DayTrippers by Tod Foley is a science fiction game of reality hopping, first published June 2015 and available at http://daytrippersrpg.com/. This review covers the Core Rules and the Gamemaster’s Guide. There’s a wealth of supporting material available on the website that’s worth checking out – including adventures and story generators.
The setting for DayTrippers is 2120, nearly a hundred years into the future. This is a world very similar to our own – a mix of crushing corporations in search of monopolies and individual anarchic creativity. It’s an extension of our own world that has been given enough colour for you to understand it without boring with needless trivia. The core book starts with several in fiction articles to introduce you to daytripping – the name given to briefly visiting the inner and outer realities. Through these we learn of the genius/madman who developed slip theory and that research into the field is performed by a mix of private enterprise and academic funding and that a century of inflation means everything is priced in mega-dollars.
Daytripping via slip ship is the instant transfer to another location, time, reality or even dreamscape. This allows a party of daytrippers to visit any scenario the GM could think up. This is a lot of freedom, almost perhaps too much as it gives a GM no firm foundation to start building a story on. The only mechanical constraint is that you’ve only got twenty four hours of visitation time. Go beyond this and your original reality notices you’re missing and you cease to exist. Whilst this single day gives the game its name and adds drama and tension, it does raise a few questions. Are the players going to be happy with this very unarguable method of character death; you don’t get any lasts words or heroic sacrifices if you just stop being. That the slip ships can time travel gives the GM a mechanism for rescue should it be needed. Also, what happens to anything brought back from a daytrip? The text makes it clear that resource gathering is a common expeditionary goal, but I would preferred it be explicitly stated rather than just implied that collected items continue to exist.
The core mechanics of DayTrippers is to roll a number of six sided dice equal to the relevant base stat. You keep the highest value and then add modifiers for skill, equipment and anything suitably situational. The resulting value is then compared to either a fixed value or another character’s roll. DayTrippers also uses a no-yes-and-but system queued off the difference in results to add more narrative description to the results. It’s also explicitly stated that skills and stats can be paired flexibly, allowing for a use of stats that fits more naturally with the unfolding drama.
Rather than use a fixed amount of time for a tense or dramatic situation, DayTrippers has the concept of “frames”. These are described as like a sequence of comic book panels, each containing enough important action to move the story along as is fitting. Thus they can be a short as a single gunshot or as long as a small prepared speech. This is a useful little device to avoid the tedious problem of waiting for something to happen during combat.
During a Frame, all actions are declared, then rolled and then resolved together; with the order of resolution decided by the value of the resulting rolls instead of a separate initiative score. Each character gets a single action per frame. So if a character attempting to avoid oncoming fire gets the highest result of the frame, they successfully avoid all the incoming attacks as they dive for cover. This process effectively reduces the amount of bureaucracy associated with each frame as it can resolve multiple characters worth of action in a single decision. The no-yes-and-but keeps the narrative from being swept away by this efficiency.
Character creation is a points spend system. The choices are between 6 core stats, skills, equipment, fame, rank and your slip ship. The prices increase logarithmically, so you won’t be creating heroic characters at the beginning unless you’re willing to go into an extreme amount of in character debt. You also don’t have to spend all your points at game start; indeed you are encourage to keep some in reserve to develop the character as you get to know them better. I like this acknowledgement that not every player is going to have an immediate and complete understanding of the person they’ve just created. The focus on character development is extended through the concept of lifeshapers. These are key points in a character’s story that can be used to gain an additional die if they’re relevant. A lifeshaper could be a past event that a player introduces in flashback to explain a sudden new knowledge. As an extra sweetener, a lifeshaper can be used to increase character attributes for reduced costs.
The core six base stats are Brains, Charm, Grace, Health, Might and Psyche. These seem as good as any other sets of nouns to describe the aspects of a character. Of note is that when a character takes damage, it is the core stats that degrade, with a character dropping out when they are all reduced to zero. No mention is made of social damage, with the implication that this has it’s effects in the narrative rather than on the character sheet. The skills list is wide ranging and has a good mix of adventuring and social skills, allowing a range of character types and story lines. Pleasingly, there is no equipment list. Instead, you’re told to simply give a narrative reason why this item is better than your average piece of drainpipe.
The cover is a composite of several generic science fiction images on a black background. Whilst I love the suitably sci-fi title font, I’ve a few niggles with the cover. The starfield background is abruptly cut off, leaving a visible line in the middle, instead of extending to the top of fading out. I’m also not sure about the white border as it seems to isolate the image rather than making it a gateway into the book. The limited amount of interior art is grayscale and used as interstitials with no full page spreads. The multiple sources (individually credited) means that there’s a mix of styles but careful selection appears to have avoided them feeling disconnected. The rest of the layout is two columns of black text on a white page with distinctive section headers and spacious tables.
In addition to character and ship for players, there are provided sheets for realities, planets and missions. The style is dominated by rounded cornered rectangle enclosing titled guidelines. The character sheet breaks from this format a little bit with a the upper half being a more open style with large spacing and no borders.
DayTrippers goes to important lengths to impart the philosophy of the game – that of surrealism and surrealistic adventures. What is surrealistic gaming? The value in an adventure is not so much a puzzle solved or a danger escaped, but how the elements of the story allowed us (player or character) to learn something about ourselves and our philosophy. Whilst learning from gaming isn’t new, what’s particular about surrealistic gaming is that it frees the GM from being required that everything make immediate sense. This isn’t carte blanche to do anything and abandon good RPG structure, but it allows the GM to add elements that are there purely for the purpose of interpretation and introspection. The GM and players are also free to let their subconscious add elements to the game without them feeling like such additions are out of place or unwanted. The meaning of an addition can arrive through its use in play or be simply that it provoked a new thought.
It is refreshing to see so much effort be put into taking a game’s theme, explaining it and then pulling it into the design and description of the game and GM’s guide generica. The dreamworlds in particular are ideal for experimenting with surrealistic expression. It gives the game’s freedom a distinct and unique purpose.
To support this play style, DayTrippers has many random roll tables and advice on setting up and noting down a DayTrippers’ adventure. These include templates and diagrams with worked examples from classic sci-fi. You’ll also find worked examples for all the game’s key mechanics. The majority of the pages in the GM’s guide are given over to 12 random table based generators: 54 pages covering missions, stars, planets, life forms, societies, drama, charters, alternate Earths, time travel and dreamworlds. All are deep and detailed with comprehensive supporting instructions. The life form generator in particular has been designed to avoid the creation of familiar features.
The goal of dayTrippers is to produce science fiction adventures that encourage thought through the presence of surrealist ideas, objects and concepts. It achieves this through flexible mechanics that sit in the background of play and through the wealth of supporting materials. This is a game that is unafraid of philosophy and welcomes it to the table.