USR is a very rules-lite generic role-playing game and it does what it says: it’s dead simple. There are some optional rules to make it more “advanced” but in its heart it is still a very lightweight system.
The second iteration of this game is more like a revised edition instead of a revolutionary overhaul. The layout has changed and looks more modern, combat rules have been modified (combat specialisms work a bit differently) and there are some ideas for Narrative Points.
Another addition is some advice for new players. In my opinion this something the game could have gone without, like in the original edition, but it surely doesn’t break anything. People absolutely new to role-playing games won’t likely stumble over such a small-press item so I don’t see the need.
This lightweight game unfortunately comes in a heavy-weight package. The PDF clocks in at approx. 50 MB! It looks like the author took the content as images and made a PDF out of it. That means that you can’t copy text either.
The new layout is fresh, modern and easy to read. There’s good use of colors, bold strips and boxed text. The art pieces (photographs) are a nice addition. However, many images are scaled poorly and thus look out of proportion.
I really hope that Trollish Delver/Scott Malthouse gives this a second look and reworks the images and the PDF rendering.
The rules are unexciting but clear and intuitive. While other games try to bring something fancy and innovative to the table USR sticks to simple and tried mechanisms which simply work. This makes the game fast to learn and quick to play.
You have 4 stats: Action, Wits, Ego & Hits. You divide an array of d6, d8 and d10 between Action, Wits & Ego. Hits are derived from rolling your Action and Wits trait.
Every character gets three specialisms which are tied to either Action, Wits or Ego and round up your character. This is where the creative freedom of character generation lies. There is no pre-definied list but suggestions are given.
Combat specialisms are handled a bit differently in USR 2.0. There are exactly four of them: Hand-to-Hand, Light Weapons, Medium Weapons and Heavy Weapons. Each gives a +2 bonus for fighting and all are based on the Action attribute.
Players will find the specialisations useful for customizing their characters. Nonetheless, with USR being a rules-lite game, much depends on fleshing out the character with narrative details instead of mechanical traits.
The resolution mechanic is basic: you need to roll over a difficulty rating to score a success. Contested actions are resolved by comparing the roll of both parties. The GM can give penalties and bonuses in the form of -1 or +1 on the roll.
Combat is also quite straight-forward. Both parties roll their Action stat and the difference reduces the Hits of the loser. Weapon and armor may give bonuses or penalties.
Combat specialisms give the flat-out +2 bonus if applicable. With other specialisms you need to make a task roll as one action. A success gives you a +1 bonus on your next action.
Character Advancement and Narrative Points are optional rules. Narrative Points are “bennies”: a way for player to trade-in a game currency in order to gain an advantage.
The PDF gives an example of play and some setting packages as a starting point. As a GM you will need to flesh out your game world yourself though.
The default assumption is that there is no magic or superpowers. The setting pack Halberd has some ideas for a “magick” system.
There is no GM section in this short pdf.
I would have liked to see a small section on how to create opposition. On the other hand you can just devise opponents on the fly as the rules are fairly simple. (The free setting Halberd has some suggestions if you are interested.)
The support you get from the author and the community is pretty sweet for an ultralite game. Most alternatives like Dime Stories or Folklore give you the core game, maybe one or two adventures and then you are left to your own devices. Not so with USR! At the time of writing there is a webzine, a solo adventure, a tongue-in-cheek-fantasy setting, a mini-adventure and a cyberpunk supplement. Furthermore, there are some other gamers who are adding material, for example a Sword & Sorcery adaption.
The author, Scott Malthouse, has plans for other supplements as well. More information can be found at his patreon or the USR Google+ community.
When I check out new games I’m looking for something innovative or new. USR doesn’t deliver that. It is not a game that got me excited at first glance. At its core it’s very traditional in the sense that it uses a binary task resolution, no descriptive traits or other abstract means which became popular with the rise of games like Fate Core.
But this is also its strength: this game just works. While I like to dabble into other lightweight forays I keep coming back to USR when I need something reliable on the fly. It is easy to adapt and doesn’t get into the way. I mostly use it when I have a specific setting in mind and want to start playing right away instead of tinkering with game rules.
With a pricetag of FREE it’s definitely worth a look if you want a solid ultralite system for your gaming needs.