I've read over the DayTrippers Core Rules and DayTrippers GameMasters Guide by Tod Foley. Let's dive in...
Wait, one more thing first! The image I've used for this post is from the 90's indie film The Daytrippers starring Parker Posey and Liev Schreiber. It actually has nothing at all to do with the DayTrippers RPG - except for one thing! It's got a human face; multiple human faces, actually. The picture has life, personality, presence... one may glean quirks, foibles, hopes, dreams, love, and the hell that is other people.
The DayTrippers RPG is really good for the right crowd, in my opinion. But the covers of the books I'm reviewing have planets and stuff on them. And the interior is also kind of immaculately devoid of that metaphorical human face which I think it needs to really grab hold of an audience and make them want to play this game. RPGs are work after all, one doesn't just sit in front of the TV with a beer in their hand, turn on an RPG, and start playing. No, it takes something very special to get people to roleplay.
Ironically, there's a sort of stone-like human face etched onto a planet like an alien Mount Rushmore in space, but that just kind of makes my point. The thing is lifeless CGI. In fact, it looks sad. Sad that it's not human, with all that that implies.
The game's tagline is: A Surreal Science Fiction Reality-Hopping RPG. Perhaps the juxtaposition is on purpose (though I doubt it), but how can something that sounds so interesting simultaneously sound kind of boring? There's something missing from the tagline and, for me personally, the game itself.
DayTrippers does a lot right and attempts to capture the human experience. It has many interesting characters, but no real protagonist. I like it, but I can't see myself in it. There's precious little soul even though I faintly hear jazz being played behind all the words and numbers.
Others will obviously disagree - which is great - because the game definitely has an audience. I'm just not sure exactly who or how big that audience is.
DayTrippers is a "rules-medium" RPG for exploring and executing missions within time, space, and weird dimensions. The PDF I was given for the purposes of reviewing clocks in at about 44 pages.
Thee world of DayTrippers is kinda dull, stupid and ridiculous, punctuated by spectacle, festooned with advertising and dripping with irony. It’s a place of technological progress and rampant global capitalism, complete with continuous media charades and enormous social inequity, somewhere between “2001” and “Idiocracy”.
I love both films; however, the text is written in the stylistic format of the former; though the latter would be easier to conceptualize and "sell" to the average gamer. Even though this is surrealistic, gonzo sci-fi, DayTrippers comes across as the kind of dependable tie-wearing RPG who always carries a pen (just in case). For Red Dwarf fans, DayTrippers is more like Arnold Rimmer than Dave Lister (who resonates more with me). There's nothing wrong with that, but it seems like an interesting choice for this kind of genre.
In fact, DayTrippers is so scientific and intellectually mature that I'd wholeheartedly recommend it for people smarter than me but would caution those dumber than me that it's not going to pander to the Idiocracy crowd who think it's hilarious that there's a chair for eating, watching TV, going to the bathroom and masturbation in the future. Also, that the Nazis should have used a T-Rex in WWII.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about...
Savant microfusion technologist and open-source homefab guru Zayim Diaspora completes construction on his unique vision for a "Temporal Resistance Amplification Pod"; at his home workshop in Sacramento, California. The inner workings of the vehicle, a matter of highly contested debate in certain circles, are an application of Diaspora's radically new theories on the nature of reality. If it works as Diaspora claims, an onboard pilot will effectively direct the vehicle in "slipping"; relative to the fourth dimension while shielding the vehicle from all other dimensional vectors of force. Few people in the world, even among his followers, claim to fully understand his work or its implications.
Not that some people can't understand it, just that you have to pay attention to what you're reading without losing focus, without your attention wandering too far. It would also help to have a passing familiarity with theories of the quantum physics and holographic universe variety. "You're playing elves and dwarves using sorcery and sword to conquer the realm" this ain't! As an indie RPG, it's fine. But it won't be a mainstream blockbuster or runaway success like some of the products that start out as indie RPGs. And that's perfectly OK; there's room for everybody.
There's also a nice middle ground where advanced ideas are explained in short-story format, like so...
“Your own space collapses into you,” says Nara Yoshitomo excitedly, “but by the time it gets there, you’re already gone!” Dr. Yoshitomo, recently of the Tokyo Institute of Aerospace Technology, draws a line from the perimeter to the center of a blue circle and strikes the marker against the board for emphasis. “The atoms of the craft are accelerated beyond the speed of light along with anything within the radius of the field, and wham! – before you can blink, you’re in another universe!” The marker skitters across the board beneath his fast-moving hand, leaving a trail of dots that implies a trajectory into a green circle several feet away. “But it makes just as much sense to say that you remain in place the whole time, while entire universes re-arrange themselves around you. Remember, the closest we can come to understanding is a metaphor.” He gestures at the tesseract as proof of this unsettling fact and continues speaking at his frenetic pace.
Character creation is part of what makes this "rules-medium" in my estimation. There are plenty of options, templates, point-buy, and ways of making one's character interesting and ready to adventure.
The Debt concept where a character can borrow extra points at character creation but are then converted into money owed to one or more individuals/entities as the game starts... is genius. Even if I've seen things similar to that in Amber or Star Wars, the way it's handled in DayTrippers feels uniquely awesome! Definitely something I'll be borrowing down the road.
Doing stuff is open to interpretation, but those interpretations are given many guidelines. GMs are advised on what to do when a roll misses by 1 or more, hits exactly, exceeds by 1, etc.
Where are the random tables? There aren't any. Selections are chosen like rational adults based on context, logic... my inner-Animal (Yes, Animal - remember that muppet who beat on his drum set while chanting his own name?) wants to roll dice and see what happens. Gonzo style! DayTrippers doesn't let me scratch that particular itch. Personally, I'd love to see random tables everywhere! [Pssst - keep reading! All those tables I wanted are in the GM Guide]
The artwork is mostly forgettable. That's something I'd like to see re-done if there's ever another version or edition.
Lots of great examples, shaded in grey to set them apart, show how character creation and combat work. Well enough, I feel.
The Experience section is full of interesting ways for PCs to earn experience points in order to improve their character, but, for me, it's too involved and intricate. As a GM, I've got to worry about several things at once. Deciding the inherent XP value of a particular scene vs. each character goes beyond the call of duty. If I were running DayTrippers, I'd repeat the ease of Vampire: the Masquerade, where at the end of a session, characters would get 1 point for showing up, another for completing goals, a third for solid roleplaying, etc.
This is where you find out how to run campaigns as the creator intended. Not that DayTrippers can't be run however the GM and players want, but this is the guide for how it's meant to be.
First, we're treated to an essay on surrealism. Next, the text teaches us about emotionally charged language, bleed, psychic content, and "The PC sheet is a psychic osmotic membrane." I enjoyed this lengthy section because of its good roleplaying and game management advice, as well as, seemingly being on the verge of exploring a new way to roleplay... though, it stops short of that.
The book has all the random tables I was looking for in the Core Rules, which is nice. With the GM Guide you can generate almost anything you care to, from locations to lifeforms to drama.
Basically, it covers everything that's in a DayTrippers game to a satisfactory depth. There's more about what PCs can get up to, missions, slipstreams, planets, time travel, and pretty much what you'd expect.
You do have to consider the Story as an emergent and unpredictable thing that grows out of Player interaction with a PlotField; you have to think of Plot as something you don’t so much “control” as elevate through collaborative play in a dramatic trajectory while the Players do the real driving; and most importantly you have to think of Characters, Locations and Events as a loose network of individual Objects, capable of being encountered and arranged in many different ways.
That right there should tell us something about the game. To get the most out of DayTrippers, to run a session or campaign like it's supposed to be run, GMs will need to do some heavy-lifting pre-game prep (though there are plenty of helpful suggestions for the first few sessions).
Or maybe it's trying to tell us to "be flexible and in the moment"? If it is, then I'd suggest the language turn itself down a notch or two for the common man. But, hey, that's just me.
For GMs like myself who are both lazy and don't have the time, I can't imagine putting in the necessary effort to make DayTrippers shine like it should. And maybe I could GM a great session without anything more than an interesting idea, hook, and a few scattered thoughts. I don't know. The book seems to imply that I probably can't or shouldn't try. Although, it's possible that I've inferred too much.
There's a lot more pages than the Core Rules (120 to be exact), and so more art. Some of it is decent and gives readers a sense of the setting, world, and possible adventures to be had. But a lot of it is mediocre and just seems to break up the text at a quarter-page a pop. Thankfully, the text is well laid out and makes for easy reading.
I guess that's it. Unfortunately, I've no idea what this review accomplished. At least I shed some light on the Core Rules and GameMasters Guide. Check them out if you're intrigued by a surreal science fiction reality-hopping RPG.
Reviewed by Venger Satanis