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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: Curriculum of Conspiracy

The first of two supplements for the brilliant Monsters and Other Childish Things, Curriculum of Conspiracy is the more “standard” one (the other one, Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor, is reputedly a more radical departure from the base game and is also still in my “to buy” queue). Curriculum presents you with a campaign seed for a “Monsters” game, one with a lot of the same Buffy-esque flavor as the high-school one in the core book. It has its own twist, of course; while the locale is still a U.S. school, here some of the faculty know about monsters – and want to control and use them. In other words, some of NPCs are actively hostile to the PCs, and also know a lot about what’s going on.

It’s not bad. The NPCs are nicely detailed and have motivations that aren’t quite black/white. Full maps of the school are given, as are notes on how to run the game. If the idea of pitting the PCs (children) against an actively hostile group sounds like your thing, this book is probably what you need. It’s probably also useful in other “Monsters” games as a source of interesting NPCs. It’s a pretty thin book, with large font – there’s not a ton of content here, though the content you do get is quite good. My copy has some binding problems, not sure if this is a common problem.

Dunno, this feels like a way to run “Monsters” more like a “traditional” rpg… which may be just what some people want. I personally am more interested in the nonstandard aspects of “Monsters”, so I’d probably either use one of the settings in the core, or (more likely) go for the reputedly weird and excellent Candlewick setting. I’ll be able to comment more once I get and read that.

Indie excitement

Lots of anticipated indie rpgs (or supplements) are suddenly popping up. Maybe it’s the influence of Origins and the upcoming Gencon, or maybe it’s just synchronicity.

First off, John Wick’s eagerly-anticipated “anti-D&D” game Houses of the Blooded is finally on its way to the printers, and us preorder people got our PDFs last night. There’s no way I can give any sort of impression on the thing yet, it’s 400+ pages and I’ll probably wait to seriously read it via the print copy, when it arrives. There’s something very cool about this game, the “fictious myth as history” attitude that’s embedded in it and the general “everything that is true in D&D is not true here” thing. It looks complex, it looks like something I need to run at some point.

The second event, also last night, was the “Burning Wheel Summer Surprise”, which turned out to be the (very!) long-anticipated Magic Burner book. A 200-copy run of preorders, signed and numbered, went on sale last night at about 23:00 Finnish time – and the burningwheel.org server promptly melted. I don’t think Luke and the guys quite anticipated the demand here. After over an hour of retries and re-refreshes, I finally managed to place an order for a copy (plus a spiffy limited-run shirt). The run sold out sometime during the night, so if you didn’t get a copy you’ll have to wait until the normal print run goes on sale and have to do without a signed copy of the book. The pain, the pain…

There’s also Don’t Lose Your Mind (a Don’t Rest Your Head expansion) coming up, in addition to Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor and Curriculum of Conspiracy (add-ons for the uber-cool Monsters and Other Childish Things). It’s a good time to be a gamer.

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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