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Universalis - Discussion

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Universalis - Discussion

This is a discussion about Universalis by Ralph Mazza.
Title: Universalis
Author: Ralph Mazza
Game Type: Collaborative Story
GM?: No
Free?: Yes

Whatever Happened to Universalis?

Universalis cover
Or Ralph Mazza and Mike Holmes from whence it came.

I know, I know – asking questions about role-playing games that are nearly 20 years old now is out of style unless they have a dungeon attached or a large videogame property, but I'm a weirdo. Especially when the subject of near free-form role-playing game design comes up, I have to talk about Universalis, but that's very difficult to do if no one can get their hands on it for love or money.

The Ramshead site has suffered significant bit decay and the link to the shop that was selling the PDF still works, but the shop says that it's out of stock… Which might be a discussion for another day, but it starts with "did you run out of bits to pour into the mixing machine that makes the PDFs?"

We should really develop some sort of public archive for small-ish story games which have gone "out-of-print." Or at least be able to hunt down the creators, smack them around very gently, and demand in a polite Canadian voice that they provide us a way to hand them money in exchange for old goods.

Gotcha, fam.

See here: Universalis

It's still in print too.https
public archive

We should really develop some sort of public archive for small-ish story games which have gone "out-of-print."

In fact, as the link above demonstrates, I do that here.

The Amazon page says "Temporarily out of stock. Order now and we'll deliver when available."
Upon investigation it does not seem to be available POD; in other words, it's only available from profiteers who previously bought a copy and are now selling it at a raised price.
So I'm keeping my local copy available, since the authors aren't making any money off that Amazon link.

Owned a copy for over a

Owned a copy for over a decade.
Still haven't played. It's awesome on paper!

Played it a couple of times

Universalis is one the games where everyone has lots of narrative power, and hence which easily turns into silliness or absurdity. That is fine as a mechanics tutorial, or maybe amusing by itself. If one wants something else, then an established group and clear discussion about what kind of story to tell are appropriate.

I have the feeling that a game with less mechanical overhead, but same purposes, would be possible and preferable.

Was it Ralph or Mike who

Was it Ralph or Mike who talked at length about how pretty much everyone who tried Universalis for the first time inevitably had to push it in the weirdest direction they could possibly come up with ?

Maybe that isn't such a big thing now that we've had years of high player input and GM-less RPGs around, but I can see that still being plenty mind-blowing for players who have only ever experienced a more traditional style RPG.

It's not necessarily bad or a

It's not necessarily bad or a sign of bad players, wanting to push the limits. Going silly is a learning phase. Like flight simulators, too many people stop at that : spinning out of control and crashing.
Universalis is awesome and helped me figure what I wanted to design. I don't know if it has neat instructions on how to set expectations. Bankuei "Same page tool" was published in what ? 2010 ? What sort of technology players had to set expectations at the time ? I wonder.

Running out of bits

I really support the movement to start archiving or maintaining old indie games. Dogs in the Vineyard recently disappeared off the net, for instance, and that is a huge loss.


I’ve never played Universalis, but my impression has been like Thanuir’s: that we now have so many games that do the same thing with simpler and more fluid mechanics. Doling our narration with Clins, in particular, always sounded very tedious and clunky to me.

However, I could be wrong. Is there anyone here with experience playing Universalis AND newer GMless story games? How do they compare?

Universalis had the

Universalis had the possibility of being really, really open, which may be why it had a tendency to have " Crazy" games more than other, later games which, at minimum, came with some sort of focusing built in.

The coins were an attempt, early on, to limit how crazy things could get, but based solely on player group preferences , rather than anything thing done prior to play or based on external reference sources.

I never played it

I just needed it to see how it works.

I <3 Universalis and always

I <3 Universalis and always will.

It's super fun as a con-game with strangers. It always goes like this: explanation, tenet phase, start and resolve a scene, start and resolve a nearly unrelated scene, play through a mind-blowing scene that ties those first two together with an amazing twist or connection that someone pulled out of the subtext and no one else saw, play more scenes that expand on that.

I also played in two or three longish games on a wiki with Mike Holmes, Trevis Martin, and various other folks. I'm not sure if those still exist as archives.

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