So, it's like Harry Potter meets Dungeon Keeper: less silly magical drama and more nose-picking and skull-bashing? I'd play it for a chuckle, I guess. Up the violence and dark humour, though--why be evil if you can't backstab (or poison, or pit-trap) your classmates? GM fiat to keep players from bumping each other off, of course.
Other than that, maybe remind your players that all they have to do is play. Usually works for my group.
Excellent point. One thing that I found lacking in my first draft of the game was there was little in the way of "we're actually NASTY monsters" -- too many cuddly teen monster stuff, it needs some darkness and nastyness.
I'm working on the rewrite now, and I am going to add this in.
I'll be running a one-shot this Friday. The group seems jazzed to play off a game inspired (in my words) by Clone High, Saved by the Bell, and the old Reverse Dungeon idea.
If fights don't break out around the student council presidential elections, they will have to discover that the principal is planning to sell them all out ahead of schedule. He's planning to finance his own line of budget dungeons, you see. Heroes will be lured to them with a promise of incompetent monsters, and then the dungeons will collapse -- instant death trap!
The brain in a jar will need to find a way to pass his gym class while exacting revenge on the student who had him placed there while avoiding the advances of the pretty young zombie in his homeroom. The orcish musician will need to convince his parents that he doesn't want to go into the family business of guarding a treasure chest in a 10' by 10' room. The gothy oozegirl will search for her true shape. The school's hottest and most popular girl (a fire elemental? Ooh! Burn!) will conspire, the redcap will terrorize, and hopefully a great time will be had.
So it will be similar to Paranoia; bad jokes, underlying social concerns, and a whole lot of one-upmanship.
In short: It was a blast. Due to player demand, I am expanding it from a one-shot until they don't want to play anymore. Here is one player's summary:
"For a few hours tonight I was back in highschool. And everything was simple again. And I was a sentient holly bush. Who was striking up a relationship with shy little daisy. And I manage to poison the most popular guy in the school. And I helped an easter Island head become more popular. And I was friends with a brain in jar who's running for class prez. And I attempted to frame the most popular girl in the school for the poisoning. And the band I formed with an acidic blob and an orc and the brain in the jar got invited to play ye olde battle of the bands. Wild Sycamores Rule!
Just like it used to be.
Here's my un-summary:
Kyssa Valentine - The most popular girl in school. This fire elemental is a real hottie, with a temper to match. She hopes to rule the school with a heated, iron fist.
Sasha Sloop/Shadowheart - This darling of an acidic blob wants to find her "true shape." Poetry, art, and wanton destruction have been her tools so far.
Memnos, Slayer of Freshman - If he weren't a brain in a jar, this guy would be akin to Johnny Depp's Cry-Baby. He smokes, skips class, and wears a leather jacket. He also rides a motorcycle and has his lacky (a stunningly resilient kobold) play the guitar for him. Chet Fungus, the most popular guy in school, managed to transfer him to Basic Weaponry. As such, he is unable to graduate.
Ogg Smith - He's the "hero" character of the high school movie. He's entirely average, yet lovable for his earnest nature. As an orc, he also enjoys rioting and is embarassed by his dorky father who guards a chest in a 10' by 10' room all day. At school he masquerades as Memnos and takes his Basic Weaponry class for him.
Buddy - The sentient holly bush. He's a trouble-making rocker with designs on death or glory.
Mr. Rickman - The homeroom teacher. He's an alcoholic, depressed ghost who talks like a conglomeration of Alan Rickman's most recent movie roles. He bears a grudge against the principal for passing by his design for a new Deathdome in favor of the auditoriumarium.
Chet Fungus - The most popular guy in school. He's head of the Impressive-Looking Community Service Club, treasurer of the student body, and an arrogant jerk. His lackey, in hilarious contrast to that of Memnos, is essentially the Incredible Hulk. He thinks that dungeons are passe, and argues in favor of a more free-form adventuring environment. His father owns several pleasure yachts.
Principal Cinnamon J. Khazdorf - My reimagining of the WMHS principal. He plans to funnel the students into his own line of coal mine themed dungeons. These dungeons will collapse when adventurers enter them, killing everyone. He encourages dissent among the students as long as they attend their classes, handing out student body president applications to those who directly challenge him.
Moa-Moa - A sentient Easter Island head inspired by Papa Moai. He's an unlucky dork who the PCs took a liking to after Mr. Rickman froze him in a block of ice. He has several "glandular problems" such as ice breath, shooting lightning from his ears, and eyes that burn with the fury of a thousand suns when he's picked on. Usually matters end poorly for him.
The Shadow - The unseen editor of the school newspaper. He has an agenda against the PCs, which was made worse when they smashed his primary printing press. His name is only spoken in hushed whispers. Does he even go to class?
Long John Sliver - Captain of the Bones, a gang of pirate skeletons. They suffered a set-back when their components were all mixed up during a PC-started riot, and a second one when Sliver's skull was crushed. Sliver still intends to run for student body president.
After introducing the players to each other as they walked to their first day of school, they realized that they were late to homeroom. Mr. Rickman blamed Memnos' lackey for the tardiness and sent him to the detentionarium. The gang skipped the first half of the opening ceremonies to rescue the hapless kobold. They scored an iron maiden ("Excellent!") as well as accidentally uncovering a secret passage to the principal's plotting chamber. A clearly marked diorama gave them clues as to how all of the students would be killed, but they ignored most of them and vandalized the evidence instead. They then stormed the auditorium, planning to cause a riot and defame the principal.
The riot went off without a hitch, but publicly decrying Khazdorf only earned student body president applications for Memnos and Kyssa. Long John Sliver's regiment made a showing as well, apparently supporting Sliver's bid for president just to spite Kyssa. It turns out that the last WMHS president was killed when the former school burned down and fell into a swamp. Buddy and Shadowheart used the chance to pipe their music over the PA tubes, earning themselves a mysterious invitation to Ye Olde Battle of the Bands.
School let out early that day, so Memnos and Ogg went to the movies while Kyssa conspired with Chet Fungus. A member of the Neutral Valley Quiches was encountered, but passed by without too much incident.
The next day we went through several classes. Basic Weaponry was the most interesting, as Memnos convinced Coach Boomer that he was Ogg and Ogg was Memnos. Boomer made fun of Memnos for being a puny, brain-shaped Orc and dropped a double-headed orcish axe on the brainjar. Chet's lackey fought Memnos and won handily. Ogg, masquerading as Memnos, fought the Demon Daisy that Buddy had been subtley romancing. After the fight, Buddy grabbed his damaged woman and made off for his Alchemy class.
Buddy failed at making a simple healing potion, but took heart at Mr. Rickman's words: "Yes, you have made this potion wonderfully -- assuming that you wish to kill your target instead of heal them." Finding miracle grow for his girlfriend, Buddy set off on a new quest -- to trick Chet Fungus into drinking the potion while blaming Kyssa. Doing so would help his friend Memnos win the student body elections.
Memnos was skipping class to hang out with moderately-attractive women on his motorcycle in an attempt to build popular support. His low fitness score coupled with an excess of cigarettes and beer left him woozy when Kyssa found him. She was ruthless, setting him on fire and tossing him at the pool.
Some more stuff happened. After school, Kyssa met with Chet in the pleasure yacht that his father had moored in the school swimming pool. She was planning to make him a deal that he couldn't refuse. Moa-Moa had been convinced to act as drink-mixer for the event, as he could make a mean tropical drink. Buddy had given his death potion to Moa-Moa and convinced him to slip it to both of the assembled schemers. Kyssa did not drink, explaining how bad it was to give alcohol to a fire elemental. Chet poured his drink over his roots and promptly died.
At this time, Memnos burst up through the floor of the pleasure yacht, still burning with a combination of his decadant lifestyle and brain preservation chemicals. The pleasure yacht was in ruins, and Chet Fungus was going down with it. Chet's flunky tried to stop Kyssa from leaving, but Moa-Moa saved her. As they escaped in the rowboat however, Kyssa ordered Moa-Moa to start paddling with his hands. He, being an unlucky fellow made of stone, capsized the boat with the sudden shift of weight.
Kyssa only survived her pool-drenching due to the magic that surrounds the school. She woke up in a mysterious cave, unsure where the pool filter had taken her.
Ogg, still pumped from his victory in Basic Weaponry, saw the burning pleasure yacht as a chance to apply his Advanced Looting class in the real world. After gabbing a crystal chandelier, he started pumping it in the air while yelling, "MEMNOS IS THE CHAMPION!" In front of the entire school, who had just let out for the day.
So now everyone is convinced that Ogg is Memnos, and his chances for winning the upcoming election are practically guaranteed. That won't happen until after Ye Olde Battle of the Bands, however. What type of crazy shenanigans could occur in that setting? Find out next week!
The only changes that I made to the published rules were the introduction of the Impressive-Looking Community Service Club and a retooling of the teachers to include more in-jokes for my friends. The anachronisms of the setting worked quite well, with the players having cellular phones but still relying on a series of speaking-tubes for the school PA system.
Everyone took to the darker side of being a monster well. There were backstabbings, frontstabbings, and petty revenge interspersed with the typical teen drama. (But perhaps I repeat myself?) Actual classes were mainly used as backdrops for characters meeting and furthering their plans, but that goes perfectly with the genre. I don't think that I'll bring tests and the like into the spotlight until someone needs to desperately pass.
Tasks were rarely failed unless they were opposed. The strong characters would always do impressively strong feats while the charmers could not be out-charmed. Most character had an F area that never worked, however. It will really take some more stringent testing to find a balance in this, as I wasn't as strict with the dice as I should have been if I intended to test the system.
I thought that the magic system was too skimpy, but it worked for the session. No one complained about needing more spells or potions than they could produce, and it gave one more tool to those who could use them. I'd probably write a few more spells if magic were more prevalent among my group, however.
People were laughing and joking the entire time. The concept was silly and allowed for puns and gamer in-jokes that added to the setting rather than detracting. There were intense moments as well, most notably from Kyssa. Her player was scary.