Recently, the Syfy channel released the sequel to their cult hit movie Sharknado, Sharknado 2: the Second One (Interesting trivia, my Samsung Galaxy phone’s spellcheck knew the word Sharknado by default. Considering how often I run into words it doesn’t know, this was amazing to me). These movies of course drew comparisons to the earlier, but also campy and ridiculous movie, Snakes on a Plane. Since there’s already a Snakes on a Plane fan RPG (and we’ve reviewed it on the stew), it seemed only fair to create a fan game for the Sharknado series. Of course, this is just a fan product, and not officially endorsed by Syfy or their parent company in any way. Anything Sharknado related here is owned by them, though I like to think this is exactly the kind of nonsense that the minds behind Sharknado would enjoy. It’s also largely untested so if anyone actually plays it (doubtful) and finds it’s working in odd ways (likely) report it in the comments and it’ll get more attention in the 2nd edition (yeah right).
All characters in the Sharknado RPG have 3 traits, Health, Skills, and Relationships. Characters begin the game with 15 health. As they are attacked by sharks (or other hazards) health is lost. Characters may regain health by initiating escalation scenes. Each character gets three free-form skills that represent broad areas in which they excel. When a character is trying to perform an action that is within one or more of their skills, they have a greater chance of success and a smaller change of being attacked by a shark. Characters also get three relationships to other characters (both PCs and NPCs are fair targets) that they wish to improve. As characters take actions with the targets of their relationships, they build up relationship points that they can use for re-rolls, to get ending monologs/dialogs, and for character advancement.
Here’s a possible stat block for Fin Shepard at the start of the original Sharknado:
April — ex-wife, wants her to respect him
Chloe — Daughter, wants her to understand he loves her
Matt — Son, wants to bond with him
The system in the Sharknado RPG is very simple. When you attempt an action other than dialog, you roll a d6 to see if you succeed, fail, or are attacked by a shark. If an action can be reasonably considered to fall within the influence of one of your skills, you are considered skilled at that action. If it falls within the influence of a skill that has been promoted to a Heroic skill level with the advancement rule, your efforts are considered heroic.
If you succeed at an action, you achieve what you were attempting. In addition, if your action involved, helped, or could have impressed a character with whom you have a relationship, add a point to that relationship if it’s appropriate. If you fail, you can choose to either simply fail, or you can succeed with a complication or unexpected drawback. In any of these cases, you may briefly narrate the effects of your action. (In the cases of failures, you may quickly discuss appropriate complications with the other players but ultimately, the choice of invoking a complication and what it might be are up to the player who failed the action.) If your die roll results in a shark attack, you may fail at your action and take 1d6 damage or succeed anyway, but take damage equal to 1d6 plus the current Danger Level. In situations where shark attacks just aren’t possible (because there’s no water or sharks around for example) rolls that result in shark attacks aren’t ignored. They either cause sharks to burst through windows, out of sewer grates, or fall out of the ductwork, or the character takes damage from some other source such as falling debris, electrical overload, falling and landing badly, or whatever else is appropriate.
|Success||Narrate your success|
|Failure||Fail, or succeed with a complication|
|Shark!||Fail and take 1d6 dam or succeed and take 1d6 + Danger Level dam.|
The system works differently for NPCs. If no PC has a relationship with an NPC, that NPC is considered unskilled at everything, they cannot choose to introduce complications or take extra damage to succeed with a failing roll, and if they are attacked by a shark they die. Usually messily, comically or both.
NPCs that a PC has a relationship with start with 5 hit points and either a single skill or an additional 5 hit points, chosen by the player with the relationship with them. They may not introduce complications, or take additional damage to succeed with a failing roll, but a player with a relationship with them may choose to take any amount of damage for them.
NPCs (other than background NPCs who run around screaming and getting chomped by sharks all the time) only take actions when a player chooses for them to take action. Otherwise they are assumed to be non-heroic and largely stay out of the way of the action.
Fin has been sucked up in a sharknado and wants to surf safely to the ground on the back of a shark while defending himself with his chainsaw. This definitely fits within his Surfer Bum and Action Hero skills, so he’s considered skilled. He rolls a 2. Failure! Fin chooses to introduce a complication. He succeeds, but while gutting a shark with his chainsaw, it’s pulled from his grasp and lost!
Fin is holding off sharks with his shotgun in rapidly rising water to give Chloe, who he has a relationship with, time to climb some shelving and pull down the ladder to the emergency roof access. Fin is skilled thanks to his Action Hero skill and rolls a 5. He succeeds and since he’s defending his daughter from sharks it makes sense to add a point to their relationship.
Baz, an NPC, is trying to get to Fin to help him escape from a shark. Fin’s player rolls a 3 for him. Failure! Fin’s player narrates Baz getting bitten on the leg, but that’s just for show. Since no characters have relationships with Baz on their sheets, if Fin’s player had rolled a 2, Baz would have gotten chomped and would be dead.
Usually characters have better things to do during a sharknado than fight amongst themselves, but if it happens, both players make a normal roll. If one succeeds, they win the conflict. If they both succeed, the player with the highest roll wins. Ties go to the defender. It is, of course possible for one or both of the characters to suffer shark attacks during the exchange. That’s what you get for losing focus during a sharknado!
There are three types of scenes in a Sharknado game: Opening, Action, and Escalation. The game always starts with an Opening scene and most other scenes are action scenes. Escalation scenes provide characters with healing, but make the threat from sharks more dangerous. A game of sharknado generally should last about a half dozen scenes but depending on how you define scenes, may be more or less.
Every Game of Sharknado starts with an opening scene. During the opening scene, no rolls are necessary, no damage rolls happen, and generally sharks only appear near the end. Opening scenes allow for introduction of PCs and NPCs, introducing the sharknado threat and planning their initial response to the sharknado threat.
Action scenes are the basic workhorse scenes. They work like a standard RPG scene. Each scene has a goal such as “get to the warehouse” or “destroy the sharknado” which may be broken into different sub goals. For example “Get to the warehouse” may have goals of “Travel down third street”, “take a detour through the subway” and “get through the security cordon”. Each sub goal in an action scene has at least one challenge that must be overcome. Traveling down third street may require driving through abandoned cars through waist deep water while sharks batter the car, then hopping from car roof to roof to reach the sandbagged subway entrance. Traveling through the subway might require swimming down the tunnel dodging the larger sharks by hiding in submerged subway cars, and passing the cordon might require sneaking by or convincing the police they can let you through. These challenges are passed via skill tests like any other RPG.
At the end of any Action scene, the Danger Level rises by one. Thus as the game continues, sharks get more dangerous.
Escalation scenes give characters a chance to rest and recover at the expense of increasing the danger level. Players may call for an escalation scene at any time. During these scenes, the action pans away from the PCs and instead follows some NPCs. These NPCs have no relationship with any PCs so they are all considered unskilled with all actions and are killed if attacked by a shark. The scene focuses on the situation getting worse. The subway floods, the police cordon is overrun, the sharks reach the sewers and start exploding from manhole covers. NPCs die, the danger level increases (so sharks cause more damage), but the PCs get a breather. Each player gets a d6 they can use to heal any of the PCs. NPCs with relationships with PCs are healed the same amount as any PC with a relationship to them heals.
The Danger Level starts at zero and increases by one at the end of each action or escalation scene. Danger Level adds to the damage that PCs take if they are attacked by a shark and choose to succeed and take additional damage equal to the Danger Level.
Each of the sharknado movies has at least one scene of the heroes scavenging for gear to fight sharks. During any scene, characters may discover or create gear by taking appropriate actions. Amount of gear able to be lugged around and type of gear found is limited by common sense. You won’t find an assault rifle just lying in the street, but you may find one near the overturned national guard transport, and you wouldn’t carry around more than one. Gear serves two purposes. First, it comes with a skill named something like “Has a …” so a bitchin ride would allow you to act skilled in actions associated with moving around, outrunning things etc… and a weapon would allow you to act skilled in combat situations. In addition, high quality gear allows an already skilled character to act at heroic skill levels. Finally, losing or damaging gear is an excellent complication, so failure can be turned into a success by ditching a piece of gear.
During any scene where you perform an action that would logically improve one of your relationships, you may add a point to that relationship. This may be done only once per scene. Relationship points serve four functions in a sharknado game:
- Any time you fail a roll or are attacked by a shark and don’t want to introduce a complication or take damage you can spend a relationship from one of your relationships to get a re-roll. You can take either of the two rolls you prefer.
- You may also spend a relationship point to have an NPC you have a relationship with sacrifice themselves for your character, throwing themselves into the jaws of a shark or some other hazard to save you. This of course kills the NPC. And of course, any time an NPC or other PC you have a relationship with dies, you lose all relationship points you have with them, as they are dead. Duh.
- Any relationship in which you have four or more relationship points when the game ends allows you to have an ending monolog/dialog. You kiss the girl, your kid hugs you, your boss gives you your job back, whatever. You get to tell everyone all about it.
- If you end the game with at least one relationship with four or more points you can choose one piece of gear that you used during the game and write it on your sheet. If you ever play sharknado again, you get to start with that piece of gear. If you end with two or more relationships with four points, you have your choice of a piece of gear, a new skill, advancing an existing skill to heroic level, or increasing your maximum health by five points.
GM vs No GM
The sharknado game can be run as a standard RPG with a SharkMaster calling the shots and designing scenes, or it can be run without a sharkmaster with the group taking turns or working collaboratively to design scenes and challenges.
Scenario Book… Kinda…. Sorta….Â
And of course a scenario book has already been released, full of adventure ideas and player advice… Maybe a little bit… Or maybe it’s just a cool coffee table book. I’m not sure. My wife won’t let me buy it. But seriously this thing is bound to be full of all sorts of wahoo craziness that would not only work for the Sharknado unofficial fan RPG, but for any other over the top modern fantasy game as well.
To any Syfy people who may be reading:
Hey, if anyone from Syfy is reading this, here are a few comments for you:
- Hey, don’t sue me please. This is a fan effort, and if you absolutely hate it and want it to disappear, you don’t even have to waste money on engaging your attack lawyers. Just say something, I promise.
- If, on the other hand, you love it, do engage those lawyers and make me an offer for it. I’m a cheap date. You can probably get it for a line I can put on my resume and some merch.
“When you attempt an action other than dialog, you roll…”
I love that this is the rule for when you roll!
To be fair, I totally stole that concept from the Snakes on a Plane RPG. In my mind it works really well for two reasons: As an action movie RPG players aren’t going to be doing non-dangerous stuff often, and because it’s Sharknado even if they’re safely away from danger a shark can fall out of a vent and bite them on the junk at pretty much any moment.
This game bites! (Well, the sharks in it do, at least.)
That joke was …pause… All Wet?
This is probably the most amazing thing invented since the vibrate feature on cellphones.
Too bad the gaming group I’m playing with isn’t the most adventurous when it comes to simple, rather comical RPGs. (I’ve been trying to get them to play Og for ages.)
Of course I see no reason for this not to work perfectly like a Mythic Game Master Emulator, as it already is based on a rather similar system. (Check out http://www.mythic.wordpr.com/page14/page9/page9.html for more details on Mythic)I may tweak a few things, but I imagine it working out just fine.
Half the fun with this is playing with other people though. I’ll see if I can talk a few of my other friends into playing it with me.
Well done! Even if I can’t convince any other players, this made my day!
I saw a comment elsewhere about how I derived a completely new system for this, so I wanted to share a dirty little secret. I had really enjoyed the snakes on a plane RPG, which is why I created this one and had originally intended to steal their system completely wholesale, just changing snakes to sharks etc… and then tack on some subsystems to get more of the feel of the movies (the relationships and escalation scenes)
But being a numbers guy I crunched theirs first and discovered something about the purposes their stats served.
First, they determined success rate of actions, but those success rates ranged from roughly 80% to 90% so there wasn’t really much point to having stats for that function.
Second, they acted as pools of hit points, but snakes attack random hit point pools, so no strategy for assigning stats improves the expected survival duration of your character just the variability of it (ie all average pools gives you the average survival time almost every time while half really high, half really low mean you survive really long half the time and really short half the time, but the same average time overall) so there didn’t seem to be much point to including stats for that reason either.
So in the end, I dumped stats as unnecessarily complicated character creation and system and kept the pretty much equivalent static HPs and “roll d6 take damage on a 1”. But that seemed a little TOO simple, so I had to add the complexity back somewhere while not changing too much.
So, this isn’t a completely new system as much as a “streamlined beyond recognition then modded” system.