This is an abridged version of my full review, which can be read on my blog at http://wildmusings.wildmusegames.com/when-worlds-collide-rpg-review/
When World’s Collide is universal multi-genre RPG produced by its UK based namesake company, consisting primarily of it’s author, John Fountain, and editor, Alistair Dandy (Yes, this game has an editor, and it shows). I was graciously provided with a review copy of the PDF, at my request. The game describes itself as “
When worlds collide reality is no longer trustworthy. Within this book you will find all the rules needed to create characters and run games within the infinite multiverse. The game provides a comprehensive platform to run any adventure in any genre, be it sci-fi, fantasy, horror, super-hero or cyber-punk. Characters can shift between universes to experience other realities. Games-Masters can choose to throw characters across the multiverse; one week they are in the old west, the next gothic horror or a future of biotechnological marvels, and the following week? Who knows?”
My summary? When Worlds Collide (WWC) provides a competent exhaustive universal ruleset, well-written, well-edited, and pleasingly presented, that does a poor job of communicating the high-concept underlying it’s multi-verse. The high-concept which drives the world-hopping and immersive exploration of the limitless environments that can be created with the rules. The ‘default’ GM as mystery keeper play assumption, along with its focus on ‘participationist’ play by the group, stifles the ability of the the text to sell its harrowing junket across the boundaries of an inimical, many-splendored multi-verse through-line. An indifferent multi-verse where frequent flyers gain access to a list of detailed flavorful powers operating via in-depth multiversal laws at the cost of body-horror side-effects, from the embarrassing to the Cronenbergian.
Lets Break it Down.
The game is presented as 527 page PDF. Laid out in a spacious two-column format with a variety of artwork included to break up the text. Tables are presented as stylized boxes, along with various call-out boxes for rules examples, asides, etc. Interestingly, it consists of mainly stock-photos, most from royalty-free stock photo sites on the next, which gives it a more ‘realistic’ look. A nice change of pace from the more commonly used stock art collections you find in many PDF products.
The rules core used in WWC are the Tri- Hexahedral Engine (THE) System. It is a competent core mechanic that the rest of the rules build on. Roll 3d6, add modifiers (based on stats & skills) against a Difficulty Level (DL). Stats are presented as 0-based /- scores ranging from –3 to 5 for most characters. Characters may have expertise and specializations that will add a couple more points to this, as well as some special abilities. The average DL is 10, and the mods are small, so pretty easy to use. It features an interesting ‘critical success’ mechanic based on the number of sixes rolled, 2 sixes rolled equals a level 2 crit success, and 3 is a level 3 crit success. This is independent from the marge of success/failure.
It Is functional and utilizes tried and true design patterns for the most part. In addition, the rules include lots of explanatory material, overviews, examples, and summaries that make it really easy to learn. It is equal the mass of the rules. Many other games would do well to match its friendliness.
It features a skill based character creation system, based on broad skill groups. The skills are fairly detailed, and are similar to GURPS. There is a detailed special abilities system offering GURPS like perks and talents, as well as full on powers.
The power system is very detailed and incorporates the cosmology and meta-physics of the games multi-verse. It falls into 2 main types, Pisonics and magic, defining what stats they are based on broad operations. The powers are setup as detailed lists, that are bought with a specific range, uses, and corruption/difficulty. It is very similar to GURPS magic and psionics in the feel of how it is constructed and operates. A functional power system.
Combat is a blow-by-blow action system pitting the character's Roll plus combat skill versus opponents. The damage system has both stunning and killing damage. With killing weapons doing large amount of Life point damage, and a small amount of stun. While stunning weapons are the opposite. It is a bit muddy in implementation due to the various ways stun accumulates against a character.
Weapons are detailed in a generic fashion, damage being based on broad groupings of weapon size/deadliness. Light, Medium, Heavy. etc.
Armor reduces an damage. An comprehensive listing of weapon and armor are provided.
A set of rules for hazards round out the system, implemented as variations on the core mechanic. All seem functional and standard implementations. There are a few important mechanics that define the the thrust of the system though.
one of the major themes of the game is the accumulation of stress as characters encounter the impossible, the disturbing and horrible among their adventures. This is one of the more interesting elements of the game and its cosmology. It reminds me a lot of Kults light/darkside points as well as Chthulhu’s SAN loss system, with Unkown Armies meters. In that as characters gain more stress and deal with more events they can develop psychological problems, or even develop mutations and deformities in the case of rift travel.
The Rifts chapter presents all the details of traveling between worlds, which is mysterious and can cause all manner of complications for a character. The game provides a rich cosmology and meta-physics for describing rifts, and the mechanics of traversing them. It is one of the major selling points of the system. It provides all kinds of goodness for facilitating world-hopping and exploring worlds. The author was influenced by Michio Kaku’s books Parellel Worlds and Hyperspace. (The author includes a hefty bibliography, much thought and research went into the creation of this game.)
GMING and CAMPAIGN SETUP
I felt the rules fell down in this section, as not enough attention was focused on running a WWC game, as opposed to general game mastering advice. I felt the default playstyle, of a “mystery-keeping’ GM, leading players through exploration, limits the reach of the game. A world-hopping universal rules set as this can work very well as a more collaborative setup with troupe style play. As a more collaborative play structure allows all the players to be keyed into the cool bits of the setting, in this case the meta-narrative and cosmology behind WWC. Rather than limiting themselves to the pin-hole of a single GM serving it up in a high-effort game setup.
Overall, I like When Worlds Collide, it is a competently designed system, very well written, and well-edited. It delivers the goods for running a multi-genre universal game. The cosmology and meta-narrative behinds the Rifts and cross-world travel is quite compelling, and opens all kinds of dark and desperate and bizarre storylines. However, the game does a poor job conveying that to the prospective reader.
It has to be pieced together by reading through the Rifts rules section, the powers, and finally GM section. In addition, the assumed ‘GM as Mystery Keeper” play style can seem off-putting as it puts a lot of onus on the GM, and can keep the players from ‘getting to the good stuff’. A revision of the rules that brings these “Why play this game instead of X” elements to the forefront and makes this easily graspable by the players, along with more ways to explore the game space, would improve the appeal of this game. As it stands, it can be overlooked as ‘another’ universal rules system.