Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review: No Thank You, Evil!

I am a untalented blogger who has too many games.

(I'll also admit that this is going to be 60% review, 40% pontification on games marketing, packaging, and rules. And the two are inextricable. Sorry.)


How many RPGs for kids can you name? And I don't just mean games about children (which due to mature themes tend to be totally unsuitable for children), or games which children might be able to play with a bit of hand-holding. I mean games whose materials have an actual child-like æsthetic to them, and whose rules are written simply enough for children to follow, avoiding made-up or obscure jargon in favor of words that you don't need to look up.

There have been a few of those. TSR had the Rocky and Bullwinkle Game—yeah, not only was that a thing, the datedness of the reference further highlights the problem—and more recently there's been Adventure Maximus and Hero Kids. A case could be made for Ryuutama or The Whispering Road.

Know others? Please comment. Interestingly, I'm not counting Fate Accelerated in this category.

Anyway, in this particular peculiarity, a game about children that is actually suited to children, the player characters are (not terribly surprisingly) children. The land they explore is literally through their closets, out their windows, behind their bookcases, and under their beds—that's how they travel to those continents. And each continent has a number of landmarks which can provide respite in their travels or cause the sorts of problems that get heralded as adventures once they're over.

Is this one of those perverse cases where the box says "Ages 5 to ∞" but really means "Ages 5 to 11"? It is if you let it. Don't let it.



And I need to stress: Child-like, not necessarily childish. One neither prohibits nor implies the other, though with advancing age the sometimes blurred line between them becomes even less distinct.

Child-like implies a measure of innocence, which is not necessarily harmless but is usually not intentionally malign. The kids (who are the PCs) are the heroes of the story, and are expected to behave in that way. (This game will not run with an evil party. Otherwise the game would have to be named No Thank Me, Me!)

Childish implies immaturity which, while not necessarily harmful, can be almost ribald with its intent to disgust. Childish is the domain of booger and fart jokes and chasing people around with frogs and disgusting objects.

And while there are one or two landmarks on the map and events written into the adventures that dance around that fringe (I'm looking at you, Dragonsnot Falls), they are a distinct minority included for the playfulness rather than sophomoric gross-out value. Much of the humor is derived instead from puns and curious bits of phrasing.

Parents should find little objectionable in this game unless, you know, that's their goal. And if that's their goal, don't play games with those parents, and pity their children.

So why would I, a gaming professional, get this?

Funny you should ask. Why would I, with ten shelves of RPGs and several boxes containing older editions, need to buy a game this particularly suited to children, especially when I don't have any myself?

The answer is a bit complex, or muddled, I'm not sure which. One person I game with has a daughter who's eager to play, but most of the stuff we play is far more adult-oriented (case in point: I had been running Nights' Black Agents for that group), and I saw this as a way to give her a way to join in, at least on some nights.

But buying a game for one person is madness. My parents have been babysitting the children of friends of theirs for a while, and should I find myself in their orbit for once, I will at least have something to do with them (on my terms).

I had another reason of my own, but I'll cover that below.


On the heels of Monte Cook's Numenéra and The Strange (and the Cypher System generic book that tied those two together mechanically) came a different beast, one written at a level children could not only grasp but run with. It came, it saw, it ran away with multiple ENNies.

For a game geared for children, it's gotten quite a few accolades from adults.

Things an Industry Could Learn

If you're looking for more professional reasons to take a game like this seriously, this game is a study on writing a game simply. Strip out the fancy language intended to set the game apart from most other games (and the people who play them), knock out the high-falutin' extra-funky actions and bits of systemic trickery, and you get something that's suitable for children, yes, but it's also suitable for people new to roleplaying and who might not grasp all of the nuances of character creation, combat maneuvers, and so many other things that experienced players take for granted.


The core game comes in a box. That box contains sheets with enough counters to fully supply a party of six, a plastic insert to keep all those counters orderly once they've been punched, a deck of cards containing nouns (a Cypher system thing used for character building; see below) and monsters and companions and Cyphers (another big thing for this system), a rulebook/worldbook that also contains scads of adventure hooks, and an adventure book containing basic guildelines on "how to run games," and three simple adventures (by "mature game" standards), runnable in a half-hour or 45 minutes or so.

There's also a wrapped pack with three flavors of character sheet in it, but they're also available for download from Monte Cook's website so you don't even need to open those.

The rulebooks' covers are glossy, the interior pages are a playful palette of full color without being hard to read, and the cards are larger-than-playing-cards with copious child-friendly artwork. In fact, the art is often duplicated in the rule and adventure books to reinforce the child-like tone. It doesn't feel cheap, but it does feel ...child-safe? Yeah, let's go with that.


This is a very simplified Cypher System, using 1d6 and difficulty numbers from 1 to 10 instead of 1d20 and difficulty numbers from 3 to 30. The core attributes are Tough, Fast, and Smart rather than Might, Speed, and Intellect. So it's very similar, but simplified.

Except... Consulting my Cypher System generic rulebook, there's one attribute that No Thank You Evil adds to the mix: "Awesome." It's not clear from the name, but Awesome is a pool you spend points on specifically and explicitly to help other characters do stuff. They add to other peoples' rolls.

It's said that roleplaying games can teach social skills and cooperation. With the inclusion of Awesome, this one might be taking that idea more to heart than many.

No Thank You Evil! also includes rules for Companions, secondary helper-type critters that assist the PCs in little ways like delivering messages.

Playing It Safe (Space)

This might seem like a cop-out to hardcore players, but remember that this game isn't written to cater to the sort of player who'd be rerolling his third character of the night (and loving it) because his first character got gacked by goblins and the second ran afoul of the Dread Gazebo. This is a game written for children, and children can be frightened by narrative horror or made uncomfortable by description. This provides a formalized response to that fear or discomfort.

It's important to let the players know that while this option is always available to them, it's something that should be used only when they are truly feeling scared by something in the game.

It's written (Rulebook, p. 21) that saying the phrase "No Thank You, Evil!" (note: non-italicized, so you know it's not the name of the game) will pause the game. Then it's up to the Guide (GM) how to deal with the situation, possibly by "physically" removing the evil to a far-off location, or defusing tension with a joke, or simply pausing the action while everyone processes what's going on.

That rule outright says it shouldn't be available to advanced players. That players shouldn't use it for tactical advantage is merely very strongly implied.

Simpler is not necessarily better, but it can still be good

Above, I said I had a reason of my own to pick this up. And that is: I wasn't getting the hang of Cypher System by itself, believe it or not, and thought this would be a good way to approach it, with a simplified system.

And I think it's helping. The notion of a standardized difficulty for all things revolving around a particular creature, spending character points to get things done or to reflect damage taken... these are all central to Cypher System, but I was looking at them thinking "It couldn't be that simple, could it?" I guess it is. Mechanically it seemed lacking, but for narrative control purposes it is enough.


Another conceit of the Cypher System is that characters are built from three things: Descriptor, Type, and Focus. Or to use the vernacular of No Thank You, Evil! and most people, Adjective, Noun, and Verb. Type/Noun nails down a most general class for the character, the Descriptor/Adjective specifies how it differs from others with the same Type/Noun, and the Focus/Verb grants an extra power. Every additional thing bolted onto the Noun will grant some additional potency to the character.

"We Have to Go ...Simpler"

In an ironic twist, No Thank You, Evil! may have complicated things here by providing the option to make them easier.

See, a traditional character in Cypher System, using NTYE!'s vernacular, would be "an adjective noun who verbs." There are two simpler forms of character, the "adjective noun," and the most basic "noun." The much simpler character types would be good for players just getting into it.


Technically, No Thank You, Evil! is the variation. You could substitute your own continents and juggle the world, but you'd still end up playing more or less the same game with that different world.

If you want to look at other variations of this game, start with Numenera and The Strange, and pick up the Cypher System book to learn how to hack those all up.

Play This Game If...

  • You have children
  • You want to play with children (in a nice way, I mean),
  • You want to play with people who are very new to roleplaying,
  • You want to play children in a non-dysfunctional child-like world, or
  • You want to see what a game written for children looks like.

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