The following review was originally posted at Roleplayers Chronicle and can be read in its entirety at http://roleplayerschronicle.com/?p=21594.
Barroom Brawls provides quick, concise and easily accessible mechanics for a given gaming group to throw down, flip tables and get into a bawdy brawl at a moment’s notice. With a variety of fun prompts and at-a-glance inspirations, the material herein could be used for a planned-out plot and introduction of hooks or characters–or simply spontaneous mayhem after a hard adventuring session for rowdy rabble-rousers to cut loose and let off some steam. Let’s take a look at what it entails to really get the fisticuffs flying!
Barroom Brawls is short, sweet and entertaining in its offering of easy-to-use rules for ruining the taprooms of beleaguered barkeeps everywhere. While more powerful adventuring parties would require a bit more prep if the intent is to give an equal challenge (though certainly sometimes, a given group may just enjoy mopping the floor with patrons), inside are handy inspirations and reference material for chaotic bar ‘battlefield’ conditions and improvised weapons from tankards to table legs.
Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
Raging Swan’s high standards for editing and formatting continue in this concise mix with some nicely flavorful black and white artwork interspersed with the material presented (including of course frothy tankards aplenty.) The layout is unsurprisingly clean and professional–and as always there are very welcome elements of convenience, from thorough PDF book-marking to the material being nicely printer-friendly. Top marks.
Mechanics: 9 out of 10
We begin with a general overview of the elements of a barroom brawl–which breaks down into the Brawl Trigger or catalyst for the coming chaos; a collection of twenty triggers are provided with descriptions of prompts which might begin a given fight, which one could simply pick or roll randomly. After this are Brawl Events, sudden and unexpected twists which might change the ‘terrain’ of the tavern, shift the fight out into the streets or simply see some random sod smashing a chair over the back of one of the PCs–these serve to add a lot of spice and flavor to a given bout of fisticuffs. Again, these could be picked or rolled at your leisure.
Of course, the brawls can’t all be fun and games–for next comes the Brawl Aftermaths, potential consequences and outcomes for once all the dust and chandeliers have settled. Some of these are simple enough–damages and expenses as a result from rowdiness in a given establishment–while others offer potential hooks or opportunities for characters; perhaps the brawl served as cover for a robbery, or the proprietor was so impressed by a particular PC that they’re offered employment! This was one of my favorite sections of the supplement.
After these flavorful sections we have on tap a collection of sample brawlers for ready use; an iconic barkeep, a merchant, a member of the town watch and a sergeant-at-arms are offered as potential participants. We’re also presented with collected rules for non-lethal damage and maneuvering about a changing ‘battlefield’ as tables are overturned and drinks are spilled–Barroom Brawls also includes an amusing set of new conditions by way of Tipsy, Drunk and Hammered to toss out to tavern-goers at the table.
Finally, we wrap up with sections on taproom features and improvised weapons–both of which are suggested as print-outs for brawl participants, such that a given player can quickly eyeball their options before wading in tankards akimbo. On the whole, the mechanics are simple and straightforward, but no less sweet because of it–not only are there readily available references for a variety of improvised weapons to be found about a taproom melee, Creighton’s gone and put together furniture presented as terrain features.
Alongside the spontaneous events to start a tavern brawl or to occur during a brawl in progress, the sheer novelty of having these sorts of mechanics grouped cleanly and concisely makes for a fast and fun experience–while avoiding headaches (though the same cannot be said of the brawl’s participants!)
My only complaint regarding the mechanics herein is more a minor wish–I’d have loved to see the premise taken as an opportunity to include a set of new combat maneuvers flavored for pub-bound pugilists (e.g. a dirty trick splash of ale, etc.) Nevertheless, the mechanics are well-thought out, very functional and quick to pick up–introducing the system to a given game should prove a snap.
Value Add: 10 out of 10
It’s likely safe to say that there is a frightening drought of drunken brawls in most adventuring circles–and that for all the origins of organized groups springing forth from gathering at a tavern, far too few fisticuffs accompany most tales as they unfold. Tongue-in-cheek aside, folks generally don’t delve into such situations strictly to avoid flipping through books to round up the appropriate mechanics–and thus Creighton’s endeavor to bring together a nice collection of the lot makes for a very practical product.
Ultimately, Barroom Brawls is added fun–easy to implement and use and a nice change of pace from pounding (or being pounded by) ogres and their ilk. Personally, I’m fondest of the proposition within to utilize a good old-fashioned tavern brawl as a means of introducing rival adventurers to a party of players–but at the end of the day, it’s precisely the sort of affordable supplement that serves splendidly in any GM’s toolbox for a rainy day.
Overall: 10 out of 10
Barroom Brawls is a shot-glass-sized supplement that packs a punch; Creighton Broadhurst has done a fine job of bringing together a thematic and functional collection of rules apt to bring a breath of fresh air to any table’s adventures. If you’re looking for an interesting way to introduce new hooks or characters with a classic approach or just keen for an unexpected change of pace, this is a fine way to pull it off. Pound for pound, the material herein serves to expand options for entertainment at a very affordable price; grab it, print some quick reference sheets for your players and embrace a bawdy brawl!