Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Universe A Very Complex RPG

I have been wanting to check out some new scifi RPGs for a bit and a bit ago I stumbled upon an RPG for sale on Ebay that caught my eye. - "Universe". I must be honest and say that this rules system is a bit overwhelming, but not in a bad way.

Universe, is a relatively gritty, hard scifi RPG produced by Tower Ravens. The best way I can describe it is as a sort of neo-Traveller type of game. It is for folks who want some crunch with their scifi. In fact, the authors of Universe are quite clear about the game being a complex game that may not be for everyone. In fact, they go on for a good page and a half about how their game may not be the game for you. I personally agree but really think that this is something that belong closer to the front of the book rather than being tucked away in their "how to play" section.

Don't get me wrong. I like a lot of what I saw in the book and if I had picked this up in my younger days I'd have eaten it up real quick. But this is a game with a twelve page character sheet which includes 14 attributes among other things. There is an entire page to help calculate encumbrance and the effects that pain and exhaustion have on that. Damage is tracked not just physically, but psionically with separate damage tracks for body damage and mental damage. Heck, there is even a chart to determine the blood type of your character and his cross compatibility with other PCs across a number of player races. Universe is, as they have said, complex.

But that is a good thing in a lot of ways. The way that psionic damage is handled is refreshingly interesting, using damage tracks at specific chakra (called vortexes) which have an effect on different aspects of your character. The rules include tech that ranges from traditional slug-thrower weapons to energy weapons. There are personal force field and advanced body armor. Robots, computers, spaceships, all the trappings of scifi, each given a good solid treatment.

The rules...

What can I say, I still haven't figured them out and I am pretty sure that this is one of those systems you have to play to get. Not that they are badly written, but there is so much going on in this game that I'm pretty sure that I am overlooking elements. The writing of the rules is actually quite nice, using examples and even sidebar cutouts of specific parts of the character roster that pertain to the rule in question. This is good but I am guess they felt it was necessary given the complexity of the system. I'll likely never see the true beauty of this system as I and my group really just don't have time for the complexity of Universe.

The setting is fleshed out with quite a bit of background fluff and flavor text. Races are described as is the history of the setting. Current states of affair are presented and several worlds are described in Almanac form. Everything from economic, lifestyle, education, crime and punishment is detailed for the worlds. Want to know what a planet exports? It's there. Need to know if the planet has the death penalty? There is no doubt.

Really what Universe is offering its players is a really detailed game for fans of those sorts of scifi stories where all the fiddly bits matter. It's not for Star Warriors or Star Frontiersman. What it is missing is a whole lot, despite all that it has. In the 304 pages there is nnothing covering specific types of vehicles or creatures at all. Since this version of the game was published in 2003, I'm thinking that there may be no official support for it. But, being that it is a redo of an old game, there may be material that can be borrowed from the old version to fill the gaps on the new versions.

A final note, this Universe game is not related to the original Universe RPG from the 80s.



  1. Good post for it complexities but with no support will you borrow and add to the game. I suppose if its good it will be worth doing.

  2. I've heard lots of good things about it, but haven't tried it out yet. I almost bought a copy at my local used bookstore but decided to pass on it.

  3. It looks really cool. I don't know about the 14 page character sheet though.

  4. I was one of the original game testers and I can say that I still couldn't run the game on my own, sad but true... and this is after having been a player of the game at the homes of the developers and artists for over 2 years. The game is what it is... very complex.. and if you can get into the minds of the two brothers who created it, an engineer and a computer scientist... then more power to you. Otherwise, make the rules a resource / guide for your own "in house" rules. A single combat session can in fact consume many days of actual gaming sessions to resolve.


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