It’s taken me a long time to review this product, because it’s so obviously a labor of love. It takes dedication to write tens of thousands of words about your game setting and your system, then put it all together into not one but two books, and amazing amount of courage to put it out there in the world and hope that people will like it and play it. I commend and support that kind of initiative. Roleplaying has always been a creative, Do-It-Yourself kind of hobby and it’s one of the things I love most about it.
That’s what makes this hard for me to review. Because when someone like Matt West, the creator of Omnifray, has made this kind of commitment and clearly has such a strong belief about his baby, it’s hard to say anything negative without feeling like a jerk.
The Omnifray Basic Handbook weighs in at 310 pages and contains everything needed to play and run the game. The Omnifray Expert Manual is nearly 500 pages of additional material that goes even further in depth with both the rules and the setting. Both are available via Lulu.com. The Enshrouded Lands, the game’s setting, is a fantasy world surrounded by mysterious magical mists. Anyone who goes into the mists never comes out, and no one knows what exists beyond. Sure, this is kind of Ravenloft-ish, but there’s potential. What kind of stir-crazy cultures would develop with limited land mass? What kind of mythology would develop about the places beyond the mist? What kind of adventure hooks could you come up with to tease at the truth of the mists? Unfortunately, Omnifray doesn’t really get into that. It’s just sort of a generic fantasy world, but surrounded by mist.
The system has 15 attributes, 13 full stats and 2 figured stats. It’s a point/buy system, so you start with a base number in everything and buy your way up. You also buy skills, etc. When performing a task, you add your attribute modifier to your skill modifier and compare those to the difficulty modifier, and that gives you the percentage you need to roll under on percentile dice. It’s not intuitive and requires a table. I mean, I’ve got a 6 modifier and the task is a 4 difficulty modifier for a total of 2 so I roll 67% or less to success. I have no idea how I got from A to B. I get the Ability minus Target = Roll Modifier, I just don’t know whether my 6 is good or 2 is hard and how we got to 67%. The percentages aren’t linear, or any kind of progression I can recognize. They just seem like random choices. If my Attribute was 50, my skill 40, my total 90, and the difficulty 23, I would get 67%. I don’t understand why we’re taking the extra step to translate from one scale to the other.
One thing that I really like, aside from the artwork (most of which is outstanding) is that all of the monsters and foes presented in the book are single-page character sheets. If I were planning and adventure, I could copy (or print, using the PDF version) the pages for the monsters I was using and have them handy, rather than fumbling through the whole book. As monsters and animals are presented on the same character sheet as player characters, it’s extra-easy reference.
Here are the nits that I have to pick with Omnifray: first, it tells me repeatedly that it’s innovative and original. I’ve been roleplaying since 1978. I’ve seen a lot of games. Whatever you think is original, I can probably find somewhere that it’s been done already. Don’t brag on original. Shoot for better execution. Tell me what the game does, and how it does it. Don’t make me wade through hundreds of pages looking for your innovation.
Second, I’m amazed that folks savvy enough to self-publish via Lulu haven’t found the Creative Commons license. There’s a full page early on in the Basic book that outlines how you can use the material and create your own Omnifray material with the author’s permission. It’s kind of confrontational in its wording, which is very off-putting to me. If I wanted to write material for this game, I wouldn’t after reading this un-friendly warning. It’s also the sort of thing that should have been placed in the back. I’m being chastised about ripping off someone’s intellectual property before I’ve even had a chance to see what the game’s about.
No, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the finished product that is Omnifray. But I’m impressed that Matt West put it together. There’s a lot of unfulfilled potential here, and he just needs to keep at it until he gets it right. I think it could happen. It just didn’t come together this time around.