Monday, December 3, 2012

Tommy's Take on Mermaid Adventures



It is, apparently, Teach Your Kids To Game Week, so I’m taking the opportunity to review Mermaid Adventures by Third Eye Games, an RPG designed specifically to encourage kids to try roleplaying.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: This review is of the PDF version of the product, available at RPGNow for $9.81, and is meant to help kids take the plunge into roleplaying. Unlike most Third Eye Games products, it doesn’t use the Dynamic Gaming System, instead using the newly designed for this game Pips System. The basics are as follows: You have white dice and black dice (d6s), and you roll White dice (usually equal to a stat) and Black dice (usually equal to the difficulty) and count the successes (4, 5, and 6), subtracting the Black successes from the White successes. If you have at least one success left, you succeed. The game is Player Facing, with the players rolling all the dice.

The world is pretty broad strokes, with a sunshine and happiness Atlantis on guard against the mysterious and threatening Dark Lands.

There are eight species of Merfolk to choose from: Fishfolk (what you commonly think of when you think of a Mermaid), Eelfolk (who tend to be slippery pranksters), Urchinfolk (who like to scrounge for magic relics), Jellyfolk (keen stragegists), Octofolk (sorcerers), Rayfolk (the ninjas of the sea), Sharkfolk (hulking warriors) and Lobsterfolk (craftsmen and inventors).

The underwater world is also inhabited with typical sea life like fish and sharks, as well as the fearsome Kraken.

In character creation, you pick your Merfolk type, which gives you stats for Body, Mind, Charm and Luck, which you can then customize with 5 points. Each Merfolk type also gives you a free Quality. Then you roll on a series of random charts that include things like Fin Color and Hair Style, plus cooler stuff like Extras (maybe your character has a uniform of some sort, or an eye patch, or dynamite) and finally Goals (which give you a bonus White die when pursuing them).

From there, add 4 Qualities (like Writer, Thief or Puzzle Master) including Magical Qualities, which essentially give your character special powers (like Hypno Eyes or Water Bending). You can even spend those points on an animal companion or special items instead.

And that’s the basics of character generation.

The system is pretty simple, as noted above, though you can also apply up to three Qualities to help you with your die rolls (assuming they fit what you are trying to do). If White beats Black by 3 or more, it’s a bigger success, and if it’s 3 or less, it’s a more crushing failure. Ties are resolved as “You succeed, but…”

Combat is interesting, as you can attack with any of the 4 stats, and defend with any of the 4, again applying logic and storytelling to these choices. Whoever loses out takes damage to the stat they were using, which takes up to 4 hits…but if it drops to 0, you have to roll on a chart to see the effects. Body of 0 can put you in a coma or cause an item to break. Mind of 0 can give you migranes or fill  you with overconfidence (which would be BAD if you had just had your Mind dropped to 0). Charm can cause you to burst into tears or lose your voice. Luck can cause you to trip and fall or drain you of magic. And there are options on each chart that can force you to lose a point of the stat permanently, or regain one you’ve lost.

NPCs are abstracted down a bit, with a Hit total instead of Hits for each attribute. A really good selection of NPCs, beasts, monsters and even Top World creatures are provided.

The GMing section is short and sweet, and basically says “Make everything wacky and have fun”, which isn’t bad advice.

A random events chart is provided (why didn’t anyone tell me there were so many random tables?!), for those times when you need inspiration fast. These include Disasters (Underwater fire! Run!), Discoveries (Ooooh, a sunken ship!), Meeting Someone New (a bully is after you!), Magical (Body swap!), and Fun (The carnival is here!).

Sample NPCs are included, and I’m guessing these are Kickstarter backers and the children thereof, as much of the art looks a lot like redrawn photos in the face,

Five sample adventures are included. The first is a basic rescue attempt, complicated by the fact that the merfolk are under orders not to be seen by the surface folk, who are currently in need of rescuing. The second is a royal heist with a creepy twist involving undead and sea witches. The third is the Undersea Olympics. The fourth involves a child gone missing and the PCs attempting to save them. The fifth leaves the PCs stuck on the surface world as humans in a race against time to return to Atlantis.

An index is included, followed by a list of Kickstarter backers and a character sheet.

WHAT WORKS: The system looks like it would do a find job of handling any type of conflict, not just slugfests, and the charts for stats dropping to 0 are inspired. The amount of Merfolk is similarly impressive, and it would be easy to increase the available Qualities based off of the examples given. The bestiary is also pretty big, and the five adventures cover a broad range of stuff, giving you some good ideas as to the range of the game.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK: Despite not being marketed towards girls specifically, Mermaid Adventures has registered exactly zero interest from MY kid, in no small part because of the “Mermaids”.

CONCLUSION: Obviously, I’m a huge fan of Third Eye Games, but I was fairly underwhelmed when I heard the announcement for this game. After reading it, I may put the overall quality of the book ahead of Part-Time Gods and behind API and Wu Xing. The system is simple but has some nice wiggle room, and I’m glad to see it’s living on in another kid-friendly RPG, Camp Myth (which, thematically, may be more up my kid’s speed). Don’t judge the book by its surface…it has some impressive depths to it.