Class Notes: Cool Bits

-February 27th, 2013

In last week’s Class Notes I gave you some general reasons for why Degrees of Horror will be worth checking out: it’s relatable, heroic, challenging, and scary. This week (and maybe for the next few) I want to get more specific. This week I’m covering some of the things we’ve done to make an entire game set in college something you’ll love.

I can understand reservations over roleplaying college life. Tests, essays, research projects, all-nighters… Woo. Hoo. Reliving those moments sounds like a special kind of punishment, right? But let’s turn that on its head. What about parties, day trips, dating, or hanging out with friends? Degrees of Horror is like a musical montage of college. It skims over most of the yucky parts and emphasizes the cool stuff. For instance, more than one Savage Tale begins like this, “You’re sitting in class when” …something really unexpected and slightly awesome (or disturbing) happens. In fact, it’s like all those times you daydreamed in class about something cool happening. Degrees of Horror is it!

Setting adventures on campus is just the start. Or maybe the ending. However you want to look at it is fine by me. Let’s just say that before the adventures begin, we set the stage during character creation. Ed and I wrote a number of hindrances that make for great roleplaying. How about an Overprotective Parent, Party Animal, ADHD, or Annoying Roommate? Edges are cool and sexy (and we’ve got plenty of those) but hindrances give your character…character. They also provoke memorable roleplay opportunities. Imagine sneaking up to a darkened campus building on a moonless night, only to hear “Hey guys, whatcha’ doing?” behind you from your clueless, tag-along roommate.

We also wrote a flexible system for extracurricular activities. Join a student organization or athletic team, take a part time job, pledge with a fraternity or sorority, or more. It’s easy, flexible, and makes a small mechanical effect in the game. Activities provide extra adventure fodder for the GM and roleplay opportunities for players.

Speaking of mechanical effects, remember what I said earlier about skipping the yucky stuff? Welllllllll… I may have stretched the truth. What’s college without tests? Periodically you’ll take a Final Exam using a free Knowledge skill that you can further bump like any other skill. You’ll also get opportunities to earn bonuses (and detriments) to apply to that roll throughout the semester. Passing exams means you reach the next rank. Failure slows your progress until you can take another exam. It may seem like an unnecessary stumbling block but to quote from one of our sidebars, “Part of the campaign’s fun is that sometimes you’ll have to choose between studying for that hard exam and tracking down the intelligent insects mind-controlling the Entomology department.” Making that choice is roleplay gold.

Finally, there’s money. The “poor student” trope exists for a reason. In Degrees of Horror, we’ve assumed you’ve already paid for tuition, housing, and an on-campus meal plan. What’s left over is your “semester allowance” which you’ll have to spend wisely. It hand-waves most of the tedious bookkeeping while still making money matter. For instance, you might have to choose between buying a silver bullet or taking your date somewhere that doesn’t have a drive-thru.

All these small friction points–over things like money, tests, or personal hindrances– create  moments from which great roleplay can arise. They also build on one another to create a sense of student life while still letting the adventures stand front and center. That’s cool.

I hope you’ve enjoyed getting a glimpse at some of our “cool bits” for bringing a campus setting to life. Tune in next week, when I’ll turn to the supernatural!

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