Review of Universal Exploits

Universal Exploits is the second supplement for Alpha Blue (the first being Girls Gone Rogue). It is chock full of random tables, setting fluff and adventure seeds. The content is system-agnostic, meaning that you could use it for any science fiction RPG out there. Tone-wise, it’s probably more suitable for comedic, tongue in cheek, R- or X-rated campaigns.

It contains lots of sexual material. Sometimes there’s a bit of a strange juxtaposition of cheesecake or pornographic art alongside rather tame, rather serious content. It’s quirky, that’s for sure. Definitely not for those who object to cheesecake art, nudity and sleazy sexual themes.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the PDF version of Universal Exploits by the author. I’ve reviewed other works by Venger, including Alpha blue: Review of Alpha Blue. I had donated two illustrations for Girls Gone Rogue, but I’m not officially affiliated with Kort’thalis publishing.

The cover has retro-inspired art that I’ve come to expect of the game so far: a scantily-clad woman, a reptilian humanoid (who looks a bit like Bossk the bounty hunter) wielding a laser sword and a guy who sort of resembles Snake Plissken (sans eye-patch) trading laser fire with an  opponent who’s off-screen. There’s also a spaceship conspicuously entering a cave for some added raunchy symbolism. It’s nicely done and appropriately cheesy for the genre.

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The Index of the PDF has actual clickable links, which is great! A very welcome functionality for the medium.

The layout and typography are handled well. Everything was easy to read except for the occasional subheading which was white text with thin black outlines. I always have trouble reading those, especially when the font is all caps and heavily stylised. Otherwise it was great and the watermarks didn’t interfere with readability.

The biggest change in this book compared with previous publications from Kort’thalis is that it has some colour art inside. I think that this is a first for them. Featured are many familiar artists from Alpha Blue and Girls Gone Rogue. Lots of aliens that go from grotesque to light-hearted and cartoony. Also nudity. Lots of it. And sex. One of the artists has very strong technical qualities but his subject matter (silicone-enhanced porn models) kind of grossed me out with how over-the-top they were.

The full-page artwork was particularly striking and memorable. I’m also a fan of the masked robotic sword-wielding guy. Not sure who that is, but he has a very cool design.

After a few pages of humorous prose the book begins with some new rules for the Alpha Blue roleplaying game. We’ve got things like handling extremely poor chances of success, an addendum for ship to ship combat, banking extra (wasted) damage for use on other targets, long-term effects of cryo-sleep, handling xenophobia, unarmed combat and some extra bits of stuff for character creation. This material, especially the tables, is what I like the most about Venger’s works. Short, sweet and easy to consume. Also very usable in other games: a virtue in RPG collecting, in my opinion.

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We also get some stuff to better cement and detail the campaign setting: big governments, space travel time, sci-fi horror, cloning, drugs, alien worlds,  and domain management. There’s a lot more: my point is that this book has an impressive amount of idea-generating content. Some goofy and gonzo, some of very specific and raunchy utility (e.g.: “cock-blocking”?) but all of it inspirational and entertaining to read.

The latter part of the book starts off with some GM advice. Venger has proposed some scene-based structure to a gaming session. If you’re an advanced GM, this might seem a bit obvious but it still might prove to be useful in a pinch or if you’re not feeling very improvisational some evening. Don’t worry; it happens to us all eventually. GM impotence is a nasty thing. So it’s a good addition to the book.

Next he covers some other techniques, such as “Leading the Witness” (sort of a “gotcha” bait and switch to entice the players into action and keep them on their toes) and”Getting there” (communicating with players to determine their actual wants and expectations). Again, good things to codify and discuss.

The book contains several adventure seeds with brief setups, some background information (which all adds to Alpha Blue’s setting, broadening the scope quite a bit) and even a few other random tables to generate encounters and side effects of exposure to things like specialised drugs or weird environments. Even if you never ever plan on running these adventure seeds, you’ll find plenty of interesting material here for re-use elsewhere. Of note is a handy little table  buried deep in this section to generate NPCs quickly. This one is so simple but useful that when I next run Alpha Blue, I’ll be printing this out and sticking it on a 4 x 6 card.

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Lastly (and somewhat out of order; I’d have put this at the beginning) is a quick and dirty table to generate random territories (planets, moons etc…). Also very handy on a Sci-fi game night if you forgot your copy of Star Without Numbers by Kevin Crawford.

The book also contains a neat 2-page character sheet by James V West: the cool thing here is that we’re provided with 2 versions: one is full colour with textured watermarks and a black and white print-friendly version. That’s awfully cool, actually.

Lastly are  a handful of blueprints/floorplans for some nifty space ships. Again, these are of high quality and are very usable in any science fiction game. I’d easily pull out the ‘Iron Pigeon’ for my next Firefly-esque campaign.

Conclusion

This is probably one of the nicest-looking products Venger has ever produced. The layout and design are top notch for Kort’thalis Publishing (or many other indie publishers, actually). As usual, buyer beware: this book is raunchy and gonzo. Lots of imagery and content with nudity and sexual themes that will not be appreciated by certain audiences.

Universal Exploits is available on DriveThruRPG behind the Adult Filter (as it should be; Alpha Blue is totally R- or X-Rated entertainment).

 

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