Hi all so I am back at the keys and writing again.
As I said in the last brief post I wanted to hit TFOS (Teenagers From Outer Space) as a review. I am going to go a little past what I have done for reviews so far, because this one is dear to my heart and has been strangely published in its history. For those keeping track I know the first review I did was for Cyberpunk, a game by the same publisher, but I am not trying to crowd one game system or anything in here. TFOS is its own engine, its own flavor, its own fluff. Don’t worry I am not playing favorites.
So the history of the game, and my ties to it. TFOS was originally published by R Talsorian Games in 1987. A nicely made spine stapled magazine sized book with two mini six sided dice taped to the inside cover in a bag. Yeah the cover ripped a bit getting them out but hey… mini dice… tiiiiiiny little things. And you could not leave the bag or the tape in the book. That would have been so uncool.
I had seen an add for Ninjas and Superspies and another for TFOS in Dragon Magazine (published by TSR at the time and inclusive of not only adds but occasionally articles as well for so many publishers at the time). Needless to say Cyberpunk (the original) had impressed me and I had to put TFOS and N&S on my Xmas list that year. Strangely I got them both in the same gift box along with the Akira VHS that I wanted. Great haul that year. Anyway…
So there were two things that immediately stuck with me regarding TFOS in the book. It did not take itself, or gaming, very seriously. To quote from the first edition book “…now with a devil may care flick of the wrist toss your dice across the table. Now go to the other side of the room and pick them up so you can roll them like a reasonable being.” Secondly it punished you for doing too well. The “When too much is too much” rule. This was genius in my mind.
So going outside my usual D&D players and the crew who I was playing Call of Cthulhu with, I wrangled up another group of players that I had been playing Car Wars and Star Fleet Battles with to try the game out. It wasn’t dark enough for them. Too silly. They could not kill anything. I put it on the shelf and did not try playing it again until R Talsorian released their only adventure module for the game “Field Trip”. Then again when second edition came out. Then again when Star Rider by Ianus Games (aka Dream Pod 9) came out. Then when third edition came out. Then again when The Landing by A2 Press came out. Strangely enough even though I did not play it much, and I was never able to get a group together to play it for long, I loved the game. The fact that R Talsorian never put a lot of additional material behind it (compare to the dozens of books for Cyberpunk, and the half dozen or so for Mekton Z), the fact that even allowing other publishers to put out materials for the setting, the fact that it never really became popular on a large scale, none of that ever really dulled my interest. Some of the first conventions that I started going to on a regular basis in the Seattle area (NorWesCon and Dragon Flight) were because I found out that there would be people playing tournament style TFOS. Sadly over half the time the games got canceled and I had to just wander the con looking for other things to do… yeahhhhhhh thats the kind of freedom you want to encourage for a teenager who has to beg rides because they don’t have a drivers license yet.
So what is it about this system that has kept me interested, loyal to the title, and willing to play for all this time even though I don’t play that often? So lets break down the engine, a couple of the rules and take a look a the supplementary items that other publishers have produced to take a look at that.
Remember what I said above about punishing you for doing too well? Ok so how did that work. Characters have stats rated 1-6 created by rolling a d6 for each of them. And then if the game master (Principal) is being nice you get six points to spend on knacks (no they are not even called skills, just something you have a knack for…) say you have a 6 on RWP (Relationship With Parents – yeah they made a stat for that, you are playing teenagers after all) and you put all six of your knack points into “Con Mom”, then during the game you actually need to con your mom into something and you role a six on your die. Well if mom only has a 1 in Smarts and no knack for dealing with con artist kids… you just hit it out of the park. So now the Principal is encouraged to think about what you conned her into doing or not doing, and taking it about ten thousand steps too far. Take the example of conning mom into giving you more allowance. It works so well that she gives you all the money she has on hand. Then goes to the recycling companies and sells all the things in the house for what they can give her to give you more money. Next she sells the house to give you more money. Then she sells the rest of the family to some nice man from Rigel 23 to give you more money. Then you catch her using the computers in the school library to try and sell her internal organs on the black market because she cant figure out how to give you even more money. The players can stop it… and something like this can become an adventure all its own, or even a series of them. Basically you end up fearing the chance of super success as much as you fear failure.
Additionally you remember me talking about not being able to die? Well one of the character stats is Bonk. Yeah no Hit or Life points in this game. Bonk. You fall to zero bonk you go out cold. You heal to one bonk at the end of the current scene. If you go negative, well then you may be out the rest of the session or have to do something for the Principal to get back into the game. So you love your character, but you really want to jump off the Vice Principals burning hover car into the passing limo with the varsity cheer squad in the hot tub in the back, go for it you will only take seven bonk if you miss…
The games version of alien life forms is just awesome. Simple and giving you just enough to take all sorts of crazy ideas in building a character you like to whatever limits you like. Seriously. Spock, the Blob, Zippy the Fazukian Wonder Leezzard, go for it.
From defining your knacks, to building your appearance and if you are an alien even your home world and race if you feel up to it, this game encourages creativity. It offers you the chance to go completely out of control and have fun doing it. This is the sort of thing that every high-schooler imagines they can really do at some point in time… ok most of the do anyway. And here is the chance to do all of them without killing yourself or ending up in the hospital getting your stomach pumped or worse.
Now then I also promised to talk about the supplementary items. This is where we really diverge from what I have done before but I kind of think its essential here.
So apart from the three editions of the rules R Talsorian only ever published one additional book. That book is called Field Trip. This is sort of like an adventure module for any other game system you can imagine. Please note the “sort of” used oh so liberally there. This adventure is one of the strangest scenarios I have ever seen. And I have to thank whatever dark gods look over my gaming history that I have not played through it. Not that it is bad, but this thing gets so strange and there are so many chances to do really stupid and silly things that I am not sure I could have stopped myself from trying all of them whether it was in character or not.
Next up comes the supplement from Ianus aka Dream Pod 9. They only made one book for TFOS themselves, but its a doozy. Star Riders allows you to take characters from TFOS and make them into their adult selves and set them loose in space. The main setting is an after the disaster kind of thing where the universe was reorganized to make it more manageable and Earth got misplaced. So what are you gonna do? RWP becomes Relationship With Pals (instead of parents) to let you know just how far you can push things with the folks that care about you. But all the other mechanics and rules remain the same… ok well money is a little different too but hey you’re and adult now… go figure.. heh.
Since I sort of fell into making these notes based on publication date, last up is The Landing by A2 Press. Now then while TFOS third edition, Field Trip, and Star Riders are all available online as PDF from the usual sources… (Oh and dont go looking on DP9’s website for their R Talsorian publications… they hid them… really well…) A2 Press seems to have disappeared completely. No web site, no Facebook or MySpace page even… not even a note in Wikipedia. And back in 2001 when the Landing came out it was my big hope for more TFOS products. They had a plan, they had goals, they vanished without following up… sigh. The Landing though is one of those things that becomes very important for any story about teenagers. It is a 96 page module about a mall. It keeps all the flavor of the game intact. While also offering up a place for teenagers to hang out that is not at school and even get jobs if they are up for it. I have to say one of my favorite elements in the book is the use of the penguin maintenance teams for the mall. They even have rescue vehicles. No really, penguins with a drive skill…
So by now you really get the idea I love this game. Even today. So how does it rate up? Well I am going to go just by the main third edition rule book for that. I am not going to take any other edition into account, nor any additional books.
FLUFF – 2 So with all the fun and silly that is on hand here, why am I only giving it a two in fluff? Well that is really because there is very little of it in the book. There are great jokes. It is easy to read. It is fun and all. But fluff is everything from the character art, back stories and support material that helps you make adventures. This game is really dependent on you having a high-school setting in mind, knowing what it is to be a teen, and knowing some of the crazier anime conventions to make this all roll up nice for you. If you have been a teenager, are a teenager, or have a great imagination this wont slow you down for more than a heartbeat.
CRUNCH – 2 So another low number. Yeah. To be honest the rules are pretty soft. I know that is intentional, and for what they are intending to do the rules are the best they could ever be. This is not a hardcore rules system. This is a beer and party system that you have to use your imagination to make it really work. The few rules that there are, are also a little open ended. The game engine relies more on fun than anything else. One thing that this level of crunch is great for, is that it is easy to teach to smalls.
MOD – 4 Yeah you can mod it. With a rules system as soft as this is, you can take five minutes and mold this into just about anything you want. And that is part of the point. This is the factor I rely on when I am trying to teach games to smalls. I can take a game engine like this one and make one or two quick mods and I have a game about little kids, or super heroes, or just about anything else really.
FUN – 5 Gods I so want to break my own rules and take that up to 11… but no… no I just cant. Ok so imagine everything you ever wanted to get away with in school. No really everything… yes even that one… ok that one may be…. OH GODS NO OK OK YOU WIN YOU WIN NOT THAT ANYTHING BUT THAT!!!! Geez… the lunch lady… really? Ok so imagine ALMOST anything you wanted to get away with in school and now you have a place to play it out. All the …wait no… Almost all the things you dreamed of from owning your own hover car, dating whomever, being the smartest in school, or being able to out do the entire football team, and maybe even watching as something like Godzilla stomped all over your school, because you turned the school bully who happened to also be an alien slime monster into it. Simple easy to mod rules and constant encouragement to use your imagination. That is my idea of fun.
Overall Score – 13 Not what you might expect from one of my long time favorites, but definitely a fun game.
So if you really want to go out and have your character grow up game to game… No Thank You Evil (did the unboxing today and I like it so far) then into TFOS and then off to college at IOU (GURPS supplement). Then you are ready for the real world… whatever game engine that might be in.
Sorry for the wait to all my readers… or both of them or whatever. Back to it more often… I hope…
Ok now gimme the dice, I gotta see if I can make that inverted immelman turn on a hover surfboard while going through the drive through window and giving exact change at full speed. Keep gaming folks !