Jack Cosmos and the Desolation of Smug

We had a couple of open sessions at Spelens Hus, which were filled by Space Rat, by Nathan Russell.

The nominal franchise stars Jack Cosmos, the heroic Galactic Agent, but its many-texts content is either so satiric or so bad that no one can miss the fact that his arm-candy female companions actually do all the heroics. In this case, it’s Gayka the Cybergirl (Yaroslav), Calamity the Cowgirl (Helma), Saskia the Dutch Cheesemonger Girl (Erik), and Spikey the Hedgehog Girl (Johan).

You may have to breathe deeply now. It’s a competitive game … not really among the characters, but among the players. The femme babe [did I mention that they’re called femme babes?] who gets the most Attention Stars wins. The interplay among Luck and Attention Stars is a big deal.

  • You begin with six Luck points, and you can spend them to get boosted rolls, to add plot-ahead details, to stunt gear or an ability, to regain Health, to get an extra action
  • You get Attention Stars mainly by kicking ass with high degrees of success (i.e., boosted rolls) and by taking absurd risks, regardless of success or failure
  • When another person spends Luck, you can require them to test their Luck, which is harder the more they’ve spent; the result is either that you lose Luck, or they keep their Luck but you describe their spectacular failure

[In the sheet included in the file above, the term “lucky star” is used, which doesn’t appear in the text and means “luck” or “luck point.”]

The way you play, essentially, is that Jack is mostly off-scene, whether actually being heroic, or in terrible trouble, or, one must admit, um, jacking off somewhere. The characters are either actively seeking to help him or maybe interact with him in some way, or in some kind of bonkers trouble of their own which adds up to an exciting adventure.

So … in this case, Gandolfino and the Goons have abducted Jack to be their “burglar,” in which things are complicated by the the rival catering franchise with their disgusting cheese food product, dangerous space nebulae, and of course the Goons’ goal, Smug the distinctly self-regarding dragon alien guy who lives in a very lonely mountain region. The concept is one of the examples in the book, but I am proud of one or two disinctive spins I introduced.

Here are the pictures I used during play, which are all proprietary so they’re linked to their sources.

It did not take long for us, collectively, to discover the system. Certain realities emerged insofar as messing with one another’s Luck is fun, but sometimes we’ll all suffer if it fails, so it’s not an automatic act.

  • The critical point: they are genuine bad-asses, and Jack is a humorous McGuffin – the immediate implication of absurd sexism “comes back around” to result in very likeable heroines
  • Death isn’t in the picture, this isn’t that game; indeed, I have learned that my foes ought to be more injurious, as recovering Health is a third corner to the Luck + Attention Star interaction
  • I slightly amended the meaning of victory, pulling it out of the diegetic content, or at least, “up” to the level of the fictional franchise, so that in the work featuring the adventure’s title, the winner is written as if she were the central female character

Unfortunately Erik couldn’t join us for the second session, so Saskia went off on another adventure. Our play produced if I may say so more than one notable moment, including Gandolfino’s enthralling explanations of the adventure’s backstory, and the fight concerning Smug, his treasure hoard, and a not-very-helpful Jack. This map is strikingly excellent.

I made some mistakes. I bobbled the first instance of testing Luck, because you shouldn’t do that until someone has spent at least one point. Most significantly, throughout the sessions, I very incorrectly said that a player cannot call for testing Luck when Luck is spent for something that doesn’t require a roll. This is not true. You may call for a Luck test whenever someone seeks to spend Luck for any reason.

The winner is …! Given that Spikey and Calamity tied for the top number of Attention Stars, the rule is that they are both disqualified and the win goes to the next-highest, in this case, Gayka the Cyber Girl!

When I acknowledged and even embraced competitive role-playing back in 2000 or so, the internet reaction was bafflement and horror. It was absolutely baked into the hobby that any such thing could not possibly be role-playing, and here I was saying it was “just as good.” Cue much talking of what winning and losing really are, most of which was nonsense; for all you need to know, see the instances of Luck Tests and the finishing moments of playing this game, right here in the real world.

Nathan’s website: Peril Planet

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