This is the second "edition" of this game, with some minor changes and clarifications since the (unnumbered) first version that circulated in British gaming circles.
As these rules, as written, include a number of references to copyright material, and as, when I wrote them, I didn't believe that any then-existing role-playing games magazine has the right combination of cultural grasp, sense of humour, and technical quality to both wish and be able to present them properly, I decided to circulate them privately as the games equivalent of "charityware." Hence, although I retain copyright, they may (for the present) be freely copied and transmitted - provided that:
1. They are not materially changed in any way, and the author's name and declaration of copyright remains intact.
2. No charge is made, other than a fair nominal amount to cover the costs of copying, postage, etc.
3. Anyone retaining, using, or copying these rules makes a small personal donation to a charity or authentic "good cause" of their own choice. (I suggest the Red Cross, the WWF, or Amnesty International.) The amount is up to the giver, and may vary according to personal finances; I suggest a minimum of £2 sterling (or local equivalent) for those on restricted incomes, up to £5 (or equivalent) for full-time professionals and the idle rich. (Ignoring this would make you a real scumbag, you know.)
Later History: Just to prove me wrong in some of the above, arcane magazine subsequently approached me with a request to run a version of these rules, which appeared in issue 3 of that now-defunct but admirable magazine. The differences between the two versions are fairly minor.
Some day, I may even update and polish this stuff a bit more...
This game is inspired, firstly by the magnificent "Molesworth" books of Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle, and almost as much by Shy and Searle's "St Trinian's" creation, the TV "Ripping Yarns" episode Tomkinson's Schooldays, and various other fond memories. However, it is respectfully dedicated to Matthew Arnold (of Rugby) and all his successors, imitators and devotees, without whom the British Empire would certainly not be where it is today.
The setting for this game is somewhere in the British Public School system, some time in the twentieth century, when bold noble and fearless BOYS (cheers cheers cheers) are confronted by horrors fit to chill the blood of H.P.Lovecraft - to wit, countless masters, swots, creeps, toadies, bullies, parents, lessons and SKOOL DINNERS. Players take on the parts of these bold noble ect, and must survive and gain experience in the face of things that chill the BLUDD. (Don't ask if they "Advance". That would be to accept the system on its own terms, and the boys' ultimate objective is to beat it from within. For similar reasons, there are no skills as such in this system.)
All characters are defined by eight Characteristics, but not necessarily the same eight. (In addition, characters may have Advantages - see below.) For the BOYS, the Characteristics are:
For the MASTERS, the Characteristics are:
(Parents, ect, may have Characteristics from either list.) The Characteristics are defined as follows:
Tuff is a mixture of raw muscle-power, bravado, and low fighting technique. It is extensively used by boys in inter-personal relationships. It may also be used to oppose a master's Kane dice in many common interactions.
Running is the ability to get away from people with more Tuff than oneself, masters, etc. It may be opposed to a master's Order dice to make (temporary) escapes in some circumstances.
Throw is accuracy when hurling pieces of chalk, skool food, ect, useful to boys and masters. The difficulty represented by the target is set by the GM; if the target is a fleeing boy, it will usually be his Running dice.
Branes is what is required to do well in klass, impress masters, parents, ect, and generally be a thorough KREEP. Characters with high Branes should use them with care.
Lying is the ability to tell bare-faced untruths and be believed. This is mostly a matter of keeping a straight face, so the Characteristic is also used in other circumstances where bluff is involved. (The content of the lie is largely unimportant; masters would sooner accept a possible untruth than admit to their vast innate ignorance.)
Alertness governs the chance of noticing something quiet or hidden - especially the approach of a master using Stealth . It is also used by boys when trying to move silently themselves (roll Alertness vs. Alertness).
Digestion reflects the ability to eat, swallow, and even enjoy almost anything non-lethal - a crucial concern when faced with the dredded SKOOL DINNERS.
Sport is talent on the foopball pitch, cricket wicket, ect; good for keeping in well with headmasters especially. Tuff, Running, or Throw may be Substituted (see below), but that is (usually) cheating.
Kane is a Characteristic beloved of masters. It reflects not only combat ability with the singlestick, but a general aptitude for inflicting controlled but telling pain and humiliation via physical force. Successful use of Kane vs. a boy's Tuff may give a master a psychological advantage, and an extra dice or so, against that particular boy, for a period of the GM's choosing.
Order is the indefinable, inexplicable, but essential ability to keep boys under control. Without it, a master is DOOMED.
Paranoia reflects the master's true understanding of the nature of boys. It is most often used in opposition to a boy's Lying, although it can also help to spot cheating of various kinds.
Stealth is the useful talent of approaching boys without being noticed. As they are almost invariably UP TO something, this is essential for a master who is short on Paranoia.
Sanity is a measure of the master's ability to relate to the universe - not just boys (large though they loom), but anything else that he has to deal with. Boys soon come to recognise masters with low Sanity.
These are various innate or social attributes that can matter to a boy or master. GMs and players may, if they wish, invent others. Those marked -*- may be taken repeatedly; they should be noted with the number of "levels," as in "Extra Subjects-2" or "Rich Parents-3."
Rank*: Simple status in chosen profession. Rank-1 is Senior Master, 2 is Headmaster. Skools can only have one master of Rank-2, as members of the species fight bitterly when they meet. (Inter-skool sports are a form of ritualised combat designed to channel the excess energy of headmasters.)
Extra Subjects*: A master who can teach more than one topic has extra income (unless the headmaster outwits him), and a small psychological advantage over the boys. Of course, some headmasters trick members of staff who haven't got this advantage into taking extra classes anyway (usually for a pittance).
Sports Kar: This not only allows a master to escape the boys at weekends, it also helps his popularity with them, as boys are suckers for techno-flash.
Outside Income: This saves a master from the worst psychic stresses of his job - "I don't have to do this you know... I could retire to my whelk stall...".
Prefecture*: Gives the boy the right to boss around other boys (as opposed to the inclination). Prefecture-1 is a House Prefect, 2 is a Skool Prefect, 3 is Head of Skool.
Rich Parents*: Good for annoying other boys. Rich Parents-1 are merely well-off; taken a second time, the Advantage means filthy rich (millionaire or thereabouts); Rich Parents-3 are royalty.
Immune to a Skool Rule*: Possessed by School Bully in Tomkinson's Schooldays - hard to justify for lesser characters, but not impossible. (It may represent an excuse note from parents.) The player must define the skool rule (not running in the corridors, having to finish skool dinners, not having unmarried Filipino women in his room) when the Advantage is taken.
Likes Skool Food: Self-explanatory; should be combined with a good Digestion if the character wants to survive.
Countenance of Rare Charm: On characters with high Tuff, such as grabber, this leads to a despicable popularity with parents. On other characters, it leads to... well, look at DERE basil fotherington (hullo clouds hullo sky) thomas.
Specialisation*: The boy is particularly talented at one academic subject or sport (defined when the Advantage is taken). For each level of this Advantage, the boy DOUBLES his effective level of Branes or Sport in that one area, or raises it to 4 - whichever is better. For example, fotherington-thomas (Sport-1) has two levels of this in tennis (effective level 8). (GMs should be very careful of players with personal knowledge of chemistry who take it as a Specialisation for their character. The play-tester who inspired this warning knows who he is.)
Can Tuff Up Masters: Not a common Advantage, this, and GMs can feel entirely free to disallow it. Normally, boys have an innate inability to engage in melee combat with their oppressors. However, characters like School Bully may have this advantage, and can use their Tuff against the master's Kane.
These are not absolutely required - or rather, most characters have disadvantages that are innate in their roles (as masters or boys) or Characteristics. However, some of the following may be possible:
Face Like a Squished Tomato: This gives grounds for mockery. Enuff said.
Phobic Response: This causes the sufferer to behave in an uncontrolled fashion, howling like a wolf, gibbering, freezing solid, ect, in one pre-defined circumstance. For example, a boy might scream with horror at the sight of algebra, or freeze solid when faced with a fast bowler on the cricket pitch.
General Disdain: A character with this Disadvantage is widely despised. Ask fotherington-thomas how it works.
Particular Enemy: Someone (usually, but not necessarily, an NPC) is the character's sworn, implacable enemy. This may be a master or boy.
...or anything else that the GM allows - use your imagination.
Something that masters often claim that their appalling behaviour encourages. Also a necessary part of the game. There are two possible ways to generate a Skool Rules player-character:
As the key feature of skool life is an utter unfairness in the nature of things that would make a Paranoia player blench, a random approach is quite legitimate:
1. Roll 1D6 for each Characteristic.
2. Take 1D6-2 (minimum 0) Advantages from a random list. (Dropping "Can Tuff Up Masters" from those described above gives a list you can roll 1D6 against.)
3. Take 1D4-2 (minimum 0) Disadvantages likewise. (For example, roll 1D4 against those mentioned above.)
For a more balanced approach, use points allocation. Each character starts with 50 points, plus 5 for each Disadvantage accepted (up to a maximum of three). Player-characters must have at least 1 in any Characteristic, and cannot exceed 6 without special GM permission. Characteristics cost 2 points per 1 of value up to a value of 5, and 3 points for each +1 thereafter. Advantages cost 5 points each (per level, for those that can be taken repeatedly).
Example: potts major hav Tuff-4 (8 points), Running-2 (4 points), Throw-6 (13 points), Branes-2 (4 points), Lying-6 (13 points), Alertness-1 (2 points), Digestion-1 (2 points), and Sport-2 (4 points), plus Prefecture-1 (House Prefect: 5 points), and a special Disadvantage; his mother has instructed him to take good care of his little bro, potts minor, who is a snekey little swot. He is built on 50 points, plus 5 from the Disadvantage.
All conflicts and difficulties are resolved the same way under the Skool Rules (and that doesn't just mean verbal and physical violence). The GM determines the most appropriate Characteristic to the task in hand, and the player (or GM for an NPC) rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the value of the Characteristic. The total of the roll is then compared to the action's Difficulty Value, which is the opponent's roll (where there is one) or a value arbitrarily assigned by the GM (for actions in which the opponent is simply the perversity of the universe).
- A roll which beats the Difficulty Value by 6 or more is a Complete Success, allowing the character to claim all the benefits of victory.
- A roll which beats the Difficulty Value, but by no more than 5, is a Minor Success, allowing the character to roll an extra 1D6 on any one immediately subsequent roll which is logically related to the first action, but not implying total victory.
- A roll exactly equal to the Difficulty Value is Teetering ; the character suffers no immediate penalty, but will require another success of some kind to achieve anything.
- A roll less than the Difficulty Value, but not more than 5 less, is a Minor Failure; bad news, but not necessarily hopeless. The contest continues.
- A roll 6 or more less than the Difficulty Value is a Total Failure, and usually means catastrophe - total defeat, in a fight.
"Substitution" is what is used when a player makes a plausible case to the GM for using a "wrong" Characteristic in a particular circumstance. This is permitted, but is usually considered cheating in the game world, forcing the character to make some kind of roll against another's Paranoia or Alertness. A common use of substitution is, of course, to use Lying instead of Branes to look good in klass.
Example 1: major minor, losing his temper with gorbinthorpe, attacks him; a simple fight. Unfortunately, major minor is a weed (Tuff-1), and gorbinthorpe isn't (Tuff-4). But major minor rolls a 6 on his 1D6, while gorbinthorpe evidently has the sun in his eyes, and rolls 5 on his 4D6! This gives major minor a brief advantage; if he had any sense, he'd run away, adding 1D6 to his 4D6 from Running-4, and probably easily evading gorbinthorpe's pursuit (Running-2) or hurled lump of mud (Throwing-1). Unfortunately, crazed by fluke success, major minor presses his attack. His next roll lets his luck hold; both he and gorbinthorpe roll 8 (on 2D6 vs. 4D6, note), and are locked in futile combat. However, he is now completely overconfident, and doesn't think of fleeing; his next roll is 1 on his 1D6, against gorbinthorpe's 15 on 4D6. We will draw a veil over what ensues.
Example 2: "smelly" smith HAVE NOT DONE HIS PREP. With Alertness-1, he is easily surprised by charteris the crazed latin master (Stealth-6), and has to explain the crib notes on his knee during the test. He uses his Lying-5 against charteris' Paranoia2, and claims that he forgot to wash them off while revising from them in the bath. As charteris is Sanity-1, he not only believes this, he treats it as a joke.
Example 3: cracklethwaite is Sport-2. Now, borman, the hedd of skool, have threatened him with TERRIBLE THINGS if he doesn't do well in the inter-house foopball match. What can he do? He decides in desperation to use Substitution, working over his foes with his Tuff-4 instead. This work OK, except that the referee is mr arbuthnot, who has Paranoia-5, and who may use his Alertness-4 to spot cracklethwaite's fouls. This gives cracklethwaite a choice; either pit his Sport-2 against Mr Arbuthnot's Alertness (making his fouls look acceptable), or risk his Lying-3 against that Paranoia. A hard choice.
Example 4: jeremy crippin has the Likes Skool Food Advantage (and Digestion-5), and tonight, he's hungry. He decides to climb down the drainpipe and raid the skool larder. He claims that the rope-climbing in mr peabody's gym classes is good training for this. The GM smiles and assigns the climb a Difficulty Value of 8, against which crippin pits his Sport-4. However, he also decides that the skool has long tended to paint over rust, and spotting this is Difficulty Value 7. crippin rolls, but sadly he is Alertness-1 and rolls a 1. The pipe looks fine! He makes his Sport roll, and gets 12, clambering down gracefully! The rust gives way! crippin have landed on the Skool Gardener's prize dahlias! There is no way he can fail to make a noise, which the GM rules is Difficulty Value 6 to hear, and the dahlias are just outside the window of the headmaster's rooms...
The creation of high-powered characters is not really the point of this game, but boys do start out as weedy tinies and new-bugs and end up like grabber. Or at least, parents like to think they do. So GMs may reward successful escapades, especially audacious moves, brilliant improvisation, ect, with from 1 to 3 points, used exactly as in character building or, with special GM permission, to "buy off" Disadvantages. Characteristics over 6 may be bought with GM permission at triple cost.
All of these are, of course, entirely possible, via the MOLESWORTH EMERGENCY DAY-DREME SERVICE (pat. pending). Any time when a boy wishes to use this, he may claim any extra or completely weird Characteristics or special Advantages he likes. He then commences play in a scenario in a setting of his own choice. However, he may be caught day-dreaming...
To determine whether this happens, roll the Paranoia of the nearest master against a Difficulty Value calculated as follows:
For every two levels of increased Characteristic taken: -1 to value.
For every Advantage taken: -2 to value.
Example: cracklethwaite, bored senseless by lessons, dreams he is GRUNGE GEOFFREYS, jet fighter ace. He claims a mere Pilot-6 and the Advantage of a jet fighter. However, sturvecrake, the eagle-eyed geography master, rolls 20 on his Paranoia-5, against a Difficulty Value of 10. Just as geoffreys is barrel-rolling through a whole formation of dumbfounded enemies, sturvecrake makes his Throw roll (against a Difficulty Value of 5 for a static target at short range), and bounces a lump of chalk off cracklethwaite's head. cracklethwaite hav problems...
Most Skool Rules scenarios should arise either from the daily grind of skool life or the molesworth emergency day-dreme service. However, GMs may set up the odd set-piece incident; examples include the following -
The GM can declare that the PCs are all new bugs (built on fewer points?), and run them through their traumatic first few days in skool. Eventually, they realise that something is wrong; everyone talks in tones of hushed awe about nigel molesworth, the gorilla of 3b, but he is nowhere to be seen. This may worry them. The truth is that matron has the famed curse of st custards trapped in the san with a case of chicken pox, and if this reaches the parents, everyone will get at least a week off skool - which the headmaster would hate...
Confronted with the end of term dance, complete with the terrifying ESMERELDA, can any boy escape? If not, who will be the first to discover esmerelda's Throw-7 with the trifle?
Faced with an essay competition, can any boy use the emergency day-dreme service deftly enough to defeat the boring little major minor's uncanny sense of his own destiny, and come up with an essay to delight the heart of the new english master (Sanity-1)?
Strangely enough, this game has been play-tested. Even stranger, it worked. I can't remember the names of all the guilty parties, but all those folk from Contraption and Sto-Con-Trent know who they are. Those who provided names for example characters are especially thanked, as are those who encouraged me to publish.
Phil Masters, January 1994