Chapters 1+2

posted by Benly Original SA post

Evil Mastermind posted:

Is that the one where the David Bowie-looking aliens come to Earth to save humanity from evil overlords with the power of ROCK? If so, yes, you need to dig that out.

Indeed it is! Although I had misremembered its title. The title is actually:

Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

Starchildren: Velvet Generation is, essentially, Rock Opera Concept Album: The RPG. While there are callouts to other albums, the setting is essentially a combination of Styx's Kilroy Was Here and David Bowie's The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars . If you haven't listened to those go listen to them, they're pretty good. Weirdly, I don't think the book ever mentions any of this - I guess the authors figured that if you buy a book with that cover on it, you know what you're getting into.

It's been a while since I read the book, so I'll be rediscovering a lot of the details and mechanics as we go. Good fun!

Starting out: credits and ToC. There's a credit for "Systems & Fascism Consultant". RPGnet gets a Special Thanks.

Chapter One: Future Legend is two pages long and starts us off with a setting summary.

Starchildren: Velvet Generation posted:

In the future, historians will write about the 2070s as a decade of revolution, awakening and discovery. The people of Earth will discover that they are not alone in the universe, and will abandon a culture that threatens to destroy creativity and kill the human spirit. Fueled by rock music from beyond the stars, this Velvet Generation is a force that does nothing but gain strength from the moment the first of the mysterious Starchildren set foot on Earth on the Eigth of January, 2071.
We join the action in the spring of 2073, a little more than two years after the landing of the Starchildren. In response to the growing resistance movement, the Ministry of Music begins a terrifying crackdown on illegal and subversive rock music. Velvet, the underground rock organization brought to life by the aliens' arrival, is experiencing internal turmoil as their more radical and violent members break away to form the Blue Army. The Osterberg Institute, a secretive group of paranoid and xenophobic scientists, sets their sights on the Starchildren, who they perceive as agents of an "alien invasion". In this grim time, it seems as if the world will never awaken from this dreary nightmare. But make no mistake, change is on its way. And when it finally comes, the whole world will rock.

And now you know why I had no choice but to buy this game.

The rest of Chapter 1 is "Playing the Game", "Reading the Book", and "Getting Started", which are pretty much as they are in every other RPG book. The GM is called The Man, and NPCs are "The Man's Characters" or MCs. Required equipment is character sheets, two decks of playing cards with jokers and some counters (20 or so recommended). There is also a pronoun sidebar: in this book, players and PCs are referred to with female pronouns and The Man and MCs are referred to with male pronouns. I like that; it avoids "male as default" and also helps prevent pronoun confusion during rules discussion.

Chapter Two: As the World Falls Down is an in-character look at the setting from the point of view of a popular-history book from twenty years later. It's about seven pages, with a bunch of sidebars.

In the early 2040s, psychologists and sociologists declared that most contemporary music was "emotionally manipulative", contributing to mass depressions, crimes, and promiscuity. The economy was in the shitter, everyone was coming off the aftereffects of an unspecified war, and people wanted something to blame. Plans for a "global cultural authority" were drawn up at the 2046 G13 summit. Protests and demonstrations ensued. In Spring 2047, four people were killed when a protest in Times Square went bad; the authorities cracked down with excessive force, some of the protests turned into riots, and the violence was used as "proof" of uncontrolled art's dangerous effects on Our Vulnerable Youth.

A panel of experts was formed to sort out good art from bad art, which eventually became the ICCC (International Culture Correction and Control) with sub-ministries for various fields of art. The most powerful ministry was and is the Ministry of Music, which its opponents call "Mad Mother". Under the MM's guidance, music which was too emotionally influential, either positively or negatively, was banned, and the other ministries followed suit in their own fields.

In the 2070s, the only music permitted is specifically-selected classical and lite-jazz compositions, as well as "New Music", which is essentially elevator music. Musical performance is only legal with a permit, which is acquired after an extensive background check and psychological evaluation. Naturally, there is an underground scene of seedy lowlife dive bar, back-alley bootleg CD sales, and self-taught unlicensed musicians. Of course, the MM pushes back with heavy propaganda campaigns, and the "common knowledge" is that consuming the wrong art can destroy your marriage, your career, and even make you go insane or lose your memory - at the least, everyone knows it's an industry controlled by organized crime and other unsavories.

Starting in 2070, a loose organization initially called the Rock Resistance tries to maintain contact between like-minded musicians, organize shows without mob control, and maintain "awareness" through graffiti and flyers. Under the leadership of the Starchildren, the Rock Resistance renames itself "Velvet" and has some success swaying youth towards acceptance of music. The MM's response is the "Big Stomp" of 2073, in which the MM is given the authority to intervene forcefully at police-located "trouble spots" - that is, illegal performances. The MM discovers that there are special people (the Starchildren) leading the underground, labels them "Chief Agitators", and declares that they are foreign agents brainwashing Our Vulnerable Youth to become anarchists. And so we get to where the game begins.

There are three sidebars this chapter. "The Rise Of Pinball" tells us that with narrative and representative video games considered Bad Art, pinball has become the #1 amusement of young people since it's considered too abstract to be artistically dangerous. Badminton and blacklight bowling are #2 and #3. "The Free World" informs us that there are some nations which are not signatories to ICCC policy, including Japan, India, Pakistan and Brazil, but they are subject to trade embargoes and so their economies are in disastrous shape. "Money" informs us that money works about like it ever has - bills and coins haven't been replaced by credstiks or anything, although quickpay keychains and such are popular.

And that's the first two chapters of Starchildren: Velvet Generation!

Chapter 3

posted by Benly Original SA post

Transient People posted:

Holy shit, this sounds amazing. Please tell me they talk about "Sticking it to The Man" at some point!

It's been a while so I'm not sure, but I strongly suspect you will not be disappointed.

Now for more
Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

Starchildren: Velvet Generation posted:

As the battle grew, many hearts changed sides, and many lives were either made or ruined. During it all, the world was left struggling to figure out just what it wanted for itself, and for its children.
We knew what it wanted, though.
It wanted to rock...

Chapter Three: Revolution Rock is more in-character worldsetting, this time covering life as a rocker in 2073. It takes the form of a transcript of a covert MM researcher/agent talking with a "convicted roadie with two warrants for his arrest" named Harvey Vanes.
The agent is supposedly shopping for musical instruments, and Harvey tells him to get to a "Tinkerboy" or a black marketeer. Tinkerboys are garage craftsmen who make instruments and sound equipment; black marketeers have better stuff (either vintage pre-Ministry equipment or professionally-made gear smuggled from Japan) but they're affiliated with gangsters and are likely to get you involved in serious trouble.
To get started as a musician, you want to go to the "dims", which are like slums except cool and generally lit with colored lights. Find a shitty bar, tell the owner you want a gig, and you'll get a spot. You'll probably be paid in beer, but on the other hand the cops don't really give a fuck what happens in a shitty slum bar so you're not likely to get busted too badly. Record a demo tape and go looking for a pimp manager - basically, find a less shitty gig where a less shitty band is playing and ask a bouncer to take you to him. If the pimp manager likes what you have to offer, he'll sign you on to his stable and find you clients who are willing to pay for your performances. Most managers are also connected to other illegal activities, so try to avoid getting involved in his drug-dealing if you can help it.

There's a digression here about moving your instruments around: basically, get either a real or a fake instrument permit. Permits aren't issued for electric guitars, of course, but you can hide your axe in a cello case with a permit on it, and if it passes their hand scanner cops probably won't search you without further cause. If you're a keyboardist, you might even be able to get a real permit for your keyboards.

The interview then skips ahead to another interview with Harvey after the agent has had some successful gigs. It turns out Harvey is a member of the "N.Y. Starship" branch of Velvet. Velvet stages rock shows, helps ship instruments from place to place, and helps keep rockers away from the MM. They also engage in various forms of resistance against the MM: "We scramble transmissions, send out false alarms, listen in on their airwaves - I know that ain't allowed - whatever we can do to get one up on their daily routines, we'll do it."
Velvet is organized into hubs and satellite groups within an occupied city. Satellites focus on operations within a neighborhood or group of neighborhoods, while hubs organize and communicate between satellites and communicate with other hubs. Satellites have headquarters (marked by purple-star graffiti in the vicinity), while hubs are groups of people with no central meeting place. (In addition to the purple star there's also an illustration of a crossed hammer-and-music-note graffiti, which is not explained but presumably symbolizes proletarian solidarity between industrial laborers and rock stars.)

Harvey then veers off to telling us about a "new wave of super-rockers" called Stars or Starchildren. They're supremely charismatic, love to glam it up, and some people say they're aliens but that's just nonsense . Also Harvey had sex with a Starchild once and it was amazing but he's not sure whether it was a man or a woman.
There are also "Blackholes" who are basically Starchildren that work for the MM. Harvey thinks they're probably brainwashed rock stars. They're definitely not aliens, though.

There's also the Blue Army, which is a militant breakaway faction of Velvet. They use car bombs, gas attacks, kidnappings, and all that fun stuff. MM propaganda claims that the Blue Army is the main organization and Velvet is a subgroup within it.

After all this, there is a note that Harvey and his satellite were all arrested with the help of this information.

Sidebars! There's a whole pile of sidebars in this chapter.
"Chips, Tapes, and Discs" is about music distribution media. MCDs are 2" optical discs that can record several days' worth of high quality sound. Memory chips are cheap, common, easy to copy, and they're used in basically all kinds of small electronics so they're not suspicious. Vinyl is produced by tinkerboys and record-fetishists, and is primarily in demand by either the aforementioned fetishists or DJs who want them for proper turntable mixing. Tapes are no longer in use, but "tape swapping", "demo tape", and related terms have stuck around.
"The Media" is a short sidebar which tells us that TV and radio is controlled by the Ministry of Communications and mostly sucks. There is then another sidebar, "Pirate Radio", which tells us that the exception is pirate radio stations that make short, illegal broadcasts. There are a few of these in every major city, but when a radio pirate is caught, a "grim example" is made.
"Over The Counter" is about drugs. "Drug" is a dirty, filthy word in the 2070s, much like rock music. Fortunately, "pill" is not, and most people don't think of pills as drugs. Pills are color-coded. Greenpills are antibiotics, and are the only pill that requires a prescription (to slow the growth of resistant strains). Whitepills are low-end painkillers, basically headache medicine. Graypills are stronger painkillers, equivalent to what you'd get prescribed for an injury. Blackpills are overpowered, "comforting a terminal patient" painkillers, and yes, they are still over-the-counter. Bluepills are "smart pills" and study aids. Purplepills are anti-anxiety, and "help make shy people talkative and friendly". Redpills and yellowpills are sleep aids and stimulants respectively, and are usually sold together.
"The Granger Society" is a bit about an interesting faction, the Granger Society For Literary Preservation. They were the first anti-Ministry resistance group, starting in 2061 as a peaceful group that concealed copies of books from the Ministry of Literature. Since then they have grown increasingly militant, and are now extremely dangerous and literate terrorists. They are sympathetic to rockers and other illegal artists, but they think Velvet needs to stop dicking around and get serious.

Next Time: Yeah, they're aliens.

Chapter 4

posted by Benly Original SA post

Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

Starchildren: Velvet Generation posted:

Beautiful, disturbing, weird and seductive, the Starchildren spun the world around and gave it a big, minty kiss on the lips. At once, the world both pushed away and eagerly dropped trou, and in the confusion that followed, Velvet grew into something more, and the Velvet Generation was born.

Chapter Four: 2000 Light Years From Home is about Starchildren, who Harvey was quite certain are not aliens. In case you can't guess from the chapter title, he's wrong. This chapter is more in-character retrospectives from the future, although it's two separate documents this time. The first is an interview with "noted rock revolutionary" Stainless Pakistan, published in the October 2078 issue of the underground 'zine Glammer. This is apparently shortly after the Ministerial Dissolution and only months after the Starchildren came out to the public. Stainless is a Starchild, and is answering questions about their nature.

Stainless's first memory is of "back on the ship", being told what Earth was going to be like by parents Vash and Gilly. It comes out over the course of the interview that the Starchildren were emigrating to Earth on the basis of hundred-year-old transmissions that made them believe it was going to be a rock-and-roll paradise. Their plan was to blend in with humans by claiming to be from another country, since they knew that humans from, say, Russia and America acted different, but they had somehow missed the idea that these different kinds of humans didn't always get along. Essentially, anything they couldn't learn about humanity from 70s rock and roll, they didn't know. Starchildren have a shorter lifespan than humans, so the trip took multiple generations; the Starchildren who landed on Earth had grown up on the ship, only knowing second- or thirdhand information about Earth from their parents and music recordings. They landed their pods in the most out-of-the-way places they could find, took their clothes and guitar picks to the cities, and found themselves brutally underprepared for Earth. (The pods themselves apparently rusted and decayed very quickly.)

Stainless also tells us a bit about Starchild biology. They are a single-gender species. Sex is a social and recreational activity unrelated to procreation, which takes place by one parent breathing out a cloud of spores that look like glitter and the other (who carries the child) breathing them in. Starchild pregnancies last two months, they are adults at least by four or five years, and they rarely if ever make it to forty years old. They're physically weaker than humans, and more susceptible to the effects of drugs. They don't eat solid food, and don't go to the bathroom; all waste products exit the body through their sweat, which smells nonspecifically floral. They also sleep only four hours a night.

The last bit of information Stainless has for us is about the Blackholes, which were apparently a clique of Starchildren aboard the ship whose parents refused to let them socialize with the other young ones an who remained separate right up until landing. Stainless doesn't like to think they would have sided with the MM, but allows that if any Starchildren did, it would've had to have been them.

The rest of the chapter is excerpted from the same 2091 popular-history book as the first chapter, and kicks off with the quote excerpted above. It then goes on to give us a slightly less personal and more informative view of the Starchild situation.
For reasons unknown, starting around 1972 and lasting for five years, certain TV and radio broadcasts from Earth came to a world many light-years away much more quickly than they ever should have. It's not clear exactly why human broadcasts had such an effect on them (some people think their own culture had never developed music), but they came to love all things human, and most particularly rock and roll. Rock and roll became their religion, and they even changed their bodies to resemble humans. Within decades, with the weight of their society's resources behind it, they had managed to put together the technology for a pilgrimage to the galactic birthplace of rock and roll. It would take fifty years, longer than any of them would hope to live, but those born aboard the ship, called the Starchildren, would be able to live in rock and roll paradise.
Except, well, that didn't work out so well. Not that they gave up, though.

Starchildren: Velvet Generation posted:

They landed quietly in the wilderness, packed up their instruments, and went off into the cities. Their beloved Earth needed to be repaired, and they were out to help us the only way they knew how.
They were out to Rock!

More information about Starchild biology follows. They look human, for the most part, although very pale, quite thin and fragile-looking, and sometimes with a slight bluish tint. This is not their original appearance. Starchildren are natural shapechangers, although to a limited degree, possessing an ability called "flexing" that can change their exterior appearance. Over time, this changes their "natural" form; the Starchildren alive today don't know what people on their planet looked like before the human broadcasts came. They also have the ability to influence the moods and perceptions of those around them, although there's not much detail on that in this part. When they first came to Earth, they didn't know that humans couldn't do these things, and were surprised to find out. On the other hand, they're jealous of humans' longevity, endurance, "amazing strength", dancing ability, and resilience to drugs and liquor, so we've got that going for us.

The last bit of this chapter is a short chunk on "The Alien Lifestyle". Starchildren had trouble blending in naturally and most still sometimes use human slang and expressions improperly at the time of writing. That's actually a little weird for a book written twenty years later, but really, this is for players who'll be playing Starchildren who've only been on Earth a year or two. They also didn't settle naturally into a monogamous or fixed-gender lifestyle. Many of them learned to pass as having a single gender, but this is another reason they tended to get along better with rock and roll hedonists than with the mainstream.
Also, all the Starchildren were trained in glam rock from birth, but on coming to Earth they settled into all kinds of musical styles. There's a weird little dig about how "no evidence of a Starchild country musician has ever been found". I guess the idea of a legendary stardust cowboy is just too ridiculous for the writers to accept.

Next: Character generation!

Chapter 5

posted by Benly Original SA post

Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

This chapter's lead-in art: Some very sad rock stars pull on their finger, then another finger, then a cigarette.

Chapter Five: Children of the Revolution is our character generation chapter! Beyond this I don't remember a lot of details, so it's a journey of exploration. The first steps are coming up with an image and general concept. Everyone who's reading an RPG thread already knows that part, nothing new there. There's a character sheet in the back of the book, and the sample character is going to be named Shird Oxendine, who we'll see built in sidebars. Or I will, anyway. I'll summarize it for you.

Descent is a pretty simple binary choice: are you a Starchild or an Earthling? If you're a Starchild, you're going to be frail, sexy, unlearned about the world, and have mysterious powers of rock and roll. If you're an Earthling, you'll know how life on Earth basically functions, rock pretty hard without mysterious powers, and have a much easier time not flaming out with multiple massive addictions.
Kim, our sample player, decide she wants her concept to be a cynical, sarcastic Starchild. He calls himself Shird Oxendine to mock his band's pretentious stage names. Obviously, he's going to be a Starchild.

Backgrounds are the first meaty bit of chargen. A Background describes part of your character's backstory, whether it's her current profession, her early life, or whatnot - it's something that's given her the skills and resources she has today. Each Background has five associated skills, and you can take a single Background more than once if you want to be really good at it. Earthlings get four Backgrounds, while Starchildren only get three (since they haven't been around as long).
Kim decides that Shird's personality lends itself to a bassist, and wants him to also be the group's techie. She takes Guitarist and Technician, and for the third she picks Freelancer to fill in whatever else she feels like.

Now to get into more of how Skills work. Not actual resolution mechanics yet, but we're getting there! Skills are rated by card rank. A high card rank means you are good at a skill, a low card rank means you aren't well-trained but have some training, no card rank means you aren't trained in that skill. Each background gives you five skills: one at 9, two at 7, and two at 5. Freelancer is the exception, giving you one each at 9/7/5. You "can assign these however you like among the skills listed in your Backgrounds", which I think means you could put all four of your 9s into one Background's skills while another eats all your 5s. If you spend two equal ranks on a single skill, you raise it by one. You can throw in more ranks equal to the original to keep raising it, so you can spend three 5s and get a 7, for instance. You can also choose to spend extra ranks on Edges instead, which are explained later.
Most of the skills are pretty self-explanatory, so I'm not giving a full skill list here, just explaining the less obvious ones. Each skill is also associated with an Attribute, which will be explained later.
There are also three skills that aren't on any Background's list: Flex , Sparkle , and Vibe . These are special Starchild abilities called Mojo that are explained in a later chapter. Since they're not on any Background, you have to either take Freelancer or pick up extra free skills by taking Flaws (which are explained a bit later.)
Kim decides that she wants Shird to be really good at fixing things, so she spends two of her 9s to have Repair (Instrument) at 10. She takes Vibe 9 as one of her Freelancer skills, because if you are going to be a space rock god you might as well have some space rock magic, and Dodge and Brawl as her others because he's a jerk and probably got into some fights. His Knowledge specialty is Rock History, because that's the kind of thing Starchildren learn. Then she allocates the rest of her skills in ways that aren't terribly interesting.

After skills comes Attributes . There are eight attributes, four mental and four physical, with one of each group corresponding to each of the four card suits. We're still not told why.
When you're making a character, you get eight card ranks to assign to your attributes: J/10/8/7/7/7/6/5. Higher is better, and you assign them however makes sense to you. Starchildren, being the moonage daydreams they are, get +2 to each of their Diamond attributes and -2 to each of their Club attributes.
There are also some secondary traits derived from your attributes. Speed determines your Movement and your Action Cards. Body determines your Damage Thresholds. These are all looked up on tables, and are not explained yet although we are assured Chapter Six will tell us what's going on. This is also the first time we find out that aces are low, but that doesn't bother me too much since it's not like we would've had any aces up to this point anyway.
Kim really wants Shird to be Mr. Fixit and Repair is a Perception skill, so Shird gets a Jack in Perception. His 10 goes into Wit because if you're going to be a sarcastic asshole, you might as well be good at it. Guitar is a Speed skill, so she takes a 9 Speed to make him a pretty good bassist - solidly above average, but not legendary, especially since she only gave him a 7 skill in it. She dumps Presence because he's a jerk and nobody likes him. Then his Starchild stats kick in, so his Presence comes back up to an average 7 - even a jerkass Starchild is at most kind of modestly unlikeable. His formerly-average Body and Will are both tanked to 5, and his Appearance comes up to an above-average 9. His 9 Speed means he's got decent movement and actions, but with 5 Body he'd better hope he can avoid getting punched too much.

We're not done yet! Edges and Flaws are next. These are your typical advantages and disadvantages that are outside of the skill/attribute system. Taking a Flaw gives you an extra "free skill" pick with a rank depending on the Flaw, and Edges are bought by spending skill picks with ranks at least equal to the Edge's cost. Some have variable costs with appropriately variable benefits. You can buy an Edge with a higher-ranked skill than its cost, but there's no special benefit to doing this. I'll list the edges and flaws with their values.
And now for Flaws . Each Flaw gives you a skill pick with a rank appropriate to the flaw, which can be spent on any skill you want or on Edges. Kim decides Shird has a respectable Day Job as an electronics repairman, giving him some extra spending money (Cash) along with some extra duties. He has a girlfriend he met when she brought in her computer to be fixed, an average suburban girl with no connections to the dangerous rock-and-roll scene who may be a potential Vulnerability. Also, he's a bassist and he'd feel pretty stupid if he didn't have a bass to play, so she gets him Contraband to buy his bass. He ends up with Cash 5, Contraband 7, Day Job 5, and Vulnerability 7. He also picked up another 7 somewhere when I wasn't paying attention, which she spends on Sparkle so he can be even more magical.

One last step and that's Getting Equipped . You have $5000 to buy shit unless you modified that with Edges or Flaws. What can you buy? That's in Chapter 6. Just, y'know, remember to do that when you make a character. No resolution mechanics or anything this chapter, just trust that higher numbers are better.

Sidebars! This chapter's sidebars are almost entirely about Kim creating Shird Oxendine. However, there are three others. School Rules is about public schooling in the 2070s, which focuses heavily on indoctrination and "practical knowledge". History class is basically propaganda, art and literature classes are functionally nonexistent, and math, science and trades get functional education. Uniforms are ugly, teachers are cruel, and the food is rubbish. Fact-Finding in 2073 is about journalism; journalists need to be licensed by the Ministry of Literature and are watched like hawks, so if you want to spread real information you're going to be doing it via underground newspapers and 'zines. Experienced Characters is just a house-rule for starting out more experienced characters; they start with an extra Background and +1 to their Attributes. The Man is encouraged to use this rule only if he wants the players to start out as high-level movers and shakers within Velvet or already-famous bands.

Oh, and then there's a filled-out character sheet for Shird Oxendine with his character portrait in it. Hi, Shird.

Next: We find out what all this card business means.

Chapter 6

posted by Benly Original SA post

Sorry about the delay, I had some things to do (and a new video game). Now back to

Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

Chapter Six: Get it On is 40 pages long. The rulebook as a whole is 125 pages long. This is because Chapter Six has all the rules in it. Everything mechanical that isn't chargen or antagonist stats is in this chapter, so who knows if I'll get the whole thing together at once.
Rule #1, of course, is What The Man Says Goes, and there is the usual explanation that this should be used to make a better collaborative story experience instead of just reciting your plots at the players. No surprises there.
Next is an explanation of Cards . There are two decks, the Test Deck and the Action Deck . The Test Deck is used to resolve outcomes, while the Action Deck "keeps order in confrontations". You may shuffle together two decks to make a bigger Test Deck but the Action Deck should be a single deck. Aces are low with a value of 1, and queens outrank kings because glam rock. Jokers have no value and are wild, "sort of".

At last we get to Basics . At the beginning of a session, each player draws a hand of five cards and the Man has a hand of seven. When you want to do something, the player plays a card from her hand and the Man plays a card according to the test's difficulty (we'll get there). The Man's card is worth its face value, and the player's card has a value determined by its suit.
Each skill and attribute has a trump suit . We already went over how the attributes sort out; each skill is aligned with the other suit of the same color (so a skill that falls under a Hearts attribute will be a Diamonds skill). If the player's card suit matches the trump for her skill or its key attribute, it's worth her skill value or her attribute value, whichever it matches. Each suit also has a corresponding null suit : Hearts and Spades go together, as do Diamonds and Clubs. If the player plays a null, her card is worth three less than the corresponding trump value. A raw attribute test with no associated skill treats both suits of the skill's color as trumps. A test of an untrained skill treats the skill's trump and null as "no face value", but the attribute's trump and null can be used as normal.
Each test has a difficulty level , generally from 1 to 5. The Man draws that many cards and plays the highest of them to oppose the player's card. (The Man may choose to "go easy" by playing a card that isn't the highest if failing the test would cause the plot to derail in a particularly unfun way. The example given is when the PCs are gathering information and the Man wants to make sure they get certain information without letting the PCs know which information is being "fed".) If the test is something easier than difficulty 1 but the Man wants the players to have a chance of failure for dramatic reasons, the task is considered either Mundane or Foolproof and the Man plays one card with either a -3 or -6 to its value. If there's no special dramatic reason, these tasks should just succeed, being mundane and foolproof and all.
Jokers are special. They have no face value and can be played as any of the four suits, meaning that they're worthless to the Man but awesome for players. Also, if a player still has an joker in her hand at the end of the session when experience is being handed out, she gets an extra XP.
Both the player and the Man play their cards face down and then flip at the same time. If the player's value is equal to or higher than the Man's, she succeeds. If the player fails the test, she has one last option which may be helpful: she may burn her card, and use its face value instead of whatever suit it has to offer. If she does this, she doesn't get to redraw and will have a smaller hand size for the rest of the session. Once it's resolved, the cards go in a discard pile, and the player redraws a card unless she burned.

"Simple tests are fine when a character wants to seduce a car or fight a wall", we are told, but when two characters are working against each other the opposed tests come out. For an opposed test, the Man's card works the same way as the PC's card, picked from the Man's seven-card hand and using the opposing character's skills and attributes to determine its value. An opposed test between two PCs works as you'd expect, except that the Man breaks ties, either by choosing or flipping a coin as he sees fit.

Boosts and Crashes determine degree of success. If you pass a test by three or more, you get a Boost for every three ranks you pass by. If you fail by three or more, you get a Crash for every three ranks you fail by. Some subsystems have their own specific rules for what this does, but the rest of the time the Man decides what form your amazing success or failure takes.

Advantage Cards are a benefit you get from advantageous circumstances or one of the large number of Edges that give you Advantage Cards to particular skill tests. When you have Advantage Cards, you draw the appropriate number of extra cards from the test deck before choosing and playing your card, then discard any remaining Advantage Cards afterwards. You don't redraw to replace any Advantage Cards you play since they didn't come out of your hand to begin with, so there's no penalty for burning them if you get one with a high value but the wrong suit. During opposed tests, anything that would increase a test's difficulty normally (shooting on the run, car chase with a flat tire, etc.) instead gives the other party Advantage Cards.

There's one last twist on the basic resolution mechanics, appropriately called twists . These are represented by some kind of token (guitar picks are recommended, but poker chips, beads, or whatever will work fine). Each player gets two Twists at the start of each session, or possibly three or four if the Man thinks the session is likely to have an extremely high number of tests in it. A player can spend a twist for one of several effects. She can increase the value of her card by three after cards are revealed in a test (even if that boosts it above Queen), she can replace a card that was burned earlier in the session (but can't bring her hand size above five), or she can redraw her entire hand. A player can spend a saved experience point to gain two twists, but you can't turn them back into XP and they're discarded at the end of the session, so try not to do that.

Most of the sidebars for this section are sample tests where Shird fixes a guitar and then tries to avoid a drunken car accident. There's also information about a few special test situations. Group Tests are opposed tests with more than two parties. Everyone puts down a card, highest wins as usual. Secret Tests are like regular simple tests except that the Man doesn't flip his card and just notes the results to himself. Tests to Overcome are attempts to defeat the result of another earlier test, with the example being an attempt to decrypt a file that another character encrypted. These are simple tests against a difficulty of 1 plus 1 for every boost that the original test managed (so if the encrypter had gotten two boosts on her check, the decryption would be a difficulty 3 check.)

This is definitely an unusual resolution mechanic, and I'm not totally sure what I think of it. It's not obvious to me what mathematic and strategic consequences it will have. It's interesting, at least. I'm going to leave off there for now; this is a long chapter and multiple posts seems like the way to do it.

Next: Violence!

Chapter 6 (Continued)

posted by Benly Original SA post

Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

There are no rules for this in this chapter, which is a damned tragedy.

So last time we learned the basics of action resolution. This time, we're going to focus on the more specific case of Violence . You may be an all-loving rock god, but the MM is not, and they have truncheons.

Warning: combat rules are pretty boring unless you're really into mechanics. Skip ahead if you don't really care about combat rules. I mean, they're vaguely interesting in terms of how the mechanics work, but they're still frigging combat rules.

Things you do during a fight are actions . Attacking, taunting someone, and yelling for help are all actions. Each character has action cards . How you determine your action cards wasn't immediately obvious to me. Actually, it was mentioned during chargen that "the Man will assign you action cards", but it's not clear how that's supposed to be determined until you learn in this chapter how they work. Your action cards are completely arbitrary; you could just pick the cards you like the best. The only bit that matters is how many of them you have, which is derived from your Speed. Ideally you should have different action cards from everyone else.
Everyone involved in the fray has their action cards shuffled into a Action Deck , as well as the two jokers; other cards are left out. Combat is divided into rounds . Each round proceeds by the Man flipping over the top card in the Action Deck, whoever has that card taking an action, resolving that action, and then repeating the process; each iteration of the cycle is called a phase . On the joker phases, everyone gets to move, and on the second joker phase the round is over and the deck is reshuffled. Not every character will act every round, and characters with high Speed can act multiple times per round.
Some actions have a Preparation value. Actions with a Preparation of 0 happen on the phase that they're declared; actions with a higher Preparation take place that many phases later.
During a round, there's a limit to how far you can move: your movement rate , which is a number of yards derived from your Speed. You can move that much per round, divided up however you like among your phases and the joker phases, without penalty. If you think you'll need to go further than that, you can run instead, which doubles the amount you can move but increases your attacks' difficulty for the round by one level; if you've already run your full speed and want to keep going, you can sprint , which costs a whole phase, fatigues you, and takes an Endurance test to see how far you go.
By now you're probably curious how Attacking works. A melee attack is a Brawl, Bludgeon or Slash test, while a ranged attack is a Shooting or Throw test. All of these skills use Agility, so Agility is pretty important if you want to get in fights. Melee attacks against an unaware target are simple tests with Mundane difficulty; otherwise it's opposed Brawl (or whatever) vs. the target's Dodge. Ranged attacks are simple tests that have a difficulty determined by a pile of factors - point blank against an unaware target is Foolproof, while shooting someone at long range during a car chase down a bumpy road is probably difficulty 4 or so. If they know what's coming they can make a Dodge test to ramp up your difficulty further.
Attacks have Power and Sharpness . Sharpness is the base damage of the attack, Power is extra damage it does if it's higher than the victim's Body. Protective gear has Padding and Stiffness, which reduce Power and Sharpness respectively. Damage comes in Wounds and Fatigue, which are basically lethal and nonlethal damage. If your total damage (both kinds) goes over a threshold determined by your Body, you Drop Out of the fight, and if there's too many Wounds involved you'll probably have a long-term injury too. Fatigue goes away with a night's sleep, wounds take longer, injuries take long-term medical care.

Here ends the boring-ass Combat Rules part. There's stuff about the rate of fire for guns and shit, but I don't care.

Whatever. Combat rules aren't what we came here for. We're rock stars, and that means what's important is Performance . Violence, generally speaking, is something the big bad world will do to you. Performance is what you do back.
The first important factor is the Crowd . How tough or friendly the crowd is will affect your test difficulties. There's only so much you can do about this, but it's good to know.
What you can do is get yourself Ready to Rock . If you have two hours to prep and set up before the show, you can make things go a lot more smoothly. Drummers and guitarists make a Repair test to tune up, keyboardists use a Computer test, and singers use Fashion to get themselves glam as hell. This is all difficulty 1 unless circumstances are especially unfavorable (unfamiliar equipment, limited available wardrobe and makeup, etc.) This preparation gets you Advantage Cards on all your tests to play or sing during the night's show. You get one Advantage Card just for succeeding, plus another for each boost you manage. If you fail but have two more hours available, you can try again; if you crash, you can't try again. Roadies can make these tests for you if they have the right skills.
Finally, it's time to Take the Stage . A lot of the mechanics here are actually off in the Man's chapter, but there's no good reason for the mechanics to be hidden just because the results are, so I'm skipping ahead for part of it.
Each song the band performs is one test. The band gets to decide the difficulty of each test before they perform it. This is then modified by how tough the crowd is, but the band does not know the specific number for this. The test is then conducted with each band member playing a card, all against the same card from the Man (which he does not show). If any band member fails the test, the song goes badly. If they all pass, however, the Man uses the highest result to determine the number of boosts (if any), and the band builds up an amount of Awe based on the difficulty they set and the number of boosts. The benefit of increased difficulty is mainly an increase to the per-boost value, so ideally you'd want to find a sweet spot where you can consistently get at least one boost at the highest difficulty possible. If you crash, you instead lose Awe at the same rate that you would've gotten it for boosts. The band knows whether they passed, failed, boosted or crashed, but not by what degree. At the end of the night, how well the gig went is determined by their total Awe. The band then gains or loses Fame based on the success or failure of the gig.

The performance rules are a lot cleaner and more interesting to me than the violence rules, which is appropriate to the game's concept. It's kind of unfortunate that the violence rules get more pagespace and are presented first. I guess it's an unfortunate habit of tabletop RPGs - honestly, I would've been satisfied with opposed Body tests or something.

Next: Space Rock And Roll Magic!

Chapter 6 (Concluded)

posted by Benly Original SA post

Starchildren: Velvet Generation
the game of rock & roll revolution

If we can sparkle he may land tonight

We know that the Starchildren are sexy aliens trained from birth to glam-rock. If that weren't enough to make them superstars, though, they also have special unique powers called Mojo . Mojo are a set of abilities innate to the Starchildren. Every Starchild innately possesses the ability to use Mojo, but not necessarily the skill to do so.
Mojo is divided into tricks . Each trick requires a minimum skill level with the appropriate Mojo, going Ace-3-5-7-8-9-J-Q in increasing order. Most also require a test, which is unsurprisingly either simple or opposed depending on whether or not the Mojo is being used on someone else.

Flex is a Mojo that lets the Starchild control and reshape her own body. Minor changes get easier with practice; if a Starchild's Flex is at least three ranks higher than the trick she's attempting, she can choose to skip the test to use it and automatically pass with no boosts.

Sparkle is a Mojo relating to light and the electromagnetic spectrum in general. Apparently this Mojo is how the Starchildren picked up Earth's music broadcasts in the first place. This one doesn't have special rules outside of the individual tricks.

Finally, there's Vibe . So you know how the MM says Starchildren are anarchists using mind-control rock and roll to corrupt Our Precious Youth? They're actually right about the mind control, although most Starchildren try not to be jerks about it. They're also right about it being tied to rock and roll. Vibe normally targets one person at a time, but a Starchild who's performing for an audience can target up to a third of the audience for each boost she gets on the Vibe test. This only works for "outgoing" effects, so she can't read an entire audience's mind at once but could plant an emotion in everyone present.

After this comes three pages for Socializing and Hide-and-Seek . I will summarize them for you now: roleplay out socializing. Make opposed tests if the Man thinks they're called for, maybe with Advantage Cards for good roleplaying. Sneaking around is also opposed tests. The rest is details of which skills to use opposing which other skills when. That's about it, really.

The next section is Learning Experiences . Players should get around three experience points per session. At the end of a session, you can spend or save your experience points. Picking up a new skill costs one XP and gives you an Ace in that skill, and you can only learn one new skill per session. To raise a skill you already have, declare how many points you want to spend on that skill and draw that many cards from a freshly-shuffled deck. If any of them are higher than your current skill level or Jokers, the skill goes up a rank; if not, you can't try again to raise that skill until the next session. Raising attributes works the same except that it costs three XP per draw instead of one. The Man gets to approve experience spending, so it's probably wise to at least have some justification ready for why you suddenly know how to use a gun.

Where there's rock and roll, there will be Drugs . Drugs apply a list of tweaks to the character. Some are roleplaying effects like "euphoric" or "irritable", some are stat bonuses or penalties, and a few are other effects like removing fatigue, nullifying pain or causing seizures. Each drug has three sets of tweaks it can apply: effects , side effects , and overdose . A character who takes drugs makes an Iron Stomach skill test with a difficulty of the drug's potency . If she passes, she just gets the effects. If she fails, she also gets the side effects, and if she crashes she gets the overdose.
Addiction is also a tweak, which forces Will tests. If you crash the test, you move up an addiction level, first to dabbler, then fiend, then junkie. Each consecutive day that you use the drug, the difficulty of the test increases, and of course once you're hooked it'll be harder to avoid using the drug for multiple days in a row.
I have kind of mixed feelings about the addiction system, but I really like the basic way the drug rules work. They're quite flexible and make it easy enough to stat out any drugs you happen to feel like.

The last part of this chapter is technically two sections, but they might as well be one. The Scrounging section is only half a page, and contains the rules for black market transactions. Contraband items have a rarity , and the PC makes a secret Streetwise test with the item's rarity as its average difficulty (modified as the Man feels like by market conditions or general whim.) If this is passed, she then makes a Persuade test to haggle over the goods; boosts on the Streetwise test become Advantage Cards on the haggling. If she crashes, the deal goes sour: a police sting, bad goods, or whatever the Man feels like.
Equipment is a list of stuff you can buy. Some things are controlled goods that require permits. C1 permits are available to anyone with a background check, C2 is available to professionals whose jobs require the items, C3 is for riot troops and Ministry agents, and C4 is military-only.
There's a long list of gear, which I won't recap in full. Musical instruments are C2 for instruments used in approved music (including acoustic guitars and keyboards) or C3 for rock instruments like electric guitars or full drum kits. Higher-quality instruments are equally illegal but have higher rarity on the black market Radios that can only play Ministry-licensed stations are C1, while players that can play music recordings are C3. (C1 recorders with playback capability exist for note-taking and such, but the quality is complete crap.) There are also prices for admission to various sorts of gigs, living expenses at various levels, and assorted licenses and fines.
Also, condoms are listed under clothing. They cost fifty cents.

Next: The Man's chapters!