Thursday, January 20, 2011

Game Review: BEAN!

BEAN! is a new fantasy roleplaying game system by Jeff Freels. What makes this game truly unique compared to the multitude of FRPG systems out there is that BEAN! is a D2 system. While one may wonder how a game system can be run using only a D2, Jeff has pulled it off quite beautifully.

BEAN! has an intentionally simple rules system. The mechanics are explained in seven (yes, that was 7) pages. There are another four pages of spells, two pages on money and equipment lists, two pages of sample monsters, and two pages of sample magical artifacts. But these are just trimmings. The fact that the core rules of the game are explained, and explained quite well, in only seven pages is extraordinary. The rules can be read and understood in 10-15 minutes. This makes BEAN! perfect for people new to role playing games, children, or for quick pick-up games among experienced gamers. The simple mechanics also make it perfect for solo play.

The mechanics of BEAN! are simple, straightforward, and fairly smooth. As I mentioned, BEAN! is a D2 system. What you use for 'dice' is therefore pretty flexible. You simply need something that randomly generates a '+' or '-'. This can be a coin (heads or tails), six-sided die (evens or odds), a flat bean as the game suggests with a '+' written on one side and a '-' on the other. This really adds to the flexibility of the game because you can play without any special equipment; you really just need a handful of coins.

To start a game you need to have some characters. BEAN! uses only three Attributes to define each character: Body which is a measure of physical strength, endurance, and dexterity; Mind which encompasses intelligence, wisdom, and logic; and Spirit which is a measure of luck, charisma, and mana. BEAN! also uses only three basic character types, similar to 5th edition Tunnels and Trolls. You can be a Warrior, Wizard, or Rogue and each character type has an linked attribute, namely Body, Spirit, and Mind respectively. In BEAN! Warrior are trained in fighting and survival, Rogues are scouts and thieves, and Wizards are mystics and scholars. All characters are rated by the number of 'beans' (or dice) in each of their attributes. Characters start with three beans in each attribute and one extra in their type attribute. Equipping starting characters is kept equally simple; give your character the basic equipment you would expect depending on his/her profession. If you're a warrior, take some leather armor, shield, spear, dagger, backpack, some torches, and maybe a rope and you're all set. No need to worry about shopping or budgets. In addition, characters may start with a random number of copper coins but this is actually discouraged by the author. Jeff makes the point (which I agree with) that characters should stay poor to encourage adventure. Why else would they risk life and limb?

The conflict resolution system of BEAN! really sets this game system apart. These are broken down into Contests, Challenges, and Combat. In each type of conflict, the player throws a number of beans, coins, or dice equal to the attribute being tested. The player tries to match a certain number of positive results as defined by the GM (+, heads, evens, odds) or get more positive results than his/her opponent. For example, if a character is trying to jump over a wide chasm to escape a band of twenty angry goblins, the GM first decides how hard it will be to make the jump. If it is not a particularly wide chasm, the GM may call it a moderate challenge and only require two positive results. This would be a Body challenge, so the player throws as many beans as his Body attribute and tries to get two or more positives. Simple. Combat works much the same way except that both opponents are throwing beans and trying to get a higher number of positive results. Weapons add to the number of beans thrown. The loser takes a number of hits to his/her Body attribute equal to how many beans he/she lost by minus any armor that may be worn. That's really all there is to it. There is also a built-in mechanic to allow for really difficult tasks to be accomplished by low level characters. The 'Add-A-Bean' rule allows a player to throw an extra bean if he/she throws all '+'s'; the player keeps throwing new beans until a '-' comes up.

The magic system is also straightforward. Wizards start with a number of spells equal to 2xSpirit. There is not limit on how many spells wizards may learn and they may cast spells repeatedly and without limit (only a maximum of once per round however); there is no memory or point-based attrition system. The combat spells, however, are about as effective as a normal weapon, so there seems to be a nice sense of balance. Spells are defined by a Difficulty Rating (1-4), which a wizard must roll against using their Spirit beans to determine if the spell is successfully cast. This is another nice check against the infinite spell-casting ability. The rules come with a nice list of 28 spells covering a broad range of effects; more than enough to keep any wizard busy.

The presentation of BEAN! is fairly tongue-in-cheek as might be expected. Jeff Freels is well-known for his art in the T&T community, and he has done a good job providing a lot of original artwork throughout the rulebook. Fantastic illustration of anthropomorphic beans wield swords and casting spells abound. The art definitely sets the mood for the game. While the art is comical, the overall layout of the book is very professional. I printed by rules in booklet format on 8.5 x 11 paper and it looks great.

In addition to everything mentioned above, the 27 page rulebook also includes an introductory 19 paragraph solo adventure and a short GM adventure so you can get started right away. Both are well-written and conceived. The solo adventure is perfect for first time gamers and could always be run as a one-on-one game with a player and GM. The GM adventure is pretty simple with only a handful of rooms to explore in the basement of a wizard's tower, but it would make for a fun night of gaming. Additional support material is already available for BEAN!, including a fun mini-solo adventure by Ken St. Andre (Death Phrogg Attack!) and two rather lengthy GM adventures by Mike Holcomb (Princely Ransom and Gone to the Dogs). All three of these are available for free from RPGNow.

As you can probably tell by now, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of BEAN! This is one of the most original and innovative RPGs to come out in quite some time. Plus, at only $2.00 for a pdf or there is really no reason not to have a look. I guarantee you'll like what you see. You can a pdf or print copy from RPGnow.

1 comment:

  1. Love the game. Love it a lot.

    My only point is that marking your beans with plus and minus symbols is dangerously misleading. Try making one side with a symbol and leave the other side blank.

    I think the designer should re-write the entire mini-tome removing all reference to pluses and minuses since you are never required to subtract a 'minus' it can only lead to confusion.