I recently set out to find role playing games that would be well suited for younger players, accessible to beginners, and fun to play. I hardly expected to have success so quickly, but it appears as though The Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo (Zo) covers all of those criteria and more. Zo has quite a few Zantabulous features; let's talk about some of them. For a review of role playing games, and how they work, look to two posts from earlier this month.
At its simplest, Zo gives you rules for running a role playing game (rpg) set in a fairy tale world. Players begin the game by deciding what sort of fairy tale character they would like to play. As an example I'll design Pip the blacksmith. The rules say that I need to describe my character's background. I like the idea that Pip is an orphan adopted by his aunt and uncle. He is 14, a little rebellious, and wants to see the world outside his small village. The next step is saying what Pip is good and bad at. The rules describe this process in full detail. For our example I'll say that Pip is a terrific blacksmith, that he is good at climbing, that he is strong, and that he has good aim when throwing things. Pip also needs a thing that he is not so good at, or a weakness. I'll say that he rushes into things without thinking. Note that a person could choose almost anything to be good at- singing, making friends, etc. You can also choose a helpful item instead- a good horse or even a talking parrot. Finally a player can choose a magic ability, perhaps casting spells, flying, or talking to animals. That is character creation in its' entirety for Zo.
Playing the game is equally straightforward. If your character wishes to succeed at some difficult task then they roll two dice and try to get a high number. If they are good at something that is relevant to the task, they add two to the result. If they are great at something related to the task, they add four. If Pip wants to sing a song to soothe a giant, he is going to have be lucky and roll a high number. If he wants to make an enormous toothbrush for the giant at the smithy, then he has a much better chance of succeeding because he is a terrific blacksmith. Anyone can try anything but the talents and weaknesses which you described when you designed your character will influence what you're likely to succeed at. And that is the basic rule system of Zo.
An additional element to take note of, is that are examples abound in both the character creation and the rules sections. I don't think that you can read for more than a paragraph or two before a helpful explanation appears.
The full set of rules includes quite a few more examples and some refinements on the above rules, but the system remains smooth and elegant. Some of the added details are so charming, in my opinion, that they deserve mention. Say that I try singing to the giant and fail, the giant chases me away. If I were a younger player, that failure might sit very poorly with me. Never fear- the game rewards you with Learning Points. That's right, fail a task and you earn points because you learned something in the process! Now if that isn't a great lesson for kids then I don't know what is. Players can trade Learning Points later for improvements in their abilities or or short term benefits in some crisis situation. In the end, this reduces the sting of failure and encourages players to stay involved in the game.
In addition to Learning Points, the players can accumulate Hero Points. These can be awarded for various actions including doing something heroic, making a sacrifice, being brave, or simply for doing something particularly entertaining and fun. You can then spend Hero Points in tricky situations to improve your odds of success. You can also spend them to summon your "fairy godmother" for help or advice. In my opinion,Hero Points are another great game device that is especially well suited for younger players.
Clearly I'm very impressed with Zo as a game. What makes this product such a clear labor of love (and excellent value) are several other components included in the book. The author starts out with a nice set of essays on fairy tales in general. He describes certain elements which may be commonly found in fairy tales ( for example "In tests of courage, wit, strength, skill, or courtesy, even the weakest person can find their hidden talents, and the most derided person can find that their so-called weaknesses are actually strengths."). He describes various styles of fairy tale and common elements such as talking animals and magic. Then he describes techniques for using what you've learned to make your own fairy tale adventures. The section is rounded out by a bibliography, filmography, and list of pertinent web sites! I've read through dozens of rpgs and I've rarely come across such an accessible introduction to the game setting.
Finally, the author includes the details of his own fairy tale setting, the Land of Zo. You're presented with descriptions of various countries and areas within the land, as well as famous personalities that the players could encounter. You're welcome to use the Land of Zo as your setting, or start from scratch. The author rounds things out with examples of how play went when he ran the game.
If your family has an interest in role playing games, and this genre seems at all interesting, then I would give Zorcerer of Zo the highest recommendation. It's absolutely perfect for beginner players and beginner parents. The system is sturdy enough that experienced role players should have plenty of fun as well.
You can purchase Zantabulous Zorcerer of Zo through the Atomic Sock Monkey website or through RPG Now or Indie Press Revolution. Note that RPG Now only sells you a PDF document, not a paper copy. My thanks to the publishers for their review copy.
Pros: Ideal for beginners, good for all ages, superbly written rules, great value
Cons: I'm sure there are some, but I'm drawing a blank
Beyond the Basics: an rpg with good repeat play value, a genre that supports older players, and more complex themes.