Recently, Runeslinger (aka Anthony Boyd) — a regular commenter here at Black Campbell did a nice video interview with Jeff Combos, the grand panjandrum at Exile Games and creator of Hollow Earth Expedition and the Ubiquity system. Here’s the interview for those interested…
Some of the comments I found interesting were in regard to the notion of a Ubiquity 2.0. At the time Hollow Earth Expedition released, Fate hadn’t quite taken off, as Spirit of the Century was released about the same time. When it came out, Ubiquity felt very streamlined and unique. Even though it is a dice pool system, it avoids some of the traps of the ’90s dice pool games with the “take the average” mechanic, fitting the goal of less dice, less often. Still, as it has aged, the system feels…old school, and I’ve tried to pinpoint exactly what it is that has been bothering me about the game mechanics.
The first thing is combat. Where the rest of the game has a nice stripped down sort of feel — roll the dice or take the average and beat a target number of successes — combat has a very late ’80s/early ’90s “crunchiness” that is anachronistic, but also overly punitive to the players. Special maneuvers, aimed shots, off-hand use of something, ranges all incur — inevitably — a -2 penalty that stacks. Partly, this is to keep the math looking clean, but it’s also unnecessary for a pulp game.
One of the things that would make combat move faster is to have the GM set the difficult differently, instead of mucking with the number of dice you roll. Longer range? Add a difficulty level. Maybe shooting at a longer range in the rain…add two difficulty. Keep it simple. The rules system is roughly 10 pages long. Combat adds another seventeen. Much of that is dealing with the modifiers discussed above. I would suggest a good house rule is to set the difficulty at an appropriate level, or in the case of beating something’s Defense, maybe add a die or two based on conditions. Keep it simple, instead of having modifiers for every manner of blow, grapple, etc.
The second thing that stood out: Resources and Talents are very expensive, in relation to skills. For a genre where “having a schtick” is important, I think lowering the cost of these from 15 points to something like 7 or 8 would be appropriate. However, I think a reworking of the R&T rules, and a strengthening of the Flaws rules might be in order — maybe something closer to how Fate works with their Aspects. A flat benefit or penalty under certain circumstances, instead of having the player be able to stack multiple levels of, say, Knockout Blow; make them cheaper and the benefits fixed at +1 or +2.
Third, the Size rules are interesting, and designed to make large creatures easy to deal with, but the logarithmic nature, where the Size number doubles within certain ranges makes for some confusion for those who want to make new vehicles and the like. (An issue recently illustrated by our guest post on the Aerial flyers in Space: 1889.) Again, the size rules look to be part of the goal of keeping the die numbers regular, aiding the take the average notion, but it’s always been one of the stickier parts of the rules, in my opinion.
So there were a few quick thoughts on where Ubiquity might need a bit of attention in the event of a second edition. The ideas not fully formed, but those seemed to be the most obvious points of systemic weakness, in my opinion.