Posted on December 21, 2006 by Flames
“The planets line up, magic comes back in a torrent of confusion and mass panic, and what’s left of the general public is in chaos.”
Chaos University is a tongue in cheek roleplaying game of magic and the occult published by Firewater Productions. Written by Jennifer and Daniel Schoonover, the Chaos University Student Handbook (i.e., the game’s core rule book) measures eight and a half inches by 11 inches, is comb-bound, and weighs in at 40 pages (including six pre-generated characters, and a blank character sheet).
So, what’s the game about? Well, as mentioned above, magic comes back. Magic comes back via an otherworldly rift that opens beneath the state university in Binghamton, New York — the former hometown of Rod Serling, And when magic comes back, things get crazy — Dragons roam Beverly Hills, incubi and succubi are nesting in Hollywood, and pixies have set up shop in your underwear drawer. Oh, and Merlin comes back. Yes, that Merlin.
Freed from his timeless prison in the trunk of a giant oak tree, the fabled wizard Merlin awakens to find the world in chaos, Migrating to the US, he is immediately drawn to Binghamton where he performs a series of powerful riuals and closes the Rift, preventing any further magical energy from flooding the world. The bad news is that what weirdness has already escaped, remains.
With the world overrun by weird, Merlin does the only logical thing — he rebuilds the Binghamton campus, creating a college dedicated to recruiting and training the future wizards of the world. Which brings us to the Player Charac. . . er. . . students. That’s right — you are a proud student at Merlin’s Chaos University (well, okay, so they kidnapped you and forced you to attend classes — but you really don’t feel like arguing with a real live wizard).
Creating a character is a simple five step process (one of which is technically optional). First, you choose a Focus (i.e., a school of thought) that your character is devoted to — either Order or Chaos (Order is concerned with resolving chaotic happenstance, while Chaos is concerned with using chaos in productive ways). Second, you pick a Clique for your character to belong to. . . yes, Cliques are things like “Goth”, “Hippie”, “Jock” or “Prep” (basically, the social crowd your character runs with). Third, you determine your character’s Stats. . .
Your character has seven Stats: Grit, Nimbleness, Vitality, Cunning, Appeal, Hocus-Pocus and Lady Luck (this last Stat is special and I’ll get to it later). You determine the rating of each stat by rolling either 5d6, 3d10, or 1d30 (really, it’s up to what the group decides) eight times, dropping the lowest roll result, and allocating the remaining seven results amongst your character’s stats.
One thing to note here is that the more dice you roll, the less likely it is that your character will be incompetent. For example, if you roll 5d6, producing a Stat rating of less than five is impossible. If you roll 3d10, you may only generate a rating as low as three, and if you roll 1d30 (the method preferred by the authors), you can end up with a rating as low as one. Obviously, this is something to consider when you sit down to create characters.
After you have determined your character’s Stat ratings, you’ll need to multiply their Vitality rating by two in order to determine their PUD (Points Until Death), record their Hocus-Pocus rating in the blank marked “Magic Points” on the character record sheet, and locate their Grit and Nimbleness ratings on “Da Bonus Chart” to determine what kind of combat modifiers your character gets (bonuses to evade, strike, and damage respectively).
Okay, so one of those five steps is a wee bit protracted. After you’ve finished up with Stats, you’ll need to choose three Classes at the 101 level (each class has three levels — 101, 102, and 103). These are just what they sound like — college courses. The difference is that at Chaos University, you get to take cool classes like “Demonology” and “Toon Physics” (no Order-based students allowed). The one possible downside to this is that you may really want to take more than three classes simply for the cool factor.
Finally, if you have a specific career in mind you’ll need to choose a specific curriculum for your character to study — for those in the know, this is basically a “class” package consiting of three specififed courses, plus a PE class (yep, you have to take PE even at a fictional college). And. . . that’s it. You’re ready to make with the learning. Er. . . playing.
Playing the Game:
First things first — if you play RPGs solely for mechanical options, then Chaos University will likely not appeal to you. The rules are extremely light, designed to provide thematic, rather than mechanical options. Naturally, if you play RPGs to get into a character role and explore a thematic premise, Chaos University will likely be right up your alley (not literally, of course — if that’s the case, you need to MOVE).
Eventually, you’re going to want your character to do something that the Max (i.e., Chaos University’s term for Game Master) won’t let happen automatically. When this happens, you’ll need to roll some dice (again, 5d6, 3d10, or 1d30 per whatever the group agrees on prior to actual play). When doing so, you’ll want to roll less than the rating of yoru character’s most relevant Stat. If you do so so, you get that thing done right. If you fail to do so, bad things may happen (regardless, you don’t get done whatever it was you were tryign to do).
All actions are resolved using the above rules, save for two — striking somebody (or something) in combat and making with the magic (i.e., using a Course skill). When you want to do either of these thigns, you still roll some dice — but you want to produce high results. How high? Well, in the case of Course skills, you need to roll a result of 15 or more. In the case of striking an opponent, you need to roll higher than they do (oh, yes, they get to actively oppose being hit with Blunt Things, Pointy Things, and Things That Go Boom — and ties go to such a defender when rolling dice).
Whenever you use a Course skill, your character loses some Magic Points. When they run out of Magic Points, they can’t make with anymore magic. The good news is that, when using magic, if you roll really well, your character will gain some of these points back. Better yet, if your character actually sleeps at night (I know, I know, what college student does that?) they will regain all of their Magic Points. Easy, eh?
Combat has a few extra wrinkles, as well. First, if you hit somebody, they get hurt. Maybe. First you have to beat their ASS (Armor Statistic System). That is, you must roll higher than their ASS rating in order to actually damage the person protected by armor. If you do beat somebody’s ASS (What? Why do you keep snickering like that?), you subtract any damage dealt from the armor’s SPUD (Structure Points Until Destroyed). When a piece of armor or other object’s SPUD rating is reduced to zero, it is destroyed and any further damage is subtracted from the character’s PUD (WHAT? WHAT’S SO !$@%$@#! funny?).
If a character’s PUD rating is reduced to zero, they’re dead. So wait. . . wait. . . how do you know the amount of damage that you cause when you successfully strike somebody or something? You roll some eight-sided dice — 1d8 for relatively innoculous weaponry, 2d8 for slightly more pain-inducing weaponry, 3d8 for thing that will make you scream and bleed profusely, 4d8 for things likely to kill you outright, and 5d8 for getting hit by a freight train (or something similarly bad).
And that rounds out the basic rules for Chaos University. Well, for the most part. . . If you recall earlier, I mentioned the Lady Luck Stat. This and such nifty things as Cool Points and Jinz rolls are covered in the supplementary Chaos University Disciplinary Manual (otherwise known as the Big Book of Spankings) which I’ll get to in a moment.
The rest of the Chaos University Student Handbook is largely devoted to Course descriptions (as you might expect a Student Handbook to be, actually). Following the Course descriptions, you’ll find some maps of the Chaos Univeristy campus, as well as Chaos University itself (a single building that alters its exterior shape and appearance erratically — sometimes appearing as a streetcar, sometimes appearing as a well. . . you name it).
Finally, the Chaos University Student Handbooks is padded out with six ready to play students and a blank character record sheet that you can use to roll your own (character, that is).
Where to Go From Here:
From the basic game present in the Chaos University Student Handbook, there are two potential exits that you may wish to explore: The Chaos University Disciplinary Manual (mentioned previously) and C.U. at the Con (a collection of five one-shot Field Trips for the game). So, how do these two supplements add to the game?
An eight and a half inch by five and half inch booklet, weighing in at 41 pages, the Chaos Univeristy Disciplinary Manual is for the Max only. In addition to re-examign the basic rules of the game through the lens of the all-powerful Max, it also makes with the secret of the Lady Luck Stat (basically a catch-all ‘save your bacon’ attribute that the Max can roll against if he thinks that a student’s bacon may need saving).
Additionally, the Chaos University Discipinary Manual also introduces such nifty concepts as Cool Points (points awarded for cool ideas that allow a player to force a Lady Luck roll), and Jinx Rolls (made by the Max to detrmine critical failure or succes whenever a character attempts to make with magic). That said, most of the Chaos University Disciplinary Manual is dedicated to game scenarios (something noticeably missing from the Student Handbook).
Scenarios in Chaos University are, appropriately enough, known as Field Trips. In the C.U. Disciplinary Manual, you will find outlines for seven Field Trips, as well as seeds for eight more. So, what exactly do students do on Field Trips? Good question.
Field Trips are opportunities for Chaos University students to apply their higher learning in the real world (well, the real world as it exists in the context of the game, anyhow). For example, the Field Trip entitled “MINNEAPOLIS: (This is. . . Utter Cheese)” pits C.U. students against animated action figures that possess the same powers as the imaginary heroes they are modeled upon, while “PITTSBURGH: (Easy Hack & Bash)” pits the students against zombie steel workers created by a lich-master in order to keep the factory open while the Steel Worker’s Union is on strike. It’s up to the students to negotiate a settlement.
C.U. At the Con delivers five more Field Trips in the same small format as the Disciplinary Manual. Herein, students get a chance to solve the riddles of the Sphinx (who is wildly pissed off at France when he wakes up from his centuries long slumber), unravel a mystery in 17th Century France, battle a monster that roams the streets of a student’s hometown, thwart demons who have taken over highway truckstop, and go shopping at an interdimensional market.
The Final Grade:
Overall, I’m smitten with Chaos University. Although I honestly would have preferred a perfect=bound book, the humorous tone of the game line and the light rules get done what they set out to do — create a light-hearted atmosphere of fun and allow the consumer to explore a very specific thematic premise. I think that the one true shortcoming of the game line is that Chaos University has a distinct trend toward adult humor (indeed, some four-letter words appear in the text), meaning that it probably shouldn’t be played by children. In the end, the Student Handbook gets an A- and a little red smiley face, while the Disciplinary Manual and C.U. at the Con each get a B+.
Who Should Buy It:
Adults who like humor in their RPGs, prefer their rules light, and aren’t offended by some mild profanity.
Who Should Skip It:
Adults who like serious roleplay only, enjoy loads of mechanical options, or take grievous offense to mild profanity. Children.
Reviewer: James D. Hargrove
Tags | indie-rpg