Sunday, July 21, 2013

When Is a Role Playing Game Not a Role Playing Game?

Image from BoardGameGeek

An established RPG publisher with a proven capability for adapting licensed properties obtains the RPG rights for a popular toy-line/TV cartoon.  What could possibly go wrong?


I can only speculate as to the reasons, but with The Masters of the Universe Role Playing Game (hereinafter MOTU RPG) published by FASA in 1985, I can emphatically state that things went wrong; very, very wrong.  The person ultimately responsible for allowing the game to be sold in its final form ought to be removed from gene pool and forced to plant saplings for the rest of his life in partial atonement for all of the trees killed for this thing's manufacture.  Toilet paper would have been a far more worthwhile product for all of that wood pulp.

But hey, I can't complain!  I can squeeze a few a posts out of this atrocity!

The cherished reader will kindly note that the MOTU RPG link above goes to BoardGameGeek and not RPGGeek.  The worthies associated with those sites have deemed this product to be a board game, not a role playing game.  Their logic is valid; MOTU RPG has no rules for character generation and allows for only one playable scenario.  Nonetheless, I will treat it as a role playing game because that is how the game identifies itself.  Of course, even as a board game, this thing is a travesty...a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.

Here's what I think happened.  It's only supposition, but it's the only version of events that permits me to believe that human beings – while fallible – are not inherently evil and the universe is not a cold, dismal place of unceasing despair.  Anyway, FASA gets the rights to publish a Masters of the Universe RPG, but it needs to be introductory – and therefore simple – because the age requirement will be “8 and up.”  A full-fledged RPG suitable for 8-year-olds is a tall order, but they had the idea of putting out a simple game, one the kids can grasp, then follow up by publishing an 'advanced' version that addresses everything a 'real' RPG needs to address.  Hey, it worked for other RPGs.  I think they then had trouble making the game simple enough and – with deadlines and whatnot – a less than ideal set of rules was inflicted upon purchasers of the game.

Included with the box was a card with the title “OOPS!”  It read:
We goofed on the magic spells. When you read over the Character Record Cards, you will find that there are spells listed that do not appear on the Magic Spells Table. These spells are for an advanced version of the Masters Of the Universe Game and are not used in this game.

The Masters Of The Universe Advanced Role-Playing Game should be released in the fall of 1986. To make sure you are informed of the release of this game, just fill out the form below and send it to us. You will receive a catalog of FASA products now, and when the advanced game is ready, a letter informing you it is available.
Not surprisingly, the “advanced version” never saw the light of day, and the world is left with a sad mess of rules for MOTU RPG.  Compounding matters was that the rulebook is presented in a comic book format illustrated by the professionals at First Comics.  Now, in and of itself, game-rules-as-comic-book is a good idea, or at least can be.  However, making layout alterations to accommodate eleventh hour rule changes is difficult enough normally, but when when the layout is a comic book page, a last minute rule change is downright impractical.  It is thus that we are left with the likes of the following:

...My Friend Player...
I guess the rules for 'illusion dust' were too complicated, so they used a panel to indicate that one of the game tokens is extraneous.

Alas, some transgressions are unforgivable.  Please, PLEASE, just say no to ALL CAPS.

WTF? ...should be maded?
I guess the Gods of Eternia removed the proofreader.

Use a question mark when you say that son.
In the comic book, the Sorceress summons 'the player' and He-Man explains the rules (such as they are).  'The player' is meant to be a reader identification character representing the target demographic.  Apparently, the target demographic is extremely androgynous youth.

Can this kid be any more effete?
Seriously, what were they trying to accomplish?  Did they use an epicene cipher so as not to alienate girls who might want to play a He-Man and the Masters of the Universe game?  Really?  All they managed to do was alienate people who don't wear eye-liner, or they would have if the game was worth a damn.


  1. lmao at the "Woody Allen" tag

  2. I never bought this game as a kid, but I really enjoyed reading this post about how there was supposed to be an 'advanced version' published subsequently.

    I considered myself to be 'too old' for He-Man by the time this game was published in the mid-1980s. But I remember holding the game box in my teenaged hands at a game store back then and being really impressed, despite myself, by the cover art.

    I also remember being relieved that I didn't buy it when the game later became infamous for its lack of playability/simplicity.