Desolation RPG and the Ubiquity System

I just paged through a copy of Desolation, a post-apocalyptic fantasy roleplaying by Greymalkin Designs, which liscences the Ubiquity system. The reason I mention this is that I’m not sure why they liscenced it (from Exile Games) at all.

The Ubiquity system is a lot like a dozen other systems where you have the same attributes as D&D (Body, Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma in this case – so, ok, they changed the name of Constitution to Body, but you get the idea). It also has “Talents”, which are Feats with the name filed off, and skills that are rooted in the attributes which are eerily familiar.
The dice system itself isn’t meaningfully a dice system at all – all of the dice are basically the same as coins you flip. Evens are successes and odds are failures. That’s it. You add up the successes. What I mean is, it doesn’t matter that you’re using dice – so why use them?
Oddly, it is even possible to get your hands on special Ubiquity dice, which…just seems extra odd to me. Why?
I think that the Ubiquity system comes with one really cool setting – Hollow Earth Expedition. People have run HEX at the store before, and players have had a really good time shooting dinosaurs and Nazis from biplanes. That’s good times however you slice it.
It just seems really odd to me to license a dice system that is basically a coin-flip system – even Burning Wheel, which is also basically a coin-flip system, has shades, so that some dice-rolls aren’t just straight 50/50.
I really don’t see a reason to create the Ubiquity system at all. I think it would be easy to adapt another system, even one that would be free to license, for the settings that they’re putting out. It doesn’t have elements that aren’t already in a dozen other games. I understand the desire to have a new system for your new company putting out new books and all that, I just think it could’ve been done more easily. There’s nothing about Desolation or HEX that requires a new system, and if I was going to design a system for either, I’d try to have a dice mechanic that somehow added to the experience, rather than just having various ways to flip coins…
Other than the dice and system, Desolation’s post-apocalyptic setting has most of the fantasy tropes you’d expect – the races you see everywhere else (some under different names) with the common generalizations which hold true for them as well.
What will be really interesting is to compare Desolation to the 4th Edition D&D incarnation of Earthdawn, which I believe is coming out next year. Earthdawn is sort of the original post-apocalyptic fantasy setting, the most recent incarnation of which is over 10 years old. Its doubtless going to get updated, and really fits the “points of light” theme of 4th Edition. I’ll be curious to see how WotC adapts the setting and how it compares to Desolation, given that in the generalities they are going to be very similar (and overall I must admit a preference for Earthdawn, which years ago was already dropping some of the entrenched D&D tropes…)

6 thoughts on “Desolation RPG and the Ubiquity System

  1. I haven't seen Desolation, but I am familiar with HEX. I think that the main reason for the Uniquity dice is to reduce the number of physical dice you have to roll. People have problems rolling large numbers of dice, the set of 9 Ubiquity dice will cover results as if up to rolling 18 regular dice. Additionally since most rolls will be for more in the range of 'as if rolling 9 normal dice' you'd be rolling just 3 of the Ubiquity dice which is a lot faster to determine successes on.

    If you've ever dealt with large dice pool mechanics (like Shadowrun or Exalted) it becomes obvious the advantages to using the special dice.

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  2. Thanks for the comment unquietsoul. I can see the benefit of having uber-dice to represent rolling a load of other dice. It just seems like, at that point, the system has created a problem that takes special dice to solve, which isn't ideal…

    On the other hand, I've seen people have a lot of fun with HEX, so to each their own.

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  3. I have run a couple of HEX games, using the Ubiquity system, and I will agree that it is simpy another Generic RPG system. I would actually prefer FUDGE, but the material was written for Ubiquity and so is Desolation, which I am considering running.

    Trying to equate it to D&D is problematic, at best. D&D, which I have enjoyed since the 70's, is a combat system. Any roleplaying elements have to be added and, more often, are ignored by the players. The advantage of generic systems, like Ubiquity and FUDGE, is speed of play and transparency of rules.

    My biggest problem with Ubiquity is that the more dice you roll, the more likely you are to get a roll equal to the average +/- 1 or 2, which takes players a while to get used to. I.e., if you need a 7 to succeed, and you are rolling 9 dice, your odds are very slim.

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  4. Boom:

    Thanks for the comment! I think my comparison to D&D was upon reading the nuts and bolts of the rules and seeing that it borrowed heavily from D&D 3.x in terms of attributes, talents and skills – the structure seemed almost identical. I too like my generic systems, but I'm not really clear why one would use Ubiquity as a system and not, say, D20 with a few mods (which I've seen done for pulp stuff).

    I definitely agree that FUDGE is superior to all of the above 🙂

    I also can't deny that people have fun playing HEX.

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  5. Those are good points. For me, the core issue wasn't using coins, but rather that there wasn't more nuance than 50/50. I just like more variability in a dice system because for me that's some of the fun – finding ways to work the dice, and tinkering around with the concrete mechanics of a game.

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  6. This is probably a very late comment, but Ubiquity isn't just a 50/50 dice roll. I mean, it is when you're rolling one die and only need one success, but when you start bringing more than one die into the pool the odds start changing.

    For example, say you're going to need four successes and you have four dice to roll. Using a coin flip method, or a “d2” with 1 being fail and 2 being succeed, you'd have a 6.25% chance to succeed at this task. If you only needed one success, you'd have a 93.75% chance to succeed. Since many of the rolls are contested it is definitely not just a 50/50 chance you will succeed/fail based on your die pool and your target.

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