Game: Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure
Publisher: Eilfin Publishing
Review Dated: 19th, March 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 6/10 [ On the ball ]
Total Score: 6
Average Score: 6.00
My copy of Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure arrived in the mail and now my postman hates me. It’s understandable, I’d not be happy if I had to lug the Undiscovered tome up the hill where I live. The 368 pages are sewn securely in place between two halves of tree (or possibly just really thick card), one of which is rather nicely decorated with a collage of Julie Bell illustrations. Julie Bell. Mmmm. I don’t think many people will complain about the art in the book.
It’s the feel of Undiscovered that strikes me most. The meaty book is the sort of thing that GMs (or Adventure Guide as they’re known in The Quest for Adventure) can shake the table with or decimate whole legions of cheeky lead miniatures with. A book like that has an unquestionable physical feel to it. Undiscovered also has a strong retro feel that’s conjured up by its text. Yes, retro! It’s a little strange using that term in a hobby that seems to race forward at a thousand miles and hour (something new every day) and yet never move forward very much at all (something new… but not that new). It’s the mass of tables in Undiscovered that firmly implants the retro ambience of the system into my mind. There’s nothing quite like turning to page 108 to see whether I want to advance my Leather Tanning skill or Leather Working instead for reminding me of early RPG encounters. Those two are real skills, so are Knot Tying, Basket Making, Glass Blowing and Stable Cleaning. If I tell you know that Eilfin describe their game as a classless, point-based skill system then you won’t be surprised. I might quibble the term “point-based” too, although you can spend points in the game Undiscovered is a great one for the luck of the dice. This insistence on the luck of the die is another of the retro influences on the game. Even if you design your character by spending points where you want them the game still suggests some dice rolling that could effect your final point totals with ups or downs. There are no classes but there are certainly races. From the outset some of these fantasy races have an edge expressed in dice rolls too. For example, in the Wood Elves we read; “1% (a roll of 1) of the bows a Master wood elf makes, gives the user a +16 AR bonus. 5% (a roll of 2 ~ 6) of the bows have a +12 AR.” And it goes on to cover the top 25% of bows before noting “You can make only 1 attempt per character level to crate a finely crafted weapon, no matter how many weapons you make”.
It would be wrong to say that Undiscovered was stuck in the past though. There are some modern enhancements to the system. The skills, for example, are divided into three main categories; Power Skills, Percentile Skills and Skill & Attribute Enhancers. Okay. Different types of skills aren’t new but throwing the whole bundle together into the one pot is very much in the brave new world side of the hobby. Then there’s the representation of the skills themselves and as you read through the book you can tell its something Eilfin are rather pleased with. Skills aren’t just rated on a linear number scale and use a combination of training and proficiency. Training starts at Initiate and concludes at Master and proficiency ranges through 0 to 5. Not all skills have a 0 rating but those that do can be used without training and with a basic proficiency. A 4th level Group Fighting Expert is better at Group Fighting than a 5th level Initiate. It costs points to complete the Initiate set, move onto Novice, Adept, Expert and then Master. As you level up through the skills then you’ll benefit from different advantages but have to pay more character points each time. I’ve seen similar things before so I’m not sure just how unique this is; the Fifth Age system used letters to represent natural ability and numbers for training – a 2A would mean great but unfulfilled potential whereas a 9C would suit someone not especially suited to the attribute who’s worked hard at it nonetheless. The use of twin level skills in such a heavily skilled base system isn’t something I’ve seen before though and so Undiscovered is unique in that respect. I like the alignment rules too; it’s a simple scale between good and evil but rather than being boring black and white it makes use of sliding range. -20 is as evil as evil can be and +20 is extremely good. This scale works for me because it’s entirely possible to have “good” peasants (+3, say) who just don’t feel the same urge to risk their lives and help off the minotaur tormenting their neighbours. On the same token we can have a “good” knight (+13, for example) who does feel compelled to put his lift in risk and go confront the minotaur even though he has a headache and a broken leg.
There’s also quite an effective sprinkling of innovation in the racial chargen section. As is traditional races have different minimum and maximum attribute levels. This is rather nicely represented visually with an “octagonal spider web” beside each race. The spider web (as I call it) has the attributes distributed around the eight points, with the high values at the edge and the low values by the core. You can see at a glance how “rounded” the race is by looking at the web or check out strengths and weaknesses too.
All these tables are one of the reasons the book is so large. Typically you’ll find four sets of skill levels on one page as a collection of tables and the textual explanation for each found elsewhere. It’s a shame that space is such a premium in the book because it would have been really handy to have the page number for the textual explanation for the skill on the skill cost and level adjustment pages and vice versa.
The Quest for Adventure was always going to be a large book. The writing style is extremely verbose. A particularly strict editor would be able to cut and re-write significant chunks of paragraphs. At the start of the book I did wish a particularly strict editor had been deployed to savage the book. The catch, the thing to remember, is that Undiscovered starts with character creation and moves swiftly into game mechanics. Those are the two areas where I appreciate brevity and clarity the most. As we near the end of the heavy tome and start reading about the history of campaign world Arkas things change, all of the sudden the verbose style suits the game. Here in the History section of the book the text size shrinks too and remains that way throughout the themed bestiaries at the back.
It almost came as a surprise to find a game that has all the world details you need and all the game mechanics in the same place! I certainly didn’t expect to find such a large product with a 001 manufacturer’s index on it. In many ways its nice having everything under the one roof. There might be a degree of page flicking inherent in such a large book but at least you know that if it’s in the rules then it’s in Undiscovered on your table and not on the shelf upstairs. You won’t find references to the world within the skills but it means that racial traits are just that rather than arbitrary stereotypes. I’ll buy “Elves in Arkas are good at making bows” but not “Elves in a d12 game system are good at magic” – and clearly The Quest for Adventure is the former.
Undiscovered is complete, in addition to character creation, skills, bestiaries and world history you’ll find lengthy collections of magic (regular and greater spells), rules for alchemy, lists of potions, psionics and divine magic known as miracles. Since there’s divine magic its nice to see the game includes plenty of gods along with their descriptions and attributes.
I don’t really feel the need to shy away from describing Undiscovered Miracle system as divine magic. In the book you’ll find melee characters being described as fighters, you’ll find wilderness warriors who are particularly good with bows described as rangers and so forth. I think it’s fairly easy to pick up on those games that helped inspire The Quest for Adventure. It’s a strength of the classless (but not level-less) system that you can describe your character as you see fit.
There are times when I hate having to grade a RPG in terms of numbers. This is one such time. GameWyrd’s guidelines for scores suggest that if a book does what it is supposed to do then it starts off at 5/10. Undiscovered: The Quest for Adventure certainly gets that. You then add and subtract points as you weight up the strengths and the weaknesses. When I do that Undiscovered comes up with a +1, it’s stronger than it’s weak and that gives it a final score of 6/10. On the ball. I’m going to add a caveat that. Undiscovered has a strong atmosphere to it, one that pervades the gaming world and the feel of the mechanics too. If you’re particularly fond of high-fantasy epics then you’ll probably rate Undiscovered higher.