Almost Perfect

Let me start by saying that yes, I know that any rule can be changed, house-ruled, or just plain dropped.  That’s not the point, though.  I want to talk about game mechanics, and how well they work, not how to work around them.  After all, if I have to house rule something, doesn’t that imply that the game itself is somehow lacking?

And if you take another look at the title, it means that I’m going to rave about a game that almost got it just right… except for one, really insignificant clunky mechanic that unfortunately breaks the flow of the game, tears the players out of immersion, and generally is just so wonky it makes the game hard to play, at least for me ‘cause I’m special that way.

This particular game is a system that the designers have incorporated into several different RPG lines.  I first found it while once again looking for that “perfect” spy game, but it is also used in a very successful interpretation of a popular sci-fi/supernatural television series, a post-apocalyptic setting, and it even birthed the game based on the spin-off of the tv series.

The system I’m talking about is Unisystem designed by Eden Studios.  There are actually slightly different versions of Unisystem depending on which game you’re playing: there is the Classic system (the original) and the Cinematic system.  The Cinematic is designed for more over-the-top gaming where the heroes truly are something special.  A neat feature of either system is the way Eden studios incorporated different “levels” of characters if you wanted to play normal people caught in bad situations, or top-tier heroes that destiny has picked out as special.

One of the games that uses Unisystem is my personal favorite of the whole series: Conspiracy X Second Edition.  I absolutely love how characters are made… using “Strings” puts a whole new spin on character background that is fantastically done.  Combat is straightforward, not too streamlined yet not too chunky.  The idea of the player character group designing their own “cell” (like a headquarters) is done perfectly.  This is the best X-Files type of game I’ve seen.

Told you I was going to rave about it.  There’s a lot more good I could say about CX2E, and Unisystem, but you can always (hopefully) wiki it or better yet go buy every game Eden Studios published.

Now here’s where I drop the shoe.  That one little thing that in my opinion just doesn’t work.  That one simple little thing that keeps me from giving up still looking for that perfect spy game.

The Rule of Ten.

The rule of ten, according to Unisystem, is when roll a natural 10 on the d10 you’re using for task resolution.  It is similar to a “critical success” we’ve all seen in hundreds of different games.  Where this one is different is what you do afterwards.  If you do roll a natural 10, you get to roll it again and add it… except not really.  You do roll it again, but you have to subtract 5 from the roll before you add it.  Which means that your critical success might not turn out to be quite so successful after all if that second die roll is less than five.

The Rule of One is the reverse and represents critical failures, or something going wrong.  Except the rule of one is even more wonky.

You’re probably thinking, “Geez, you’re a picky a-hole.  Just get over it.”  I told you it was an insignificant thing that can be fixed very easily with a house rule (I’m not going to tell you how I do it, figure that one out yourself).

That’s why this blog is called Game Mechanic.  I like to look at the running parts and make sure they all fit together well, run smoothly, and work as advertised.

In almost every respect, CX2E does exactly that.  Go buy it.  House rule it if you think it’s necessary, or just play it as written.  Either way, play the game, and spread the word about it.

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