A downloadable RPG Playtest

UPDATE: June 2023

I'm working on the next version, which will completely revamp around 75% of the system and make it a lot more engaging. I've disabled downloads of v0.2 since I won't be going in that direction anymore. The description below is now outdated, but I'll leave it for the time being to give you a loose idea of maybe what to expect. Stay tuned for v0.3!

VERSE is a new tabletop RPG about

Amalgamated adventurers in a mutating multiverse

What Is It?

This game is a player-driven, rules-moderate NSR game that follows eccentric multi-classed explorers from various dimensions, questing to discover the answers to why the universes are blending together, why they're some of the only ones who notice, and how to stop it. The setting is intentionally vague and predisposed to multiverse shenanigans because the game's meant to work with any evolving setting, allowing your group to craft whatever story and world emerge from your adventures, campaign, playstyle, and your motley crew of characters.

Reality keeps changing. Different worlds and times blend and merge as naturally as rain with the ocean, rewriting memories to seamlessly erase or invent places, traditions, and lives.

Most are spared this knowledge, but the few whose minds still recall what was see an unending tragedy. They set out to seek the deepest mysteries of this fractured and sutured land, searching for the cause of the Verse.

The game is currently in initial testing (playtest v0.2). The quickstart rules are available here for free, and you can use my two-page adaptation of the famous dungeon Tomb of the Serpent Kings as a sample module, showcasing some of the ways to stretch the approach to adventure design that the game directly supports.

Why Play This Game?

The multiversal setting for VERSE can drive your character's growing abilities in radical, unexpected directions. Players don't gain new levels as they advance, instead gaining new powers from their current class or new classes that combine with their previous ones. Each player can advance to the point of blending up to 4 classes together as the Verse's influence combines them with other beings from any number of other realities, allowing for an eclectic collection of capabilities.

The DNA of VERSE is most similar to games like Cairn/Into the Odd, Knave, and Trophy Gold, with maybe a PbtA sensibility or two thrown in, and development will allow it to grow from there. At this early stage, it seems that its biggest selling points are (or rather, will hopefully be):

  • standardized system built for multiclassing weird characters from diverse settings who gain new classes instead of levels
  • streamlined play without the loss of too much tactical crunch, achieved in part by abstracting dungeon structure, exploration turns, and resource management
  • three-phase encounter rounds that allow for timing your action more precisely at the risk of decreased effectiveness, without bogging things down with initiative tracking
  • accelerated character advancement allowing you to experience your character's full arc in a few months of regular play instead of a few years
  • mostly setting neutral, using random details to help worldbuilding, and made to play most OSR/NSR modules in a slightly abstracted format (though NPC/monster conversions are necessary)
  • (eventually, hopefully) over 100 playable classes with 100s of unique powers between them

The Classes

To the lore and flavor of its whacky, fanciful classes, VERSE tries to add equally peculiar mechanical options, with each class providing a mix of 6 unique powers and a set of 5 special traits to choose from. Currently, the playtest includes a random selection of 10 first-tier classes to try out:

  • Awakened W.A.R.R.I.O.R.: an injection-molded mercenary made of mechanically separated meat products
  • Decomp: a zombie from a world where the undead are the best poets
  • Mountain Freighters Crew: a warm, jovial team of logistics experts, carting their wagon wherever they go
  • Ovipar & Child: a small parent and its egg, mystically bound as inseparable partners
  • Park Ranger: part helpful nature guide, part surprisingly capable survivalist
  • Possessed Orbuculum: a crystal ball with a head stuck inside, with the magic that entails
  • Postdoc Researcher: stressed, struggling, and scrambling to apply their specialized knowledge
  • Proxy: a humanoid surrogate device controlled remotely by various unknown operators
  • Sold JER™: an overbearing, peace-keeping robot, struggling to understand the nuances of justice with only intermittent data from its command center
  • War Fae: a vicious, agile combatant from the fairy peoples, or perhaps, an insect posing as one

How Do I Get Started?

To play with these quickstart rules, you’ll need a referee (GM), some players, pencils, and:

  • a copy of the rule book and the sample L1 class book
  • a character sheet for each player
  • a module to play (like my adaptation of Tomb of the Serpent Kings) or to convert
  • at least one set of polyhedral dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, and d20)
  • 3 index cards per person

*You'll also need sources for interesting spells, equipment, treasures, and potions, since I'm still working on my own for VERSE. Ben Milton's Knave can supply the first two, Arnold Kemp's Goblin Punch blog can provide T1 treasures, Chris McDowall's Bastionland blog can provide T2 treasures, and Goblin Punch also has a big list of potions.

What's Next?

I'm interested in how much the "mutating multiverse" angle can be gamified without adding too much cognitive load, as that aspect's kind of thin in this version. I'll need to finish the Verse resource rules and begin working on the referee guidance and perhaps a custom sample module. I intend to eventually include conversion guidelines to adapt material from other game systems, but that probably won't come until much later, once the core system of VERSE stabilizes through development.

As I continue to work on the game and release playtest updates, I’ll not only add any missing sections in the rule book and expand it where needed, but I’ll also gradually improve its layout, formatting, editing, and overall presentation. It's the definition of bland right now.

Other than that, there's obviously tons of general development and content writing work (classes, treasures, spells, gear, etc.) to still be done, and the game will certainly evolve as I continue to work on it. If you play it, please, tell me what's good and bad about it! You can also check the current progress of the project here or join my mailing list for updates (and free games)!

Development log

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