Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tommy's Take on Little Fears Nightmare Edition

Back in 2001, Jason L. Blair released Little Fears, which attracted a lot of attention, and not all of it positive. See, it was called the "Game of Childhood Terror", and included a broad spectrum of terror, but critics seemed to latch onto the extreme ends of the spectrum (namely, pedophiles), and resulting internet discussions seemed to overwhelm the game itself. A couple of years ago, however, Mr. Blair released Little Fears Nightmare Edition, aiming at improving the product across the board.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The print version is about $25, while you can get the PDF at RPGNow for $12. It weighs in at 194 pages, and has been pretty well supported, with a full supplement and multiple smaller ones called "Campfire Tales". Characters are children facing the horrors of Closetland, trying to hold onto both their lives and their innocence.

Little Fears Nightmare Edition uses d6s and tokens (poker chips, glass beads, marbles, whatever), so there's not a huge barrier for entry. Interestingly, characters have three Abilities: Move, Fight, Think, Speak and Care, and the player generally determines which he is rolling (based off of what he is trying to accomplish). The system is a die pool using an Ability plus a Quality to determine the number of dice rolled, and are either unopposed, opposed or sustained (called Quizzes, Tests and Exams). From the dice pool, you pick your top three dice to determine your total, and dice rolls are open ended, so as long as you keep rolling sixes, you can keep adding onto your total.

Characters also have Good Traits and Bad Traits, which can either allow players to reroll their lowest die, or cost them their highest die.

Success and Failure (Passing and Failing Grades) are measured for every three points over or under your target number.

Characters also have Belief, which is a risk-reward system (and where the tokens come in at). You can wager Belief by believing in yourself, someone else or even your Stuff (like your asthma inhaler being acidic to the evil clown). If you succeed, you keep your token. If you get  a Passing Grade, you get an additional token! If you fail? Well...your Belief is rocked, and you lose the token. If you get a Failing Grade, you lose an ADDITIONAL token. So wager carefully.  You also use Belief to perform rituals (like the Lord's Prayer), give monsters a weakness, and even destroy monsters.

Characters also have Wits and Spirit, which can be damaged like their Health, and have negative effects of their own (like making a kid careless, or too frantic to concentrate).

The rules cover a LOT of ground, and all the rules are front loaded in the first chapter.

Character creation is point buy, with points equal to your kid's age...however, the younger the kid, the more often they can use Belief magic.

Qualities are player defined, phrashed in sentences like "I have lots of friends" or "I read a lot" or "I hit like a brick". Negative Qualities can be things like "I'm clumsy", "My family's poor" or "People don't trust me".

Then, you take a number of points equal to your Belief and buy Stuff with it (using the points to give the Stuff bonuses and so on, like Sneakers that make you Move faster). Nothing ground breaking here, but still very suitable to the genre.

This chapter also includes some nice guidelines for making a GOOD character...i.e., not making a passive character who won't get involved, etc.

The GM chapter approaches the game from the "episode/season" format, hinging pretty heavily on the three act structure, and providing a description (as well as examples) of a number of types of scenes. A "Quick Stats" system is provided, for minor GM Characters, with two examples (a teacher and a security guard). Perhaps the most interesting bit is the section on how to use the character creation questionnaire against the characters. Should I run this game, this might be the first time I actually make the players fill out the questionnaire.

We also get into character advancement here, both via Playaround Points and Aging...and, sadly, when a character turns 13, that's it...they're growing up. They lose the ability to Believe in themselves, start seeing monsters less clearly, and so on. The end is drawing near.

Finally, the GM chapter provides tips on tweaking the rules up to Dark Faery Tales (with Faery Magic and stronger Belief) on down to True Horror (heavily diminished Belief, or even removing it altogether).

Chapter four is basic information on the average life of the average American student in modern times, including different types of schooling, such as Private schools and homeschooling. This chapter also covers school breaks, as well as interactions with family members and even parents interacting with monsters. Here's a hint: They don't. They outgrew that nonsense a long time ago. We also get a list of the "Good People", my personal favorite being The Army of St. Nicholas. These are the people who didn't forget that monsters existed, you see. We also get guideliines of Hand-Me-Downs, which are Stuff that have gained some unique abilities over time, like Charm Bracelets, which grant a wish to a kid that Believe in them, or Bad Bunny which, when thrown at a monster, will latch onto its face and bite away, blinding them.

Chapter Five gets into Closetland, where the monsters come from. It begins by talking about how Monsters get over here, from seepage into our world (abandoned amusement parks, creepy woods) to bad dreams. THEN we look at how kids can travel TO Closetland.

Closetland itself is a freakish, evil reflection of our world and then some, with hundreds and hundreds of doors leading to who knows where. Fans of the original Little Fears will recognize parts of that Closetland carried over here, like Patchwork and Baba Yaga, as well as Queen Titania. The landmarks of Closetland are more archetypes than unique structures, like The Dollhouse and The School. And then there's The Black Bird Room...dear God. This chapter has a lot of plot seeds and unanswered questions which a GM can take off with for their own games.

A dozen sample monsters, ranging from "common" zombies all the way up to Baba Yaga are provided, as well as an extensive list of material (and examples) for building your own monsters from scratch.

Chapter six provides a sample story, complete with additional monsters and pregenerated characters, followed by a list of adventure seeds (alien neighbors, evil ice cream men and Silly Putty from Hell).

The author provides an afterword, and the book wraps up with summary sheets for the mechanics.

WHAT WORKS: The mechanics of this edition are MUCH tighter than the original in just about every way. Belief is a nice mechanic, with it's risk-reward system. A robust monster-creation guide is fantastic, especially when you don't have a full bestiary out there, and most of the flavor text is creepy without being overly drawn out. Oh, and the advice on using the Questionnaire against your PCs.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: Well, I could always use random charts. I also thought the Closetland baddies in the original had a ton of personality, and most of them were ditched for this version.

CONClUSION: One of the most justified second editions I have ever seen. Tighter focus than the original, tighter writing, tighter mechanics, you name it. Lots and lots of examples, plus a steady supply of support? I'm not sure how you beat that. If you like the idea of kids versus monsters, this is one of the best options out there, hands down. If you liked the original, and I did, I don't know why you wouldn't jump at this one. If you scoffed at the original because of its "True Horror" assured, The Defiler is nowhere to be found, so you can feel free to give Nightmare Edition a go.