High school. The very words raise hackles in some folks. Personally I had a great time in high school, but I know many who weren’t so lucky. And yet, many of us never seem to leave those hallowed halls… No, I’m not talking about being held back year after year. No, I’m not talking about dying on campus and haunting the hallways. No, I’m not even really talking about those folks who fall back into the cliques of their youth whenever they’re near high school friends as adults.
I’m talking about popular media. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Pretty in Pink. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Carrie. Cruel Intentions. The Craft. Weird Science. Freaks and Geeks. Smallville. The Breakfast Club… Need I go on? Whether you saw these films or television shows when they originally aired or much later, they seem to have permeated the cultural scene.
So what does all this have to do with gaming? Let me ask you a question. Are you ready to go back to high school at the gaming table? For me, even though I was well out of high school by the time it aired, Buffy the Vampire Slayer managed to capture my attention for seven years. And as a gamer, the idea of role-playing in the halls of Sunnydale High School was an intriguing thought.
School Daze from RPG designer Tracy Barnett manages to do three things simultaneously: capture your attention with fun, eye-popping art by cartoonist Brian Patterson (d20 Monkey, anyone?); create a damn simple system that is flexible enough to handle whatever you throw at it; and enable you to tell whatever stories you want to tell – whether serious or for laughs. And it does it all in a 66-page PDF with 60+ pages of that offering content, art, or arty content. There’s not a lot of cruft in this book – or if there is, it’s camouflaged amazingly well through Patterson’s art and page layouts of Daniel Solis. If books had pores, this one would exude fun from every single one.
Let’s take a quick look at the system, because that’s all it’s going to take. The basic mechanic involves one d6. If you want your character to try an action, you roll the d6, add any modifiers, and check the result. 5 or more? Huzzah! A success! 4 or lower? Bummer. A failure. But even failures have the potential to be fun. That’s it. One die. Doesn’t get much easier than that!
You don’t have a “game master” or “dungeon master” in high school… You have an Administrator! So your Administrator manages to dole out consequences for any successes or failures your characters may require. If the Administrator really likes a particular action, they give out Gold Stars to the players. A Gold Star can be used to… gain +2 to a roll, remove a consequence (and the player must explain why), or add to the story in some wacky way (and explain why).
Characters are also darn simple. Each character gets a name, a favorite subject (gives a +2 to rolls within that subject), ranks (+1 for good, -1 for bad), a motivation, and relationships with three NPCs (friends, family, teachers, administrators, whatever). Subjects are things you might expect – English, Foreign Language, Math, Phys Ed, etc. Ranks are entertaining quirks your character has that can both help and hinder. So maybe your character has a rank in “Clank,” which means they’re good with tools and electronic/mechanical things but bad when they get lost in the minutiae. Or maybe they have “Rank,” which means they’re great in competitions but can sometimes be overly competitive.
It looks like though School Daze might really excel in one-shot adventures or “Group Projects,” you could also do campaign-length adventures with multiple projects and treat it more like a series of episodes in a greater story. Administrators have to pick a theme (Prom, Spring Break, vampires…), make up some NPCs (other students, teachers, adults, etc. – each adult gets one Favorite Subject and one Motivation; each student gets those as well as Ranks in one area), set a time frame (a day, a week, etc.), and let it rip!
Barnett included quite a few example Group Projects (and excellent Random tables if you need some inspiration), from “Prom Night” to Buffy-themed adventures, Harry Potter-themed ideas… even Western or Science Fiction-themed ideas. But a good portion of the book is dedicated to detailing Trowbridge High School along with all of its NPCs – teachers, administrators, support staff, and so on. Every single NPC has a great Patterson-created portrait as well as a detailed description. And all of them would be fun to torture student PCs with.
At the end of the book you get a collection of eight ready-to-play characters, a cheat sheet that offers all the main rules on one page, and a character sheet you can print and reuse in your games. Ultimately this is a great example of how to put together a genre RPG with all the pieces a group needs to get started right away. The system is simple enough you could play with people who have never played before and probably have a great time reliving past glories or righting past wrongs as PCs exploring the halls of Trowbridge High.
If you’re not quite ready for that high school reunion but want to have fun in a fictional setting while getting your game on, I think School Daze will scratch that itch nicely. Whether you decide to play a one-shot to break up a more serious campaign of some other game or tackle an entire campaign using the School Daze RPG, I think you’ll have a great time.
For a bit more information about the game, you can check out…
- … the Kickstarter project that funded back in March 2012
- … the School Daze page at Sand & Steam Productions
- … by following Tracy Barnett @ Twitter
- … and up on DriveThruRPG (available now!)
when it goes live sometime soon.
Now I’m trying to figure out if I could write a spin-off for fantasy RPGs using the same rules…