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Minireview: Bigger Bads (Monsters and Other Childish Things)

Bigger Bads is an expansion book for the Monsters and Other Childish Things game, by Benjamin Baugh. While the main focus is adding huge monsters to the game (think King Kong & Godzilla), it also contains lots of rules tweaks and add-ons, most of which are pretty neat. We get rules for abstracting how big a monster is (and what that means), for abstract distance and reach (needed when things go Godzilla-scale), an abstracted “Threats” mechanic which is quite nifty and useful for modeling lots of non-monster threats and antagonists, and various other bits and pieces including “weird skills” for the children themselves. The main bulk of the book consists of a list of new pre-statted antagonists, some of which use the new “big monsters!” rules. They are quite excellent; innovative and yet not tied to any one setting. Some are quite funny, some are more serious, and all are interesting. The book ends with a campaign seed, in which the PCs are kids recruited into a secret government monster-hunting organization… which is unlikely to stay secret very long, since some of the opponents are in the Godzilla category.

Great expansion book for a quirky little game.

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Minireview: Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor (Monsters and Other Childish Things)

Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor, written by Benjamin Baugh, is based on “Monsters and Other Childish Things”. It’s not really an expansion book as such, more a standalone campaign/setting which uses a tweaked version of the Monsters rules. Where Monsters has you play children with monster friends, here the PCs are all orphan children, sent to the dismal Candlewick orphanage. There is also something strange and disturbing about all of the (PC) children, so instead of external monsters we have internal ones. Well, mostly internal, the setting also features quite a few external ones…

It’s a crazy quilt of all sorts of Tim Burton movies, the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books, and various other such sources. The town of Candlewick just oozes Burton-style weird details, and also contains secrets galore. One of the main goals of the PCs is to figure out who and what they are, and figure out details about their past. The players don’t know these details at character creation, instead the GM slowly figures them out and makes them parts of the plot. As for the game itself, the plots depend a lot on the player group and GM. but the default assumption is to highlight the alienation of (very!) weird kids in a remote and insular seaside town, possible bullying from other more “normal” kids, and Scooby Doo -style adventures, with a dark twist. And of course, they are all orphans… or are they?

It’s a brilliant game. It takes a great game foundation from Monsters and does something quite different with it. This is pretty much “A Series of Unfortunate Events, the RPG”… or it can be. It can also be lots of other things, assuming the GM likes the semi-Gothic setting presented here. The book contains a ton of background info about the town and the inhabitants, most of which have dark secrets of their own. Each inhabitant is a walking plot hook, and there are plenty of other plot hooks to draw from, too. Highly recommended.

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Big Bad Ransom

Arc Dream is really getting into the ransom model nowadays. The latest one is from the esteemed Benjamin Baugh, for Bigger Bads: an expansion book for Monsters and Other Childish Things.

If they reach the required sum by January 15th, they’ll do a print run and the contributors will get physical copies and/or PDFs (and their names in the credits). Greg Stolze recently did this sort of thing for Reign Enchiridion, a paperback “just the rules” edition of Reign, with a few extra goodies thrown in. It actually reached 120%, so here’s hoping this one does well too.

Minireview: Don't Lose Your Mind

A pair of government agents stalk a runaway girl armed only with a teddy bear. They are never heard from again. A psychopathic hero wields every blade that ever murdered, carving off pieces of his personality in an effort to beat back the Nightmares. A temptress lures the cruel and vile to assault her – only to trap them in a prison built from her own ribcage. Trailing ash and burning footprints with every step, a man cursed with Orpheus’ gift delves deeper into Hell each day on a quest to find the last missing puzzle-piece needed to rebuild his late girlfriend from the wreck she has become…

Don’t Lose Your Mind is a supplement for the brilliant and strange Don’t Rest Your Head game, written by Benjamin Baugh of Monsters & Other Childish Things fame. It’s basically a “madness toolkit” – since “Madness Talents” feature so heavily in DRYH, coming up with a good one can be tricky. This book leaps to the rescue, dribbling ichor and making strange noises. It’s a very good book, but (like the core game) extremely strange. We’re presented with 26 Madness Talents, each one weird and very detailed. In addition to the basic idea of the talent, the book also details how the talent is slowly tearing you apart and what sort of Nightmare you’re turning into (if you don’t keep the “talent” in check)… so the book also doubles as a book of new monsters for the game. Nifty. We’re also given some tips on how to handle madness in the game, and some general game tips to top it off.

I was very impressed with DRYH and this book just adds to the fun. Be warned, though, this is not everyone’s cup of tea. The themes go into the “mature” category, and the “talents” outlined here aren’t nice and comfortable “superpowers”. Far from it.

Added note: Fantasiapelit in Helsinki now carries a stock of IPR games (including Don’t Rest Your Head), so you no longer have to order the things from IPR unless you want to. Being able to browse the books and buy if you like them is very nice, compared to online ordering.

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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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