Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Little Fears

Fairy Tales don't teach children that monsters are real, all children know that. 
Fairy tales teach children that monsters can be defeated.

Not exactly the quote from G. K. Chesterton, but close enough for today's letter.

Little Fears has the distinction of being one of only five games my FLGS will not carry.  I didn't press them why or ask to order it (they said they would order it for me, they just don't stock it), they are my FLGS for a reason and I have many other means of getting the books I need.
I had the original edition from some time ago and picked up the nightmare edition, promising the author Jason Blair I'd have a review up.  I still don't.  But I hope to fix that now.

LF is a game of Childhood Horrors.  Simple enough.  As a father I have been up many nights sleepily fighting one bogeyman or another.  Thankfully most bogeymen are terrified of my "huh? go back to sleep" speech cause I have never seen them.  But maybe once apon a time I did.  I am reminded of a Charmed episode where a little girl was being attack by little bogey like creatures and the Charmed Ones, being adults, could not see them.  They had to cast a spell to be more childlike (with accompanied wackiness) to see the threat.  That was the hook I was going to use to get my group to play LF one day.  Turn their characters into kids and to keep them off guard I was going to take their Unisystem sheets and give them Little Fears sheets instead and then not tell them all the rules.  The Little Fears book makes a big issue about kids living in an adult world and not knowing or understanding the rules.  Frankly I thought it was brilliant, but it never happened.

Little Fears plays like that.  Only more so.  Monsters are defined by the character's fear but also by their belief.  In some ways playing LF with adults is a bit like playing D&D with really young kids.  They want to be the player AND the DM.  In LF the characters and players can change the nature of the game in overt or subtle ways.

The rules are very simple really.  The system is a d6 dicepool based on abilities or qualities.  Monsters are built similar to characters though are tougher generally speaking.  The damage system reminds me of Mutants and Masterminds a bit and is also pretty simple.   Emphasis though in this game is not how many monster you can kill, but how well you role-play the monster you nearly escaped from and lived to tell your friends about (because they have seen the same monster, but have been too afraid to tell you).  Little Fears is one of the most role-play heavy games I have read in a very long time.  If you only like to hit things with pointy metal sticks or throw fireballs, then this might not be your game.  If the idea of playing something that is akin to "Kult Jr." or "C.J. Carella's WitchCraft Babies" then this is the game for you.

There is an over-arching malaise though over Little Fears.  I get depressed reading it I have to admit.  Maybe it is because I am a father and I know how those little kids feel to be afraid and alone and powerless.  I guess the counter argument is they are not powerless or alone really.

Given the mythology of Little Fears, I could easily adapt a couple of my Bogeys to use in the game.

Buttons the Bear
Buttons is either a Monster (but a good one) or a Hand Me Down (p 114).

Buttons the Bear began just like another childhood toy. He was a handmade stuffed bear given to a now forgotten child one Christmas morning in the early 1800's. As his child grew older Buttons (and this was not yet his name) was discarded for newer playthings. That is till he ended up as a donation to an orphanage. By this time Buttons had seen a fair amount of use, in particular his glass eyes were gone. The matron of the house, a young Irish nun sewed two buttons on his face for eyes; one green the other red. She gave him to a small child who had nothing and had never received a Christmas present before. It was there that Buttons felt the first tinges of Awakening, the love of this young child stirred up the spark of divinity that is in everything; even in a stuffed bear with mis-matched buttons for eyes.

An orphanage, especially one in what was now the mid Victorian era, was ripe for all sorts of bogeys. Generally these were the pestering kind, but every so often something more dangerous would prey on the unfortunates. Buttons (as he was now known) went from merely scaring them off to actively hunting them down at night. For many years Buttons protected the children here and in return he knew he had their love.
Things changed shortly after the Blight. Taking advantage of the suffering and death many demons moved into Ireland, one chose to use the orphanage as a staging area. He would hide in wait, corrupting the adults and torturing the children. It was not though till the demon had fully manifested itself and prepared to kill a child did Buttons attack. Though he was no longer a child's stuffed plaything; instead he had manifested into a towering black bear with razor sharp claws and a mouthful of teeth. He attacked the demon full on.

The demon, while still very powerful, was only expecting some starving children, not seven feet, 1,200 pounds of fur, claws, and fangs. Within a few seconds the demon was not only on the defense, but nearly ripped to shreds.

On the demon's home plane a portal opened. The demons there were awaiting their Lord's return to bring them the bounty from the orphanage. Instead the bloodied corpse of their lord was flung through followed by a huge bear with a fire red ruby for one eye and a burning emerald for the other. It let out a deafening roar; a clear warning to the demons. Since that time Buttons has killed no fewer than 17 demon lords and wounded many others. The orphanage suffered no more attacks as long as there was one child holding a tattered old bear with buttons for eyes.

Mrs. Cully Mully and her Pink Dog
Mrs. Cully Mully is one of the Good People (p 111)

No one is really sure who, or what, Mrs. Cully Mully is. Was she a human witch that became more imaginary over time. Or an imaginary friend that became more like a real human? No one knows for sure. Mrs. Cully Mully appears to be a woman in her 70's wearing a pinkish frock coat, horned rimmed glasses, and carring a small handbag purse.

She is known to walk the areas between Dream and Reality, between this world and the next one, and between childhood and the end of innocence. Always between worlds, but never in any one world properly. She will say thing to make you believe she was once human, like "when I taught kindergarten…" and things to make you think she is imaginary, or at least question her sanity; "…of course the sky was pink then and we had three moons."

She walks the "in betweens" helping those who are lost, or of need information. In her bag she almost anything the Cast could need, almost. She has no (and no use for) weapons. If the Cast is hungry then she might have their second-favorite sandwich (she is always out of their first favorite) or some magical bauble that may not seem to be useful now but will be priceless later on. She will of course claim she is just walking her dog.

Her dog, who is completely pink, will bark constantly in it's small yippish barks. It is only when it stops barking is there reason to fear. That usually means bogeys, spirits or demons are near.

She will try to hastily retreat, pulling the Cast in-tow. If she has to fight then her true nature (or is it?) is revealed. She has never been known to get into a fight, but in one case an occult scholar (who has since retired to working on a small farm) was lost in the in-betweens when he encountered Mrs. Cully Mully. He described her as pleasant, if seemingly addled. She agreed to walk the man home, since it was "on her way" when the object of the scholar's search appeared, the Great Demon Abraxas (so he claimed). Abraxas demanded the scholar's soul and threatened to kill everyone else. Mrs. Cully Mully, he then claimed, walked right up to the demon lord and called him by his true name (also, so the scholar claims) and proceeded to scold him like a schoolboy. She was stern, but never once raised her voice. The demon, angered beyond rage, roared and disappeared in a pillar of flame. She took the man's hand and told him that were taking a short cut, walked two or three steps and were in front of the man's home. She told him to give up this life, get a real job and find himself a nice quiet girl to marry.

Some say she is a good natured aspect of the Crone, Goddess of the Witches. Others say she is really the Goddess Ceriweden. And still others say she is a retired kindergarten teacher out walking her dog.

She does not engage in combat. She does have a handbag and small pink, yippy dog.

Using Little Fears
Little Fears works fine on it's own and you can do a lot with it.  But for me there are other great advantages to using this game.

1. Character Building Device
Want to know more about your character's history?  Then stat them in LF and maybe even run a session or two with them as young kids.   Imagine a supers game where you play Bruce at age 9. He is not the Batman yet, he doesn't even know that is coming, he is just Bruce a scared, lost and hurting little boy and these are the moments that define him and make the Batman.  This type of episode I call the Crucible Episodes, where the impurities of their character are burned off leaving only the hero you know will be.

2. The "Special Episode"
In my long running Willow and Tara game I was going to have a Season 3 that had an episode called "Hell is for Children" were the cast had to go into the Closetland of LF to find a monster preying on magical children.  To do this they needed to become kids themselves.

I think it behooves anyone playing any modern supernatural game to give Little Fears a shot using 6-12 year old versions of your characters.  It would be a fantastic experience.

Plus like I said, I want to run a Buffy/Little Fears crossover episode one day based on this image alone.

Little Fears might also be one of the most effective horror games I have ever played.  Chill, Kult, WoD, CoC, WitchCraft are all great and I love them all, but Little Fears is different and the power structure between what you can do and what you need to do is such that it is a scary, scary game.

Buy it. Play it. And even if you don't like it you will never look a butterflies the same way again.

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