The Fantasy RPG genre is certainly one filled with choices. Some might even say that it is getting overpopulated at this point. I think that is all the more reason to check out the new games that are coming out. Each author and publisher is looking to give us a new way to experience the genre and I am always eager to take a look at what might make them stand out from the pack.
Enter Barebones Fantasy from DWD Studios.
Barebones Fantasy fits within the rules-lite category as far as RPG systems go. It offers an easy to learn rules system that keeps character creation quick the game moving along. I was surprised to find out that Barebones Fantasy (despite the name) had quite a bit under the hood. So let's crack it open and see what's what.
Sometimes you want to judge a book by the cover. In this case I was greeted with some traditional Fantasy RPG fare: A party of intrepid adventures about to battle the big bad Red Dragon. In my eyes this is a good thing. If you're selling a new take on traditional fantasy, why not open up with some familiar imagery to get the reader's head in the right place.
The basic dice mechanic is a simple percentile. You roll a d100 and compare it to your Ability or Skill. If you get equal to or below your score you succeed. Simple and to the point.
There are four Abilities that make up your character. They are Strength, Dexterity, Logic and Willpower. These are used to do the normal attribute stuff that any RPG player is used to with some slight differences. Strength lets you lift objects and influences melee weapon use but also determines how much damage you can take (something a Constitution or Endurance stat usually does). Dexterity is used to shoot, jump and dodge out of the way of incoming harm. Logic is used for perception and deduction and Willpower is used for persuasion, bluffing (borrowing for traditional Social or Charisma stats) and some spell resistance.
There are eight different Skills that a character can learn and they range in rating from 1 to 6. They are: Cleric, Enchanter, Leader, Scholar, Scout, Spellcaster, Thief and Warrior. These function as areas of expertise that a character has as opposed to singular skill specialties that some games rely on. Scout, Thief and Warrior are Skills that all characters can use. The others require training (meaning points must be invested in these) for a character to use them.
Making a character in Barebones Fantasy is a pretty straight forward process. First, you roll Ability Scores. To roll up a set you roll 5d10 and add 30 for each score. Once you have four of them you can assign them to the four Ability Scores. You then pick your Race (all the standard fantasy races are included). Then you assign a primary and secondary Skill (which boost your starting score using it) and then assign one Skill rank to a skill.
Players then get to define one positive and one negative "descriptor" to their character. These are roleplaying quirks that will reward the character with bonus Development Points (XP) if they portray this during the gaming session.
Next is Moral code which steps in and takes the place of an alignment system. This is a cool change of pace as it gets rid of the tried and true Good vs Evil distinction. Instead you decide to what degree your character displays certain aspects. There are three levels: Somewhat, Very and Totally. These are used to describe how Kind or Cruel, Forcus or Unfocused, Selfless or Selfish, Honorable or Deceitful and Brave or Cowardly they are. After these guidelines are set, the GM can call for a WIL checks when the character is acting "out of character" and wishes to act outside their personal moral code.
After that you buy some equipment and determine all your derived stats (Body Points, Initiative, Damage Reduction from Armor and so on).
-Magic and Spellcasting-
Like most actions in Barebones Fantasy, Spellcasting is easy to execute. Usually this is just a test of the Spellcasting or Cleric skill. What is worth noting though is that spells have a toolbox approach that can change from casting to casting. You might have a buff spell that can improve an ally's ability score. At the time of casting you can change which Attribute is the one to get boosted. The same goes for some of the damage spells. Fireball one turn and Lightning Bolt the next. It allows for quick rules but different trappings for each casting.
Combat is a straight forward affair. You roll a d100 and compare to your ability or skill. If you get equal to or lower you succeed and deal damage. You'll notice that there is no "defense trait" like Armor Class or anything factored into the equation. This is because defending counts as an action. Each action after the first you take in a turn results in a -20 percent penalty to all skill and ability checks. So it creates a simple tactical decision of whether you want to defend (and make any subsequent attacks suffer the increasing penalty) or do you take the hit and hit them with your full skill rating. It also allows for multiple attacks per round, making higher ranked characters able to dish out some punishment to groups of bad guys.
-GM Guidelines and Setting-
The rest of the book is all for the GM. You have a chapter that goes into more detail on running a game. It has guidelines for bonuses and penalties to rolls as well as rules for all kinds of conditions (dazed, immobilized, prone, slowed) and different ways to get hurt (falling, starvation, fire, environmental exposure). This alone gives Barebones Fantasy a little more meat than a traditional "rules-lite" game.
There is also an included setting that is presented in a very "broad strokes" fashion. It requires the GM to fill in most of the details but the inclusion is a nice starting point for new comers.
I think that DWD Studios have a great rules-lite game on their hands. Barebones Fantasy gives some comprehensive attention to areas that most rules-lite games simply skimp on. This is especially welcomed in the areas of Spell utility, equipment lists and character statuses. The rules are simple and easy to learn and teach. I think for $10 it makes a perfect game for teaching beginners the hobby or for anyone who is looking to throw some of the crunch to the side and dive right into the game.