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Subject: Our First Game (2 players) rss

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Jorge Arroyo
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So I recently learned about this game and was very intrigued. So when I found a place where I could order it from within Europe, I did so without hesitation. It arrived a few days later.

I haven't been able to read the whole book yet, but between what I did manage to read and what I had learned about the system from the website and forums, I thought I was mostly ready to give it a try...

My girlfriend (Reyes) was a bit skeptical about her own ability to create a story from scratch (and I was too), but she was also interested in an RPG that we could play on our own...

We started setting up the story. It'd be a Sci-fi story without space ships.Instead, there are inter-dimensional gates to travel between different places and planets, but these gates have been long forgotten except by few people. Also there is a race of people that are oppressing most of the population and groups of resistance to the oppressors. The resistance has access to better technology but lacks the numbers to really go against the oppressors. And they know about the gates but cannot use them and are mostly isolated in one planet. Last, the oppressors are addicted to a drug. They use slaves to mine for it.

So the story started with the Leader of the Resistance asking a Technology Expert in the group about the progress to unlock the secrets of the gates. He indicates that he's managed to learn a way to activate the gates but a special kind of mineral is needed to make them function. This mineral can only be found in the mountains to the north of the base of the resistance. The Leader of the Resistance points out that there are some of their people infiltrated into the mines where the oppressors get their drug. A small band should head north to contact them and try to get some of the special mineral. But it'll be dangerous...

Later, in a tavern where the slaves that have agreed on their own to work for the oppressors can relax for a while, two members of the resistance (The Leader and his Bodyguard) disguised as locals try to meet their contact in the mountains, a drunken cook that is responsible of bringing the food to the slaves. The Leader aproaches the drunken man and tries to pick a fight to try to take him outside. He also whispers a code to identify him as a member of the resistance. The cook is surprised but plays along and they both go outside to a quiter place. The Bodyguard joins them a bit later.

Outside the Leader explains his plan, and the cook says how little chance they'd have of success. In the middle of the discussion, two guards that were passing nearby hear them and quickly try to arrest them. A fight starts and as the bodyguard draws his gun, a guard knocks it away with a lance. The other guard hits the cook on the head as he's trying to get something to fight with. The Leader is alone and surrenders. When they're about to start taking him to a cell, he feigns falling and manages to grab the gun on the ground, killing the guards. An alarm starts screaming and he manages to wake his companions and run towards the mountains.

Search parties are organized and they go out to look for the fugitives. They in turn, hide in a cave that the cook knows leads to the mines. They see a group of guards in the vicinity of the cave as they start into the tunnel.

At the end of the tunnel, they can spy the inside of the caves where the slaves are mining. Some guards are there but not many and mostly distracted. The Leader recognizes a slave that used to be in the resistance long ago. He carefully approaches him and they talk for a while. After an exalted and surprised greeting, the slave explains that in about half an hour the guards will all go to get their dose of the drug and will be easier to fool, but anyway, escape will be impossible. The Leader tells him that he should tell the other slaves to mine for the special mineral instead of the drug, so that if they manage to find a way to escape, they can take some with them.

When the Leader returns to the tunnel to explain all this to the others, they're interrupted by the search party that finally found the cave, but they manage to give themselves away too soon and are easily defeated with the gun. As the combat has taken placed in the hidden tunnel, the guards inside the mine don't notice anything. Then right after this, the Technology Expert from the resistance, which had stayed hidden with a small group when the others went into the tavern, appears from the tunnel. He explains that using his hand computer to look for them when they failed to come back to the hiding spot, he managed to detect the signature of one of the inter-dimensional gates, right inside the mountain!

So after waiting for the guards to go take their dose of drug and the slaves giving them enough rocks from the special mineral, they all set off through the tunnels to go to the gate. The guards, soon followed after, but they managed to reach the gate. The Technology Expert started activating the gate when guards started to arrive to the gate chamber. The others fought them while the gate was activated. At this point, they went through the gate, which had been set to overload and exploded when the guards came into the room.

And here ends the story of our first session playing Universalis Sure, the story isn't too original or anything, but when we started playing we had nothing in our minds. This came out bit by bit as we took turns to create/control characters and events... In total we spent 1 hour and a half, and had to rush the final scene (which is the one that to me feels most "artificial") because it was getting late...

I don't know if we'll continue this story, but I can see the potential this system has for big sagas that expand through countless numbers of sessions... We'll sure be playing the game again and hopefully with more confidence. It's been years since I've done any kind of RPGing and we both felt strange getting into characters to speak dialogues. But it sure was fun!

I also want to try the variant where each player chooses a character as their PC, for a more traditional RPG experience. It seems specially fun if the characters have slightly different goals, so there is some friendly competition...

And last, as a two player game I think it works pretty well. I'm sure it will be more fun with more, but I'd rather play this with only two players than a normal RPG with 1 GM and 1 player.


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Ralph Mazza
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Hey, this is a real kick seeing Uni on the Geek. I've long been an advocate of bringing boardgame-esque clarity to RPG rules (you know stuff like "object of the game" and actual design effort spent on order of play and who gets to do what, when) so if any RPG is going to be on BGG it might as well be this one.

Sounds like you had a had a pretty good session. Can't tell whether you made any mistakes since you didn't include any mechanics in your write up, but it sure sounds like typical first time Uni output. Even the fact that the story's "not original" is pretty standard for initial play. Most of my convention demos wind up drawing pretty heavily on recognizable tropes and cliche.

Uni does work very well with two players. Our early playtests were just Mike and I, but you'll notice a big difference in play with 3 players and I think 4-5 is best. With 2 players the game tends to look more like "I'm your GM and you're my GM" but with multiple players you can have all sorts of different spontaneous combinations. Some scenes will resemble 4 players with 1 GM. Some will resemble 1 player with 4 GMs. Some will have 2 or more "teams" of players working against each other...with or without a "GM". There's alot of variety and alot more suspense from not knowing what curves the other players will throw at you...and more players will often mean more curves. Its also less creatively stressful with more players since with more ideas being put forward it becomes easier to spend time playing off of others creativity and not have to do all of the heavy lifting yourself. You do have to expect a bit more silly absurdity the first couple of sessions with many players. Its easier for 2 or 3 players to maintain tone, but, with multiple players, things can get pretty crazy pretty quickly. But once the novelty of toying with absolute power wears off future games with veteran players can get much more down to business.

I actually don't recommend the Player Character variants. If everyone starts spending too much time in "play my character" mode the game tends to grind to a halt.

Its normal for the first few games to feel less like roleplaying because you're spending more time manipulating the rules like a GM and less time in character. But with experience you'll find the rules become pretty second nature. If you take each opportunity to really play whatever character(s) you happen to be in control of right then to the hilt you can get your roleplaying immersion fix in shorter doses before hopping off to play another character. Just like a GM has to do when playing all of the NPCs.

Thanks for the write up. Keep me posted as to how your future play goes.

Ralph Mazza
www.ramshead.indie-rpgs.com
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Jorge Arroyo
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Thanks for the answer. I must say I'm quite impressed with the game so far. The game mechanics really do feel boardgame like, and I think it fits here well.

What also impressed me is that even though our story could have been better (although considering how uninspired we felt when starting I think it didn't turn that bad), the fact that it wasn't didn't take away from the fun of actually playing the game. The way you try to maneuver the events and characters so that everything fits and at least makes sense, is not so easy, and it is fun.

I'll try the game with more players when I have a chance, although most of my gaming is with my girlfriend, and I really appreciate the fact that we two can have fun and role play by ourselves.

I also have some ideas I want to explore that would make the game even more "boardgame like": Give each player a goal and limit the game either with time or with coins. Then see who managed to accomplish more. The most basic would be evil player vs. good player, but more complex roles could be assigned too...

Also, since I love sci-fi and shows like Star Trek (both the original and Next Gen), I'd really like to role play a story with that structure: A cast of characters having a different and complete adventure each session. I think the system would work really well.

Thanks, and congratulations on an excellent game!

Edit: We did actually try to RP and speak in character during the game, but our skills are a bit rusted I didn't write any dialog on the session because it really wasn't worth much. I expect our skills to get better as we recover our RPGing skills...

Also, what I want to try if we play each a character is to create 2 characters that have to cooperate but that have some element of competition to drive the story forward, and to create interesting and funny situations. But I think you're right in that it's easier to lose the scope of the story. We'll see how it goes...

-Jorge
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