No Thank You, Evil! by hyphz
PostOriginal SA post No Thank You, Evil! (1)
I find RPGs designed for children quite interesting. They generally focus around simple rules and lots of potential for creativity, and are much more player-centred than other RPGs. So when I heard that a children's RPG was being developed based on the Cypher System - essentially a Numenera for children - I.. well, I cringed, and I think a lot of other people did too, given the bizarre brokenness of Numenera. But it had another interesting twist: most children's RPGs try to do a childlike version of fantasy adventure (knights with pot-lid helmets all around), whereas NTYE targets the more surreal children's fiction - along the lines of Roald Dahl or Dr Seuss - which seems relatively unexplored. When the Kickstarter succeeded and the game actually came out, I thought it'd either be interesting or amusing and picked up the PDF (which is not the normal way to get this game - it normally comes in a boxed set with cards and dice).
And it delivers on both. It turns out that it's actually quite a good version of Cypher, which nearly addresses a few of that game's issues, but at the same time makes a number of very silly mistakes.
As you'd expect for a children's game, the rules have been kept simple. You say what you want to do. The Guide (because we have to give the GM a fancy name) decides on a difficulty level from 1 to 8. Then you roll a dice and try and roll that number or higher. If you do, you succeed. If you'd have to roll a 1, you don't bother rolling, because you're sure to succeed. If you roll a 6, you get a Wild Success. No problem.
Well, no problem until you see the actual difficulty chart:
So, in a game that's probably someone's first RPG, we have all the classic errors: synonyms of "difficult" that aren't actually quantitative used as if they are; and subjective terms (like, "you got this") used when defining difficulties where the game explicitly says they're supposed to be objective and not varying between characters; and including an "Impossible" level that I suspect is in context certain to be misunderstood as allowing the character a chance to do anything that is impossible...
As normal in Cypher, it's unusual to get bonuses to rolls: you can only lower the difficulty number (which is called the Goal). NTYE characters have four stats: Tough, Smart, Fast, and Awesome. The first three are the common ones that appear in every version of Cypher; the Awesome stat is newly added to this version, and is used for helping other people. Your level in each stat gives you a pool of points to spend (there's no "edge" as in regular Cypher): whenever you take on a task, you can Try Harder by spending 1 point from a pool appropriate to the task to lower the Goal by 1. Unlike regular Cypher, you can only do this once per task (but the numbers involved are much smaller). To lower the Goal further, you need to ask your friends to Be Awesome, in which case they can spend a point from their Awesome pool to lower your Goal by one. As before, each player can only do this once per task - which oddly means that the number of PCs in the group becomes a critical factor to difficulty. If it's just one child playing with their parent, they not only can't lower Goals far but have a useless Awesome pool. If there's a group of 6 or so players, they can together guarantee success on any roll in the game.
Fighting is similar to regular Cypher but simplified further. There's no initiative: the players always go before the bad guys in whatever order they want. The player announces they're fighting and then makes a roll with an appropriate pool, with the Goal being the enemy's Level (as in regular Cypher, most enemies are defined by a single number). Melee attacks can be Fast or Tough, whichever you choose; ranged attacks are always Fast, and tricks or psychic powers are Smart. On a successful roll the player does 2 damage (it's always 2 damage no matter what weapon's being used) against the creature's Health, which is also usually equal to its Level.
When the bad guys attack back, it's still the players who roll the dice: they roll against the creature's Level again, and if they fail, they take between 2 and 4 damage (depending on the creature) to their Tough pool, subtracting that number of points. Technically the rules say damage can be done to any pool, but all the creatures in the book damage the Tough pool - which was one of the big balance issues in Numenera as well.. If the Tough pool runs out, damage carries over to Fast, then to Smart, and then to Awesome.
As you'd expect from a children's game, PCs can't actually die (although creatures apparently can, as they're described as being killed several times in the same adventure). PCs have an additional extra pool called.. ugh.. Fun. What a terrible name for a stat. PCs start with 3 points of Fun. By spending an action and a point of Fun, and making up something fun the character is doing, all the character's pools immediately refill. If a PC's pools are completely emptied, all they can do is to spend an action having Fun to recover them; if their Fun has also reached zero, they are Conked Out and can't do anything until their pools recover.
There's some very clever mechanics here with the Awesome stat. The Fun mechanic encourages characters to use up all their pools, one of which is Awesome, so they'll be encouraged to spend some time helping other PCs and thus sharing the spotlight. Likewise, if a PC is taking a beating, they might lose the ability to use some of their own abilities, but since Awesome is the last pool to drain they can still go cling to their buddy for protection and assist them.
There's standard movement rules - with range band based movement ( Within Reach, In Range, and Very Far).. and the classic mistake made by range band based games of giving precise measurements for those bands (it comes down to "in your turn you can move up to 50 feet, if you move less than 10 feet it doesn't take up your action"), thus causing our good friend Pythagoras to move in and confuse everyone by creating hard range borders based on angles.
There's also two special actions. First of all, there's a Group Action. This is ideally used at the end of the adventure to have everyone chip in on a single task (Care Bear Stare, anyone? ). Everyone gets a single Goal to roll against, everyone rolls; if someone doesn't make it someone else can spend a point of Awesome to have them try again, and can repeat this until they manage it. Or.. uh, well, until everyone runs out of points, I guess. And I really hope that they don't do that, because none of the sample adventures take account of the possibility of a Group Action failing, and in fact fall apart completely if they ever do.
The second action is, "No Thank You, Evil!". If a player is getting scared by something happening in the game, they can put up their hand and call "No Thank You, Evil!", which signals the Guide to pause the game to let people calm down and possibly to remove or resolve whatever's upsetting the player. This is a great rule to have in a game for children. It is a terrible rule to name the game after, given that it's essentially a way of recovering from an undesirable condition. Also, in a classic Monte Cook moment, the book says that players may only invoke this rule once per game. Which gives the image of one of the children bawling their eyes out with fear while the Guide just carries on because they used their one call up earlier in the session..
So, that's the system, and as Cypher variants go its not bad (although the competition isn't exactly impressive..) Next, we shall look at character generation, and how the designers show they do not quite understand how game difficulty works.
PostOriginal SA post No Thank You, Evil! (2)
So, let's talk about making characters. NTYE follows the standard Cypher System format for characters: they're defined by a sentence that reads "I'm an adjective noun who verbs." Fill in all three blanks, and you've made your character.
Unfortunately, this section also has one of the biggest blunders in the system. NTYE has three "play levels", to be used according to the age of the players and the experience of the Guide. For some reason they are identified using symbols: Triangle level is for children around 4 and inexperienced Guides, Square level is for 6-10 with some experience, and Circle level is for 8-14 and experienced Guides. The main difference that the level makes is in how complicated the characters are. At Triangle level, you only get to pick a noun, so your character is just "I'm a something." At Square, you get the adjective to, so "I'm a somethingy something." And at Circle, you get the full monte of "I'm a somethingy something who somethings." Why is this a blunder? We shall see.
In all of the previous Cypher System games, there were exactly three nouns you could pick from, and they were always the same in every system: "Fighter with a silly name", "Mage with a silly name", and "Rogue with a silly name". It was a great way of not adding anything interesting or innovative to the game while at the same time making it hard for the player to connect with the high concept inherent in these character types: "I'm a bold, brave, badass.. uh.. vector."
Fortunately, NTYE has the best set of Nouns of any Cypher game. They're all high concept and clear, they're flexible, and they're easy to identify. They're also simplified: they give you your starting stat spread, tell you which form of Defense you use, and give you a Knack, which allows you to spend a point to auto-succeed at any given type of task. Defense comes in two forms: Armor (subtract 1 from all damage you take) and Hustle (lower the difficulty of defending by 1), and each noun gets one of these two... although since most things do 2 damage it seems that armor is just plain better.
Each noun also gets an illustrative artwork, which are.. weird. It looks like they've taken a cartoon image of a character and then tried to fit a real child's face into it from a photograph. This actually looks quite good most of the time, but sometimes it can jump down the uncanny valley, especially when the child's face is from a Kickstarter backer's photo.
Here are the nouns. Since this game is pretty recent, I won't give the full stat spread for each Noun to avoid summoning rabid Lawyers; I'll just give the highest stats they have. Everyone has a total of 10 stat points split between the four stats.
Astronaut (Smart 4): you love exploring space. You wear your space suit which gives you Armor. Unfortunately your Knack is incredibly confusing for being the first one in the book. It reads:
Cost 1: When you want to jump, leap, or otherwise leave the ground, you succeed.
So hang on, would jumping normally be opposed? (Doesn't seem so) Does it mean you can jump to any height, or just literally "leave the ground"? Can you fly? I could understand it being kinda fun to give an Astronaut a personal zero-gravity bubble, but if that's what this is supposed to represent it definitely needed to be better worded. Note that there are no rules at all for actually exploring space or having a spaceship.
Creature (Tough 4): you're some kind of wild creature - or, if you prefer, a human wearing a creature suit. You have a tough hide that gives you Armor, and for 1 Tough you can roar at a bad guy and scare them. Which sounds good except there's also a list of creatures you might be, and one of them is "Bunny". Cue Holy Grail jokes.
Fighter (Tough 5): you're a fighter and use weapons and um, that's about all the description you get. You get Armor from.. um.. the Armor you wear. But it officially "makes you look cool" too, so that's alright, and it doesn't matter that the guy in the illustration is just wearing a gi. For 1 Tough, you can shout "Knockout!" and knockout a bad guy who's already hurt. This doesn't defeat them, though - it makes him lose his next turn. As we shall see, this is rubbish.
Kid (Fast/Awesome 3): oh, come on. Kid!? Everyone in this game is supposed to be a kid. In fact, the backstory is that the real children found a portal in their wardrobe or something similar which took them to a magical land where they become someone else. Even the person writing the description has trouble with this, saying that you like doing "kid things" and doing "regular kid stuff". You get Hustle because you're quick and dodge around, and you can spend 1 Fast to "jump, climb, or leap" but this time there's an explicit note that this "allows you to scramble up and over things". Screw you, Astronaut!
Pirate (Fast 4): Surprisingly, the description says you're an actual pirate - "a thief and a scoundrel, but once someone is part of your crew, you're their best protector and friend. But everyone else had better watch their pockets!". This seems a bit odd, given that most children's pirates I remember mostly just sail around and look for buried treasure (which I suppose is technically stealing but still..) You get Hustle because you're tricky, and you can spend 1 Fast to open any locked chest or box.
Princess/Prince (Awesome 5): you're royalty, or at least you act like it. People like you and you know plenty of people who can do things. You have Awesome 5 and a total of 5 between your other stats. Remember that Awesome is only used for helping people and the text explicitly says that NTYE "can work with only one player". So if your daughter picks this for her first solo game she's going to end up very, very upset. You get Hustle because.. uh, you don't wear armor I guess.. and for 1 Smart you can charm a bad guy into not attacking you for one round. Yes, that's 1 Smart - this is the first noun which doesn't get to use its highest stat to power its Knack. A Princess' Smart is 2. I don't know if the author had an ulterior motive of teaching girls that princesses are pretty useless, but still..
Robot (Tough/Smart 3): you're exactly that, a robot of any kind you like, from a little floating orb to a complete android. You have Armor from being made of metal, and for 1 Smart you can say "Beep boop!" and automatically figure out the answer to a problem. Ew, boy. I hope your Guide knows what they're doing or that's going to create a whole lot of short circuits.
Spy (Fast/Smart 3): you're sneaky and stealthy and like finding out secrets. You wear a ninja outfit but you're quick so you get Hustle, and for 1 Fast, you can curl up in a ball and "stay hidden". That's what the book says, not "hide", but "stay hidden". I guess they're trying to avoid someone just curling up in a ball in the middle of a spotlight, but still, it could be clearer. By the way, there's no rules for perception.
Superhero (Tough 4): you're super strong and want to help protect people. You have Armor from your super toughness, and for 1 Tough, you can yell "I'll save the day!" and succeed at any Tough action that isn't fighting. The game suggests that you can play a specific superhero if you want to by changing the noun, but you're going to be a bit stick if you use this noun to play Spider-man.
Wizard (Fast 4): oh god, it's a magic user in Cypher. For a change, though, we don't have blatant caster supremacy, and there's no massive list of spells. Wizards get Hustle from being able to glitch around, and for 1 Smart, they can "make someone see something that isn't there". And you might have a magic wand as a weapon, but it does the same damage as everything else. Fair enough, except for this being the second class with a Knack that isn't driven by their primary stat - although they're not quite as hosed as Princesses, because they have Smart 3.
As well as the basic stuff from their noun, everyone gets one weapon of their choice (which does 2 points of damage), and a Hero Kit. This includes a map of Storia to find your way around, a Journal to write your adventures and a flashlight pen to write with, a hip flask for drinking, a shirt with a "no evil" logo on it, and a Wet Wellie. Which is actually a water pistol (and a ranged weapon) but shows that the authors didn't allow for UK children's slang. (Also, you can tell your kids that they could have had a real Hero Kit if only you'd backed the Kickstarter.) To put this stuff in, you get an I Gotcher Back Pack, which is a living creature which clings on to your back and carries all your stuff. It can take stuff from you to store, hand you stuff when you ask, and warn you when someone's sneaking up behind you.
If you're playing with really young kids at Triangle level, that's it. If you're playing at Square or higher, you get to pick..
And these are really, really, simple in this game. All of them do the same thing: they let you add 1 to a stat. Several of them are duplicated, as you'd expect given that there are only 4 stats. Being Powerful or Super Strong adds 1 to Tough; being Sneaky or, uh, Fast adds 1 to Fast; being Super Smart or Cool adds 1 to Smart; being Fantastic or Kind adds 1 to Awesome.
You can also probably see the terrible blunder made with the play levels. See, they've reasoned that to play with younger children, you should have simpler character generation, so there should be less aspects of the character to track. But they haven't allowed for the fact that all of those extra aspects are also power ups, so doing without them makes the actual play of the game harder - and makes Guiding much harder, because the Guide is more likely to have to deal with a nervous child who has just rolled a 1 on something important. No, there is no adjustment to any of the difficulties for playing at lower play levels. In fact, even worse, the game suggests that when playing at Triangle level the Guide should give the exact difficulty number before the roll, whereas Square or Circle players may only be given a rough idea. That means that Triangle level Guides are explicitly banned from retroactively fudging the difficulty level to prevent little Johnny plunging off a cliff. Nice one
Now, for Circle level players, they get one more thing: the verb phrase, called the Descriptor. And if you thought the Adjective was a power-up, well, wait until you see these. I'm pretty sure that players aged 8-12 are quite capable of spotting when a game is broken. And they're going to spot this.
What your descriptor does is to give you a Talent, which is a special action you can take any time. Usually, Talents don't require a roll. Many of them are utterly broken. Let's see:
Bashes Evil: you like getting rid of evil stuff. Your talent lets you inflict 1 extra point of damage against anyone evil, provided you yell "I smite you!" on your regular attack. If you pick this, you are wrong.
Does Magic: you can do magic, although oddly you don't have to be a wizard. Your talent lets you blow on your fingers and charm a bad guy for 1 round to "think it's your best friend". And here we hit the problem: talents can be used without a roll, and an unlimited number of times. So you can essentially remove single enemy from a fight, and most fights in NTYE tend to be against single opponents. But we aren't at the apex yet. No, we don't have caster supremacy, we have..
Eats Ice Cream: Ice cream supremacy. The description says that you might just wear an ice cream cone hat or know a lot about ice cream, but the talent implies that you actually carry an unlimited supply of ice cream around with you. See, you can take a bite of ice cream, and give an opponent brain freeze, which deals 1 damage to them and makes them lose their next turn. Unlimited. No roll. Stunlock+dot. I mean, ok, it's a children's game, but do they really believe they're not going to notice that someone can just hang back and eat ice cream and mysteriously defeat anything in a few actions?
Experiments with Science: you like doing funky science experiments in labs. You can throw an "experiment" (ahem) into the air and it explodes, doing 1 point of damage to all creatures In Range. Which probably includes your friends.
Flies Through The Sky: if you want to actually fly, this lets you do it. The Soar action says that you can "jump into the air and fly around really high and fast for 1 round. While you're up there, your attack inflicts an extra 1 point of damage". It's not quite clear how you'd attack while Soaring since using a Talent consumes your action and it only lasts for the one round in which you do it, but hey. Oh, and screw you, Astronauts.
Loves Ooey Gooey Things: you like snails, slime, mud, and similar things. Your talent lets you throw a ball of slime at your friend, covering them and giving them an extra point of damage reduction for the round. So I hope all the other players like slime, too.
Loves Pizza: is exactly the same as Eats Ice Cream but with pizza. You can throw pizza at the enemy causing them to take 1 damage and be distracted by the smell for 1 round. Oddly, throwing pizza at someone you might think would hurt as a result of it being hot or having sticky cheese, but instead the description says it "slices and dices the foe"! Fear the sharpened pizza.
Plays Video Games: you "know your way around a controller and a screen". Your talent is that if you focus very hard, you can find an "easter egg" - something hidden such as a door, chest, or treasure. Ok, this is at the experienced Guide level, but remember, you can do this as many times as you like. Whenever you like. Including multiple times in a row.
Reads Great Books: you love reading adventure books. Your talent is that you can summon a hero from a story out of their book to help with you anything that isn't fighting, and they lower your Goal by 1.
Runs Like The Wind: your movement thresholds are doubled, so you can move 50' and still act, or move 100' as your whole action. This seems.. oddly technical and specific for this game, and for the range-band based movement.
Sings and Dances: you like entertaining people. If you take an action to entertain your friends, you lower all their Goals by 1 for one round. In other words, you have an unlimited Awesome pool. The game suggests that Princesses often Sing and Dance, but they don't if they have any sense or actually want to enjoy the game..
There's one more thing to create, too, although it's just a choice. Everyone, regardless of the play level, gets a..
At Triangle level, you just choose a companion who goes with you for fun. At the higher levels, companions have.. Cyphers. Cyphers are one-shot abilities your companion can use and are called Cyphers for no reason other than that they sort of resemble the Cyphers (restricted-use low-power magic items) from the other games in the series. When a companion uses a Cypher, it loses it, and in order to give it a new one you have to feed it a Treat. Everyone starts with 3 Treats, and you can find more as you explore. There's a list of possible companions, but they don't have stats ("I hide behind my companion!" Oh, great..) so they're just descriptions.
Awesome Alien: You have an alien friend who follows you around. You're not sure where he came from, and most people can't understand him, but you can. The suggested treat for an alien is "Tiny Planets". You may actually be being followed by Cthulhu.
Big Bad Wolf: Well, it's not big and bad to you, but it's a badass when you need it to be. By which we mean it totally isn't because companions can't fight.
Clumsy Ghost: it's a friendly ghost who keeps falling over and banging its toes on things. Bad guys still find it scary, by which they mean they don't because companions... ah, screw it.
Dust Bunny: you.. like a dust bunny. That's literally all it says.
Fast Car: oh, seriously? Yes, you have a car which follows you around. It may end up with a Cypher which allows it to sing. If you want to drive it or run a bad guy over, it's your Guide's best guess what happens. Oh, and the treat is to feed it "juice boxes filled with gas". Cute! I light one and throw it..
Fiery Dragon: it follows you around and you've trained it to only breathe fire when you ask it to. The Treat for it is "crispy critters". Yay, your companion eats the dead!
Flying Octopus: well, he doesn't actually fly. He's just really good at climbing and jumping around.
Invisible Friend: no-one knows they exist except you. But they can still do stuff.
Little Brother/Sister: they come with you on your adventures. It's suggested you could reskin this into any other person or relative who wants to help you out. As usual, they're a companion so they can't do anything.
Pretty Pony: Yes. Next.
Robot Dog: a friendly robot dog who makes up new tricks. The text says that you could use it for a regular dog as well.. but the text for Little Brother/Sister says the same thing. Why they don't just say "make up a companion" I don't know.
Scary Monster: Well, he's not that scary once you get to know him. His treat is "monster munch" which is an actual real brand name snack in the UK, so they've made an unintentional product placement.
Tiny T. Rex: a little dinosaur who likes to ride around in your pack. He can still be fierce, though.
So, what's probably more interesting is the Cyphers, which are the abilities that companions can use. You ask your companion to use their Cypher, and they do. When they've used it, it's gone; when you feed them a treat, they get a new random Cypher which the guide chooses by "drawing a card from the cypher deck". Each of the companions has a suggested starting Cypher which fits with what they are: so the Tiny T. Rex can grow big and roar, the Invisible Friend can turn you invisible too, the Fast Car can pick you up to save you from damage, the Little Brother can tell a joke that inspires you... but once that's used, their next Cyphers are random. Which can lead to some.. surreal combinations, as we'll see.
Best Buds: they and their friends carry you and your friends back to your base. Give this to your Tiny T. Rex!
Big Ears: any time it hears something dangerous in range, it tells you.
Bubbler: blows bubbles at your friends which add 1 to all their Fast pools.
Burp: burps so loud it deafens everyone within reach. There are no rules for being deafened. Give this to your Fast Ca.. actually no, that's hilarious.
Deflector: throws up a shield that sends all the damage "back to the bad guy".
Disguise: makes you look like someone else.
Embiggen: grows to giant size and stomps on someone for 3 points of damage. Give this to your Invisible Friend for random horrific explosion.
Enflame: spits flame that does 2 points of damage to everything Within Reach. Um.. we don't have any rules for where Companions move relative to their owners. I hope they don't have to stay too close. Give this to your Pretty Pony.
Free Ride: on your defend action, it runs over and picks you up to avoid damage.
Great Game: refill all your pools without spending a Fun.
Hat Trick: turns itself into a hat. If you put on the hat, it makes you invisible. Give this to your Little Brother.
Key: "Reshapes its hand, foot, or other body part into a key" to open anything locked. Give this to your Fast Car.
Knock-Knock: tells you a joke which cheers you up so much you gain 2 Awesome. Give this to your Fast Car, too.
Know Globe: they produce a rainbow coloured globe. The text reads: "Shake the globe and ask it one question (Goal 3) and you will get an honest answer." Um.. Goal 3? So you don't always get an honest answer? What stat are we supposed to be rolling? Is this a skill roll to ask a question? Fuh.
Lifesaver: same as Free Ride.
Living Rope: stretches into a living rope. You can "ask the living rope to do anything a normal rope would do, and it will do that for you". Since a normal rope can't do anything much but lie on the ground, I guess.. ok, that's pedantic, but the wording could be better. It's up with "can see in the dark as well as a human can".
Lullaby: sings a lullaby and puts all creatures Within Reach to sleep for one round. Again, hope you tell it to move away first.
No See 'Em: makes your whole group invisible.
Shake It Off: picks you up by the feet and shakes you until you feel better, and you gain 2 Tough. Give this to your Tiny T. Rex for a confusing image, or your Invisible Friend for a rather strange display.
Spark: Shoots a bad guy with a bolt of lightning that does 3 damage. So, same as Embiggen.
Spew Goo: Spits goo out of its mouth that covers the ground and sticks everything In Range in place. Usual problem with companion ranges. Draw this for a Pretty Pony if you like upsetting the owner of the pony.
Spiderweb: Coats your hands and feet with web so you can walk on walls and ceilings.
Squeeze: Squeezes an item until it opens. So the same as Key.
Starshine: Glows in the dark, so everyone in your group can see as if it was daytime. You just know I want you to give this to an Invisible Friend, right?
Startle: Sneaks up behind a bad guy In Range and scares it so it tries to run away. Give this to your Invisible Friend for confusion, or a Fast Car if you want to re-enact that one South Park episode.
Tough Stuff: You stick your thumb in its mouth and it blows, making your muscles huge. Get 2 to your Tough pool and, if you're old enough, remember Tex Avery.
Trick: adds 1 to one of your friends' trait pools of their choice.
Trickster: does a trick for you, adding 2 to your Smart pool. It.. um, would have been nice to have thought of a different name for this..
Tell Spell: casts a spell that makes one other creature answer two questions honestly. La la Invisible Friend.
So, that's pretty much all there is to character generation - there is equipment too, but you don't get enough money to buy it at character generation, so not to worry. Next, we'll look at that equipment and a bit of the setting.
PostOriginal SA post No Thank You, Evil! (3)
Equipment is usually purchased from shops with Coins. It's mentioned that it's rare to find equipment around on be given it. Every character starts with 1 Coin, and getting more is entirely up to the Guide, and here's what you can buy:
Best Princess Dress Ever (3): Does absolutely nothing. Doesn't even give a bonus to Awesome. The text says you should consider "get all the colors.. or get one for your pretty pony!". Is this a way to training young girls to be cynical?
Dangerous Dress (5): Or you could wear something that looks just outright terrifying, although they have at least managed to avoid making it look like something from a BDSM shop. Your dress has spines which do 3 points of damage to anything they touch.. but there are no rules for when they touch something. The text says you can "just run into the bad guys" so is that an action? Or an attack? What about if they hit you in melee? Well, who knows? And, yes, this is explicitly a dress and there's no equivalent for guys.
Shining Armor (7): It's really strong and really light. If you have Hustle, you get Armor too; if you have Armor, you get Hustle too. These should not both be the same price.
Catarang (6): It's not a cat you throw like a boomerang. It's a cat you use as a machine gun that shoots out stuffed rats (!) that do 3 points of damage. It "smells like cheese when it overheats". When does it overheat? Who knows.
Tickle Lotion (1): prevents the wearer from being tickled, accidentally or on purpose. Note that it stops them being tickled, not from laughing when they are. Which could be a bit surreal.
Bag of Scolding (5): a bit like your Gotcha Back Pack, but can taunt your enemies for you. Which doesn't do anything. 5 coins.
Air Guitar (3): Doesn't do anything and doesn't exist.
Wind Guitar (6): Creates a blast of wind when you play it that does 3 points of damage to all living things In Range. So, yea, stay away from your buddies or practice the Total Distortion song..
Dingbat (6): A baseball bat with wings that shouts "Ding!" whenever you hit someone with it. The wings.. apparently do nothing. But it does do 3 points of damage. just like everything else here.
King of Swords (6): Oh look. It costs 6 and it's a weapon that does 3 points of damage.
Candy Camouflage (2): A cellophane wrapper that hides you from anyone who doesn't like candy. The text says "maybe this isn't such a good idea". Well, is it a waste of 2 coins or isn't it?
Map Turtle (4): Comes with a treasure map on its shell which is certain to lead to a real treasure. Nice adventure hook, but do you have to kill or deface the turtle when you've found the loot?
That Dern Helm (3): Um, what? Whenever you are angry or sad, the helmet turns invisible. When it reappears, you can tell it what you want it to look like, and it'll probably look like that, depending how it feels. So it does nothing and can screw you over randomly. Kids, meet Uncle Monte!
Third Arm (4): Lets you carry extra things or "scratch your bum without anyone seeing". There is no carry limit, so..
Third Arm Glue (1): Sometimes your third arm falls off and has to be glued back on. This contains enough glue for a lifetime, but since the Third Arm still doesn't do anything and there's no way you'd want it without this, this feels like filler.
Bunny Bomb (1): Attach it to a weapon and the first time it hits, it goes off and turns the target into a bunny.
Weedrobe (2): A robe made of weeds which provides camouflage in natural areas. Still no bonus to anything, though.
Vile Vial (2): A vial full of nasty things which smells really bad when you open it.
Tyrannosaurus Axe (4): An Axe with a T-rex head on the end which bites whoever you swing it at. How much damage does it do? If you said 3 points, have a cookie. Note that this is the cheapest 3 damage item and is therefore outright better than the King of Swords.
Letter Bomb (6): Pick the letter it has written on it. When you throw the bomb it turns into anything you like which starts with that letter. Fair enough.
Ampersand (2): Another very specific item. You can use it to link two letter bombs together to make something with an adjective - for example, tie an A and a T together with an ampersand and throw it to make an Apple Tree. See, if you wanted to make a spelling based RPG, that could have been the theme for an entire game, but instead we've got this kind of awkward partial thing.
So, lots and lots of flavor but very little effect. "But surely that doesn't matter in a kids' game!" Well, I'm pretty sure it does, because a novice Guide is going to have all kinds of problems keeping the equipment balanced when some of it has a clear mechanical effect and some of it doesn't.
And here things get pretty neat. As I mentioned, NTYE doesn't go for children's fantasy (ie, dumbed down D&D); it goes for the Roald Dahl surreal feeling, although a bit sillier. The setting is Storia, where stories come from, and it has four regions: Behind the Bookshelf, Under the Bed, Out the Window, and Into the Closet. If you're a kid who's been chosen to help save the world from evil, you can get to any of these regions by going through a portal in the appropriate location in your bedroom. The portal only works for you, so there's no risk of any monsters following you back.
Behind The Bookshelf is where everything that's in books or written stories is found. Which, in Monte Cook terms, means a whole bunch of stuff you won't recognize from any book, ever (other than possibly this one). There you can find:
- Big Blue, a family of talking trees who keep all of Storia's history written on their leaves. They can read bits of it to you or you can read it yourself. At the very top of the tallest tree is a treehouse called the Nuthouse, and two gangs of squirrels (the Tough Nuts and the Bushy Tails) are fighting over who gets to live there - led by brothers, Hat and Tat.
The squirrel gang members are level 3 opponents and Tat and Hat are level 4. Now, let's talk about level for a moment, because it's time for another annoying Cypher problem. By default, if you fight an NPC, their level is what you need to roll at base on a d6 to hit them, and what you need to roll at base on a d6 to dodge them. Remember that lowering the to-hit value will cost resources - scarce stat points, or friends' Awesome points. So getting into a fight with a level 4 character is a pretty risky business. But surely the PCs aren't supposed to fight these guys, right? Well, maybe not, but they might well ask for their help. There's no rules for NPC-on-NPC combat. So what we are left with is that fairly random characters can potentially trounce the PCs in a fight, yet there's no way for them to use that strength to help the PCs or to just fight the bad guys themselves.
- Snow's Cones, an ice cream store run by an animated cherry popsicle with cybernetic arms. She'll make any ice cream you like, and even supplies tongue extenders if you want one so tall you can't see over it. Again, she's level 4.
- Muttropolis is a city of dogs. There are humans in the city, but they lie around all day and play fetch and tag. Every dog must have at least one pet human, and if a regular human wants to enter they need to get a pass to indicate they're not a lost pet. (Robots and creatures and so on are OK, though.) Also, if you can't speak Woof, they'll give you a translator device to put around your neck. So, as it's a children's story, the humans in the city are unusual ones with the mindset of dogs, right? Well.. no. One of the adventure hooks is that a human wandered into Muttropolis without a pass and was forced to become a dog's pet. So all the other humans there are.. um.. that's.. a bit dark. Also, for no reason at all, the mayors of Muttropolis are named Cat 1 and Cat 2. They are actually dogs (black labradors), just with really confusing names.
- The Monster Museum is an exhibit devoted to teaching about all the creatures of Storia (not just monstrous ones). It has books, friendly creatures to talk to, and recordings. There's also a device called the Creature Teacher, which will tell you one fact about any creature provided you pretend to be that creature as a Goal 4 check. It's run by a blue-skinned man named Zubbub who wanted to learn all about the world, but is forgetful, so he had everything written down and stored in a museum instead. He has a pet dragon called Boomer who is an asshole (he likes playing tricks on Bill and takes advantage of his poor memory to pull the same trick over and over again) If you want him to not be an asshole, good luck - he and Zubbub are both level 5.
- Castle Karaoke is a magically hidden castle which you can only get to if you sing. The king is jolly and friendly as long as music is playing. There are two bands of knights in two of the towers - the Rock Tower and the Roll Tower - and they have a Battle of the Bands every week. Also, the King has a second mouth in his forehead so he can sing with himself. That's just a weird image. One of the hooks suggest that the players could take part in a Battle of the Bands, but since all the Knights are level 5 for anything to do with singing, they probably shouldn't bother.
- The House of Miss Terry is a funhouse and we don't get any other description of it, apart from the fact that it costs 2 coins to enter, or if you prefer you can perform a "feat of derring-do" by rolling a Goal 4 challenge on any of the three main stats.
- Good Buys is a shop with practically everything, but they don't accept coins - you have to trade items for items. The exchange rate is one item for one item of the same type. So I guess there is a reason to buy a Princess Dress now - to immediately trade it for Shining Armor.
- KO Corral is the big jail where Sheriff Lucy Lawful holds all the criminals she has caught. As well as the jail, there's an office with lots of WANTED posters and a gallery of recovered treasures. If the players think they want to help Lucy catch a criminal, they are going to be out of luck, because there are still no rules for NPCs attacking or acting against other NPCs. Head-desk.
- The Brain Train runs on a circle line between the Monster Museum and the House Of Miss Terry. But if you ask the driver, The Main Brain, he'll ask you a riddle; if you get the riddle right, he'll take you anywhere you like in the region.
- Eye See You is a giant mountain with an eye at the top. There's a very brief list of things that are underground inside the mountain: a hospital, a dentist and drill shop, a firecracker store, and a sweet shop. There's also a gang called the BlackBacks who steal Gotcha Back Packs and suck the colour out of them, turning them black, then wear them. The more black Packs they wear, the higher their rank in the gang. If they have at least 40 packs, they act as level 8. Translation: to have even a 1/6 chance of defending against their attack, the group must spend a net of 2 stat points.. but the attack would have done 2 points anyway. (Oh, and their attack is to "spit sharp rainbows", which sounds like something from Axe Cop.)
And that's Behind the Bookshelf. Sadly, there is absolutely no discussion of the nature of a land based on books, given the ability of humans to write or change books, or the existence of books in Behind the Bookshelf, and so on.
Into the Closet is a fairy-tale land of queens, witches, dragons, green woods, magic books, and a whole bunch of other things which have obviously never been in a book, ever.
- The Hive is where the Bee Queen of Into The Closet, Woodlynn, lives. She and her workers greet everyone who enters, and it's also the terminus for beemobiles which can take you to different places in the region. Also, Woodlynn is level 5, so presumably just stamps on anything evil that shows up here, so the PCs are never needed. Oops.
- The Beanstalk is.. well, that Beanstalk.. except that it's been dug out into an apartment block where people live. The giant, Joe, lives on the top five floors. Jack and Jill live on the first floor running a magic shop specializing in beans. A princess (we never find out of where) called Lettuce lives on the 50th floor and can lower her hair down as far as the 1st floor for people to climb up, and she isn't just called Rapunzel because.. um, I don't know, something to do with Disney, maybe? On the 11th floor, there's a "troll who plays video games, but nobody wants to play with him". Hmm. So, this is kind of interesting and atmospheric and ought to be in Behind the Bookshelf because it's blatantly a combination of books. Oh, and Joe the Giant is level 8 with 20 health. Being level 8 means he never fails at anything. We never find out if he's evil or good, but basically, whichever side he's on wins.
- Mirror Mirror is a castle made of mirrors. Queen Me lives there - which gives us two queens in Into the Closet, but it turns out Queen Me doesn't really count because all she does is wander around the castle looking at herself. She turned all the servants in the castle invisible so she can always see herself, and the only way to talk to her is to walk towards her while holding a mirror, in which case she'll - quote - "think she is talking to one of her personalities". Holy crap, so she's full-on insane? We never find anything more about that, though. We do find that she has three daughters who are trapped by gargoyles in a tiny garden behind Mirror Mirror. Their names are Cinderella, Snow White, and Belle and they are definitely not from books. Oddly, although Queen Me is blatantly evil, she doesn't have a full stat block. She's level 4, so the PCs could potentially kick her head in with some effort. Or could you write a book about the princesses to make them warp into Behind the Bookshelf? Well, we could think of doing that if they'd bothered putting any logic in the setting..
- DragonSnot Falls is a formerly living dragon who was turned into stone, and now has two giant waterfalls running out of his nose. There's only one bridge, and there's things living inside the nose tunnels. We don't really find much about it in the setting section, although one of the sample adventures pretty much defines exactly what's in there.
- The Howl House and the Oink House are the homes of three wolf brothers and three pig brothers respectively. The three wolf brothers are named Big Bad Wolf, Medium Bad Wolf, and Not So Bad Wolf. The Pig Brothers.. don't get names, but we're told they want to make friends with the wolves, and are trying to convince them to make friends by planting glitter bombs (which the wolves hate) in their yard. Oh-kay.
- The Whispering Woods is a forest of trees that constantly whisper stories, such as "Alice and the Mad Hatter" and "Beauty and the Beast" which apparently are not boo- oh sod it. You can tell them stories, which they'll add to the ones they tell. Also, Mother Goose wanders around here collecting stories and nursery rhymes.
- Hex Kitchen is a bakery run by the Kitchen Witch, who looks a bit scary but is actually quite friendly. Unfortunately, she tends to drop dough from her baking on the floor, where it assembles itself into Gingerbread Boys who run out of the kitchen and set traps in the surrounding woods to catch anyone coming to see the witch.
And that's the Closet, which has a lot of good ideas, but it's pretty clear that by putting "everything from books" in one region the authors basically shot themselves in the foot with an elephant gun. Plus, the high levels of everything basically make alliances with NPCs either impossible or an instant solution to everything, although that second might not be so bad when playing with kids.
Next time, the other two regions.
PostOriginal SA post No Thank You, Evil! (4)
Continuing with the setting; Out The Window is described as the area of Storia that's.. well, not regular fantasy stuff. "Space travel and undersea adventures, race cars and rockets.." Well, except there are sort of variants of those in the others, and obviously none of these have ever been in a boo-.. ok, I'll cut that out now.
- Castle Alley is the home of Princess Strike and the Pinheads, who live in a castle shaped like a bowling pin in the middle of town, is rather ditzy, and throws big parties called Bowling Balls because apparently you can never milk a pun hard enough for kids. The Pinheads tend to be nasty when Princess Strike isn't around - "poking and teasing mischievously". Around her castle is a city, mostly full of people who came to a party and didn't want to leave. Amongst these are the Oogy Family, who steal everything they can; Russ Tee, a broken-down robot who is trying to find his missing parts, and Pegapop, an animated pegasus-shaped balloon who wants to go home but can't remember where he is. Now, hmm, are the players just supposed to be fighting the Oogies? Why aren't they in Antagonists? At least they might have a chance against them, since they're level 1. But Princess Strike is level 5, so presumably doesn't have a problem with them.. ugh.
- Boom! Laboratories is just that; a large laboratory with six sections, which I have to admit are pretty awesome: "Let's Make Dinosaurs", "Will This Explode?", "Will This Explode More?", "Building the Biggest Truck", "That Is So Gross", and "What Does This Taste Like?" There's three resident researchers; Professor Magniferous who caused the original explosion that got the lab its name; Dr T. Bone Rex who is supposed to supervise everyone but is trying to use the "Let"s Make Dinosaurs" lab to make himself a wife (um.. that's.. a bit creepy), and Lord Mix-A-Lot who, as the name implies, mixes random combinations of everything to see what happens.
- Shark Bait is a living pirate ship who is slowly sinking, knows she's slowly sinking, and is sinking because she's sad. The only thing that would cheer her up is meeting her original captain, Pearl Parker, but nobody knows where she is. The current captain of the ship is Jack Spider, who "plunders and steals everything he can.. but he's not mean" . He can't actually steer Shark Bait, who just goes where she chooses looking for Captain Pearl. Also, two of the potential locations for Pearl Parker are "she's hiding out with the BlackJack Gang" and "she was put in jail by Lucy Lawful" so your kids may have to negotiate with obvious villains or get into direct conflict with one of the setting's auxiliary heroes to deal with this. Shark Bait is level 8 and, like the giant, never fails at anything. She should probably just be making a roll to work out where Pearl is.
- IFO is an Identified Flying Object. It was a UFO until someone found out its name is Chocoring, from the planet Donutsrock. He was crashed here by some aliens, but they don't seem to be around anymore, so its spends its time helping Astronauts and other people learn about space, and inviting other aliens to help learn more. Um, ok, combined with Boom! Laboratories these two are pretty cool. Spot the game written by a geek
- The Mini Mall is an actual mall which was shrunk to the size of a person's foot by an evil wizard. A good wizard couldn't reverse the spell, but he did protect the mall from being damaged. You can get in using a magical slide called the Size-O-Lator which shrinks you, but you need to bring an unshrunken object that belongs to you with you, so you can grow back again when you leave. The people who were in the mall when it was shrunk don't have those, so they are now permanently shrunk and cannot leave the mall because it would be impossibly dangerous outside without the protection spell! The place is now overgrown and wild, full of wild animals, robots who nobody remembers building, and chocolate-eating ninjas; and the stores are still open, but they're all switched around, so the food store sells clothes and the umbrella store sells video games. This.. is.. um. Ok, take out the chocolate ninjas and this could belong in Unknown Armies. That's a compliment, but it's got some really disturbing aspects for a kids' setting.
- Lochtopus is a regular lake shaped like an octopus and is where we put all of the water-related stuff we want to be in the setting. There are mermaids, krakens, flying fish, "cyborgaters", and an octopus with a glass belly who gives the equivalent of shark tours. Also, it's so deep that it might lead to another world at the bottom.. except two paragraphs later we find that it isn't because the lake floor is full of sunken ships. Oops.
- Dinomite Downs is where dinosaurs live. There are some other creatures who live with them too, and there's a fee to visit - 1 coin or a meal suitable for a dinosaur (a giant burger or a massive salad). A smart brontosaurus called Miss Molly greets everyone who arrives. She is Smart level 6, so you can basically ask her anything you like from any other adventure. Oh, and remember how Dr T. Bone Rex is trying to make himself a dinosaur wife? So you've got the nerdy scientist who's trying to genetically engineer a woman for himself rather than going and actually meeting one..
- Turbo Track is Mario Kart by another name. You can race anything you like around it and collect coins. There's a really weak set of dice rolling rules for simulating a race around the track, too: you roll d6. 1-3 means you complete a lap, 4-5 means you get a coin, 6 means you do both. All racers roll 5 times and whoever has the highest combined total of laps and coins wins. Which means that the vast majority of races will be draws since rolling a 6 is the only thing that makes a difference. Monte Cook, game designer!
- Ampersandy Beach is where words live. The Good Words live in the resort and relax and play games with each other; the Bad Words live in the surrounding areas and spend most of their time making up new swears (like "Grief Magician!", apparently) and spray-painting them on the walls. Honestly, Why Isn't This Behind The Bookshelf!?
Finally, Under the Bed is where spooky things live. They're not all evil, but they are a bit scary, and it's mentioned that the area should probably only be used for older players. Because younger ones wouldn't like a school where ghosts go to learn how to be scary, but would be fine with crowds of innocent people being trapped forever in a twisted mall. (Actually, come to think of it, they probably wouldn't reason that out.. but I still don't think they'd find a ghost school scary.)
- The Ghoul School is the aforementioned school for ghosts, skeletons, mummies, witches and.. um.. Wizards. You know, that Noun that a player can pick to play? The classes are typical kids ghost sstuff, and the students live in crypts around the edge of the property. Principle Marrowbone is old, but very smart, and "when not in human form, she takes the form of a water witch who lives in the school form". Um, aren't witches human?
- The Bone Factory is where elves make bonus and other assorted creepy body parts; plus there are two floors which are sealed and no-one knows what they make. The factory is run by "Foreman Salivator", who is actually a woman who used to be a ballerina, and according to the accompanying art, still wears her tutu to work. She has a giant creature named Doom who acts as her pet. Aw, heck, just have the picture:
Now, at this point you may suspect that that picture might have been intended to be used for something else entirely. And you would be right. It's a royalty free stock image cribbed off dreamstime.com which obviously someone liked and made up the whole ballerina thing to fit it in. By the way, Doom's level 6, but Salivator is level 5, so RAW he only has a 1/3 chance of beating her at anything, including strength and toughness. (Mind you, ballerinas are pretty hardcore.)
- The Foul Mouth Caves are where you can put dungeon-hacks if you want them in this game. Each cave looks like the head of a giant creature with teeth and a tongue that slides you right down into the cave. Oh, and the mouths can close, possibly while you're in there. There is one cave, the Den Of Fangs, which has been converted for tourists and has a fortune-teller who sells selfies for 1 coin each and an in-built sweetshop.
- Boo Lagoon is goddamn nasty. Seriously. It's the home of a giant dragon turtle named Spurn who is so big you can't see him all at once, comes to the surface whenever disturbed, and likes to eat people. And is level 8. Holy crap, keep your PCs well away. There are some floating houseboats on the lake, although it's only skeletons and ghosts who live in them now, because the humans were eaten. Each of the boats is named after how many humans who lived there were eaten by Spurn. It's also full of insane creatures called madpoles who tickle anyone who gets close but.. well, holy crap. This just seems to be a straight-up PC deathtrap in a kids' game.
- Cannibal Gardens is a huge collection of plants, most of which are dangerous, but most of which do not eat people; nor do many of them eat other plants which is what cannibal would technically mean here . The plants are looked after by a snake named Lily Cobra, who by and large tries to make sure that nobody gets harmed in the garden, but is also rather nervous around humans.
- Dead Center is the one and only graveyard in Storia. The graves are see-through, so you can see who's buried where. To get to Dead Center, you have to hold up a Brave Light and a shovel at midnight. Wait, a shovel?
- Spectral Belch is a thin canyon where we put scary slithering creatures and then run out of ideas. The Spectral Belch is an actual ghost burp which makes everyone feel dizzy and spinny unless they wear an air mask. The authors just don't seem to have tried hard, here.
- The Dark Park is where creatures who are harmed by light live. Little shadows called Inklings eat up all the light that enters to protect the residents. The creatures there get around by echolocation or alternative senses. Some of the creatures in the Dark Park would go mad or evil if they were exposed to light, so they have to be kept there carefully. Hum. Neat idea, logical fit in the setting, resolves a classic problem.. this next to Spectral Belch is night and day. Literally.
- The Twin Peaks are two sentient mountains that wander around Under The Bed looking for their third twin. They're quite helpful because they can name all the places they've been. But if you even suggest to them that their third twin doesn't exist or is dead, they start to cry, which creates rivers running down the mountain and can flood nearby areas and create lakes and waterways.
- The Skeleton Keys are a bunch of islands off the coast that nobody's ever been to and that we don't therefore need to bother writing about.
So, the setting's a mixed bag: quite a few neat ideas, quite a few sections that are blatantly out of place, some bad internal consistency and some utterly terrible integration with the system. We then get a quick list of the "twelve true treasures of Storia" which are intended to be used as general McGuffins:
- The Awful Waffle is the worst breakfast food ever made. It's in KO Corral where Lucy Lawful looks after it.
- The Hornless Unicorn is a horse, but you know it's really a hornless unicorn because it glows. Since it's alive, it moves around. Thank god they didn't give it a level. Oh, wait, people still might ask it to help them. Oops.
- The Two-Way Radio Head is a radio that looks like a head and can listen to two stations at once. Out of the zero radio stations there are in Storia.
- Grandma's Pet Mold is a mold in a jar that was left in someone's cupboard and nobody knows where.
- The Lost Last Page is the last page of every story ever written which disappeared when a dragon ate it. What could it have written on it? Well, the art actually shows us. It's a blank page with "THE END" written on it. Groan.
- The Lesser Of Two Weevils is a slightly evil bug named Steve who has a more evil brother named Peeve. Groan. Why's it a treasure?
- The Knowwhere Key is a talking key which can always tell you where you are. Nobody knows if it actually opens a door anywhere, because it won't say anything else. See, now that's actually interesting.
- The Crown Car is a car full of crowns which shoots out crowns whenever it stops or turns. Oh-kay. And, um, a jokes about pronouncing L's as R's?
- The Unsinkable Ship is a ship that can't sink, because it's shaped like a sink.
- The Book of Fibs holds every lie and falsity ever told. Whenever it's opened, a fib falls out and tries to run away.
- The Great S-Cape is a cape that lets you fly if you wear it. Obviously it's supposed to have an S on it, but the one in the art doesn't because that would make the copyright infringement way too obvious.
- The Good Blaster is a pretty good blaster. That's it.
Next up, the typically surreal Cypher monsters, and a look at the sample adventures, which continue the Monte Cook theme nicely.
PostOriginal SA post No Thank You, Evil! (5)
So, we now arrive at the monster list, which is the last thing in the main book. As with most Cypher games, it's essentially a random list of bizarre creatures identified only by a level and a few modifiers.
Aminal Crackers (level 2) (and yes, that's how it's spelled) are full-size cookies that come in animal shapes. They attack with bites and claws but can also spit crumbs dealing 2 points of damage to everyone In Range, which apparently has no defense roll. Given that that means losing 2 stat points which might wipe out an entire stat for some of the classes, we're starting a bit aggressively.
Argle-Bargles (3) are strange gelatinous creatures with only visible eyeballs. They only have a simple bump attack for 2 damage. Their voices sound like sucking a milkshake up through a straw - and if you actually do suck the end of a milkshake through a straw, you can communicate with them, although you might not understand the answer.
The Barbaric Yawp (4) is a long furry creature with a giant mouth. It has 8 health but only does 2 damage.. unless it decides to eat you, in which case you have to roll Tough 3 to escape. There's no suggestion what the consequence of not escaping is.
Buglars (2) are insects who work in pairs and like to steal things. They can, in fact, steal an item and a coin from a PC as an action with no defense or resistance - hope they weren't hoping to carry anything precious. That said, there is a solution: if you give a buglar something, it gets confused, and stop trying to steal from you. So you're losing your stuff either way.
The Dinomatron (4) is a giant robot T-rex. It has health 8, but only 2 damage, except it can knock characters down by roaring (although as usual there are no rules for being knocked down). However, it won't attack anyone who pretends to be a dinosaur, because it thinks they're a friend. I have no idea how the PCs are supposed to find any of this stuff out, by the way.
The Fearsum (5) is a giant purple creature which smashes things with its tongue. It has 10 health and unusually does 3 damage, and can grab people with its tongue - which is just like the Barbaric Yawp in that you have to make a check to escape (although this time it's described as a "Goal 5 defend roll") and it's not clear what it does. Also, it runs away if you mention mathematics.
Ghosts (3) are.. well, all kinds of ghosts. They use regular weapons like PCs doing 2 damage, and they can also scare creatures to make them run and hide.. but again, with no defense. If it sees itself in a mirror, it gets scared of itself and hides.
Jinxes (3) are.. pink creatures with three eyeballs and horns that chatter randomly, hit people with their horns (2 damage), and start dancing if everyone in the group says the same word at the same time. So. No relationship to anything, no sense, completely ridiculous weakness.. classic Cypher and Monte here.
Killjoys (4) are orange and black robots that hunt down anyone who is having fun. They do 3 damage, but their skill is to suck joy out of people, with the effect that "you can't use your pools or skills in your next round". So essentially this completely shuts down a PC. It doesn't actually drain Fun points, and if you beat one everyone in the group gains 1 Fun, but still.. this doesn't seem like it'd be any fun (ha, ha) to actually fight.
Ninja Zombies (4) are zombies who've trained as ninjas. They do eat brains, but they also like pizza with anchovies. They do 3 damage, take 1 less damage from weapons, but for some strange reason if you manage to take one of their throwing stars from them and use it on them, it does 3 damage. Oh-kay.
Saw-toothed Witches (3) are bids with sawed beaks who like to kidnap people. They do a standard 2 damage and can steal a player's weapon with their retractable tongue if it's Within Reach. So much for your King of Swords, little Johnny! Also, if everyone in the group pretends to be a bee, they'll think it's an actual bee swarm and run away. Um.
The Skulldugger (4) is a giant purple creature made of bubblegum. It pops bubblegum for 2 point area attacks to everyone Within Reach, again with no defense. Why is this level 4 when Aminal Crackers are level 2? It has a bit more health, but that area attack is still pretty mean.
Slugabeds (2) are lazy creatures who make everyone in the area sleepy. Also, for some reason they can inflict 2 damage by singing. G'night, kids!
Vex Knights (6) are knights wearing mirrored armor who want to destroy everything. They have 12 health, do 4 damage, and always go first in a fight - but if you are Awesome around them, the goal to hit them goes from 6 down to 4. 4 damage is still nothing to sniff at in this system, though.
Weather Creatures (4) are.. well, such a broad category that they don't bother to describe them, just listing a few examples (Gloom bunnies, Unistorms, Rain deer) and then giving them all the same stats. As you can guess, they change the weather around them, but they run away if you show them a picture or model of a sun.
So. A relatively weak range; abilities that are way too powerful for the situation; and weaknesses that there's no way to find out, and if you do know them, make the encounter trivial. This is some remarkable design here.
There's only one thing left in these books that's interesting, and it's a doozie: the sample adventures!
The sample adventures come in a separate book together with some tips for being a guide. Like most badly written GM advice, it gives suggestions that are relatively obvious, gives examples that duck the tricky issues, and assumes the GM is a bottomless fount of ideas. It doesn't include even some of the helpful things from other Cypher games (so there is absolutely nothing anywhere in these books about allying with NPCs), and finishes with an advert for the other Cypher books. Yay! It does also suggest that older players who want more risk should have to play with only 1 starting Fun, which in practice makes characters into glass swans.
But we're not interested in that. We're interested in the adventures, of which there are three. As follows:
Adventure One: Lost In DragonSnot Falls
The adventure begins with the PCs being woken up by their companions and handed a message from their friend Woodlynn, the Bee Queen. The guide is encouraged to ask the players to describe what Woodlynn looks like, or what the Hive she lives in looks like - drawing them out of they want. The letter comes on a printable handout, and reads:
Dear friend, please help me! My friend, Niffle, has gotten lost in DragonSnot Falls. I'm worried that something horrible has happened to him. Meet me at the beemobile, and I'll tell you the whole story. You'll have to be smart and strong. I know you can find him.
The players are asked to decide what they take with them, and then venture through the closet, where they are immediately met by the beemobile. Inside, they meet Woodlyn who explains that she knows Niffle is lost because he normally goes to see her in the morning, but he hasn't shown up recently. Niffle sings to himself when he's scared, and looks a bit scary, but he's nice. The beemobile will take them straight to DragonSnot falls and they'll have to go from there. She'll give them any reasonable equipment requests they have if they want to make a plan, and she also gives them each a piece of candy with their name on it. If everyone eats their candy at the same time, the beemobile will come back to pick them up.
So, the first actual adventure moment of the game comes when the PCs arrive at DragonSnot falls. There's a long, rickety wooden bridge leading to it, and a "device" with red, yellow, and green buttons which flash.
If the players decide to mess with the device, they notice that the buttons are flashing a repeating code.. but doing this is a Smart 2 check. So, we get our first introduction to the wonders of the Cypher system. It doesn't matter if a character is Smart 1 or Smart 5; they have the same 1/6 chance of failing to remember a sequence of 6 flashing lights unless they spend their scarce Smart points.
If someone manages to remember the sequence and then types it back, then the device shoots a blast of water at the characters, requiring a Fast 3 roll to get out of the way. The water does only 1 damage, so it's no danger at all to anyone with Armor. However, the adventure explicitly says that everyone has to roll anyway, so that's another possible resource expenditure.
After the blast of water, out of the device springs a bipedal frog creature who introduces himself as Mr. Oddswallow. With a bit of dialog, he'll explain that he can predict the future by listening to someone's stomach rumbling, and people use the device to call him to do this for them. If the PCs want him to tell their future, it's a Smart 4 roll to make their stomach rumble. (Um, what?) Also, the adventure says that this is a great time to have someone use an Awesome point to make the task easier. How exactly you help someone else's stomach rumble is not made clear. Mr. Oddswallow does not have any explanation for why his device potentially injures people who use it. If the players try to fight him, he'll won't fight back and will jump back into the device, creating another splash of water (and therefore potentially injuring everyone again)
If the PCs successfully get a reading from Mr. Oddswallow, he'll say: "I see a crab. No, a slug. No.. some kind of creature in a striped shirt. He has four eyeballs and he's singing. But don't follow the song, that's the wrong way."
Once the players have either met, or not met, Mr. Oddswallow, it's time to cross the bridge. Each PC needs to make a Fast 2 check to get across safely, taking 1 damage if they fail. In case you are counting, that's 6 points potentially spent by this point in the adventure, which will drain at least one of most PC types stats to Zero and they haven't even gotten into the Falls yet. I really hope you're not playing that variant where they have only 1 Fun.
At the falls, the PCs see footprints leading into both nostrils, and they hear singing from the right nostril. As Mr. Oddswallow said, following the singing is the wrong way. If they enter the right nostril, they find.. an empty cave with a level 3 Magic Mushroom, singing to itself. It doesn't attack, but if any PC touches it, it turns them into a creature, randomly selected from: giant bunny, pegasus, blue whale, fast turtle, snail, and orangutan. As soon as the PCs leave the tunnel, they turn back to normal, but again there's no way to know that, so this could result in some interesting panics as someone's badass robot gets turned into a giant rabbit.
If they go to the left nostril, however, they hear rawk-rawk noises and even more quiet singing. It's a Smart 3 check to listen to the sounds and realize there are 2 creatures there. Sure enough, it's 2 Saw-Toothed Witches. The players can fight them, try to interact with them (although they don't speak the same language as the PCs), or sneak them out.. with a Fast 3 check. Yes, sneaking in to the cave, removing a creature and carrying him out of a cave with no other exits than the original one is no harder than dodging a stream of water.
Once that's done.. well, the PCs eat the candies and go home. So this is a nice simple starting adventure for young folks and it'd probably work quite well, but it does seem to suffer a lot from the all-to-common phenomenon of asking the PCs to make checks just so they feel that they're doing something, not to create a branch (and in many cases there's no branch available) and not allowing them for them failing. Also, the setting book says that DragonSnot Falls' nostrils have long tunnels inside with homes for multiple creatures, but this adventure explicitly says that all it contains is two closed caves, one of which has a mushroom in it.
Next and final: the other two sample adventures.
PostOriginal SA post No Thank You, Evil! (6)
So, the second two sample adventures. Without further ado:
Adventure 2: Race Against Time
The adventure begins with the PCs getting an invite from Princess Strike to a Bowling Ball. The adventure suggests you could give the players the invitation cards ahead of time, and also suggest that they've been to Bowling Balls before and suggest what might happen at one. Unfortunately, it doesn't matter that much, because the adventure doesn't actually take place in the Bowling Ball nor provide any information what happens there.
Instead, the PCs are assumed to arrive early to the Ball. After they show their invites on the door, they are taken through to a Grand Ballroom where a scientist called WhizBang (who has no stats and no description - the adventure suggests asking the players to make up what he looks like, but that's just a cop-out) has brought a time machine to the castle as a gift for the Princess. He offers to show the PCs how the time machine works, but at that point, two Pinheads barge into the room and collapse against the time machine, causing it to splutter, spurt and chuff, and finally make WhizBang disappear, replacing him with a dinosaur, a robot, and a pirate. All of them look at the PCs and flee the ballroom through three separate doors, and the Princess asks them to sort out the displaced time travellers and get WhizBang back before the other guests arrive.
Now, did you see how they fled through three separate doors? Might you suspect that each of those doors happen to lead to an environment tailored for an encounter with that creature? Well, you're right. And they lead there directly, so these creatures which are apparently scared of the PCs flee only to run into a dead end like 20 feet away and not worry about it. Now, I guess this option of "make an open part of the setting (ie, Princess Strike's castle) tiny in order to fit the adventure in" - which we saw in the previous adventure with DragonSnot Falls too - is arguably better for a game for kids and inexperienced Guides than the other sample adventure copout of "tell the GM to run a bunch of random or timewasting stuff until they get to the key location". But I'm not letting it off for that, because the option of "write the setting properly so that the castle is neither ridiculously small and specific nor massive and vague" shouldn't be off the table.
If the PCs look at the time machine, they'll find there are four buttons missing from it which need to be replaced. One of them is just lying on the floor in the Grand Ballroom and found if the PCs say they are searching, no roll required. Then, it's off to our requisite three encounters.
The Dinosaur is in the left-hand room in a room with a giant blanket fort. Even the walls have blankets and sheets hanging on them (actually, the text says the walls are made of blankets and sheets, but that seems a bit surreal). The dinosaur is Level 4, Health 4, can roar to knock down everyone Within Reach (with no explanation of what being knocked down does), but it likes sweets and will follow anyone who has one around. If any of the PCs are dinosaurs or have dinosaur companions, it interacts at Level 3. It is also explicitly described as "hungry" even though it ignored the table full of food in the ballroom and ran into a pillow fort for some reason. There are a couple of options for the players: they can talk to it and convince it to leave, lure it with food, or just beat it up (and the adventure actually says "Fight it until they kill it".. no Conking Out here!). It also suggests that if the PCs run away the dinosaur will follow them back to the time machine, which since it was just fleeing from them seems a bit out there. Unsurprisingly, one of the buttons is here; the dinosaur chewed on it a bit, but didn't eat it.
The Robot is on the ballroom's central staircase, which is long, steep, and loops around - the PCs feet stick to it, so they don't fall even when upside down. The robot is at the top of the staircase and is trying to jump even higher up, thinking this will take her back to the future - but every time she jumps, she gets only a few feet off the ground. They have the same options for dealing with the robot (level 5) as they did for the dinosaur, including killing her. It's suggested they could also "make friends with her so she won't be a threat to the guests", but since she appears to have just moved away and then attempted to return to her own time without threatening anyone, it's not clear why they'd be worried about this. The robot has the second button stuck to her ass. This becomes a problem later. Also, if the PCs sing a song about robots, she'll open her storage panel and give each PC a toy or video game from the future (after which they can presumably resume beating her to death). I have absolutely no idea how the PCs are supposed to find that out.
The Pirate is in the right-hand room, swimming around in the Princess' swimming pool (apparently fully dressed) and trying to catch one of the golden fish that are in the pool. He's level 3 with 3 health, and he can use a fishing pole to grab people In Range and move them to Within Reach. As usual, there's a couple of ways of dealing with him: talk to him, kill him, or make friends with him - plus a couple of other options. See, the main threat description for the pirate is that he's a thief. So.. making friends with him will stop him stealing from the other guests? Umm. The other options are to catch a fish for him with a Fast 3 check (hey, kids, do the thief's stealing for them and they'll apparently.. stop stealing?), or say something piratey to him ("Arrrr" is enough) in which case he'll assume they're pirates too and give them a treasure map. The treasure map leads to the room with the dinosaur, where under the blankets the PCs can find a pair of rocket boots, which belong to the robot. Giving them to the robot will enable the robot to jump high enough to get back to their own time without using the time machine presumably taking the second button with them and ruining the adventure. Oops. The pirate also stole one of the time machine's buttons, but will apparently give it to the PCs if they.. well, um, do something, we don't know. Also, if the PCs happen to go to the pirate first, the Guide gets to explain how he managed to steal the robot's boots and then bury them in the dinosaur room when the PCs just saw him arrive and then run into the pool room like 10 seconds ago.
Any of the time travelers who return to the time machine are automatically sucked back into their own time. Once the time travelers have been returned to their own times or, quote, "otherwise been taken care of" (translation: murdered) the characters need to fix the time machine with.. a Group Action. Remember this marvellously daft idea? Every PC has to make a roll and get a 3, and every PC must make their roll for the action to succeed. If anyone fails, another PC can spend an Awesome point to give them a reroll. Depending on the size of the party and the number of Awesome points around, there's still a chance of this failing, in which case the time machine is broken and WhizBang is lost forever.. but the adventure doesn't allow for this, just assuming the PCs will succeed. Dear Monte, aren't you the champion of "if you don't want a risk of failure don't roll the dice"? But we're trapped back into the tremendously negative "make the players roll dice so they feel like they are doing something".
Still, assuming this works, the PCs get 2 coins and 1 Fun each, they get to join the party (which we still know nothing about), and WhizBang will offer to take them to another time. The options are listed as "cowboy time", "dinosaur time", and "castle time".. which is perhaps unintentionally silly because this isn't Earth and all of those things exist on Storia right now, meaning that the time machine potentially doesn't do anything (or just teleports in space, which would even account for the three creatures who teleported in). This is up with the classic error in the older editions of D&D which says you can't polymorph into a "mythological creature" such as the dragon which is right over there.
Adventure 3: The curse of Adventure Kingdom
This adventure is described as being "for experienced players and Guides". What it doesn't mention is the follow-up: "for the love of god don't play this at anything lower than Circle level".
Adventure Kingdom is Storia's greatest theme park. It has lots of rides and is run by a famous gost called Monsieur Monstieur. But there's a story about it: whenever the sun turns blue, Monstieur turns evil and tries to destroy the park. This is well known in Storia. The PCs are on their way to visit Adventure Kingdom when they notice the sun is shifting and turning blue! So they figure that the park will be closed and/or no fun and go to one of the other parks instead. The End.
Oh, wait, they go to Adventure Kingdom anyway. Huh.
When they get there, they find it surrounded by pink fog and with strange noises coming out of the park. Near the gate, there's a blue button marked with a moon. If they press it, a hologram of Monstieur appears and tells them he lift this message in advance, he's been cursed, and that to save him they need to enter the park, find the three pieces of his heart, put them together and bring them to him - and he'd probably like some candy, too, thank you very much (yes, he actually says that). Apparently none of the other visitors to Adventure Kingdom ever thought to.. oh, hey, we can forgive that one, I guess.
Once they're inside, the adventure gets sandboxy, and the players can visit the attractions in the park in any order they like. To whit:
The Clockworks is a Ferris wheel that looks like a giant clock - and the PCs can see that there's a piece of the heart hanging off the number 2 on the clock. To get it, the PCs have a couple of options. The easiest is to get on the wheel, ride it around, and grab the piece - but doing so is a "Goal 4". We don't get to find out what stat it is. Alternatively, shooting it down with a weapon is a Fast 7 (!) and climbing the wheel directly is a Fast 8 (!). None of the Nouns have a Fast higher than 4, so if you're playing basic level, you can forget any of those options. If you're playing advanced level, you have a chance, but then again you can have somebody who can actually fly at that point and bypass the whole thing. The adventure says "well, they might think of another way of getting it down, and give that an appropriate Goal" but if the Guide follows the example of the previous Goal settings, it'll probably be impossible too.
The Viper is a roller-coaster in the shape of a snake. The second heart piece is in the middle of the ride, and grabbing it while the ride is going is a Fast 4. However, to get onto the ride, the PCs need to deal with two Zombie Stuffed Animals - two level 5 monsters with two damage and Armor. This means the PCs are quite probably fucked.
Let's bear in mind how hard a level 5 monster is to hit in Cypher. Any character, even with Tough or Fast 5, has to roll a 5+ on a d6 to hit it unless they spend one of their points, in which case they need to roll a 4+. The two zombies have 5 health each and Armor, and most PCs do 2 damage, reduced to 1 by Armor, so it'll take 10 hits to kill them. Even with spending stat points, the chance to hit is 50%, so on average it will take 20 rolls and thus 20 stat points. Also, the zombie will be hitting them back, with the same possibilities on the defense roll: 50% failure even if stat points are spent. Armored PCs will therefore take 1 damage plus 1 for the stat point they spent, Hustle PCs will not need to spend the stat point but will take 2 damage. So if there are 4 PCs, it'll take around 5 rounds to kill these guys, in which time the 2 zombies will get a total of 10 attacks of which five will hit, potentially stripping another 10-15 stat points (because Armor PCs have to spend a point to defend at 50%). So the potential damage in this fight, on average, will almost completely drain the stat pools of 4 PCs, unless they elect not to spend any stat points and spin the combat out. Hey, kids, lesson of the day: don't try too hard, because you'll just tire yourself out.
Oh, there's a bailout. If you give a zombie stuffed animal a treat and give it a name, it turns into a regular stuffed animal and is friendly again. Cute! Neat! Good luck finding it out. For some reason this is the hardest combat encounter in the entire adventure.
The Space Ride is a rocket that simulates flying through space. It's run by Adriana the Astronaut who keeps the ride running even during the curse and will take the players for a ride if they want. While they're riding, they get to go past the sun, and see the reason that it's blue - it's covered in weird blue aliens who are dancing to a song. (Hang on, I thought it just simulated flying through space?) She also asks the players three questions about space, and tells them that the right answers will help them identify Monstieur when they see him. The three questions are: Is Mars the red or the blue planet; is the sun a planet or a star; and true or false, the moon is made of cheese. She can't explain, of course, why she's potentially withholding useful information that would prevent the park being destroyed. As the PCs come back down to Earth (or rather don't because it's a simulation), they see the location of one of the items in the park that they don't have yet.
The Mammoth Plunge is a water ride where you climb up the back of a woolly mammoth and then waterslide down the trunk. There's an elephant called Barber guarding the escalator. He's so big the PCs can't get round him, and he won't let them on the ride because he thinks they're cursed too. Convincing that him that they are not is a Smart 4 check. He will not fight the PCs (um.. I'm not sure the author has quite grasped how not fighting works) At the top of the ride is a chest. If the PCs open the chest, they get to fight a Level 4 Occupus with 8 Health. Not quite as nasty as the zombies, but pretty harsh. If they beat him, they get 2 coins each. Of course, at this point you will really wish there were rules for falling damage if the PCs think to push the chest and the Occupus off the side of the ride.
Candy Land is the "food and games section" (um?) of the park. It's covered in cotton candy, and there's a piece of the heart on top of a cotton candy machine at the other side of a conveyer belt. To get this piece of the heart requires quite a show. First, they have to fight 2 Jinxes - level 3 monsters, with 6 health but they attack two PCs at once for 2 damage. This isn't that bad, but the damage will compound heavily. Then they have to turn the candy machine off by resetting it (Smart 4) or breaking it (Tough 4) - while it's on, the candy bursting out of it drives them backwards. Then, they have to jump over the conveyer belt, which is Fast 3. If the want to grab some candy for Monstieur while they're there, that's a trivial action.
Boo Manor is an outright trap with nothing valuable in it. It's a ghost train, but there's a real ghost on it - "The Ghost of the Ghost of Monsieur Monstieur". It's level 5 with 10 health and 2 ranged damage. This is still pretty harsh, but nowhere near as bad as the stuffed Zombies. The PCs may well assume it is the actual Monstieur at first, but it has a red star on its chest where its heart would be. Remember the Space Ride? The answers to the space questions come out as Red, Star, False, which is how the players are supposed to know this isn't the real thing. Assuming they went everywhere in the right order, at least. If a PC tries to give the completed heart to the ghost, it instead curses them to run around in circles for their next turn. As usual, there's a get-out clause, and as usual, it's ridiculously impossible to figure out: if a PC draws a heart on a piece of paper, folds it into a paper airplane, and throws it at the ghost, it will think it's being given its actual heart back and disappear. Also, I hope none of your players are smart enough to think that if Monstieur has a "ghost of a ghost", his original ghost should logically be dead, so the curse can't be lifted..
Once the players have all three heart pieces, they need to take another Group Action (groan) to "use the heart as a compass" to find Monstieur. The fact that the heart works as a compass is mentioned in the set-up text, but nobody ever tells the PCs this in the actual adventure, so presumably this is going to require some heavy hint-dropping. Assuming the Group Action succeeds, because as usual we make no allowance at all for it to fail, the heart sends them.. to Boo Manor. Tough luck, kids! When they're partway through the ride (and presumably after fighting the ghost), the heart glows, and they can jump out of the car and unlock a hidden door with a Fast 4 check. The door leads to a tunnel which ends in another locked door (Fast 4) again. Beyond that door is Monstieur's office, where he is lying collapsed on the floor with a heart-shaped hole in his chest. Putting the heart back into his body is for some reason a Smart 2 check because apparently everyone is really stupid. If they do so, Monstieur comes back to life, the curse is lifted, and the PCs get free passes for life. All done!
So, that's No Thank You, Evil!. Could it work? Well, like most badly designed games, it has a chance of working if everything comes together perfectly, but chances are something's going to go wrong and the players or Guide are going to end up backed into a corner or seriously jaded. The "simple" adventures seem good to read, but are likely to fall apart as soon as they're actually played because of the lack of consistency making it hard to work out logical consequences of action. And I don't think we really need to encourage people to play Cypher, now, do we?