Posted on July 29, 2009 by jasonlblair
Door #2: Kids These Days
Let’s face it: the thing that sets Little Fears apart from other horror games isn’t the setting. Or the Bogeyman or the monster under the bed. Sure, the fiction of Little Fears helps differentiate it from other games but the main difference, what really makes it unique, are the characters.
In Little Fears, the main characters are children. Young children at that, ranging from 6 to 12 years old. A good part of my time is dedicated to making players, most of whom are well past that age range, comfortable in the portrayal of children. Probably the point I try to hammer home the most is that, no matter their age or size or ability level, we’re talking about heroes here. These are the kids who will face off against terrible, horrible, no-good beasts not the ones who will cower in the corner. These are the protagonists of the piece so they need to be a) interesting and b) competent.
Designing the engine for Little Fears Nightmare Edition was very interesting—arduous, you might say. Unlike in the original Little Fears system, which was built strictly for one game, I knew going in that I wanted a system with some push and pull to it. If I was going to design a system, instead of modify an existing one, I wanted it to be something that I could use for other settings and premises as well—not just Little Fears. This presented a number of challenges to the system and, specifically, to character creation.
Character creation is probably the hardest part of game design for me. It sets up all the systems that the players will use to interact with the game world. Sure, the game moderator lays down the fiction and presents structure and challenge but most of the people at the table are players. And their character is their tool, their interface to the game. If they’re not invested in it, that just makes things harder for everyone.
For Little Fears Nightmare Edition, I wanted to bring in familiar elements from the original game: the Qualities (which are ways of describing your character’s pros and cons) as well as the Virtues (ephemeral aspects of the character such as how scared they are and how much of their soul they had left). But I also wanted characters to be well-defined, compelling.
What my co-conspirator Caz Granberg and I came up with is something I termed the “Top 3 System” and though its characters will vary a bit from game to game, this is the basic setup you’ll find in Little Fears Nightmare Edition.
This is your character’s name, age, sex, and birthday. Age is very important, probably the most important decision you will make about your character. It determines your Abilities and your Virtues. The older kids have higher Abilities and lower Virtues. Vice versa for younger kids. And your birthday comes into play during character advancement (and the optional “spanking” rule—but that’s for the players, not the characters).
Or, as Caz and I call them, the Five Verbs. Abilities or attributes, or whatever you want to call them, have a tendency toward flowery descriptors such as “Fortitude” or “Cognizance” which just really doesn’t fit with the tone of a game like Little Fears Nightmare Edition. In the original system, I went for easy descriptors for the attributes: Smarts, Muscle, Hands, Feet, Spirit. Nice and simple, yes, but for the new edition, I wanted something else. I liked the role of Abilities, traditional though they may be, and I wanted to keep them, but instead of describing aspects of a character’s genetic make-up, I wanted to refer to them, to think of them as answers. Specifically, answers to the question, “What does your character do?”
Because that’s the question the game moderator asks. “The hulking mongrel has cornered your kid in the alley behind the comic shop. Your friends are nowhere around, the beast is inching closer every second. You can hear the low thunder of its growl, smell last night’s meal on its breath, see your own reflection in its black wet eyes. Your heart is racing, your mind is a-blur. What do you do?”
Move, Fight, Think, Speak, Care. Those are the Five Verbs. Every base action your character can do stems from those five verbs. Move covers running, sleight-of-hand, catching a ball, riding a bike. Fight comes into play any time you’re trying to hurt someone or something. If you’re trying to figure out a puzzle or remember some obscure fact, you use Think. Swaying a crowd, coming up with a brilliant lie, reciting a poem all fall under Speak. Calming someone down, talking a friend down from a tree, or writing someone that poem fall under Care. (And be careful—ha, ha—to not disregard that last Ability. It could save your friend’s life.)
The role of the Abilities is familiar but I can’t convey what a critical shift the name change was when it came to thinking about other aspects of the system. Little Fears Nightmare Edition—and the Top 3 System—is not so much about who you are as what you do.
The next big block of your character belongs to Qualities. These are the skills of your characters, their faults, their foibles, their merits, their flaws, etc. This is how they see themselves and how others see them. They operate a bit differently than the Qualities from the original edition but the spirit is the same. Their purpose is to round out your character socially, mentally, physically. Give some purpose and context to those Five Verbs.
There are four Virtues in Little Fears Nightmare Edition: Belief, Wits, Spirit, and Health. Belief is the new Innocence. And I think folks will dig what we’ve done with it. Belief powers Belief Magic, appropriately enough, and it also gives you Stuff, which we’ll cover later. Belief is fluid—and you can lose it, and get more it. It’s a big part of what keeps characters viable as they age.
Your character’s Wits are what keep them stable and sane. But in the course of the game, and often throughout, they’ll lose Wits temporarily and suffer the consequences (this is a place where a Care-ing friend comes in really handy).
Spirit represents your character’s everlasting soul. If a monster latches onto your soul, they can drain it from you—or rip the silver cord!—and that will bring some very bad things down upon your character: symptoms of a disease called The Dark.
Last, we have Health. Which is really just a Virtue because there’s no other good place to put it. Your health is your character’s physical well-being. As it drops, it becomes harder for your character to do things. If it drops too much, your character dies.
Or becomes something else.
The next item on the sheet is Stuff. This is the Stuff your character Believes in. Pardon the Victorian Capitalization there but your Stuff is actually powered by your character’s Belief. There is impromptu, off the cuff Belief Magic but there are also things your character has a deep emotional attachment to. It’s assumed your character would have basic things they’d use in day-to-day life so this isn’t an equipment list. This Stuff is special.
Lastly, every player is required to fill out a Questionnaire about their character written as their character. This may just seem like fluff but a peek at the game moderator’s section will prove that wrong. As with the original Little Fears, the Questionnaire is a gold mine of ideas for game moderators and also helps players, as they begin to fill it out, slide right into their character. It was one part of the game I knew for sure was coming back. As a writer and a Little Fears GM, I like knowing as much about a character as I can. Especially if I can use it against them.
So there you go. A rundown of Little Fears Nightmare Edition character. Come on back next week for Door #3 and a peek at another part of the upcoming game.
About Little Fears
Little Fears is a pen and paper roleplaying game that was released in 2001. In it, players portrayed children aged 6-12 who fought monsters that came to our world from a place called Closetland. A completely overhauled version, Little Fears Nightmare Edition, is currently in development. Partnered with Flames Rising, Jason L Blair (the author of Little Fears and Little Fears Nightmare Edition) will provide 13 exclusive looks beyond the door at the new edition including fiction, art previews, and more.
For more information, visit www.littlefears.com.
List of Previews for Little Fears: Nightmare Edition
Thank you to everyone who has entered through the thirteen doors leading up to the release of Little Fears: Nightmare Edition. If you’re just starting your journey, here is a full list of previews for you to explore:
- Closing The Door: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 13
- Turning the Pages: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 12
- Hiding Under the Covers: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 11
- Show Me Something: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 10
- Light of Day: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 9
- Cover Me: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 8
- Picture Day: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 7
- Keys to the World: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 6
- Rebuilding Closetland: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 5
- Creatures in the Library: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 4
- Monster Factory: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 3
- Kids These Days: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 2
- Little Fears Grows Up: Little Fears Nightmare Edition Door 1