Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: Monsters and Other Childish Things Pocket Edition

Monsters and Other Childish Things (Monsters) by Benjamin Baugh is a game that gets a lot of buzz around gaming blogs and podcasts. The presents an very unique setting when it comes to role-playing while at the same time tapping into a deep tradition of childhood - the imaginary friend. Monsters is game that was built to use the One Roll Engine (ORE) originally created by industry stalwart Greg Stolze. Today I'll be reviewing the Pocket Edition of Monsters that I picked up at Gencon. It's a game I've had my eye on for a really long time. Keep Reading to see if it lived up to my stupidly-high expectations!

I want to get a couple of things out of the way before diving into the contents of the book. First, as mentioned above, this is a review of the Pocket Edition of the rulebook. I've never read the hardcover rules, and something you have to consider when buying a digest or paperback version of a larger hardcover book is what they take out to make it fit in the smaller version and give you reason to buy both books. Reading the Pocket Edition, I would be really surprised if they actually took anything out to make this book work.

The second caveat here is that I've never played a game using ORE. I've read about it in a couple of different books including Reign and Wild Talents, but to be honest, I don't think I get it all exactly. I get the basic mechanism of width x height (see the wiki link I made above for ORE for more details), but when we get into the guts of the system, there are some things that don't quite click. I know a lot of people swear by the ORE, and I could see myself having a lot of fun with it, but I think I need to have someone teach me a round of combat and I'd probably be good to go.

Monsters is a little like this. Source
Ok, so what did I think about Monsters? The writing style is incredibly engaging. It's written with a conversational tone that will keep you reading through the immense amount of material presented here. There's also a ton of flavorful art including the very first page that includes a children's drawing and hand writing conveying the story of "Mr. Cuddles" from the point of view of his friend kid. This bit of opening fiction really sets the tone for a brutal dog eat dog world of childhood.

Like I said, the book is full of useful stuff you can use for your own games and comes with a very handy table of contents outlining the sections very specifically. You get the obvious stuff like character generation, conflict resoultion, and monster building, but Benjamin keeps going and gives us pointers on running a very specific kind of game - the kind focusing on how hard it is to be a kid. It's something I bet we've all forgotten about. He's somehow tapped into something here that brought back all the horrible feelings I had when I was a kid. In short, it's really well written.

I'm only going to touch on a few other aspects here to give you a feel for the game. First off is monster creation. Basically you're going to create two characters for Monsters - your kid and your monster. Kid character generation is pretty traditional, but monster generation is actually pretty amazing.

It's extremely open so that you can create pretty much any kind of spooky thing out there and still make it work mechanically. Want a character made solely of tentacles and communicates via a highly-choreographed coordinated movement? Fine. You want a character that's a simple ghost? That works too! Of course you can get much, much weirder, and it's really where the system shines. For example, my sample monster is Alien More. He's an alien from the planet Brotain whos large seaweed beard is trumped in terror only by his ability to tell the scariest and most mesmorizing original tales of the land. For Alien, he's got a lot of hit points tied up into his beard and vocal chords, and that's fine - it works. You literally build your monster from the floor up (or ceiling down if it's an incorporeal ghost of a Jack-O-Lantern), and you invest points into these different parts. You can then attach powers to each part such as the ability to attack, defend, do extra damage, or burn stuff, among others. Honestly the monster generator alone would be a fun little game.

The other big thing Monsters has going for it is the setting information. Like I mentioned above, Benjamin does a great job reminding you of the indignities of childhood, but it also opens up a whole new world we all take for granted. There's plenty of inspirational material for playing kids as well as lots of sample kids and antagonists for them to bump up again. Monsters has several highly-rated supplements as well. The Dreadful Secrets of Candlewick Manor has gotten huge accolades, and Role-Playing Public Radio's Ross Payton has produced a couple of supplements - Road Trip and Curriculum of Conspiracy. There's also Sky Maul and Bigger Bads which I know less about but both look like fun in their own ways. You can find all the product listings on Arc Dream's Product Listing. One of the big reasons I was excited for the Pocket Edition was a cheaper entry level in order to get into this great catalog of supplements.

To be fair, there are some noticeable typos and book probably should have gone through one last viewing of an editior, but overall the errors don't get in the way of understanding the meaning behind the intent. If typos and minor editing errors is something that's too distracting for you (and hey, this is possible, you are paying money for polished product here), the Pocket Edition may not be a great buy for you. My personal view on this is that the content pulls the value up where the editing issue shouldn't be that big a deal. Basically if you want a game that offers some different experiences from the average hack 'n' slash dungeon adventuring, you can buy Monsters from Amazon from the link below. Also make sure to come back later today to see who wins a copy of the pdf of the book and the results of our incredibly unscientific horror movie poll!

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