29 July 2012

Kickstarter: Part 4 - Updates, Better Angels and Dungeons Unleashed

This is the fourth part in an ongoing series on crowdfunding. Overview and Index.


Time for updates on projects of the past, those ending soon and those recently added.

First the past: the book for a project which ended in mid-May arrived in the mail last week. Expect to hear more about CandyCreeps soon.

Next up are some projects that I've talked about previously that are ending soon. Synnibar is, tragically and predictably, DOA at this point with under 10% of the funding goal and less that two days left. Project: Paradigm is still going to be funded and has four days to go. I would suggest any fans of Mage: The Ascension to at least take a look at this one. SteamCraft has 20 days left and is about halfway to meeting the funding goal. Shadows of Esteren has made the Book 0 Prologue stretch goal, which now includes PDFs of the GM screen so that you can easily make your own. There is also now the option to increase your pledge by $25 to pick up an additional core book (up to four), which is a pretty great deal for any group. There's under half a day to go, so if you haven't pledged or have and want to adjust your pledge, I would suggest you do so now.

Finally we are at the two new projects that were added last week.

Better Angels is a supers game by Greg Stolze that caught my eye and I know that I'm not the only one since it has already made its first stretch goal - a free adventure. The premise is that you are a normal person who has been possessed by a demon and granted superpowers. As a basically decent person (this is an important assumption) you are put in a difficult position: You don't really want to do evil, but if you don't the demon is going to find someone who will. So you have to meet its demands, but you go about it in such an over-the-top fashion that your infernal co-pilot will be delighted with your panache as well as ensuring that some superhero is bound to stop you from succeeding. Better spend a lot more time on your escape plan than your actual plan. Which brings in the superheroes who are possessed by superpower granting angels. Life, it is not fair.

Powered by the One Roll Engine (ORE) flavor used in A Dirty World, this is a game that delights me to know it will exist. The idea of playing a supervillain like that is one that I find very appealing, but can easily run into the issues associated with anyone familiar with common comic book tropes (particularly classic villain mistakes) and seeking to avoid them; i.e. kill the hero when you have the chance with a gun to the head and never reveal your plans. The premise here is that those "mistakes" are the goal because you do not want to win. You just want to put on a good show. Maybe you do want to win against another supervillain that is, well, downright villainous. The last part is my little addition because it's not fun to always lose.

Dungeons Unleashed looks adorable. There is something about it that tickles my love of classic fantasy anime. Nice art in full color is appealing as well. It promises to be a rules light game with quick dungeon design. The project description also mentions 20 classes and custom character sheets for each class, as well as magic for each class to play with. For GMs is has monsters that can be leveled and some pre-made adventures.

I really wish that there was more information in the project description. The idea of a cute, rules light (though not old school) fantasy adventuring game is something that I often find myself wanting. Just to throw together some awesome fun for a few hours without much prep time. I'm really hoping that this will fill that niche nicely. It could use some backer support, but still has just under two months left. Give it a look!

27 July 2012

Psi*Run

In Psi*Run you play a psychic with amnesia (also called a "runner") that has just escaped during a crash. While evading the chasers (the NPCs that will be chasing your runners) and coming to grips with your strange powers, you are trying to regain your memories because that is the only way you will be able to bring this to an end.

The system for this game is simple, easy to grasp and will largely propel the session on its own momentum. You'll just need a few printouts, 3x5 cards and a sharpie, some tokens and a pile of d6 (at least 6). The printouts that you will be using are character sheets, the risk sheet and the chasers sheet.

Each game will involve having the GM and the players decide what kind of themes you want to play with, both for your powers and whatever secrets will be associated with this run (e.g. power origins, government conspiracies, who you really are, etc.). This isn't expressly necessary, but this conversation really seems to focus everyone's attention and keeps things from diverging wildly. This is particularly true if two players are trying to tell very different stories, which can be awesome, or it can be messy and incoherent. That discussion will get everyone on board and significantly help direct character and chaser creation, which can be difficult for some given how open-ended it is, and there isn't much to help direct your thoughts.

Making a character starts with the character sheet. It has everything you're going to need on it from creation, throughout play and onto the endgame. The book, which is slender at 60 pages and a small shape (~8 x 6), does an excellent job of relating all of the creation steps through numerous examples throughout the text, often with completed examples in sidebars. To start you pick a name and apparent age, what your powers are, what you see when you look in the mirror and then choose your questions (these are what you explicitly do not know about yourself, but through answering them will tell your, perhaps others', and the game story).

The book suggests that you leave your powers (it is worth noting that psychic powers aren't a requirement and a group of fallen angels is just as supported as rogue psychics from Push) vague rather than specific and I agree. It keeps what exactly you are capable of a mystery to everyone, but a strong theme and some implications goes a long way; e.g. searing light that leaves me empty. What you see when you look in the mirror is a creative way of describing what you look like, perhaps with some interesting implications (e.g. I cannot help but stare at my eyes and wonder), consistent with how you will see yourself for the first time - what with the amnesia.

Answering your questions will be your ultimate goal, though odds are that you will not be the one giving the answers. It is really vital that your questions interest not only you, but everyone else in the group so that they have a stake in who you are. At least one should relate to your powers (e.g. why does my light leave me?), one should relate to your strengths and weaknesses (e.g. why can I never meet her eyes?), and at least one should relate to your immediate, past, or current circumstances (e.g. who is Deacon Priest?). Everyone will have the same number of questions (four to six), but not all questions need to be decided right away, besides the three aforementioned. The number of questions that each character has will heavily influence how long the game goes; the more questions, the longer the game. If you want a one-shot, I would strongly suggest that you have no more than four questions.

The GM will start by taking care of the chasers and filling out the chaser sheet. The chaser sheet is useful the first time and is really just a way to organize thoughts, but after that a sheet of paper with a nice blank area I have found to be more than sufficient. On the sheet you keep track of all of the public information about the chasers, their look (e.g. black suits and mirror shades), methods (e.g. ruthless efficiency) and powers (e.g. preternatural awareness). On one of your notecards, the chaser card, make some secret notes that keep with the themes from the chaser sheet and provides imagery, items, events, whatever to keep things moving forward and hangs things on (e.g. black basalt, no eyes, The Revelation Device, Dr. Cypher).

From here you are ready to get started, which means laying the first card in the trail, the crash! The trail are the locations the players have traveled to which the chasers will be following. Every player should have their own distinct token that will be used to show what location they are at, this is particularly important if players ever branch off. From here the system takes over and the first thing to remember is that no one gets to take two actions in a row. In fact, I prefer to have everyone take an action before someone gets to go again, it helps to ensure that everyone has a say and doesn't feel overshadowed. I crafted some tokens to keep track of just this from red and white poker chips. Every player begins at the crash! having just awakened with no memories, the inkling of strange power and questions. Oh yeah, and you're being chased.

This is the point where you begin to interact with the system. Whenever you want to take a significant action you roll some dice. A significant action is defined as one where something can go wrong, shows off how awesome you are (possibly at making things go horribly wrong, but that's for you do decide), could trigger a memory, takes time and focus, and/or might expose you to danger. The number of dice you roll is based on the number of true statements from the following: I'm exceptional, I want to do something important, this might trigger a memory, the chasers might catch up, I am using a psi power, and/or I am risking harm. The first four are always true and all of these are on your character sheet for easy reference. You start with four dice, but can have up to six. If you are using a psi power and/or are risking harm, things might go sideways more spectacularly, but you have more control over how your decisions are made. Here's an example of two risks:

Reveal:
  • 6: Runner has a memory that answers one of their questions. Player has first say.
  • 4-5: Runner has a memory that answers one of their questions. Other players have first say.
  • 1-3: Runner has no memory triggered. Player has first say.
Psi:
  • 5-6: Power causes no trouble. Player has first say.
  • 3-4: Power surge: people may be injured, things may be broken - it would make local news. GM has first say.
  • 1-2: Power goes wild: people may be dead, things are destroyed - it would make national news. GM has first say.
Once you've rolled your dice, you will place them on the risk sheet. The risk sheet is a handy reference that guides you through your decision making process based on what you rolled on your dice and the consequences for a given result on each risk (it may sound complicated, but it couldn't be more simple in practice). The risks that are always in play are goal (do you accomplish your goal?), reveal (do you remember anything?) and chase (do the chasers advance?). If you used psi and/or harm, then the psi;(do your powers cause trouble?)and harm (are you hurt?) risks are in play for that action as appropriate.

You may note that you are rolling more dice than you can place, which means you get to drop your lowest die. The exception to that is if you are hurt and impaired. If you are impaired you lose a die before you roll, so you have to place all of the dice. If you are doubly impaired (you've been hurt and impaired twice), you have to lose your highest die after your roll. That is pretty rough and means that things are going to be in a bad way very soon.

Each risk will also dictate who has first say over the events. Typically this is the active player or the GM, but not always. If the chasers ever catch up with a runner, different risks will be revealed instead of chase. It changes the tone of what is going on.

This is why it is important that your questions are interesting to not only you, but the other players as well. There is a good chance that they will be answering most of your questions for you. This really works for me as it builds a stake for each player in all of the other characters, so they are fans of that character and invested in their story, and through that tying all of the stories together. In practice, at least. Sometimes it can get messy, but that is where a brief discussion before getting started so that everyone is cribbing from the same notes can go a long way to creating something that is a little more coherent. That isn't going to work for everyone, naturally.

Once a player has answered all of their questions (if you didn't fill them all out during character creation, you will use reveals to ask new ones), that is when the endgame begins, called the Crossroads. The player that starts the Crossroads gets to pick from the available endings first: Home, turning the tables, on a quest, hidden, trapped, lost, or making a discovery. Then each player, moving from most to least answered questions, picks an ending; no one can have the same ending. From there the GM decides the order the endings play out and the players narrate how they play out. I like to write the each ending on a notecard and the order for them to play out on the back ahead of time; it gives the player that picked it an immediate cue to where their ending will be taking place in the overall sequence and they can begin planning accordingly. Sometimes a brief note to offer some more structure helps; e.g. "#1, you die in this one" on Turning the Tables and "#7, this is the happy ending" on Home.

My only real criticism for this game is with the Psi risk above. I've found that it has no mechanical teeth behind the consequences. All other risks clearly list the consequences for the decisions that you make, but all of those for Psi require some significant buy-in, and given the limited nature of the game not all players will have that. It often becomes a place to dump poor rolls so that avoiding chasers and harm are fairly straightforward. If you're playing conservatively and only gaining reveals when you can afford to, this becomes even more of a problem.

Towards that end I've found modifying the 3-4 and 1-2 levels slightly to give the consequences to those actions that make them more risky. For 3-4 I include "Cannot play a die higher than 4 on one of Chase or Hurt risks" and for 1-2 "Cannot play a die higher than 2 on one of Chase or Hurt risks, or cannot play a die higher than 4 on Chase and Hurt risks. Hurt can now become a risk at the Runner's choice". It worked to really increase the drama and Things Going Horribly Wrong with groups that tended to be very careful to always stay well ahead of the chasers and have little regard for the carnage they left in their wake. This broke the immersion and illusion of competence on the part of the chasers, who could not follow an arrow straight line of devastation.

Another option that I found useful was to allow another runner to take the harm in place of the acting runner in exchange for first say in that action, including the GM say. This seems to get players more into a place of working together, willing to sacrifice for each other, and aware of the potential consequences of their risks. It also grants more opportunities for the players to take control of the narrative, but at a cost.

All summed, I think that this is a great little game. Four questions is an excellent number for a long evening and more will give multiple sessions to wrap everything up. I highly recommend this for some structured cooperative storytelling and really wrecking some major metropolitan area.

26 July 2012

Grimm: Part 5 - Happily Ever After

This is the fifth part in an ongoing series about Grimm. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Actual Play

Continued from Before...

In conversation it is revealed that ;Prince Charming needs a princess, assuming because he is a prince and that's the sort of things that princes need, and the children need help, because they are children and that's the sort of thing they generally need. A deal was struck that they will help him get a princess and he will help them get Lance back. Towards this new common goal of princess acquisition, they venture off towards a castle, hoping that it is not the one covered in vines and flowers because there is something decidedly ominous about it. More details are revealed regarding what transpired on his previous quest to find a princess lying around. It went badly. Very badly. Though this mostly goes without saying, what with the cage and the Not Quite Dead status. He had set about trying to save Beauty from Beast who decided that being a prince was not as awesome as being Beast, to which it seems Beauty agreed. Unfortunately this means Beauty was not really in the mood for "saving" and Prince Charming found himself at the crossroad.

After some travel which reveals that Prince Charming may not be altogether right in the head, the group sights their destination: castle covered in vines and flowers, of course; thorns and roses upon closer inspection. Sophie collects a flower and finds that it bleeds when cut, though she is not to be deterred from the pretty. The drawbridge seems to have been constructed in such a way that keeps would-be rescuers out, instead of trapping denizens of the castle inside - i.e. the normal way. Prince Charming warns of a dragon that he will keep occupied while the children set about finding a princess in need of rescue inside.

Wishing upon a star, Sophie's imagination causes the roses to grow within the castle, cutting the ropes holding the drawbridge up, which is to say that the roses grow a lot. A really frightening amount of growth. As the drawbridge crashes down, the children advance with trepidation, except for Charlotte who indicates that the castle is "scary" and the outside, even with cannibals, is less so, also the prince who might not be sane enough to be afraid, let alone suffering from a slight case of trepidation, at this point. Naturally Prince Charming immediately races to face the dragon, denying any need of assistance. The children reluctantly leave him to his certain doom fate, of particular reluctance is William. The children find the interior of the castle to be filled with roses and thorns of a certain dagger-like quality, in addition to the remains of previous would-be rescuers. They also find a grand hall filled with webs and finery. And a Volkswagon-sized black widow with the head of a queen and a red hourglass on her abdomen that is slowly ticking down.

Mustering all of the manners she can, Quinn befriends the spider-queen and cuts a deal: the spider-queen will not eat them if they find a bottle with a web and a tiny figure with the body of a woman and head of a spider and then, very specifically, burn it the web and the figure. Not smash, crush or cut, but burn. Seizing the opportunity to not be eaten, the children agree and venture to the first of three towers.

The door to the tower, however, is locked. Luckily Roland learned a particularly interesting set of skills at public school and makes short work of the lock. Inside they find a room coated in dust, but for finger and hand prints. Being suspicious of this new and terrible world, and rightly so, they look carefully and see hands waiting in ambush. When the jig is up, the hands fly out to attack. Despite nearly choking poor William out, the children manage to make short work of the hands, especially through the combined efforts of Roland and Elena.

Searching the room yields a skeleton under the bed with no hands, but clutched in the arms is a jar filled with fireflies. Or tiny fairies upon closer inspection. Not what they were looking for, but still useful or at least neat! They return without their initial prize and the spider-queen indicates that while she doesn't want to eat them, she has little choice. Also, she likes eating children. Suitably encouraged, they set off to the next tower.

Outside the tower they find numerous frogs that could be described as "razor bladey" hiding in the massive growths of brambles infesting this castle. Hoping for some kind of fairy godmother-like assistance, they pry open the jar and unleash the fairy horde. It turns out that horde is an accurate description as the savage fae make short and brutal work of the frogs, pausing only to feast on the still warm (or even alive!) flesh of their amphibian foes. With that chilling sight fresh in their minds, the children proceed to the tower in which they discover the jar in question.

While William disassembled his binoculars to inflict the kind of death that a child with a focusing lens and ants specializes in, the children inspect the jar more closely. Inside they see the web which seems to be the home for a tiny woman with the body of a queen and the head of a spider. She presses her hands mournfully to the glass of the jar. Getting cold feet from the humanizing antics of what would have momentarily been their victim, they decide to get answers from the queen.

Which does not go so well. The queen is very tired of waiting and while never particularly shy about her true nature, volunteers that she had her husband and the step-child in the way of her throne removed and she will be damned if these children will stand in her way any further. As time in her hourglass grows short the sacrifice is burned, returning the queen to her lovely and imperious form. The queen demands that William and Roland retrieve appropriate attire and accessories for her from her rooms and they are only more than happy to help. Perhaps the queen's words fogged their mind. Perhaps she was simply very, very pretty. Nonetheless, they do as they have been bid and Roland brings some extra jewelry just in case she wants something else. And just in case she doesn't, then he can keep it around... in case she wants it later... or doesn't... or something. (He stole it.)

At this time the children and the queen's desires align as they all wish the princess to be removed from the castle, though perhaps for differing motivations. So the children go to rescue the princess, who is naturally in the highest room in the tallest tower in the most inaccessible part of the castle. On the way the children make use of their vantage to see how the battle between Prince Charming and the dragon goes. Remarkably well, it seems, with the prince largely giving as good as he gets and delivering to the dragon's snout a thorough drubbing.

Continuing to the top of the tower they find a very small door and a table with two bottles, one with red liquid and another with blue liquid. Through vigorous application of childlike curiosity without regard to consequence, the very special children determine that the red liquid makes you small, while the blue liquid makes you big and through proper mixing you can reach just the right size to pass through the door. Sophie's knowledge of cooking and Roland's complete disregard to side-effects allow him to open the very small door and venture into the room on the other side.

Within the room he finds a spinning wheel and webs everywhere, something about it reminds him of two very lonely best friends who only have each other and a mutual love of weaving. Sad. Also there was a crystal coffin! Though the top appears to be ajar with vines growing inside. Upon returning to his normal size, his inspections reveal that the princess in the coffin is pierced all over by the thorns and seems to have been sucked dry like a juice box. Mmmm... juice box.

With that unsettling news, Sophie uses her chalk to make another door (more child-sized) into the room and now everyone wants to see the body. After much poking and prodding, William pronounces her "very dead" and doesn't think that first aid will alter this situation substantially. Having no breath or pulse. Also no blood. The children were somewhat at a loss of how to proceed when Quinn's cellphone rang, such tremendous reception!

Her fairy godmother was calling while shopping at Nordstrom, just wanting to let Sophie know that perhaps she should let the nice Prince Charming know since he might die in that fight with the dragon over nothing and the dragon as well is guarding a well kept corpse and might have better things to do. Seeing her fairy godmother's wisdom and shopping prowess, Sophie races off to dispense with indiscriminate advice!

Which does not go so well. The queen is quite elated, naturally. The dragon and the prince stop their now pointless conflict, neither wanting to continue as the prize was never the death of an honorable foe over a corpse. The dragon, saddened by the news, departs to find something else to horde. Prince Charming takes this all rather less well. His sword clatters to the ground as he drops to his knees, obviously in some kind of shock. Perhaps losing his mind entirely; it has been showing signs of wandering off as of late.

The children begin to make plans for an alternate princess to rescue and remember that Charlotte declined to venture into the castle with them, it was "scary". Turning to find their youngest companion, they see that Prince Charming has indeed found his princess. He smiles his most charming smile at her and pulls a figurine from his pocket, placing it on the ground as it turns into a magnificent winged steed. Easily pulling himself into the saddle he reaches down and scoops her onto the back. With that Prince Charming and his princess, Charlotte, fly off into the sunset on the back of a white, magical, winged horse. Perhaps it was an abduction.

The queen laughs at the children and makes them a one-time offer: she will return them home if they so desire. She walks to her mirror and speaks the words of power that open a gate to home. She smiles a delighted grin as the children decide that they will return home to rest and gather resources to rescue Charlotte and Lance. Stepping through the mirror, taking the magical sword with them, the very special children find themselves returned to their home. Though it was only five children that trudge silently down that forest path.

Epilogue

It has been a year since you emerged from the Black Forest at the end of that very special day. Your parents were worried, but their worry was tinged with a wild-eyed fear. During that time you have seen councilors, psychologists and therapists to come to terms with what happened. How impossible it was. How you invented those fantasies to come to terms with the terrible things that happened to Charlotte and Lance. Their bodies were never been found. You have never been able to find whatever it was that took you to the Grimm Lands, if it ever actually happened. Even the magical blade of silver and moonlight, the proof you brought back, is not how you remembered. The inscription reads "Replica" and "Made in China". It is also pitted and rusted from age and disuse and looks less like a blade of legend and more like the Anduril knock-off at the local Spencer's Gifts. Maybe you haven't given up, maybe you still return to the Black Forest with those who traveled with you before whenever you can escape from your parents' vigilant gaze. Maybe you haven't given up that flicker of hope against hope, belief against belief, that you didn't imagine it. That you can still go back and make it right. That you can bring about the Fall of the Rotten King...

24 July 2012

Grimm: Part 4 - Once Upon A Time

This is the fourth part of an ongoing series about Grimm. Part 1, Part 2Part 3 and Part 5.

Actual Play

Prologue

Once upon a time, there were seven very special children, though they didn't know they were special yet. They lived in what they thought of as a very normal town, but it was not normal; it was a very special town. This special town was located next to a very dark place, so dark all of the kids called it the Black Forest. At the beginning of this tale we find our very special children celebrating the eighth birthday of the youngest of their band, Charlotte, who very much so thinks of herself of a princess. In fact, that is all that she wanted for her birthday - to be a princess. On this special day she was granted her wish as she blew out all of her candles in one breath (even the trick candles). What none of these very special children knew on this special day is that it would mark the beginning of an adventure. One which would leave them all changed, for better or worse. One that would mark the beginning of Humpty Dumpty's Second Fall. One that would remind all of them, be careful what you wish for, it might just come true.


Cast of Characters

Roland, the Bully (4th grade)
Sophie, the Dreamer (4th grade)
Elena, the Jock (4th grade)
William, the Nerd (4th grade)
Quinn Valentine, the Popular Kid (4th grade)
Lance, Sophie's older brother (6th grade, NPC)
Charlotte, William's little sister (2nd grade, NPC)

When gathered together the kids of this town were much like any other: they would constantly dare each other to perform more and more outlandish feats. And no feat was more outlandish than to travel to the Black Forest and retrieve something as proof that you had been there. Naturally the more impressive the proof, particularly from deeper and farther off the path, the greater the fleeting respect from their peers. This was the situation that our special children found themselves in, and since it was Charlotte's birthday and she was a princess, she wanted the prettiest thing ever from the center of the Black Forest. She had heard that there was a ring of rainbow fairy stones. As every little princess knows, nothing is prettier than a rainbow fairy stone, whatever that may be.

The Black Forest has a sinister reputation for a reason, even if the children didn't know it. It isn't unheard of for animals and even people to go missing under its darkened canopy. Parents, even those without a superstitious bone in their body, always forbade their children from going into the Black Forest unattended. And children, even those comprised entirely of superstitious bones, wanted nothing more than to go into the Black Forest unattended.

And this is how our group of youngsters find themselves within the confines of the Black Forest unattended but for Lance, the eldest at 11, but far from the wisest. Their journey deeper into the woods became subtly more sinister as the boughs blocked more and more light and the path became less and less path-like. The peace of nature was replaced by the menace of nature and songbirds turned to crows. As is the way of things, it became pitch black before there was light again and the children began to suspect that they were no longer in the forest they had entered.

Continuing their travels, Sophie, always prepared for arts and crafts, decided it was an excellent idea to mark their way. Applying a day-glo yellow washable marker to a nearby tree lead to series of startling discoveries: trees can talk, they are surly, do not enjoy fine art, have awfully toothy maws and are hungry. Also slow. Capitalizing on the final trait, the children made their escape to a road with hungry but slow tree giving chase until it became too discouraged by how slow it was and how not slow the children were and soon the children found themselves at a crossroad.

At the crossroad was a large hanging cage and a signpost pointing in the four directions. To the left was "Princess - In Peril", forward was "Princess - In Peril", to the right was "Princess - Safe In Peril" and finally, the way they had come "Seven Children - In Peril". While deliberating their options, they were verbally accosted by a severely emaciated character within the cage who claimed to be "Not Quite Dead Pete".

Not Quite Dead Pete also made some claims regarding the peril to the right (quite perilous) as well as the fact he was not alone in his cage, "Dead Pete" and "Really Dead Pete" were also in there. Not very good conversationalists, because they were dead. Except during the full moon, but they still didn't like to talk about the causes of their death, evidently a sensitive subject, though each had met their particular fate in a different direction at the crossroads.

Deciding that Dead Pete was obviously a man of vision during his life, these special children embarked in that direction. Which was to the left. As they traveled, they could not help but detect a rotten odor in the air as the night sky became visible. Nor could the man in the sky fishing for Pisces off of the crescent moon be missed. Continuing, the road sloped down and provided a commanding view of the area, including a castle in the distance wrapped in vines and flowers.

It was around this time that a beam of moonlight was cast down and illuminated a sword within a stone. All being familiar with the Disney classic of roughly the same name, the very special children decide to have a go at pulling the sword from the stone. In the end, it was Lance that claimed the silver blade as his prize. Written in moonlight, an inscription read "The child with this sword shall herald the Fall of the Rotten King." Feeling very satisfied with their acquisition, they continued. Their satisfaction was to be all too short-lived.

Not long after claiming this treasure, a strange sound could be heard approaching. The clanking of metal, but not the sound of hooves. A group of horses mounted on knights rode forth and at their lead was a twisted figure in horrifying armor to match the horrifying form underneath - the Ugly Duckling. He brought his horses to a halt and demanded the sword and in return he would spare their lives. Full of the bravery that only children that have never felt fear can possess, they rebuked the Ugly Duckling, particularly Quinn who remarked on just how ugly he was. The Ugly Duckling is not one to suffer such an insult without retaliation, and after a great deal of impotent sputtering ordered his horses to slay the bearer of the sword and take the others alive for the king.

The Bully's threats had no effect and Elena's fastball was no use against their armor. Even the magic of William and Sophie (and something very strange happened with Sophie's magic, something that would come back to haunt them) did little to stop the Ugly Duckling and the king's horses and the king's men. Lance bravely stood before his charges, as he was the oldest and also had a badass sword and was some kind of hero of legend. Unfortunately for Lance, he was not the hero of this story. The Ugly Duckling's lance pierced his chest easily and he fell to the ground as the Ugly Duckling squawked in triumph, ordering the king's horses to seize the other children.

Sophie used her chalk to draw a door on a tree to somewhere else and opened it for other children to escape. Brave Elena ran back just in time to snatch the sword and through the door before it closed on her. It was then they found themselves being regurgitated from a suddenly very full and even more upset tree decorated in day-glo yellow. Again they ran as the tree sought to regain its senses regarding the sudden reappearance of what it had hoped would be dinner, just moving the wrong way out of it. Again, the tree learned a valuable lesson about being so very slow as the children escaped its maw again, quite literally this time.

Hearing the Ugly Duckling and the king's horses and the king's men approach, the children hid within the woods. "I can smell the sword, it is here somewhere," the Ugly Duckling pronounced (poorly, he has quite a speech impediment). "It is of no matter," he continued, "they will come to us with the sword because this one is still alive and he will be in the dungeon until I have flayed all of the skin from his bones." Knowing that the children were near, he laid his trap for them. Also, the Ugly Duckling was tired and a little lazy and he does not get paid for overtime.

Breathing a collective sigh of relief, the realization dawned upon our special children of what just happened. Gritting their teeth, they soldier on and after some travel in a direction, they see a cheery camp on the road. William, with the aid of his trusty binoculars, identifies the camp as belonging to jolly dwarfs with food and drink. Motivated by their stomachs and a desire for safety, the children move to greet the encampment.

Upon arriving, they see the noses were a little longer than was initially thought, with awfully long ears, red bowler hats and rather large, pointy teeth. Now correctly identified as redcaps (a particularly ravenous and messy breed of goblin), the children once again find themselves in a fight or flight situation. They run with a slim head start and find the crossroad once more. Deciding that another body certainly couldn't make anything worse at this point (right?), Sophie "finds" a key. Using this artifact created by her over-abundance of imagination, she quickly frees Not Quite Dead Pete and the children make an escape with their new companion and the redcaps close behind.

The chase seems to come to an end when the children and Not Quite Dead Pete reach a clearing with a large stream that turns rapidly into a waterfall as it goes over the very steep cliff. The redcaps, sensing victory at hand, let loose a great cry and charge the children. It is then that Quinn opens her parasol and hops off the edge of the cliff to float down slowly and safely under the power of her imagination. The other children quickly grab onto her, forming an impromptu and dangly ladder of sorts, descending enough that they plummet safely into the water as their strength gives out. Quin and Charlotte, naturally, land safely on the shore.

Upon surfacing, the children cannot seem to find Not Quite Dead Pete. However, there is a beautiful man in a white woolen long coat with golden piping, white breeches, black riding boots, a white vest trimmed in gold, a white silk shirt and crimson cravat, and long platinum blonde hair tied with a red ribbon who is more than happy to help them out with a charming smile. He introduces himself, or more correctly re-introduces himself, as "Prince Peter Charming", and a hint of madness dances in his blue eyes.

To be continued...

22 July 2012

Kickstarter: Part 3 - Updates and Shadows of Esteren

This is the third part in an ongoing series about crowdfunding. Overview and Index.

Since my first post on the subject of Kickstarter and crowdfunding, I have updates on a number of the projects that I discussed (Division, Project Panda Ninja Taco, Shadows of Esteren and Synnibar) and a new project to add to the stable, SteamCraft.

SteamCraft advertises itself as "a skill-based RPG set in an alternate world, where gears, goggles, and coal-powered airships dominate life". So far so good, but there isn't much there to differentiate it from the many steampunk offerings that are all the rage these days. I already have most of them, so I am looking a little more closely to see what this offers in particular, and it does indeed have offerings that interest me. A conflict between the old (magic) and new (technology) is described, as well as a struggle for the future. A dystopian future controlled by ruthless corporations and authoritarian governments, or a future where individuals use knowledge and technology to make it better. There is also promise of rules to guide the creation of death rays scientific wonders and "detailed rules for airship combat".

So many numbers!
The conflict described is what appeals to me here. Even though I love the trappings of the genre, so many of the offerings seem to lack the "-punk" aspect. More gaslight romance, which is lovely and fine much of the time, but sometimes I want to rage against the machine. I also enjoy the inclusion of both magic and steampunk. I cannot necessarily explain why that is, I just do. The addition of other races and mention of the system (percentile) are neither pros nor cons. As well, the displayed art isn't evocative, but it also isn't a turnoff. There is a sample that can be viewed and has excerpts from the text, including a Table of Contents, brief discussion on steampunk, some information on the setting (one of the cultures is an Egypt expy), an overview of character creation, sample equipment and archetypes and the character sheet. I must comment on the character sheet: there is a hit point tracker that seems to replace the act of writing and erasing numbers with circling numbers from a box positively bursting with numbers.


For the rewards, $20 will get you a PDF and $35 will get you a poster and two custom dice (they look pretty nice). At $40 you will be getting a hardcover copy of the book (this is where I am currently pledging) and for $50 it will be signed. $60 gets the signed book and dice, with $75 adding in a poster and postcard. The vanity reward of creating an NPC falls in at $100, though the later rewards offer handmade goggles ($150) and a flask ($250).

In other good news, Project Ninja Panda Taco has made its funding. I wasn't certain if they would, but am very pleased that this book is now coming down the pipe. For those who didn't get in on this project before it closed and want to, I would suggest trying to contact the creator. It often seems that they are more than willing to continue offering the fruits of their labor to those with funds.


In unsurprising news, Synnibar is highly unlikely to meet it's funding. I was hoping for the glorious mess to reach print. It would be a curiosity to read on occasion, but it was not meant to be. From the initial failures (the rewards offered could never meet the goal), sketchy project description (what is this game?), unclear rewards (how many books are there?), to the bizarre third-person communication, this was destined to be nothing other than a object lesson. Raven CS McCracken, you are just too beautiful for this world.

In disappointing news, Division has failed to meet its funding. This was predicted in my first post, but I was still hoping. Disappointment is apparently the gulf between hope and expectations, or something. Nonetheless, the creator has promised that this is not the last we have seen of him or his creation. It's nice to end on a positive note like this even though the news is not great. Particularly when contrasted to the similar events surrounding Synnibar above.

The meat of this post is going to be regarding Shadows of Esteren, a French game (this is an English translation) I have written about a couple of times. In the past week they have really stepped up their campaign and added a number of new rewards. Rewards tempted me enough to move my pledge from $50 to $120. Initially I indicated that the $90 for the limited edition of the game was more than I was willing to pay for something that I don't know how much I would like. Obviously this has changed. Spending more time researching the game certainly helped, but it was the new rewards that really did me in.

New stretch goals that have been met are a bookmark (the art is currently being voted on, reward levels $50 and up) and an attractive folder to contain the artwork for the game (from rewards levels $60 and up). The next stretch goal, which has not been met, is for character sheet booklets to be printed (from reward levels $90 and up), and the final stretch goal is a new PDF book (from reward levels $65 and up). A new reward level was also added at $120 (which is where I am now pledging) that includes a very attractive three-panel landscape GM screen and an album

When I showed my wife the project and talked with her about it, she fell in love with the art and was interested in the music (check out the promo video). As I mentioned above, the more I research the game, the more I like what I see. By see, I mean have you seen the art?


At first glance the setting isn't especially inspiring, but there are a lot of details that get me thinking of what can be done there. There is a strong Celtic influence and a harshness to the world where nature is an obstacle in itself, particularly the winters which are reminiscent of A Song of Ice and Fire, as well as a sense of lost history. Not quite the "it was awesome before and now it sucks", but more along the lines of "that which we have forgotten will come back to haunt us".

There are also conflicts between the druid-like traditional religion, Demorthen, the monotheistic newcomer, The Temple, and those that practice an anachronistic science called "magience". Magience takes the conflict in an interesting direction because of how it interacts with the setting, which ties itself to medieval themes, in that anyone can become a magientist and how that represents a threat to the feudal system. 

The two different classic magic systems, for the Demorthen and the Temple, are different enough in theme and scope that they should suit different players. The Demorthen have a wide variety of spells used through rune stones that work through the spirits of nature. The effects of these spells tend to be very subtle, to the extent that an onlooker may not be able to say with certainty that it was magic. Their outlook is also harsh like the setting, with strong "survival of the fittest" overtones. As well they are secretive and prefer to exert their authority discretely. 

The most fervent priests of the Temple call blessings down directly from their god, though still strongly tied to the themes of their faith. Cold is a particularly major theme, the symbol of purity, with an abhorrence of fire, a cute twist to the standard monotheistic theme of purity through fire. The latter seem to be more impressive, but more limited in availability and application. This appeals to me in that some players are after a generalist (Demorthen), while others want a specialist (the Temple).

Magience seems to be somewhat "steampunk"-ish in appearance and themes, including the obligatory class warfare (mentioned above), and the mystical fuel source, flux, that requires vast resources to extract and causes a great deal of pollution. There are four types of flux (blue, green, red and amber) and each is extracted from a different source (mineral, plant, animal and fossils respectively). Extracting the flux requires completely destroying the source and collecting the liquid that is produced. The amber flux is basically an oil expy, the most powerful variety of flux, able to be used for any purpose; the others have specific uses. The largest reserves of fossils/amber flux are within Demorthen controlled territory and they have feelings about the pollution it brings (it very, very nasty). This bit about amber flux, it's value, pollution, control of the resource, etc, brings some contemporary context to the various social conflicts within the setting.

What seems to be the most overt fantasy aspect are the feondas, a generic term for any twisted creature that can generally ruin your day what with the killing and the madness. Any game that has insanity as a mechanic is going to at least get a second look from me. The descent appears to be more subtle than you would find in Call of Cthulhu, but also more personalized by having the specific events that caused the break to dictate the ways it manifests.

On the whole everything seems to occupy the low fantasy end of the spectrum. Combat is a last resort as it is short, brutal and risky. The supernatural effects, despite occupying a bulk of the text above, are downplayed in favor of the social implications of their existence. Between the art and some of the interesting ways the setting plays with details, I'm starting to get very excited about this. Also, the more folks that pledge, the more stretch goals. At the very least, it's going to be lovely. At the very least.

This is a project that I've become pretty enthusiastic about and so far has been a very well run and successful campaign. The communication with backers has been consistent and informative, as well as open about what is being done and discussing the game. The only criticism that I could offer is that there are not many options for backers that aren't willing or don't have the funds to back at the high costs for this project. The rewards are excellent, but many of the stretch goals are only available to those who can afford the higher reward levels.The fact that the game is not an unknown quantity, but already in print with supplements in France, gives me a great deal of confidence on the ability to provide the product with the quality that has been shown. 

20 July 2012

Grimm: Part 3 - Playtest Review

This is the third part of an ongoing series about Grimm. Part 1Part 2Part 4 and Part 5.

In a previous post I wrote about the system as a whole, what my initial impressions were about how it worked, what it was trying to accomplish, the niches that the archetypes fill and general details about character creation. The next entry contained the characters I created for a on-shot and details about what the various abilities they had were. Now that I have run the game and have actual play experience with the mechanics, this will cover more details about the system, abilities and options available to the kids, the setting, and what the game as a whole really seems to do.

For the one-shot, I made some small adjustments to the default assumptions of the game. Each kid started at 4th grade; 3rd grade is normally where a kid starts. The Dreamer and the Nerd both had the choice of one set of spells from two options. I also allowed them to learn an additional spell with very little work. Normally kids do not start with spells and it takes a considerable amount of time/effort to learn a new spell. Those kids that didn't have spells (the Bully, the Jock, the Outcast and the Popular Kid) received a little something extra to give some balance; e.g. the Bully, Jock and Outcast all started with additional weapons and the Popular Kid got a cell phone which her fairy godmother could reach her on while in the Grimm Lands.

My motivations were simple: I wanted to see more aspects of the system and toys are fun. Those are default positions to change that shouldn't really affect the core experience as I saw it. After running it, I think that they were positive decisions and added to the game. It is worth noting that due to scheduling, there was no Outcast.

Expending Your Core Traits

Since I didn't list them previously in the character write-ups (which was an omission on my part), here are the abilities for each Core trait:

Protecting Your Rep (Cool): Once per scene when making a test in a trait that is lower than your Cool, you may use your Cool trait instead of the appropriate trait, plus whatever advantages or disadvantages would be normal for the test. After doing so, your Cool is expended by one grade.

Being Brave (Pluck): Once per scene before making a Pluck test, you may expend one Pluck grade to automatically succeed at the test. Alternatively, once per scene after failing a Pluck test, you may expend one Pluck grade to act somewhat normally. You still suffer disadvantage on all trait tests for the scene equal to the number of grades by which you failed the original Pluck test, but at least you can try to help your friends.

Use Your Imagination (Imagination): You can create imaginings. It gets its own section in a chapter, so it will be addressed all on its own later on.

Calling on Luck (Luck): If you are making a non-Core trait test that you can't possibly make, even with creativity and teamwork, you can call on luck to raise your grade in the trait for that single test. Your current Luck is expended by a number of grades equal to the advantage you give to the other trait. You can only expend a number of grades equal to half your personal grade level, rounded down. This option must be used before you roll the dice.

Shake It Off (Muscle): Usually, whenever you suffer from wounds, you suffer a -1 disadvantage per wound to all of your tests. But if you expend one Muscle grade, you can ignore those wounds for the rest of the scene.

Each kid that I wrote up also had a keepsake. Keepsakes are items from our world that gain a magical ability when they enter the Grimm Lands and are powered by the imagination of the kid who possesses it (to use the magical ability, the kid must expend one grade of Imagination). The Bully's digital watch would effectively allow him to take two turns, the Nerd's binoculars let him see far beyond the horizon, the Outcast's cigarette lighter acts as a flamethrower, the Jock's Louisville Slugger can turn any piece of handy ammunition into a deadly ranged weapon, the Dreamer's chalk can draw doors, and the Popular Kid's umbrella can protect her from any fall by floating to safety.

The concept of expending Core traits to power abilities (most notably your iconic core trait) was mentioned previously, but I never really expanded on it. That was primarily because I wanted to see the mechanic in action before offering commentary on it and I didn't know if I could address it while resisting the urge to comment. Mostly I wanted to avoid too much commentary without having any real experience with the system.

The basic idea behind this is that your Core traits (Cool, Pluck, Imagination, Luck and Muscle) represent both your capabilities in those areas, but also a resource that can be used for certain powerful abilities. Every kid will get access to these in the form of their iconic trait and at least one keepsake, though many talents and archetype abilities can use this as well for some advantage. When you expend a trait in this fashion, the grade level is reduced until the end of the story. Any future tests you make with that trait will use the new reduced grade level (until the end of the story).

In theory this sounds potentially very neat, but in practice it had the effect I was afraid it would: Players are ridiculously wary of expending their traits for this benefit. It is trading your long-term effectiveness for short-term gain, which is often a losing proposition. Imagination is the easiest to justify this as the trait itself didn't come into play much, but it is also the most commonly required Core trait to be spent, meaning you might have to ration overcoming the task at hand against the possibility of a test down the line. Being Brave is right out the hardest to justify since using it for that effect puts you down the slippery slope where you will have to rely on the ability rather than the trait. Pluck is a common test to resist "something bad". The obvious fix would be to remove the clause where expending the grade level reduces the trait, so each trait gives you a number of points to spend per story. Protecting Your Rep would require a bit of work as it could be potentially very powerful and easily upstage what the Normal Kid is supposed to bring to the table (being able to fill in an unanticipated need at a moment's notice).

The only iconic trait that was used during the session was Imagination, though the digital watch, chalk and umbrella keepsakes all saw use. The Dreamer was by far the character that expended the most grades, but this is unsurprising because they a) had the most to play with and 2) Imagination didn't come up much beyond that.

Imaginings

Probably the most notable thing in Grimm are the imaginings and tragically you only get access to them if you have Imagination as your iconic Core trait. The Imagination Core trait is always iconic for the Dreamer, with the option of being doubly effective for imaginings (this is what the Dreamer in the session had). Imagination changes the world around the character in a specific and typically short-term way, but it cannot replicate another character's ability, talent, or spell and cannot be used to directly damage or destroy things. Broadly, Imagination is a force of creation and creativity, but cannot be used to invade another character's niche.

Characters with iconic Imagination can expend one Imagination a turn for a number of turns equal to half of their personal grade rounded down. Each Imagination expended in this fashion gives you access to the same level of imaginings with a broad list of guidelines and some examples. 

For example, level 1 imaginings affect minor changes that appear coincidental. They are always nearby and immediate and cannot affect other characters - though can find small items (some rope, a torch) with an associated trait test  to find/create it and an explanation how it came to be, or create an insignificant item on your person (e.g. a candy cane). They can also heal and increase the boost range on a single roll (this doesn't take any time). For contrast, level 4 imaginings allow you to create more powerful items (heavy weapons, armor) that you have immediately, or find significantly powerful items (including keepsakes), increase your boost range by 4 (again, no time required), inflict -3 disadvantage on a creature, or shape the environment in a significant way.

The healing imagining renders a Dreamer-only ability rather useless. I had given it to the Dreamer (you can read it in the write-up), not fully digesting the imaginings at the time, but replaced the ability mid-session when I came to understand that it was rather pointless, particularly as the Nerd had gotten access to Heal and had Boy Scouts for first aid. The boost range increase is so-so at best as you are expending a finite resource on the chance that you will increase your grade on your roll. This is not a winning proposition.

That all being said, imaginings are very powerful for the sheer scope of options that they offer and I would really prefer if every kid had some access to them. Giving every kid iconic Imagination and allowing the Dreamer another pick could be a workable solution; every kid has Imagination, the Dreamer is just better/more efficient at it. The Dreamer always gets Imagination as an iconic Core trait and can select an additional iconic Core trait, or select Imagination again, which grants the double effectiveness mentioned above. In this case they would get the double effectiveness and an additional iconic Core trait.

Magic: A Cautionary Tale

Magic is powerful and strange in the Grimm Lands and I think that I quite like it. Each spell has an associated Magical Style and a Circle (1st through 6th). Spell descriptions are very simple and clear in application without ever feeling like a bullet list of effects or a cafeteria menu. This is a bonus after the draconian arguments that other fantasy games can bring with regard to magic.

The magical style (Artificers, Enchanters, Guardians, Seers, Witches and Wizards) is a grouping for spells with a similar theme. Each style has a sidebar discussion about how to incorporate it within the game, examples of who uses it and the methods that it employs. There are no mechanics associated with magical style, 

Example: Guardian magic is used by fairy godmothers, good witches and guardian angels. Guardian magic typically requires the permission (or request) of the target of the spell, or their parents if the target is too young. Some guardians require a symbolic badge in the case of the ward spell. The sidebar discusses ways how some guardians are a little weird and that others are malicious in how they twist the spells are their disposal.

Circle represents the power of the spell, including how difficult it is to learn and cast, how draining it to cast and how many turns it will take to cast.

Casting a spell takes a number of turns equal to the circle of the spell. During each turn you will advance in circle by making a Gaming test against twice the circle until you have finished casting the spell; e.g. William wants to cast Fear on the Ugly Ducking, a 2nd-circle Wizard spell. During his first turn he will have to advance to the 1st-circle by making a Gaming test against a difficulty of 2. The next turn he will have to advance to the 2nd-circle by making a Gaming test against a difficulty of 4, after which the spell will be cast. If any of these tests are failed, the casting has to start again.

There are also "progressive" spells which cross a number of circles. You have to learn each version individually, but they offer some options. The classic example for this would be the Wizard spell "Blast". If you have all for circles (1st through 4th) you can stop at any time and cast the circle that you have just advanced to, or continue advancing until you top out. Nothing major, just neat.

After successfully casting a spell, kids have to deal with weakening and estrangement. Weakening gives the caster a disadvantage to all Playground traits for the scene equal to the circle of the spell cast, and this is cumulative with all spells cast that scene. If your disadvantages are ever greater than your Gaming trait, they start to turn into disadvantages for the story. If those disadvantages ever exceed your Gaming trait, then they permanently reduce all Playground traits. I actually forgot to use this, but it never would have actually been relevant at any time in hindsight. Estrangement is caused by trying to gather more magic than you can handle, represented by a Pluck roll. Failure causes things to get weird and makes you more like a creature from the Grimm Lands, which happily (?) also reduces the amount of weakness you suffer.

There are three main ways to learn magic (though certain talents and abilities can modify this): Apprenticeship, study and precociousness, in order of ascending difficulty. Apprenticeship takes one day to learn a 1st-circle spell and the time doubles for every increase in circle up to 32 days for a 6th-circle spell; this is for intense study - adventuring and traveling quadruples the time requirement. Each day requires a Gaming test with a difficulty at twice the circle of the spell for the day to count as a successful day of study. You will, obviously, need a teacher for this. Study takes twice as long as apprenticeship and until you cast the spell successfully three times, it will go haywire on a failure instead of nothing happening. Precociousness takes the least time, but you have to spend every round observing the spell as it is cast. The character may then attempt to cast the spell normally, but every scene that passes since it was learned increases the difficulty to cast the spell by 1. Spending an entire scene writing notes (with associated Gaming test just like casting the spell) will allow for learning the spell via study later. Miscast spells learned this way always result in a haywire, so the study later is going to be important.

As I said above, I quite like the magic system. It was pretty unobtrusive for a magic system and the effects were useful, but not overpowering by any stretch. Magic is pretty cheap to get access to (Gaming is a Study trait and those are the cheapest to raise), but the Pluck required to use it safely in the long run can be expensive. That is mitigated by the fact that Pluck is really good for every kid. You are going to want Pluck. Iconic Pluck can also allow you to sidestep estrangement entirely if you are conservative with it.

System: General Thoughts

After having seen the system in action, I quite like it. Generally, I have a tendency to enjoy systems that don't play coy with your expected results. It makes planning things significantly easier from the GM perspective and hypothetically from the player as well. There were a couple of exceptions to this. Bad luck was the first. Astronomically bad luck that took probability out back and put it down like Old Yeller. The second was optimism, strangely. On more than a couple of instances I observed decisions made on the basis that there was a chance (~17%) that the result would be boosted and perform over the grade level. I found this to be curious and am most likely to attribute it to so many experiences with previous systems where performing beyond expectations isn't nearly as unlikely.

Along similar lines, unless there is distinct advantage from having multiple successes (e.g. hitting multiple times in combat), it is always better to provide teamwork than try on your own. Because a die will be rolled for each character providing teamwork, you will still get the best random result, but it will also be applied to the best starting score. This really maximizes the upside and virtually negates any downside - virtually. See above regarding phenomenally bad luck (only one character providing teamwork reduces the chance to botch to ~3%). Even in situations like combat where multiple successful actions are beneficial, having one primary actor will yield the best result if the other characters will probably be unsuccessful on their own. This is another thing that I like since it really encourages the kids to work together at accomplishing things. Immediately actions are considered from a group, rather than personal, level; i.e. what can you bring to help other people help the team, not just what can you do on your own to help the team.

With unlimited time available, it is virtually guaranteed that you will be able to boost your grade level by at least one (~83%) through focusing. Though the characters only actually used focus once, it was through that and clever teamwork that some Bad Things were evaded. It is a subtle, but clever combination of mechanics that show clear benefit to having plenty of time without it ever getting out of hand.

Every game benefits from some experience with the system to create characters and Grimm is certainly no different. Were I to go back with what I know now, I would have made a few modifications to encourage even more teamwork among the characters. As well, I have a feeling that the players would design characters with a close eye so that gaps can be appropriately filled and that everyone has a teamwork buddy for any given trait; to provide teamwork a kid must have the trait within two grades of the actor. Had the Outcast been present, that would have been covered, but as it was there were a few holes. I also don't know if there would be quite the diversity in origin talents as I used. 

Combat tends to be relatively one-sided based on stature. Bigger things will generally be more successful and smaller characters have an uphill battle in front of them, all other things being equal. While Throw is a great equalizer (being more effective if the target is larger than you) simply damaging anything larger can potentially be a time-consuming and frustrating endeavor. Similarly, kids are pretty fragile. This is both a feature and potentially an issue. It strongly promotes approaching conflict from a position of planning and significant advantage, but with some gaming instincts long hardwired, there can be issues. Fortunately, I saw this coming and planned an object lesson regarding combat with a clearly superior foe and it worked splendidly.

From a narrator perspective the setting and flavor are fantastic. There are wonderful twists to classic fairy tales all from the perspective "what happened after the tale ends and things go sideways?". Not everything is new takes on the old; there is also new material as well. My only complaint is that there don't seem to be a lot of things appropriate for starting characters to deal with. Making minor characters is a breeze, but it is nice to have some examples to judge how appropriate what you intend to do is. Many of the suggested Pluck rolls seem far beyond what most characters will likely ever be able to achieve. While there is some excellent advice, I just feel like there is something missing when jumping in for the first time.

Running a game for five people is generally my limit (I was planning on having six). Having more than that typically divides my attention in a way that hurts everyone and providing that many spotlights can feel forced. With Grimm, I never actually felt any of those issues. While there was a lot going on and everyone was able to contribute, often that contribution would come in the form of supporting another character. As well the narrator advice specifically gives examples of how to spotlight the various archetypes. The archetypes and the strong niche protection that they provide gives excellent cues how to support what that character, and that character alone, does well.

To sum everything up, I think that this is a very excellent game for doing what it sets out to do: running kids through darker fairy tales and asking the question "what happens ever after when the magic fades?" The mechanics are simple and never get in the way, while reinforcing the need for teamwork and and establishing transparency in how they work. There are some changes that I would make, but they would be a matter of taste rather than necessary to keep everything functioning.