster can only use Spellcraft to identity magical effects of spells in their own tradition, not in traditions that are totally foreign to them.

The Arcana skill can be a good addition in an OS game, but it depends on your campaign style. If you have a game in which magic has been well-known and studied for hundreds of years, an MU (or any character) might reasonably have a chance to know information about an old rune or riddle they find. But if magic is hidden, very rare, or has only just been discovered, there is far less chance of that. Further, players will tend to use this skill repeatedly rather than relying on their own knowledge of things they have learned in the game. If your characters have seen a certain symbol numerous times, and each time there was a trap just beyond it…you want the players to notice this, rather than letting the dice do their thinking for them every time. I personally do not allow the Arcana skill in my games. I decide based on my own judgement if a character would know something. If they do not, they can go and so some research to find out.


In regard to Magic-Users, there’s a lot of flexibility within the Core Rules, even more if you add on a single supplement (the MU Options supplement), and an almost endless variety of you add in additional material. It really all depends on what you want magic to be like, in your game.

The simplest approach is to use the Core Rules to design your basic ‘European-style’ fantasy wizard and use supplements and other rules to add in additional classes where necessary. Your players will appreciate that the rules are being introduced to fit their choices and interests, and, that they do not have to flip through pages of rules on special classes they aren’t using.  It all adds to the sense that each campaign is being tailor-made around them, and that’s really what the Old School is all about.

Steve (Longman) McKenzie, July 2022.

PS: years ago, I wrote a similar piece on Rangers, and all the options there are for making a Ranger archetype character in BFRPG. This post is the second in the series on how to explore this website. I hope you enjoyed it.

Are Magic Users Too Weak, Part II

by Solomoriah

Back on January 11, 2014, I posted Are Magic-Users Too Weak? about the persistent notion that, by the book, Magic-User characters are too weak because they get just one spell per day. I thought my post had dispelled that notion, but evidently not, as it has come up several times on our Facebook page.

I honestly don’t understand it.  I explained all the same things to those folks that I explained in the blog post, and they still said things to the effect that the magic-user was useless because he (or she) could only participate in one combat before running out of magic and therefore being unable to do anything.

Now certainly, if you want to run a more heroic game, and you’ve beefed up the other classes in some way, giving the magic-user more magic might be entirely appropriate, and I will neither judge nor question you if that’s the game you’re wanting to run.  But the question of whether or not magic-users are “too weak” by the book still comes up, and I still do not understand it.

First of all, magic isn’t all you can do.  Classic games of the old days, the ones that Basic Fantasy mimics, expected that a first-level magic-user would start play with a handful of daggers for throwing.  It was also expected that, since that character needed no armor and only cheap weaponry, his or her expenditures would be for party-useful items like rope, spikes, and maybe a ten foot pole.

But the blog post linked above shows a more important truth:  By the book, no first level character is prepared for more than one battle before retiring to a safe place to recover.  I did the math and presented a valid answer, and thought it was over.

It wasn’t.

Last night and this morning I wrote a simulation script.  The parameters are simple:  One each fighter, cleric, thief, and magic-user, all first level.  Each character has a +1 in his or her prime requisite attribute, and is otherwise average.  The magic-user has one spell, magic missile, the number two choice for magic-users (as sleep is generally the nuclear option for first level parties, ending an encounter almost before it starts).  The opponents are a group of four goblins, of average nature.  I assume the fighter and cleric, being beginners, had only enough money for chainmail and shield, giving them AC 16, while the thief has AC 14 due to leather armor and that +1 DEX bonus.  The magic-user is, of course, AC 11.  Everyone gets to roll hit points twice and take the higher result, while the monsters are stuck with a single roll; this is the only advantage I gave the players, and I did this specifically because most GMs won’t make a player suffer with 1 HP at the start.  The fighter has a longsword, the cleric a mace, the thief a shortsword and the magic-user has a dagger.  Ranged weapons are omitted on both sides, and the fight takes place in a 10′ wide corridor, so initially the fighter and cleric are the front line facing a pair of goblins; if either the fighter or cleric dies, the thief moves up, so the magic-user is in melee only if two party members die.  Also, surprise and morale effects are ignored; everyone fights to the death.  This is the “cold steel” option, the harshest one, which should nail down the power level of the party as a whole as well as the magic-user’s place within it.

After 10,000 combats were fought, I had results.  The monsters won the fight, killing everyone, 1,664 times; the players won 8,336 times.  Though ties were possible (as I modeled the standard initiative rules), there were none.  So the players were 83.36% likely to win… but what did winning look like?

All four player characters survived in 3,805 of those battles, or in other words, in about 46% of battles where the PCs won, all four walked away.  That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  The average damage taken by the entire party in these situations is about 2.8 points, which sounds a lot like one hit from a goblin.  Doesn’t seem so bad, does it?  But even so, at this point one of your front-line characters has taken about half of his or her hit points in damage.  Fighting on is not a great idea, but many would go ahead.

This is, of course, the situation when all four party members survive the combat.  What about when it doesn’t go so well?  In 32% of the battles where the player characters win, one of their number falls; in 17% of those winning battles, two party members are down (the fighter and the cleric, of course).  In just 6% of combats, only one walks away, by the skin of his or her teeth it seems.  Sensible player characters absolutely will withdraw to safety if even one of their number dies or is rendered noncombatant (if you use the negative HP rule, for example); if both front line characters go down, there’s just about no other sane choice.  Thus, in about 46% of battles, it might make sense for the party to fight on, and in those cases the magic-user has “nothing to do.”

I’m not convinced that is true.  Throwing daggers is always a good option.  I’ve actually had people tell me that magic-users should never be reduced to using non-magical combat options, which is silly.  A first level magic-user is just starting out (we used to call them “apprentices”) and thus is not yet ready to depend on his or her magic nearly that much.

But wait, there’s more.  Remember I said the magic-user had magic missile?  What if that weren’t so?  What if the magic-user didn’t do an automatic 1d6+1 points of damage in the first round of combat?

Let’s find out.  I modified the simulation to omit that spell, and here are the statistics:  The PCs win just about 74% of the time, rather than 83% as above.  All four PCs survive their winning battles just 37% of the time, instead of 46%… 33% of the time, three survive, 21% of the time two survive, and only one survives just 8% of the time.  Without that one spell, outcomes are significantly different.

There is one rule I find interesting… many GMs apparently allow magic-users to use a “magic dart” attack of some kind that does 1d4 points of damage, and requires an attack roll to hit.  This obviously does not unbalance the game significantly, as the character could just as easily be using daggers to do this, so it’s just for flavor.  While it does not appeal to me, I see nothing “wrong” with it from a game balance perspective.  I still think, though, that the apprentice magic-user who is not yet sure of his or her magic and so is armed with a collection of throwing knives is a more interesting archetype than one who shoots off sparks of magical energy whenever he or she gets cross with someone.

But again, I believe I’ve successfully shown here why the first level magic-user is not, in fact, “too weak” by the book.  I hope, anyway.

The Companion Question

by Solomoriah

I’m frequently asked about why there is no “Companion” rulebook collecting races, classes, items, spells, and other rules that are presently supplements.  Sometimes the questioner asks for an “Advanced” game combining the current Core Rules with those same supplementary rulesets.  I’ve answered this question many times, but yet it still crops up regularly, so I’m writing this blog post as a permanent answer to the question.

In the 2E era of the “world’s most popular role-playing game,” one of the things that began to appear in great numbers were so-called splatbooks: rulebooks containing supplementary classes, races, items, spells, and so on, put out by the same publisher who created the original rules.  The 3E and later eras of that game continued this tradition.  Players would buy these splatbooks because they appealed to them, naturally, and then they would show up at a game session and tell the GM “I want to play THIS.”  If the race or class didn’t fit well with the GM’s world, he or she was naturally permitted by the application of Rule Zero to say “No, sorry, I’m not allowing that in my world.”  But just because the GM could do so did not mean that he or she would… the player might say, “But, but, this is official!” and the GM would feel pressured into allowing it.  3E and later books had, if anything, even more power over the GM, since that game sharply curtailed Rule Zero.

One of the things I feel strongly about is that this should not happen.  Players should be allowed to have a good time, of course, but the GM should never be forced to allow something he or she doesn’t want.  It is for this reason that the supplements on the Downloads page will never, ever be compiled into any sort of official book, whether a Companion supplement or an Advanced rulebook.

This doesn’t mean such a book is impossible.  In fact, I have plans to publish my personal compilation, the Glain Supplement, in print at some point in the future.  But it will not be an official Basic Fantasy Project publication… it won’t carry the crenelated border that marks all our works, nor will it appear on the Downloads page, ever.  It’s my personal house rules, and house rules compilations are not permitted on the Downloads page nor as official print publications, for the same reason I just gave above.

One of the curious, and very pleasant, side effects of doing things this way is the shorthand it allows the GM when starting a new game.  The GM can simply say, “I’m running a Basic Fantasy game with the Half Humans, Gnomes, and Thief Options” and everyone knows exactly what options are available in that game.  It’s easier to do it that way than to say “I’m running a Basic Fantasy game with just some of the Companion Supplement items.  Here’s a list.”  This might seem just as easy, but done this way the players may end up having to figure out what pages to print from that Companion book, or might buy the book only to use a small part of it.  When our standard supplements are used, the player need only print out the supplements relevant to his or her character.

The Non-Problem with Skill Dice

by Solomoriah

Today a snippet of a blog post showed up multiple times on my Facebook wall, posted by several of my friends.  A little Google-fu allowed me to find the actual post, which is here:


Go read it, and then come back.

OKAY, so, I’m mainly commenting on the part after the subheading “The Problem with Skill Dice” (which you probably guessed given the title of this post).  Michael’s opinion of the “n in d6” mechanic is pretty clear:

This is unintuitive, clunky, not uniform, and scales oddly, implicitly preventing attributes from doing what they normally do.

I disagree with this part in general; I use this mechanic all the time.  Typically it’s used in places where the odds of success are normally low, and the character’s ability score is the only significant modifier.  Opening doors, for example, is successful on a 1 on 1d6, with the Strength bonus added to the range of success (so a Strength bonus of +1 makes the roll succeed on 1-2 on 1d6, a +2 is 1-3 on 1d6, and so on).  This is a standard mechanic in Basic Fantasy RPG.

Personally, I extend this mechanic in two ways:  First, an ability score with a penalty bumps the die size up (so a -1 Strength penalty makes it a 1 on 1d8, a -2 is 1 on 1d10, and so on).  Second, if the difficulty is greater than normal, I bump up the die size; the best example of this is when a character tries to lift a portcullis or bend some bars.  In that specific case, I bump the die all the way up to 1d20 (so a character with 18 Strength succeeds on 1-4 on 1d20, a 20% chance, while an average character has only a 5% chance of success).

Michael says this mechanic “scales oddly.”  I don’t see it that way… rather, I see it as a specific choice in scaling, one that makes a typical task difficult for an average person but relatively easy for a superior character.  Where that type of mechanic makes sense (i.e. when opening a door), I think it’s fine.  One of the most important elements of the old games is the use of whatever mechanic seems to fit the situation… a sort of game mechanical pragmatism that stands in full opposition to the idea of a “core mechanic.”

Michael goes on to say:

Skill dice discourage imaginative, descriptive play in favor of using a skill from a sheet.

This assertion is not really related to his earlier statement.  First, he describes how he doesn’t like “Skill Dice” as a mechanic, and then he says he doesn’t like how the mechanic affects play.  They really are separate things.

The short answer to the question is, how else do you do it?  When I play a thief, I’m playing someone who knows how to do something I don’t know how to do (and if you ask my wife, it’s not Open Locks that I fail at, it’s Move Silently).  It won’t do me any good to describe HOW I’m doing a task, when I’m doing a task the character knows better than I do.  If my success is keyed to how well I can describe the action… folks, I’m screwed.  And that’s not what the game is about.

I do believe in rewarding players who go the extra mile.  If a player says, “I check the door for traps” then I make the roll and tell the player what the character discovers (or does not discover).  If that player says, “I look all around the doorknob, and before I look under the door, I want to slip my dagger in there an inch or so and slide it around to make sure there’s nothing there” then I will adjudicate that action however I see fit; probably, I’ll still make the same roll, but I might very well grant a bonus.

You have to have some way to resolve actions.  Keying them entirely to the character’s ability scores is very limiting; it becomes hard, for example, to have a character who is good at one part of his or her profession and bad at another.  And, depending on what mechanic you choose, it may make ability scores too important (or too unimportant).

So I guess I’m arguing both points too.  You do need “Skill Dice” of some sort… some way to resolve actions.  And you do need multiple ways to do such resolution, so each situation has an appropriate chance of success.

How to Make a Ranger (or, How to Use this Website, Episode 1)

by Steve McKenzie

The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game Core Rules займ безработным с 18 лет were first released on this website in 2006, after much preliminary work on the Dragonsfoot forum. Since then, they’ve been edited many times. In addition, a wealth of supplementary material has grown up around the Core Rules. It’s an open source project, and the owner, Chris Gonnerman (or, ‘Solomoriah’), has encouraged many others to participate in the creation of new material for the game.

When you are planning your first Basic Fantasy campaign, there’s a range of things to bear in mind about this supplementary material. This blog post is designed to give you some ideas about how to select the appropriate supplements for the game you want to run.

The best way to get your head around the supplement system is to read the text at the beginning of the Downloads Page. That will show you how the material is categorized. For this blog post I am only looking at common Download and Showcase items, as the Workshop items are works in progress.

Many of the most frequently-downloaded supplements are adventure modules and campaign settings, such as the classic Morgansfort campaign. These are designed for use with the Core Rules and will work well with supplementary rules material too. The website also contains a variety of monster supplements, character sheets and other printable forms. Once again, these are all designed for use with the Core Rules and you can use whichever of these you like without concern.

Finally, there a wide array of rules supplements. These detail extra races, character classes, optional rules for existing classes, new magical spells, optional rules for combat, skill systems, and much more. It is only when you select these rules supplements that you need to be aware of how their use may affect the style and balance of your game.

For this blog post I’ve decided to concentrate on the ‘Ranger’ sub-class of Fighter and make some observations on how to pick the right supplementary rules for that class in your game.

Variant Versions

As this is an open source project with input from participants over many years, it is natural that there are variant versions of the same archetypes presented. For example, there are 5 main versions of a ‘Ranger’ type sub-class of Fighter on the website as I write this post:

– the Ranger in the Rangers and Paladins supplement (HD8, 2200 exp to 2nd level, fighter sub-class, stealth skills, percentile tracking, bow specialization, chosen enemy).

– the Scout by Jason Brentlinger (HD6, 1500 exp to 2nd level, thief sub-class, most thief skills, bow specialization, surprise, percentile tracking,  dual weapons, armor limitations).

– the Hunter in the Quasi-Class showcase supplement (HD as base class, exp +500 on base class, treat as base class, stealth, percentile tracking, woodcraft, chosen enemy).

– the Ranger presented by William Smith in his Fighter Subclasses supplement (HD 8, exp 2000 to 2nd level, fighter sub-class, unarmored AC bonus, stealth, percentile tracking, healing, bow specialization, extra damage vs. humanoids).

– the Hunter in Additional Fighting Subclasses (HD 8, exp 2000 to 2nd level,  fighter sub-class, some armor limitations, stealth, chosen enemy, percentile tracking, general outdoorsmanship).

All are different expressions of the basic woodsman archetype, although the expressions are very different. Most of them are ‘treated’ as sub-classes of Fighter, meaning the character fights and saves as a normal Fighter according to the Core Rules. The Scout is a sub-class of the Thief with outdoors expertise, and the Hunter ‘Quasi-Class’ is a template that can be added onto any base class (see below).

The first and most important question when designing your game, do you even want Rangers? If you are running a game set primarily underground or in a city, you might want to forgo these options, and concentrate primarily on material that will bring out the best in your particular game and the characters in it. The Assassins supplement, for example? Or the Scrapper, for all those bar-room fights that might break out?

If you decide that you do want Rangers in your game, there are a few key things to bear in mind.

Compatibility and Overlap

As there are numerous different versions of the same ideas, it is also natural that some of the material presented here will not be fully compatible with rules in other supplements. Sometimes that’s because of overlap, at other times because of a contradiction. You’ll need to change or alter any rules that don’t seem to work.

For example, the Scout supplement notes that the Scout character may wield two weapons at the same time, giving either a defensive bonus from parrying with the smaller off-hand weapon, or, an additional attack at a penalty. The supplement suggests that it is only the Scout who specializes in this mode of combat. However the Combat Options Supplement states that any character may wield with two weapons, with very similar advantages as the Scout.

You may decide to treat the rules presented in the Scout supplement as a handy duplication of the rules in the Combat Options Supplement. In my campaign, however, I have decided that it is only the Scout character who may wield two weapons. That gives the Scout a certain flavor in combat that no other character possesses.

As another example, the Hunter in the Quasi-Class Supplement and the Hunter in the Additional Fighting Classes Supplement are very similar. They’re both by the same author (Kevin Smoot). The first is just a treatment of the class as a Quasi-Class, while the second is as a proper class. You probably don’t need both in your game. Pick the supplements that are going to work best for the game you want and ignore others that duplicate the same concepts.

What’s a Quasi-Class?

The Quasi-Class concept was developed by Kevin Smoot and furthered by Martin Serena, both long-term contributors to the game. Instead of having entirely new classes for the Ranger, Paladin, and so on, the Quasi-Class system treats these as “add-ons” to the base classes, with an additional amount XP required for the character to advance in level. If you wished to turn a Fighter into a Ranger, you could simply chose the Ranger Quasi-Class option, and that would become the official version of the ‘Ranger’ in your game.

The Quasi-Class system is simple, but also very flexible, because the add-ons can be applied to any of the base classes, not just the most obvious ones. For instance, if you wished to have a Magic-User who was raised outdoors and knew many secrets of woodcraft, you would add the Ranger Quasi-Class to the Magic-User base class. That would create an unusual and memorable character.

Note that the Quasi-Classes can only be applied to the base classes, not to other specialized classes. For example, you shouldn’t have a Monk and then add on the Ranger Quasi-Class. Ideally, if you pick the Quasi-Class system, that should serve all the additional class needs for your game. If you can’t see a Quasi-Class that suits your needs, make your own.

Weapon Specialization

You’ve already seem that your Ranger will probably have some kind of weapon and attack specializations – typically with the bow, or against certain enemy types. There are 3 main supplements that deal with weapon specializations for Fighter characters:

– the Combat Options Supplement (level-based).

– the rules in Simple Weapon Mastery (level-based).

– the Fighter Options rules in the Sword and Board house-rule set (one-off bonuses).

Clearly, only one of these systems can be used in your game. The first two are general rules supplements, while the third one is part of an entire ‘house-rule’ set made by a particular DM, which will have some internal logic and consistency already. The first two supplements see the character gain extra bonuses with specific weapons as they level up, whereas the third one applies a one-off bonus at 1st level. Pick the one you like best.

Note that all of the systems all specifically for pure Fighter classes, not sub-classes or Quasi-Classes, who already have their own combat bonuses. If you allowed all the Fighter sub-classes (like your Ranger) to access weapon specialization options as well, you would end up with characters having extremely high bonuses at lower levels compared to the basic Fighter class, and this would unbalance your game.


All of the different types of Ranger described above use a percentile system for determining if the Ranger character can track enemies or animals. It’s the same way Thief Skills work in the Core Rules. There’s also an entire supplement which extends the Thief Skill system to cover the activities of Rangers, Assassins and Bards.

Ability Rolls for ‘Woodcraft’

But there’s a lot of other things the Ranger can do besides tracking, right? Like gathering food, finding or making shelter, lighting fires in unfavorable conditions, using smoke signals, and generally ‘roughing it’? How do you handle all of that? There’s no way you could write a rule system that could cover every possible thing a player might attempt.

The ability roll system in BFRPG determines success by a roll on a d20, aiming to get higher than the target number listed in the Core Rules (page 153 in the current release 107, under Optional Rules). This system gives the character a target number on a d20 based on their level, when attempting something outside of the Core Rules or their Class Supplement. Ability modifiers apply, and as GM, it’s your job to pick which ability is relevant to what the character is attempting. Gathering food is probably based on Wisdom, but you might decide that recognizing a type of plant is based on Intelligence.

The ability roll system is based on the idea that every type of character can attempt any type of action not covered in the Core Rules. A Cleric could find food by making a ‘Wisdom’ ability roll, for example, or a Thief could make a roll to construct a shelter with the same type of roll. Generally, all the supplements agree that adventurers know how to adventure. It’s a basic game, and your players may get frustrated if you tell them that they are utterly incapable of doing these things.

But shouldn’t the Ranger be better at all of that stuff than his city-slicker allies? Certainly. The Ranger has additional skill in woodcraft, acquired through his background, that gives him a bonus on these rolls. There’s three main supplements on the website that detail these background skills.

– Background Skills by Omer Golan-Joel. This gives each character a background skill slot, which they can spend on a skill based on their profession. It suggests that characters with a background skill (in woodcraft, for example) should only need to make an ability roll under very difficult circumstances, otherwise they will automatically succeed in their attempted actions in that area. Other characters without the skill will need to roll more frequently.

– Secondary Skills by Ray Allen. This is a more complex system which still uses the ability roll mechanic but sets variable target numbers depending on whether the skill is a ‘class’ or ‘non-class’ skill. Survival is listed as a general skill which means anyone could attempt it with a standard ability roll. A +1 bonus is granted for anyone who has the survival skill.

– Finally there is Alexander Lars-Dalman’s Tiny Skill Companion. It doesn’t actually provide a list of skills, but details exactly what bonuses on ability rolls a character would receive for having skills at various levels of expertise.

All three systems note that more ‘slots’ or skill points become available at higher levels, so your Ranger can become better at outdoor activities over time. Your higher level Ranger might end up greatly superior to his companions in this area.

If you decide to have background skills, remember that these three systems are not compatible so pick the one you like best and grant your Ranger the woodcraft skill. You could either do that for free, or make the character purchase it with one of his background skill slots. (In my campaign I usually pick the first option because I do not want characters having to pay for things that should already be part of their class package.)

As a final note, there is also an Adventuring Supplement which details many aspects of outdoor adventuring not covered in the Core Rules – weather, chases outdoors, sleeping in armor, effects of terrain, and so on. This is generally pretty compatible with most of the other supplements.

What about Companion Animals?

Many fantasy role-playing games grant the Ranger an expertise with animals, and some even grant the Ranger a special companion animal which serves in almost the same way as a wizard’s familiar.

None of the existing Ranger classes have this feature so if you want it, you’ll have to add it. Bear in mind that such animals can be very useful, and their addition may make the Ranger much more powerful than some of his fellow adventurers.

The best source for rules on animal training is in the Secondary Skills system by Ray Allen. It details all the tricks a trained animal can perform. In my campaign I would not allow animals to be used for guarding, tracking or combat unless the character in question had sufficient background skills levels in animal handling.

Do I even Need a Ranger Class to have Rangers?

It’s possible to have a character that behaves like a Ranger in your game without necessarily having a Ranger class. You could take this option if you just want to stick to the Core Rules, but have a bit of extra flavor for your characters.

In this scenario, your Ranger is probably a plain Fighter. You would use weapon specialization rules listed above to give the character a specialization in bows, and also, grant them a background skill in woodcraft, meaning they were somewhat better at it than their fellow characters. Viola, a Ranger-flavored character without needing too many supplements!

Introducing Rules Progressively

Many DMs run BFRPG by introducing new rules as the game goes forward. That way, it’s not too much to handle all at once – especially for young and inexperienced players.

You might begin at 1st level by using the Core Rules and nothing else. Once again, your Ranger would be a plain Fighter. Then, at 2nd level, you could introduce the idea of background skills, to grant the character a bonus in woodcraft and / or animal handling. At 3rd level, you may wish to introduce the idea of weapon specialization, and the fighter would gain an advantage with bows. By 4th level, you might actually introduce a Ranger Quasi-Class or Class system into the game. (Bear in mind the Ranger will probably need a few more experience points to qualify for those.)

Next time…

If this post is useful to you, let me know in the comments. I’m intending to do another post on magic-users in the future.

Steve ‘Longman’ McKenzie.


How I Write Adventures

by Solomoriah

Probably close to two months ago (in real time) I was needing a game-time-filling side quest for some of my player’s characters.  So an NPC told them a story about Thaumerion Daelant, a wizard dead for almost two hundred years; his tower, they were told, had been raided repeatedly by adventurers over the years, but no one ever found the wizard’s personal treasures.  Besides his spell books, a thing always worth having, the stories told that Thaumerion had been the owner of a Staff of Power.

That was enough of a hook to get them moving.  I didn’t have the tower detailed yet; indeed, all I knew about it was what I just wrote above.  They spent a session traveling overland to the locale, and still I didn’t have the dungeon done, but no problem… I just put J.D. Neal’s Insect Valhalla from our AA1 Adventure Anthology 1 multimodule between them and the tower.  I’d wanted to run that adventure for a while anyway, so it seemed like a perfect time.

They finished it (as in, got from one side to the other) in a session, and due to scheduling issues I had a month to get the tower done.

A week ago, I still hadn’t done anything, and I knew I was down to the wire… they were literally at the outer door of the tower.  I had to get it finished.

Tuesday I was driving down the road on the way back from visiting a customer, thinking about the tower, when I suddenly saw it all in a kind of a flash… how to build the dungeon so it could be repeatedly looted and still have significant challenges, and present an enemy who is not what it appears to be at all (subverting one of the oldest RPG tropes in the process).

Tuesday night I sat down and drew the maps, then converted them to MapMatic +2 format.  Wednesday I laid out the basic document format, wrote up a first draft of the GM’s introduction, the main encounter and roughly a third of the other dungeon rooms.  Thursday I filled in all the remaining rooms, and had James Lemon start taking a look at the adventure.  I’ve redone some of the maps and touched up the text a bit since then, and as far as I’m concerned it’s almost ready to publish.

Seriously, I don’t normally write adventures that way.  Most of the time, filling in the last 50% or so of the dungeon is a slog, and I rarely am able to fill in the mundane contents of the dungeon, or the flavor text, so easily as I did this time.  Writing the adventures I publish, or revising those submitted to us, is almost always a slow process.  Sometimes, though, inspiration hits… just in time, in this case, as I will be running the adventure in an hour and a half.

Thaumerion’s Tower will appear on the forum soon (after my players have been through it and I fix up whatever issues they expose) and I have plans for it to appear in AA3 Adventure Anthology 3 when we begin work on that document.

UPDATE:  Thaumerion’s Tower is now part of BF3 Strongholds of Sorcery, which with any luck will be in print before Christmas!

Response to “Read-Aloud Woes”

by Solomoriah

Over at Angry Hamster Publishing, Liz wrote about her love-hate relationship with read-aloud text (what we call “Boxed Text” in Basic Fantasy adventures).  I tried to post commentary on her blog about the subject, but it thinks I’m a robot.  (Can you imagine?)  So first, visit Angry Hamster for her perspective on the situation:

Read Aloud Woes

And next, you can read mine:

For adventures distributed by the Basic Fantasy Project, I always require what we call “boxed text.”  As a GM, I only use it sometimes, and when I do I paraphrase what’s there.  Why do we require it?

Because of secrets.

See, if you write fluffy descriptive text in the middle of the GM’s bit, and the GM is describing the room to the players, it’s tempting to just read what’s there.  But imagine this bit appearing in the GM’s description of a room:

This fine parlor contains two large comfortable chairs toward the right rear of the room with a table between them.  The table has a single drawer, and inside it is a dagger +1, +3 vs. undead.  The back wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in overloaded bookshelves; there are several scrolls and one rare book, as listed below, scattered among the other books.  Each turn spent searching yields a cumulative 10% chance per character searching that one will be found; the GM should roll randomly to determine which one is discovered each time the roll succeeds.  On the floor is a large, ornate rug, somewhat moth-eaten but still impressive.  There is a fireplace roughly centered on the right-hand wall, and that wall is covered in paintings depicting different members of the Baron’s family.  Behind one of them (the painting of Hilda, the Baron’s third cousin once removed) is a small wall-safe containing 122 PP and a ring of fire resistance.  The left-hand wall is dominated by a huge mirror centered on the wall; on either side of the mirror is a painting of a pastoral landscape.  The mirror is, in fact, a secret door, opened by means of a slightly-protruding brick hidden behind the right-hand landscape painting.

Okay, now try to read out just the parts the players can see from that description without giving away the locations of the treasures or of the secret door.  Unless you are more skillful than me, you’ll naturally pause as you skip over those bits, giving away that there is something there.

Breaking it apart makes it much easier to avoid giving things away, and as a bonus, you can also break up the different interesting bits into separate paragraphs so that all relevant info is easy to find.

Like this.  First, the boxed text:

This fine parlor contains two large comfortable chairs toward the right rear of the room with a table between them; the table has a single small drawer.  The back wall is covered floor-to-ceiling in overloaded bookshelves.  On the floor is a large, ornate rug, somewhat moth-eaten but still impressive.  There is a fireplace roughly centered on the right-hand wall, and that wall is covered in portrait paintings.  The left-hand wall is dominated by a huge mirror centered on the wall; on either side of the mirror is a painting of a pastoral landscape.

Next, the GM’s part:

Inside the drawer of the small table is a dagger +1, +3 vs. undead.

There are several scrolls and one rare book, as listed below, scattered among the other books on the bookshelf.  Each turn spent searching yields a cumulative 10% chance per character searching that one will be found; the GM should roll randomly to determine which one is discovered each time the roll succeeds.

The mirror is, in fact, a secret door, opened by means of a slightly-protruding brick hidden behind the right-hand landscape painting.

The paintings on the left-hand wall (around the fireplace) depict different members of the Baron’s family.  Behind one of them (the painting of Hilda, the Baron’s third cousin once removed) is a small wall-safe containing 122 PP and a ring of fire resistance.

… and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done exactly what I just did here to a dungeon room description in a submitted adventure.  Usually the author of the adventure has provided all that is needed for the boxed text, but has just not organized it.  Even if you NEVER read the boxed text literally, isn’t it nice to have the non-secret part boxed out for you to use in creating your own description?

Why not add X to the game?

by Solomoriah

This is an answer to a question I get a lot, and I’ve answered a lot… and saying the same thing over and over is inefficient.  So from now on, when I get the question, I’ll point the questioner here.

One of the secrets of the success of Basic Fantasy RPG is the fact that I had a clear vision of what the game needed to be.  Four classes, four races, brief equipment list, manageable spell list, enough monsters to keep you busy without getting too weird, and so on.  I had what I called a “coverage target,” that is, a list of things that the game had to have.  I made a point of adding very little that was not on that list.

The rule I used was simple.  Many people would send me email messages that said “Your game is really good, but it would be great if it had X in it” where X might be sorcerers or half-dragons or whatever.  Very few people repeated the same request; when I saw a request being repeated, that was an indication to me of something I should consider adding.  Consider carefully, mind you… very few things got added that way.  It’s why we have (brief) wrestling rules, for example, rather than none at all as was common in the 1981 era that BFRPG seeks to emulate.

Any X that was requested by just one guy?  No, not getting in, sorry.  Even when several people asked, I was really careful.

One thing in particular I am always careful of… new classes.  It is so hard to create a new class that is not objectively better or worse overall than the core class it is closest to.  Balance is hard, people, especially in a game that embraces the “linear fighter, quadratic wizard” situation (look it up, it’s interesting reading).

The Basic Fantasy RPG Core Rules will probably never include more than the four classes and four races you find in the current edition.  Keeping the game compact, and providing those “cool” bits as supplements, helps to keep the feel and style of the game consistent and familiar.