The new and improved defender of RPGs!

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: Universal Exploits

This is a review of the RPG sourcebook "Universal Exploits". It is a supplement for the "sleazy sci-fi rpg" Alpha Blue.
Universal Exploits is written by Venger Satanis, and published by Kort'thalis publishing. The book is a softcover, 106 pages long (including character sheets at the back).  Its cover is a full-color piece featuring a sci-fi landscape backdrop, and some sci-fi characters on the front, including a woman dressed in very skimpy clothing, and what looks like a trandoshan wielding a light saber.

The interior art is fairly full of black and white drawn images, many of which look like pretty standard sci-fi fare with a 70s aesthetic, but some of which looks like full blown pornography including realistic drawn nudity.

So I've had mixed feelings about Alpha Blue. It has some neat material but most of what's neat about it has nothing to do with the smutty elements that the author seems so fixated on.  And frankly I feel that this is what weakens it as an actually useful RPG.  It might be good as some kind of 'political statement' against puritanical feminism, it might be good amusing reading for people who like that. But my suspicion is that most people don't want to spend time actually ROLEPLAYING a setting like this in a group when that means hearing the 300lb guy sitting across from you talking about how his sexy space-prostitute PC is being fingered by a lizard-alien.
That means that if you like Alpha Blue as a playable RPG product, you have to excise most of the pornographic material from actual play.

The previous Alpha Blue supplement I reviewed, Girls Gone Rogue, had a couple of small sections that were focused on interesting sci-fi material or mechanics, and a whole lot of smut-related content that was essentially worthless if you're not into watching obese gamers living out their sex-fantasies in public like that was normal.
Let's see now, if Universal Exploits turns out to be as disappointing, or if it turns the focus back toward the 70s sci-fi and away from the gratuitous sleaze.

After three pages of game-fiction, which is of the same bad quality as all game-fiction, we get to some new rules and random tables. Nothing wrong with that, in principle at least!

First you get an alternative table to the ship-to-ship combat rules presented in Girls Gone Rogue; said rules being one of the only things I found really worthwhile in that book. This makes those rules even a little better (note: only the modification, not the full rules, are printed here).

Then you get a rule for carrying-over damage in combat.  And then a random table for 'freezer burn' (when a characters spends more than 10 years in suspended animation).
There's also a very simple table for determining the level of xenophobia for a character (presumably NPCs).  A very short rule clarifying unarmed combat. A rule to make characters a little more impressive. And an expanded set of "prior experiences" tables.

Then you get some alternate rules and tables for making Alpha Blue into a slightly more dystopian setting where there's a big underclass, with random rolls to determine which "caste" (really social class) you came from, and to randomly determine your motivation for becoming a spacer.
Also, a random table for determining why someone joined a revolutionary movement.
This is followed by a table to determine random pre-existing relationships between characters.

After that, you get a short random-table of alien languages, each entry having descriptions of how the language sounds and works.

There's random tables to determine where in the galaxy a given planet/destination is located, and another for random travel times to get to a given location in the galaxy.

Then we get psychological, with an optional rule for people to develop a very special kind of psychosis when they visit Alpha Blue, called "blue effect", where they basically go crazy with libertine orgiastic decadence for a while.

If you want to add some horror to your campaign, there's a small random table to determine creepy effects or events for a 'haunted starship/planet' type of scenario.

This is followed up by some rules and a table for managing cloning technology.

After that, some random tables and very broad rules for generating random 'domains' (things like a huge ship, a city on a planet, a whole star system, etc), how it was acquired, and some mechanics to govern domain management.
There's also a very short table of a few random names and descriptions of galactic 'leaders' (boss-types).

All of a sudden, we jump back into the sleazy side of things, with rules and a random table on the subject of 'cockblocking'. Something I have to say has never really come up in any campaign of mine, and if it did I think it could just be handled by roleplaying. But, whatever.

There's a set of very basic 'where are you' tables, mostly generating level numbers, sector letters, or area 'colors', of the type you might find on a starship/base/whatever (stuff like "Area C" or "Red Section: security").
A bit more interesting are the random tables for use when a PC ends up in a detention block. There's a table to see who's in the cell with you, what they're in for, and what the inmates are doing.

You also get tables for "random federation agents", random passengers (and rules for managing cargo jobs), random career benefits, rules for telepaths, and new drug rules and tables.

We then get some brief descriptive material and an adventure-seed table of sorts for another space station, called Revan 111, which is quite different from Alpha Blue. It's a "multicultural cesspool", a semi-lawless refuge for exiles from all over the galaxy. It's when you want to do something closer to 'Deadwood' or 'Casablanca' and less like "Las Vegas in space' or 'the best little whorehouse in the Horsehead Nebula'.

There's a short table for determining a random stereotypical characteristic for an alien race (like, they're 'social', or 'mysterious', or 'warriors', etc.).
This is followed by a much larger random table of events that happen "after the party".
There's also a large random table to determine alien religious practices. And another large random table to determine a motivation for an NPC.
Then a large random table for aspects of an alien world.

One thing to say about this book, and indeed about the other Alpha Blue books, in terms of layout: it doesn't seem to me like there's any kind of sensible order to the tables or sections.  There might be some kind of organization I'm not seeing, but it looks to me like the various random tables or optional rules were all just put together in the order in which the author thought them up, more or less.

Like, right after the tables above, we get a few pages of GM advice. Then into a half-page section for generating Federation spies. Then the topic suddenly changes again, to a description of "Universal Exploits", which is a recruitment firm that connects spacers to profitable-assignments.

This premise segways into an adventure, involving finding a lost shipment of aphrodisiac drink for an alien ambassador. The drink turns out to be something much more than just alien viagra, though.

After that, there's more adventure material: a black ops mission for a galactic burger & cola megacorp to wipe out their Federation-funded competition.

Then a curious adventure called "Pussy Chasers: The Legend of Oral" (which the back cover of the book claims was going to be the original title of Universal Exploits). It's pretty absurd, more than a usual Alpha Blue adventure; the basic premise is that the PCs are in an alternate universe, one that is 'sex-starved' and puritanical. A scientist has discovered a way to travel to the Alpha Blue universe, but the Anti-Sex Federation is trying to stop them. It also involves the ancient scrolls of a 'prophet' named "v'ger z'tanys", and a "star blade" that has the power to "destroy the oppressors that keep women clothed and blowjobs few and far between".

Next we momentarily jump out of the adventure section to present a description and encounter table for the "red hologram district", the seediest part of any planet, starbase, city, etc. (other than Alpha Blue, I suppose, which is just one big Red Hologram District). This segues into a short adventure featuring a prostitute and a pimp that ends up leading into a heist job.

Next there's a section on a crime lord creatively called "Grabba the Butt", which mostly consists of a vague description of Grabba, a list of adventure seeds related to Grabba, and a table for unexpected things that might happen while dealing with Grabba. 

Next there's some random NPC tables, then some random tables about territorial claims finishes the textual part of the book.

Seriously, the ordering of all this is like it was written by an 11 year old with ADHD. 

Finally, you get some character sheets and ship or location plans, several pages worth. These include the floorplans for "Grabba the Butt's pleasure palace".

So, the crazy-quilt order aside, what do I think in the final equation?

It's certainly better than Girls Gone Rogue, in terms of having what I think is actually playable material.  They're pretty much diametric opposites of each other: "girls" has mostly got smutty stuff with a little bit of non-smut sci-fi stuff, while "exploits" has mostly got playable sci-fi stuff, with a little bit of smutty stuff.

The material on here is a mixed bag. Some of the tables are too short. Some of the material is too basic and should have been developed more. Other stuff is really great, as a resource for Alpha Blue or for any other kinds of 70s/80s-style space-opera sci-fi RPG play.

So, I guess, if you are one of those people who wants to get more smutty sexual roleplay material in your Alpha Blue game (or any sci-fi game) than it already had, you should go with Girls Gone Rogue. But if you want a book with some decent (but quite gonzo) random tables and material for space-opera, then Universal Exploits would be better.


Currently Smoking: Blatter Diplomat + C&D's Crowley's Best


  1. Thanks for the review, hoss! Yes, it's a bit stream of consciousness.

    Grabba the Butt originally came from a session of Alpha Blue I wasn't involved with. But I liked the name so much that I started using him in my own games.

  2. Grabba the Butt was so good.....that makes sessions memorable. A name one would not forget.