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Minireview: Monsters and Other Childish Things (The Completely Monstrous Edition)

“Have you ever secretly wanted to be best friends with a magical unicorn? His name would be Dewdrop, and he would talk to you with his thoughts, and he would carry you on his back away from all the bullies and the parents and kids who don’t get you, and you’d have such wonderful adventures!”

“This game is pretty much like that. Except if you drew Dewdrop on your Trapper Keeper, they would send you to the principal’s office, then to the school counselor, and then probably to a place with a name like Morning Meadows Home for Disturbed and Psychotic Youth.”

“Dewdrop has too many dimensions and can gouge bleeding wounds in reality with his infinitely fractal horn. His dainty hooves burn the floor, and his breath makes Mrs. Wombatson’s prize petunias wilt and shrivel. But he really is your best friend.”

It started out as a short “proof-of-concept” game using a variant of the ORE rules (as seen in Godlike, Nemesis, Reign, etc), with the idea of players playing children with monster friends. Monsters of the more Cthulhu variety than Disney, and not even half as imaginary as parents would like. Calvin and Hobbes, except that Hobbes is an uneuclidean horror from beyond time and space, one which loves Calvin and is very proud of its tiger tail.

It got an extremely positive reception, so the author (Benjamin Baugh, Bailywolf on rpg.net) got together with the Arcdream guys to produce Monsters and Other Childish Things: the Completely Monstrous Edition. I placed a preorder as soon as I heard of it, and now the thing is finally out of the printing press and in my grubby hands. It’s hardcover, 180 pages, and it oozes Awesome. “Oozes” is the correct word to use here, as would be some alternate word involving tentacles… just can’t think of one right now.

“A distressingly fun roleplaying game about kids and the relationship-devouring horrors from beyond time and space who love them.”

…says the back cover, and really, that’s what the game is about. It’s also a very good read; the day that I got it, I sat down on the sofa intending to browse it a bit. Suddenly I notice that it’s about 1am and I’ve read the whole thing, giggling in a not-too-sane manner at times. Something like that happens very rarely to me with rpg books – fiction yes, but rpg sourcebooks very rarely. This thing is damn fun (and funny) to read. I mean… you have section titles like “Great, Now I’m On Fire” and “Special and Unique Snowflakes”. What’s not to love?

The mechanics seem excellent. It uses the ORE base engine, as noted, with some neat extensions. You have Relationships, which are very important – you can get bonus dice from them, but if things don’t work out you’ll hurt those relationships. Monsters practically eat relationships, if given the chance. Then there’s the fact that in this game, you get as much damage from words (social conflict) as you do from actual “sticks and stones”. As the author notes: “When Mom says it doesn’t matter what people think about you, she’s lying to save your feelings. It matters.” There’s also a One-Roll Conflict Generator, to kick-start things, if needed, not to mention lots of nice campaign seeds and one Buffy-esque intro scenario that is almost guaranteed to turn into high mayhem. And let’s not forget O’Malley, the Anti-Drug Dog, and other delicious antagonists.

The game posits three “grade levels” of play: elementary school, junior high and high school. The first has everyone playing very young kids (Calvin and Hobbes country), with matching challenges and interests. The next level expands horizons and bumps up age a bit, life starts to get complicated in new, strange ways. When you get to high school, we’re firmly in Buffy and Veronica Mars land (both cited as inspirational material). You pick and choose what you like to run and play with. You also need to decide if the monsters are secret (i.e. the kids only know about them) or if they are a known fact, with “media sensation” overtones. How does little Bobby cope with life, when he’s surrounded by cameras hoping to get a glimpse of Gnarly Sapsucker, his monster? And why does everyone seem afraid of him, when he just wants to make friends? Gnarly has promised not to eat any of his friends! Why can’t everyone just forget about that one time? Nobody liked Wilson anyway…

It’s simply a brilliant book, and Benjamin Baugh seems to have captured some essence of what it means to be a kid. The real stuff, not the saccharine stuff we’re presented with from Hollywood and Disney, or the edited version we’d prefer to remember, editing out all the embarrassing and terrifying parts.

Baugh is working on a follow-up of sorts, which goes into Tim Burton territory. The Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor is due out pretty soon, and will go on my pre-order list the second I see it announced.

While it’s hard to predict what 2008 will bring, I’ll say this: right here, right now, if you only buy one rpg book this year, make it this one. Yes, it’s really that good.

“It’s a confusing time, childhood. Even though it doesn’t feel like it, your clay is still wet and everyone leaves fingerprints on you. The Art Teacher of Life hasn’t got the kiln working, so you have to sit on the Windowsill of Time and bake in the Sun of Experience. Then you get the Cracks of Hard Knocks as the bits closest to the sun bake quicker than the bits facing away.”

“Anyway, that’s childhood. It’s pretty much the same for you as for everyone else.”

“Except your best friend is a monster.”

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    by Shane Ivey

    Petri, I just read the review. As the game’s editor I can tell you it was a labor of love all around. It is a wonderful feeling to see others who get what we love so much about it. Thank you!

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