Review: Murphy's World

Murphy's World is yet another funny roleplaying game.

And that sort of says it all right there, doesn't it? I'm somewhat sad about that, since it's clear that a lot of effort went into the production of this game (or supplement; the line is blurred). However, for all the high production values, and all the frantic energy, the core of Murphy's World is simply an average, uninspired campaign setting that has very little to recommend it once you subtract the humor.

What you get is a 152 page perfect bound softcover, with black and white illustrations and a gloriously brazen full-color cover. About half of it is for players, and half for GMs; the GM's section includes a short adventure. While there is a brief rules section, Murphy's World is really designed to be used as a supplement for other RPGs; in theory, a GM will trot out Murphy's World when his or her players need a lighthearted change of pace.

The production values are good. There aren't many spelling errors, the art is decent, and there aren't any pages with blotchy backgrounds obscuring the text. Some might find the design to be uninspired, and I couldn't argue much with such a claim, but better uninspired than inspired and unreadable.

The premise of Murphy's World is a planet on which belief creates reality, as a result of which reality is utterly fragmented. Furthermore, the planet is littered with interdimensional gateways, so even if reality did ever settle down someone would soon come along to disrupt it again. There are multiple native races, each covered with their own brief section; the gamemaster's section provides a handful of NPCs and a beastiary.

In theory, GMs are meant to use Murphy's World as a rest stop. If your Runequest game is getting a little depressing, you can always have your PCs fall through a gateway and land on Murphy's World for a session or three. In practice, I'm not sure that this world will fit into any serious campaigns, and if you're in a humorous campaign, you've already got a world to play in.

Further, there's very little depth to any of the background, nor are there many connections between its numerous elements. Nobody bothered to try and make them fit any kind of coherent theme. Now, nobody claims that Paranoia or Toon are viable self-consistent worlds, but they do both have a unifying theme. In Murphy's World, undead Reagan votes are cheek to jowl with surfer dude elves, one kingdom over from the Hindu gods.

There's a sort of a narrator; Sean Murphy is a scout whose spaceship crashlanded on the planet. (Murphy's World. Get it?) But he vanishes a few pages after the introduction, to be seen again only in scattered journal entries. I wound up feeling that he was probably only there for the joke, which was, in fact, my reaction to most of the humor in the book. It suffered from the same problems as did the background: it's scattered and undirected. Why would anyone want to roleplay in a world full of unrelated one shot jokes?

The system doesn't provide any answers to that question. It's a system; it's very forgettable. In fact, it's really more of an outline than a complete system. It has the usual eight stats, ranging from 1 to 20, and a percentile based skill system; the character generation rules give you a hundred points to split up among the stats and a number of skills of your choosing at fixed percentages. Murphy's World suggests using your own RPG system, or playing freeform, and given the weakness of their system these are really the only choices.

In the end, as much as I'd like to be able to recommend any gaming product created with such enthusiasm, I'm forced to admit that enthusiasm doesn't replace craftsmanship. There's nothing I can recommend in Murphy's World. The mundane, when presented in an attractive package, is still in the end mundane.