Justin Bacon raised a lot of issues with us on the News Groups, and then asked if he could have a copy for review.  We were pleased to have him look at it; in fact, he inspired us to contact a number of other reviewers on the Internet.  Although we were a bit nervous about the potential opinion of someone clearly so knowledgeable in the role playing game world, I believe his review shows that we really have given the world something new in gaming.
Justin Bacon's Review of the Multiverser® Referee's Rules
The reviewer's words... Thoughts of the author...
[ It is important to note right up front that the price of $50 represents not only the core Multiverser rulebook, but also a volume called the First Book of Worlds. This review only deals with the core rules. A future review will deal with the First Book of Worlds. ] We long awaited his opinion of that humble addition to the Multiverser game, and were rewarded with a glowing report praising it as even more original and creative than this tome.  You get both books together.
[ Secondly, I want to explain how this review came about. It sprang from a series of debates regarding the Multiverser system which took place on the Usenet newsgroup rec.games.frp.misc. Following the debate several people, including myself, stepped forward to offer reviews of the system in order to prevent some solid facts regarding the system in a debate which had otherwise consisted largely of unfounded supposition versus extravagant claims. Valdron, Inc. provided me with an electronic review copy. Valdron, Inc. did not solicit this review; nor do I feel in anyway indebted to them - but you deserve to know from whence the review came. ] Our gratitude is extended to Mr. Bacon for taking the time to read the system--and unlike some of the other reviews we've seen, it's clear that he did take the time to read the game.
The first thing I should say regarding this game is that it was extremely difficult to get a grasp on it in order to review it. With most games that I review its relatively simple to quickly catch onto what the system and setting are attempting to do and then proceed from there. With Multiverser I had an amazing amount of difficult doing this. I think this is because I had some extremely incorrect expectations coming into this game, and then had to completely change my POV before it began to make sense. We tried to tell everyone that this was unlike anything else they'd seen, but we understand why no one believed us--every game publisher thinks he's got something new, and reviewers such as Justin Bacon actually know what's out there better than most publishers.  It's understandable that he would have expected us to be repeating something in a new package.  But we really aren't.
Here, then, is my conclusion:
Multiverser is a campaign game wrapped up in an extremely complicated system which is a fascinating mixture of FUDGE and the 1st Edition AD&D DMG. It is completely unlike anything I've seen before - and that either means its a game perched on the edge of breakthrough success, or instant obscurity. It's not for everyone, but it just might be for you. "Completely unlike anything I've seen before"--you don't know how good it is to hear a knowledgeable independent game critic say this.  It's what we've been saying all along, but no one believed us.
It's a Campaign, Stupid
The first, and biggest, breakthrough for me was the realization of exactly what this game was attempting to be. The title and various discussions concerning the system had completely mislead me into believing that Multiverser was a generic gaming engine in the spirit of GURPS, Hero, and others. It took me nearly fifty pages before I realized this wasn't what their goal was at all - rather what was being presented was a very basic, very broad multi-genre campaign in the spirit of Sliders or GURPS Alternate Worlds. How many times did we say that?  It's not like any of those games.
What distinguishes this particular campaign is the idea of scriff - possibly the most original and thought-provoking concept I personally found within the covers of the book. The basic idea is that all the Player Characters are imbued with a substance known as scriff. The concept is scriff makes Multiverser possibly the only RPG on the market where the PCs are expected to kick the bucket on a regular basis - because whenever they do so they reappear in an alternate universe. This mode of play obviously has certain drawbacks (for one thing no long-term development of setting or NPC interaction), but this are common limitations of the dimension-hopping genre. We like the scriff idea, too.  By the way--some players have enormous staying power, and can avoid kicking the bucket for months or even years.  Sometimes the setting does get a lot of development--as some of the on-line game stories will attest.  But there is a lot of truth to the idea that Multiverser is about where you end up next.
Another interesting facet of this campaign is that Multiverser positively goes out of its way to encourage the GM to have the Players split up - reawakening in separate universes, before finally reuniting together in a single universe after several side-trips.  This, of course, makes for much more difficult campaigns to run - but Multiverser states right up front that this game is not for amateur GMs and that this concept, in particular, is much more difficult to run than a standard RPG environment where all the Players stick together. In many ways I was reminded of the type of campaign described in the Amber Diceless Roleplaying System. There is, of course, no requirement that you play your games in this manner - although I would then suggest figuring out some reason why the Players always seem to appear together and go places together. You will also need to define a much tighter plot since it will be necessary to kill off all the Players in a fairly narrow section of time in order to have them all be in the same place at the same time. This is certainly true--and some of the test games did make a successful effort at keeping player characters together, frequently based on the players' desire to stay together.  Although one way this has been done has been for the more successful player characters to "shoot the idiot first" when facing overwhelming odds, I would suggest that those interested in keeping a group together take a quick look at the material on associates in the chapter on Scriff.  It mentions there that associates automatically stay with the principal character, and that player characters can choose to be associates of each other or of non-player characters.
A far more nebulous decision for the campaign comes in the form of having the Players play themselves. Although I have known some campaigns based on this premise to work, these success stories are vastly outnumbered by horror stories - particularly of the variety wherein the GM doesn't seem to think that Joe Average Player is as intelligent as Einstein. The decision to stress this as a campaign necessity, rather than simply an option, is even more puzzling considering that character creation is entirely descriptive - you assign whatever you feel to be appropriate without worrying about points, classes, levels, or other balancing mechanisms. This is so completely easy to ignore, however, that is little more than an irritating artifact. Others have had no problem with the"play yourself" idea; in some ways it works better.  However, since any character from any book, movie, television show, or other game can be converted into Multiverser, if you don't want to play yourself, play someone else.
FUDGE? No, thanks--I don't want to spoil my dinner....
Reading my summary of the system probably left many of you with a serious question: "Wait a minute, its a complicated system which is like FUDGE? Is that even possible?" 
Well, not quite. But the methodology is more than slightly similar - provide a basic system which can be extrapolated, changed, and added to as the GM sees fit. Of course with a complicated system its a far more difficult to "fudge" things than in a simple system like FUDGE, but the Multiverser designers more than compensate for this by providing you with a wealth of options as well as a peek into the game theory which went into designing the system. That is, we created a game which really is fully flexible, which lets you do anything at all with it, and we gave you enough information that you aren't trying to create your own rules and systems for these things.
To give you an idea of the type of material included let me point towards Appendix 3: Basic Dicing Curves. This Appendix deals exhaustively with how the probability curves of dice work. This information is provided because the central resolution mechanic is designed in such a way that the GM is expected modify the type of dice used to resolve an action, in order to obtain precisely the result they want. It's also there because we want you to be able to understand what you're doing in other games, so that when you integrate them with Multiverser you'll have what you need to make the transition smooth.
Sound familiar? It should. FUDGE uses an identical methodology. Of course FUDGE's system is so simple that it's not necessary to explain probability distribution. I, personally, prefer FUDGE, but it is also easy for me to see how the Multiverser system could hold appeal - it has a precision which the extremely low granularity of FUDGE will never possess. This precision, of course, comes at the cost of complexity - and you should ask yourself which compromise you want to take. That is, anything you can do with FUDGE you can do with more precision and accuracy with Multiverser.
First Edition AD&D?
Another question which probably sprung to your mind was, "The First Edition DMG? And you think this is favorable review?" Hey--there's always something to be said for the classics.
In short: Yes. Where are we going with this?  Multiverser has caught many of the things which made AD&D great.
One of the things which came out in the discussion on rec.games.frp.misc was that the Multiverser designers considered the DMG1 to be one of the greatest gaming manuals ever produced. This naturally baffled quite a few people, myself included. It was only once I saw Multiverser that I understood why they had said that and why they believe that. In fairness, only one of the game designers was involved in that discussion...and we're not here to talk about AD&D.
First, you won't find much artwork in this book. The thing is 515 pages long and all but a dozen or so of those are packed full with words and nothing else. Those of you who have been bemoaning the rise in art-content in books to the detriment of practical gaming content would rejoice to see that the Multiverser creators have embraced this spirit as well. Information is what the gamer needs, the thinking goes, and information is what we'll give him. Again we are praised for providing ample information and practical content.  We don't understand why anyone would do anything else. 
If you've noticed the discrepancy in the number of pages, it appears that Mr. Bacon has not counted the glossary and index in his page count (unless his files decompressed differently from ours).
In fact, the only art in the book is a full-page piece at the top of each chapter. If you've seen the art in the 1st edition of AD&D you'll know what to expect - plain ink drawings, with often humorous content (my personal favorites include the robotic hand dropping a set of dice in a three-fingered alien palm, and  We've dropped him a note to find out which was the other drawing he particularly liked.  It was missing from the original posting.  It was the men trying to start a fire by rubbing sticks together next to their crashed spaceship.
Second, as I've said before, this book is packed with information. Sure we all laugh at Gygax's Table of Courtesans, but some of the stuff in the DMG1 was invaluable for those who like having a separate, specific rule to cover everything. The Multiverser designers, again, took this heart. Again, it's not a style I personally enjoy - but it is a style I can easily appreciate the appeal of.  We wanted the game to be able to cover everything that is possible in any universe imaginable.  There may be some things we didn't cover specifically, but we created a system which provides ways to cover anything we missed.
Multiverser of course does this without adopting Gygax's atrocious and opaque prose style.  I think we've just been complimented for our prose.
$50?!?!?! Why does everyone react that way?  I've seen few games on which you won't spend $50 before you can play.
The biggest concern, by far, concerning the Multiverser system is the price tag - you have to spend $50 to get the basic book. As opposed to spending more to get the several necessary volumes of other systems.
$50?!?! Forget it, right?
Well, first realize that the basic book isn't actually $50. Included in that total is the First Book of Worlds, which (as its title suggests) contains several different worlds which your Players can travel to. The reason you can only buy these two books together is because the Multiverser team feels very strongly that everything you need to play a game should be found in one book - and although they couldn't print everything in one book for various reasons, they thought they could at least include it under one price tag. For two years we continued to give The First Book of Worlds free with Multiverser:  Referee's Rules.  We regret that this is no longer possible.  We still think that a 550 page complete rule book is worth the price, and we recommend that you buy the worlds at the same time.  Mr. Bacon later says that he likes the worlds book even better.
Personally I think they're nuts. It's a good philosophy, but frankly everything you need to play Multiverser IS in the core book and the First Book of Worlds strikes me as completely optional. They should separate the package and, thereby, lower the price to a level where gamers would feel much better about sending money to them in order to try their game system. This become even more true since you can't get Multiverser in stores to my knowledge, only through mail order. As we said, the entire game is in one book; the second book helps you get started.  At the time of this review, the first printing was available only through the website.  Today you can acquire Multiverser through a growing number of retailers and distributors)--and with a recommendation like this, it's worth the chance to buy it on-line if you can't find it at a dealer near you.
To be fair in judging the value of the core rulebook though, let's judge it at a cost of $25 (split it evenly right down the middle between the two books). Is Multiverser worth $25?
The answer is, "Hell yeah!" If nothing else this system is exhaustive in the detail and options it provides - providing ammunition and material for other games you may choose to run. Of particular use, I've found, is the aforementioned Appendix 3 - which very nicely summarizes probability theory concerning dice and allows easy calculation of the probability spread in any system you might choose to run. I'm glad that work is appreciated.  Cracking the probabilities of multiple success systems was particularly challenging, but in the end, if there's a way to use dice not covered there, I've never seen it.
Compare the densely packed text of these 515 pages to $30-$35 game books that are coming out now from other companies, and you can clearly see that if nothing else, you're getting your money's worth. Thank you for saying so.  We'll stack the Multiverser rules against any two such books as far as content goes--and that means our rule book is worth as much as $60 to $70 worth of other game systems.
[ I will be reviewing the First Book of Worlds at a later date when I have had time to more properly study it. Allow me to state again that $50 for this two book package is not at all a bad price when compared with the rest of the industry. For example if you look at Heavy Gear (one of my favorite systems) a comparable purchase there would be the core rulebook and the Life on Terra Nova sourcebook, a combined total of approximately $55. ] Not at all a bad price when compared with the rest of the industry--that says quite a bit.
A Few Suggestions
All that being said, Multiverser does possess a rather sizable flaw and its a flaw which is large enough to suggest that a second edition of this game would be well advised. My suggestions if such a thing were to ever come to pass:  Uh-oh, here comes the bad news.
1. As mentioned before, drop the "play yourself' requirement from the rules. At most offer it as a suggested method of play, but also include other suggestions. 2. The book is in need of reorganization. Clearly delineate your various ideas into separate, distinct sections. This need is particularly poignant since the primary strength of the system, in my opinion, is the way in which you can mix-and-match elements. Multiverser works best as an I game; it still works if you play another character, and the rules express that.

With the rules outline and the section organization, most things can be found once you get the feel for the book.  Oh, yes--the fact that the referee has the ability to choose between mechanics for the one which best suits his preferences, the needs of the campaign, and the details of the situation is an oft-overlooked strong point.

3. Clarify your system mechanics. They are good mechanics and achieve what they are aiming for, but they also vaguely expressed in some places. I'll keep that in mind.
A further suggestion which might be immediately implemented, and has already been implied, is that you begin selling these books separately. There's no real need to mandatorily sell them together, and I believe you are doing nothing but injuring your sale potentials by marketing the books in this fashion. Again, at the time of this review, there were good reasons to tie the books together; today that is no longer possible.  We strongly recommend that anyone buying the game also buy the worlds book, especially if his experience is limited to one genre, such as only sci-fi or only fantasy.
The quick-and-dirty summary of this product? Yes, please.
The content is great, the lay-out and presentation need some work (although there's nothing wrong with the information-heavy approach, clarification and distinction is particularly needed considering how much material is present). This system is not for those who dislike complicated systems - you will absolutely hate it. Those who do like more complicated systems will, however, find a plethora of ideas to use elsewhere even if they don't like the system itself. Wow--he just said that it's worth buying it at $50 for the information contained even if you don't like the game system itself.  How can you go wrong?

I should also note that when he wrote this review, he had not yet examined The First Book of Worlds (he admits as much in his excellent review of that book.  It is therefore reasonable to infer that this means Multiverser:  Referee's Rules is worth the $50 price tag even if the worlds book is trash.

Style: 2 (Needs Work) Of course, we've provided significant customer support, answering questions by e-mail and on web sites, so if there's anything you can't find, we'll help.
Substance: 4 (Meaty) Four out of five is a good review.  I'd buy it.
In the last weeks of 1997, we announced on several newsgroups that we were publishing a new game which was unlike anything available, in large part because of the scriff concept and the ability to move characters between worlds while protecting the integrity of both the characters and the worlds.  We were soundly thrashed by members of that group for daring to make such claims.  We're pleased to see that someone from those discussions has concluded that we were right.

The original review was posted on RPG.net; we were not told that it was being posted, but discovered it later when someone called it to our attention.  Mr. Bacon has since heaped more praise upon The First Book of Worlds.

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