They’re On Double Secret Probation! – A Review of Sci-Fi Beta Kappa

Sci-Fi Beta Kappa

Author: Leo Marshall, Dan Marriott
Publisher: indyhippo
Page Count: 54
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $5.33
Softcover B&W – $12.17
Print/PDF Combo – $14.80

The expanse of space is endless; galaxies abound. Within those galaxies are planets home to unique and varied alien lifeforms, much like Terra (Earth) is home to humans. What do alien societies do with their misfit teens and 20-somethings? They send them to college on Terra, that’s what! Welcome to Animal House, err… I mean Alien House, umm… Sci-Fi Beta Kappa.

The year is 2187. Humans have established links with alien races across the galaxy that can give us access to precious minerals and technology of untold power; however, there is a cost: in return, the Terran High Council has negotiated a deal with the all-powerful Galactic Federation that sees aliens who have somehow fallen foul of the authorities on their homeworlds billeted in towns and cities in the few remaining habitable regions on Terra. They do odd jobs and mend roads etc. Some end up in colleges and other academic institutions, one of these being the venerable, centuries-old Weber College, in Bakerstown, CT.

Sci-Fi Beta Kappa is a comedy roleplaying game inspired by American comedy films like Porky’s (1981), Revenge of the Nerds (1984), American Pie (1999), but National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978) is the basis of Sci-Fi Beta Kappa’s. One only needs to read the movie’s summary to see it. Both feature misfit fraternity members on the verge of having their “Greek life” house shutdown if they screw up one more time, and each is set in a small but prestigious college in an affluent community. If that is not enough evidence, the college Deans are similarly named—Dean Wormer and Dean Wurmhohler. Misfits being misfits, what’s the fun in kowtowing to authority? Sci-Fi Beta Kappa is a game about the misadventures of an Alien frat house, so named “Alien House,” on the verge of being shut down. Can they have their cake and eat it too?

The game operates on straightforward design and mechanical principles that put the story at the forefront and supported by barebones mechanics. On the design front, there are two types of stories to tell–frat members having the time of their life while trying to stay in the Dean’s good graces or their further misadventures following Alien House’s closure. Each narrative track has different goals, but the mechanical underpinnings remain the same.

Alien characters are made up of:

  • Race
  • Description – adjectives that define the appearance
  • Stats – Quality (1 core and 2 non-core) and Physical and Mental Attributes ratings
  • Ability – a narrative description that fleshes out the Core Quality

For those not using one of the ten pre-gens provided, character creation is fast and freeform. Players start by writing down a physical Description of their alien, where they’re from (serves as their Race), and giving them a name. They then jot down one Core and two generalized Non-core Qualities. The pre-gen Races/Qualities table (p. 10) is a great source of inspiration, but players are not beholden to those Qualities. 10 Skill Points are then distributed between the Core and Non-core Qualities (minimum of 5 in Core and 1 in  Non-core Qualities), and 10 points are allocated between Physical and Mental Attributes. Finally, describe the singular special Ability that defines their Core Quality.

Within the narrative, all of the character’s actions are possible and successful, save for anything that would result in immediate expulsion (i.e., murder, arson, etc.). Skills are only checked to highlight any negative consequences of an action—these are called demerits. Skill Checks involve rolling between 8 and 14 six-sided dice; the exact number is determined by simple math (Quality+Attribute); the sum is cross-referenced on the “Skill Point/Dice Pool Conversion” table. The lower the Skill Point total, the large the dice pool. Results of 1s and 2s are counted as Demerits; all other values are ignored.

Demerits serve two purposes, they add negative consequences into the narrative and are used in the story’s epilogue. The more demerits earned, the dicier the situation becomes for the Aliens. Although all actions are ultimately successful, they may leave behind incriminating evidence, a concerned citizen reports them to the college, or the Dean witnesses the act themself. As Demerits are rolled, the total is tallied and tracked throughout the game. During the epilogue, Demerits serve a final function when determining the fate of Alien House. Its fate is determined based on the total number of Demerits rolled, divided by 10, and cross-referenced on the appropriate “Skill Check” table. With five possible Final Outcomes for Alien House, a lower total number of Demerits results in more favorable outcomes. The total number of Skill Checks made during a game is based on the number of players—15 for three, 20 for four, 25 for five, and 30 for six players. Sci-Fi Beta Kappa strives to statistically balance the number of Skills Checks and the demerits earned. The authors feel that these totals yield the results they were striving for.

The last mechanical elements in Sci-Fi Beta Kappa are Merits and House Points. These are effectively bennies that may be used to reduce dice pools—one to reduce a pool by one or two to reduce by three. They can also be spent to re-roll the whole pool for one or just the demerits for two. Players start the game with a shared House Point pool, and during play, they can individually earn non-transferable Merits; only the person earning it can use it. Merits can be earned for “awesome storylines” or as “humor/flavor” warrants. GMs should be liberal in doling these out. Spent Merits disappear into the ether, but House Point transfers to the GM, who has the option to use all or part to increase or re-roll the Demerit dice pool for the epilogue as they see fit.

Sci-Fi Beta Kappa includes one scenario with ten pre-generated Aliens, an alternate Epilogue Generator, GM Summary, Player Summary, Core Mechanics Summary, Nine Adventure Seeds, Demerit Tracker sheet, Alien character sheet,  and a scenario/campaign outline with suggested sequencing based on Final Outcomes when using the pre-gens.

Having played Sci-Fi Beta Kappa once several years ago, it left quite an impression on me, not for its complexity but rather for its streamlined rules, comedic value, and novel approach to story gaming (for its time). As I remember it, our game played out like many of the movies that inspired the game—crazy shenanigans, a party, and Alien House’s closure. I also vaguely remember someone surfing on a vending machine and a huge pool slide. Ah… the good times!

Sci-Fi Beta Kappa is available in both digital and Print on Demand from DriveThruRPG. The contents are presented, at least partially, in a conversational tone that I’m not fond of—it feels amateurish, then again, this is a game about Aliens in a frat house. The worst of it is at the start of the Character Creation section. Taking into account the conversation tone of much of the writing, the rules are conveyed well but are a little ambiguous at times. The black and white interior has but a few small pieces of art, favoring examples and contextual anecdotes instead.

If you’re looking for a beer and pretzels game that will have you laughing endlessly, Sci-Fi Beta Kappa is a good choice. Its simple rules and story forward design capture the spirit of the movies that influenced it—it is a little more than inspired by Animal House…—creating hilarious and memorable stories you won’t soon forget.

~ Modoc

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