Musings about ‘The Big Brown Book’ by Justen Brown

Greeting, I know it’s been quite awhile but life comes at you and you must deal with it – you understand, right? I found out about The Big Brown Book by Justen Brown via a search of OSR games. But the linked PDF was a weird combo of two exact copies of the same file. So I went and tried to find out more about TBBB and found this site. It has an rtf file that you can convert to a proper PDF to use.

The Big Brown Book for those not in the know is an emulation of a combined OD&D and Chainmail rules as the author envisioned it being. As with most clones it uses the d20 OGL and makes slight changes to the source material as to not infringe upon copyrights. Justen chose to use a mechanic based solely on the use of d6’s instead of the default d6 & d20 based mechanic if you used the source material straight by the book.

This seems to be for ease of use and to avoid potential legal action once published, which is understandable. The d6 based mechanic is easy to pick up in general, though the d66 Saving Throw mechanic was confusing at first and should’ve had a bit more clarification. Justen created the d66 mechanic to emulate the math of a d20 roll used in saving throws. That said, in an appendix there are Alternate d20 based optional rules for both combat & saving throws but tweaked for legal reasons.

The layout & rules themselves are well done, making things far easier to find and understand than in OD&D and Chainmail; which is a plus. Lets face it OD&D’s layout and readability is one of its biggest criticisms, in fact a fan of the rules combined and edited OD&D into a better organized single volume version back earlier this decade. With TBBB the only issue I have with its layout & presentation is it is unfinished.  There is zero art but there seems to be room set aside for art & there are no covers. I had to create my own just so it looked like a proper manual.

Justen completed TBBB in 2011, so the likelihood of him finishing it & publishing it are likely null. Justen is the mind behind the 2e AD&D retro-clone ‘For Gold & Glory’ in which he actually did complete it. I can only assume there was no interest in his TBBB and his passion for his first RPG and a greater audience for it is the reason ‘For Gold & Glory’ was finished and published; while TBBB was not.

I’d love for Justen to resurrect the TBBB project, make a few clarifications & fix a few typos, get some art and actually publish it or allow someone else do so with his blessing and guidance. The Big Brown Book really deserves to be finished and published if only as a free PDF.

Here is a brief breakdown of the TBBB so you understand what you’ll be getting in it. First the book has a table of contents & it is well written for ease of use. Next you have a one page forward and a two page description of the core mechanic and terminology used in the TBBB. Chapter 1: Of Men & Magic covers character creation and rules for both magic and NPCs. Chapter 2: Adventures Above & Below, covers XP, movement and various rules for exploration and other hazards not related directly to combat. Chapter 3: Monsters & Treasures is just that monster & treasure rules focusing on encounters and treasure placement in a dungeon. The first three chapters emulate the first three OD&D books in their overall content with a few omissions.

In Chapter 4: Small Scale Combat, you get the man-to-man combat omitted from Chapter 2 if it was a true copy of that book, but it incorporates Chainmail combat elements that are implied in both OD&D. Chapter 5: Mass Combat, is a distillation of Chainmail’s core systems with tweaks for legality and greater ease of use and clarity.

Next up is the first of the appendices, Appendix 1: Spells; which begins with complete Spell listings for Magic-Users & Clerics. This is then followed by the actual spells that have their own flavor so not to be ripped straight out of OD&D. In Appendix 2: Monsters, you start with the actual encounter charts alluded to in the Monsters & Treasure chapter, which is then followed by the actual monster descriptions.

Appendix 3: Treasure begins with random treasure tables common to most Fantasy RPGs out on the market; which is then followed by sections on the various types of treasure found. The descriptions are brief and the associated rules are concise & easy to understand. Appendix 4: Optional Rules covers just that, optional rules for everything, from alternate combat rules I mentioned before, to added options for Mass Combat, Gary Gygax’s House rules, the Mythic Underground, weather, researching magic & spell concentration. Lastly, you have Appendix 5: The afterword & FAQ. This discusses Justen’s design philosophy for this project and even hinted at a second non-existent (to my knowledge) ‘The Big White Book’ that would’ve included demons and other not mentioned topics.

I hope that this might goad you into checking out The Big Brown Book if only to read a very interesting take on a fusion of OD&D & Chainmail. I plan to run this game eventually; especially in campaigns I know that I want to incorporate mass combat with (Greyhawk maybe?). Well I got things to do, so I’ll let you go for now. Fin.

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