Review of Undiscovered

Review Summary
Comped Capsule Review
Written Review

April 19, 2004


by: Darren MacLennan


Style: 5 (Excellent!)
Substance: 2 (Sparse)

Undiscovered has a clean system, some of the best layout work that I've ever seen - and then throws it away in a futile attempt to try to reinvent a thirty-year old game.

Darren MacLennan has written 117 reviews, with average style of 3.56 and average substance of 3.38. The reviewer's previous review was of Gehenna.

This review has been read 9453 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: Undiscovered
Publisher: Eilfin Publishing
Line: Undiscovered
Author: Adam D. Theriault, Antonio Da Rosa, Phillip Theriault
Category: RPG

Cost: $29.95
Pages: 368
Year: 2001

SKU: EIL 1001
ISBN: 0-9688784-0-7


Review of Undiscovered


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I spent most of my time at Origins looking around frantically for Jason Sartin; thanks to a mixup in communications, we hadn’

  I spent most of my time at Origins looking around frantically for Jason Sartin; thanks to a mixup in communications, we hadn’t gotten around to establishing where we were going to meet or when. While I was there, however, a thought occurred to me: Since I was a reviewer, I'd might as well see if anybody wanted a review for their product. Easy enough, right?

 

            It’s been a while since then, and I have to apologize to the various companies that I got products from for the tardiness of my reviews. (Well, actually, since my reviews generally top ten thousand words, it’s not surprising. In order to get these things out on time, I’ve decided that I’m going to cut down on my wordage and just cover the heights.) In any case, Undiscovered was one of the first products that I picked up, and it’s the classic example of a fantasy heartbreaker. I mean, you could find a picture of this thing in the dictionary, under the heading “Fantasy Heartbreaker.” (And god bless Ron Edwards for coming up with that wonderful essay of his.)  

 

            See, the major problem with Undiscovered isn’t the rules system – which is amazingly simple and straightforward, involving simple percentage rolls – or the character creation rules – which, while a little math-heavy, are cleanly organized and straightforward enough – or the layout, which ranks in my mind as one of the best, cleanest designs for a book that I’ve ever seen.

 

Undiscovered’s primary problem lies in the fact that it’s basically rewritten Dungeons and Dragons. AGAIN.

 

I just don’t get the impulse to do this.

 

Actually, I do get the impulse, but then I have to bite into a sock in order to stifle the impulse to scream until my lungs burst. Not only are you rewriting a game that’s already got its own market cornered, you’re also competing with the memetic juggernaut that is d20 AND you’re doing so with a closed system that has no room for expansion outside of what the original authors come up with.

 

As a homebrew system, Undiscovered is great. As a competitor to Dungeons and Dragons – as a game that’s actually meant to be sold – it’s dead before it even got started. It’s like trying to compete with the Playstation by bringing out a game console that costs the same amount of money, only plays one game – Groond Thooft Oooto IV, with a top-down perspective and a five-by-five block radius – and is invisible outside of Origins and the few game stores that picked it up.

 

 The system, however, is absolutely great. Let me sum it up, and just marvel at its simplicity: You roll percentile dice. If it’s under that percentage, you succeed. If there’s a difficulty involved, then you take a penalty - say -20 - to your percentile score.

 

 That’s it.

 

 That’s all that there is to it.

 

 It’s as simple as Call of Cthulhu - more so. No binomial equations, no probability charts, no sliding target numbers based on skill – just roll the dice and see if it’s under the percentage. Those of you coming up with your own system would be WELL FUCKING ADVISED to use this as their model, instead of raiding their calculus texts for a new way of determining probability by the use of a mathematical model that describes a five-dimensional timecube.

 

Another thing that Undiscovered deserves unqualified praise on is the cleanliness and clarity of its design principle. The character creation system, which could have been a mass of foggy half-instructions leading into the What-The-Fuck bog, is laid out cleanly enough that anybody can do it – and, even more helpfully, each section of the character creation is annotated with an example of the concept in question. Each spell has its own format, and it’s nowhere near the twisted morass of, say, Palladium’s formatting, which basically throws italics and bold around like Palladium’s being sponsored by the Control-I and Control-B industries. As a matter of fact, if you’re going to be printing your own role-playing game, then you could do a hell of a lot worse than to hire these guys to do your layout and editing for you. Come to think of it, I’d strongly recommend it.

 

 The races are all pretty standard stuff; besides the old stalwarts like elves, dwarves and humans, we also get dracomenscs (whose last name sounds uncomfortably close to menses, a phenomenon with little connection to six-foot tall humanoid dragons), dusters (humans with faint traces of snake/draconic ancestry), Seraphs (magic-using neuters whose new members spontaneously appear), and muklag (yeti / Wookiee types.) All races get some kind of magical bonus that they can perform - dwarves can cast minor rock magics, elves can cast a fire bow spell once a day, dusters can transform into snakes and so forth. It reminds me a little bit of online games like Dark Ages of Camelot, where you can gain some magical skill appropriate to your class after a certain level.

 

 Character creation involves either distributing four hundred points and dice-rolling for some minor adjustments (-5 to +5, depending on a d10 roll) or simply rolling dice and adding them to your racial minimum and rolling the +5 to -5 adjustment afterwards. The attributes are nothing to write home about, although we do get a page-length breakdown for each listing their various functions and advantages of each of the attributes. I should note that the entire thing is explained clearly and cleanly, without any extra gasbagging, and I can praise them very highly for this – and, in fact, I do, later on in the review.  

 

The skill selection is a little weirder. You have three different things that you can spend skill points on – power skills, which are basically combat skills, percentage skills, and skill and attribute boosters. Power skills essentially allow you to use a larger percentage of an attribute as a combat score, bought up in stages and moving in stages from Initiate all the way to Master – it’s a little complicated, but it’s explained neatly enough that there’s no particular confusion.

 

Percentage skills are just like any percentage-based skill, although there is a lot of skill slump – for example, instead of, say, “Survival”, you get Foraging, Fishing, Hunting/Tracking and Camp Building all as separate skills. It’s pointlessly wasteful to do that, and rather sharply annoying to boot. Attribute enhancers let you spend points in order to gain minor bonuses to various skills, or to gain more power points or what-not. There’s also a sample character creation runthrough including, so that you can follow along; and if that’s not enough, then there’s a bunch of sample characters so you can get an idea of how to put characters together.

 

The combat system is where the system starts to show some stress cracks. In an ugly, ugly throwback to the original D&D, you have to determine your ability to hit somebody with a DR of 0 – which is a fancy way of saying “Add up all of your bonuses, then use that as as a percentage to hit.” As a matter of fact, that’s basically all that you have to do – determine your attack bonus, subtract your opponent’s defense rating, and then roll under your new number. The book explains in a rather obtuse and elliptical style, which is unfortunate considering how simple their system really is.

 

The magic system works on a point-fuelled basis, with greater and greater effects occurring depending on your level of expertise in the magic skill. For some odd reason, schools of magic are called “covens”, even though that word has absolutely nothing to do with…well, anything to do with schools of magic; it’s another example of that syndrome you see in role-playing games where a word that’s vaguely associated with a topic is grabbed up and then grostesquely mutated to mean something else – witness Wraith’s dubbing of positive and negative spiritual energy “Pathos” and “Angst”, for example, or the re-labelling of ten minutes as a “turn” in early Dungeons and Dragons.

 

The setting: It’s about as generic as fantasy can get without actually sporting the little “Made in Taiwan” letters on the bottom of the various fantasy tropes – cooperation between men, elves and dwarves, empires rising and falling, the gods all being spawned from some central being, one of them goes bad, blah blah blah. There’s just a certain point where you lose your interest in flailing through this stuff; for me, it came after the first page.

 

And that’s pretty much the book in a nutshell. It’s a simple system that’s handicapped by doing very little that’s actually anything new – it’s Malibu Stacy with a new hat, a Model T with a new paint job, a fantasy heartbreaker.

 

 Overall, Undiscovered isn’t a bad game. It does a lot of things right; the real tragedy is that it does so in service of a goal that’s absolutely pointless. There’s a lot of good design principles at work with Undiscovered, but the subject matter – along with a refusal to do anything interesting with it – ultimately cripple the game.

 

  

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