Sci-Fi Beta Kappa: A game in which John Belushi may well be a Wookie.

 Tea: None during the game, but I had some very nice loose leaf Assam before I went to the Beta test.

Recording: No Recording!

On Tuesday night I got to do a play test for a new RPG. More importantly I got to do a blind play test, which means I had no idea of the system, rules, plot setting or indeed anything before getting there! Luckily this meant I wasn’t required to run the thing for a change.

The General set up of the game is that you are an Alien, a member of an Alien Fraternity in a human college, a fraternity that in the age old tradition of films like Animal House etc, has reached the point of being on super-secret triple lock down probation. Worse, of the hated Alien fraternity you are the trouble makers.

In our gang we had:

Zlith the huge headed bored looking lab technician who really just wanted to get off Earth and spent his time making bulbs glow with his brain.

Harok who cooked… cakes. Cakes that made people feel wonderful man, just amazzzzziiiiinnnng. He also had heightened senses and a predilection for borrowing things without the owners permission.

Vuff an amorphous blob, who could shape himself into different shapes, split into a number of separate blobs and even teleport.

Tatlaan (or a name like that…) this was who I was playing, totally not Abe Sapien Mixed with the Fonz, I knew everyone and where we needed to go to get… well anything. No one was entirely sure if I was Male or Female which no doubt added to my allure.

The game began with the Dean giving us a dressing down for doing such, no doubt fun, but not entirely legal things as turning a car into a pizza oven, stealing a statue (which Vuff used to sleep on/in/around) and other such things. He informed us in no uncertain terms that if anything else of that type happened not only would we be thrown out of the university, but probably deported from Earth back to our own planets. Which would be a colossal disaster! He then stormed off in a huff.

We turned round and found the rest of the fraternity staring at us. Karg, the huge ape like warrior fixed all of us with a glare and told us in no uncertain terms that we not only had to worry about the dean but if we caused any more trouble and got Alien House shut down, just before he got deported he would most likely turn us inside out.

They left, floating away or sliming away, or in the case of Karg stomping away like Godzilla in a Muscle shirt, leaving us to gather up and try and work out a way out of our predicament.

Party.

We would hold a kick ass party.

Karg who overheard us plotting this informed us that “Karg Like Plan” and thus began the madness.

The game seems to be very free-form, the players get to decide what they are doing, who is doing it and how they are doing it. They do have some skills to help work out what they should be concentrating on doing, For example Zlith was excellent at power manipulation and had a brilliant brain, but could also remember things well and plan. Tatlaan (or whatever the character was called, I should remember I was playing it!) was EXCEEDINGLY good at persuading people to do things, with a side order of Planning, and Doppelgänger. That’s right Space Fonz could also pretend to be other people. The Blob monster Vuff could form himself into multiple forms, teleport, Harok was good at larceny, and a god at cookery. The rolling system however is a bit different on what you might be useful.

We had decided to throw a rocking Hello-Sween party, which was some kind of human festival wherein they tried to terrify each other. We were not exactly certain of why this was a good thing, but they seemed to like it, so we planned to make ours the best one they had ever seen. To achieve this there were various tasks we needed to achieve, the first of which was to organise to get people there.

As Space-Fonz I headed off to the announcements office, which was scarily close to the Deans office, to try and sweet talk the guy in charge of the tannoy to announce that Alien House were having an amazing party… the next day. My character was really good at persuading people so I rolled far fewer dice than anyone else would have. The rolling system is set up such that you want to roll fewer dice, and rather than aiming for a particular target number you actually hope to roll as few 1’s and 2’s as you can. 1’s and 2’s, known as Demerits, show how wrong your action has gone. They also add up over the course of the game and cause bad things to happen in the GM’s denouement.

So rolling 8 dice and getting a single 2 was pretty damn good all told! The tannoy guy agreed to plug the party every hour on the hour providing that there would be drink and girls there. Which there would be, assuming we managed to get some drink!

The Great Plan called for punch, not just a normal punch bowl but a super massive punchbowl that you could drown a mammoth in. Vuff had been given the task of procuring an appropriate vessel. Now because it was us, we had immediately settled on the Satellite dish of the Beta Epsilon house, aka the Jock house and the house that hated us the most. Why we decided on this I could not tell you, but it made sense at the time! Off he went to the Deans Office, whereupon he took on the form of the Dean. Then he called up the maintenance guy and the using his disguise ordered him to go and start work on repairing the roof of Alien House as they would be out soon. The repair guy headed off to Alien House, Vuff turned into him and wandered off to to the Fraternity house. Their Satellite dish was at least three metres across, but it also weighed a metric tonne, and so he would need help getting it out of there.

So he knocked on the door, and told the Frat Boys that they needed to help him take the satellite dish down ready for “the new one” which would be coming the next day. They seemed unwilling until he pointed out that it would provide the perfect time to oil up and impress the Human Females from the Sorority across the road.

Vuff rolled for his disguise, and again we beat the odds and rolled incredibly well. Another two demerit roll, but again he was using his Major skill i.e. the thing he was best with. Judging by the way the GM was marking down whenever we used our Major skills, it seemed like the intention was that we would be limited in the number of times we used our major skill, confirmed by the fact that we would be allowed a “free” use of our skill during the aftermath.

Soon Vuff was waist deep in olive oil covered muscle bound idiots happily ripping their Satellite dish down. Which left Harok and Zlith to start their parts of the plan.

Harok began to experiment with mixing various drinks and trying to make a punch to keep our alien brethren happy. It involved draino, lemon juice, and some kind of sherry. Rolling the dice (3 demerits) and taking a good gulp he declared it excellent, then belched and burned a small hole in the roof of Alien House. Karg noticed, and demanded to try it… and was later found unconscious on a pool table.

Zlith meanwhile sloped dejectedly to the physics department intent on sorting out the Light show for the party. For this we needed lasers, big lasers, big impressive lasers. He entered the Physics building and collared the nearest graduate student. He told him that the big experiment had been moved forward, and that it would instead be run on the following Hello-Sween night. Also the experiment had been changed slightly and Zlith would be arranging the mirrors himself.

This was the first use of a Minor skill, Planning/Memory, and so Zlith’s player was rolling a ton of dice (13 I think) as his minor skill was low, but his mental stat was high. Seeing 8 demerits in the pile was somewhat disconcerting but this was the point at which the concept of Personal and House points came into play. There were several ways they could be used, one point spent would allow you to re-roll, whereas two could be spent to re-roll the demerits only. You could also spend 1 point to reduce your die pool by two. We each started with a point, and more were earned for playing your character, but the bar for earning another seemed to be a little high, although whether this was due to the rules, or the point economy fully explained for the GM (who hadn’t had too long to peruse the rules!). House points meanwhile were shared amongst the player party BUT any house points we spent went to the GM allowing him to do extra things in the Denouement. As it turned out we didn’t realise how bad giving the GM house points was, so we used one to allow Zlith to re-roll his attempt.

The second roll was better but still racked up 4 demerits. He arranged the Mirrors… without realising that one was slightly misaligned. The plan to beam lasers into the house would potentially end badly.

Finally I (as Space-Fonz) was up again as we had hatched a plan to bring Beta Epsilon house down a notch or two and at the same time fulfil the parties requirement for terrified humans at a Hello-Sween party. For this we… for some reason… needed a robotic dinosaur, a realistic robotic dinosaur. Which would be used to scare the over-muscled douche-bags of Beta Epsilon. So off I headed to the Cybernetics department, disguised as the Dean. My disguise consisted of a toupee and a suit, but due to a minor skill in Doppelgänger., was seemingly impenetrable and indistinguishable from the real thing. So in I stomped and informed the Cybernetics Students that I was very angry that they had not moved the robotics that I had demanded to the Natural History department yet. They were obviously confused as the Dean had done no such thing, however someone who looked almost exactly like him was doing just that.

Minor skill with a mental focus so I ended up rolling 11 dice. We were all exceedingly surprised when not a single demerit appeared, and by surprised I mean ecstatic!

The first steps on the path to the greatest Hello-Sween party the university had ever seen had been completed.

The Next step was to procure alcohol for the humans, and food for the party. Now I’m sure we could have achieved this in a purely legal and above board manner. To be honest with you, that didn’t actually occur to us. What did occur was that there was a human town nearby, and if we had a human vehicle we could go there and get some.

Harok was dispatched to procure a vehicle and the rest of us came along for the ride. For some reason we decided that as someone had turned the Deans car into a pizza oven, we should go and nick the Beta Epsilon guys car. Harok crept over, and began his larcenous work. He was good at what he did, and easily managed to get us into the car (very few demerits). At which point we realised that none of us had any real idea of how to drive. Zlith however remembered an awful lot of human TV programs and films, so applied his fabulous memory to the task of driving the car. He remembered that you have to move the gear shift up and down, and move the steering wheel back and forth. Sadly with 4 demerits all he achieved was a lot of gears shrieking.

“Hey That’s Our Car” was exactly what we didn’t want to hear. Shame it was exactly what we did hear about ten seconds later. As Zlith continued to try and work out what he was doing wrong and I and Harok screamed at him to get going on Vuff “blobbed” (yes its a verb now) into the boot. There he found golf clubs, socket sets, and the remains of someone’s pet cat that they hadn’t bothered to unpack when they got to college. As the angered Jocks headed towards us he popped the hood and flailed at them with literally everything, including the cat! Under the onslaught of his multiple forms, and with only a couple of demerits he drove them back.

Given the additional time (and the addition of Space-Fonz leaning out of the window shouting BANG like on those human cop shows) Zlith was able to work out how to get us going. With a whoop we set off for the town, albeit somewhat jerkily.

It was not too long however before behind us we could hear a rising whine and see blue and red flashing lights. Not certain that we could manage a getaway, Tatlaan and Harok got into the boot, and Vuff took the place at the wheel while turning into “Drake” one of the Beta Epsilon guys. His disguise was pretty good (a small number of demerits after a re-roll) so as Officer Jenkins rolled up and demanded to know what was going on he spun some tail about trying to show his good friend the Alien-Dude how to drive, but some douche-bag (probably Joe) back at the Frat house had messed with his car. Officer Jenkins was totally taken in, so much so that it came as some surprise when he turned round and found that during the distraction the two guys who had hidden in the boot had stolen his car.

Now with two cars we could split up and go deal with the food and the drink at the same time. Harok knew where we could get some food so Tatlaan and he rolled up to the local soup kitchen. Tatlaan once again donned a disguise, aided by the contents of the Police Cruiser and stomped into the soup kitchen. In an almost impenetrable southern drawl he informed everyone that the food had been condemned and had to be impounded, also everyone was invited to a party at the Alien House the next day. Between the Police uniform and the large Police issue Shotgun Space-Fonz certainly looked the part. Unfortunately I didn’t roll too well so we used a house point to re-roll. With the re-roll I rolled much better bringing the demerits down somewhat. Confused but heartened by the promise of a party the next day, the shelter staff and the homeless helped us to load it into the Cruiser… at which point we left at speed.

Which left the booze for the humans we had invited to the Hello-Sween party. Vuff and Zlith meanwhile had this in hand and came up with a plan. They parked the Car and set the lights up pointing at the off licence. Then Zlith ran past screaming that the Blob was coming and was going to eat him and Vuff followed up doing his best, Blob from outer space on a rampage! With his multiple forms skill he was easily able to intimidate the Off Licence owner who hid in his safety cage, only to find out that a cage is not that effective against a Blob! He ran screaming, as Vuff formed himself into a conveyor belt and started loading the car with the booze.

Which was unfortunately when Officer Jenkins turned up. Huffing and puffing from his jog into town,, he was responding to reports of a monster attacking an off licence. Seeing him coming Zlith screamed at Vuff to get into the car and then smashed his hands down on the dashboard and vastly increased the power in the car with his power manipulation. Cars it should be said do not normally accelerate from 0 to 200 or so in less than 10 seconds, but it did this time. Screaming and leaving little chunks of Vuff behind them (which then grew little legs and chased on behind) they hurtled on a straight line back towards the university, but with several demerits coming up even after a house point, they soon hit a roundabout and hurtled into the sky. We held our breath, as Vuff clutched the alcohol, before the car splashed down in the Olympic swimming pool scattering half the water and most of the women’s swimming team into the trees around it.

Realising this was not the best place for the Alcohol, Vuff grabbed Zlith and teleported. Teleporting is a minor skill, and hard, and he was carrying an alien and an aliens worth of booze. We were unsurprised when in his attempt to teleport back to Alien House something went a little awry, they got there fine, but at the same time brought the water with them. Filling the TV room of the house with water would have been bad to begin with, but doing so while the rest of the house were watching TV was not so good. Vuff quickly began to suck up all the water before returning to his room to sleep.

Back in the town the Police cruiser pulled up to a back alley confectioners, causing the denizens to look incredibly worried, until Harok got out and sloped inside. He needed supplies for the terror inducing brownies that we intended to feed to the Beta Epsilon guys to make them more amenable to “Surprise Robotic Dinosaur”. A few moments later he came scurrying back out with bags of contraband icing sugar and the finest in illegal food colourings, and fruit steeped in strange liquids from the east.

We were almost ready for the party, but the last step was to get the Robotic parts which had been moved into the Natural History department into a model of a Velociraptor. Tatlaan once again donned his toupee and Deans suit, and stomped over to the Natural History department. There he found the Cybernetics guys just finishing up putting the robotics together. Fixing them with a glare the faux-dean declared that it was untidy where it was and they should put it away out of sight, over there inside the Velociraptor model. Weirdly they agreed and very quickly put together a radio controlled Velociraptor, which as he didn’t want the surprise to be ruined, Tatlaan threw a flowery dust sheet over and rode back to alien house. Still while dressed as the Dean…

Back at the House Harok began his cooking, producing a fine batch of terror-cookies as we installed the robotic dinosaur in the “cloak room”.

That done we were ready for the Party. We didn’t have too many demerits but at the same we had nearly run out of personal points, and only had one House point left. We also got one use of our primary skills each during this phase.

Vuff having nothing to do at the party had decided to keep an eye on the Beta Epsilons. Changing into the Dean with his multiple form power he sneaked over to Beta Epsilon house to watch as they set off. He was shocked to see that they were carrying chains, knives, and other such things with the intend of “Showing those aliens what for”. Given their intention, he decided to get our revenge on them in advance. He very obviously broke into their house, and ensured he was seen (as the Dean) mumbling about blaming the Alien House for the break in. Unfortunately he knocked the cooker on as he left setting the place alight, however he just noted (as the Dean) that he could blame that on Alien House.

Zlith meanwhile was providing the “Atmosphere” vibrating items to make music and waiting for the light show to start. A depressed lab tech just wanting to escape Earth would not you would have thought would be good at the music… It was however excellent and put everyone in a great mood.

The mood was further raised by Harok’s cakes which pushed the mood still higher, now admittedly the Homeless guys, the guy from the announcement booth, the swimming team and others were not exactly the most discerning of gourmets, but they were certainly enjoying themselves.

Then it happened the Beta Epsilon guys turned up to the party, all armed up to wreck the place soon afterwards. Tatlaan stepped forward and offered them the “Terror-cookies” but sadly as I had no points left my roll with 4 demerits was not great. Space-Fonz laid the charm on thick explaining that the cookies would make them irresistible to the opposite sex and those of indeterminate sex. They seemed reticent at first but eventually went for them.

Primed we suggested they put their coats away in the “Coat room” aka “Broom cupboard with a Velociraptor” which they did. Cue the Screaming!

Eight of them turned and fled chased by a robot dinosaur still trailing parts of a floral dust sheet. The ninth however leaped into the air and…

At that point our High Energy Laser fired. Zlith tried to control the beam but it was slightly misaligned and actually really very powerful. The ninth leaping Beta Epsilon was given a reverse-mullet bald at the top and long on the sides. The beam hit the glitter ball… and very slowly started chopping the Alien House into Chunks!

Which was the point at which the GM worked out how well we had done. We hadn’t realised that the Demerits had been adding up to a point other than determining how a given action had been going. The demerits earned throughout the game were taken and totalled up then subjected to a certain amount of mathematics. I have not read the rules yet so aren’t sure exactly what the formula was, but it resulted in a very small dice pool. Things were looking up for us! Then the House points we had spent rose up to bite us in whatever painful areas our various alien races had.

The first was used to add a number of dice to the pool, and then once the GM had rolled the other two allowed him to re-roll the dice that had not rolled demerits. The result was a “level 4″…

Which it turned out was not good. Despite our relatively good showing all the way through (usually less than 4 demerits the average roll being probably 2) and because we had not realised how bad giving the GM House points was, we had turned what had been a relatively speaking well executed plan… into if not an unmitigated disaster at least an utter failure!

We didn’t get shipped off planet, but we did get thrown out of the college. Zlith went to CERN, amusing himself by accelerating very small Particles very very fast. Harok became a celebrity Chef, Vuff went on to star in films The Revenge of the Blob and Blob from Mars, while Tatlaan became a fixer… for the UN.

Final Review

I am going to start by saying I really liked the game, and remember I am reviewing this (purposefully) from the point of view of a Blind Play tester, I have not read the rules yet and will be doing another review most likely after I have.

First the points I think let the game down, although bear in mind this was a Beta and therefore could be altered in the final rule system.

I’m not sure I liked the GM’s Denouement phase, there seemed to be a lot of maths and then suddenly a plan that had actually gone quite well according to our dice rolling, turned into an unmitigated disaster due to very good luck on the GM’s part. It was a bit anticlimactic and I think it would have been better if the demerits were just totalled up and then matched against a demerit scale to see if it had been a successful plan or not.

The other thing that would have helped would have been a greater amount of personal points allowing us to reduce or re-roll our demerits more easily. With only one each we had to use a lot of House points, which we did not realise were going to be quite so catastrophic. That should have been made very clear from the beginning I think! Caught that the intent was for the GM to hand out extra personal points during the game, but possibly the criteria should be made a bit clearer.

The Good bits however were very good! The dice system was new and innovative, allowing you to roll not to fail rather than trying to beat a difficulty. Plus as it used d6’s you can be fairly certain that any gamer is going to have plenty around!

The characters were nicely separated out so that each character had a speciality where they shone, and a few lesser things they could do not quite so well. It meant that everyone had a niche which was handy, as it kept us from relying on just one person to get everything done. The limited number of uses of the main skills also meant that we had to get creative with sorting some of the issues we faced!

For an evening of comedy fun the game is great, quick to play and much like Fiasco lends itself to madcap and slightly insane plans! Although it is eared to emulating the American fraternity films I could also see it being used to emulate any game where there is a hierarchy and potential for comedic escapades. For example Alien Police Academy, yes I can see me running that!

We had a lot of fun playing it, and now I have finished my blind review I can read the rules!

2 Responses to “Sci-Fi Beta Kappa: A game in which John Belushi may well be a Wookie.”

  1. Leo Marshall Says:

    Much thanks for this excellent review, which neatly captures the anarchic silliness of SFBK. You’ve done a good of remembering everything that went on- I struggle as GM to recall all the shenanigans for my AP reports, which is obviously a feature of games with a high degree of player-generated content. A couple of points about its being a blind playtest: Dale, the GM, hadn’t had a great deal of time to read the doc before the game, nevertheless he made a decent fist of it. There was one thing about the set-up phase that made me think Ah, interesting, I would have handled that differently, but of course no game in the hands of an outside GM is ever going to be run 100% as the designer intended, whether that’s Fiasco, CoC or D&D, and I think that’s a good thing, as it means every game is slightly different, depending on who’s running it.

    As to the negatives: I’ve revised the doc to say the GM should be fairly generous with the merits, and although I do say in the GM’s notes that s/he should make sure the players understand the consequences of the demerit build-up I’ve also put it in a new section, the GM’s summary. To the point about the Epilogue: I understand the wish to have the Final Outcome match the demerit total, and if there’s a clamour for that to happen we’ll change the rules accordingly (after reading your post I came up with s set of tables to convert demerits directly into Final Outcome, which I’ll incorporate in the rules if necessary). However, we feel that it’s a valuable element, for two reasons: first, it provides a tangible link between the players and the GM, making the latter another player, and moreover one with an agenda; secondly it mirrors the randomness of real life (something I’m very big on as a roleplayer). Consider the case of a serial burglar, who the Police have been trying to nail for months. They build up a wealth of evidence against him/her until they think Right, now we’ve got him. The case goes to Court, only for the burglar to be found Not Guilty due to clever lawyering, Police evidence being ruled inadmissible or just good/bad luck.

    The reverse can also happen. I’ve run a number of games where the demerit build-up would suggest that Alien House would be closed down but lo and behold, they’re saved, leaving the Dean gnashing his teeth and shaking his fist. Check out my AP report on Necrognomecon 4 on this page: http://www.rpggeek.com/rpgitem/125834/sci-fi-beta-kappa for an example of this.

    As I hinted earlier I’ve amended the doc to included GM’s and Players’ summaries, sand I’ve emphasised the demerit-Epilogue consequence a bit more (although to be fair, in the GM’s notes (p21, last para) it did already say that the GM should make the connection very clear in order to avoid just the kind of feeling you express. So I hues one lesson from that is to stress that potential GMs should make sure to read the rulebook all the way through before running a game. Speaking of which… I like your Police Academy idea- go for it! One of the guys in my club has run a Prom Night, and another one wants to run Cruise Ship (references to Carry On Cruising a must!). Yes, there’s plenty of potential for different scenarios.

    We plan to publish an ashcan version in about a month’s time, at a con in Edinburgh called Conpulsion, and then a full-on v1 when we get the professional artwork in. I’ll keep you posted…

    If you want to get in touch with me by e-mail, my address is leomarshalldesigns [at] Hotmail [dot] com. Or you can join the Sci-Fi Beta Kappa FB group- I’m not on FB but my co-writer told me this week that he’s set one up. And over the next few months I’m going to work on a website for my games, which will be called indyhippo [at] something [dot] something.

    Y’all have fun now (but don’t let the Dean catch you!).

    Leo

  2. catty_big Says:

    Good news everyone: Sci-Fi Beta Kappa is now available at Eclectic Games! Please pass it on…..

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