A quick update

I’ve been working away on a new draft of Amazing Tales, and lining up some support to ensure that the next version will look a little more wonderful.

Editing, layout and illustration is now lined up, which I’m really excited about.

The new version will feature suggested backgrounds for adventures in Space, adventures in Magical Kingdoms and adventures on the Pirate Seas, as well as the existing Deep Dark Wood background.

The idea is to have a free to download .pdf file available as well as a print on demand option, which will obviously have a price attached.

Review : No Thank You Evil!

When I started looking into roleplaying games for kids there were a number that fell into the broad ‘dungeons and dragons junior’ bucket, and one that didn’t. That one was No Thank You Evil!, a 2015 release from Monte Cooke Games.

unboxing

No Thank You Evil stands out from the crowd in a few ways. It comes in a box. The box contains a rulebook, a book of scenarios, a lot of cardboard counters, some colourful character sheets, some big dice and a lot of large format cards with pictures on them. The game is story driven, set in the big wide world of Storia, rather than a tightly confined dungeon. The rules are simple and scale in complexity as your children age.

My kids loved the colourful box, and were delighted with the contents – colourful card counters, illustrated rule books and big chunky D6s. Most popular were the cards, which cover character archetypes (with male and female versions of all characters offered), monsters, pets and cyphers – these last ones are text and so less exciting for kids. Plenty of thought has gone into making the illustrations for the character archetypes interesting and unusual, giving plenty of fuel for player’s imaginations.

The setting is broad, aiming to fit in anything kids might want in a game. Spaceships, dinosaurs, castles and haunted houses all feature. These appear in different areas of Storia, are fleshed out with some background in the rules, and appear on a nice illustrated map. My kids got the concept of Storia immediately and started poring over the map looking for cool places to go.

The system behind the game is a simplified version of the Cypher System, which I’m not familiar with. The simplified version is simple though. Tasks are handled by rolling a D6 against a target number, and things can be made easier by spending points out of characteristic pools. These are tracked with card counters which makes keeping track a breeze, even for five year olds.

The scenario guide ‘Let’s go on an adventure’ which comes in the box contains three scenarios. We started with the first one, a super simple dungeon crawl featuring witches and a cave that took us about half an hour. Character generation took about twenty minutes on top of that. The second session we played used the second scenario, essentially a four room setting with linked challenges, so the contents of room three were needed to resolve room two, and so on. Since the scenario takes place at a party we did that one to a disco soundtrack. This one took about an hour. We haven’t played the third scenario, but that’s a similar beast, a series of encounters in a theme park which can be taken in any order, but relate to each other. Looking at it, that’s probably more of a two hour play through.

The kids had plenty of fun with the first two scenarios, as did the guide (that game’s term for GM). Both of which I intentially played very much as written. I would have liked to see something showcasing a different style of play though, Storia as presented in the background is basically a giant sandbox, so providing novice guides with a scenario that showed how to exploit this, and let the players travel between locations might help people take their games to the next level.

The authors have put a lot of thought into making this game accessible for kids. Only one of my players can read well, which was no problem. While neither of my kids are colour blind the components are designed to account for that. The math required is counting to eight and being able to add or subtract one or two. All the dice are rolled by the players (when a monster attacks you you roll to defend), which means the Guide is never a direct antagonist of the players. All characters get a companion creature – a dragon, a talking car, an invisible friend or even a little brother or sister! These companions provide plenty of extra backup for player characters, not that they need it, heroes in Storia are pretty much unstoppable, which for kids is just fine.

My criticisms of the game are largely ones that could map to roleplaying games as a whole. There’s not a lot of system, but what there is is heavily focused on combat. Special abilities tend to be expressed in extra damage or advantages gained ‘for one round’. More emphasis on puzzles and social challenges as part of the gaming experience would have been welcome. (Although my kids are generally happy to bash their way through pretty much any scenario).

I also found that there wasn’t much mechanical difference between the different archetypes. A  ‘Strong astronaut’ will be significantly less strong than any ‘Fighter’ which might not feel great to the child who elected to be strong but didn’t see it turn out that way. My kids didn’t notice this, but they did spend time carefully comparing all their stats, and I can see it being a bit of an issue for older children.

Overall though these are minor quibbles. No Thank You Evil is an excellent game, well written, well presented, with high production values and plenty of potential. The colorful box, artwork and components will be a big draw, and probably help your kids with the all important challenge of convincing their friends to join in.

 

ps  – Having just posted this I remembered something else. While the character sheets are great, you don’t get a lot of them, and I can’t find a place to download more. but you can download more here

 

 

 

The Royal Stag

Storm clouds gathered over nightmare mountain, blocking out the sun. Lightning flashed and crackled. In Andrew’s Castle Dumonin told the king that this was a sign the fourth beast was approaching. The Royal Stag that had once ruled the kingdom and would try to do so again, driving out all speaking people.

King Andy called for his heroes, and together they agreed that the time had come to face the witch in Monster Tower. If Roman Dragonshield and Els could not retrieve the Golden Collar and Hunting Horn the beasts would overrun the land. Outside in the zoo the Molten Cat ate ever more coal, and looked less and less happy with its captivity. Meanwhile the attendants of the Caledonian Boar had to play the magical harp constantly to keep it calm.

Before they departed for Witch’s Wood Els had an idea. Fairy Millicent had promised to help the heroes if she could, and so Els and Roman began their journey at Owl Wood. “Millicent, Millicent, Millicent” shouted Els at the edge of the woodland, and soon enough the fairy appeared.

“You intend to fight the witch?”, Millicent looked worried. “I can offer you little firm advice. But I know that long before the witch Monster Tower was built by the elves, and Witch’s Wood belonged to them. Elf magic is very strong, and lasts a long time. It may well be that even in the tower itself you might find safe places.”

Part 1 – Monster Tower

Armed with that piece of advice Els and Roman Dragonshield set off for Witch’s Wood. As they reached the edge of the wood they decided to try sneaking in. They did their best to be quiet, but a murder of crows appeared above their heads, squawking and flapping and following them as they went.

[Els rolls Climbing and Exploring, fails]

“Chaaaarge!” from out of the woodland shadows a band of goblins rushed upon our heroes, waving rusty swords and snapping with their sharp teeth. Roman Dragonshield fought back with his mighty strength, picking up a goblin in each hand. Meanwhile Els and Snowflake the Husky chased away another band that was sneaking behind them with bows and arrows. The Goblins faded back into the trees. But the murder of crows remained overhead, squakwing and cawing.

[Both roll fighting monsters, both pass]

Roman and Els pushed on into the woods, but the crows followed them. When it got dark they stopped to make camp. As they prepared to sleep they became aware that the forest around them seemed even thicker and darker than it had when they stopped. As Roman stood to investigate a tree root seemed to wrap around his leg, it jerked, and he fell.

[Roman rolls strength, fails]

Suddenly they could see red eyes gleaming in the trunks of the trees as knotted wooden branches reached for them. The trees of the forest packed close around them and closed in, an impenetrable wall of wood.

Roman was being dragged into the dark woods by his feet. Els leapt forward and together with Snowflake managed to tear him free from the tree. But the other trees were closing in. There was no way to run. Somewhere behind the trees could be heard the sounds of goblins, and overhead the squawking of crows.

[Els rolls fighting monsters, succeeds. ]

Dragon Piet can help, yelled Roman Dragonshield and encouraged Dragon Piet to breathe fire. The Dragon’s breath scorched a path through the trees and the heroes ran through. “Follow me!”, shouted Els and she ran into the woods followed by the others, and the squawking crows.

[Roman rolls Dragon Riding, succeeds. Els rolls Climbing and Exploring, succeeds.]

Els found and followed a narrow path. Suddenly it opened out into a beautiful forest glade. The grass was green, and suddenly the crows were gone. All around them was peaceful quiet. And in the middle of the glade was a white marble fountain, overflowing with crystal clear water. Elven writing was carved onto the sides of the fountain. Feeling that they had finally found a safe place to rest Els and Roman went to sleep.

In the morning they set off again, and could soon see Monster Tower in front of them. They had expected a bleak, ruined tower. But Monster Tower wasn’t like that. Monster Tower was a huge fortress protected by a moat, and a drawbridge, and a portcullis. Black banners flew from its many towers and orc and ogre guards paced about the walls. It was vast, dark, terrifying, and reeked of evil.

Els and Roman thought for a moment and came up with a plan. Later on they would concede that it wasn’t the best plan. They climbed onto Dragon Piet and flew toward the top of the castle. The orcs saw them and sounded the alarm, then they fired arrows at Dragon Piet, but he dodged them easily.

[Roman rolls Dragon Riding, succeeds]

Roman Dragonshield and Els leapt onto the top of Monster Tower. Below them they could hear the sound of guards rushing toward them. But first they had to clear the monsters away from the battlements. Fighting ferociously they drove them back down the stairwell. But no sooner had they done that than there came a shouting from below and a group of ferocious orcs in iron armour charged up toward them. The fight on the stairs was furious, eventually Roman tore the door from its hinges and charged down into the stairwell using it as a battering ram. But he slipped and fell, and the orcs wrapped him up in chains. Els leapt forward to rescue him, but she too was captured!

[I rarely do this, but the plan to just fight their way into what I’d explained was a massive fortress full of monsters really deserved to fail. Had it not been the last session in the campaign I might have let it ride, but I had something a bit more cinematic in mind. So I let the fight on the roof go on, with wave after wave of monsters until both heroes failed their rolls. Which allowed us to move to a new scene.]

Orcs, goblins and trolls hauled Els and Roman deeper and deeper into the tower. Then they were dragged into a vast room, at the far end loomed a bone throne on a raised dias. Behind it hung shields, many of them belonging to other heroes who had gone missing in the Witch’s Wood. The orcs and goblins pushed them forward toward a tall figure. A knight carrying a vast double headed axe,  clad in black armour.

“Did you really think you could do this? Did you really think you could simply walk up to this castle and fight your way in? You are without doubt the worst heroes I have ever met. And when my mistress returns from the Nightmare mountain I’m sure your fate will be truly painful.”

“You won’t win! We’ll beat you!”

“Yes. I can see how that’s working for you. The getting captured and thrown in the dungeon plan must have taken a long time to think of.”

“My Husky is still out there. She’ll save us.”

“Hmm. You orcs. Take some raw meat and a net. Come back with a dead dog.”

“She’ll never fall for that!” Els did not sound too convinced, and it began to dawn on the two heroes that things had gone very wrong indeed.

“Take them to the dungeon”

Dragging them by their chains a pair of trolls hauled Els and Roman Dragonshield out of the throne room. They bounced and scraped down dark corridors. But there were fewer guards now. Roman Dragonshield braced his feet.

“Raaaaarghhh!” exerting every ounce of his super strength Roman Dragonshield tore the chains from his jailers hands, and then broke the shackles around his body. Metal links dropped to the floor. The trolls looked on in horror.

[Roman rolls super strength, passes]

Els used her chains to strike out at her jailers. As she did so a barking white shape leapt out of the shadows and sank its teeth into a troll. “Snowflake!”

[Els rolls fighting monsters, passes, and is rewarded with the return of her companion]

Not all the guards were overcome with shock. From behind them came the sound of an alarm bell.

“We’ll fight them all” yelled Roman Dragonshield

[Hard stare]

“I’ll find a place to run to” said Els, leading them into the corridors. Roman smashed aside some goblins as they dashed along. As they ran Els began looking for little used passages, finally finding some that looked as if they were never used. At the end of one was a door, marked with a triangle containing elven writing. Checking they weren’t being followed Els and Roman pushed open the door and stepped through.

[Roman rolls fighting monsters, Els rolls climbing and exploring, both succeed.]

The two of them glanced around. The room was made of white stone. On the walls hung silver armour, swords and shields. It looked like this was a room monsters never came into, or perhaps could not come into. Roman eyed up a sword

“Can I take one?”

He tried. Nothing happened. Encouraged, Roman took a helmet, armour, sword and shield. Els went for the same, and added a spear for good measure. Decked out in their new elven wargear the two got the feeling that their luck was beginning to turn.

“The witch has gone to Nightmare mountain. We need to find the treasure and go after her” said Els. Then she crept up to the door on the far side of the room and looked out. At the end of the corridor a huge troll was guarding a massive locked door. On his belt was a set of keys.

Els and Roman charged. Els drove her spear into the trolls body, and Roman leapt forward to cut off its head. The body slumped to the floor.

[Both roll fighting monsters and succeed. The new equipment makes no difference to the rules, but the change in attitude on the part of the players was extraordinary, and kept going for the rest of the session.]

Using the keys on the troll’s belt the two got the door open. Inside was what was obviously the witch’s treasure chamber. Gold and silver was piled high in chests and jars. Displayed on a red velvet pillow was a magnificent golden collar. Next to it was a case, just the right shape to hold a hunting horn. But it was empty. As Els took the collar there came a sound of alarm from the corridor.

“Lets get out of here!”

Els and Roman ran back through the castle, always trying to head up. Higher and higher they climbed, but the sounds of alarm got closer, and a pack of chasing monsters formed behind them. At last they found a window, and discovered they were high high up in the tower.

“Jump” yelled Els

[At this point there was a brief pause, while I explained that they were very high up. That it was a long way down. That this could go very wrong.]

They jumped, and as they plummeted toward the ground Dragon Piet swept down from the sky, plucked them out of the air and flew off, leaving the enraged monsters of Monster Tower far behind.

Part 2 – Nightmare Mountain

Dragon Piet flew toward Nightmare mountain, and into the teeth of a raging storm. Thunder boomed above them and rain pelted their faces. The Dragon set his jaw and strained his muscles, beating his wings against the wind.

Crack!

Lightning split the sky around them, then struck Dragon Piet and they crashed to the ground. Dragon Piet struggled to his feet, but it was too dangerous to fly. They struggled on foot for the last miles to the foot of the dark mountain.

[Roman rolls Dragon Riding, fails]

Nightmare mountain was steep and sheer. The great cave that was visible in the mountain from miles away began half way up, and so Roman and Els had to climb. The rain and the wind made it dangerous, but they struggled up the side of the mountain.

[Els rolls climbing and exploring, passes, Roman rolls running and jumping, passes]

As they peaked over the top of their climb they saw a camp fire, and gathered around it a dozen or so orcs. Creeping closer they heard them discussing what would happen after the witch finished whatever she was doing in the cave.

“We’ll be able to do what we want. We can burn the villages, steal the food…” their thoughts of future victory were cut short when Els and Roman burst out from the shadows swinging their swords. Four orcs fell, and the rest fled, their victory would have to wait a little longer.

[Both roll fighting monsters, both pass]

After establishing that orc cookery was neither interesting or edible, but definitely disgusting and creative Els and Roman investigated the back of the cave. Further and further back it went, and in the dark they found footprints leading into the darkness. They lit torches and followed them.

They hadn’t gone far when they encountered a blazing ring of fire suspended in the air. Looking around carefully Els found four strange marks chiseled into the wall around it. Following a discussion about what to do they decided to get past as quickly as possible. Els and Roman dashed by, the flames roared and scorched, but they came through unharmed.

[Roman rolls running and jumping, Els rolls climbing and exploring, both pass.]

On and on into the dark they went. As they entered a large cave the air became cold and their breath misted in front of their faces. Roman glanced up, and saw that the ceiling above them was covered in huge icicles, each the size of a man. As he watched, one of them came loose and plummeted toward him, Roman flung himself to the side as ice splintered all around.

[Roman rolls running and jumping, passes]

Being very careful now Els and Roman tiptoed through the cave. Eventually they reached the other side, and followed the footprints into another tunnel. In the distance they could hear a funny chanting sound.

They crept closer. In the distance they could see a flickering torch, and so they put their own out. Three figures in long cloaks were chanting, it sounded like some kind of spell. Roman slipped on a stone in the dark, and the figures turned to look.

[Both roll running and jumping, Roman fails, Els passes.]

One of the figures sketched strange signs in the air, and a ball of fire whooshed toward Roman, who had to shelter behind his shield. Els leapt out of the darkness to strike one of the wizards with her spear. He gurgled in horror as it impaled him.

[Both roll fighting monsters, pass]

As the two heroes pressed their attack the remaining evil wizards tried to summon magic to their aid. Sparks crackled around their fingertips and shadows coiled around their heads, but before they could unleash their powers they were cut down. As they fell their bodies slowly turned to smoke and drifted off into the caves.

[Both roll fighting monsters, pass]

Beyond the wizards Els and Roman found themselves in a huge cave. At the far end of it a fire was burning. In front of the fire stood a tall woman with pale skin and pointy ears in a bright red dress. On her head was a simple silver crown, and in her right hand a golden hunting horn. In her left hand she carried a wand.

Next to her, kneeling, with its head bowed was an enormous stag.

Face to face with the witch Roman rushed forward to attack swinging his sword. The witch raised her wand and snakes rose out of the stony ground and wrapped themselves around his legs. Els also rushed in to attack, and the witch found herself stepping back to avoid the attack.

[Both roll fighting monsters, Roman fails, Els passes]

Now they could see that the Witch had bound the stag with silver chains. Els broke away from her attack on the witch to try and free the stag. Roman pushed forward with his spear. And so as Els broke the chains around the stags hooves Roman Dragonshield smashed his spear through the witch’s eye. She screamed, and shouted and dropped to the floor, dead.

[Els rolls running and jumping, passes. Roman rolls fighting monsters, passes]

At this the stag leapt to its feet and bellowed. The whole mountain shook and rocks came crashing down all around. The whole front of Nightmare mountain was collapsing. Roman and Els crouched under their shields as rocks fell all around. Finally, the dust settled and they could see laid out before them the whole Kingdom of Magical Scotland. The Stag bellowed again and pawed the ground with its hooves, looking more wild and more terrible by the moment.

Els seized the horn and blew into it as hard as she could. The sound echoed around the ruined mountain, and the stag leapt forward. Els blew again, and the stag, panicked, began to spring up the mountain. It reached the top of the mountain and leapt into the air, climbing and climbing until it eventually came to rest in the heavens, a new stag shaped constellation shining down on the kingdom.

And that, was the end of the adventure of the Four Beasts of Magical Scotland Long Ago. Els and Roman returned home, and were welcomed as heroes. The cat, the boar and kelpie calmed down and remained happily in King Andy’s Zoo.

royal-stag-for-blog

 

Notes : The last session was something of a monster, taking up, I’d guess about three hours. But the kids remained engaged the whole way through. I took a big risk by capturing them in Monster Tower, they could have got demoralised,  but in the end it made for a really nice session.

The exploration of the mountain was originally going to involve four elementally themed magic traps. Fire and Ice happened, as, according to my notes did water but I can’t remember the details of that one. Indeed, the only thing I can tell from my notes is that the water trap was solved so efficiently it justified skipping the earth trap that would have come last.

As I mentioned in the main text, Roman and Els became a lot more gung ho once they’d acquired new armour and weapons. In many ways the closing session became a bit more serious in tone than the ones that had preceded it.

If we ever want to play more games in Magical Scotland Long Ago there’s plenty of potential left in the setting. The Witch might be dead, but her Lieutenant in Monster Tower is still there, as is the army of evil creatures guarding it. But I suspect we’re done with this setting now. Ruben’s doing pirates at school this term – time to dream up a game on the great blue ocean…