What is Bloody Basic?
Bloody Basic (BB) is an old school fantasy roleplaying game by John M. Stater. It’s a slimmed down version of Blood & Treasure (B&T). Let me first tell you what B&T is so you can better understand what I’m writing about.
B&T is a hybrid retro-clone with influences from OD&D, AD&D and also 3e. It’s a whopping tome of more than 380 pages and a very “complete” game. Nerdomancer of Dork wrote a thorough review about it, here’s a quote:
All in all, this feels like AD&D done right. Or 3.X as it should have been done. For me, the simplicity of the rules, coupled with the completeness and multitude of stuff, makes B&T my main choice for my new OSR campaign with my main play group.
To put it in a nutshell: it’s the flavor of old school D&D with lots of the D20 SRD thrown in.
Now, Bloody Basic is the smaller cousin in a rules-lite package and it also leans more towards Moldvay’s Basic than B&T. You can buy Bloody Basic as a PDF or print at Lulu.com. The pdf costs USD $4.99 and the print version USD $8.99.
I’m reviewing the Classic Edition which comes with the standard classes & races. The Contemporary Edition is an alternative with automatons, drakkens, gnomes etc. The Mother Goose Edition rules include rules for the races, classes, spells and monsters of fairy tales, including little pigs, sprites, knaves, charming princes, woodsmen, and maidens. Finally, the Sinew & Steel Edition removes magic and is geared towards medieval role-playing.
Character generation is done by rolling 3d6 in order. If you roll between 3 and 8, your character is weak in this area. That means, he is either stupid (INT) or foolish (WIS) etc. A roll of 13 to 18 is considered strong. For example, you are nimble (DEX) or tough (CON).
You don’t record ability bonuses. Either you have a standard score or a weakness/strength, so there are no +1s or +2s and so forth.
This is a pretty neat idea because it is an elegant way to apply bonuses and penalties to your tasks without getting bogged down. A strength wields a +1 and a weakness a -1 on rolls.
BB separates race and class.
The available races are the typical humans, dwarves, elves, and halflings. The game uses class restrictions and requirements.
Of course, humans are the standard fare and can advance as far as possible in any class.
Dwarves are more resilient, have darkvision and get a bonus on some saves. They can be clerics, magic-users, thieves and fighters, but there are some restrictions.
Elves are a bit more nimble and can move faster, can see in the dark, are immune to a ghoul’s paralysis touch and aren’t allowed to play every class.
Last up are the halflings. They are a bit slower than humans, have a lot of luck (re-roll a missed saving throw once a day). Again, there are some class restrictions.
Some races can multi-class.
Playable classes include clerics, fighters, magic-users, and thieves. However, there are subclasses like druid or ranger available, too. Players have a range of options to choose from.
Some classes have prerequisites. For instance, the druid, a subclass of the cleric, needs to have a Wisdom score of 9+, must be lawful and have a Constitution of 13 or higher.
Generally, there are no surprises here, everything feels very recognizable if you know early D&D.
The game stops at level 6 so that’s within what you expect from a game which takes Moldvay’s Basic Edition as inspiration.
I find it noteworthy that thieves in BB don’t have an own task resolution table for their thievery skills. Instead, BB has a simple skill system in which subterfuge is incorporated.
Magic-users have a pared-down spell list at their disposal. Spell levels only go till level 3, but the spell selection is diverse.
You can also have retainers when you reach level six.
Armor class is ascending with a base of 10 for an unarmored human. There is also a short list of equipment, weapons etc. and some explanation about money.
Furthermore, rules for henchmen are given.
Bloody Basic uses the uncomplicated three-fold alignment system.
Saving Throws use the system from 3e with Fortitude, Reflex, Will. Your strengths and weaknesses come into play here. I.e. if you’re frail (your CON is between 3 and 8) you subtract 1 from your Fortitude saving throw.
BB also has a task system. If you are unskilled you roll a d20 and if you roll 18 or better you succeed. If you have a knack you succeed on a roll of 15 or higher.
If you are skilled (for example the thief with finding hidden traps) you make a task check which is more or less a saving throw. In this case, it would be an Agility Task which uses the Reflex saving throw.
While I like this basic skill system I find it discouraging that the chances of success are pretty low if you are unskilled.
In combat, there are two ways to handle initiative: the old school group initiative and also individual initiative. Interestingly, there are different modifiers for individual initiative which remind me a bit of the way Holmes handles it. For instance, if you cast a 2nd level spell you take -2, light weapons grant +1 to your roll while heavy weapons incur a penalty of -1.
Again, combat feels very familiar to folks who know their D&D stuff, especially 3e, as BB uses ascending armor class.
You can attempt combat maneuvers (grappling etc.) with a normal attack but the opponent can make a saving throw. There are also suggestions on how to handle two weapon fighting.
You can make a fighting retreat or a full retreat. Monsters also need to check morale in certain situations. The rules are very similar to the original B/X. Natural healing is slow with one hit point per night rest but more for a full day of rest.
Overall, the rules are slim and familiar with some slight twists concerning task rolls, initiative and combat maneuvers.
Gamemaster stuff (dungeons, wilderness, monsters etc.)
I like how the game explains how to set up a simple dungeon. It also comes with a sample map and dungeon keys. This is very beginner-friendly and in the spirit of Moldvay’s Basic.
There are advice for traps and wandering monsters. Again, nothing unusual here.
Additionally, you have some guidelines for wilderness adventures and settlements.
The game also contains a small bestiary. As this is a lightweight version the monster tome is short but has the most common and important monsters. I spy some from the SRD, too. It’s a good selection which will be enough for most situations. I like how monsters are grouped into twelve monster types. For instance, there is a group for animals so if you search for a Giant Ant you’ll find it there next to other entries like Lion, Giant Viper and so forth.
Players gain XP by killing monsters and finding treasure. 1 gold piece is worth 1 XP, there are treasure tables for invididual treasure and hoards.
Furthermore, you will find entries for stones, gems, potions, scrolls, wands and other magic items.
The PDF comes at 45 pages total, including the cover and the OGL. It has an index but no electronic bookmarks. The print product is a nice letter-sized staple-binded softcover.
I like the choice of dark blue for the cover although it’s a bit of contrast to the illustration which comes in earthy colors.
The layout is clean in two columns. The font is a bit on the small side. The artwork is good although the style differs. But for a small publisher the book looks good.
Bloody Basic offers an easy entry point to old school roleplaying. It incorporates ideas from 3e but is old school in spirit. In some ways, it reminds me of Basic Fantasy (review here) and Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures (review here) as the mechanical bits are similar.
The unique selling point of Bloody Basic is the way it handles ability score modifiers and the task/skill resolution system. However, I feel that the skill system is a bit flawed as the chances for success are very slim.
The book packs a punch at around 40 pages. Astonishingly, it is rules-lite but still complete which is not an easy feat.
I bought Bloody Basic before I read the above-mentioned games. While I commend the author for his effort I can’t see myself playing BB at the moment. For me, Basic Fantasy offers almost the same experience and it has some tidbits which I like more (modularity & community effort). Granted, Bloody Basic is slightly less complex and combat might flow more easily. But Basic Fantasy feels more modular and it is cheaper (the PDF is free).
Even so, Bloody Basic is a solid lightweight game and bridges the gap between Basic and 3e. This might make it slightly more accessible to gamers of 3e onwards.