I have lots of High School setting-like RPGs. Smallville has a whole supplement about playing in High School. It’s kinda the assumed setting of Buffy. So I was expecting to see some big hook for the School Daze RPG by Sand & Steam Productions…and it’s played fairly straight. Is that a bad thing?
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: School Daze is full color, tons of illustrations, bookmarked and searchable. It’s only 66 pages, so not a giant tome, and is $10 in PDF format. The intro references Buffy, Brick, Ferris Bueller and The Breakfast Club in addition to Glee and American Pie, so that’s a bit of range. It IS worth noting that, despite the cartoony art, there are drug and sexual references, so be advised.
Mechanically, it’s not a complicated system. Your character has a favorite Subject, which adds +2 to rolls when relevant, as well as up to three Ranks (all of which rhyme), and add +1 if they are a good thing for what you are trying to do, or -1 if they are bad. For instance, if you’re a Tank trying to sneak past the Principal, that’s a -1. Now, if it’s the middle of a football game and you’re trying to sack the Quarterback, that’s a +1. If you’re a Prank and you’re trying to humiliate the substitute? +1. If you’re trying to NOT say something out of line when the Town Councilman is holding an assembly…-1. You can also get Gold Stars, which can be used for +2 bonuses, removing consequences of failure or altering the story as it progresses.
You round out your character with Name, Motivation (“I wanna be a doctor”, “I wanna bang the head cheerleader”, etc) and three Relationships (they can be students, teachers, outside NPCs, you name it…they’re just people that’ll come up in the game).
The adventure chapter (or Group Projects) is meant to be really basic and then free flowing. Decide what’s going on (the example listed is Prom), add in the major NPCs and the basic set-up and then play it out. In the given example, the most popular girl in school (that is, the one every hates) is trying to get the school stud to take her to the Prom. Presumably, the PCs will interject themselves in the middle of that. There’s also a random School Year Events chart if you need inspiration, with things like Football Championship, Finals Week, Protest in the Halls, Bomb Threats, Alien Invasions and the County Fair.
Trowbridge High, home of the Fighting Kraken, l is provided, with school colors, mascot (Squiddie) and school paper, and a faculty that you can use or discard as you like. Each staff member has a headshot and a little quirk or two to help you along with using them in your games.
There IS a list of alternate settings, one being very Buffyish, one being very Harry Potter and one being set in the Old West, oddly enough, as well as a setting in space.
Finally, a list of pregen characters and a rules summary are provided.
WHAT WORKS: Pretty book, simple system that’s not trying to do too much, or overcomplicate a simple process. And I absolutely love random charts, so that helps.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK: The list of Ranks seems too small, especially if you have a group of five or six players, all taking three Ranks. I’m not sure I’d wanna run a Buffy or Space School setting with this completely unmodified. The last gripe is technical, as the download is nearly 80mb for a 66 page book and my computer actually struggles a bit with it compared to other PDFs, especially of the same size.
CONCLUSION: Very professional presentation for a game that could easily make for a fun diversion, either short campaigns or one-offs. I’d be more inclined to go “Saved By The Bell” with it over “Buffy” or “Brick”, though I’d be tempted to venture more into Saturday Morning Cartoon territory than Saved By The Bell did. In essence, I’m not completely sold on it being quite as versatile as the author says (though there are a lot of folks credited as playtesters, so I may be dead wrong), but I do also think that it’s a lot more versatile than I initially thought. Pick it up if you want something simple and Completely Different from what you’ve probably been running.