Classic Reviews: Barony
In the free-wheeling high-concept/questionable-execution years of the mid-90s, a lot of crazy role-playing ideas bubbled up. Better Games explored a few of them, and several of them in Barony ~
Brant Guillory, 18 March 2016
Better Games has disappeared, and with them, several extremely good ideas bound up in some horrid presentation.
There are three books in Barony. One develops characters and introduces players to the concepts of “Free-Style Role Play,” one walks GMs through developing scenarios, and the last one is an interesting work on dragon battles. Covers are colored cardstock, with black and white art. Line drawings abound. The cover is a loose slip-sheet similar to the older D&D modules, but it is plain paper, not cardstock, and so it is flimsy and does not stand on its own.
Better Games had a line of games that were all considered “Free-Style Role Play” that attacked several ideas that gamers had held onto more out of habit than necessity.
A simple example of this is equipment lists. We’ve all run across the GM/DM who has the attitude of “if you don’t list it, you’re not carrying it…” and so we find ourselves with a 3-page equipment list with such things as “socks, wool, 2 pair” so that we don’t take 1hp/day in cold climate. Barony does away with this. There are no equipment lists. It is assumed that if the characters are reasonably experienced adventurers then they will know what to carry. If there is a particularly odd item they may not always have, they roll against a chance of having it with them.
Wait a minute! What do you mean “roll?” You said this was “diceless!” Well, dammit, there are dice. But there are not volumes of charts and tables of attack rolls and damage rolls and hit tables. In fact, there are no weapon charts at all. If you want your character to be a mighty axe-wielding, half-naked barbarian, he gets the same kind of overhead smashing attack that an armor-clad, claymore-wielding crusader gets. It’s still a mighty overhead smashing blow. It’s not the most realistic, but it’s more cinematic than “OK, I’m using my bastard sword with both hands from the left oblique and trying to get extra damage on his small wooden shield.” (author note, 17 years later – this is a lot like the at-will and encounter attacks that were found in DD4e that describe a tactic or effect, and leave the damage to the specific weapon).
Character progression is a mess – it involves a variety of “steps” or stages through the character’s adventuring career. Each stage is almost a separate class, and it involves developing a certain number of skills and a completing a certain number of “ignobles” to achieve each level. The drawback/advantage to this is that you develop very schizophrenic characters. You can go from being a soldier (footman) along the progression path to being a master thief before falling in with the magical crowd and ending up as a wizard of great reknown. The further you go, the more magically-oriented the characters get; the highest two levels are both grand wizards
The biggest problem with this game is not the concepts or the presentation of them; they develop fairly logically in an order easy for a gamer to understand. The problem with this game is that the writers clearly didn’t make it out of 8th grade English, or if they did, it’s a sad commentary on the state of our school systems. Typos abound; grammatical errors run rampant. Bad writing is everywhere. Subject-verb agreement is missing in more than a few places. This work is clearly the result of some fans and their house rules, packaged up with some acceptable (though not stunning) artwork and passed off on the buyer.
If you’re looking for some new rules to toy with, or if you’re in a rut and want some inspiration to get out of it, then these books are worth slogging through. If you’re a completist like Papyrus, then I’d say to definitely buy it. If you’re just trying out new things for the heckuvit and you don’t plan on seriously playing the game, then skip this one.
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