Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sex and Drugs in Alma Mater

Art by Owen Oulton

Alma Mater describes six 'Social Situations' in detail:  dancing, flirting, date request, date success, seduction, and love.  While not a situation (I guess it's more of a condition), 'going steady' is also described.  A table listing various modifiers for the die rolls involved with these situations takes up nearly half of a page in the 48 page rule book.  The beginning of the section about Social Situations states that the presented details are “guidelines.”  In other words, they are a set of game mechanics divorced from any notion of role-playing.  I'm not sure which is worse, role-playing high school romance or 'simulating' the same by calculating numbers and chucking dice.

A successful dance requires a Coordination roll (with levels of the Dancing skill as a beneficial modifier) and earns the character a number of Success points equal to one-third of the Appearance of the dancing partner.  Presumably both characters attempt to succeed at dancing, so is it possible for one dancer to succeed and the other to fail?  Perhaps rolls aren't made for NPCs, but what if two player characters dance?  Regardless, a successful dance provides positive modifiers for subsequent attempts at dancing, flirting, date requests, and date successes; likewise, a failed dance provides negative modifiers for the same activities.  These modifiers apply “for the rest of the situation or day, whichever is greater.”

Before any flirtation, date request, or seduction attempt, the character must succeed with a Courage roll.  According to page 26, “Flirting includes any activity short of of seduction, including making out.”  To flirt, a character must attempt an Appearance roll (with half of the target's Willpower as a negative modifier “if the target is unwilling”).  If successful, the character gains an amount of Success points equal to half of the target's Appearance; failure causes a loss of the same amount.  A successful flirtation grants beneficial modifiers to subsequent flirt attempts, dance requests, date requests, date successes, and seduction attempts.  A failed flirtation causes negative modifiers likewise.  Again, this is just for the remainder of the situation or day.

A request for a date succeeds with an Appearance roll by the asker.  The sum of the asked person's Appearance and Intelligence is subtracted from the sum of the asker's Appearance and Intelligence.  Modifiers are applied to the difference; no roll is made.  If the final result is at least three, the date is successful; otherwise, it is not.  A successful date improves the chances of subsequent dance and date requests as well as flirtation and seduction attempts; an unsuccessful date impairs those chances.  With a successful date, the asker gains a number of Success points equal to the asked person's Appearance; otherwise, the asker loses the same number of points.  Evidently, the asked person is not entitled to Success points.

Seduction requires the would be seducer to roll against the average of Intelligence and Appeal.  If the person being seduced passively resists, then that person's Willpower acts a a negative modifier to the chance of success.  The rule book tells us “it is almost impossible to seduce a character who is actively resisting (fighting back), but if your character does, it is called 'rape'.”  Also, “If two characters wish to have sex, a seduction roll is not necessary...”  Without a seduction roll does the 'seducer' get the Success points (equal to twice the seduced person's Appearance)?  Failing the seduction roll causes a loss of Success points.  A successful seduction provides generous positive modifiers to all Social Situations including further seductions; a failed seduction does the opposite.  Thus, a cumulative cycle of Social Situation modifiers is perpetuated.

After a successful seduction, pregnancy will occur 20% of the time.  (The rules assume that seductions are heterosexual.)  Birth control devices have a 10% failure rate, upon which pregnancy is checked normally.  “Birth control pills will always work,” say the rules, “but if a '1' is rolled there was an oversight.”  Is that one out of ten or one out of a hundred?  These things are important.

In terms of sexually transmitted diseases, “The SchoolMaster must designate which NPCs have [them], there should not be very many, but in a large school there are sure to be at least a few.”  The specific STD is determined randomly with 1d10, “A result of 1 - 7 means Syphilis; 8 - 10 indicates Gonorrhea.”  What about herpes and chlamydia?  Anyway, “The SchoolMaster should have knowledge of these diseases, and explain to the players what symptoms their characters experience.”

With regard to game mechanics, 'love' manifests only as a set of modifiers to the other Social Situations; there are no Success points associated with it. According to the rule book, “Love is checked if an Individual Reaction (Table 31) requires it, after a certain number of dates, after a successful seduction, or whenever the SchoolMaster thinks that it is appropriate.”  A 'check' for love is made for NPCs; apparently, players determine when and with whom their characters fall in love.

The effects of alcohol and drugs are based partially on the 'potency level' that the game assigns to various substances.  Table 70 (displayed above) shows the 'average' potency rating for one dose of the listed substances.  (I assume that Thai stick is meant when the term “tye stick” is used.)  “Watered drinks or shared joints have half effect,” the rules inform us.

The combined potency of intoxicants that a character consumes is compared to the character's Constitution.  When determining the effects of alcohol, “Overweight characters add 1” to Constitution and characters that are “underweight, and all females have -1 [Constitution].”

The first three levels of intoxication are Slight (potency up to one-third of Constitution), Moderate (from one-third to two-thirds), and Great (from two-thirds to total Constitution).  The different levels proportionately affect Coordination, Intelligence, Courage, Willpower, and “reaction to others.”  The effects are negative modifiers – except for Courage, for which the modifiers are positive.  A potency total in excess of a character's Constitution causes the character to become comatose; a potency total greater than twice the character's Constitution causes death.  Intoxication is worth Success points; specifically, one point per level.  Thus, becoming comatose is worth four points.  (Dying awards no points.)

Although the game provides no rules about addiction, it is possible for a character to suffer permanent damage as a result of using “strong drugs (potency 4 or 5).”  A roll of 1d20 is made.  If the result is greater than Constitution +5, “half of the value for each negative attribute modifier...becomes permanent (damage to the nervous system).”  Also, “Any character who has an attribute permanently reduced to 0 or less is dead.”


  1. Yes, when it comes to sex in RPGs, "role-playing high school romance" would be awkward to play out unless everyone is comfortable doing so, while "'simulating' the same by calculating numbers and chucking dice" would be the vary definition of IKEA Erotica. =P

  2. Herpes and chlamydia weren't really known until the mid to later 80's IIRC; certainly herpes wasn't. It was part of the freewheeling 60's-70's that the Pill prevented pregnancy and STDs were (briefly) curable with penicillin.

    I think the intoxication table gets it a little wrong in putting glue-sniffing potency at 1 but saying a 4 or 5 is needed for permanent damage--that's actually pretty bad for permanent brain damage. Still, the "tye stick" typo is pretty funny; it suggests how much personal experience with this stuff the writers had.

    1. My Sex Education (roughly contemporaneous with the publication of the game) did provide information on those STDs. Of course, it's presumptive of me to think that most people were exposed to equivalent Sex Ed.

      With regard to drug effects, the authors admit that "Since drugs differ widely, this is not a completely accurate system..." Also, it's probable that their knowledge of Thai sticks was obtained by word-of-mouth, but still...

    2. Interesting! Attending a church school gave me no official Sex Ed, and my memories of the time are somewhat confused with what appeared in pop culture contemporaneously. AIDS and herpes were more or less simultaneous in my recollection (early 80's), and wikipedia does say that it was not really a concern until at least the late 70's.

      On reflection i do remember hearing something about chlamydia probably during late 80's at least, and wikipedia doesn't really suggest there was a particular start date for it.