Monday, December 21, 2015

Teenagers From Outer Space: TFOS Does Winterfest!

First off, no relation to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 subject of the same name. Although that was certainly goofy enough to be right at home in this game.

Without going into too much detail, as I’m pondering a rundown of the game itself sometime, once upon a time a designer at R. Talsorian Games found out about a really funny sci-fi/school comedy anime called Urusei Yatsura and evidently thought it would be a great basis for a role-playing game. And thus was born Teenagers From Outer Space, where creatures from across the cosmos have decided to enroll their kids in human schools and expose them to such radical ideas as individuality and capitalism. The players control these star spawn, or the lucky kids who’ve been put in charge of helping them get acclimated to life as an Earthling teenager. And hijinks, as they say, ensue.

Sadly while the game’s fondly remembered by the people who did get to experience it, it evidently didn’t find a lot of support from the game-buying public. I own six products with this game’s name on them and as far as I know that’s it. Three are versions of the core rules, two are premade adventures and one’s a mall for the players to hang out at. Heh, malls. Remember those?

One of those premade adventures is the subject of this particular review, but pays homage to its animated roots by eschewing the long and intricate plot of the only other premade adventure, “The Field Trip,” and instead being a loose outline of short, humorous episodes to keep things fast and fun. They also packed in a list of new powers characters can have, like being stretchy or literally being so cool your character can deflect an attack by making a (hard) saving throw.

As the name indicates the meat of the series of little episodes laid out in the book revolve around the winter festivities of the characters’ school (Or perhaps the very, very basic premade school that comes with the booklet. I’m not sure if it’s embarrassing or not that the school outline that came with “Bad Medicine for Dr. Drugs” was more detailed. And that was a serious anti-drug tale that still thought a good name for a street gang was "The Monkey Thugs"). These include the big dance, electing the WinterFest king and queen, an extremely cheap and dangerous carnival, a planetary invasion by three races of evil, uncool aliens at the exact same time, and of course saving Santa Claus from corporate mercenaries.

Yes, really.

Of course the GM’s expected to fill in an awful lot of blanks to keep things as crazy as possible, so the scenarios in this module require a certain kind of person to run them. But then, TFOS requires a certain kind of player to begin with. The main focus of the scenarios is on winning a popularity contest against a pair of jerky but good-looking cool kids (aren't they all?), something the players can’t do with brute force even if the game makes it easy for players to equip themselves with silly futuristic weapons. Hell, it’s easy for the unwashed masses to resort to violence; if they were smart and sophisticated enough to try something else they wouldn’t be the unwashed masses.

On that note, though, I’d say that while the final scenario where the players help save Santa is practically required, it’s also a disappointment. While in the hands of a good GM it’ll still end up being plenty silly, it’s also just your typical “blow up the bad guys” thing from any old RPG. Besides the holiday theme it’s not connected to the previous plot ideas and just kind of pops in like a poorly-integrated boss fight. There aren’t even circumstances that have them meeting up with Santa who’s already in trouble: the kids just hear about commandos attacking the workshop on the news and, presumably, pile into their flying saucers to go to Saint Nick’s rescue. Suppose those zappy guns it’s so easy for the players to get had to figure in somewhere.

I guess I'm just down on heavy combat in a game that tries to be as cartoony as possible, and the penalty for losing all your hit points is missing your next turn, and then getting them all back after that. Sounds to me like the combat monsters can stay home.

It’s a little interesting to note the game getting a little more blatant about its anime roots, even if some of it’s stuff the players aren’t really meant to see. One of the aliens the players have to save Christmas from during the three-way invasion are the Robotoids from planet Voltron, and considering whose work inspired this game in the first place, I highly doubt it’s a coincidence that one of the stimuli the new power list uses as an example of what can set off an “out of control power” is being hit with cold water. Not when switching genders is already a power in the game.

And look at those cute Totoros you can win for your lady! Or whatever’s appropriate on the planet you’re from.

All in all, aside from the combat-centric scenarios, this is a pretty good module.The winter festivities are a great setup for plenty of teen-related chaos, the new powers and devices described in the book are cool and a lot more original than the ones in the book as they weren't filling most of it out by copying and pasting from UY's major alien characters.

But if there’s one thing that’s a shame about this book, I’d actually say it’s the humorous insert art, since nobody’s meant to read the booklet except the GM. As bare-bones as it is to leave most of the content up to the person running the game who actually knows his players and their quirks. So, here’s a few more examples of the goofy pictures in this booklet, along with a little sample of the mayhem waiting to be unleashed.

Happy holidays!