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Little Fears Nightmare Edition Preview Door #5: Rebuilding Closetland

Posted on August 19, 2009 by jasonlblair

Welcome to the fifth of the 13 Doors: an exclusive look behind the door at the upcoming Little Fears Nightmare Edition – The Game of Childhood Terror.

Door #5: Rebuilding Closetland

I knew from the beginning that I wanted Little Fears Nightmare Edition to be different than its predecessor. The original Little Fears was great, and I love it warts and all, but simply remaking the game held little interest for me. I figured, the original is out there, people have it and are playing it. I don’t need to do it again.

So when it came to creating Little Fears Nightmare Edition, I decided to go back to basics. The core premise of Little Fears is simple. My elevator pitch is, “It’s a game about kids fighting monsters.” Which it is. But that premise is open to a lot of interpretation. I took a long hard look at what that meant to me. I had an inkling already and as I pushed and pulled at it, it started to take shape. I knew I was going to have to kill a lot of darlings in order to give the Nightmare Edition its own identity and, frankly, to make the type of game I wanted it to be this time around.

The first things cut were the Demagogue and the Kings. That not only freed up the setting, it kicked the doors wide open. In the original, Closetland worked a certain way, followed a certain order that was predicated on the machinations of this villainous unseen being who apparently ate innocence for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The Kings then were his eyes and ears, arms and legs. (In the original Little Fears, there was a backstory to the Kings—who they were and some of things they’d done to each other. It was going to be in the never-released Behind the Door supplement. Perhaps one day I’ll tell it, but not right now.) Then there were Oliver, Helter and Skelter, Patchwork, and the other supporting characters. These were all cool ideas but I had committed a fundamental sin in game setting design. The Kings served the purpose of creating a mood and giving motivation to other monsters but they were monsters the players would probably never see and, if they did somehow, could not effect and probably would not survive.

I wasn’t going to make that mistake this time around. I wasn’t going to invent things that the players couldn’t experience. I was going to focus on tools that both the game moderator and the player could use. Approaching the setting of Little Fears with a blank slate allowed me to really consider what I was going to put in it.

First off, Closetland was staying. I loved the name and I loved the idea of it. In the original game, it was hard for me to close my eyes and picture what walking around Closetland was like (yet another setting design sin). For this new iteration, I know what it feels like, smells like, sounds like, looks like. I can close my eyes and imagine a hundred stories told within its boundaries (which helps with scenario design, certainly).

I can see the shadowy figures that walk the hallways of the abandoned school. Hear the rattling of claws and beaks against the rusty tines of the cages inside the Bogeyman’s Blackbird Room. Feel the cold air worm its way through the gigantic stone trees that outline Titania’s crumbling castle. Smell the fetid water in the river that parts the woods in which Baba Yaga’s house trumbles aimlessly in search of food. See the faint outline of the door that is carved into the Sleeping Rock. Some say leads to a place called Dreamland. It is the one door in Closetland the Bogeyman can’t open.

You see, the Kings are gone in station and in rank but some of them are simply too cool to leave out entirely. Titania, catatonic on her throne, is bathed regularly by goblyns as the screeching little redcaps guard the castle from anyone who may try to save their troubled queen. Baba Yaga, withered old witch that she is, has a pantry full of herbs and potions under the hooks she ties the rabbits and birds to. On the floor of the pantry is the rope-bound footlocker where she puts her “precious dumplings.” The Bogeyman, most powerful of all the monsters, is very protective of his precious bogeys and birds. They are most special to him. The only key to the Blackbird Room is hidden inside his heart.

It’s not all returning characters of course. There are a host of other monsters you will meet, from mythology, literature, folklore, and elsewhere. And not only are there monsters in Closetland but other things as well.

Most peculiar of which are the butterflies, but we’ll talk of them another day.

Aside from those who live (or are stuck) there, I thought about how things worked in Closetland. It’s a world that follows its own rules—so do characters act the same within its (figurative) walls? Does the system change?

While the core system doesn’t change, there are guidelines for ways for the game moderator to change things when characters are in certain parts of Closetland. There are pockets of fear, places where Belief is more powerful, and areas where monsters are stronger (such as their homes).

I don’t consider this version of Closetland to be a sequel to the original. No events transpired that turned the previous Closetland into this one. It’s a reimagining, straight up. Not for the sake of reinvention but for the sake of freeing both the design and the players from the arbitrary constraints the previous version placed on both. I hope you dig it as much as I do. Just be sure to shut the door behind you. We wouldn’t want anything in there getting out.

But of course it’s too late for that. There’s an entire world around the characters. The places they live, the rooms in which they sleep, their school, the places where they hang out with friends. Monsters are not confined to Closetland. There’s a troll in the creek near your house. The neighbor dog with the cloudy eyes is no normal beast. And the librarian with the funny voice box may be more than she appears. The real world is as full of wonder and potential threat as any created world and the game takes advantage of that as well.

As I crafted the setting, I continually went back to the idea of both childhood and monsters. When designing the system, I took great care to give players real power when it comes to fighting (or redeeming) them. It may just be a “game about kids fighting monsters” but it was going to be the best one I could make.

I’m extremely happy with how monsters and Closetland work in Little Fears Nightmare Edition. It brings back a lot of freedom, echoes imagination and wonder, and has some really scary stuff in it as well. The Kings have been dethroned. You rule Closetland now.

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:

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