An RPGBloggers Network Small-Press-Week Entry
So I joined RPGBloggers Network
a month or two ago. Someone decided it would be a good and fun thing to have bloggers give small press games (and when you consider the size of the ‘big’ press in this industry, small press is Very Small Indeed!) a little coverage, not in a shilling/advertising way, but as a means of calling attention to Cool Stuff that might otherwise be easily missed. I scanned down the list of smaller companies interested in participating, and saw Moebius Adventures
, a universal RPG.
I love universal RPGs. They’re one of my main passions, and one reason I tend to greatly dislike Forge-style games, which are by design anti-universal — they’re often extremely narrow in scope and are only capable of resolving conflicts which the designer decided ahead of time should be resolved. (Or they have some incredibly vague and generic mechanic which is barely a step above “Roll two dice, if the red one is higher than the blue one, you win!”) I freely admit to preferring more “simulationist” systems, because I am an insane worldbuilder, and I want a system to handle any idea I have, to turn any concept I can come up with into game mechanics I can rely on. If I attack a hamster with an Uzi, I do not want the game to tell me this is a “Conflict Of Violence” and apply the exact same resolution mechanic (“Compare your Heart to the Tragedy Rating of the current Interlude. You may spend Hope.”) as if I’d attacked a tyrannosaurus with a flint knife. Sure, you can go way too far the other way (Spycraft teeters right on the edge of ‘too complex’; something like Phoenix Command plunges way into the abyss), but I find it’s easier to strip rules than to add them, and the perfect game, for me, is one where I can find a rule for anything I might reasonably need to resolve, and the rule reflects, to at least some extent, the perceived reality of the conflict — a wall covered in grease is harder to climb than one which is not, a large animal takes more damage than a smaller one, a strong-willed dwarf is harder to persuade than a cowardly kobold, etcetera.
We’re digressing, of course, but if you’ve read anything in this blog before, you’ll know I’m the Tristram Shandy of bloggers, which is amusing since I utterly despised that piece of incoherent dreck when they made us read it in college.
Enough about why I like universal games, then. Let’s look at Moebius Adventures. I will try not make this review/chargen too one sided.
Get it? Moebius? One sided? Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.
More after the break!
Anyway, Moebius Adventures is a universal RPG by Fitz. I asked for a copy for review for this blog; he sent it to me, despite having read the blog. (Which puts me in mind of wondering why people ever agree to be interviewed by Penn Jillette or Michael Moore.) So, in keeping with the revised FTC guidelines for bloggers, I hereby state clearly and prominently I got a free copy of the PDF.
Now that that’s over with…
Before seeing the game, I decided a good test of the system would be to roll up (despite the fact no one rolls dice for character creation any more, the term persists) Bouncing Boy, as he’s a fairly unique hero and a good test of a universal system, one which doesn’t strain power levels but which could strain flexibility. After seeing the game…
Well, here’s the thing. While the cover of Moebius Adventures features cowboys, liches, spacemen, WW2 soldiers, and so on, the actual rules only cover non-magical medieval stuff. A page lists forthcoming rules dealing with cybernetic spies and traditional magical fantasy; as best as I can tell from the publisher’s page on RPGNow, these have not been released despite being listed as coming in 2008. Now, I certainly do not fault a single-man operation for lagging on release schedules, I just thought it ought to be noted.
So, pretty much, the only character concepts I can create are, well, humans from a roughly middle-ages type setting with no magic and very few monsters. Shrug. Well, I’ve come this far, I might as well keep going.
Remember what I said about not rolling up characters anymore? Well, it seems I was wrong. Moebius uses a mix of random and directed character creation. (There’s alternate rules for point based, but for these entries, I try to always use the ‘suggested’ or ‘default’ methods.)
We begin in the womb — literally, according to the rules. I first roll a D10 for my Family. Five. I am born of Peasant stock.
There are four characteristic groups: Mind, Body, Soul, and Random. I roll 3d6, rerolling any “1”s, and this gives me the base points to divide among Mind, Body, and Soul. I end up with nine. I cannot have more than 10 in one category — not a problem here! Hmm. Let’s try for a big honkin’ mercenary type. I will put 5 into Body, 2 into Mind, and 2 into Soul.
Now I multiply each group’s points by 4.
Now, I divide those points into the characteristics in each group.
You might notice something missing at this point — any idea of what the numbers mean. It can be presumed 10 is Very Good and 1 is Totally Lame, but the exact scale and meaning is not yet given. Is an Intelligence (one of the Mind stats) of 1 a brain-dead vegetable, or simply a bit slow witted? Is a 10 beyond human comprehension, or just reasonably bright? Is 5 an assumed ‘average’? These aren’t redundant or nitpicky questions — some games use a 1-10 scale to encompass everything from crawling vermin at 1 to demigods at 10, and sometimes “average human” is 2, or 7.
Anyway, I’ve got 12 characteristics and not a lot of points.
Common Sense: 1
Now comes the Random characteristics. Beauty, Wealth, Family, and Luck. You roll a d10 for these. (Consistent game mechanics are for people with poor memories, right?)
Well, he’s handsome, if nothing else.
Ah, now comes the stat modifiers!
My Perception of 4 gives me no initiative modifier.
Strength 7 gives me +1 to damage.
Agility 4 gives me nada.
Conviction 2 is a -2 to Reality Checks.
Life 4 gives me bupkis.
It’s worth noting all the charts use the same range and bonuses for each attribute. So, really, you could do a D20 and just give a general bonus/penalty for each and not specify things separately. You could do this. Moebius doesn’t. So it goes.
Now comes…. the Hand Of Fate! (Manos!)
I add my Luck score to 33 and roll d100. Oooookay. Why 33? Who knows? I’m just going with the flow here, folks!
I rolled a 61, which is more than 33+6, so, I avoid Fate. This skips me over a few pages. On to senses!
I roll percentiles for each sense. Note that your Perception score doesn’t impact this roll; rather, this roll impacts your Perception score. A character who put a lot of points into Perception can be very badly screwed by the dice.
Sight: Excellent. (Oh, did I mention this chart is low-is-better, while the system in general is high-is-better?)
Smell: None. (I rolled an 00!)
(I’d like to say my character lost his nose in the war, but with a Beauty of 10, that doesn’t seem likely.)
Combat Actions: Agility, Conviction, and Perception divided 4: 2.5, and no idea to round up or down, so, I’m rounding up. 3.
Movement: 2 feet/round. (Speed/2)
I’m not ambidextrous, I’m 14 years old, and I have 20 hit points.
Now I get to divide my hit points among my body parts. Hellooooo, Runequest! (A lot of games use hit locations. Most adjust damage done based on hit location, instead of giving each location a fractional number of hit points.)
Anyway, Head 2, Torso 20, Thigh 10, Calf 5, Bicep 7, Forearm 4. The formulas are a bit wonky — Bicep, for example, is (Thigh+Calf)/2.
Grip On Reality: This is Intelligence+Conviction divided by 2, or 1.5 for me, rounded up to 2. But wait! My Conviction of 2 gives me a -2 to this, so… zero.
Hold it. The base formula is based on Conviction, and your Conviction score impacts the result? This is really double-dipping. High conviction benefits you twice, and low conviction screws you twice. This really doesn’t make sense — if you want Conviction to be that important, you can do Intelligence + 2*Conviction, divided by 3. Or make Reality Check equal to Int, with the Conviction modifier. Using an attribute as both as base input and the source of a modifier doesn’t make a lot of sense.
Childhood skills: I have as many childhood skills as I have points of Intelligence, so… 1.
Skills come in level-based and percentile based, by the way, with assorted forms of prerequisite trees. Just letting you know. Except I can’t seem to find any percentile based skills; they’re supposed to be noted in the chart, but I see no such notations.
Well, I get one skill. The rules say “Think like a kid”. Based on his stats, I pick Bludgeoning. He liked to smash things. The base level is 1, plus Str/4, or 1.75, plus 1 for learning from a teacher (Dad taught him to hit things. There’s no official rule about whether or not you learned a childhood skill from a teacher, so, you get to decide. Wanna bet no one decides they didn’t have a teacher?), for a total of 3.75, which rounds up to 4.
Background skills: I have Intelligence+Conviction years of training, or, 3.
There are bunch of backgrounds, such as Noble, Merchant, and so on. Some have prerequisites, such as a high Family score for Noble; others don’t. I’m going with Fighter. For each year of Background, I get one skill from the Fighter list.
(Oh, yeah, I’m looking at the examples and it seems “Hunting” and “Plant Knowledge” are Percentile skills. Except there’s nothing in the skill list or skill description to mark them as such, that I can see. And while there’s rules for figuring the starting level of a level-based skill, I cannot find the rules to determine the initial value of a percentage based skill. Go figure.)
Anyway, three skills.
I’ll take Bludgeoning again, raising it to 5, and I think I’ll take Shield, which works out to 7, and Swordsmanship, which comes out to 7, also.
And, pretty much, That’s All, Folks!
(I could buy equipment, and armor myself, but I don’t think it’s needed.)
Of course, having now completed a character, I still have no idea what the numbers mean. Is a Swordsmanship skill of 7 good? Bad? Indifferent? Just how dumb is an Intelligence of 1? I flip ahead to the mechanics to try to get an idea, and notice something interesting in the examples — Plant Knowledge is noted as a level based skill in the box on page 58. However, the example on page 21 has it very clearly listed as a Percentage skill. It seems to me that the designer decided, probably late in the game, to drop the idea of Percentage skills (a good thing), but didn’t remove them from the rules completely. (Alternatively, he may have added them and then not finished, which is less of a good idea. In fact, it’s a really bad idea.)
BTW, a skill check is a roll of your skill level or less on a D20. With starting skills generally around 4 to 7, this means you fail a lot. Totally old school, man!
There are also about 6 pages of rules and guidelines for ethics, morality, and so on. This is one of those things that just screams “Designer’s Personal Obsession Alert!”
Just skimming the rest, I notice a lot of the combat rolls require a d12. This seems to be because everyone has D12s and no one uses them. There’s other place where the odder polyhedrals come into play, apparently motivated by the belief every game must use all of the Platonic (or Gygaxian) solids.
This is mostly a review/experiencing of the character creation system, not the entire game, and it doesn’t pretend to be. I didn’t run sample combats or the like. The overall perception I come away with is that while this isn’t an execrable waste of bytes — it’s not FATAL or DeadEarth — there’s really nothing to recommend it or call it out as unique, different, special, or even a particularly polished implementation of well-tried ideas. (World of Warcraft is a perfect example of why doing the same thing everyone else does, but doing it really, really, well, is often better than being ‘original’ or ‘innovative’. Originality is overrated; Quality is underrated. But I digress again.)
Gamers often reinvent the wheel just to say, “Hey, look, I made a wheel! OK, it’s more of an irregular ovoid, and it doesn’t really roll, and I could have gotten a much better wheel from Sam’s Wheel-o-Rama down the block, but it’s mine and I made it!“* Consider the mechanics now available under the OGL — the D20 system, Runequest (the heart of games from Call of Cthulhu to Ringworld), FUDGE/FATE, Action!, and I think, the D6 system of “Star Wars” game. All of these mechanics and accompanying descriptive text are free to cut, copy, paste, mix, and match. It’s hard to find an even halfway mainstream gaming concept — pretty much anything other than “You’re all snails in a kitchen, waiting to become escargot, and you have to overcome your parental abandonment issues before you become dinner” — that you can’t at least begin using this vast toolbox. Even if you need to write half the additional rules yourself, there’s still half the work already done, tested, and balanced. (Since the above mostly include magic, ultratech, super powers, vehicles, and much more, odds are you’ll need to write much less than half the rules.) Moebius Adventures is a perfect example of a game that has no particular flaws, that isn’t actually bad, that standing alone in a vacuum is perfectly usable, but in the context of all that is available today gives no reason to pick it over better established and more complete toolsets. The author’s particular passion — the morality/ethics system — could be developed as a bolt on for any of the systems mentioned above.
*And, you, know, I can’t really fault this. It’s where all creativity begins. If people were satisfied with only what other people made, no one would make anything. Making your own thing, for the joy of making it, is fun. I often write my own code when I know there’s existing and debugged open source libraries out there. My wife prefers making hand-crafted greeting cards to buying store bought. There is nothing wrong, stupid, or silly about creating for one’s own pleasure and the joy of creating. However, in a position as reviewer, I can’t say, “Buy this game because the creator clearly enjoyed making it!” If you put your creativity out for the world, you have to answer the question:”Why pick this instead of something else?”, and in this age of cheap PDF publishing and online distribution, a lot of people who have created things for the joy of the act of creation have decided they can be publishers, as well — and writing for other people is fundamentally very different than writing for yourself.