6 July 2012

A quick look at Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying

Even though I have found some great free introductory RPGs for my forthcoming RPG primer I am still on the lookout for other games that might fit the bill. This lead me to Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying (USR), a ten page set of rules from blogger Scott Malthouse (Trollish Delver).

What is it?

USR is a generic and rules-light role playing game with a focus on being easy to learn and play. It comes as a ten page PDF and is available for free. There is some mention of the system being used to power future products

How does it work?

Unbelievably simple is the name of the game. All characters are made up of 4 stats; Action, Wit, Ego, and Hits. During character creation players assign one of several die sizes to each of the first three and then roll the dice selected for Action and Wits to determine the value of Hits. The only other step for creating a character, other than applying personal details, is to choose three Specialisms. These are just player-defined skills or abilities and they give players a +2 bonus when they are relevant during tests.

Actually playing the game is no more difficult than making a character. One player takes on the traditional role of GM and the others proceed through the usual back and forth that makes up traditional table top role playing. The GM decides when something requires a a die roll (Test in mechanical terms) and the players will roll a die based on the relevant stat. Specialisms or equipment might provide a bonus if they are relevant to the test, otherwise it all comes down to the roll. USR also makes use of something called Narrative Points to give players a touch more control over their fate. If you are familiar with the benefits provided by Fate Points, Bennies or Hero Points then you should have a good understanding of what these do. Players can cash in their Narrative Points to add something to a scene, get a one time bonus or maybe even a re-roll.

I like the system. It's simple and straightforward. USR fills the same niche as games like Risus or Microlite and probably rests somewhere between the two in its level of crunch. Of the three, USR is probably the best match for my needs in a simple system. That said, it doesn't do much that engages my interest as a veteran of many RPGs..

Final thoughts.

The system is as simple as the name of the game would have you believe. The actual game, however, isn't well suited for beginners if there is not an experienced GM to show them the ropes. USR suffers from the same classic mistake as so many other simple and free RPGs that I have looked have: the rules and writing make a half-hearted attempt to explain the nature and structure of role playing and then just continue on with the expectation that the reader understands. It just is not friendly to someone that has never played a tabletop RPG before. This same problem is aggravated by the lack of any kind of play example to aid a potential player in figuring things out.

Another thing I found very jarring about the rulebook is that it just kind of ends. I don't know if the author decided that ten pages was their limit or what, but they really need to put some better thought into bookending their work. A page or two of an example session, a short adventure or some examples of applying USR to different settings/genres would be a much better way to close out the rules. Even a simple thank you for reading section would do wonders in this department. In its current form I was left wondering if I was missing part of the rules.

Right now USR suffers from a feeling of being incomplete and it needs at least another few pages to address my concerns above. Those complaints aside, the game is good enough to recommend alongside Risus or Microlite for anyone interested in super-lightweight role playing games. I look forward to seeing USR power a more complete product.

Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying is available for free at DriveThruRPG.


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