MonsterMind is Peter Eijk (he/him). He writes roleplaying games.
The last few years I've been playing short tabletop roleplaying sessions with my eldest kid (currently 8). As English is not our native language I was very happy to find that No Thank You, Evil!, Monte Cook's ttrpg for kids, has been translated in Dutch as Geen Monsters onder m'n Bed (literally No Monsters under my Bed). I think the only other game translated in Dutch in recent history is the 5th edition of the German trad game Das Schwarze Auge.
This weekend we played our 4th or 5th session of No Thank You, Evil, and it made me think. So, well, the following is a rambling mix of review and game design thoughts.
Some caveats: because I read it in translation, I might use the wrong words for some of the game terms. Also, in the original English more supplements have been released, some of which might address issues I have with the game. Those issues will be present in just the core book, though.
Also good to remember: my kid loves playing it, so while I'm critical, I will run more games of the game in the future!
System-wise No Thank You, Evil is a simplified version of the Cypher system (which I'm not really familiar with to be honest).
The production values are pretty good, with dice, tokens, and cards for most monsters, character, companions and items. Translation good be better, but was done by the publisher of the translation themselves, and I didn't run into big mistakes.
The game takes place in Storia: the world of stories. This pretty much means anything goes, genre-wise. Players can play robots and aliens, but also pirates and superheroes. It's nice but it also means there's not much internal consistency. If you present is as separate adventures, there's not much of a problem. I think if you would want to play a larger campaign, it might need quite some work from the GM.
The archetypes will make it fun for any kid, though, so it might at the very least be a great entry for kids to start role-playing with a character type they love and are familiar with.
Character creation starts simple enough. Each players picks from a list of 10 archetypes that kids should know and like: Alien, Robot, Ninja, Pirate, Prince/Princess, Superhero, etc. The chosen archetype determines the size of the 4 pools they have: Tough, Smart, Fast, and Awesome. A total of 10 points are divided between the pools, ending up with values between 1 and 5.
Then, depending on which level of characters the kids play, you have multiple steps, or they're done: In the Cypher system you usually have a mad lib style character: so a ADJECTIVE NOUN who VERBS. Here it's used make 3 levels of characters, from easy for 5 year olds to the most difficult for older, or more experienced kids. All options are predefined, but with enough choices to create your own character.
The different levels can be mixed for a group of mixed aged players.
This has a serious drawback tough: while it makes character creation easier and quicker for smaller kids, it also means they character don't get an extra +1 in one of their pools, and don't get a special ability. This would make the pre-written adventures HARDER for younger kids: it's never mentioned to lower the target number of the rolls for younger kids... that's just dumb design to be honest.
Every character also has a buddy: a stuffed animal, a unicorn, a robot, etc. This is mostly a way to add some random one time use special abilities. We haven't really used this yet, so I don't have much thoughts about it. This rule does feel a bit tacked on.
Rolls are d6 against a target number between 1 and 8, where you need to hit the number or higher. The higher number can only be reached by either spending a token from the relevant pool, or asking help from another character (for which they'll have to spend an Awesome token).
My kid likes rolling dice, and I wasn't that strict with retrying, but I'm not a big fan of this mechanic: target numbers can be hard to pick, and with the Rules-as-Written your players have to decide to spend a token to add to their roll before rolling. (My kid is SO stingy with her tokens!)
I understand they want to limit the math, so there's not too much adding and subtracting after a roll (spending a point officially reduces the target number by 1, so all math is done before the roll by the GM). But I'm not convinced that simple addition is harder than managing resources and estimating the probability of success, especially for young kids.
Another thing I didn't like, but that's because of our specific situation: we play one on one: one GM and one player. My kid is not a min-max player, so she just picked the archetype that interested her most: the Princess. This made Awesome her largest pool, which is the pool you can really only spend on helping other characters. Kind of hard when you just have one player...
I bend the rules a bit, so she could use them in other tricky situations: spending an Awesome token to re-roll any failed roll. Worked like a charm, it would have been nice to have some GM advice for situations like this.
Changes I'd make:
The translated version included 2 adventures books, giving us a total of 6 pre-written adventures. They pretty simple mostly: an NPC presents a problem, the characters travel to a location, and tackle a simple obstacles.
For me as a more experienced player, they're a bit boring to be honest. For my kid, who still has trouble with the openness of tabletop roleplaying, it was easy enough to present her with choices between things she could do, but again, mostly due to me having played a lot of games. The adventures don't contain too much guidance on how to tackle the obstacles creatively: mostly the obstacles are just monsters blocking the way, or something that is presented a being solvable with a single roll. For example: a lock just described as openable with a target 4 Smarts roll, or even worse, just 2 of these locks IN A ROW (from an actual adventure).
For most obstacles or monsters there are no solutions presented the players could take (or hints you can give them). My kid does not like to attack the monsters, but if the situation presented just states 'this monster blocks the way', there's not much to go on to try and role-play a different way to beat them. While each monster has a special weakness, that can be used to defeat it without combat, there is no real way presented on HOW you can let your players discover that weakness.
For a kids game I'd love a bigger focus on trying to be clever and NOT resort to combat every time (of course in the rules section, combat takes up a lot of space).
One of the stated goals is also that an (older) kid could run it. To be honest, with the lack of guiding in the Rulebook or the pre-written adventures, I don't see my kid running a game like this before she outgrows the setting.
There are some guidelines for writing your own adventures, with some general GM advice mixed in. Just 6 pages in a 180 page book though. There are some reference to creating random adventures by drawing some cards, but they seem missing from my boxed set. Not sure if that's a problem with the translation or just missing. I didn't need them so far as we're still working our way through the pre-written adventures, so I can't say if the process works.
Besides playing No Thank You, Evil! we've also played a few sessions of Mausritter using the Dragon Town zine by JP Coovert. My kid loved it, but as she mostly solved issues without combat using clever solutions, we didn't test out those mechanics too much.
My kid did have some trouble with the openness of the adventure, it's a very sandboxy zine, but it's bursting with hooks, fun, memorable NPCs, and exciting challenges. Apart from struggling with the start, when she starting interacting with the place, it was way easier for both of us to start coming up with cool problems and solutions. I think that if we manage to turn this into a regular habit, I'll turn to Dragon Town and it's sequels again. (Maybe with a simpler ruleset, I'm always open to suggestions!)
The funny thing is, while my own game Pine Shallows is focussed on playing characters as kids, and not written to be played with kids specifically, I have the feeling that subconsciously I tackled a lot of the issues found in No Thank You, Evil! I wasn't planning on writing this as an promo post for my own games, but, if you like my remarks, be sure to check out Pine Shallows!
I'm completely sure we'll play some more games soon. Probabaly some more No Thank You, Evil! but not with the Rules-as-Written. I'll also have some of Nate Treme's stuff lined up, and I do want to dive into Dragon Town more. Even if the rules don't always match up to our expectations, my kid keeps asking for more (and hopefully the youngest will join us soon)!
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