Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

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Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Mon Feb 18, 2019 3:12 pm

Hiya! We just concluded an 18 month campaign using BFPRG for our lil gamers group here in Kansas. I'm sharing my experiences DMing this and I had a great time. Love the system. I'm doing a retrospective of our experiences and sessions and though I might share them for others to peruse. None of this is novel or revolutionary, just a campaign recap that might be useful or interesting for new Dms or Players.

Our group just completed a year long campaign using the Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game ruleset and I though I'd do a recap of the sessions to give folks interested in the system an introduction to the ruleset as well as providing newbie DMs some ideas. I plan on doing session reviews, with some thoughts and explorations of the ruleset in action and other hopefully helpful DM hints. Not that I am the worlds greatest DM, but I have technically been running games since my first set of Basic D&D (Moldvay) circa 1980, so I know how this is supposed to work, not that I can always pull it off! Lol. Older DMs are not smarter, we just have had far more experience with failure!

First, a bit about Basic Fantasy, or BFRPG. Basic Fantasy comes from the Old School Renaissance movement in tabletop role playing games, circa 2006. It has been a labor of love for Chris Gonnerman, an avid fan of the hobby and creator of the BFRPG system. He actually gives this all away for free! That said, you can (and should) buy print on demand items, at incredibly low prices and I highly recommend purchasing at least a few rulebooks to support the cause. And at 5 bucks a pop, it's just good karma! Just go to Amazon and search for Basic Fantasy Roleplaying and pick up the softcover rulebook for 5 dollars! Get several books, a sack o'dice and start a campaign! You can do this!

The Old School Background

Why Old School? Well, without getting into a whole backstory of edition wars, many of us became disenchanted with the D&D game as editions came and went. We largely missed the fun and openness of the original Dungeon & Dragons Game. ( I debate with myself whether this is pure nostalgia, or if the game really was better back in the old timey days, but that is another discussion. ) By the time 4th edition rolled around (2007-ish) many of us had left the actual D&D game and returned to older editions of the game we loved so much. Many more never left. During the early noughties some table top gaming enthusiast began creating clones or variations of the original rulesets in order to bring back the flavor, feel and style of earlier editions. This was largely made possible by two factors, as best as I can tell: first, while you can copyright ideas, you can't actually copyright game mechanics, and secondly, D&D 3.5 was released under the open gaming license, which meant millions of fans could borrow the basic framework of the game we loved and then remake it in our own fashion. And many did. This is where Chris Gonnerman gave birth to BFRPG. And what began as a fun idea seems to have turned into a labor of love shared by thousands of rpg enthusasists.

Old School Style

There are many factors that define "Old School" in the tabletop rpg community, and it has become a pretty nebulous term. For simplicity sake, I'll focus on a few things I think help define the era.

Many of the early editions of the game we grew up loving would be considered "rules-lite" by modern standards. And that is ok! These early games simply provided a rough framework for handling basic game situations in order to keep the sessions on track, but they generally left the actual play to DMs discretion. They would often explicitly say something like:

"these are the rules, but if you don't like them CHANGE THEM..."

What a concept! Old School games did not have specific detailed rules covering every conceivable topic that would tend to bog down play and restrict player agency. The general rule among old school DMs is to say YES or MAYBE to player ideas when something is not covered specifically in the ruleset. We had no problem with this as even the original creators of the game were just gaming fans who turned their homebrewed houserules into an industry! There were no websites, youtube videos or forums to discuss the "official" policy on how things should be. There were angry rants in Dragon Magazine, of course, but everybody was generally left to playing the game they wanted to play.

In this style you were free as a DM or Player to try something. Say a player wanted to leap from a table, grab a chandelier, and then swing to the other side of the room. We didn't have to look up chandlier grappling rules....we simply said "awesome" or more likely "MAYBE" and made up a ruling on the fly. Maybe a Dexterity check was involved. Maybe Strength. The DM quickly made a call and the game moved on. DMs had to serve as fair judges and improv actors to some extent.  In any event the DM would work with the players at the table in order to serve the story, within reason. The group would generally follow the lead of the fair and neutral DM in developing rules for things not covered in the rulebooks and together we told stories.


Old school games are also defined by player agency. This begins with very open and simple character creation systems. Back in the old timey days, you sat down, you rolled stats. You picked a class and/or race, and you bought yer gear. And then you played! Simple!

A great rule of thumb is: if it takes you an hour and a half to create a character for a role playing game system, the designers of that system failed.

Old school characters were defined by their experiences, actions and shared histories, not by rigid game mechanics and minutia. We all had players at our tables with differing styles. Thespians, Looters, Pranksters, Problem Solvers, Murder Hobos, etc. All of these styles could be accommodated by simple character creation mechanisms.

It was so easy a 12 year old could do it!

A great benefit of this system of simple character creation is that players could play whatever and whoever they wanted. You could go light or deep depending on how you felt like playing. Each character was actually quite different, even when they were basically the the same mechanically. For example: two players sit down at a table with you as DM. They each role up characters, buy some gear etc. They have exactly the same stats, same class, same gear. But one is Borg the Fighter....

Borg the Fighter is a simple smash and grab artist, a guy who loves nothing more than smashing down the door, splittin' orc skulls and getting their stuff! (And when he dies, you simply roll up Borg the 2nd, then Borg the 3rd.etc. hehe )

The other person at the table is playing Borgomere of Marivale, an orphan adopted into a band of rangers near Chalkforte. Trained in archery and concealment, Borgomere serves as a protector of lost wanderlings in the wilds, an elf-friend to the feared Woodswalker Elves of the Mystwold. Following the destruction of Chalkforte, Borgomere has served as a free ranger in the woods and hills of the Black Eagle Barony. He recently saved a young warrior named Borg from a goblin ambush on the Great Road and they now journey together to the Green Griffon Inn, an ale house located in a Keep on the Borderlands. They are on the trail of a rumor....There are Caves....Caves filled with CHAOS!

See how easy that was! Simple character creation gives players, not the rulebook, the lead in creating characters.

And what can your character do? Well, what do you want to do? Sure there are some general guidelines. For example, Borg the Fighter cannot cast fireball. But maybe he can eventually hire someone who can. Or befriend a mage. Or...


Wait, I just thought you said this was about player agency, not restrictions! Well, yes, and no. One of the great beauties of the Old School style is the inherent contradictions built within the system. That's where you as DM or Player define the game for your table. While you are free to play your fighter any way you see fit, you are still a Fighter. Not a Magic-User. Or a Thief. Or a Cleric. Old School style games tend to have clear roles for parties of players. This restriction tends to make each type of character valued within the party. In an old school style party, some characters are brutes that get up in the business and pound skulls, some stand back and snipe from distance, some get by on their wits, charm and their thieves tools, while others are simply trying to survive until they can memorize their spells!

Thus a team aspect is built within the system.

This is a very social game, and when it really hums along, you have characters who rely on each other to survive, accomplish goals, and tell awesome stories. Unlike newer styles of games, your Old School character does not start out at 1st level with a dozen feats, skills, abilities, cantrips, etc. You are not a newly born God-Emperor able to slay dragons before breakfast. Not everybody can do everything as a super-hero like individual at 1st level.

You are weak and you need your friends.

4. Lethality

While I have have hinted at this, we should be explicit. Old School style games are lethal. Deadly. Almost comically so for many of us! Back in the old timey days it was simply assumed your character could die. There were no systems for carefully matching and balancing encounters in order to make things "fair". Life, even a fantasy one, is not fair. Random encounters could easily end in a TPK (Total Party Kill) if not handled or avoided. Also, there were no "healing surges", spare the dying, death saves, etc. Thus the characters learned (eventually) to be more cautious. They learned to be clever, check for traps and be judicious in their actions. Avoiding battles, or talking your way out of them, was something we all learned to do as younger players and DMs in Old School systems. And when we failed to do this, we simply rolled up a new Borg the Fighter. Thankfully it didn't take too long!

5. Collective Story Telling

Even in simple Beer and Pretzel style old school games, the story was the thing. We shared an experience and developed our own history, myth and lore. Players were just as much a part of the storytelling experience as the DM. They would go off on wild excursions you as the DM had not planned for. And so you went with it! Sometimes the players discussions and suppositions about the plot were completely wrong, but actually better than what you had designed, so you went with it! And then you tweaked it, and together you had an adventure! Sometimes the players turned one of your villian NPCs into their friend, and how cool is that! I wonder what will happen next...

Wondering what will happen next is one of the great joys of players and DMs alike.

As for players, they would often roll up a character and have a fairly clear concept of who this person is. But by the 3rd or 4th adventure, they have discovered new things about their character and that original character concept is altered or changed. And thus Borg the Fighter changes within the process of Collective Storytelling in ways the player and DM could not have foreseen, and this is a really cool thing! How the characters interact with their world, and the consequences of that interaction, is kinda what this is about.  By the end of a campaign the players should feel that they have succeeded at times and failed at other times. They will have met some interesting people, gone to interesting places and they will have both gained and lost something (or someone) along the way.

In the end it was just a story. But we made it up together.


So why Basic Fantasy Roleplaying?

I had been DMing for a group here for several years and we had recently gone through 2 campaigns in 5th edition. As the oldest member (lol) and DM, I couldn't help but feel there was something missing. It was hard to define, but there was definitely a nostalgia for older styles of play. Don't get me wrong, I do like 5e, and think it has done wonders for revitalizing the hobby. Kudos to them.

But still....

As I was DMing for these folks I would often relate stories of games past and differing systems. They were intrigued, so I ran a few one shots and short multi-sessions using older rulesets just to explain what I was talking about and so they could experience the earlier versions of the game.

We did Moldvay Basic for a few one off sessions, then I ran a 4 part AD&D 1st Edition mini campaign. They were hooked. And so we decided we would do our next campaign in an old school style ruleset. That's when I suggested BFRPG.

While I had dozens of Moldvay Era Books, a few Rules Cyclopedias and 6 vintage 1E Players Handbooks (yes, I am THAT GUY) I wanted each player to have their own books and to get a feel for the old school but with a few modern tweaks. I debated with myself and BFRPG seemed to be the obvious choice. Old school feel, with a few modern mechanical tweaks. I already had a two BFRPG books already, (and did I mention everythign is available for free on www.basicfantasy.org ), but I ordered more softcover versions. Heck, its only 5 bucks! At our session zero I introduced the system, did a brief overview and gave everyone their own copy of the books. Several of the players had already been exploring the forums and downloads available at www.basicfantasy.org. I also shared a brief background on the world they would be residing in for a while and we rolled up our first characters. I'll cover Session Zero in an upcoming post. And so for the past year and a half that is what we have been dong every Wednesday night round 6pm, minus a few holidays, etc. And it was awesome. More later, Cheers!
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Re: Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Tue Feb 19, 2019 4:44 pm

Before Session Zero, for New DMs

Prepping for Session Zero: Plots, Settings and Peoples

If this is your first time DMing, take some time beforehand to chart out a rough outline of where you think the campaign might head. You don’t have to be too precise because, trust me, your campaign will eventually be driven off of the rails by your players at some point! Don’t panic! Just go with it. That’s part of the fun! Just make a general sketch flow chart where you think things might be going, and it will surely change as you play together.
Don't make it too constrained...A must lead to B then to C then to D etc.
I like to start with "A" our starting point, which can then lead to "B" or "C" or "D" or whatever the players decide to do. Your job as DM is to have something to do. People are giving their time to come play, so it behooves you as DM to have at least something planned for the session.

I like to start our Session Zero with a brief introduction to the world, and some general ideas. Then probe to see what players are interested in doing before we even roll up characters. Do they want some grand campaign where they save the world, or something more open ended? Wanna fight undead, dragons, thieves guilds, reclaim a lost dwarven fortress, etc. ? It’s good to get feedback from players as you can use their ideas to build upon what you have already been thinking.

Now piece it all together, in very rough fashion.

Basic Fantasy provides a host of options in the Adventure Anthologies and pre-made adventures. Use these and whatever other ideas you have to sketch together a multi episode story. Pretend each session will be like chapters in a novel. You don’t actually have to write a novel, although many DMs think they should. ;)

Instead just break down the larger campaign you want into mini-episodes.
Its easy to start with the simplest things: Introduction and Conclusion.

You will need a reason for your players to be here in this world. They will often help you out with elaborate back stories and detailed descriptions. Others will still be trying to find their character sheets in their mound of papers as the session starts. It’s all good. And it is also ok to use a classic trope of fantasy role playing to get you started, such as a tavern, an inn, a caravan, a ship, etc. You just need a quick vehicle to drive into the story, so don’t be afraid to START IN THE TAVERN.

I always like to have at least three big final show downs for the players to close out a story arc. I usually base these on setting / villain and let the players decide through play who the big baddie / great event really truly is. As we had some brand new players to table top role playing games for our BFRPG campaign, I decided why not go with classic villains: A Dragon, A Beholder (sorry, for legal reasons a Great Orb of Eyes), and a Necromancer.

Now to get from point A to Point B, even though we are not really sure where Point B is, we need to make a connected series of adventures. So go through all the free stuff Basic Fantasy provides you. If you like the map, but not the story, JUST USE THE MAP! It’s ok, re-purposing maps for your home campaign is part of the fun. A great source for potential maps is simply google images. Just download a dozen or so interesting maps and think “hmm, what could I use that for..”. Then do it!

Ok, so you have an intro, a couple final showdown possibilities and multiple things you can use in between. Now place them in locations in your world. And your world can be as big or as small as you want it to be. I tend to think all campaigns need to start with a “safe place”. Your players will need a spot where their characters can heal, shop, get info, etc. And then you need a “Adventure Place” where the characters will go to, well, adventure! And you will have places in between. Some of these are safe or semi-civilized. Others are complete wildlands.

For the Sandgate BFRPG Campaign we just completed the homebase or “safespace” was the City of Sandgate. Sandgate was a decent sized city that served as a trading town on the Great Salt Road. The Great Salt Road was an ancient highway across the Coast of the Inner Sea. To the south were barrens, mountains and eventually The Sea of Sands, a vast desert area. There were forests and hills along the coast, but the major theme was “desert area”. The City of Sandgate had an active port, vibrant merchant guilds, thieves guilds, taverns, fighting pits, temples, etc. Everything you would need for many sessions of game play. There were neighboring towns and villages, but we will get to them later.

The human culture of Sandgate and the entire South was Berabi, an amalgam I made up based on North African, Bedouin Peoples and Persians. Some traders from the North across the Inner Sea were Canthi, a loose copy of Greek City State Cultures. A few humans were Thelosian. The Thelosi were originally a Canthian colony in the southlands but they broke away in a Great Rebellion during the Three Plagues to form their own (now very Romanesque) empire. I always like to have a few variations for humans to play. A small group of Humans far off to the east, on an island chain, were the Corwegan, a Celtic people who claimed descent form the First Men. They believe that they were here when the Sea of Sands was a Great Forest, something terrible happened, and they ended up on these isolated chains a remnant of their former selves.

Part of the backstory of this region is that the Dwarves left a century ago. Sure, A few wanderling dwarves are still around in the cities, but the vast majority up and moved into a consolidated realm far, far to the east for reasons unknown by humans.

The Elves of the Berabi Coast are divided into two lines: The Tanai, a wild, desert dwelling sort of elf and the D’orasian, a powerful but isolated Elven empire far off to the west based largely on Egyptian culture. What the players didn’t get until midway through the adventure is these D’orasian Elves were no ordinary elves. They stood 8-10 ft. tall due to their historic interactions with the Giants of the Southlands. They players never figured out how this came to pass, but apparently the D’orasi merged with or destroyed the Ancient Giant peoples of the south. Although it is rumored that some pure gaintfolk still remain, deep in the mountains…..

Anyhow, players could only play Tanai Elves, as I wanted to keep the D’orasian Elves distant and mysterious, locked away in their ancient river valley surrounded by mountains. The Tanai Elves had a culture like a mix of Bedouin and Native American peoples and lived in tribes and villages throughout the south. Tanai were generally avoided by humans and demi-humans of the region, although outright hostility was rare.

One curious note, the Elves of this campaign were once immortal. They gave up their immortality in order to save the First Men from some great calamity in the distant past. Men have forgotten this, but the Elves have not.

Halflings were not entirely uncommon, and tended to settle in Human cities or in very small fishing villages along the coast. They were largely accepted by humans.

As you can tell, some DMs love to nerd out on this stuff, but please, resist the urge to divulge your grand George R.R. Martin style epic story in introduction sessions. Players don’t need your unfinished novel. Just drop hints and allusions throughout gameplay, and if they find any of this interesting, they will run with it.

In our campaign it worked out well. One player was a dwarf, and wanted to learn more about his people, their dissolution and Journey to the East.
(Great, now I can use that dwarven stuff and eventually that Dwarven Fortress map!)
Another wanted to play a Tanai Elf.
(Awesome, now we can drop hints of the Elven past, their civil war, all sorts of stuff)
One wanted to play a Monk.
(Cool! That ancient monastery map I have....time to get a story up for it!)
One was a Canthian adventurer from the north. On the run for a crime.
(Oh boy! Now the thieves guild comes into play, great. And the Assassins guild, um, let’s call them The Scorpions, that sounds kewl!)

So now I have the dozen or so things I have planned, plus the stuff the players want to do. We’ve got 10-15 adventures already. My only job is to tie it all together in a less than obvious, non-railroad fashion. And one of the best ways to tie it all together is through Player / NPC interactions.
More on that next.
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Re: Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Wed Feb 20, 2019 10:17 am

Okay, WOW. I plan to read this again, slower, when I get time. But this reads like a couple of pretty good blog posts... if it didn't refer to materials I can't name, I'd give you a blog account and let you post it there.
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Re: Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Thu Feb 21, 2019 12:06 pm

Oh I worried bout this. I didn't want to spam and write a mini novel based on our recent campaign, lol, just wanting to recap our first long term session with BFRPG. But I do tend to get too wordy and was trying also give some ideas for newbie DMs. Not that I'm an expert, but its always good to share.

I'll cut back and just share some interesting things I loved about BFRPG and few helpful hints. If it gets too much, just let me know, I may be chaotic, but generally good!
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Re: Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Thu Feb 21, 2019 12:47 pm

More on setting up your First BFRPG Campaign: NPCs.

When stetting up our campaign I planned on at least two tiers, lower and higher. So I wanted to have a set of NPCs for the players to interact with at each level. Common folk, city guards, tavern dwellers etc. Then city elites, nobles, etc. I also wanted to spice it up by adding in some of the alternative classes offered by BFRPG.

I always like NPCs to deliver info instead of DM. Let the players uncover stuff from the people they encounter. That said, don't ever be afraid to give a bit of "filler" as DM to help players remember who said what! We like to start sessions with a recap of last session, I'll usually ask a player to do the recap of last weeks session, hehe...

The main NPCs for our lower level adventures were:

Sarno: A mage / scholar. He ran a language school that did meager business, but was also a co-investor in the Green Griffon Inn. He had an assistant...

Priti Quillmaker: A halfling wanna be mage working in Sarno's shop

Symund and Wena Gare: Travelers in the tavern. Symund is a one armed sell sword, Wena is his daughter. Whole story here...

Strida Softfoot: A Ne'er do well wanna be rogue.

Drunken Pete: Tavern Dweller, a source of info, some of it actually true!

These folks were encountered, among others, in the tavern the party stopped in after arriving in Sandgate. Oh, how did they get there? Um, they were hired on as caravan guards, yeah, that'll work. They were guarding a caravan on the way to Sandgate as it was preparing for the coming festival. On the way the players met a few other NPCs. Sana Musa was the leader of the caravan, son of a wealthy merchant family leading the caravan. A few otherguards. A few travelling clerics, etc.

With this sort of set up I had a dozen sketched out NPCs to use as "plot hook delivery systems". Railroady introduction? You betcha! But if this is your first time running BFRPG you may ask yourself, in David Byrne fashion, "Well, how did I get here...". Don't be afraid to come up with a simple reason for all of the players to "pre-meet" they will go off the rails in no time. On the caravan they can introduce themselves, learn more about the region, and test out their skills when the inevitable goblin ambush comes!
Oh, they are not "goblins", they are "ghibhli". Feel free to alter names/descriptions/stats of monsters to confuse and annoy your long term "expert" players, hehe.

For one of the higher level NPCs I eventually wanted to players to interact with I threw in the BFRPG Necromancer. I originally started out thinking this Dark Lord was going to be an enemy, but he turned into an ally, of sorts, based on the players actions. He dressed in black, was mysterious, served the crown, etc. Very Game of Thronesey. His name was Ered the One Eyed, the High Wasi of Sandgate. What is a Wasi? No idea, I made it up on the fly while players were talking with Sarno. I eventually decided the Wasi were Dark Mages allowed to do their dirty deeds so long as they served the royal family. Wasi meant Speaker of the Dead. They kept the kings alive, in a fashion, and it gets weirder, but that's for another time...

Oh, he had one eye because in the past he made a pact with a dark force that caused him to give up one eye in order to have limited sight of the future! Cool huh? Again, this sort of thing emerged in play, so always keep a notebook and write down a post session note so you don forget!

Finally, the alternative classes in BFRPG offer a host of possibilities, look at them and feel free to tweak them! One player started as a rogue. Then he found the forums and liked the Bounty Hunter. He also liked the idea of being an archery specialist. A sniper type. So, sure!

One of the beauties of the BFRPG system is its openness. Working with this player we converted his "rogue" into a archery based bounty hunter by cobbling together stuff from the free downloads. Easy! Try to let your players play the characters they wanna play! I'm not talking God-Like abilities, but if you can, within reason accommodate their whims! Work with your players, if they want something extra they should give something up, etc. Most players at your table wanna play a fun fair game and will meet you half way if you do the same.

Final note on NPCs: Think in terms of Black, White, Grey. Some are obvious allies/friends. Some are obvious baddies. Others are somewhere in between. You can pre-plan this NPC world out, but feel free to change as the game progresses. Let the NPCs have their own agendas. You don't need a whole biography, just a basic background and their agenda. For our lower tier stuff this was fairly easy. I set about 1 out of 5 NPCs as evil baddies. Some were turncoats who sold the party out. One was a presumed Baddie who turned out to be a good guy, Rancis Lynne.

The party learned the rise in banditry on the road was attributed to one Rancis Lynne, former city guard who joined bandits was was raiding the road, attacking caravans, etc. The party would eventually learn that Rancis was innocent, captured while on patrol and now held captive by bandits/cultists...but that's another story.

Anyhow, sorry for rambling. Hope some of this is interesting or at least helpful for new DMs. The main points: develop some NPCs to use as plot hooks, plot twists, etc. And be sure to check out all of the options available for download. Cheers!
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Re: Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Sat Feb 23, 2019 12:52 am

No need to cut back. Your content is welcome on the forum. I just couldn't have it on the blog if it names games where I can't use the names due to the OGL.
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Re: Our BFRPG Sandgate Campaign: Intro

Post Sun Mar 03, 2019 8:43 am

I love this. Thanks for sharing. It’s certainly inspiring. I’m looking into introducing BFRPG to more people and I like the ideas you’ve presented. Also I got a little burnt out GMing another game and I’m looking forward to just running more BFRPG.
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