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Review of Wandering Monsters High School by Bold Pueblo Games

Swashbuckling Heroic Fantasy, gritty Science-Fiction, and creepy Horror genres tend to dominate a great swath of the role-playing game market, and regardless of which genre is favored, offer gamers a chance to save the world (or the galaxy, or multiverse) from certain doom time and time again. But there are times when players and game masters want to “unplug” and play something a little more light-hearted than facing down Ragnarök, or a little less serious than preventing tentacle’d horrors from devouring New England. Sometimes gamers need something a little silly in their RPG repertoire, taking a genre and poking at it in a humorous way, or letting things get completely out of hand and turning the game into something downright goofy.

From the very beginnings we’ve had spoofy adventures written for well-known game systems, like the infamous “Fluffy” modules printed in early DUNGEON Magazines – such as Fluffy Goes to Heck from Issue #4. And then there were the role-playing games which were never intended to be played seriously, such as the scifi-based dystopia found in Paranoia, and the ever popular and insanely whacky adventures in TOON! Heck, one of my old college chums used to run something he called the Nielsen Dungeon, where D&D characters were ported around the multiverse, appearing into strange dimensions and even stranger situations, all based upon random rolls applied to the previous week’s TV Guide !

One such tongue-in-cheek role-playing game making the rounds was written by the author as part of a 24-hour RPG Design contest, and had a second edition created after a successful Kickstarter just last year. Wandering Monster High School brings all the elements of a teenage high school melodrama and slams them head-first into an evil fantasy role-playing game where all the characters are… wandering monsters!

Wandering Monsters High School
  • Author: Caoimhe Ora Snow
  • Illustrations: Lea Hernandez
  • Publisher: Bold Pueblo Games
  • Year: 2012
  • Media: PDF (128 pages)
  • Price: $7.49 (PDF available from RPGNow)

Wandering Monsters High School
is a tongue-in-cheek fantasy role-playing game which melds an evil campaign with all the fun of being trapped in high school – which is pretty evil anyways, if you think about it. Players portrays a character based upon a well-known monster from Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, or any other fantasy role-playing game, but living the life of a young high school student in an academy teaching them how to be better monsters. The game comes complete with rules for character generation and play of a wide range of fearsome fantasy monsters, as well as rules for the Headmaster (GM) to run a campaign on the grounds of Wandering Monster High School. The game pack of PDFs comes with report cards (character sheets), two forms of the rulebook in both single and two page per sheet formats, and an early enrollment form (quickplay guide) to get your newly matriculated student monster into the swing of campus life right away!

Production Quality
The production quality of Wandering Monster High School is fair to good, with some very sharp and humorous writing, and an easy-to-read style. Both versions of the rulebook (1-page and 2-page per sheet) have a table of contents and PDF bookmarkers for reference, as well as a nicely annotated index. However, I did note that the 2-page per sheet layout had some issues with the font translation in converting to PDF, and there were missing letters in some places, as well as wide spaces in the kerning, particularly in headers.

The layout of the book was a bit troubling at times, with the first one-fifth of the book detailing basic concepts about character creation and dice rolling conventions, but then had references to chapters in the latter sections of the book to get all the information. While each section is well written and goes into great detail about the ideas discussed at the beginning of the book, this slightly disjointed presentation necessitates skipping around the rulebook just to make a character. Personally, I would have preferred to read all sections about making a character, then sections reading about combat, without all this back and forth jumping around to get the whole picture.

The cover art of Wandering Monster High School has a fun fresh cartoony style to it, which meshes well with the overall humorous and silly nature of the role-playing game’s theme. However, the lack of interior artwork was quite disappointing, with less than a dozen black-and-white line images scattered throughout the book – most of those don’t appear until the latter third of the book, toward the end. The map of the Wandering Monster High School (WMHS) campus is nicely drawn, and gives players and the Headmaster a solid reference for the locations of the various buildings and facilities available on and around the school.

Just Another Teen… what?!

In general terms, the Wandering Monster High School (WMHS) role-playing game is based upon the principles of a bad teen movie or prime time drama, coupled with the zaniness of an evil campaign where the players are all monsters of one sort or another. The idea is that evil overlords like liches, high priests, or exiled demi-gods got tired of their lairs falling to heroes who could slash their way through their wandering monster guardians with ease, so WMHS was created to teach a whole new generation of monsters the art of being really good at being really bad.

So the Students at WMHS are all monsters from fantasy RPGs – kobolds, werewolves, drow, golems, zombies - even dragons. These creatures have “gifts” or powers, such as being “really strong”, “flight”, or “natural armor”. But with these fearsome powers comes detriments – termed “special needs” – like a werewolf’s allergy to silver, or a devil teens inability to deal with holy objects without having some kind of health crisis. In the case of some monsters, such as giants, trolls, and dragons, have a general “large-bodied” detriment, whereas kobolds have the problem of “small-bodied”, and a naga student must struggle with having a “non-bodied” presence. These create issues for the students to overcome as they deal with the perils of learning how to be better monsters for their evil overlord. The author of Wandering Monster High School provides 25 different races commonly found in fantasy RPGs, and even has rules for adding other non-standard monsters from other role-playing games.

To conform with its high school teen movie theme, WMHS has all the game elements as regular RPGs, but with a slightly different vocabulary: Headmaster = Gamemaster; Report Card = Character Sheet; Grades = Ability Scores; Classes = Skills. Starting players can choose to play advanced students at higher than freshman year, but the quick starter recommends learning the game as freshman. The enrollment level determines what “classes” a character can enroll in, with more advanced classes (ie. skills) available to upper classmen. Characters also have a Niche and a Clique in Wandering Monster High School – the niche is where the character falls in the social high strata, while clique is who you hang out with.

Grades are the ability scores in WMHS, and determine a dice poll for the character to use to resolve game mechanics. Ability scores include: Citizenship, Fitness, Hygiene, Occult, Scholastics, Vocational – and rather than describing physical and mental attributes, these scores describe more in-game concepts. For instance, Citizenship is how well-behaved a character is (or seems to be) and offers characters greater influence with the authority figures at school. A high score lets characters get away with more before they get into trouble. Another stats, Hygiene, determines how well-kept a character is, and can affect their ability to get a date or to ask someone to prom. Ability scores (ie. Grades) range from A to F, and offer 4 to 0 dice for the pool.

The dice conventions use multiple d6, and by adding two highest dice together gets you the score. If the score is 8+, that make a success, and then the lowest of the two dice summed determines the level of success. For scores of 7-, the degree of failure is read from the highest of the two summed dice. Additionally, there are Edge and Levy dice, which are virtual dice that are not rolled, but instead have an automatic value of 1 to 6. Edge offer a greater chance of success by replacing the lowest dice, while a Levy dice replaces the highest dice. This system introduces bonuses and penalties to the outcome, and used to represent adverse effects, bonuses from having beneficial items, and other in game considerations.

The books later sections go into great detail about Conflicts and Combat, a Course Catalog, Gifts and Talents, Reasonable Accomodations (ie. Special Needs), and Extra-Curricular activities. The section on Conflicts and Combat details not only the basic rolling as discussed in the overview section, but also how to resolve them for teams. The system is actually quite easy to pick up, and offers the Headmaster (GM) the freedom to adjudicate the various levels of success and failure into the role-playing narrative.

The Course Catalog (Skill List) is quite complete for the game theme, and has the pre-requisites, the instructor, and what “edge” the course provides in each listing. The instructors are NPCs detailed later in the book under the Faculty & Staff section, and have complete descriptions as to their race, position in school, which classes they teach or advise, and a physical description. Some of the postings are quite humorous and keep the feeling of the game light-hearted and fun, such as Dame Wrathsmoor, a specter who is in charge of “school spirit” or Miss Keshika, a dryad hygiene instructor who also mentors the school’s cheerleading squad.

Gifts and Talents offer special powers and abilities to the students, and the list here includes everything from Perfect Pitch capable of shattering a wine glass to a Death Ray capable of killing anything it hits! Of course, no one ever dies at Wandering Monster High School, but it is obviously quite useful to embarrass rivals, pull pranks, or kill adventurers who show up on campus to cause problems.

The author also provides detailed lists of extra-curricular activities and cliques to which students can belong. While the list is not exhaustive, it is an impressive array of activities and groups that are lifted straight out of teen movies or are a spoof of real activities transferred to a fantasy world. It’s an imaginative array of fun things to do and groups to try to hang-out with, and obviously players and GMs will be able to keep expanding the list as their game progresses.

Wandering Monster High School last section is for the Headmaster, and contains the map of the campus and material for running the game like creating other student NPCs and plots. While a sample adventure might have been handy here, there is certainly enough ideas here to begin a campaign, and borrowing from teen drama television and movies is highly encouraged to form a framework for the adventures that the teenage monsters find themselves in.

Overall Score: 3.25 out of 5.0

Conclusions

Overall, I really liked Wandering Monster High School, and I think it has a strong appeal for many of those among us who really enjoyed – or more likely made fun of - teenage dramas and movies. The game system is solid and easy to learn, and the author did a great job of translating high school themes and tropes into a fantasy world where teenage monsters struggle to deal with the angst of prom, the “big game”, and the evil of elitist cliques. It definitely takes the evil campaign concept and turns it on its ear, and provides a funny and very different take on typical fantasy role-playing games.
Although the production values could have been higher, the quality of the “crunch” and “fluff” more than make the game feel complete and ready to play. And for the price, it’s a solid buy for a gaming group looking for something very light-hearted and fun to play when saving the world one more time seems like more of a chore than going back to deal with the hell that was high school!

So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)
  • Presentation: 2.75
  • - Design: 3.0 (Excellent writing; layout and organization was muddled but workable)
  • - Illustrations: 2.5 (Cool cover, but would have liked to see more interior illustrations)
  • Content: 3.5
  • - Crunch: 3.5 (Good game design; nice indie feel of mechanics; easy to learn and play)
  • - Fluff: 3.5 (Great fluff; lots of good teen dramedy riffs played with in the content)
  • Value: 3.5 (Very complete game for the price)

Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product in PDF format from which the review was written.
 

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