As release day for Babylon On Which Fame and Jubilation Are Bestowed fast approaches, it seems appropriate to touch on the game’s mechanics. As stated before, BFJB presents a complete rules system in one book; with it, a group needs only dice and pencil and paper to play. While we expect that few players will sit down to BFJB without any prior experience with tabletop RPGs, even a group of true neophytes should have comparatively little difficultly getting started.
Of course, we understand that few veteran roleplayers, i.e., those familiar with 3.5 OGL-based systems, want to plough through the mechanical chapters to find out what’s changed. With that in mind, the following post attempts to summarize differences between the system presented in BFJB and that of the standard 3.5. System Reference Document.
- No classes. As stated elsewhere, BFJB dispenses with OGL class-based1 distinctions for a uniform level progression applicable to all characters. In practical terms, this means that all characters have access to the same skills (including, in fantasy games, Sorcery) and receive the same level-based saving throws, hit points and stat increases, as well as points to invest in skill ranks.
- No standard attack bonus or spells per level. With the elimination of class-based distinctions, a character’s skill with weapons or magic is determined in much the same way as their other skills, i.e., through developing ranks via skill points earned at every level.
- Reduced skill points at first level. All 1st level characters receive 10 + their Intelligence bonus skill points during character creation. For every level they advance after the first, they receive 6 + their Intelligence bonus. As above, players use these points to increase their proficiency with traditional 3.5 SRD skills, as well as their attack bonus in combat and their knowledge of spells.
- Fewer bonus languages. During character creation, a player character begins with the starting language of his or her city-state, in addition to one specific to their race, if different. Additionally, a player gains his or her Intelligence bonus divided by 2 (rounded down) bonus languages without spending skill points. Speaking a language in BFJB does not automatically confer literacy of that tongue; instead players must spend a skill point to develop Literacy in the specific language at character creation.
- Increased prominence of the Profession-skill. In an effort to give players benefits based on their character’s chosen occupation without the artificial restrictions of a traditional character class, BFJB gives gamemasters guidance and discretion in interpreting the benefits of the 23 setting-specific professions, which are developed as normal skills.
- Overhaul of the magic system. By far the biggest change in BFJB is to the magic system.
Paths. Spells (“Sorceries” in BFJB) have been organized into lists called Paths. Paths are learned and developed using skill points, just as attack skills or any of the other traditional skills.
Learning. Once a character learns a sorcery on a Path, they can cast it as many times a day as needed; providing, however that they have an appropriate number of sorcery points remaining.
Casting. To cast a sorcery, a character must use a number of sorcery points equal to the level of the spell, and also the spell’s level must not exceed his or her character level. Characters have a number of sorcery points equal to their bonus from the sorcery skill.
At first level, Sîn-māgir, a human with an Intelligence score of 17, receives 13 skill points. He spends four skill points to develop four ranks in the Sorcery skill, and receives a +3 bonus to this skill based on his Intelligence score. This means his bonus in the Sorcery skill is 7, and so he begins play with seven sorcery points.
Also during character creation, Sîn-māgir‘s player chooses to spend four skill points to develop the first sorcery on each of the Sorcerous Paths of Ea, Ellil, Marduk, and Sîn.
Herein lies a key mechanic. As in standard 3.5 systems, characters can develop ranks in any skill equal to 3 + their level. With respect to sorceries, however, a character cannot learn a sorcery on a Path whose level exceeds their character level, thus, characters are effectively limited to developing ranks in sorcerous Paths equal to their character level.
Returning to the example of Sîn-māgir above, at first level, with 7 sorcery points per day, he would effectively be able to cast obscuring mist (Path of Ellil, Level 1) seven times per day.
After first level. The gamemaster ultimately has discretion as to how many sorceries a player character is permitted to spend ranks in learning per level advanced. BFJB suggests a total of two new sorceries available to be learned, unless a player wishes to devote game time to researching the desired sorceries or new Paths. Keep in mind that a character must know every level of sorcery below a desired sorcery level to learn that level.
- Counterspelling is much easier. Over the course of play and level advancement, a player who spends skill ranks within a sorcerous Path can quickly gain access to destructive and high-level sorceries. To counterbalance this metric, BFJB allows sorcerous characters (i.e., characters with at least one rank in the Sorcery skill) to attempt to counter another sorcerer’s casting, even if the player has not learned the sorcery or its Path. Countering characters can improve their chances of success by spending sorcery points in the attempted counter; the caster, however, cannot.
Sorcerous characters whose sorceries are countered still lose sorcery points equal to the level of the spell. In this way, a sorcerous player character can dramatically benefit his or her party against sorcery-casting adversaries without ever slinging a spell.
Several other minor setting-based changes exist within BFJB (e.g., the elimination of money currency), but all of these should be readily apparent to players and gamemasters. Of course, as stated early on in BFJB, you are not committed to using the provided system, and groups should have little trouble adapting BFJB to their system of choice. Around 50% of the content in BFJB is not related to game mechanics, and can be used in any kind of game set in a historical or fantastical Mesopotamia.
- “Class” as the SRD term-of-art (e.g., fighter, cleric, wizard, etc.) as distinct from social class. BFJB does provide distinctions based on a character’s social class, however, these mechanics are outside the scope of this page. ↩