G2P (“Games 2 Play”) is a semi-regular editorial segment from GM Chris, and is devoted to showcasing the rare, the unusual, the crazy, the Indie, and (only very occasionally) the wildly popular in the tabletop RPG world. Games that you either didn’t know existed, games that you should try out as soon as you can, games that will make you laugh or hang your jaw in wonder at their amazeballs glory. In other words: games to play. This episode…
I’m not sure how old you were when you first started roleplaying. For me, the first experience was a warm summer night at around age twelve. But now, as a parent, I think about introducing my own daughter to the hobby – and just how I’ll do it. At twelve years of age, looking back, I probably delved into dungeons far too dark and bloody for my parents’ liking (but certainly not mine). As we, the players, have grown up in this hobby and matured, our RPG tastes (and themes) have also matured. This is reflected in many of the popular titles we play, today. But as I think about introducing my tender daughter to this hobby in the coming years, just about the last thing I want to introduce her to is the hyper-violence of Hollowpoint, or the sanity-shattering darkness of Call of Cthulhu, or the trans-human intellectualism of Eclipse Phase. Either the theme is just too heady or the content just too mature. But there are other touchstones in fantasy and sci-fi that would be neither difficult for her to comprehend or enjoy. FFG’s Star Wars system or D&D both fit the bill – but fail in another way: they’re just too complex for a younger gamer to really enjoy.
Now – there are several EXCELLENT RPGs that are not only theme-appropriate, but aren’t too brain-heavy, nor too complex. RPGs designed for younger players to introduce them to the hobby. Gems like Hero Kids or rpgKids are both superb examples (that I can personally recommend) to introduce our little ones to the wonders of structured imagination and polyhedral dice. But… (yes, there’s a but…) these fantastic games, and others like them, present yet another problem for me: they are designed for kids. Yes, that’s the point, I understand. But these marvelous efforts to design fun RPGs for children mean that the older members of the family or game group are left a bit wanting. The exercise of gaming with your kids becomes something entirely for their benefit. Sure, I’m going to enjoy it – and it’ll be fun. But these games will never cross that magical wall of also being truly compelling and fulfilling for the entire family (the way D&D and Star Wars would be). So what’s a gamer parent to do? Isn’t there an RPG somewhere out there that is 1) Lighthearted enough to be family friendly, 2) Doesn’t confuse kids with a deep theme, 3) Is SIMPLE enough, mechanically, for a kiddo to grasp, and 4) is still somehow complex and fun enough that any adult playing would also enjoy it? In other words – is there an RPG that is great for kids, but that a group of adults could still play the hell out of, and enjoy?
Yes, there is, my friends. It’s simple. It’s fun and funny. And it’s… (wait for it…) FREE! That game is Dutch Indie-house Geekish Gaming’s 2016 outing, Fear Fetchers. Written by Kevin Damen, Fear Fetchers manages to bridge the gap between family-friendly fun and adult-compelling entertainment that is a riot to play and hinges on a classic theme that will ring true with any child or adult geek. Imagine playing in the world of Monsters, INC., but without the Pixar shine. A world where monsters really do exist in strange and creepy shapes and sizes, and they really are foraying into our own world to collect the captured fear of humanity, but it’s not a source of clean energy and – no – giggles will not soon be discovered to surpass screams as an energy source. The monsters aren’t lovable, benevolent, and misunderstood heroes – they really are creepy, fright-inducing monsters whose goal is to gather fear for their spooky overlords. This might sound a bit sinister, but the theme and tone of this setting is more Nightmare Before Christmas than Nightmare on Elm Street, and the mish-mash of character creation and monster “look and feel” adds even more levity to the game.
The world of Fear Fetchers is that of the brimming metropolis of Spookington – hidden beneath the Earth’s crust, and home to billions of frights, monsters, and malevolent supernatural entities eager to plague the surface world with Scares and harvest the sweet, sweet fear that produces. The roughly 60-page PDF devotes just the right amount of word count to fleshing out some bare and interesting details of the monster-world of Spookington. Most monsters work a 9-to-5 job keeping the lights off and the streets filthy and eerie (yuk yuk yuk), preparing food and drink, or perhaps working shifts in Crawlmart (Spookington’s biggest – and only – franchise supplier of… well… everything), or playing mad-scientists in one of many Monster Labs cooking up new monsters and monster parts. But these pedestrian monsters are NOT our heroes. Our heroes are FEAR FETCHERS! They are part of a select (or, perhaps, crazy) few who take contracts from one of the three Overlords of Spookington (The Boogeyman, Lady Death, and the Demon Jester – of course) to venture off into the human world, Scaring people, and Fetching their Fear – capturing it using mystical Scarestones. Gathered Fear is the currency of power and monster evolution in the world of Spookington, and the Overlords will pay well to have it delivered to them, perhaps even letting the heroes keep any excess Fear that was Fetched beyond the contract minimum – Fear they can use at the Monster Labs to evolve themselves into bigger, better Scaring machines!
Details are provided about “The Terrible Trinity” (the three Overlords of Spookington), responsible for granting contracts. Beings of such frightful power that they can whisk monsters to and from the human world and quash the souls of those who fail them without reprieve! Contracts are the heart-and-soul of the heroes’ adventures, and the game even provides a template contract for the GM (excuse me, “Monster Master”) to use. Stretching and circumventing these contracts is fairly encouraged, and the seeds of numerous adventures are provided in “just the right amount” of detail in the book.
But as kitschy as the setting is, the joy of playing it is most certainly crafting your own monster hero to tackle these Scare jobs for the Overlords. Players get to build their monster from scratch, with a stock set of body parts, choosing their body type, head, sets of limbs, and other special accessories (such as Huge Teeth or a Nasty Growl). My monster might have a slime body or be a floating eye, with an insectile head, a pair of claws, a set of wings, and a prehensile tongue. My monster might have a worm body with an avian head, huge teeth, a nasty growl, and camouflage skin.
Each body part provides a unique ability (such as flight, or the ability to secrete a slimy trail in your wake) and/or adds and subtracts from the monster’s six statistics: Power, Sight, Sneak, Speed, Terror, and Toughness. Each of these statistics is given a value that equates to a roll of an equivalent number of d6, when appropriate. For example, a monster with Sneak 4 would roll 4d6 when attempting to flit between the shadows and avoid the attention of the children’s ward nurses watching the room of the twin boys the monster is there to frighten. When a roll happens, the highest 3 dice (assuming there ARE at least 3 dice) are summed together, and if that number beats the target difficulty of the action, the monster is successful.
But as the game progresses, and your monster earns Fear they can spend in the Monster Labs, they can swap out or add new body parts (most of which are not available at initial character creation), granting you even better abilities and stat boons. An advanced monster might have 3 heads, slimy feelers, glowing eyes, smokey breath, a pair of claws, tentacles, and wings. The fun of “evolving” your monster is great, and while kids can make something fun and silly, grown-ups can min-max stat boosts well enough to make the most hardened of D&D players feel right at home.
All of this simplicity in rolling and character management continues into the primary game mechanic of setting up a Scare – which much time is devoted to explaining (with examples aplenty). Monsters need to skulk about and Build Dread by performing feats of terror to creep out their targets, ultimately making their final check to Scare easier (and resulting in – hopefully – more Fear Fetched). But the economy of this mechanic is well designed; the more time players spend Building Dread will make the payoff much sweeter, but each check spent delaying the inevitable is one more chance for the monster to be Spotted by the humans (or, perhaps, housepets) – which can have dire consequences for a monster. Monsters are so unreal – so horrendous – that the Human mind simply refuses to believe in them, right up until the point a monster stares them right in the face. When that happens (assuming the poor sap isn’t terrified out of his mind – in which case, good job!) the human will either fight you, or call for help (for someone who will fight you).
Fighting humans is the worst-case scenario, one likely doomed to failure. While the rules do cover fighting and damage (to both monsters and humans), the rules don’t encourage it. Not only is it simply embarrassing for a monster to be “caught with his pants down,” but it’s just horribly inefficient. Each human (and monster) can take three hits. After that, a human falls unconscious and generates 1 Fear for the monster (which is just awful, compared to the 5-10 Fear a properly done Scare can generate). But if a monster takes 3 hits, they are immediately rendered unconscious AND banished in a puff back to Spookington – likely to face the wrath of the Overlord who contracted them. But ultimately, there’s no “death” in this game – and there really shouldn’t be. It kind of misses the point.
And there’s fun to be had in Spookington, too. Aside from negotiating with your Overlord and spending your hard-earned Fear on monstrous mutations, there’s also “equipment” (we can’t forget about the low, low prices at Crawlmart!) that players can purchase and use. These purchased goods and gear grant frequent or one-time-uses to assist a hard-working monster in the field, from food and drinks like Slobstoppers and Red Skull Energy drinks, that allow for re-rolls or healing; to devilish devices like portable doors (yes, like in Looney Toons), cloud recombobulators, and upgraded Scarestones. For players, monster creation and outfitting is an affair that is fun and “simple enough,” while still providing many options.
The Monster Master has numerous dedicated sections in the book that are well written and loaded with the examples any good RPG should provide. Not only “running the game” standards, but a “bestiary” of threats in the human world, and a fully-written (and well-written) starting adventure to get your players’ monsters into the game!
Fear Fetchers is a marvelous freshman effort. It’s not loaded with costly art or intense graphic design (which is somewhat nice, as the entire PDF is extremely print-friendly), but relies on solid writing, fun narrative, and good mechanics to carry this free RPG forward. It’s rare that I recommend a game good for both kids and adults. Not only will Fear Fetchers be comfortable in the hands of your 10 year-old and her friends, but will be a laugh riot as a one-shot or small campaign for a group of seasoned 30-somethings looking for something new.
Fear Fetchers is available for FREE, right now, and is totally worth the download and read – though I sincerely hope you get this fun title on the table. Great for a spooktacular evening’s entertainment.
Peace, Love, and Good Gaming – GMC
(All names, references, and pictures presented in this article are Copyright 2016 to Geekish Gaming, all rights reserved by their respective owners. This article is a media work of review and publicity, and is in no way intended to share intellectual property or copyrighted material outside the scope of media review.)