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Review: Meddling Kids

By Ian Warner

Introduction

Meddling Kids is, in all but name, the Scooby Doo roleplaying game. The players are cast as a group of kids who solve mysteries with the aid of the Games Master controlled Wild Card which is usually an anthropomorphic animal but can also be a sentient inanimate object. A flying toaster is included as an idea. The game was originally released in 2004 but had a poor critical reception. Recently it has been rereleased in PDF which is how I came to hear about it. My thanks to Pandahead Productions for selling me an original print run hardcopy though. I do hate reading PDFs for anything more than a quick glance. Anyway let us begin with a look at this baby.

Background

The setting claims to be the modern mundane world but contains many fantasy elements in keeping with its Saturday Morning Cartoon origins. If you’re looking for realism pick up World of Darkness Innocents. This, my friends, is a cartoon game for cartoon lovers. Though it may take itself a bit more seriously than Toon it is very much in the same ballpark.

There is a semi detailed sample town, or part of one, in the adventure. It’s a small American town which I think is the intended default setting. Though the author encourages the reader to set their game in their home town I imagine she was assuming she was writing to an audience of small town Americans.

I’m not saying this can’t be set anywhere else just that the assumption that is made is that the Games Master and players will decide on a small American town.

The book puts the vast majority of the burden of creating the game world on the Games Master with little to no commentary on the wider world. This is particularly unfair as the intended audience are children and beginning roleplayers. Though I’m sure there are plenty of people reading with wacky imaginations who would really push the boat out to create a unique world of Meddling Kids a little hint would have been nice. A sample adventure and a page of random monsters really doesn’t cut it.

Overall what material there is to do with background is well presented and very much in the spirit of the source material. What would have been nice is a teensy bit more. I know the Shadow World isn’t renowned for its detailed background but at least we devote a few pages to it!

Mechanics

The vast majority of the book is mechanics and gaming advice. However don’t let that put you off. The system is one of the simplest I have seen. Slightly more complicated than Monkey but considerably less complicated than something like Shadow World.

It is a class based system but despite what is said the Archetypes mean very little mechanically. granting only a free Ability and hinting on what Stats to prioritise. In terms of the spirit of the game however your Archetype is quite important. It determines how your character fits in the group and which of the original Scooby gang you are most like.

There is a special Archetype called the Wild Card. Herein is one of my gripes with the game. It is Game Master controlled. I really hate GMPCs! It’s hard enough playing a whole world of characters without having to play the game as a character as well. Having a GMPC written into the rules like this complete with an assertion that not having a GMPC is somehow “boring” really puts me off this game.

As I said though it is a very simple system: 4 Stats and a selection of Abilities. Abilities are like a cross between Merits and Skills from more complex games like World of Darkness or Shadow World. They give a mechanical bonus to a stat roll as well as a thematic description of what the bearer is capable of.

There are two problems with the system.

First and foremost is the reliance on a target number. If there is one thing I hate as much as GMPCs it’s target numbers. I find having to set a target number an annoyance. When playing in systems with target numbers I tend to just use the default unless there are some special circumstances. Anyway that’s just a personal gripe.

The second is purely layout. For some reason the list of Abilities, a somewhat critical part of the book one would think, is confined to an Appendix. I’m not saying it should be in Character Creation, most games don’t put the details in that chapter, but I am saying it shouldn’t be in an Appendix: It is far too critical.

Overall the system is simple as befits a starter game. It also makes room for a surprising degree of customisation for a class based and low detail system. The GMPC requirement, reliance on target numbers and layout issues are somewhat minor concerns that detract from what is a very well thought out system great for introducing people to Roleplaying.

Atmosphere

The book is comical, conversational and light hearted throughout as befits a game about cartoons. It really shows however that the intended audience are kids and doesn’t do a good job talking to them. Parts of the text are in fact downright patronising. I lost count of the number of times I read “ask your parents before going online.” Maybe it needed to be said once but they’re kids you’re writing for not complete morons. Once is enough. Also telling kids what they like is the wrong way of doing things. Kids know what they like they don’t need an adult to talk down to them about their interests.

Overall the atmosphere is very much in keeping with the cartoons but it is let down by the patronising tone of some of the text. It is speculated the promised stage 2 and 3 games of the system were delayed by the poor critical reception. If this is the case the author can pick up on this point, which I’m sure others have highlighted, and seek to improve.

Artwork

The artwork is fantastic. Bang on the spirit of the source material. Hell they even have some lazy stereotypes albeit more up to date ones than that certain Hippy we all love. I can find no fault in style, quality or presentation. It would have been nice to have a full colour book but that is a bit of an unreasonable request for a small Indy publisher. A particularly cool piece to look out for is the Wild Cards line up. They only draw EVERY SINGLE CONCEPT no matter how wacky!

Conclusion

In conclusion Meddling Kids is a good introduction to roleplaying despite its faults. Yes it forces a GMPC, yes it relies on target numbers and yes it does talk down to the kids who are its intended audience. Nevertheless ZOINKS IT’S A SCOOBY GAME SCOOB! Though far from faultless in execution it delivers what it promises. A simple game for beginners that while in awe of its source material doesn’t take itself too seriously and never misses an opportunity to take the piss.

Score

Style: 4

Substance: 3

Overall: SCOOBY-SCOOBY 3!

3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Andy says:

    I’m curious… what’re the scores out of? 5? 10? 12.5?

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    Dragon Droppings » Blog Archive » Review: Meddling Kids

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