Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Tommy's Take on Road Trip (Monsters and Other Childish Things)

Monsters and Other Childish Things was a game I came into ownership of a couple of years ago during a series of trades on RPG.net, and it was an incredibly pleasant surprise.  Just a very evocatively written book and a really cool premise, I just haven't ever really figured out what to do with it.  I was very pleased when I had the opportunity to review Road Trip, the new mega-adventure for MaOCT.

Road Trip is perfectly timed for the summer, beginning with the end of school and hooking the kids and their monsters into a, well, road trip across the United States as they try to halt a nefarious plot that could mean the end of the world.  No, really, that's an actual outcome of the adventure.

Road Trip is a non-linear adventure designed as a series of quirky set-pieces meant to be played in any order, other than the first and last adventures, which (obviously) start and stop the adventure.  Along the way, the PCs can experience glimpses into the underworld, encounter urban legends and even mundane fun like running out of gas or flat tires.

I'm going to go light on spoilers, seeing as how this is an adventure and I wouldn't want someone's fun spoiled by players reading all about it here, while still trying to give a good overview of the material.  The Road Trip PDF is an impressive 202 pages, which includes post cards (that are actual in game props), fully searchable, bookmarked, and featuring a clickable table of contents.  It retails for $14.99 in PDF, or $29.99 in softcover.  The book begins with the history of the Ur-Monster, an ancient being possibly older than The Great Old Ones.  This thing is kinda important to the adventure.

Despite being pretty open for customization, the book makes certain assumptions about the world and gives you said assumptions, so that if you decide to change something, you have an idea as to what is affected.  The book also assumes a modern setting, but provides some tips on switching up eras as you like.

One thing I loved right off the bat is that it is designed for two to four kid/monster pairs.  I almost always play in very small groups, and so it annoys me that adventures tend to always assume four to six players.  I am far more likely to wind up running this just because of the smaller group size, honestly.  This chapter also provides tips on setting the adventure in a non-modern day setting and how it'll influence the various regions in the book.  There's also a section on rewards, as the PCs can gain valuable insight about the Ur-Monster and its Cult if they are particularly successful on their missions.  In fact, every mission can go a couple of different ways, and impact the final chapter by influencing the preparedness of the PCs as well as the enemies and allies present.

New mechanics are also introduced, such as Threats, which abstracts problematic situations into a die pool similar to, but not exactly like, a monster's die pools.  Homesickness is a nice little feature that all the kids have to begin rolling for after their first stop on the road, the severity of which can be nothing to losing a die in a skill, an attribute and a relationship!  However, Homesickness can be fought, and if fought successfully, can be beneficial.  The third mechanic, Lessons of the Road, allows PCs to potentially gain bonuses after recovering points lost due to Homesickness, giving them an edge due to their trials.  The Threats mechanic are applicable in any MaOTC game, while Homesickness and Lessons of the Road are nice touches for the theme.

The story begins with the PCs being visited by a strange boy named Jack, whose monster Basil has gone missing.  Jack believes that the baddies that have taken Basil are after the PCs next, and tries to form an alliance of convenience, which sets the PCs afoul of Jack's enemies.  Once this is completed, it is very likely that one or more kid/monster sets are in danger of disappearing from the world forever, unless the PCs rally and defeat the bad guys, giving them good reason to embark on their road trip.  At this point, the aforementioned post cards kick in, with Jack doing what he can to help the PCs make it to their next destination (wherever that may be).  Once the PCs are on board with going on a road trip, then it's all up to figuring out the “how”.  The book provides a number of alternatives but assumes none, so if the PCs come up with something, let 'em run with it.  If not, there is plenty of advice.  A helpful checklist of necessary needs are included, as well as pros and cons of things like having parental units around (no homesickness vs much sneaking around).  Once the method is determined, the kids are off!

As mentioned before, once the first chapter is finished, there is no assumed order for the next chapters.    In New England, the PCs are drawn into the middle of war between an insane farm owner and the intelligent animals, led by the intelligent, talking rabbit he was once friends with, who live there.  Each chapter has a section detailing what the PCs' adversary hopes to accomplish in each place.  For all the detail provided, the adventures does not dictate the PC's actions, though this struggle is fated to erupt into full scale war not long after the PC's arrive.  The side they are on will be up to them and their actions, which can have immense ramifications on the future of the story.

In California, the PCs get to encounter an homage to a certain famous kids show about multicolored ninjas as they encounter a small town that is unusually targeted by giant monsters.  As you may imagine, these rainbow ninjas are awfully suspicious of monsters, thus complication #1, and so the PCs are presented with the task of helping them find their missing mentor while potentially having to battle the very people they are trying to aid.  As with the previous chapter, there is far more going on behind the scenes than appears on the surface, and success or failure is at least partially dependent on the methods used.

Las Vegas provides the ultimate nightmare: A daycare prison.  The kids who have been left behind have banded together into Playground Gangs, which means the PCs will have to at least dabble in Playground Politics before they can unlock the secrets of Sucrose Park, and perform a prepubescent prison break.

Kansas provides a trip to a famous destination, as the kids get to play stormchaser in order to travel to the Emerald City of Oz, which is reaching a boiling point as factions in the city are divided over how best to govern and the children have the opportunity to play Kingmaker...literally.  This one has the most “rail-roady” of outcomes...but also has some of the broadest ramifications based off of the actual choices made by the PCs.

Florida provides a timeless everglade where missing kids have joined in a parentless rule, ala Lord of the Flies but a little less violent and nihilistic.  Again, as with the previous adventures, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes than appears on the surface, and there is the possibility for a big misstep or two here.

Once all the chapters are finished, it's time for the grand climax of the Road Trip, hosted at a certain infamous government facility in Nevada.  Precisely how this plays out is dependent on how well the previous chapters went: Successes bolster the PCs, failures bolster the enemies.  Decisions made by the PCs affect the allies available to them, and possibly the enemies they face.  A number of options are presented for the grand finale, including an extended battle with cultists, a more peaceful approach toward ending the summoning of the Ur-Monster, and a gigantic, Godzilla-sized battle between The Ur-Monsters and the PC monsters, depending on how you and your players are feeling.

Ending options are provided, ranging from a clean wrap-up to the End of the World.

Two appendices follow, one on Underworld Tremors, which are little asides that can be inserted throughout the campaign to remind the PCs about just why they are racing against the clock, and a wide variety of Roadside Encounters, from getting lost to phantom hitchikers (with a very cute twist) to The Speed Trap from Hell to rumors of local haunted houses.

Two extended encounters follow in the final two appendices, not directly related to the main story at all, including a mini zombie rampage using the Threat rules.

So: Thoughts on Road Trip?  I like it.  A good variety of adventures, all linked to a larger outcome, but providing a great mix of roleplay solutions, problem solving and good old fashioned combat.  Every adventure is well detailed while still providing a lot of flexibility for whatever solutions the players provide.  Honestly, I wish more adventure books were written like this.  I don't think it's railroady any more than asking the players to buy into any given premise is railroady...with the exception of one adventure, whose outcome seems to be a foregone conclusion, but even then the “how” the PCs arrive to that conclusion can have startling ramifications for the campaign climax.

If you like MaOTC, or if you think you do and you're just not sure what to DO with it, buy this.  I doubt you regret it.