In addition to Universalis providing many sessions of fun play, our fans have found other uses for the game as well. If you’ve used Universalis in one of these ways, or in a way we haven’t thought of yet, let us know and tell us how it went.
Player Driven Metaplot
There are several benefits to a strong, well-detailed metaplot. They provide a number of ready made plot hooks for the GM to build upon and give the players a real sense that the world actually exists. In other words that there are things going on in the background that the characters may or may not be a part of. There are some strong disadvantages to metaplot too. If the source material is too tightly woven to it, then large parts of the game setting may become unusable based on a play groups actions. Even worse is when players become disinterested in major elements of a meta plot. No matter how good the game is, if the players don’t buy into the story and become committed to moving it forward play can quickly become lack luster.
Universalis is a great way of providing metaplot to your games while avoiding many of the disadvantages. In between sessions of regular play, players can get together for a quick session of Universalis (often this can be fit in before a session while waiting for late comers, or afterwards when some players have to leave early. It’s also very easy to do on-line). In the Universalis game, players will be concerned with crafting the actions of the mover and shakers of the world, playing out what the various factions and power brokers are up to. For instance, in a Vampire campaign where player characters are relatively weak soldiers, Universalis can be used to play out the interactions and plotting of the influential powers. The new happenings and story lines so developed can then be easily brought into the Vampire game as current events going on in the city.
There are two huge advantages to this. First, the players will never outrun or render obsolete a prewritten metaplot. Likewise, GMs won’t have to railroad players in order to keep them within the canon material. Instead the metaplot that is created over time using Universalis will already be customized to the needs of the actual campaign being played. Second, players will be much more into the story because its one which they helped to develop. Whatever aspect of the setting that the players find most compelling is the one most likely to be developed in the Universalis game. Thus, the GM can be assured that when he dangles plot hooks based on that game, his players will eagerly leap at them.
One of Universalis’s strengths is the ease at which entire sections of a world can be created on a meaningful level very quickly. Locations, key characters, and the web of connections between them all get created as part of an ordinary Universalis game. One of the things we’ve been amazed at, is how good some of those Universalis creations would be as a scenario for another game. The places, people and situations created by the game can be easily modified and adapted into an adventure to use in another RPG. At GenCon 2002 we ran several demos. One of those demos would have made a great scenario (with minor modification to adapt to setting specific details) for a game like Blue Planet or The Babylon Project. Another was practically begging to be played in Feng Shui or even Unknown Armies.
Beyond just scenarios for other games, Universalis can create entire worlds for other game systems. A big part of the design of Universalis has always been to allow each game session to build upon the setting created in prior sessions, even if the characters and plot are different. Such an ongoing world creation effort can easily provide the background for an entire setting useable with another RPG system like GURPS or FUDGE.
One of our play test groups set out to do just that. They wanted to handcraft their own fantasy setting, so they started with Universalis. The earliest characters they introduced would become the gods of their world. Through play they fashioned a creation story and an entire mythology complete with a war between the gods and gods who were banished or even dead. They moved on history where they fashioned the legends and great historical events of the world complete with mighty heroes and a couple of sagas. When finished they took the whole thing and wrote it up for play with GURPS Fantasy. Benefit: every player had a vested interest in the world that they had helped create and all of them shared knowledge of a common history and mythology that was all the more meaningful to them because they had written it.
“We used Universalis to create a setting and it was splendid. Before the game even started we had this rich, layered, detailed setting. Universalis is a neat, neat game/gaming tool/imagination prod. — Judd Karlman aka “Paka” who used Universalis to design a campaign for The Riddle of Steel
A LARP session is only as good as the character relationships and plot points which drive it. Coming up with new situations with enough things going on to hook the players and drive interaction forward is a challenging endeavor and can lead to flat game play if not done well. At least one player who organizes LARPs intends to use a game of Universalis to help develop the character map and plot points for an individual run; and also to advance the story arc between runs.
The format of the Universalis rules makes it ideal for PBEM or chat room play. There’ve been a number of games played via Wiki. In fact, our first play tests of the game were exclusively through chat. Its exceptionally good with chat rooms with a dice server which makes Universalis a good option for groups that can’t meet face to face. Universalis can also be used to provide some formal structure to persistent free form chat room or forum based role-playing for groups that would like a few more rules to work within. Universalis is so well suited for chat-room play that the rules don’t need to be modified at all except that references to “clock-wise” player order should be changed to “alphabetical screen names” or something similar.
Group Authored Fan-Fic
“Universalis could be one of the best “fanfic” games ever. Get a group of players really into Babylon 5, for example, and go to town. ” — Lou Goncey
Never having really been involved in the fan-fic community, I have to say, this idea had never occurred to me. But Lou’s idea seems like it would work extremely well.
In the essay on Story Elements, the section on setting discusses a couple of ways to base a game of Universalis on an established setting. Using one of those methods one could easily base a game on a property and from the write-up of the game session have the foundation for a great piece of fan-fic
I leave it to the authors of such works to determine the various legal issues surrounding copy right of licensed properties.