Sunday, January 24, 2016

Skills in Alma Mater

Art by Erol Otus

Characters in the high school simulation game Alma Mater have skills; otherwise, this would be a very short post.  There are thirty-one available skills.  Depending on Character Class, each character starts with three or four specified skills plus an extra skill of the player's choice.  Exceptions are the 'Average' Class, who receive any three skills, and Losers, who do not start with an extra skill.  These initial skills are generally oriented towards a given Class's specialty in obtaining Success points.  The initial Class skills are as follows:
Brain:  Homework, Memory, Studying
Cheerleader:  Charisma, Dancing, Friends, Leadership
Criminal:  Illegal Economics, Lockpicking, Lying, Smuggling
Jock:  Friends, Leadership, Sports
Tough:  Dirty Fighting, Driving, Drinking OR Drug Use, Intimidation
Loser:  Crudeness, Isolation, Pity
Note that Brains receive one less skill than many of the other Classes.  Really, I doubt that an additional skill for Brains would have unbalanced the game.

All skills of a beginning character start at level one.  Skills that a character learns after the onset of play start at level zero.  Every character may attempt to learn a new skill at the start of every game year after the first.  Also, a character may attempt to learn the Driving skill after completing a Driver Education course.  Learning a skill requires a successful Learning Drive roll.  No character may have more than eight skills.  If a character does not possess a given skill, he or she can still attempt that skill at level zero.

Depending upon the skill, the maximum level is four, five, or six.  Characters attain higher levels in a skill by acquiring skill points.  Typically, a skill point is earned by a successful use of a skill.  The rate at which different levels are attained varies by skill.  For example, the First Aid skill has the following progression:  level 1 (2 points), level 2 (6 points), level 3 (12 points), and level 4 (20 points).  The progression for the Music skill is:  level 1 (3 points), level 2 (9 points), level 3 (18 points), level 4 (30 points), level 5 (45 points), and level 6 (63 points).  (Each level of Music allows a character to play a different instrument or sing.)

Here are a few Alma Mater skills:
Brewing:  This skill is used “to produce alcohol privately, by using a still.”
Coolness:  With this skill, a character “exhibits little fear, and is able to remain 'cool' in most situations.”
Crudeness:  This skills provides “the ability to say or do particularly disgusting things.”
Drug Use:  With this skill, a character may “increase or reduce the effects of drugs upon himself.”
Homemade Drugs:  This skill provides a character with “the ability to combine chemicals and grow plants to produce various drugs.”
Illegal Economics:  “This skill allows a character to buy and sell illegal items, usually at a good profit.”
Isolation:  “Isolation is the ability to isolate oneself from others and go unnoticed when wanted.”
Pity:  This skill “modifies the reaction of others to characters by +1 per level if a negative reaction is rolled first, or when characters have been hurt or embarrassed.”  This skill does not affect Toughs “because they do not have feelings.”
Smuggling:  With this skill, characters can hide “objects on their person or in items they carry.”

Interestingly, there are no skills regarding computer use even though a certain non-player character is noted for his computer shenanigans (“...he was expelled from school for using his computer to divert school funds into his bank account”).

Teachers have an assortment of optional skills.  “Teachers should not be given more than a few optional skills,” according to the rules, “with permanent skill levels (maximum Level 4).”  Six optional skills are described:
Cheat Catching:  This skill reduces the chance a character can successfully perform the Cheating/Plagiarism skill.
Detect Lies:  This skill reduces the chance a character can successfully lie in the presence of the teacher.  ('Lying' is one of the skills available to characters as indicated in the list of Criminal skills above.)
Fear:  This skill “allows a teacher to intimidate his students, forcing them to behave and do their work.”
Killer Tests:  This skill increases the Subject Difficulty of a test “due to obscure, complicated, or irrelevant questions.”
Killer Examinations:  Every two levels of this skill increases the Subject Difficulty of an examination.  “Generally examinations count more toward the final grade,” the description informs, “so the overall effect of this skill is worse than Killer Tests.”
Omnipotent Classroom:  This skill gives a teacher a chance to perceive “any activity in the classroom which is not directly concerned with the subject matter of the class (eg. paper airplanes, talking).”

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