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[Universalis] First Steps
Topic: [Universalis] First Steps (Read 1408 times)
[Universalis] First Steps
September 09, 2005, 12:08:30 AM »
Last night I got together with my regular group and, as we were a few down, we decided to play a one off. Jack and I had deiscussed playing Capes but when we finally got together it looked like our third player was in the mood for something different, so we gave Universalis a long overdue shot.
We've all played rpgs together in the past, with Jack and I having played regularly for about a year now. Our third player, Kev, we've both gamed on and off with. We're all fairly active in terms of our contributions at the table and we've all had some Narrativist gaming experiences (Capes, Once Upon A Time, freeform games). None of us had played Universalis before, although Jack and I had read the rules about 6 months ago and I'd skimmed them before the game. I was the only owner of the rules. We met up at Jacks house and the session laster about 2 hours (we play weeknights, so sessions have to be shorter). In that time we covered 6 scenes.
We started out with the Tenet phase, but this drew very little enthusiasm. We ended up with just five Tenets:
Focus on hand to hand vs gun play
As it turned out we blatantly ignored most of these .. there was no extra races, most of the combat was gun play, and a large corporate got in on the action quickly.
Scene 1. A unnamed young man hides nervously in the shadows of a deserted cold storage locker. A Osaka Corporation cyber ninja drops from a skylight and stalks across the room. The hidden man sees this and tries to run for the door but is cut down by the cyber-ninjas monofilament sword. The ninja then beheads the young man and takes a memory crystal (data storage device) from his corpse, and leaves. A second figure is revealed to be hiding in the locker, who has witnessed this whole event. His name is Peterson.
Scene 2. Thirty minutes before previous scene, along highway I22. The (now dead) young man is named Blackburn. He is driving fast along the road, weaving in and out of traffic, on the phone. He's calling Peterson and they are arguing about the Memory Crystal. Blackburn appears to trying the blackmail Peterson, but the phone suddenly goes dead. Peterson appears in a large black car, trying to run Blackburn off the road. It transpires that even Blackburns nifty sportscar can't stop this and he is run off the road. A limo full of Osako Corporation heavies pull up and advance on the now crashed Blackburn, who is making a call. Before they reach him a Biker Gang turn up and get involves. The Gang are attacked and mostly decimated by the heavies, but not before one of them can escape with an unconcious Blackbun over his shoulder.
Scene 3. The day before, in some corporate offices. Peterson is talking to an attractive well dessed lady named Jenny. It turns out that Peterson believes Jenny is seeing Blackburn behind his back, while Jenny is Not interested in Blackburn. They kiss and Jenny hands Peterson a Memory Crystal. The phone rings and Peterson recieves a threatening phone call from a Southern Gentleman. This man has powerfull associates and a strong accent. He tries to coerce Peterson into handing over the Memory Crystal but fails. Peterson slams the phone down. Blackburn works in the same office, and witnesses this, including Peterson hiding the crystal in a protective case. Blackburn uses some hacking software to duplicate the crystal.
Scene 4. An hour after the last scene. Set at Petersons House. Blackburn is there with Ann, Petersons wife. They are in bed together, Ann is pregnant with Blackburns child, but reveals that Peterson is having an affair too. Blackburn does not want to support the child, but doesn't tell Ann this.
Scene 5. At the same time as the above. A Hotel Lobby. The Southern Gentleman is talking to Jenny about handing over the Crystal, she assures him that she will get it. Peterson witnesses this.
Scene 6. After the first scene, an expensive high rise appartment building. The cyber ninja scales the side of the building and enters the security code to a window lock. Stepping inside the Cyber ninja takes off it's hood and is revealed to be Jenny, holding the crystal retrieved from Blackburns body. The Southern Gentleman is present and takes the crystal from her. He apologises for how things turned out, pulls a gun and shoots her. A door opens and Peterson steps through, telling the Sourthern Gentleman that killing Jenny wasn't enccesary. He pulls a big knife and springs at his opponent, gutting him. Peterson pulls the memory crystal off the body and adds it to the original he still has. Fade to black.
Thoughts about the game
- We made a ton of mistakes with things like using Edge dice, not paying for events, adding traits at the wrong time, ownership of the components and so forth. By the end of play we had picked up on about 90% of these and next time it shouldn't be an issue.
- Considering we hadn't played before there was no laser sharking or silliness involved. I'm really pleased at that.
- The plot and style was nothing like I had imagined. I was thinking of an SLA meets Bladerunner hunt for something style game. I got something entirely different, which was pleasing :)
- We laid down a few very vague tenets and proceeded to ignore them. Next time I'll push for much tighter tenets and try to enforce them far more.
- There were a reasonable number of challenges but they never escalated above about 5 coins. There was no bad feeling about any of the challenge results.
- By the last scene I think Kev had about 30 coins from winning a couple of big complications. That seems like a lot.
Everyone liked the game. A lot. Jack and I had read through the rules as I said previously, then run into Capes and been left jaw-on-table and drooling. Capes wowwed us both, a whole lot, but I'm pleased to say I'm just as juiced about playing Universalis again. We're definately playing again, although I don't think it's a game that will work well for our other players, who are more reactive / turtle style players.
I've seen a number of posts about the tenet phase being vital, as well as 'buy in' to the story being told, and although we got something pretty decent without that, it's an important lesson.
It seems that if a player collects a lot of coins compared to the others they can invalidate a lot of someone else's input through challenges, although I realise that if there are several other players this is mitigated. Such a situation though might lead to the hijack of the story towards the end. Is this something others have seen happen? If it were Capes I'd be trying to introduce a play element that appealed to them, giving them a channel for thier resources. Any advice? Is there a safety amount of coins that's good to keep in your hand for those 'just in case?'
Re: [Universalis] First Steps
Reply #1 on:
September 09, 2005, 01:10:51 AM »
I'll chip in with my own thoughts, but first a minor correction - scene 4 happens before scene 3 not after.
I thought it was a great game; it worked
better than I was expecting it to from reading the rules. Although the story ended rather flatly in the end I think this was almost entirely down to running out of time; we'd spent most of the session piling twists into the story and then didn't have time to resolve them.
We didn't really get into complications, so I never really stacked up the coins and in the last scene was down to about 2 while Kev was rolling in them. I think we were underpaying for the events in most of our scenes as well. I was really impressed by the way the challenge mechanic played out in actual play. My favoured example being in scene 3 when Dave narrated Blackburn warning Peiterson off Jenny and then passing the play to me where I promptly dropped the two traits "Thinks Jenny is involved with Blackburn" on Peiterson and "Isn't involved with Blackburn" on Jenny and the other two players challenged me. I'm still not really clear on how the complication mechanic is supposed to fit into play; it's clearly very important as a source of coins but always felt a little forced when it came out in the game.
The story we ended up with was nothing like the story any of us were intending to tell (I think) but it turned out to be something interesting and involving anyway. I see that as a real strength of the game - it often felt like we were batting things up in the air and going "Ha! Take it from there if you can!".
- Jack Aidley,
Great Ork Gods
, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy):
Re: [Universalis] First Steps
Reply #2 on:
September 09, 2005, 02:04:27 AM »
Reading this reminded me a lot of an Aeon Flux episode. I had a feeling the cyber ninja was going to turn out to be Jenny. Very cool that you got such a plot-driven story. And that you kept backing into it. Also cool/interesting that the staple of input was twists. I like that it stayed slim (i.e. no lasersharking) and kept invoking a tight cast. That's an unexpressed tenet right there.
Dallas/Fort Worth Roleplayers
Re: [Universalis] First Steps
Reply #3 on:
September 09, 2005, 05:50:09 PM »
I'm glad to hear it went well. Universalis was written to be fairly emphatic about "Play by the rules all the time and don't blow them off or skimp on them" while leaving the explicit Gimmick mechanic to allow for formal customization. As a result it can take a session or two to get into the habit of actually using the rules actively during play. For alot of folks in many games rules in general tend to get set aside as players get "into play" and by the end of a session play can start to look fairly free form. This is actually a big mistake for successful Uni play but its an easy one to make as the game is so narrative driven. It can become easy to launch into an involved narrative and forget to pay for stuff.
The trick I use most often is to get into the habit of taking your turn with a fist full of Coins while someone else has the paper and pencil. As player one speaks, player two jots down the key words (starts a new Component, adds Traits to other Components, lists off the key events in a phrase each...that sort of thing) and after a paragraph or so of speaking announcing "hey that's 5 Coins for all that". Trick number 2 is for the speaking player to actively drop Coins out of his fist as he's talking. With a bit of practice this becomes pretty seemless and doesn't really interrupt the flow of the narrative. Each Coin dropped signals the recorder to write that down.
Complications are the core of the game, something I'm going to try to emphasize in the revised text. When Complications come into play is really dirt simple and really key:
Whenever you narrate something that effects (i.e. adds a Trait to or is a more-than-color event involving) any Component that you do not currently Control...you've started a Complication. Thats the first bullet at the top of page 62.
If you're narrating something that effects a Component that you do currently Control, its never a Complication.
To that is added the addendum that if you're narrating something that effects a Component that you Control, I can immediately take it over (for a Coin) thereby turning it into a Complication.
There is also the second bullet on page 62 that says I can turn any Event you narrate into a Complication simply by buying dice to oppose you. i.e. you say "Bob is crossing the street" as an event for 1 Coin. I say "theres a lot of oncoming traffic that's headed right for him...2 dice to oppose" for 2 Coins. This is really just an abbreviated way of me Creating a Component "The Street" with the Trait "Oncoming Traffic" for 2 Coins. Since you paid for event where Bob interacts with The Street and I now Control The Street, a Complication is triggered.
There were MANY potential Complications indicated in the write-up.
The unnamed young man killed by the ninja. If 1 player had Created the man (and still Controlled him) and another the Ninja...that was a Complication. If the same player had Created both it could have become a Complication by another player simply paying a Coin to take over one or the other.
Same thing with the car chase between Petersen and Blackburn, the Southern Gentleman coercing Petersen, or even the ninja climbing the side of the building.
Its up to you to decide when something is dramatic enough to warrant a Complication. Use movie logic here. If the scene in the movie plays out in just a couple of frames and the audience doesn't really have any doubt about the outcome its probably best to just narrate and move on. If someone else owns the other Component such that a Complication would ensue, simply pay to Take Over that Component and then narrate normally. If on the other hand this would be a dramatic car chase taking several minutes, or an audience shocking twist, or some other memorable moment...then go ahead and Complicate it.
You should never have to force a Complication they should come out naturally during play, if they don't you might be cutting your scenes off too soon before enough different players have enough stuff going on that they start to interact with each other.
The key rule to remember here is Control. Might be a good idea to study page 19 and 20 a bit. If on my turn I say "Bob is here" I've just Introduced Bob for 1 Coin (assuming he already exists, or Created him if he didn't) and *I* Control him. I can say "Bob crosses the street" (and pay a Coin if that's significant). On your turn you *can't* say "Bob goes into the grocery store" because you don't Control Bob. There are only 4 things you are allowed to do with a Component you don't Control...one of which is to Take Over Bob. So first you have to spend a Coin to take Bob over, and THEN you can have him go into the store.
That's a key rule because following it means that by the time play passes around the table there'll be alot of things in the scene. Stuff I Introduced that's mine, stuff you Introduced that's yours, stuff he Introduced that's his...etc. Unless everyone is basically just playing by themselves, its almost inevitable that somebodies stuff is going to start interacting with somebody elses stuff...and bam...Complication.
Universalis: The Game of Unlimited Stories
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