When I was working on the previous two articles for my breakdown The Faculty, I ran into a few perceived problems(1). When I was trying to map the characters in the movie to the mechanics of School Daze, I found a few gaps. I didn’t find what seemed like enough Ranks to cover all of the characters, not enough Favorite Subjects to cover what I saw on the screen, and a thin smattering of Motivations.
At first, I started thinking that this pointed to a gap in what School Daze provides. The premise of the game is that it can cover all types of high school movies and media, from Buffy to Harry Potter to Brick. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that School Daze isn’t an all-things-to-all-movies kind of game. And that’s just fine.
You Can Have No Ranks and Still Matter
For the instances where there weren’t the right Ranks to cover a given character, is that really a problem? The answer is… not really. Ranks are present in School Daze to represent how each student in high school (real or fictional) is pigeonholed, defined either internally or externally as just one kind of person. More complex characters might have Ranks that are seemingly counterintuitive to have on one character sheet, but those differences represent how they blend in, or how they’re seen by different groups of people.
What happens when someone bucks all of those trends and doesn’t seem to fit into any one mold? It’s completely possible and potentially even fine to play a School Daze character with no Ranks. That character would need a very solid Motivation, one that lets them play their character strongly in order to get more Gold Stars. Or, the player would have to be comfortable with not getting many bonuses on their rolls.
Characters like this aren’t typically how School Daze characters are made, and they could work. However, they would need to be the exception rather than the rule. Characters with no Ranks break the perceived system of how people are classified in high school. That’s fine and interesting for one character, or a short set of sessions, but it might not work long-term. There are plenty of instances in high school movies of those characters that seem to see beyond the structure and importance of high school. They seem to move through high school differently, unaffected by the stuff that’s so important to everyone else.
They Circle Back Around
Often, these kinds of characters have a disdain for high school. They see the pageantry of things like Homecoming or Prom as signs of indoctrination. They don’t buy into all of it, and that can make them very intriguing to other characters, ones who do buy in. A very important distinction about these “Rankless” characters is that, by the end of the movie, they often have some kind of revelation that shows them the either the value of the trappings of high school, or it shows them the value of a person who they’ve always seen as wrapped up in the trappings.
The Breakfast Club is all about this type of situation. John Bender might have Ranks, but only as the other characters perceive him. From his point of view, he’s not really in high school like they are. He’s in the same physical space, but he doesn’t value any of it, or the people who are with him. By the end of the movie, he comes to value all of the people who were with him. His transformation affects the others, too. In game terms, he moves them closer to “adult” status, with no Ranks, and seeing a life beyond high school.
A character like this needs to be unique. It might even be something where an existing character evolves into this. It also might need to be something that’s reserved for an NPC, a character whose purpose is to come in near the end of a campaign of School Daze. They would be the eye-opener that helps take the PCs from high school to whatever comes next.
Features, Not Bugs
To answer the original question: these gaps aren’t problems with School Daze. They instead point out exactly what kind of game it is. School Daze is designed to play characters who are high school stereotypes. In many cases, the sessions get ridiculous and play out like the most zany high school movies out there. This exploration shows School Daze can go deeper, though, and can touch on deeper topics. When I started writing this post I didn’t expect it to go where it did. It started as an interesting idea, and as I wrote, it evolved. I’d be very interested to see the results of a character like this happening in play during a more serious session or campaign of School Daze.
What do you think? Would you want to see a more “adult,” Rankless character in a game of School Daze? Is that not the type of game you want to see from School Daze? Let me know.