Tuesday 15 March 2016

Build your own monster in Fear Fetchers by Kevin Damen

Inhabit the mind of a monster on a mission to collect fear from the houses of unsuspecting people. It's not-Monsters-Inc-but-it-is. Wonderful monster-building mechanics blend perfectly into a scarefest. One or two shot this game with a beer, glass of wine or goblet of BLOOD. Perfect for groups both small and large.

Monster Monster Monster!

Knead your monster from ashen brain putty by picking from a list of body parts. Your choices buff and nerf your attributes of Power, Sight, Sneak, Speed, Terror and Toughness as well as adding narrative-inducing extra rules. As your monster grows in experience, so too can its body parts grow.

Like lifepath generators, monster carving is a process that requires time but rewards you with something unique. The number of body parts is satisfyingly large, allowing even the most tired brains a fighting chance of creating something excellent.


Skill checks are dice pool: you roll a number of dice for the most appropriate statistic for your action. You take the three highest scores, sum them and compare to a difficulty table. Any 6s can be re-rolled (exploding die) to add to the total. Where there isn't an appropriate statistics, you roll "free dice", which increase depending on difficulty.

Initiative is a simple Speed statistic check, highest going first. You can do two actions a turn: a movement and something else... such as going "Boo!".

It's more than just Boo!

Scaring scaredy-cat human NPCs builds on this mechanic. Humans are defined by Bravery, Dread, Spotting, Power & Toughness. These are used during the act of a scare, which comprises of Building Dread, Being Spotted and Delivering the final scare. In essense, you want to give the human the willies as much as you can without being detected before jumping out. The human is scared, you collect their fear, that turns into cash.

If you get into a fight with a human, you're doing it wrong. Three hits and you're out.

I fought the Lore and the Lore won

Where missions are on Earth, Monsters live in Spookington and it's more than just a Matrix loading program. There are different Overlords to work for, devices and limbs to purchase and hints of conspiracy and cunning. It sings of a wider world that your monsters inhabit rather than simply a clever monster building mechanic.

Gamesmaster love

With the players having all the fun, the poor GM is oft overlooked. The GM gets a special rule for when the players roll 1 (I'm not giving it away), which is brilliant. There are sample contracts, a bestiary (filled with humans), help on building your own missions and a sample missing called The All-Hallows-Eve Conspiracy, whose title alone makes me want to play it!

Free-friendly improvements

Fear Fetchers does a couple of things that I feel can be tidied up to make it more free-friendly. There's a lot of empty space (not good for home printing), the tables are large, pages are numbered in the corner with little margin and assumes facing pages. My home printer and I fell out when I last tried to print odd facing pages. It had to sleep in the garage for a week.

The index and appendix are great, I would add sub headings throughout to make navigation easier and avoid block-text of the "scary font" because that makes it hard to read (I'd leave the example contract as it is, though because being difficult to read is funny). I'd put the instructions to print shop on second page or back page.

Finally, I would add little rough drawings of monsters throughout. It would lift the game and make it easier to sell to a player group. As the tone of the game is light, home-made scritchings are perfect.


An excellent idea, well executed. The core mechanic might not be your cup of Earl Grey but you can swap it out easily enough, leaving much of what Fear Fetchers is about. Definitely worth a read and ideal for a Halloween pick-up game.

Thanks for sharing Kevin.

Tuesday 8 March 2016

There's a twist in Drama and Dice by Jo Walton

Jo Walton's generic RPG has left me drifting, wide-eyed, naked and alone between conflicted worlds. Shave away the flowery language and you have a generic lite system with an interesting mechanic twist portrayed with humour and a gentle read.

The Core

Players pluck up to 10 skills from the ether of their imaginations. For my players, that's a dark purgatory filled with the shrieking souls of the damned. 100 points are assigned across them. One skill acts as a primary, which is the thing your character is best at. You get 20HP too. XP is used to improve your skills.

All actions (including combat) succeed by rolling under your skill on a D10 (normal tasks), D20 (hard). Any dice combination will work, the more you roll, the harder it is.

Intrigued by Skill Burning

Every skill begins with a number of points equal to the skill's level. For example, you have "Punching" at 20 then you start with 20 points. If you succeed in an action (roll under), then the total you roll is subtracted from your skill points. Or you choose to fail and keep those points. You don't get those points back until you rest (or the GM says so). There is an intriguing situation this causes that I'm going to call skill burning.
Byrn has a Hacking skill of 30. He's really good at it. He wants to Hollywood-Hack to save the whole team. It's hard difficulty. He's asked to roll 1d10 + 1d20 and rolls 10 and 19. A pass. The table erupts, players are jumping up and down. He doesn't want to burn 29 of his 30 points but he has no choice and is left with 1.
In our example, Byrn can't use Hacking again because his skill is burned. He has to rest, have a bard play a song or get a Swedish massage. Hacking is no longer open to the group, they have to find another way.

I like this mechanic very much but it does mean that, as a GM, you have to be very very careful with how you set up your scenes. A boss fight, for example, must offer the players multiple ways of defeating it beyond wearing down hit points to zero. It is one thing to force players to think of new solutions but you need to ensure that other options are open; and that is difficult.

The advice is that the players can do imaginative and inspirational things to entertain the GM enough to regain points during the game. The GM then has to be careful to balance rewarding players who work around their burned skills, patiently waiting for a natural regain and those trying to force new points mid session.


A mechanic of story points and skill burning can be retrofitted into just about any system. Most systems I read have a roll against target number and a concept of skills or attributes; most will delight the players when they narrowly succeed. Many fit the idea of giving the player the choice to fail for some benefit.

If you like

The lighter a system, the more focus it needs. The roleplaying hobby could boil down to 6 friends seated comfortably and just plucking everything from their imaginations.

A game book that persistently reminds the reader that they can just ignore the rules and make it up smells like one that lacks focus. Instead of "You may sometimes", I would rather read "In situation X, do Y". Only add optional rules or attributes if there is mechanic or narrative benefit. This tightens the game and gives it focus. Drama and Dice has a focal point: the skill points, which should be bold, front and centre.

Another sign of a lack of focus is when the introduction does not match the game as a whole. I was expecting Drama and Dice to give players more narrative control for drama. Instead, the players are forced to work around their character design. That is an interesting twist but I wouldn't say it drives the story any more than a normal skill check failure does.

Playing the mechanic

I think that most player groups would play the mechanic, not the narrative. I can imagine discussions "should I burn all 29 points on hacking or should I fail now so I can hack later? Will we get a regain?". That is not a decision based on the narrative being played out but on the mechanic; the narrative being a bi-product. I think that would suit my group of frenzied Berserkers; the risk, reward and choice is clear.

That single, excellent mechanic

Drama and Dice isn't a storygame as the name and introduct suggests. It is a roll-against-target-number system with the fascinating addition of burning up skill points and forcing players to find another way - to lose the very ability that defines them. Skill points is a resource control mechanic that can brutalise a player team's best laid plans and I'm all for that!

Thanks for sharing, Jo.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

Delicious, exploratory campaigns in Mythosa by Bruce Gulke

Mythosa is a system agnostic game setting with a consistency and depth that comes with years of honing. It has recently made the welcome transition from web pages to PDF and I have spent a good few hours immersed in it. I'm reviewing a draft, so dutifully ignore missing images and the like.

If you want to run fantasy and have neither time nor inclination to write your own world then Mythosa is ideal. If you're building your own campaign world and are short of ideas, then Mythosa makes a splendid template.

A world from the people out

Mythosa is a high fantasy world where a pantheon of good, bad, mischievous and down right nasty Gods take an active interest in the affairs of Humans, Dwarves and Elves. It's a world recovering from the a recent magical war, leaving the villains with the upper hand. Humans, both civilised and barbaric, strive to regain safety while Dwarves rebuild their ruined craggy empires. The Elves remain typically aloof. These three races are outnumbered by reams of player-fodder monsters.

A rich, cyclical history gives precedence to the present day, a deep breath after a huge storm of war. Wars come and go, power is redistributed and common folk are left to pick up the pieces. History, like religeons, are not dwelled upon - there's just enough for plot hooks and campaign ideas before the book moves on. My imagination swelled with campaign ideas as I read.

A delight to explore

Where Mythosa excels is in the breadth of the exploration. The map is charming and analogous to Europe and the Middle East. It's decomposed into regions, each having places to go with their own description. Abundant maps are provided and real world photos too for feeling. Mythosa is far from the common list of incomprehensible names. Skim reading and dipping in and out dragged me into the world, even though there is no story to bind it together.

The Devil

...Is in the detail and Mythosa has many world building extras that I believe layer more onto the feel for the world. Calendar, economy, cosmology, pronounciation guide, climate and even wines and spirits. You don't need those extras (grouped handily together under Miscellany) but they go to show the care and attention spent.

Is this just fantasy?

If I were to sit, write and launch a fantasy game world; it would strike somewhere between Tolkein, Martin and history. You can taste Mythosa's sweet heritage in a similar way. A blend of familiar seasoning and surprising spice. Mythosa would fit neatly into any D&D version or WYRM.