Sunday, May 15, 2011

Tommy's Take on Smallville High School Yearbook

Since Smallville just ended its historic ten-year run (crossing from The WB to The CW) this past week, it seemed like as good a time as any to review the Smallville High School Yearbook. Smallville is, thus far, the most successful Superman-related TV show in history, and was turned into a pen and paper RPG last year by Margaret Weis Productions. I've caught parts of the show here and there and was never a big fan, but I'm going to give it another go on Netflix now, since the whole thing is wrapped up and all.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: The Smallville Yearbook is the "high school" sourcebook for the Smallville RPG, requiring the Smallville rulebook to use. It is currently available in a 130 page PDF format for $14.99, with some nice, full color production values.

MWP does a good job with the "yearbook" feel, including Lexcorp "ads", in-character "special thanks" from the Senior class and a foreword by Lois Lane. The High School Yearbook introduces a new, high-school themed Pathways chart that is compatible with the same chart in the Smallville rulebook, just geared more towards making High School a much bigger part of the game.

Additionally, the six Values (Duty, Glory, Justice, Love, Power and Truth) are re-written from a high school perspective, making it easier to relate the Values to a High School setting. New High School-themed Distinctions are also given, for both kids and adults, such as Down With The Kids (for the "cool" teachers), Teacher's Pet or License to Drive. An interesting addition is the Award Distinctions, such as Best Body, Best Smile, Cutest Couple and Most Likely To Succeed. Interestingly, these can only be given to Leads, and only one Lead can have such a Distinction at a time.

The Cliques chapter covers Cliques, Clubs and Stereotypes, and the MWP Crew wisely made this an all-purpose book and not just a "Smallville High" book. The relevant Cliques get Values, Relationships and Assets, but also get Hangouts and Hangers-On and "Depth", an extra comment or two that doesn't quite fit in anywhere else. We also get an example of turning a Clique into a Lead or Feature, specifically turning the Football Team into Lana's ex-boyfriend Whitney.

We get an *impressive* listing of every department in the school, complete with stats, and "Game Time" sidebars on how to use each club in a game (such as how the Football team might approach a Math whiz for some TV-Geometry in the decisive moments of the big game). Similar write-ups are given for various levels of the Administration as well as Clubs separated by Cliques. For instance, The Drama Club falls under "Geeks", but there are exceptions listed such as Popular Kids joining for the exposure, or the Techie and Actor stereotypes in the group not getting along.

From the Booster Club to Stoners to The Math Club, The PTO and the Administration, pretty much anything you need for a Smallville-powered High School game is laid out with Values, Assets, Relationships, Steroetypes, Exceptions, etc.

The High School Drama chapter is more of a "how-to" chapter, broken down by eras, such as playing in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s (with a shout-out to John Hughes), 90s and 2000s, as well as other TYPES of schools, like a School for Budding Wizards, an Elite Space Flight Training Academy or a Victorian Girls' Boarding School (I assume a shout-out to the BBC series HEX).

We also get (YES!) a Situation Generator for randomly rolling up situations...and yes, I'm gonna do that right now because I love random tables.

Setting: Math Olympics
Classmate: The Big Man on Campus (interesting)
Problem: Dumped (Hmmm)
Pressure: Sent Letter/E-mail/Text to Wrong Person AND Locker Won't Open
Classmate's Plan: Perform
Classmate's Vulnerability: Learning Disability
Who Else Is In Play?: Gym Teacher
The Issue: Mental Illness I'm not 100% sure how to handle this one. Doesn't flow quite as easily as my go with the Leverage generator an idea or two for a few of the elements, but not ALL of them. Ah, well, that's the fun of random!

Next we get a listing of big, High School Events from Field Trips and Prom (and the After Party) to SATs and Senior Skip Day. This is followed by a "counselour's" examination of teenagers, with sidebars on how Smallville's ever-popular meteor rocks might affect each area of development.

The Smallville High School chapter is pretty much an exhaustive breakdown of the people and places from the TV show's early seasons, interspersed with sidebars addressing characters like Lex who aren't high school age, but don't fall into the same "adult" category as Lionel Luthor or the Kents, or taking a High School age game out into summer vacation. There's even a sidebar addressing inserting new Leads into an ongoing game, which is apparently meant to tide us over until the Watchtower Report (which covers the later seasons - where this became a bigger issue) covers it in greater detail. Lastly, we get a list of "Hangers-on"...high school themed extras.

A handy indexed chart and high school character sheet wrap up the book.

WHAT WORKS: Pretty much an indispensible resource for running any high school era Smallville game, not just for one actually set at Smallville high. If there is a group or department that they failed to put in the book, they gave enough examples to work it out yourself. They tossed enough cute "yearbook" touches in to get their point across, but kept it from getting annoying.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Not much, really. Top notch production values, affordable price (the $15 PDF is half off of the $30 book, which is impressive for a full color, licensed sourcebook). There aren't a lot of complaints that are actually relevant to the book (if you gripe about the High School focus, for instance, that's kinda silly given what the book IS).

CONCLUSION: You probably have some idea as to whether or not Smallville is a game you'll like or not, and if you don't, then this book isn't going to convince you otherwise. It is a nicely done take on high school storytelling in general, so you could well get some use out of it even if you're running, say, a Mutants & Masterminds high school game or even a Buffy game still set in high school. Now, if you're into the Smallville RPG and only have an interest in the "adult years", I can't give this a glowing recommendation (due to content, not presentation), but they have a whole book designed for that coming soon. Great work, must-buy for Smallville High School Games.

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