Posted on March 13, 2007 by Flames
Written By Jason L. Blair
Published Key 20 Publishing
It is not often that a role playing game makes you think. It is also a rare occurrence when a role playing game tackles a controversial subject, with grace and understanding. Upon reading Little Fears I was happy to have my first impressions of the game shattered. At first glance Little Fears is a game simply about childhood fears, which it is, but it is also about much more.
Little Fears is a game dealing with the monster in the closet, the giant spider under the cellar stairs, and all other fears children have when they are between the ages of 6 and 12. Little Fears has the players take on the role of children and confront the monsters that lurk in the world. These monsters are very powerful and the players are hard pressed to defeat them. The only way to defeat them is by confronting their fears, and from that experience gaining the strength to defeat the monster.
Character creation is done by answering a series of questions. These questions help define who the character is. More importantly they help you to figure out what you are afraid of. Once the questions are answered you move on to determine the potential of your child. There are five stats in Little Fears: Smarts, Muscles, Hands, Feet, and Spirit. Each character has three Virtues which represent the aspects of the character. Soul shows how immortal the soul of the character is. Innocence reflects how pure and innocent the character is. The younger the character is, the more Innocence they have. Fear represents how much the forces of Closetland (more on this later) have gotten to the character. Each character gets 6 Playground Points which are used to raise Stats. All Stats begin at 2, and a player can raise or lower a Stat from 1 to 5. Playground Points can also be used to buy Qualities, which define the character even more. There are positive Qualities and negative Qualities, and they represent the things you like or dislike about your character.
When attempting anything in the game you need to roll either a Test or a Quiz. A Quiz is used when you are doing something unopposed, like riding a bike down a steep hill, or looking for something in a dresser drawer. A Test is used when your character is opposing someone, such as running away from a stranger. For a Quiz to be successful you need to roll under your Stat. For a Test to be successful, you need to roll over your opponent’s Stat. When your character sees something scary they need to make a Fear check. Fear checks are an important part of Little Fears, they are Spirit Quizzes, and if you fail it, you might stand and gibber, or wet yourself.
The three Virtues of Soul, Innocence, and Fear are each scaled between 1 to 10. They are important to the game, and have the most important effects on the Character. As your Soul creeps down towards 0 bad things begin to happen, and once reaching 0 the character goes through “The Darkening” (which I will not give away). Innocence depends on your age, and as you grow older you lose your Innocence and become blind to the forces of Closetland. You can also lose Innocence through trauma, abuse, or doing bad things to yourself and others. Fear begins at 0, and is gained every time a Fear check is failed. Once you start to building up Fear your child begins changing.
My favorite section, “The Power of Belief” deals with how a child’s belief helps and hinders them in the fight against Closetland. A child’s belief might imbue a stuffed animal with magical powers so that it can protect the child from harm. A child’s belief can also fuel the creation of the child-eating garden gnome that stands next to the tool shed. Belief is a powerful thing, but as a child loses their Innocence their belief begins to falter. Eventually the night light that always kept the monsters away no longer works, or that magic stuffed animal is just a simple loved worn toy.
The bulk of the book deals with Closetland and its ruler the Demagogue. Closetland is the home of all fear, and is the main protagonist of Little Fears. Working for the Demagogue are the seven kings who are the physical embodiment of the seven vices. The Demagogue and his kings hate all things innocent, and for them pleasure can only be found in destroying innocence. It is the forces of Closetland that abuse children, and who kidnap them from their rooms. Closetland is a place without hope, and a manifestation of fear. It is a place adults have forgotten about, and a place that keeps children up at night. Only purity can defeat the forces of Closetland, and only by overcoming their fears, can a child win the battle. Closetland is the personification of all things evil and all the fears that children have.
Though a large part of the book is devoted to Closetland, a GM can ignore it and run adventures of a different nature. A GM can run adventures similar to a bedtime story, that has all the trappings of fantasy. The adventures can deal with such subjects as courage, strength and bravery. Adventures like this would be perfect for GMs wanting to run something similar to C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Little Fears can also be used to tell Fairy Tales, and adventures can be based on any number of The Brother’s Grimm tales. You could also run adventures similar to Scooby Doo, and have the protagonist be nothing more than Old Man Withers the groundskeeper. Little Fears’ rules can easily be molded to any genre and is perfect for adventures that are more role playing, than roll playing, in nature.
Little Fears is a masterpiece. It deals with themes that most gamers would not want covered. It talks about abuse, but it is only one small paragraph, and it treats the subject with tact and delicacy. For me, Little Fears is a game about hope, strength, friendship and purity. As children you must face down your fears, and by overcoming them you gain strength. The PCs are children, not muscle bound heroes dripping with weapons and skills. The children are armed with only two things: belief and bravery. It is bravery that makes you confront that which scares you the most. It is bravery that makes you rush to your friend’s side when the closet monster has him by the throat. It is the belief in yourself, or in the locket you mother gave you, that helps you confront that which scares you.
Little Fears is a rarity in today’s market. Though it deals with darkness, it provides light. It is a brave game. After all there are not many games that would deal with this subject matter, and deal with it in a non-sensational way. This is truly a great game, and it is one that I can not recommend highly enough.
Reviewer: Richard Iorio II