Monday, 21 March 2011

Review: BEAN! The D2 RPG 2nd Edition

It's not often that a game knocks my socks off. After reading through BEAN! and playing a couple of solo modules I'm convinced that my socks are not only off, they are somewhere in the next area code. The thing is, it shouldn't even be this good. The mechanics require tossing coins or beans or anything with two sides and there are three character types to choose from, which is severely limited. But the game's author and artist Jeff Freels has made it so easy to customise that complaining about the lack of archetypes is basically just admitting that you have no imagination.

In essence, Freels has mashed Tunnels & Trolls (he's a veteran T&T artist, don't you know?) and modern 'dice pool' games into a streamlined tabletop gem. It's almost Risus simple, and it works a treat.

Your character can be one of three fantasy archetypes: Wizard, Warrior and Rogue. Unlike Tunnels & Trolls, the Rogue is more of a thief like in Dungeons and Dragons than a rookie magic-user. You fill three stats with 9 'beans': Body, Mind and Spirit; getting an extra bean in your chosen archetypes prominent attribute. Your hit points are equal to your Body and Defence begins at zero. You then get as many skills as your main attribute (which you can make up) that will help lower the difficulty level in certain situations. That's pretty much character creation, aside from rolling for copper pieces and buying whatever you can from the equipment list.

Mechanics are a simpler than simple Simon's simple son. In combat each combatant chucks their beans simultaneously according to their Body + weapons and the one with the highest number scores hits equal to the difference of the rolls. It's very Tunnels and Trolls, yet it's simpler and chucking beans around is worryingly addictive. Contested rolls work the same, each participant rolling on an attribute to see who wins. Challenge rolls are also used, where the player has to roll a set number of successes depending on the difficulty of a task.

The second edition made a few changes to the first, but not many. Firstly the book is more streamlined, making it easier to read. There are hower a couple of formatting issues that need to be addressed, but otherwise it's fine. The main addition to the book is the inclusion of mounted and vehicle combat, which is intuitively simple. There are also a few more creatures and spells included in the new edition, but otherwise it doesn't overhaul any rules.

There isn't a setting for BEAN! although Jeff does mention that even though it's a fantasy world there are portals that spew out anything a la Rifts. So it's completely possible that one moment you could be killing Gobleans (yup) and the next you're in a motorcycle chase with a troll carrying an uzi. Because of this you can set BEAN! in any genre, substituting archetype names for something more appropriate and by jove it'll work.

Jeff includes a short solo adventure at the back of the book to introduce you to the rules. It pretty easy, but you'll want to run all the archetypes through to test them out and go different routes through the story. With Ken St Andre's Death Phrogg Attack solo, it looks like BEAN! is going to be a great source of solitaire roleplaying fun.

BEAN! is a silly game, so those looking for a serious game probably won't want to pick this up, although it's so rules-lite that it could be easily adapted into a gritty game. It's also incredibly cheap, so there's no real excuse not to buy it, even if it's just to take a look at the rules.