Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure
Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure Capsule Review by Frank Sronce on 17/03/02
Style: 4 (Classy and well done)
Substance: 3 (Average)
good fantasy RPG system with strong D&D roots
Product: Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure
Company/Publisher: Eilfin Publishing
Page count: 366
Year published: 2001
Comp copy?: yes
Capsule Review by Frank Sronce on 17/03/02
Genre tags: Fantasy
Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure
366 pages, hardbound RPG book
I received a copy of Undiscovered as a complimentary review copy. However, I should point out that, really... this game is competing with other systems like D&D3, Palladium Fantasy, Rolemaster, and similar fantasy adventure games. I, however, don't like any of those systems much; they just aren't the kind of games that I prefer.
So, to do justice to Undiscovered, I'm going to try and summarize and review it while making as few personal comments as possible. Instead, I'll simply describe various aspects of the system. If those descriptions make you go "Ooo, cool!" then, by all means, give Undiscovered a look.
In many ways, it's a traditional sword & sorcery game. Players choose from a variety of traditional fantasy races (humans, barbaric humans, alfar [elves], and dwarves) and some new ones (duster, seraph, muklag, and dracomensc). Most of the races have several sub-races, like Wood Elves, Star Elves and Ice Elves.
It's skill based, rather than class based... you construct your character's abilities by spending Skill Points to purchase new skills (or improve attributes), but there aren't any standard character classes or package deals or anything. There are 8 example characters, though, and they are rather thoroughly explained, something I definitely like. For example, the first character "Helgar the Barbaric Human Warrior" has an Agility of 63. His write-up notes that this gives him an AR (attack rating) bonus of 2 and a base initiative of d6. I'm glad that they didn't just show the totals; this way, you can also see how they are calculated without having to refer back to all of the tables in the character creation section.
You get additional life points and skill points every time you gain a level.
The stats used for characters are Strength, Endurance, Intelligence, Spirit, Agility, Manual Dexterity, Charm and Luck. A quick explanation- most of these work just as you'd expect, with a few exceptions I'll note.
Strength also determines your running speed. Your endurance determines how long you can run, but Strength determines how fast. Strength determines your melee damage bonus; this is doubled when you are using a 2-handed weapon.
Endurance determines how many life points (hit points in D&D) you gain per level. An average person gains 1d10 per level. Interestingly, whenever you increase a spell-casting skill, your Endurance also drops by 1. Since it's a percentile system (average rating being 40-60), this isn't a huge deal, but does mean that mages will tend to get fewer and fewer life points per level as they become more powerful.
Intelligence helps determine how many skill points you gain per level. For a human, the normal range is 7 to 12 per level. Personally, I consider that a big improvement over D&D3's system, where a really smart character gets 8 times as many skill points per level as a really dumb one. It also helps determine your spell and/or psychic power points (for powering these abilities).
Spirit, interestingly enough, governs the chance of you successfully learning a new spell or skill. I'm not sure I like this mechanic. The way it works is like this: when you gain a level, you get skill points to spend. If you spend them to purchase a new skill, you then have to roll your Spirit skill (the average person will get a 60% chance of success). If you succeed, you can start using the new skill you purchased. Otherwise, you stay at the old rating. Every time you gain a level, you get to roll again on any "unactivated" improvements. To me, though, this means that sometimes when you gain a level you'll roll very badly, and just not be able to improve any of your skills at all. Yuck. I can see the point of the mechanic, but it seems like it would be horrid in play. You have to make this Spirit roll in order to spend points on almost anything. Spirit also counts for determining a priest's Miracle Points, but it's a quite critical stat for everyone.
Agility aids your DR (defense rating) and determines how fast you can react when surprised. They have an interesting way of handling surprise. Basically, your Agility determines your Reaction Speed rating, which ranges from 4d12 to as little as 1d4. Whenever you get surprised, you add your Reaction Speed dice to your initiative roll. Since low initiative results are better, this means you react slower. In fact, if your initiative roll exceeds 24, you can't take any actions at all that round. The higher your Agility, the smaller your Reaction Speed dice will be. This is definitely an interesting way to handle things.
Manual Dexterity is very similar to Agility, but theoretically covers things you do with your hands instead of full body movement. It improves your AR and helps determine your regular initiative rolls.
Charm determines how many followers you can have, but interestingly, also determines how many permanent magical items you can have at once. The idea is that all permanent magical items have a bit of their creator's personality in them, and thus won't work if they don't like their wielder, or feel "crowded" by other magic items. It's an odd idea, but definitely a useful control on your PCs.
Luck is kind of weird. It's apparently an "immutable" stat; you aren't allowed to improve it later. It's effect is to randomly adjust your stats a little. If you have a high Luck, you'll get to roll 1 or more d4s. Each one is applied separately... a result of 1 means 5 AR, 2 means 1 melee damage, 3 means 5 DR, and 4 means 5 life points. If your Luck is particularly low, you'll roll some d4s and subtract their bonuses instead of adding them.
There's always some randomness in the ability scores. Even if you choose the "Distribute 400 points" method, afterwards you'll roll a d10 on a little table that adjusts the stat by -5 to 5... but which never just leaves it at the number you chose. So while there are "sweet spots" in the stats (for instance, a luck of 61 is always just as good as a luck of 65), you can't depend on them... the randomness may drop you back into the next lower category.
The "random" method just adds 5d10 to the base value of each stat for a member of your race.
The dice system uses d4s through d12s, and a lot of percentile checks. The skills are kind of odd... there are both "levels" and "ranks" for most skills. The "levels" grant you simple numerical bonuses (like 2 AR), while the "ranks" generally involve new abilities (like getting to make extra attacks during a round). So you might be have a "Large Weapons" rating of 2nd Level Initiate, or 5th level Initiate. Or 3rd level Adept. Each skill has a little chart showing what combinations are acceptable, and how many skill points it takes to reach that level. I'd have preferred a more generic system... instead, whenever you improve a skill, you'll definitely need to consult the book.
Spells are broken up that way, too, although most only have 5 levels to choose from. As you progress from Initiate to Expert in a spell, it'll get more and more powerful.
The character races differ according to their base stats, but they also each get special powers or abilities. Humans get extra skill points. Elves all get night vision. Wood elves are also better with bows, while Star elves can cast "Fire Bow" five times per day and Ice elves get to cast "Frostbite" twice per day and "Ice Ball" once. Dwarves all get one innate "earth magic" power, determined randomly. Some of these are kind of odd, like "Stone Chair", which shapes a boulder into a chair that heals any dwarf who sits in it. Dragon dwarves actually worship and serve dragons, with each tribe dedicating itself to a particular one.
Dusters are humanoids with reptilian features who can turn into snakes or a particular magical reptile form once per day. Seraphs are magically created beings who are never born... they simply appear out of nothing periodically, fully grown. They all possess innate spell-casting abilities. Interestingly, the "normal" Seraphs are much more fragile than normal folk (1/2 life points) but better oriented towards magic (they don't lose the standard 1 endurance each time they increase their spell-casting skills). Some of them undergo a magical ritual that removes both the benefit and the penalty of this, making them more like the other races.
Muklags are big, brutish humanoids with fur, horns, and... I'll quote: "Although their hands are human-like, without claws, when they bunch their hands in the form of a fist, four 6" long claws protrude from the knuckles at the base of their fingers." They are broken up into Cave, Forest and Tundra dwellers, with different stats. All have some level of innate armor.
Dracomensc (the last race) are a sort of cross between Dusters and Dragons. They can all fly, to one degree or another, and some subraces have a randomly determined breath weapon that they can use a certain number of times per day. The possibilities are Acid, Fire, Cold, Poison or a Sonic attack. Each has slightly different game effects.
Many races also get a bonus if they master a particular item-creation skill. For example, whenever a civilized human masters the "craft crossbow" skill, once per level they can try to make a really superior crossbow. Barbaric humans can do the same for leather armor, wood elves for bows, etc.
Most of the races have illustrations showing several examples of their breed, labelled so that you can tell which is which.
There's an extensive list of skills. There are commonly 5-10 different "levels" you can have in each skill. Generally, they work like this: your % chance of succeeding at the skill is based on your stat and your skill level. For example, if you have the Information Gathering skill at "5th Level Adept", your chance of success will be equal to your Intelligence plus your Charm, doubled, then divided by 5. Again, you'll need to consult the book every time you increase a skill, so it's probably a good thing that you only increase skills when you gain a level.
Some skills are much more expensive to increase than others. 5th Level Master is the highest rating. For example, reaching that level in Information Gathering costs 20 skill points, while reaching that level in the more directly useful skill of Stealth costs 60. So there is some balancing between the skills. Powerful spells, in particular, tend to be really expensive to improve.
"Skill & Attribute Enhancers" are a special kind of skill. Each one can only be purchased once per level gained, and they are all pretty cheap. They represent exercises that your character has performed in order to improve his general stats. For example, a level of Power Lifting costs 2 skill points and increases your Strength rating by 1. Since the stats are on a percentile basis, that's nice but hardly overpowered. I like the fact that you can't spend all of your points on one Enhancer and make big jumps in your stats. You can also take Enhancers that get you more Miracle Points, Spell Points, Psionic Points, or just a better AR or DR. There's also a limit on how many times you can purchase some Enhancers (ie- the Dodging one can only be taken 25 times, max).
The equipment section has a long list of weapons and their stats. This includes things like their initiative adjustment and how much damage it does if wielded in one hand or two. The weight of a weapon doesn't appear to affect who can wield it... ah, no, I had missed it. While it might ought to be in the table with the other stats, instead they list the strength required to wield each weapon in its individual description. It's probably because many of them have no minimum strength, and some that do have other restrictions... for example, using a maul requires a minimum Strength of 35 and a minimum height of 5'. So you won't have short-but-strong types wielding weapons that are taller than they are.
Armor adds to your DR, a bit like D&D3. Interestingly, some types of armor are particularly effective vs some types of weapons. For instance, someone wearing Plate Mail takes only 1/2 damage from bladed weapons except for axes and picks.
There are a few spots where they've got some questionable stats... for example, a Great Hammer does the same damage as a Great Sword, except that it's cheaper and a little faster to swing. It also requires less strength and height to wield. Add in the fact that it's better against heavily armored foes and it seems like you'd only want a Great Sword if you're fighting people in padded leather armor (which is resistant to blunt attacks).
There's a fairly decent equipment list, but it's all tables. I know that a sailboat costs 150 gold pieces and can carry up to 10 people, but I don't get a description of what one is like. Still, I'd expect that any experienced gamer will be able to make an educated guess if questions come up in play.
Life points seem fairly equivalent to D&D3 hit points, except that you tend to get a few more (starting characters may have 20-30) and they regenerate faster. A character with average endurance recovers 1 life point per 2 hours of rest.
Interestingly, attack rolls are "lower rolls are better", the same as normal skills. You subtract your roll from your total AR... that's the best DR you can hit. You're knocked out at zero life points, and die when you take additional damage in excess of your Spirit / 5. So the average person has to go to -11 to actually die, but a high Spirit character will be tougher.
When surprised, you double your intiative roll, AND add an adjustment based on your dexterity (higher dex gives you a lower adjustment). Since a round consists of 24 segments, if you end up with an initiative of 52 then you won't be able to act until the third round, whereupon you'll act with an initiative of 4.
They have a brief section on magical oils, potions, medicines, poisons and antidotes. Each lists a variety of things that PCs can learn to make, often with descriptions of their ingredients or where to find them. For example, cobra venom can be used to make a poison which inflicts 3d10 damage immediately, another 2d8 per day for 2 days, and causes 1 hour of paralysis. The better you are at brewing poisons, the more potent it becomes. People who have been poisoned also can't regain life points through rest while poisoned. That's pretty important, since otherwise you'd probably heal faster than it damaged you.
The magic system works much like the skill system. Spells are broken up into "Covens", and each one can be learned at 5 different levels of potency. For example, the "Cat Eyes" spell gives the caster 30' night vision. It lasts 10 minutes if you know the spell at the Initiate level, and 20 if you know if at the Master level. It always costs 23 spell points to cast. Characters tend to have a LOT of spell points, though... the example mage starts with 270.
If you take damage while casting a spell, it gets disrupted. This means a roll on a big table with 100 very random possible results. Some of these have very little effect (Spell is cast at the Expert level, regardless of the original casting level)... others can produce really, really dramatic results.
Here's a verbatim excerpt.
17: Spell affects all within 15' of both the caster and the target. 18: A top hat with a rabbit inside appears in the caster's hands. 19: Caster and target switch bodies for 1d8 rounds. 20: Caster and target switch bodies for 1d10 minutes. 21: Caster and target switch bodies permanently. 22: Caster bursts into flames (4d6 points of damage). etc...
The spells themselves seem pretty straightforward and nicely varied. Many list odd little side effects. They are broken up into 6 covens... Truth, Change, Destruction, Protection, Enchantment, and Lies. Truth and Lies seem to basically be Divination and Illusion magic respectively, but a little broader. For instance, high level Lies magic will let you change your form to assume "false shapes". All of the covens looked pretty useful. Even Truth magic has some pretty powerful spells. For example, "Uncover" lets you touch any object that is blocking your path. This causes it to vanish for a short time, allowing you to cross through. As an "after effect", the affected area emits little puffs of steam for the next hour.
The magic system seems well done. I find the "lose 1 endurance per spell skill increased" to be an interesting mechanism for balancing powerful mages. Unlike D&D3, mages don't start out fragile... they just slowly gain fewer and fewer life points compared to other character types. Spells also can never be learnt from books- the game says that there's just no way to properly write it down. Spells can only be learned from other mages, which does bring up the interesting possibility of mages being held prisoner for their knowledge, being too valuable to kill until you are sure that you know all of their spells.
Psionics and holy Miracles work pretty much the same way, even if they are acquired differently. Psionic powers are broken up into Telepathic, Telekinetic, Pyrokinetic and Psychokinetic powers. Miracles are broken up into Life-Giving, Life-Taking, Light, Darkness, Nature, Protection, Elements, Conflict, Creation, Empathic and Totem miracles. As you would expect, different gods are better at providing different kinds of miracles to their followers. There are a lot of these, and it seems to be a pretty thorough selection.
There's a section on the deities of Arkas (their world). These describe their various holy symbols, their alignment (Undiscovered uses a simplistic alignment system with typical people being rated at -3 to 3 on an evil <-> good scale), and the requirements to be one of their followers (which won't always include alignment). Priests of a particular deity also gain a "bonus miracle" and may also have the ability to command/repel undead creatures. It also has rules for Ancestor Worship, which allows you to cast Totem Miracles by getting the spirits of your ancestors to intervene on your behalf. There are nearly 30 deities described, making for a pretty thorough pantheon. This includes deities like Liath (patron goddess of the ice elves), Helios (god of the sun), and Slather (god of the unknown). Seems pretty well done for what it is... a list of deities to provide starting materials for your campaign.
The GM section has a nice summary of the basic rules. This is a really good idea, and will eliminate a lot of flipping back through the book when getting started. Armor, incidentally, tends to slow the character up (with penalties to Agility and Dexterity) so it isn't always a good idea to wear the heaviest armor you can. You can also purchase some armor use skills which will further increase the DR benefit you get from it. The GM advice section provides a fair bit of pretty straightforward advice for running games. I didn't see anything that I hadn't read in dozens of similar books elsewhere, but it would be good for a novice GM (or AG for "Adventure Guide" in this system). I found it interesting that the segment on XP awards actually gives the lowest rewards for combat situations. If a PC manages to prevent a combat situation by clever skill use, he gets 5x as many XP as he would have if he'd just helped the party fight the opponents. Of course, they also recommend awarding each character additional XP equal to the amount of damage he dealt out to his foes that session. You can gain XP in a variety of ways, but really... if I ran this game I'd just go with a "approximate lump sum" method, the same as when I run D&D.
Their alignment system is pretty non-intrusive. It's just a number slapped on your character to help determine how other people perceive him (and more importantly, how spiritual beings like deities perceive him). You need to be below -3 to be considered really evil, and above 3 to be considered really good. A PC's alignment should rarely change by more than 1 point per session. I liked the list of example adjustments.
Example Good acts: judging known criminals fairly, trying to avoid slaying foes, etc. Example Evil acts: killing those who have surrendered, going out of your way to bring harm to others, etc.
There's a section on permanent magical items... these are rare, since mages have to permanently invest part of their life force in each one. Because of this, you actually have to purchase the "Permanent Magical Item" skill for each item you want to use. Many items have multiple powers, so you may have to actually keep increasing this skill in order to access them all. Your Charm will also limit how many times you can take this skill; to "swap out" an item when you're at your limit will require you to lose one of your "Permanent Magical Item" skills and buy a new one for the new item.
For example, the "Gloves of Burglary" have 3 powers. If you can use them at the Initiate level, you acquire the Picking Locks skill at "5th level Expert". If you increase that skill to Novice, you'll also be able to Find Traps as a 5th level Expert. Finally, if you bump your skill up to Adept, you'll get the third and last power, which gives you Set/Disarm Traps at 5th level Expert.
The "Battle Axe of Death" is a cute item. It's always -20 to hit, but depending on your Permanent Magical Item skill for it, you'll inflict from 12 (Initiate) up to a whopping 60 damage (Master).
The example magic items section ranges from Simple Enchantments, Intermediate (both of the examples above are Intermediate), Major, and Powerful Magical Artifacts. The more powerful ones are named after ancient heroes or deities and have a short description of the item's history.
PC mages can make their own permanent magical items if they're ambitious. But they lose 5 points of Spirit per power invested in it. Considering how important Spirit is to your character's advancement, I'd be surprised if a lot of magic items ever get created in play, even once PCs acquire all of the necessary spells to pull it off.
There are twenty pages devoted to the game setting. This ranges from the cosmology (how the gods made the universe, how they fought amongst themselves and two died) to the recent history of the Vrod empire (where the game assumes your campaign will be set). It's actually written with the knowledge that a local might have, rather than from an omniscient viewpoint. So when the emperor went on a secret mission that may have been linked with a war that broke out shortly thereafter, they leave it up to the GM whether or not there really is a connection.
There are some decent maps in this section, showing most of the continent, the empire itself, and a map of the capital city. Campaign Cartographer, I suspect. The icons used for towns and such look familiar. They aren't quite as detailed as I'd like (towns and villages are shown, but not named and only the most major of roads are depicted), but they'd be fine as a start.
They also include some details on the Vrodian calendar and the city itself. While this is nicely detailed (there are descriptions of 26 important locations in the city), I did have a small gripe. While the text descriptions are in the same order as the numbers used on the map, they don't actually number them. So while the description of the Colosseum is entry 11, you basically just have to skim through the listing until you find it. They should have either been numbered, or put in alphabetical order instead.
The descriptions are often deliberately vague. For example, the entry about the emperor mentions several points of public discussion, such as his true race (he looks different from normal humans), actual age (he's rumored to be the original founder of the city) and ties with a particular dragon. The rumors are mentioned... but no answers are given. Each GM will have to make up his or her own mind on the matter. Personally, I prefer it this way- the setting may not be as "concrete" from campaign to campaign, but there's more room for innovation.
There are about 50 pages devoted to stats and descriptions for various animals and monsters that PCs may encounter in play. The animal section has some odd choices of what to include- we get stats for hyenas, cheetahs and for dire wolves (in the monsters section) but no stats for regular wolves. An odd omission, but still- they cram a lot of critters into these pages. The monsters seem to be a decent selection. Some of them, like Centaurs, have an additional section on how to make a player-character Centaur if you want.
The monster section is kind of cliched, but that's not always bad... certainly, players who are used to D&D won't have any problems with metallic dragons being good and colored dragons being evil (yes, black dragons breathe acid and green dragons breathe poison). Other than NightShades, Skriks and Swampworms, most of the critters are pretty standard. Trolls even regenerate, although not to the really powerful level that they do in D&D. There are a few twists to traditional monsters, but most of them are about what you'd expect if you've played D&D before.
The final section in the book is a photocopiable character sheet. And these guys don't stint for space when they make character sheets. Unlike some games, where they give you a single-sided page to scribble everything down on (invariably leading to several additional pages being attached later), they assume that everything is going to take up a lot of space. You don't just have a "life points" box... it has a big open square beneath it for you to write and erase to your heart's content. The total character sheet is 2 double-sided pages, although the fourth page (for magical spells and similar powers) could be skipped by some PCs.
Alas, that's the last section. I say "alas", because there's no index. Yeah, the table of contents is decently well detailed, but I always prefer my games to have a full-fledged index. Oh, well. Not a big loss, since I didn't see any materials that were obviously not in the correct chapters, but it would have been nice.
Overall, the book has only occasional typos, and seems well laid out. There are many illustrations, all of reasonable quality, but not stunning, either. It's all by the same guy (who does seem quite competent at drawing a wide variety of things, though his females always seem awfully scrawny to me), so I'd actually suggest flipping through a copy and judging for yourself. If you like his art style, you'll like all of the art... and if you hate it, you'll hate it all. Most of the art is quite closely matched to the text and illustrates it quite well. Always a plus in my opinion.
In total... I ended up with a surprisingly (to me, anyway) high opinion of the book. If you don't mind some neat-but-arbitrary setting elements (like creatures that can use a certain power exactly twice per day or races where every member knows the same spell), you'll probably like it. For what initially seemed like another D&D knock-off, this is a very high quality game.
Substance 3, Style 4. I'd rate it higher if it didn't have many of the "features" of games like D&D that bug me, like levels and randomized hit points, but that's just me.
Oh, and their website is www.eilfin.com. Check it out.