Intent and Departure from Tradition
Universalis is not the first game to push the envelope
of what role-playing games are. In fact, elements of the Universalis can
be seen in games like Story Engine, Once Upon a Time and Baron Munchausen.
Even so, it is quite different from any of those and vastly different from
any traditional RPG. Many aspects of Universalis are so different that it
has led some to question whether it is even a role-playing game at all. We
think there is great opportunity for role-playing within Universalis, but
it all depends on how you use it. More than anything, Universalis is a
tool kit for the creation of stories. With it, you can create entire
worlds and civilizations to whatever level of detail you desire. You can
populate those worlds with a cast of characters limited only by your
imagination and the needs of the story; and you can concentrate on
defining only those aspects of the world that are important to that story.
The plot of the game is entirely created and motivated
by the players. Other games in the past have used various mechanisms to
give players a degree of control over the story. "Hero Points"
as a way of cheating death, or "Drama Points" used to achieve
some cinematic effect, are examples of granting limited power of this kind
to players. Other games use "Plot Points" to give players a
great deal of dramatic control over the course of a gameís events. Some
even empower players to describe the entire resolution of a conflict in
whatever manner they choose. Universalis goes further and puts the entire
story in the hands of the players. Not only what the characters want to
achieve and how they will achieve it, but also what their enemies are
doing and what obstacles theyíll have to overcome along the way as well.
All of it (including everything normally reserved for the Game Master
only) is player created, player developed, and player driven.
There is no pre-established setting. While many games
are designed to be generic in that they can be used with a variety of
different settings, Universalis can be played literally without defining
any setting at all in advance. While it is possible to play Universalis
using already published settings for inspiration, or predefining a few
features; the game is at its most revolutionary when players sit around a
table for the first time with no characters and no clear idea of even what
sort of game is about to be played. Everything in Universalis is under
your control as a player: the setting, the genre, various genre
conventions; even the theme, mood, situation, and plot are all decided
upon and moved forward by player interaction, collaboration, and even
competition. Every mountain range, every city, every NPC, every monster,
every mission, every powerful evil empire is totally invented by you and
your friends as you are playing. Even the characters in the story will be
created "on the fly" as play progresses. Universalisís rules
are designed to promote the creation of a good story, and a good story can
be told about any place and any situation.
There is also no Game Master. Almost all traditional
RPGs, and even most non-traditional ones, rely on a Game Master. The Game
Master is the one who does not play an individual character himself but
rather controls the game world and everyone else in it. In Universalis the
GMís powers arenít just shared with the players, theyíre totally
ceded. Playerís have all of the control, all of the power, and do all of
the decision making. As players, you will decide where the characters of
the story are going and what manner of obstacles they will find when they
get there. You will decide the nature of the adventure, who the enemies
are, and what those enemies are plotting. You will decide the reward for
success and the price of failure. You alone have absolute power.
Essentially, every player is a Game Master and Coins are a measure of your
But donít be fooled into thinking there is no game to
be played, that with absolute power there will be no suspense and no
challenge. Indeed the opposite is true. For while it is true that you have
enormous power to influence the world and everything in it, so do each of
the other players. Each of them will have their own ideas of what to do,
and where to go, and what should be found there. Instead of several
players trying to unravel the twists and turns of a single GMís story
you have several players trying to unravel the twists and turns of several
GMís stories. You canít do everything your way. You can try, but then
youíll quickly run out of Coins and hence out of power. The
collaboration, competition, and even subterfuge of play provides its own
very powerful form of suspense and challenge.
But donít take our word for it. Head on over to the Play
Examples page and see for yourself the kind of stories that have been
told using Universalis.