Starchildren, Part II
Sex, Drugs, And Rock & Rolling Dice
Except… I Think You Use Cards In This?
Wow, There Goes That Headline Right Down The Pipes
OK. As we saw in our previous episode, aliens who though the 1970s were actually cool came to Earth in the 2070s, only to find an oppressive police state, which they are now trying to take down via the power of rock! Having spent all of the prior article going over the background, it is now time to create a character.
Be Ye Human, Or Be Ye Bishounen Alien Rocker?
First, we must choose our species. Because the point of these articles is to explore game systems, I’m going to go with Starchild, as that will give me access to the k00l p0werz…. erm, I mean, let me experiment with the full mechanics. Yeah.
As a Starchild, I get three “Backgrounds” (Humans get four.) There’s no specific rule limiting backgrounds by race, but “Businessman” and “Cop”, for example, don’t seem very appropriate to an alien with two years experience on Earth.
In many similar systems, “Performer” would be a catch-all for any kind of creative type, but, fitting the genre, Starchildren gives us Drummer, Bassist, Keyboardist, and Frontman backgrounds, among others. I like “Drummer”, as they’re described as being surly and belligerent (no stereotyping here, no sir!). The Drummer’s skills include “Percussion”, “Bludgeon”, and “Intimidate”.
Q: What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?
A: A Drummer
Fitting with that default personality, I pick “Badass” for my second background. It is recommended that Badasses also take “Scrapper” to provide the combat skills needed to back up the bluster, so I’ll go for that.
Each background has 5 skills, which are ranked with on at 9, two at 7, and two at 5. The mechanics that give meaning to these ranks are not yet specified. If you don’t want to take all five skills, you can trade them for “Edges”.
Badass: Endure, Guts, Impress, Intimidate, Negotiate
Drummer: Bludgeon, Endurance, Intimidate, Percussion, Repair (Instrument)
Scrapper: Bludgeon, Brawl, Dodge, Slash, Throw
“Endure” is evidently a synonym for “Endurance”, probably a holdover from an earlier rules edit.
You can burn off one of your skill picks to raise the rank of another skill. This can be done when there are duplicate skills, (Such as Bludgeon, for me), or if you just don’t particularly want a skill or your character concept requires a higher starting rank.
I am strongly tempted to leave “Percussion” as my lowest-ranked skill, as it creates a kind of interesting concept… the drummer who is, in fact, not really good at drumming, but who is kept around by the band because he is really good at hitting people… which, in the grim future of the 21st century, is pretty useful.
So let’s see…
Presenting Thrash Beatnik
I’ll start with Bludgeon from Drummer at 9, then drop Endurance 9 from Badass to raise it to 10 and then use the Bludgeon I get from Scrapper to raise it to 11, losing my 9 from there, as well. That’s the highest a starting skill can get. I’m going to track which skills come from which background. Hopefully, I get it all correct.
Bludgeon: Jack (11) (Scrapper 9, Drummer 9, Endurance (Badass) 9)
Intimidate: 7 (Badass)
Brawl: 7 (Scrapper)
Endurance: 7 (Drummer)
Guts: 7 (Badass)
Dodge: 7 (Scrapper)
Percussion: 7 (Drummer) (I ended up not being able to drop it to 5, but now I can’t remember why. But here it is.)
Slash: 5 (Scrapper)
Throw: 5 (Scrapper)
Impress: 5 (Badass)
Repair (Instrument): 5 (Drummer)
Intimidate 5 (Drummer)
Negotiate 5 (Badass)
I didn’t spend one of my possible “Intimidate” skills in the hope of getting an Edge. Likewise, I dropped off Negotiate. I figure my character… who I am starting to think of as “Thrash Beatnik”… uses “Intimidate” as “Negotiate”. This gives me two unspent ranks for “Edges”.
Q. What does a drummer use for birth control?
A: His personality
Attributes, or, I Got Jack
There are eight attributes, four mental and four physical. Each pair is keyed a suit from a set of playing cards.
- Diamonds: Presence and Appearance
- Hearts: Wit and Speed
- Spades: Perception and Agility
- Clubs: Will and Body
I can assign ranks from a pool of Jack, 10, 8, 7,7,7,6,5. These are ordered highest to lowest, so, in Starchildren, “I got Jack” is actually a good thing. Starchildren are +2 ranks to Presence and Appearance, but -2 to Body and Will. This runs contrary to my concept of Thrash as a brawler, but, everything is relative, I guess. For a starchild, he’s a fighter.
So, Body gets Jack (as it were), which is downgraded to 9.
I’ll put 10 in Agility.
8 goes to Presence, +2 for 10.
7 into Will, -2 for 5.
Another 7 into Speed.
My last 7 into Perception.
6 for Wit
5 for Appearance, +2 =7.
So I end up like:
Secondary Attributes, Or, There’s No Kill Like Overkill!
Now, secondary attributes:
My Speed is 7, so, I have 3 Action Cards, and my Movement is 4 walking/8 running.
My Body is 9, so my Trauma Threshold is 15, my Injury Threshold is 19, my Blackout Threshold is 39, and my Overkill Threshold 53.
Any game which includes an “Overkill Threshold” gets bonus points from me.
Q. What’s the difference between a government bond and a drummer?
A. Government bonds eventually mature and earn money.
Edges: I simply skipped two skill to get Edges. I dropped 2 5-rank skills.
I can get Feared, which gives me 1 Advantage Card for tests of a skill selected from a short, logical list. I pick “Intimidate”. For my other 5-rank, I select “Street Contacts”.
I also pick the Disadvantage “Usual Suspects” for 7. I can put this 7 into a skill or buy an edge with it. I will use it to buy “Flex”, which is a “Mojo”, or alien talent. Flex governs abilities related to altering ones own body, which seems like a good thing for someone like Thrash to have, even if most Starchildren just use it to give themselves magenta hair and rainbow spiral eyes like they were Pottersues.
That’s basically it for character generation. It is worth at least mentioning the mechanics, though. As noted, they rely on playing cards. Except that the Ace is the low card, and Kings and Queens are reversed. Jokers are the wild card, and get +2 to kill Batman.
Everyone starts with a Hand of 5 cards, except The Man, who gets 7.
And here’s where it kind of gets tricky. Skill and Attributes each have suits. So, let’s go back to Thrash. Thrash has Jack in Brawl (yeah, I’m never going to get tired of that joke). The character sheet shows that Brawl is a “Clubs” skill, but it’s governed by Agility, which is a “Spades” skill.
If the card played matches the Trump suit for an attribute or skill, the value is equal to the rank of that attribute or skill. If it doesn’t match, it’s a “null” suit, so the value is your rank -3.
Then, The Man draws a number of cards equal to the difficulty of the test. The Man decides how difficult the test is, running from 1-5. Hopefully, examples are given. The Man then plays one of the cards they drew against you. If your score beats the card they played, you succeed. The rules note that The Man is not obliged to play the highest card they drew; they might give you a break. This provides an element of “sanctioned” GM fudging into the game; how much this appeals to you depends on how you feel about the Player/GM relationship in general. (It occurs to me that the harder the test, the more leeway The Man has to cheat… for an easy test, they draw only one card and so must play it, good or bad.) Nonetheless, the default assumption underlying the mechanics is that most of the time, the dice… erm… cards will fall where they may.
There’s also special rules for “really easy” tests, where The Man draws only one card, and the value on that card is reduced.
The Man and the player reveal their cards concurrently. If the player fails their test, they can “burn” a card, which gives them the value of that card on its face, regardless of the suit.
I don’t know how well this works in actual play, but it sounds like a decent enough system.
Opposed tests require that The Man play a card from his hand, and in this case, the suit matters. The Man is basically playing a hand for an NPC… sorry, an MC. The Man can also burn a card, just as a PC can.
Then, there’s “Boosts” and “Crashes”, or what more mundane, less rockin’, systems might call “critical successes and failures”, based on the degree of difference between the player’s card and The Man’s.
And there’s Advantage Cards. Thrash’s “Feared” Edge gives him one Advantage card when Intimidating something. This is essentially an extra card drawn when using that particular skill. Likewise, “Difficulty” cards are Advantage Cards granted to an opponent, either The Man or a fellow PC.
Finally, there’s “The Twist”. Twists are a form of metagame mechanics, akin to “bennies”, “hero points”, “action dice”, etc., allowing the player to gain bonuses, draw a new card, and so on.
Glam-Rock Alien Elvis Has Left The Building
And, that’s it for chargen and something of the mechanics. While it’s definitely odd, it’s not bad… there are no blatantly broken mechanics, pages of grammar/spelling/punctuation errors, or eye-bleedingly self-indulgent page layouts, despite this being a setting that could justify them. Other than the initial three chapter slog through setting material, it doesn’t hit too many of my eye-roll triggers. The art is a bit crude, hearkening back to some of the classic work from This Guy I Know (I miss his stuff in modern games), but it’s an effort from a tiny independent company which was trying to put out a hardcover book about alien rock stars at the peak of the D20 boom. No budget for art is forgivable.
If I ever see this being run at GenCon, I’ll sign up for it.
Caveat: I haven’t actually played the game, and the interactions of the various systems outline above do not lend themselves to intuitive analysis of the actual odds of success or failure in casual play.