Categorized | Previews

Little Fears Nightmare Edition Preview Door #6: Keys to the World

Posted on August 26, 2009 by jasonlblair

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

Door #6: Keys to the World

lfnebutterflyWorld-building can be an incredibly fun part of the game creation process. It’s also what makes working on a game set in modern day, such as Little Fears Nightmare Edition, a strange creature. I mean, I’m not going to reinvent suburbia here. No one needs a detailed explanation of an apartment building or the function of an elementary school (I’ll leave that debate for another time and place). Cell phones, remote controls, video games, heelies, and strip malls are all part of modern American culture. While players can easily set a game in 1970s Africa or in a Victorian boarding house, that’s not something that I’ll be covering in the mainbook. You can set the game in their hometown (or their home country) where they will provide the detaiils. My job as the designer is to give folks the tools to take whatever reality they decide and twist it just the right amount for their game.

Little Fears Nightmare Edition is a horror game, certainly, but it also shares qualities with urban fantasy. Real magicians in traveling carnivals fits as much inside its world as monsters under the bed. The task I have taken in creating the game is building a world within an already familiar setting. Sure, I’ve designed the metaworld of Closetland, the purely fantastic world of monsters, but it’s just as likely an entire game will be set on Oak Street or in the Whispering Pines subdivision as Titania’s dilapidated palace. So I need to create a toolset that’s universal, even I am personally applying it to areas I know and speaking of places I’ve been. To do this, I have to introduce things that everyone is familiar with in a way that is new or I have to create things in the shadows between the familiar that could exist if only.

It’s how I usually approach these projects, actually. I’m a sucker for finding magic, mystery, and the supernatural in the world we all think we know instead of a constructed world. Having the bizarre nestled inside the familiar gives both starker contrast and makes the strange and the mundane that much more intriguing. And magic can be found anywhere. There are fey who live in the trees and the trolls who sleep at the bottom of the river. There are gremlins eating engine parts at the local junkyard. Trees comes alive during storms, snatching hapless children in the spaces where the streetlights don’t shine. Black birds are the eyes of the Bogeyman. Perched in front of your house, they watch you sleep.

Of course, the goal in creating the “real world” of Little Fears is not for me to draft a laundry list of creatures from folklore, myth, and my own imagination to include at the end of the book. While there are plenty of examples that I hope players find interesting and useful, my real task is to give the reader the means to interpret the real world his own way and to create monsters for use in his group’s own stories.

It’s a great challenge and I do this a handful of ways.

The first is through prose. While gaming fiction is much-maligned in certain circles, I feel that well-written fiction serves the purpose of showing the reader the world rather than just telling them about it. Little Fears Nightmare Edition is not a novel—and doesn’t pretend to be—but I’ve tried to use fiction to reinforce or introduce some of the more esoteric concepts of the world. I feel it worked well in the original Little Fears when talking about the use of rituals for getting nto Closetland or what it looked or felt like when Closetland overlapped the real world. Occasionally, it’s to set mood but I try to have another purpose as well.

Another way is through example. The aforementioned sample monsters go a long way in accomplishing this. I try to cover the basics such as werewolves, vampires, and zombies first (and you’ll see them come up again and again in examples). I do this because these creatures are transcultural. Even those that were once of localized belief have become iconic. They are the monsters we all know. By showing folks how a vampire works in Little Fears Nightmare Edition, the reader has a reference point when it comes to using the monster creation rules to make his own monsters or translate his favorite monsters from other media to the game world. Of course, I include quite a few non-standard monsters as well to show the flexibility of the system and inspire ideas.

A third way is kinda sneaky. I make a couple offhand remarks to one creature or another in the hopes that it will inspire the reader to decide for himself what the creature is. I’m guessing anyone who reads the game could make a river troll in ten minutes even if it isn’t included. The best part of it is that each one would be different. Each one would be tailored to a different person’s idea of a river troll. As a game designer, seeing where people take your creations is one of the greatest rewards.

The last way is by speaking of the game’s inspiration. By showing people where I drew some of my ideas from, they will know where to look for their own ideas. Not that folks need the help! As I read through the monsters that playtesters made, I was awed by some of these ideas. So many incredibly imaginative creations that I can’t wait to use some of them in my own sessions.

Inspiring players to customize the world of Little Fears Nightmare Edition was only part of the challenge, really. The second was giving them the tools to tailor the tone and mood of the game as well. In the original, I spoke about the difference between Scary Stories, Dark Faery Tales, and True Horror. In the new edition, I talk about quick and easy system changes that can be made to reinforce the type of game a group is going after. Scary Stories is the default mode but with a few turns of the dial, you can easily create something that really feels like a yarn the Grimm brothers would pen or something ripped from the headlines.

My hope with all these is that they spark the imagination of the reader and set them on a journey to find their own parallels, their own odd things. To seek out the magic and mystery hidden in our world and use it as inspiration for their own tales of horror and intrigue.

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

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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