Dungeon Master Assistance

Where anyone over 18 can share thoughts and ideas on RPGs.

D&D 5E vs. Basic Fantasy RPG

Comparing D&D 5e to Basic Fantasy RPG

This is one of several reviews I am doing this year of various table top roll playing games. I am specifically comparing them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. The following review is based only upon my reading of the rulebook. I haven’t played this yet, but I will be posting my opinion after I get a chance to play test it.

I am referring here to the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons as 5E and to Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game as BFRPG. This information is for evaluation purposes, it should not be considered official rules of the game. You can assume things that I don’t list here are basically like 5E with only minor differences.

In BFRPG the Dungeon Master is called the Game Master.

Summary of the game system

BFRPG is a popular game created by Chris Gonnerman. It is based on the D20 System that was first introduced in the third edition of D&D where a player rolls a 20-sided die, adds modifiers, and if the result is greater than or equal to a target number it succeeds.  But in most every other way it more like the D&D game we had in the 1980’s.

Primary differences between Basic Fantasy and D&D 5e

Character Creation

  • Roll Abilities: Roll 3d6 for each in order. [same 6 abilities as in 5E]
  • Ability Score Modifiers: Slightly different from 5E, ranging from -3 for a score of 3, to +3 for a score of 18.
  • Choose a race and class: Refer to those sections below.
  • Hit Points: Roll appropriate hit die, adding your CON bonus or penalty. [Like 5E]
  • Saving Throws: Saving Throws are set based on your character’s class and level. You have a saving throw number for: Death Ray or Poison, Magic Wands, Paralysis or Petrify, Dragon Breath, and Spells.
  • Attack Bonus: Your attack bonus is between +1 and +10, depending on your class and level.
  • Known Languages: This includes “Common” and your character’s racial language (if other than human) plus number of languages equal to your INT bonus.
  • Starting Gold: Everyone starts with 3d6 × 10 gold pieces.
  • Purchase Gear: Purchase your equipment from the equipment lists.
  • Armor Class: Determined by your armor and DEX.
  • Name Your Character: Give him or her a name and you are ready to play.


  • Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, and Human
  • Restrictions: For non-human races there are minimum (and maximum) ability requirements and limits to which classes they can be.


  • Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Thief
  • Combination Classes: An Elf can be a Fighter/Magic-User or a Magic-User/Thief.
  • Restrictions: Each class has a minimum ability score (its Prime Requisite) and a restriction on what armor and weapons they can use.
  • Each class has its own level progression table that shows for each level: XP required, Hit Die, and if the class casts spells, it also shows the number and level of spells you can cast at each level.
  • Thief Table: Thieves have a table that shows the percent chance of being able to perform certain tasks, depending on your level. These are: Open Locks, Remove Traps, Pick Pocket, Move Silently, Climb Walls, Hide, and Listen.

XP and character level advancement

  • Experience Points
    • XP is gained for monsters defeated, and for other challenges as the GM sees fit.
  • Leveling Up
    • The class levels range from 1 to 20.
    • Each class requires a different number of XP to advance to higher levels.


Each round of combat (10 seconds of game time.):

  1. Surprise: When surprise is possible, roll 1d6 for each side which might be surprised; most normal characters are surprised on a roll of 1-2. Surprised characters are unable to act for one round.
  2. Monster Reactions: If it is not obvious what the monster will do, the Game Master rolls on a table to determine how it will react.
  3. Initiative: Each character and monster rolls 1d6 at the start of each round. A combatant can choose to wait for another character or monster to act.
    1. Ties: Both sides act simultaneously. (This means that both your character and the monster he is fighting might die!)
    2. Reach Weapons: A character using a weapon with a long reach may choose to attack a closing opponent on the closing opponent’s number and thus attack simultaneously with the opponent.
  4. Movement:
    1. If not in melee combat: You can run (move at double your normal encounter movement rate).
    2. When in melee:
      1. Engage: You may move up to your encounter movement distance and attack.
      2. Fighting withdrawal: You can move backwards at up to half your combat move rate.
      3. Retreat: You turn and flee, moving up to your combat movement rate. This round you may not attack; your opponent gains a +2 bonus to all attacks against you.
    3. Other movement rules: BFRPG has rules for Maneuverability, Climbing/Diving, Charging, and Evasion/Pursuit.
  5. Attacks: Attack rolls are handled similar to 5E. You add your attack bonus and your STR modifier (or DEX modifier) to your d20 roll. If it matches or exceeds your opponent’s AC you hit. Nat “20” always hits (but no bonus damage). Nat “1” always misses.
    1. Melee attacks:
      1. Must be within 5’ unless you are using a reach weapon.
      2. Attacking From Behind: BFRPG has rules for facing. Attacks from behind receive a +2 attack bonus.
    2. Missile attacks:
      1. Within 5 ft.: –5 penalty to attack rolls. Unless you are behind the target creature and undetected; in this cases, apply the usual +1 bonus (+3 total bonus if attacking from behind).
      2. Short range: +1 bonus to attack rolls.
      3. Medium range: No bonuses or penalties.
      4. Long range: –2 penalty to attack rolls.
      5. Rate of Fire:
        1. Most Missile Weapons: Can be fired once per round.
        2. Light Crossbow: Can be fired just once per two rounds.
        3. Heavy crossbow: Can be fired just once per three rounds.
    3. Spell attacks:
      1. Casting a spell usually takes the same time as making an attack.
      2. Disrupting Spells: If you are attacked or must make a saving throw on the Initiative number on which you are casting a spell, the spell is spoiled and lost.

Healing and Death

  • Natural Healing: Characters recover 1 hit point of damage every day, provided that normal sleep is possible. Characters who choose full bedrest regain 1 additional hit point each evening.
  • Death: The rules state that, at zero hit points, the character is dead. If this is too harsh for you, BFRPG provides these options:
    • Raise Dead: Arrange matters so that characters killed in an adventure can be easily raised (but at a substantial cost).
    • Save vs. Death Ray: If the save is made, the character remains alive for 2d10 rounds; if the character’s wounds are bound (or they receive healing magic) within this time frame, death is averted.
    • Medical Treatment: Binding the wounds stabilizes them at zero hit points. Non-magical healing will require a full week to restore the first hit point; after this, healing proceeds at the normal rate.
    • Negative Hit Points: Keep track of the current negative hit points. At the end of each round, the character loses an additional hit point. At -10 the character is dead. Before this, binding their wounds or receiving magical healing will stabilize the character.

Magic and spell casting

  • Spellcasters: Only Clerics and Magic-Users can cast spells.
  • Number of Spells: The daily number of spells of each level that they can cast depends on the character’s level.
  • Spell Preparation: Each morning spellcasters prepare spells to replace those they have used.

What you need to get started

“Don’t Buy These Books! Not yet, anyway. The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game core rules, along with a broad variety of additional materials, is given away for free in PDF form on our website, http://www.basicfantasy.org. Please, before you buy anything, go over there, download the PDF and take a look. …. Please note, I make nothing from the sales of this book. The works shown here are sold at cost. Don’t buy thinking that you are rewarding me… only buy if it suits your needs. Thank you!”

Chris Gonnerman, Author, Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game

You only need the core rule book to play, but there are also free supplements and modules available.

Note regarding the 4th Edition of Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game:

This will be the first edition to be distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. The 3rd Edition and earlier, was distributed under the terms of the Open Game License version 1.0a. They appear to currently be in the process of making revisions as needed to fully implement this transition. The most current books currently available in print are 3rd edition. As of this date (April 5, 2023) the latest 4th edition version is only available as a PDF download.

Final Thoughts

  • No Alignments
  • No Backgrounds
  • No Advantage/Disadvantage
  • No proficiency bonus
  • No feats
  • No cantrips
  • No spell slots
  • No spell components
  • No sub-classes
  • No skill system – no ranks or skill points
  • No opportunity attacks
  • No inspiration
  • No death saves
  • I like it. Basic Fantasy is a very rules-light game system. It has stripped D&D back down to the basics while keeping the D20 mechanics that make it easier to play than the old THACO system. If you want to add some things to make it more in line with 5E you can download supplements to add additional classes, races, 0 level spells, alignments, background skills, secondary skills, and more. There is even “The Fine Art of Monster Conversion” supplement you can use to convert monsters to BSFRPG.

2 responses to “D&D 5E vs. Basic Fantasy RPG

  1. Thiago May 23, 2023 at 12:45 am

    Awesome and detailed comparison. Thank you very much for this!


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