Sunday, January 17, 2016

Characters in Alma Mater

Art by Erol Otus

Characters in Alma Mater have seven attributes:  Strength, Coordination, Appearance, Intelligence, Learning Drive, Willpower, and Courage. Strength, Coordination, and Intelligence are common enough to be self-explanatory to gamers, but the others may need some clarification, at least within the context of the game.  Learning Drive “is a character's attitude toward school and his ability to learn.”  Although Intelligence will “influence grades,” Learning Drive “is used to determine grades.”  Learning Drive is also used to see if a character can learn new skills.  Courage represents “bravery and intestinal fortitude” while Willpower is a character's “ability to withstand temptation or pain.”  Appearance is defined as “a person's physical looks” and helps to influence some interesting things, as we shall see below. 

Attributes are determined by rolling 1d10 for each value.  Since player characters are assumed to be high school freshmen, these results are appropriate for characters “aged 13-15.”  As characters age (or for younger characters), the attribute values for Strength, Willpower, Appearance, and Courage are modified.  For characters younger than thirteen, each of these attributes is reduced by one.  At 17, characters gain +1 Willpower and Courage.  Strength and Appearance both increase by one when a character turns 18.  At age 16, Strength for males is increased by one; for females, Appearance is increased by one instead.

Characters have a property of Constitution beyond the seven attributes.
Constitution represents the general Health and fitness of the character.  It determines how fast a character can run and how much damage a character can take before losing consciousness or dying.
Constitution equals the sum of Strength and Willpower.

Like other role-playing games, characters in Alma Mater are mainly defined by their Character Class.  In a game about high school, 'class' is a less than ideal word for the concept; perhaps 'type' would have served better.  The game provides the following 'Classes':  Brain, Cheerleader, Criminal, Jock, Tough, and Loser.  Additionally, there is an 'Average' Class to accommodate characters that don't meet the requirements of one of the more colorful options.  Alas, Alma Mater was published too early to address sportos, motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, wastoids, dweebies, and dickheads.  Maybe they could be subclasses?

Only females can be Cheerleaders and only males can be Jocks; all other Classes are open to both genders.  Brains require elevated Intelligence, Learning Drive, and Willpower.  Cheerleaders need a Coordination of at least six and an Appearance of at least eight.  Characters of the Criminal Class need greater than average scores in Coordination, Intelligence, and Courage.  Jocks need Strength, Coordination, and Appearance.  Being a Tough requires a Strength score of at least seven and a Courage score of at least six; however, Toughs may neither have an Intelligence greater than five nor a Learning Drive in excess of four.  For Losers, the maximum value for each of the seven attributes is four.

Speaking of Losers, the description for that Class tells us, “The worst thing about a Loser is that he thinks he's at least equal to or better than everybody else.”  Does this mean that Alma Mater is the first role-playing game to account for the Dunning-Kruger effect?

Characters also have a Social Level.  Technically, it is not an 'attribute' but it might as well be.  It is determined by checking the result of 1d10 against the character's Class on a certain table.  However, instead of making Social Level dependent on Class, it could have been used as a Class pre-requisite just as easily (if not more so).  In any event, Social Level “is an important factor in determining allowance and Parent's Reaction.”  Starting money for characters is determined by the following formula:

$5 × Social Level × (Appearance + Intelligence)

Weekly allowance equals 1% of starting money.  Do stupid and ugly kids get less of an allowance?  Maybe Dunning and Kruger can tackle this one next.

Characters of the Criminal and Average Classes can be of any Social Level.  Cheerleaders and Jocks can span the range of 'middle' to 'upper middle' Social Levels.  Brains must have a Social Level of at least 'middle' while Toughs and Losers have cannot have a Social Level greater than 'middle'.  So, the 'poorer' Social Levels are the province of Averages, Criminals, Toughs, and Losers.  Interpret that as you will.

It is possible for an Alma Mater character to have one or more “problems.”  The rules define a problem as “a defect in the character, either physical or mental.”  For characters with an Appearance score of at least five, one roll is made; if the result is greater than the Appearance score, the character has a problem.  (Even characters with an Appearance of ten have a 10% chance of having a problem.)  Characters with an Appearance score of less than five also roll; however, they may have to roll multiple times and, as a result, be afflicted with multiple problems.  Characters with a low Appearance score must roll for a problem a number of times equal to five minus the Appearance score.  The rules  explicitly state, “ugly characters have a greater chance of having problems.”  To add insult to injury, some problems cause a reduction in Appearance.

Table 6 lists an array of 'problems,' some of which are:  Respiratory, Skin, and Weight (over or under).  The most commonly encountered problem is Vision with the next most common being Dental.  However, as indicated above, problems can be “mental.”  Therefore, “a person's physical looks” establishes a character's chance of having a mental problem.  'Unusual Practice' and 'Phobia' are among the problems included in the table.  (Page 6 informs us that acrophobia is “Fear of being at high places” yet page 38 indicates that acrophobia is “the fear of spiders.”)  “An unusual practice may be determined by the SchoolMaster,” the rules state.  A relatively benign example is “dying one's hair an unnatural color,” but the SchoolMaster may consult Table 8.  Said table indicates 'practices' such as Paranoia, Sadist, and Compulsive Habit (examples of Compulsive Habits are:  “chain smoking, light drinking, mild drug use, and sugar junkie”).  However, the table also includes such 'practices' as Asexual, Bisexual, and Homosexual.  Coming to terms with one's 'non-normative' sexuality can be problematic (especially in high school).  Yet the 'problem' is not the practice, but rather the social reaction (and concern regarding that reaction).  I do not think the authors of the game had an enlightened disposition in this regard.  Aside from the insinuation that people who don't have good “physical looks” are more prone to be gay (and otherwise have 'problems'), Alma Mater 's only homosexual non-player character happens to be a Loser.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yeah, that last part — non-normative sexuality equals losers — reminds me of that the first-edition TMNT RPG book that had a table of random mental illnesses based on an outdated medical textbook. With it, the game suggests that PST can change your entire sexuality or gender identity, become a cross-dresser or drag-queen, showing off you giblets to random people while going commando in a trench-coat, or become creepy enough to where you cannot, by law, live too close to schools or playgrounds.