Tabletop Review: Barebones Fantasy

Barebones Fantasy
Publisher: DwD Studios
Release Date: 11/23/2012
Page count: 84
Price: $9.99 (ZIP File, multiple items)
Where to get it:

Today’s selection is Barebones Fantasy a collaborative effort by two self-styled game designers with lots of ideas: Larry Moore and Bill Logan. The book is not huge but it does manage to cover a lot of topics and important points. The production is very nice, with a nice layout and typesetting, even illustrations nicely interspersed and situated beside the text. This core book contains little fluff, because it tries to create a whole fantasy RPG in less than 100 pages. Does it succeed?

Is It Really Barebones?

The main point I’m going to look at is right in the name: is this really bare-bones fantasy? Or is it just another fantasy RPG but with a selling point? Let’s go through a few things together and I’ll tell you my thoughts.

1. Character creation involves this:
– Rolling up four stats, picking a race (one of four basic races), selecting a skill set (a class basically) and calculating certain scores based on your choice
– Giving your character some descriptive words or phrases to help define what makes him/her unique, choosing a moral code (or ethics)
– Picking some equipment, then calculating a bunch of little numbers and recording them (like Initiative, Weapon Damage, MOV, Body points, etc.)

I condensed it a bit, but there are still several steps to making a character and lots of little numbers to calculate. I would say character creation is not barebones. It’s probably going to take 30 minutes to make a character, a bit less if you know exactly what you are doing. As far as I can tell, this isn’t too far from 1st ed. Dungeons & Dragons, so I would say the skinnied-down rules are not really found in character creation. It’s straightforward and there are not too many choices, but it is not barebones. However, read on, for the bones will show soon.

The Shortest Combat Section Ever

2. The combat rules are very short. Here are the key points of the 1/3 page that the combat section takes up: attacking, damaging, damage reduction. There you go, it doesn’t get much more barebones than that. You roll to hit, if you hit you roll to damage, and if the defender has armor it rolls to absorb damage. Done. I mean, what else do you want? Fancy moves and tactical maneuvers? Pssh.

What is interesting is that magic rules and descriptions of spells and scrolls and magic items still manage to take up a lot of real estate. It’s amazing to me that in nearly every game there are pages and pages of descriptions for any combination of gear, spells, special abilities, magic items, chants, and what-have-you. I mean, I guess this stuff is necessary to some degree, but even a game like Barebones Fantasy is waterlogged with lists of just stuff. Couldn’t GMs and players pretty much make up anything that can be owned or cast or purchased? Maybe as players and GMs we have to be “allowed” by the game to get ahold of certain things. In one way it makes sense, in another way it does not. But I digress. I should note, though, that the spell section is pretty small and focused, which is great. So many classic RPGs have these sprawling spells lists, it gets a little ridiculous.

Tables! Oh How I Love Tables!

3. Adventuring: I was pretty excited when I read through the adventure generation section. There are some awesome tables that would be good for just about any GM looking to pull some ideas out of thin air. This section even has a step-by-step process (as do most things in the book) for making an adventure seed. First you roll for the number of areas in the place, then roll for what those specific areas are (e.g. ruins, castle, desert), then roll a descriptive word for the area (e.g. dusty), an area objective and an area obstacle. Done! Pretty cool right? I must say, that is pretty pared down. Especially when compared to taking lots of precious time to think up whole campaigns, this can really get an adventure kickstarted if the GM has a knack for making stuff up or just does a small amount of work beforehand. Oh, there are also tables for random dungeon generation, trap generation, and other stuff.

4. Setting information: This is usually the part of a book that gets me, because it is long and full of so much information I do not necessarily care about. Most of the time it is good stuff, inspired and all that, I just don’t want to read it all unless I know I’m running a game in the setting and I need to be up on my lore. This book has just 7 pages of setting information, including two pages of maps. It’s like a tour guide who has just beer-bonged two Red Bulls is taking you on a Lear jet tour of the Keranak Kingdoms.

Tell Me What I Am Thinking

This looks like a great candidate for a beer-and-pretzels game that does not want to be known as a beer-and-pretzels game. Once you get through character creation, you just listen to the GM and go along for the ride. Play your character using the little tidbits of personality that you may have given them at creation, swing your sword at this and cast a spell at that, have a good time fighting things and taking their stuff. I’m just going to be straight because this game does not pretend to be something it is not: this is a standard fantasy game in the same vein as any retro-clone, except with a lot of stuff very streamlined. If you want a game that can take your character to standard monster hangouts where you fight baddies and laugh about the loot you grab from their bodies and tombs and dungeons and grandmother’s crawlspaces, then this is probably the game for you. If you want social mechanics, combat tactics, detailed settings, nuanced play…you see where I’m going with this.

Ten bucks gets you a .zip file with some nice stuff in it: a well-produced core rule-book, a player aid for character creation, character sheets, a development tracker, the Keranak map (one with hexes, one without), and an introductory adventure module. Not bad! You could do a LOT worse on DrivethruRPG for the same money. Still, the game is not for those looking for something deep. It’s going to be great for those looking for something nice and easy that they can play with others who aren’t going to be interested in a really deep or crunchy RPG, and it’s excellent production makes me give it a hearty recommendation for that crowd. It doesn’t interest me much at all, but if their target market is the more casual RPGer, then I would say they are more or less hitting the mark.



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