Something Under the Bed is Drooling – Book Review of Monsters and Other Childish Things

When I was walking through the vendor hall at GenCon, I saw a book that caught my eye.

I mean, how could it not?

As I was growing up, I read a lot of the wonderful comic series Calvin & Hobbes. If you’re not familiar (and you should be), the comic is all about a young boy and his best friend: his stuffed tiger. Thing is, to Calvin, the tiger was real; he could walk, talk, tackle and eat tuna. So when I saw the premise of Monsters, I was hooked. It’s like taking the idea from Calvin & Hobbes and making the tiger an extra-dimensional horror from Beyond Time and Space who is really, actually real.

The Book

The book itself is a really nice, small-form piece. It is laid out well and delivers all of the information that you would need to run a game. The world that the game take place in is our own but the GM can tweak exactly how much anyone knows about the monsters. They can be a revealed, known quantity, they can be suspected but not really confirmed, or they can have just appeared for whatever reason.

As well, the tone of the game can really be whatever you would like. It can range from a slapstick comedy of errors to really dark in ways that only stories involving children can be.

Relationships Are Key

And that brings us to the heart of the game: relationships. Sure, you’re a kid who has a monster that loves you unconditionally and can crush a car with a single tentacle. But you’ve also got friends, parents and other “human world” things that love you and and who you love back. Playing on those relationships is what makes this game so special. You want them to thrive and survive. Your monster wants the same thing because if you’re feeling good, your monster is feeling good. If you get emotionally hurt, though, your monster feels pain. The book offers a great balance between the knock-down, drag-out fighting that can occur between monsters and the care and feeding of the relationships that keep a person mentally healthy.

The kicker is: your monster wants you to be happy. If you’re unhappy, and you have a motivated monster, he/she/it might try to solve your problem for you; to make you happy. But having the school bully digested by your loving blob of oozey ickiness doesn’t really solve your problems… does it?

The System

The game uses a trimmed version of the One Roll Engine (ORE) that sees you building dice pools (d10s) from your various stats, skills and relationships. When you roll, you’re looking for sets of dice of the same number. How wide and how tall the roll is determines how quickly/powerfully and how accurately you succeed at what you’re doing. For example, if you roll 7 dice and get three 4s, then you got a roll of 3×4. 3 is how wide your roll is and 4 is how tall. Want to do something quickly, you want multiple numbers (width); want to do something accurately, you want high numbers (height). It’s a simple system that seems to cover most bases.

The system seems like it could be a little bit clunky when it comes to intricate things like combat but that’s only my take from reading the book; I’ve got some actual play sessions I am planning on listening to for this game so I can see how the system plays out for real.

The Final Take

I have read a lot of game books for this blog and most of them I have read gladly. There have been few that have made me immediately say “I want to run this.” Monsters is one of those books. Something about the combination of the innocence (or lack thereof) of childhood combined with living, real monsters and a healthy dose of mental instability and dark humor tickles my fancy in ways that I could get in trouble for describing. In fact, I am already making plans to run a session of this game at KantCon 2011; that’s how impressed I was.

Overall score: 5 out of 5

Monsters and Other Childish Things is published by Arc Dream Publishing.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, role playing games, Monster and Other Childish Things, review, reviews[/tags]

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