Monday, October 22, 2012
Obscure Games: Realms of the Unknown
Anyway, the idea of the game is that the players each represent a single city or other population group (I think of them as clans or small tribes). It's never spelled out explicitly, but I imagine that the players specifically represent the gestalt of all the rulers and other influential people of the population group. In the basic game, each player is given a sheet which details the various resources to which they have access, such as population (divided initially into "men" and "protected population", 35% the former and 65% the latter), food, raw materials such as animals or minerals, and manufactured goods such as weapons or tools. These are the resources with which the player will set out to… do whatever he likes.
Most Orders are adjudicated by the Referee as she prefers, but combat is covered by a mass combat system. In this, each soldier is given a basic rating of 1 (or 0.2 if Protected Population). Training and equipment multiply this number by a varying amount, so that a soldier with "Level A" training (the first level after "Untrained") has a modifier of 2.0, a Longsword has a modifier of 1.5, a Wooden Shield 0.10, and Chain Mail 1.25. The equipment values are added together, increased by 1, and multiplied by the basic level given by the type of population and level of training (it is, in fact, possible to train Protected Population as soldiers). In our example, the basic training value of 2.0 would be multiplied by 1+1.5+0.1+1.25=3.85, giving a final value per soldier of 7.7, making each such soldier a match for almost 8 untrained, unarmed men. There are then moderately complex calculations to determine how many troops are lost, how much equipment is destroyed in the battle, and so on. These involve factors ranging from the materials from which the equipment is constructed (for loss factors) to the tactical and strategic considerations of the battle (for personnel losses and victory determination). The Referee is supposed to perform these calculations, and then provide her players with the results in a more narrative form (though the results in numerical terms should also be provided, to whatever degree that they would be available to the players' populations).
Other factors covered in the game include agriculture and animal husbandry, mining and prospecting for resources, lumbering, and so on. There is a surprising amount of information covered in the two published volumes (the Player's Manual of 24 pages, and the Realm Controller's Manual of 82 pages, including index). Some of the data given I don't particularly like, myself. For instance, a unit of metal is defined as approximately a cubic foot of the material (in most cases, hundreds of pounds; for instance, a cubic foot of iron weighs about 490 pounds), while produced items take up a surprisingly large amount of the materials (a pair of Longswords, according to the rules, require all 490 pounds of iron in a unit to construct). While a certain amount of loss should be expected in manufacture, the fact remains that a Longsword weighs less than 5 pounds, making the losses in the range of 98%!
Anyway, the idea of the game is really good. There are additional rules covering technology levels, specialists (people who have advanced skills that normal people can't perform, such as Engineers or Military Commanders), population morale and health, economic strength, and other such important considerations. Various sections include more advanced (and bookkeeping-intensive) variations. There is discussion of general physical traits of populations (so that, for instance, it would be difficult to infiltrate a spy into the upper command of a racially homogenous society that appeared different from one's own people, meaning that it would have to be more indirect, such as hiring a traitor from that population to do so). There are, however, no rules for magic, other than some notes about interplanar gates between Realms, and a note that the individual Referee could include magic if she wishes. There are some useful logistical notes, such as what to do if a player needs to take a leave of absence from the game (the player should give a general outline to the Referee and let her run the population for the time of absence), how to coordinate multiple Realms connected by gates, and so on.
Like early D&D, there is much that is unexplained, much that is confusingly explained, and much that could (or even should) be house-ruled. It is, like the LBBs, a glorious mess of a game. It should have gotten more exposure, but more traditional adventure-based role-playing games were pretty strongly entrenched by the time this one came out, and players had become accustomed to more well-written and "complete" games.
How would I run it? First, I'd scrap many of their precise numbers, replacing them with factors taken from (mostly) GURPS Low-Tech and supplements, or from other games such as Chivalry & Sorcery or Pendragon that have detailed domain management rules. I'd probably replace the mass combat system with one derived from one of these other games. Other than that, though, the basic framework seems really good. It might even play better online, as a sort of play-by-email type game, with a central website providing publicly-available news about game events. After I do some other things, I might even try it.
(Images taken from RPG.net)