A distressingly fun roleplaying game about kids and the relationship-devouring horrors from beyond time and space who love them.
Remember when you were little and had a best friend in the whole wide world? No, not those other kids. I mean unicorns from other dimensions, the unspeakable thing living in the closet or under the bed or invisible aliens from outer space. Good news, turns out those friends are real and are totally kickass. OK, sometimes they are a bit clingy. You also would probably get sent to counselling if you drew a picture of them and showed an adult. And there have been one or two incidents where they tried to 'help', like trashing the teacher's car after they gave you a bad grade or eating that kid who picks on you at lunchtime.
But most of the time you couldn't ask for a better friend. And guess what, you know other people with monster friends too! Sometimes you go on adventures to the meat dimension, explore the world of dreams or break into Area 51 (“That thing? Oh that's totally a Saturnian Urinal”). Other times you'll just watch as your monster friends beat up other kids' monster friends. After all, yours are totally more awesome.
Monsters and Other Childish Things is a game about childhood and that vital component of every sane child's world, their imaginary friend (mine didn't have a name but it lived inside the walls and shadows of my old house in Japan. I left it behind when I left the house). It is slightly darker than your average childhood fantasy, really emphasising the monster part of the title. Think Calvin and Hobbes meets Call of Cthulhu. Kids get up to all kinds of crazy shenanigans with their imaginations and what better way to help enable them than a drooling slime-beast with a stupid grin from the 5th layer of Tartarus. 'Darkly comical' is how I'd describe the game, in that the action that takes place is light hearted but your partner in crime is quite willing to resolve all of your problems in quite a messy fashion if you don't keep them under control.
Monsters uses the ORE system which I first explained the basics of in Godlike. Quick recap, roll a pool of up to 10 dice, look for matches (eg, pair of threes), the more dice in the set and the higher the number, the better you've succeeded. There aren't any special die types in this iteration, but you do have a few familiar ability modifiers with different names (Go First becomes Wicked Fast and so on). It's one of the few games where you control two characters (although sometimes your monster friend gets controlled by the GM, particularly when they are up to no good).
Monsters is great not just for its accessible premise and use of the ORE ruleset but also for the fantastic way in which it is written. It's a bit hard to explain, but there's a whole lot of exuberant light-heartedness and everything from discussing the base system to the NPC section is humorous, weird and awesome. Despite this, it can be used to run darker games that tackle issues involving the vulnerability of childhood with the caveat of having friends that can hit back. So, it's quite versatile. Also, it has the distinction of being the only RPG that's made me tear up, specifically with the piece of game fiction on page 61.
Step 1) Name and Stuff
This is where we come up with my character's general concept. I think I want to go back to an Australian character, a young girl who once lived in regional Australia only to move to Sydney with her aunt and uncle at the insistence of her parents, for educational reasons. First up, we have Name. I'm going to go with Angela Macarthur. Next up is Age. Characters need to be under 18 because their Bond with their monsters disintegrate upon entering adulthood. I think I want my character to be young, but not too young, so I'm assigning her age as 11. Now we have Favourite Thing, pretty self explanatory, and for Angela I've decided it's Climbing. She used to love scaling the trees at her old property, climbing to the tallest branches and staring at the sky for ages.
Now we have A Good Thing You Did and A Bad Thing You Did, again, pretty self explanatory. For her good thing, she once Helped a Stranded Driver stuck out near her property on the motorway, running back to her house to fetch her dad and a working phone. For the bad thing, I think that when she was told she'd be moving away to live with her aunt and uncle, she Smashed Mum's Favourite Family Portrait while having a tantrum.
Step 2) Stats
Monsters has five different stats, each point in them giving a die you can roll when using the stat. I start off with 1 in each and have 10 more dice to split between them. I've established that she's a bit of an outdoorsy sort, so I'm going to go straight ahead and put 3 dice in Feet, the stat for being able to move generally, giving her a total of 4. I think I'll also put 3 in Guts, the stat governing both physical and mental toughness. 2 will go into Hands, which covers anything you'd use your hands for and also for Brains, the skill for thinking because she's both clever and practical. That leaves me with no dice for Face, this game's version of charisma, for a total of 1, probably because she's a bit of a loner and standoffish.
Step 3) Skills
Each stat has three Skills tied to it and I have 15 dice to put wherever I want. Straight off the bat I'm going to put 4 of those in P.E. (physical education, of course), because she's an athletic sort and loves climbing. 2 each will go into Courage, Dodge and Wind (fitness), because those are also strong areas for her. 2 each will also go to Remember and Out-think, because while she's no nerd she's quite a bright young girl. Finally, 1 point will go into Kick, because she tends to lash out with her feet when she's angry.
Step 4) Relationships
Relationships are one of the more innovative mechanics of this iteration of ORE. The idea is that you have a certain number of points in a relationships with a person, thing or occasionally an idea and when you're making a roll that relates to them you get to add those points are dice to your roll. So, if I have 2 points in a relationship with my Mother and the local bully is making fun of her, I get two extra dice to my roll to punch him in the face. You can even lend your monsters this bonus, thanks to your Bond with them.
There can be downsides to using a relationship, though. If you still fail, they can take damage, giving reduced temporary bonuses or even being reduced permanently unless you spend some Quality Time with the subject of the relationship.
I get six points to divide into relationships. I'm going to start off by putting two dice in Aunt and Uncle, the folks who now take care of Angela. Two more dice are going to go into Ms Bligh, the Maths Teacher, who thinks that Angela has a real talent for the subject and is always happy to encourage her or lend a kind ear (she's also one of those rare maths teachers who can actually teach). The final two dice will go into Memories of the Old Property, the home she grew up on, had many adventures on and misses dearly. She also has a Bond with her monster, which I'll get to in a bit.
Step 5) The Monster
Yay, the fun part! Your monster is your best friend, protector and resident trouble maker. They can automatically detect other monsters, even while hidden and can survive mundane harm up to and including atom bombs. They aren't invincible, however, and not only can they take damage from supernatural effects but any damage, physical or emotional, that is inflicted on you also gets inflicted on your monster friend.
So, what's my monster going to be. Well, one evening while Angie was sitting atop a tree, gazing at the stars, she saw what seemed to be a falling star shooting towards her with a curious rainbow streak. To her surprise it landed nearby, creating a small and shockingly quiet crater. Going down to investigate, she discovered a strange being there. It seemed to be a feline being, the size of a horse and with a big, multicoloured, doughy mass in the middle. The thing seemed to be weak and hungry, so Angela gave it the chocolate she had in her pocket. The thing quickly became friends with her. It explained that it was called Tacnayn and was the last survivor of its kind from far beyond the stars. Its kind were hunted for their delicious, edible bodies. The two became friends and when Angela moved to Sydney, Tacnayn went with her. No prizes for guessing what it's a reference to.
Here's the basic mechanical deal with monsters. Each monster is composed of Hit Locations, which are a bit like an ordinary person's, covering 1-10. The difference is of course that if you're a squamous fungoid from the 19th dimension you don't have legs or a head. Instead, you'd have something like Lashing Pseudopods, Mounds of Green Slime and 4-Dimensional Maw. Each of these locations has a Quality that describes what it can do, Attacks (body part can be used to hut someone), Defends (body part can be used to defend) and Useful (everything else). Each location starts off with one of these qualities, but can have extra qualities as modifiers, which I'll get to soon.
So, I have 10 hit location numbers, each with five dice that have to be assigned to at least four locations. I'm going to start with assigning 1-2 as Dripping, Sugary Maw. This location is going to have the attacks quality and because it takes up two locations, starts off with 10 dice. These are the number of dice I would use when using the maw to attack someone. However, I want to make it a bit more interesting and that's where Extras come in. Extras are certain bonuses that require you to sacrifice dice. I'm going to give the maw 2 points in the Gnarly extra, which means it deals 2 extra points of damage on attacks (by default, attacks deal a number of damage equal to the dice in the set -1). I'm also going to give it 1 point in Wicked Fast, which increases its position in the turn order by +1 (normally, actions are determined by who rolled the set with the biggest number of dice). So now it's a 7 dice quality with 2xGnarly and 1xWicked Fast.
Next up will be Angular Nose, which will take up locations 3-4. This one will have the quality Useful (Sniff Out Dimensional Gateways, Secrets and Sugar products), which is a little on the broad side for a useful quality but should be fine. I'm going to give it two points in the Awesome extra. One point would let me set one of my dice to a specific number before I rolled, while two points lets me set one after, which guarantees a match. Tacnayn can sniff out these things quite effectively at a range of 1,280 yards, as determined by the Monster Might table.
Now there's the Delicious Multicoloured Body, which will have 5-7 for a total of 15. This location will have the quality Useful (Regenerates Edible, Sweet Flesh) which seems gross but it actually comes off quite easily and tastes oddly of poptarts. I'm also going to sacrifice 1 dice to give it the quality Defends. Since I can have a maximum of 10 dice in a pool, I'm going to need to find 4 more dice worth of extras. I'm going to settle for 4 points in Tough, which reduces damage done by 1 point each, making it a formidable location indeed.
Finally, 8-10 will be Flying Rainbow Feet. These will have the quality Useful (Rainbow Flight), allowing Tacnayn to sail along, the skies, leaving a trail of rainbows behind it. I'm also giving it the quality Defends, representing his ability to dodge while flying. For extras, I'll give the location 2 points of Awesome and 2 points of Wicked Fast. That still leaves it with 10 dice. Tacnayn can fly at up to 1,024 mph or carry up to 12.8 tonnes while flying (he can sacrifice one to improve the other).
Now just a few fluff details and we're done! We've already scoped out Appearance, he's a horse-sized cat, grey with a greenish tinge with a bulging, soft, multicoloured mass in the middle. He's slightly sweet-smelling. For Personality, I'm going to go with Curious. Tacnayn loves to explore new places, whether they be a different classroom or another dimension (which he's quite capable of sniffing out). For Way To Hide (after all, monsters can't just be waltzing around in front of adult and the general public), Tacnayn can Turn Into a Tiny Kitten, one small enough to fit into a large jacket pocket, albeit an somewhat oddly green kitten. For Favourite Thing, I'm going with Sugar. He absolutely loves sugar. Mostly Angela keeps him fed on chocolate and skittle packets but god have mercy on us all if he ever discovers a factory of the stuff. Monsters aren't known for their restraint.
The Finished Product
Feet 4 (Dodging +2, Kicking +1, P.E. +4)
Guts 4 (Courage +2, Wind +2, Wrestling +0)
Hands 3 (Blocking +0, Punching +0, Shop +0)
Brains 3 (Notice +0, Out-Think +2, Remember +2)
Face 1 (Charm +0, Connive +0, Put-Down +0)
Aunt and Uncle 2, Memories of the Old Property, Ms Bligh the Maths Teacher 2 , Tacnayn
Angela's Monster: Tacnayn
Locations 1-2: Dripping, Sugary Maw (7 dice, Attacks, Gnarly x2, Wicked Fast x1)
Locations 2-4: Angular Nose (8 dice, Useful (Sniff Out Dimensional Gateways, Secrets and Sugar), Awesome x2)
Locations 5-7: Delicious Multicoloured Body (10 dice, Useful (Regenerates Edible, Sweet Flesh), Defends, Tough x4)
Location 8-10: Flying Rainbow Feet (10 Dice, Useful (Rainbow Flight), Defends, Awesome x2, Wicked Fast x2)
How I'd Run It
I tried running a one shot of this a while back at a university event. Unfortunately it wasn't very successful due to lack of time and the fact that I had a whole bunch of other things to take care of, which is a shame because I love this game.
I definitely want to run the campaign Road Trip someday, a game about travelling across the States with your monster buddy in order to save the world. However, were I to run it I'd totally set it in the past like the book suggests as a possibility, specifically in the 50s. Cruising along in a Cadillac, stopping off at milk bars with Elvis on the jukebox, your ancient Native America demon pal deciding it's taken a liking to Greaser culture? Sounds like a good recipe for shenanigans.