The Universal Universe, Circa 1999

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Time to Party like its 1999

Interesting fact, I have managed to curate a large collection of net-published RPG’s from back in the days of rec.games.frp and such. Many of these have disappeared from the intertubez. Here are some the universal ones. Some of which are more complete than others.
I find reading these games quite interesting, to see how people approach the game design process, and implement their design goals. Also, there is often some useful bits to rip off for my own designs. I also have a fair amount of admiration for people that actually pound out 20 or 30 thousand words on their system and put it out there for review. Finally, some of the very rigid views of what is right way to play is interesting. Also, the naming of universal systems is amusing too. System archaeology FTW!

Alacrity –

The High Speed Role Playing System by Adam McKee* And James G. Walker, Jr.* ‘published’ in ’99. Fairly lengthy HTML doc. Just core rules though. From the rules..

“Alacrity is a synonym for speed. It also suggests a delighted willingness to move on quickly. Thus, the name was chosen for this role playing game system to reflect its purpose. Most of the games on the commercial market have far too many rules, charts, and other distractions. Most of this can be attributed to designer zeal, the rest to selling more books. What ever the reason, play is slowed down by this, and player enjoyment of the game is diminished. In designing this game, every effort was made to capture the essential rules, and leave it at that. There are no charts to look at during the game. Most actions are resolved the same way, using the same procedure with the same type of dice. Only a few charts exist, and they are used during character generation. The object of the game was to minimize the rules and maximize the flow of the game–to put the role playing back into RPGs. I think we did a pretty fair job, I hope you’ll agree.”

 

*Alternacy*

© 1997, 1998 by Kizig. (from a geocities page) 27 page .doc Still available at http://www.alphazulugames.com/
Uses 16 talents groups instead of attributes. Detailed skill system. Combat system has detailed damage, but relies on GM to determine base damage of weaps. Also includes Skill improvement & deterioration rules along lines of RQ.

*Alternate Realities*

1996 – A role-playing system by Carter Butts, Karim Nassar, and Brian Rayburn. It is still available online at http://ar.karimnassar.com/

From the AR 1.0 rules (88 page PDF)

“Alternate Realities is a generic, copylefted role-playing system with scaleable, modular rules which allow for a wide variety of gaming styles. Whether you are into fantasy or sci-fi, detailed simulation or free-form story telling, AR can provide the basis for your campaign. …”

This game had a lot of interesting ideas, it uses an Object Oriented method for defining game entities/objects. The other major idea is the Diminishing Returns Function. Which forms the basis of the core mechanic. It correlates your 0-based rating to percentile result, with marginal incremental improvement/decline in the chance of success as your ability approaches +/- Infinity. They include the function they used to derive the curve in a sidebar in the rules.Also, in a bit of infamy, they include the derivation of the continuous form test for the bonus to result performed over long periods of time. The sidebar explanation of it is actual full on calculus, an integral. That’s right, they included calculus, even if just a sidebar, in their rules. Awesome.
I’ve adapted some of its ideas in the creation of my system. (No calculus shown though.)

 

*Bamf  The Roleplaying Game”

(C) 1998 Brett A Paul. A 32 pg word file.
THis is actually a pretty robust system core. It has a category based attribute system (physical/mental/Mystical), with attributes for power/manipulation/resistance. It is a detailed % based system with many resolution charts, and a detailed combat system. It also has a detailed section on playing it as a PBEM.
“Bamf was originally created to provide a way for the role-player to play him or herself in a fantasy or science-fiction adventure. Since that time, the rules have been modified to allow the player to play not only him or herself, but to create a character and play that character much like many of the other role playing games available on the market. One of the reasons was that the novelty of playing yourself in a role playing game wears off after a few games. Another reason was to give the Game Master (GM) a game mechanic by which he could create non-player characters for the players to interact with.”

*Cosmic Synchronicity*  – A Tabletop Adventure Game System of Connected Realities.

(C) 1999,2000 Joseph Teller & Kiralee McCauley. 74pg PDF Still available online at http://www.fantasylibrary.com/cosmic.html
This is a detailed percentage based system. (rather more conversationally written than most. Very pro in presentation, has an interesting balancing mechanic called Cosmic Trigger. Also posits interesting background of ‘plane-hopping’ of 5 types.There are five categories of travelers (Roadwalkers, D-Hoppers, Gatemasters, Schrödinger’s Cats
and companions),
The system for defining Complexity value (primarily tech & specialization & how it relates to skill poins/depth) and it’s cultural personality has some neat ideas as well. Lots of ideas relevant to O:COTEC

*DCS System* –

(C) 2002 David Chart. A hefty document availble online in HTML at http://www.davidchart.com/DCS/index.html as well as text. It is just a rules core however.
From the Design Philosophy section

This RPG engine has been designed to be what I want out of a game system. Other people will no doubt disagree with a lot of the details. I had a number of guiding principles:
-The system must be able to handle any type of character well.
-The system should be based around a small number of basic systems. -These systems should be similar to each other, and have sufficient flexibility to encourage modification for specific purposes.
-The system should not emphasise combat.
-The system should cover the social interactions of characters, because they are not the same as the players.
-Ability scales should be open ended. No matter how good a character is, it should be possible for someone to be better.
-The system should cover downtime activities as well as things that happen on stage.
-Natural ability should be important, but should not dominate: training should also matter.

Several game systems have influenced my design. It has probably been influenced by most games that I have read, and I have read a lot. A lot of the influence is negative, such as the size of the combat system in most games, or closed ability ranges.
The main positive influence is doubtless Ars Magica. The crafting rules are heavily inspired by it, and the improvement rules are inspired by the rules that I wrote for the fourth edition, which in turn were inspired by the basic structure of the mechanics.
The ability and aptitude structure was (immediately) inspired by CORPS.
Fate Points were inspired by FUDGE, WFRP, and Castle Falkenstein. I would like to work cards into DCS, giving the player more control over the randomness, but I haven’t figured out how.
Aspects were inspired by GURPS, Ars Magica (again), and all the other myriad games including Advantages, Merits, Virtues, Benefices or whatever. In keeping with my personality, I’ve tried to keep mine abstract, so that the players can create whatever aspects they want, rather than producing a restricted list.

Eternal Soldier – © 1994 Tai-Gear Simulations

presented in 19 chapters and spreadsheet CS. Still available online at http://www.tai-gear.com/intro.htm

Percentage system with detailed skill system. Notable for its Continuous initiative system with actions divided into speed costs, with action costs determined based on character’s speed. Full of crunchy goodness.

from the introduction…

Eternal Soldier is a role-playing system for any time period. The rules are based on logic and strike an excellent balance between playability, flexibility and realism. The rules are complete but are also expandable and adaptable for what you feel your world (be it fantasy, science fiction, World War II, old west, etc) should be like.

Eternal Soldier features the following advantages:

  • A skills system that allows truly unique characters to be developed.
  • A combat system that allows the players choices other than fight or flee (how about parrying, or setting fire, or dodging. . .).
  • A realistic initiative system where your choices matter.
  • Optional rules that allow you to tailor your role playing experience to allow for the effects of damage, hit location and, for once, fear.
  • Rules for Super Hero play.

*Foresight*  © 1986 by Tonio Lewald

Competent system with interesting lifepath like character design, and unique % chance of success. It’s use of ease factors for familiarities is notable. Very crunchy. It’s Ones digit success quality system is clever too. detailed Tech level system, and variations on skill use rules are notable too. One of the better net published rpgs.  From the Introduction …

ForeSight is a general purpose role-playing game. It is intended to be detailed, transparent, flexible, realistic, and highly playable.

What is ForeSight?

ForeSight is a general purpose role-playing game. It is intended to be detailed, transparent, flexible, realistic, and highly playable.

By detailed I mean that ForeSight should do a good job of describing game objects, particularly characters, but also culture, artifacts, and technology.

By transparent I mean that ForeSight should not colour the underlying setting. I believe that game systems should not be “grafted onto” settings, requiring GMs to create and players to learn new rules for new settings, but “adaptable to” settings. This means that the game must provide explicit mechanisms to account for likely differences between an imagined setting and what we know of history.

By flexible I mean that ForeSight should allow the gamut of character types and actions to be well-represented, and not just “typical” adventurer types. Thus ForeSight can represent ordinary people as well as outcasts and geniuses. It can represent social intercourse as well as gun play.

By highly playable, I mean that ForeSight should not get in the way of role-play. As much as possible, ForeSight’s implied descriptions of the game world should be enough to allow play to be “winged” by the GM rather than “resolved” using specific game mechanics. When game mechanics are used, it should be easy to apply them and the rules should seldom, if ever, need to be consulted.

ForeSight has been described as “the rules you can remember”. This edition of ForeSight is a complete rewrite. Since I am lazy, it will hopefully be shorter and even easier to remember.

Game Engine Manual (GEM)

© 1998 Neale Davidson presented as 2 32pg PDFs, the Game Engine Manual, and GEM Cutters Guide.

A solid well-done system, polished presentation in 2 column format. Uses a roll <= set target number  (based on stat+skill ) versus xD6 based on difficulty. GM’s guide is probably most interesting reading, reagarding vision of a game it presents.

Heavy on the Tables (HOTT)

Heavy On The Tables v3.2 By Gareth Martin.  A 29 page rules core + weap pdf. Uses an Action Table siilar to many old TSR games with colored results (white, yellow, green, read), using single D10. Nice little system takes great advantage of action table resolution and attendate colum/row shifts for action resolution and damage system. Def FASERIP vibes.

Imaginaton’s Toybox

© 1999,2000 Berin Kinsman (v1.1) 26pg PDF

Berin Kinsman bare bones rules core, interesting tiering of character ability, from the intro

Game Design Assumptions
· Rules only exist to resolve conflicts and should only be invoked when absolutely needed.
· When invoked, rules should resolve quickly and be as invisible a process as possible.
· Real roleplayers don’t buy roleplaying games for the rules. They buy roleplaying games for the settings, or design their own settings without the need to buy anything. Therefore, any rules system needs to be flexible and easily adaptable.
· Most roleplaying games are gratuitously verbose, and take from hundreds of pages to several volumes to explain concepts that should only take a few pages to cover.
· Sturgeon’s Law1 applies: 90% of everything is crap.
· Uncle Bear’s Corollary to Sturgeon’s Law: Of the 10% that’s not crap, 9% is merely
acceptable, and only 1% is truly exceptional. The object is to get past the crap and get to the point as quickly as possible.
· Keep it simple, stupid. Roleplaying is about playing a character, not about chucking dice. Rules, charts, tables, indices, appendices, supplements, companion volumes, spreadsheets, and other such foo-faw-raw are merely mental Rube Goldberg devices that bog down play.

Cinematic
Toybox is a cinematic system because it was designed to simulate a particular brand of fiction, not reality. Movies are the best example of the altered laws of physics and storytelling that Toybox serves best, but they can also be found in novels, comics, television, theater and any medium that begins with a writer putting words to paper.
“Cinematic” really comes down to defining what a hero can withstand. In real life, bulletproof vest or no, a cop couldn’t take a shotgun blast to the chest, get blown through a plate glass window and get right back up again. He couldn’t then run down the street on foot, catch up to the bad guys’ car, jump onto the hood, hang on through high-speed turns, and foil the villains’ escape. Okay, maybe, but the probability would be really, really small. But if an action hero just fell down unconscious and laid there until the paramedics arrived… that just wouldn’t be as fun, would it?
The hero must do something exciting. That’s one reason we roleplay to begin with: to escape
reality for a little while, and through our characters do things we couldn’t in real life.
The term cinematic has taken some abuse lately in roleplaying circles. I thought about using other words, like literary, but that sounded a little too high-falutin’ for my tastes. The main criticism of “cinematic” is that it can get out of hand, too silly or over-the top. That’s true with anything, really, but other games build in all kinds of checks and balances to keep players from going there. My feeling is that the tone of the game needs to be set and maintained by the players and the game master through roleplaying, not dice chucking.

Universal
Toybox can be considered to be a universal system because, in theory at least, it can be used with any genre or setting. I haven’t done extensive testing of this theory, so caveat emptor. I say it’s universal because it’s not tied to any specific setting.

System
Toybox isn’t a roleplaying game; it’s a roleplaying system. It’s not something to do, but rather a way to do something. While I harbor some small pretensions that roleplaying as an activity doesn’t qualify as a game in the traditional sense (no winners, no losers, no starting point, and no ending point), the real reason I make the distinction is because it’s not playable “out of the box”.
There’s no setting, just a set of rules… kind of like buying Monopoly only to discover there’s no board, or dice, or other pieces, just instructions on how to play. However, I have continued to use traditional, familiar roleplaying

Infinite Horizons

© 1998 Trawna Publications Still available online at http://ih.trawna.com/

Percentage based, system with detailed skill list, detailed combat using action time/weap speed for initiative.

From the Design Philosophies section…

Design Philosophies

There are several things which we believe to be true about role-playing games. (Our survey results have backed us up on most of these.) You should be able to infer a lot about the current system from them.

  1. Classes are too delimiting. They tend to put characters into boxes, and discourage truly creative players.
  2. Levels are too artificial. People get gradually better at things, not all at once.
  3. Skills should be consistent and their interaction should be intuitive.
  4. Combat and Magic are skills and the previous rule should apply to them.
  5. There should be no races that characters cannot be members of (subject to GM approval, of course). In certain campaigns, dragons would be fine. In others, birds and small woodland animals would be best. All rules should be designed with this in mind.
  6. Game balance is overrated. The GM should be able to take care of this through plot, rather than have it forced through awkward mechanics.
  7. Armour should reduce damage taken, not make it harder to hit.
  8. Alignments (as have been done elsewhere) have similar results to classes (see rule 1). (IH has 216 (85766121) possible commitments).
  9. Random character generation is eventually self-defeating, since people will often just re-roll until they get a character they like (ie. much better than average). Point-based systems allow people to create the character they want the first time. (Some people like random characters, so IH has a suggestion on how to make almost-random characters.)
  10. Pre-defined magic is limiting and discourages imagination. Magic effects which can be combined any way (as we have since heard that Ars Magica does) would be better.
  11. A game should consist of a set of rules. A setting or genre should be neither included nor assumed. A properly designed game will be able to handle any setting.
  12. Vehicles are vehicles, weapons are weapons, and creatures are creatures. It should be possible to design a single set of rules that handle, for example, any means of conveyance from a skateboard or a horse to a HyperLightSuperTransGalacticPlanetBuster™; the former are just lacking some (okay, most) of the capabilities of the latter.Of course, there are games which break some or all of these rules, which we consider to be perfectly fine games. We have even been known to play them and have a good time! These are just what we think of as being perfect, and we have no problem with anyone who thinks differently.

InMedia Res

© 1993 by S. Isaac Dealy, DarkSIDE press still available at http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/archive/freerpgs/inmediares/inmediares.zip

This is one of the more innovative net-published RPG’s I have read.  It uses an odd roll xd10 subtract highest from lowest method for action resolution. It’s most innovative feature was its abilitiy/flaw creation system. There are six elements which define the use and effect of all skills, gifts, and flaws. These are type, difficulty, time, duration, range and area of effect. I’ve only seen the Power creation system in EABA have anything similar. Basically it reduces all abilities/powers to a generic construction. 1 step up from a Hero system power effect system. Each is constructed in how it works in addition to other elements. Its resolution and scale feel more like a free-form MEGS. Lots of mechanics ideas in here, and novel system design.

Shadow Bindings

Copyright © 1998 By Joseph Teller & Kiralee McCauley

THis is very similar to cosmic synchronicity, but put together as a html docuement, the major difference is the inclusion of detailed magic rules, the ideas on developing the magical realities are pretty good.

SORD (System of Role Development)

v 5.35 © 1996 Scott J Compton. 88 pg document

A super crunchy D20 roll low based system that rivals Phoenix Command in terms of detail & heaviness. System is riddled with acronyms and lots of calculations (Seriously..Special Circumstance Unusual Modifiers: Special Circumstance Unusual Modifiers or SCUMs are numerical variances imposed by the GM during any situation), though most are front loaded in character design  Smacks of late ‘80s style design ala SPI’s universe, Dragonquest, Aftermath. This is a good sample of how to make your system seem way to complicated, regardless of how much handling time/wrangling required.. I’ve run into acronym/term bloat a few times in my rules writeups and have to rewrite to make it easier to pickup.

Seriously, weapons and combats are extremely detailed, from the rules book..

“Each weapon has a Weapon Type number (WT#) based on the setting, a weight in pounds (WGHT), a length in inches (LNTH), a Weight and Length Offensive Point number (WALOP#), a Weapon Slowness value (WSlo#), an Attack Rate (AR), a weapon Speed number (SPD#), a total damage number, a Design Strength value (DS#), a maximum force number, and a Total Hit And Weapon Attack Chance (THAWAC).

The Window

2nd ed © 1997 by Scott Linniger  a 42pg PDF available at  http://www.mimgames.com/window/

The window is a notable entry into the net-published RPG scene, as it focused on a more free-form narrativist focused system, with emphasis on scene structure and story focused play. It also had a very reactionary tone and condescending attitude in its presentation that would come to be associated with indie/forge/story-games.

From the text .. Roleplaying as a self-aware form has only been around for about three decades. In that time it’s been through three distinct “generations.” These generations can by no means tied to a specific system release or year… they’ve grown naturally as the art of roleplaying has matured. By this reckoning the Window would be considered a third generation roleplaying system.
First generation roleplaying is dice and maps and little metal figures. This is where it all began. The Game Master describes the setting room by room and typically the characters wander around with swords or guns killing things and accumulating money and ever bigger weapons. It’s all very childish, but admittedly it can be fun once in a while.
Somewhere along the line, someone (probably lots of someones, simultaneously) discovered that the scope of roleplaying can be a lot larger. The systems started being more universal and the characters
more unique. Tactical maps disappeared for the most part, and everyone started focusing on characterization and plot. Out of this perspective exploded a whole slew of new roleplaying genres… horror, espionage, romance, wild west. This is second generation roleplaying, where most mature roleplayers fall today.
In recent years (or considerably further back in some cases), there has been a movement to push roleplaying to yet another level, its third generation. The lines between PCs and NPCs, live-action and tabletop, even Gamemaster and player, are blurring. Card tables covered in dice are giving way to candlelit dinners and dramatic background music. The stories being told are on par with “real literature,” and players in a game have been replaced by actors in a very intimate drama. These people are interested in constantly trying new structure and experimenting with the potential of the whole roleplaying medium. The Window has developed out of this atmosphere.

TOASTER: A ROLEPLAYING GAME

© 1998 Patrick Riley. captured as an HTML file. simple rules core

A good sample of a net-published rpg written up.

From the text…

If you are looking for an innovative, groundbreaking, revolutionary roleplaying game that will lead a paradigm shift in the hobby, this is not it. For experienced rolePlayers, there is nothing new, not a single original idea, presented in Toaster that cannot be found elsewhere. Rather, Toaster is just an exercise in creating a straightforward roleplaying system that has enough flexibility to be used in a wide range of campaigns.

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