Scum: We Is Scum
What is Scum?
The Scum RPG
The Scum RPG is set in 21st century Britain, and focuses on the activities of a small segment of the population - underprivileged teenagers, disenfranchised and derided by society.
It has come into being because of the growing perceived phenomenon of ["chavs"] and of the media's reaction to them. There's not a week that goes by in the UK without some mention of antisocial teenagers, rising knife crime amongst young people or the disintegration of social responsibility.
The game setting puts us in a world that is mostly realistic, but also satirical, in its assumption that the worst fears of the middle classes are true, and that there really does exist an underclass of teenagers that engage in gang warfare, casual knife crime and copious drug use.
The game is humorous to an extent, as it approaches the subject matter with an eye for farce and stereotype. It also makes light of alcohol abuse, of teenage pregnancies and even of murder. It treats these things in a gamist way, incorporating them into game mechanics and making them tools for players to use.
On the other hand, the game is necessarily dark, as you can't explore this world without realising how horrific and gritty it is. This is most definitely a game for mature audiences only.
The balance of darkness and humour is essentially up to the GM, but there's always going to be room for a bit of both.
Its worth noting that the game is called Scum, because this is how the protagonists are perceived by middle class society. The game's author in no way supports this view, but nor does he oppose it - it's purely an observation on media depiction. Its up to the players to decide how they play their Scum. The game doesn't insist on a certain morality, and though quite clearly the protagonists aren't nice people, they're still clearly human beings with human motivations. We don't scratch too deep beyond the surface - this game isn't terribly interested in the socio-economic and political factors that have created the "chav" phenomenon, but rather is aimed at putting the players into the shoes of these teenagers, and letting them see life from a different point of view.
You can call it catharsis, satire or "just a game". Me, I like to think that its at least something different.
Welcome, to the world of Scum.
Themes and Mood
- The Disposable Children
In Scum, life isn't worth much. There's a hundred teenagers like you on the estate, and all of them have started in the bottom of society, and will likely end there too. Teenage mothers beget at least half a dozen mewling sprogs each, and they'll go on to be teenage parents themselves. Numbers multiply and there's always another child on the way. Life ends easily with the stab of a knife or with a drug overdose. Those that survive have little to do but perpetuate the cycle of misery.
The key to happiness then, is to live for the moment. The Scum are hedonists in the truest sense: they drink, have sex, smoke, take drugs and fight because there's nothing better to do, and nothing to lose by doing so. The game systems in place encourage this sort of attitude - if you want to succeed you have to embrace the hedonistic aspects of life, and throw yourself into danger. You shouldn't be worrying about consequences, but instead living for the self-gratification of the moment.
The world of Scum is dirty, in every sense of the world. In depicting the world and in shaping the scenarios the GM should be aware that he should be viewing through a lense of grime and filth. Graffiti lines every wall, glass is always broken and rats rummage through uncollected trash. The Scum move through this dirty world comfortably, because its all they've ever known. The filth of the streets should be reflected in the NPCs as well. Everyone's dirty somehow - everyone has a guilty secret, be it sexual perversions, a secret drug habit or a warped and bigoted mind. In this sort of setting it becomes easier to see our protagonists as the heroes (or at least, anti-heroes). They might not be paragons of good behaviour, but there still not as f**ked up as the generation above them, and at least they are still young enough to change...
Tied in with hedonism and filth is sex - we're talking about teenagers here, with little supervision and an attitude of "do what feels good". Is it any wonder that sex is a major theme? The protagonists happily have quick and dirty sex in the piss-stained alleys, or give each other hand jobs in darkened corners of sticky nightclubs. The GM and players shouldn't shy away from narrating sex - this isn't a game where you just cut to the next scene. On the other hand, sex should generally be depicted as tawdry and filthy, and all about pleasure rather than love.
- Dark humour
As players, how can we deal with all this relentless darkness? Well, you could play it straight, and just simulate the awfulness of it all, but that can be wearing after a while. What we do in this game is to approach everything with an eye of dark humour. The same sense of humour that lets you laugh at a limping war veteran slipping on a banana skin will let you laugh here. It's funny, even if the old man lands with a sickening crunch. Hence we allow our players and player characters to laugh as well. They catch an old lady masturbating over a copy of Razzle - they laugh. They knife a fellow scum, and then sell his body to the kebab van for fresh meat - they laugh. This is fiction, you're allowed to laugh. Getting in the right mood for this sort of humour is essential - watching British dark comedy like Jam or League of Gentlemen can help.
- Hope and Money
A major theme for Scum is the hope of escape. The place where they are is undesirable, and to succeed in life they have to get out of the estate. The walls that hold them in aren't physical ones though, but rather a combination of poverty, poor education, poor prospects and peer pressure. Scum aren't ones to recognise any of these factors though, save for their poverty. For them money is all you need to get out. The game scenarios invariably revolve around cash, and the dream of escape that cash represents.
Where is Scum?
21st Century Britain
This game was written in 2009, though the setting it depicts could have been from any time in the last 10 years, and probably will be relevant for at least a few more years yet.
Britain in 2009 is hit hard by the credit crunch, just like anywhere else in the world. Prime Minister Gordon Brown is head of a sinking ship, as the bank systems freefall into crisis after crisis, and the government throws billion after billion into jumpstarting the economy.
In a way, this isn't important for the Scum game - socially, they exist as far from the halls of Westminster as its possible to be. A good proportion of them would be hard pressed to name more than two politicians, and to them financial planning means borrowing fifty pence till tomorrow for a portion of chips. The setting of 21st century Britian is important to a GM though, as it is effects the world which the scum live in.
The world of Scum isn't the real world as such, but rather one based on the tabloid perception of it. The Daily Mirror will (between Princess Diana conspiracy theories) rave about the "chavs" on the street who "are a social disease", and will convince you that to go into town on a Friday night is to risk being stabbed and raped by gangs of rat-faced teenagers. The Sun will tell you that police are overwhelmed with bureaucracy, and can't do anything to "keep our streets safe from these scum."
People lock their doors and windows and stay in. If they have to go out, and they see a group of teenagers, will cross the road to avoid them. Because of the media, the nation lives in fear.
The Estate - an Urban Setting
The Council Estate is where the nation used to hide its poor - blocks of flats would be built in the cheapest and most run down areas. The nature of the area and the population would drive down property prices, and determine the services. High street clothes shops would be replaced by discount-shops and charity shops. Restaurants would be replaced by chippies and kebaberies.
These days, thanks to some bright spark in government, every new build site has to have an area of "affordable housing". Instead of lumping all the poor in one place, they're everywhere. The net result is the same as the poor are still ostracised by middle class neighbours, except now the communities of the poor are that much smaller.
The setting of Scum is either in the inner city or in a sizeable town, but always focused around a specific small geographic area. We're not looking at the conurbation as a whole, but just at the Estate.
Everyone round there is poor, though the borders between the estate and the world of the middle classes is now blurred - you could walk five minutes and find yourself "up market", and then walk another five and find yourself in the next estate along.
It doesn't really matter though - the lines that keep the scum in are lines of psychological territory. The scum know that this is where they belong, and that these are their streets. They gather at the same places every night, and subconsciously patrol the same routes.
For this reason, a Scum game scenario is normally set within a limited area, with a few notable locations that the player characters will know well. Its presumed to be a small scale setting, in that all the Player Characters and all the major NPCs know each other by name. There's nothing to stop GMs or players taking it bigger, but essentially this is a game about local affairs with local people.
Who is Scum?
The Disenfranchised Generation
Every generation's youths feels special and different, though each approaches it in their own way.
The reader's generation probably recalls the punks, the mods and the new romantics, or if they're a bit younger, maybe the goths and the metalheads. These were all subcultures, embraced by a sizeable minority, and with the shared theme of the rejection of societal values.
The protagonists of this game are similar but different to those of previous generations.
Like a punk, a chav has a certain style of dress that sets them apart from the general public. The male chav has his tracksuit bottoms, his reeboks, his hoodie and his baseball cap. The female chav either has her fake designer handbag, her white stilettoes, her mini-skirt and crop top, or just wears a female version of the male uniform. Like a punk, the chav knows that society despises and ridicules his or her dress sense, but the chav wears these things as a badge of pride.
Like a punk, a chav has his own musical genre. He claims certain genres of rap (especially white boy rap and UK garage music) as his own, though he isn't defined by these musical tastes.
However, unlike a punk, the chav isn't yet accepted into the mainstream. Also, unlike a punk the chav isn't in any way political. The chav isn't looking to tear down the status quo, he's just looking to get drunk, have fun and do what he wants.
Also, unlike the punk, the chav has yet to take their monicker as a badge of pride. Call a chav a chav, and you'll get him angry. Call a punk a punk, and they'll be happy to be recognised.
In years to come, likely they'll be middle aged folk who look back to the chav generation and smile, and say how much worse "today's scum" are than the harmless chavs of yesteryear. For now though, the chavs are this decade's disenfranchised generation.
A Piratical Bent
As roleplayers, we have to take our anti-heroes and turn them into protagonists that we can care about and relate to.
The approach that this game takes is to look at common media, and look for depictions of anti-heroes.
A good match here is pirates.
Like pirates, the chavs are seen as the scum of society. They are feared and loathed, and exist outside of the system. Like pirates, the chavs are hedonistic, drunkard and money-grabbing. They both mix gregariousness with a treacherous nature. They both approach violence and sex casually.
Its a small step then to take elements of pirate stories, and to layer them onto the setting of Scum. How much you want to do this depends on your style.
A subtle GM might just take certain themes - buried treasure, mutiny and the like - and use them as background elements. This is the default approach, recommended by the author. Pirates are a useful mental placeholder to give you ideas as to how you can make villainous folk into protagonists that you can root for. Piratical fiction also runs the same gamut of styles and ranges that you might want to consider in a game of Scum: humour balanced with darkness, and grime mixed with sexuality.
A GM who wants to emphasise the theme might take piratical tropes and modernise them. Perhaps walking the plank might be a gang's way of executing someone, but making them walk off a building's edge rather than into the sea. A map with X-marks-the-spot might be a London Underground map with a big X over one station.
Finally, a heavy handed GM may want to lift elements wholesale, and hammer in the genre tropes. Perhaps a pub called the Admiral Benbow, or the boss chav being called "Cap'n" and having an eye patch. This approach, of course, lends itself better to heavy humour games, and ones which want to break further from realism.
What does Scum do?
As mentioned, Scum generally don't have much in the way of long term plans - life is cheap and meaningless.
The short term motivation of Scum is enjoyment. Scum will do anything if it feels good, from drink and drugs, to having unprotected intercourse, to casual crime, to high speed races and other dangerous games. Consequences rarely figure in a Scum's calculations.
The long term motivation of Scum is to get out of their current lives and into something better. Scum don't tend to like the hard way up though - school, education, a job and hard work all take too long, and are frankly too boring to be worthwhile in the Scum's eyes. Instead, they look for quick fix solutions, which might include such things as:
- Acquiring a big stash of money or drugs.
- Getting hold of a book of "perfect racing tips" that predicts how horse races will be fixed for the next year.
- Getting into the Pop Idol competition, and winning through fair means or foul.
- Getting into the Big Brother house.
- Stealing a winning lottery ticket.
These motivations arise as the next get-rich-quick scheme arises, and hence tend to be the basis of game scenarios.
Note that though the Scum game is designed with scenarios and short stories in mind, it is possible to run games with longer campaigns, story arcs and more complex character development. This is explored more in a later section*.
((*for the purposes of the Game-Fu competition, please note this variant is not yet included, but will be added at a later date))
This is a small list of ways in which the protagonists might pass their time:
- Drinking down the pub, if you look old enough.
- Drinking at home.
- Drinking on the street.
- Smoking weed, taking other drugs.
- Going "on the pull" in pubs, bars and clubs.
- Having sex - anywhere and everywhere.
- Getting into fights, with fists or knives.
- Gambling and playing fruit machines.
- Playing pool and snooker.
- Shopping - or more normally, shoplifting.
- Driving around at high speed - either your own car or someone elses.
- Just hanging out, chatting shit.
This is a list of things that the protagonists are likely to like and appreciate.
- Music: Lily Allen, The Streets, Blazing Squad, N-Dubz and So Solid are common choices. Many male chavs are more into their esoteric music and might have more eccentric tastes, such as obscure German hard house or real Jamaican reggae. Conversely, many female chavs may be more interested in mainstream music than in the music of their subculture, so may like generic pop like Girls Aloud, Westlife, etc.
- Food: Fried chicken, chips and burgers are a large part of the staple diet of our protagonists. They might also appreciate pizzas, curries, kebabs or chinese food, and will do so without any sense of irony, despite their generally racist and anti-immigrant attitudes.
- Drink: Cheap lagers (Carling, Carlsberg, Fosters) for the boys, Alcopops (WKD Blue, Smirnoff Ice) for the girls, additive-heavy shots (Shotz, Afterburner) for everyone.
- Drugs: Weed, almost universally. Ecstacy for about half. Cocaine for about a quarter. Heroin for about one in ten.
- Technology: Mobile phones are ubiquitous, and text messages are the default mode of communication for most Scum, though the female of the species are also liable to conduct actual spoken conversations as well. The current Scum generation also tends to be on the internet, though with activities limited to a MySpace page and the occasional YouTube posting.
Generally, the above is about as far as Scum will go with culture!