Review of Other Worlds

Review Summary
Comped Playtest Review
Written Review

July 16, 2012

by: Lev Lafayette

Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 3 (Average)

A story-game that with some detailed applied to narrative mechanics, and very little to other creative agendas or focus. Emphasises co-operative play with choice of genre, game-length, stakes, etc in a more codified manner. Writing style could do with some serious improvement.

Lev Lafayette has written 135 reviews, with average style of 3.19 and average substance of 3.17 The reviewer's previous review was of Rifts World Book 1: Vampire Kingdoms New Revised Edition.

This review has been read 2624 times.

Product Summary
Name: Other Worlds
Publisher: Signal 13
Line: Other Worlds
Author: Mark Humphreys
Category: RPG

Year: 2011

SKU: FAC 13 5201

Review of Other Worlds

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Other Worlds is pitched as a heroic, dramatic and generic game system with a strong 'narrativist' orientation, with explicit influences noted from HeroQuest, Burning Empires, and Sorcerer & Sword. The product comes in at 210 pages, with a one page table of contents, a four page differentiated index, and some evocative and appropriate illustrations by Storn A. Cook, albeit of varying skill and detail. The cover art in particular is very good; the interior art varied in quality significantly. The text is mostly two-column justified with a larger serif font with clearly marked page numbers and chapter titles in the hefty margins. The writing style is formal, but quite heavy on the explanatory side which accounts a lot for the 212 page text.

After the obligatory, but fairly good, 'what is roleplaying and how to do it' pages, Other World launches into a rules synopsis, necessary due to some less common features in design and resolution. Characters are defined by three terms; templates (what the chracter is), abilities (what a character can do), and ratings (how well a character can do something). Characters encounter conflicts, resolved by setting the frame (establishing success or failure), allocating screen time, calculating ratings, determining oppositiong rating, determining the winner (d100 + rating, highest roll wins), and applying consequences. Three core principles operate throughout Other Worlds; anything can be an ability, anything can be a conflict, and the group owns the setting.

Rather than come with a pre-established setting, the game starts with worldbuilding. This is a cooperative development among the players as a committee, with the GM acting as a 'chairperson', starting on a setting, which apparently can also combine setting, theme and characters (e.g., 'Pirates of the Caribbean meets Doctor Zhivago... in space!' is one example), followed by the character concepts, the details of the game (e.g., overall length etc), and finally the NPCs and opening scene. Character concepts in particular establishes a power level, which is the default ability level; 10 for children, 50 for legends and demigods. These power levels really surprised me in terms of how modest the differences are between characters, especially for a system that runs resolution with a d100 roll as a randomiser. Overall, this is a pleasing proposal, something that it is of course, well-established as an informal process, but quite necessary and works well for a genre-independent game.

Character generation begin with a broad concept, and personal details (name, appearance etc) that are largely independent of system effects. The player then chooses a cultural and professional template, trademarks and relationship. The character then selects eight other general abilities, four personality traits, four relationships, four goals and four flaws. The very specific quantities here do feel a bit like a straight-jacket. There are five different types of abilities available: general abilities, personality traits, relationships, goals, and flaws. Ratings are equal to the assigned power level, a +5 bonus is applied from each template, +10 bonus to one trait, +5 to two others, -10 to one other, and -5 to two others. Not only sentient characters, but anything can provided a list of appropriate abilities. One example in the book is a tomb, which has the personality trait "Dark and Foreboding". These abilities can be used as support abilities for those in the scence or even as direct skills, as the narrator's whim.

Each character receives 3 "spotlight points", describes a preliminary supporting character, and a prologue ability. The prologue ability represents a new single session ability that introduces the character to the story. Spotlight points are used to focus on particular narrative details and can be gained during play by "pushing the story forward in an interesting manner". To help aid character generation, the fifth chapter is dedicated to providing character templates for a modern setting. NPCs with the title "Supporting Characters" can be created by the GM, as normal, but also "out of thin air", or by promoting an existing "Extra" by the player spending Spotlight Points. Spotlight points are gained through entertaining play (determined by other players), losing a meaningful conflict, and losing a supporting character. Spotlight points can also be used to "reverse the polarity" on dice rolls, raise the stakes, and use more than the standard three abilities in a conflict. They can also be used to buy a new ability, raise an existing one, and buy or remove a flaw.

When resolving abilities, broad-based descriptions receive penalties for particular actions (as do very narrow abilities), although there is represented in a fairly vague manner. Relevant abilities can be used regardless of their pragmatic association; the personality ability Hate Undead can be used to physical fight zombies. Flaws are used to reduce an ability rating in appropriate conflicts. Characters may also acquire temporary abilities during a session, gained through conflicts. Conflicts are resolved by framing the conflict, as well as establishing the stakes if the character loses, calculating ratings (base ability plus up to three supporting abilities at half value for the first and 10% value for the other two), rolling a contested d100+rating, and applying temporary abilities or flaws depending on the result. Interestingly, the player and the GM have to agree on the stakes if the character loses. This give the player some GM-like narrative buy-in, but loses the spontaneous effects of a GM-only decision (both good and bad). A victory by less than 10 is a partial victory, from 10 to 99 a standard victory, and over 100 (or rolled doubles) a critical victory.

Game sessions are quite structured, beginning with a recap, followed by expenditure of Spotlight Points, the provision of feedback tokens (which players can give to other players for good roleplaying), and a game sequence of setting the scene, exploring the scene, and conflict, a three-stage process that continues to the end of the session. At the end of the session there is a call for feedback, spending of Spotlight Points, and elimination of temporary abilities. During the resolution of action, the GM may decide for a "set piece" scene, which represents a highly detailed scene where all characters have an investment. In such scenes sides have the opportunity to escalate or resolve the conflict at various points.

There are three chapters dedicated to playing Other Worlds. The first two include one from a player's perspective and one from a GM's perspective. Both of these emphasise the importance of narrativist play, the use of the various levers and buttons that the mechanics allow, and how to develop a dramatic story. The third chapter is adapting different genres to Other Worlds, which discusses templating archetypes, establishing the power level, defining abilities, and genre-specific conflict resolution. Example snapshots are given for several genres, providing ample filler for what is basically a list of potential abilities. The final chapter is a handy rules summary. There is some good in Other Worlds; certainly they did an excellent job at elaborating a story-centric type of RPG, and paid a great deal of attention in incorporating some of the tropes from serial television adventures. However this does come at a cost; the game doesn't give sufficient attention to other styles of play (e.g., a simulationist agenda, or character-centered) play, which it unfortunately a common issue with storygames such as these. There is a genuine attempt to introduce player buy-in to the gaming process, which is always recommended, in a more formal manner; if you like the social contract of the gaming table is headed towards codification, with the positive and negatives this implies. The resolution method is fine, but the power levels are simply not substantial enough in comparison to the random component. Finally, and it must be mentioned again, the game loses ground simply on account of the writing; it's not that it's particularly bad, it's just verbose, spiritless, and tiring, taking far too much time to explain relatively simple concepts without flair.

Style: 1 + .4 (layout) + .4 (art) + .8 (coolness) + .4 (readability) + .5 (product) = 3.9

Substance: 1 + .5 (content) + .3 (text) + .6 (fun) + .7 (workmanship) + .5 (system) = 3.6

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