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Friday, 26 June 2009

A Love Letter To The Cinematic Unisystem...

Isn't it about time there was an "old school renaissance" for Eden Studio's sublime Cinematic Unisystem?

With all the - well-deserved - Internet love being poured into retro-clones of early Dungeons & Dragons isn't it about time some other cherished systems got a share as well? And my vote goes towards the Cinematic Unisystem.

Come on, what's not to celebrate? It's central mechanic involves a single d10 roll to determine both success and damage in combat and, as monsters/non-player characters hit and defend on a fixed score, only player-characters need to roll to defend themselves or strike a blow in a combat.

Things couldn't be more streamlined, could they?

The Cinematic Unisystem - which drives such licensed roleplaying games as Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Army Of Darkness and Ghosts of Albion - is a reduced crunch iteration of the full Unisystem, which, in turn, is the engine behind systems like All Flesh Must Be Eaten and CJ Carella's Witchcraft.

Sadly, Eden Studio's seems to have taken a massive hit when Fox withdrew the license for both the Buffy and Angel franchises, yet the core books and supplements that were released remain some of the best looking and written game products on the market.

However, as a breed, gamers always need the "next new thing" and are drawn to the shiny; a system that isn't pumping out new material is often deemed "dead" and cast aside.

However, before we discard the worlds of Buffy and Angel as potential roleplaying nirvana, I draw your attention to the latest issue of Eden Studios Presents (ESP), the sporadic support magazine for Eden Studios' various Unisystem products.

Almost 80 per cent of the material in issue three is geared towards the Cinematic version of the rules - or Buffy and Angel games specifically. So there is clearly a core of writers out there willing to keep the system alive.

Okay, so Eden Studios no longer has the license to publish official tie-in material to those well-loved franchises, but there is still plenty of scope for oeuvre-free material, surely? You can't do a piece about The Initiative, well, how about an article about another military unit that targets "creatures of the night"? Or the police force? Or a pair of brothers who hunt demons?

Cinematic Unisystem has already proved itself perfect for Joss Whedonesque action drama and issue one of ESP even ran a serial-numbers-filed-off article on a "Firefly"-style science-fiction setting, that, in a few pages, presented a less crunchy and more freeflowing game than the Margaret Weis Cortex-fueled official roleplaying game.

While Cinematic Unisystem was "still alive" in the eyes of the vast majority of the gaming community, its fans created some of the best websites I've seen to promote their campaigns - many with their own YouTubed title sequences.

Drawn to the system, by the franchises, Buffy and Angel roleplaying game fans showed themselves to be incredibly creative and I can't believe that spark has faded now and simply moved on to something else.

Cinematic Unisystem isn't dead (or even undead), the publication of ESP issue 3 and the recent pdf release of Ghosts of Albion proves this (although I'm holding out for a print copy).

I'm sure there are many deserving gaming systems that merit the treatment that the talented and knowledgeable minds behind the revival of "old school" Dungeons & Dragons have gifted that lean, mean system with, but my vote remains squarely behind Cinematic Unisystem.

Of course, I already have enough material - both in the published rulebooks, supplements and incredible, fan-written netbooks - to run a roleplaying game in the Buffyverse, but like any gamer I'm always hungry for more...

16 comments:

  1. I was hoping Unisystem would pick up the Doctor Who license (which has a similar Slayer/Companion scheme). It would have given it a new lease on life.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I'd imagine Eden Studios had been burnt by the whole Buffy/Angel license situation so were staying away.

    However, from what little I've unearthed I am led to understand that several Cinematic Unisystem fans and authors have been involved in the production of The Doctor Who RPG in some form or another, so there's hope that it will be a similarly excellent system!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Cool. Of course, instead of feeling burned, Unisystem could have crafted a nice niche for itself adapting the system to various licensed properties, like GURPS for a while, though perhaps exclusively with tv/movie properties.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hence, kind of, my posting in the first place - the missed potential of the Cinematic Unisystem for roleplaying pretty much any fan favourite geek TV programme :-)

    ReplyDelete
  5. I have mixed feelings about the Buffy/Angel Unisystem rules. It is great for getting that cinematic flavor over the course of a session, but it just doesn't hold up well over the course of a campaign (or a "Season" as I like to call my Buffy campaigns). There needs to be a much better portrayal of magic, a more interesting experience point system, and perhaps a way to make it so that drama points are no longer a guarantee of staying alive.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Personally I felt the "Drama Points" system helped further capture the serial TV feel that the rules were seeking to emulate. There was always the "threat" of character death, but if it was dramatically appropriate the character could then return at a later date.

    Buffy wouldn't have been Buffy if she'd been killed off by the Master at the end of the first season!

    I'll admit I had problems with the magic system (as a player), but that was more my fault for not really grasping how it worked... yet still deciding to play a sorcerer.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ghosts of Albion has a pretty detailed Magic system. It looks very attractive, although I haven't actually tried to playtest it yet. I'm a little worried that that book might favour Wizards over non-wizards.

    Based on a very short experiance with Witchcraft, I love the unisystem, but I'm not not one for licenced settings. I'd like to see a generic rulebook.

    On a related topic, the thing about retro-clones is that the company that gets cloned doesn't make money from them. I'm hazy on the ethics of piracy, but is a clone any more ethical then a pirated copy? Legal yes, but the effect on the company who's product is copied seems to be the same to me.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hi Sean, I suspect Ghosts of Albion does favour magic-using characters because I believe that is the tone of the books (by Amber Benson) that they are based upon.

    As to the whole clone situation: my understanding is that (a) most of the clones are based on SRDs available under the OGL and (b) are of games that are no longer being published (ie mainly Original/Basic/Advanced Dungeons & Dragons).

    Hopefully someone more knowledgeable will chip in at some stage on this latter point.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My understanding isn't too good either. I'm sure there's some place I could get this question to get an answer. But Gore is a retro-clone of Call of Cthuthulu which is definitely still in print, and I don't think there's an OGL for it.

    But if Eden was to put out the long discussed Beyond Human, I'd be all over that.

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  10. Yes, Beyond Human would probably answer my dreams - as vaguely set out in this post - but are we ever likely to see it?

    To be honest, I don't really understand why it isn't out already...

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hey all, A couple of things.

    Dave Champamn wrote the Doctor Who RPG, previously he had written Conspiracy X 2.0 and worked on Buffy.

    He also playtested Ghosts of Albion, which I wrote. I also playtested Con X and Doctor Who.

    I am thrilled to see all this Unisystem love.

    I am hoping that Ghosts will see print by Gen Con.

    Beyond Human has had other issues. But it is going again.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Hi Tim, it's a real honour to have you commenting on my ramblings.

    I would love to run some Unisystem for my group after our "old school" D&D/Labyrinth |Lord campaign - but I have a very strong suspicion that the next game system we use will be Cubicle 7's Doctor Who: Adventures In Time & Space RPG.

    ReplyDelete
  13. I can't complain about loosing out to Doctor Who.

    But let me know when you are looking for some Cinematic Unisystem fun. I have some adventures I am running at Gen Con that I am planning on making free.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Tim, I'm always hankering for some Cinematic Unisystem fun - sadly I never seem to have an opportunity to play or run it. The one - superb - game of Buffy The Vampire Slayer I did get in on I had to annoyingly pull out of for health reasons: http://www.heropress.net/2008/04/my-life-and-roleplaying-fresh.html

    and

    http://www.heropress.net/search/label/buffy campaign notes

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hey!

    I saw you are over at the Eden Boards now.

    I am "Web Warlock" over there. Check out some of my posts.

    Tim

    ReplyDelete
  16. Yes, hi, Tim. I just dropped in to see what was going on - and the place was alive and kicking (kinda like arriving late to a popular kid's party and you don't really know anyone!)

    My interest was particularly piqued by the thread started by George Vasilakos about the possibility of Eden regaining the Buffy license.

    I would be so stoked if this came true... that would be a true "all my Christmas's at once" moment if the slated books that were dropped suddenly rose from the grave ;-)

    I'm trying not to think about it - don't want to get disappointed!

    ReplyDelete

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