Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/06/28/tabletop-review-mermaid-adventures/
Mermaid Adventures is a cute little RPG made specifically for bringing young children (and especially young girls) into the tabletop RPG fandom. It came into existence as a Kickstarter campaign. The game was very successful, drawing in nearly two hundred backers and more than doubling its original goal. This allowed Third Eye Games and the game’s creator, Eloy Lasanta, to add four new races and a few more adventures to the game. I wasn’t a backer personally for the game, but I did find it a very cute idea (and god knows we need to really get the younger generation involved in this hobby) so when I was offered a review copy of the game, I leapt at the chance.
Mermaid Adventures contains everything a group of players needs to play the game. The book’s rules are fairly simple, which is a plus for any game geared towards single-digit players, and there is a lot of advice for parents on how to run the game and even help their kids make characters if the point based system is too much for them. You will need a lot of dice though – at least ten of one colour and ten of another (the game suggests black and white), so expect World of Darkness size rolls, especially if you get to have a long running campaign. Rolls are basically contested. A character rolls their die pool, trying to get 4s, 5s, and 6s. Each of those is a success. Depending on the difficulty of the task at hand, they will also have to roll one or more black dice. If the successes on the white dice are greater than the black dice, the character succeeds. If there are more successes on the black dice, the character fails. A tie means a partial success. That’s really all there is to actually rolling in the game. It’s extremely simple and the rolls can be applied to anything from combat to putting together a puzzle. Kids will figure out the rules in no time and really be able to run through the game the same way long time tabletop vets have their favorite core rulebook memorized.
There are eight types of playable merfolk: Eelfolk, Fishfolk, Jellyfolk, Lobsterfolk, Octofolk, Rayfolk, Sharkfolk, and Urchinfolk. Like any RPG, each race has their own strengths and weaknesses although I suspect most kids will gravitate towards fishfolk since that’s what is primarily thought of when they hear the word “mermaid.” I can’t see too many people wanting to be sea urchins or jellyfish. I am glad to see a wide variety of sea creatures as it gives little children, who are prone to gender roles, a chance to play a game where they can be a tough rugged shark or a beautiful fishy princess like Ariel from The Little Mermaid. It’s telling that the biggest question Eloy got from the children who playtested the game was, “Do we have to play as girls?” due to the fact since time immemorial, merfolk have almost always been cast as female to the point of it being part of the unconscious collective.
There are only four attributes for kids to keep track of: Body, Mind, Charm (Charisma), and Luck. Attributes for PCs start with five assigned points based on their starting race. For example, a fishfolk has the following starting stats: Body 1, Mind 1, Charm 2, and Luck 1. Then the player gets five extra points to put into stats however they want, with a maximum of five. So a Fish folk could look like anything from Body 5, Mind 1, Charm 3, and Luck 1 to Body 2, Mind 3, Charm 3, Luck 2. There’s a lot of room for flexability which ensures a kid can have whatever type of character they want, from bookworm shark to an extremely strong Jellyfolk. Each starting race also has a free Quality to help it when rolling dice. A Fishfolk gains the free Quality of “Adventurous,” which lets it get an extra white die to roll when discovering something new while an Octofolk gains the Quality Tentacles, which gives them an extra die when trying to accomplish something quickly and yet correctly. Finally, the player then gets to pick a total of four other Qualities from a massive list of thirty regular and ten magic based Qualities. Magic Qualities can be taken freely, but you can never have more Magical Qualities than you do Luck. That’s all there is to character creation. Again, everything is simple, streamlined, and very easy for kids to learn.
The game contains several pages of NPC stats. You can use some of these as pregenerated characters and others as allies or enemies. There are also stat blocks for various aquatic life forms, both mundane and fantastical in nature.
The book ends with five full adventures for kids to play. It’s probably best that a parent acts as the Keeper (DM/GM/Etc) at first, but once kids know the rules pretty well, they can take turns running an adventure instead. The first adventure is “The Rescue” and has the merfolk trying to save the crew and passengers of a sinking ship, all while keeping their existence a secret. “The Queen’s Pearl” has the players finding well…the Queen’s missing pearl. “Undersea Olympics” has characters competing in several sports and is a nice example of how to do an adventure where characters aren’t fighting anything. It’s just good clean sports & fun. “Lost in Dark Tunnels” is the most mature adventure, giving the PCs the mission of trying to find a lost child. “Being Human” has the players wake up on a beach one morning, all magically transformed into humans. The merfolk must figure out how this happened (and why) and how to change back to their real forms. This last adventure is very open ended and should allow the Keeper to start coming up with a series of adventures to play off this one. It’s a nice selection of easy adventures that younger gamers will quickly learn the ins and outs of the system by playing through.
The art of Mermaid Adventures might be its weakest areas. It’s very cartoony and colourful, which I think kids will appreciate. However, because it’s not the typical art found in RPGs, I can see some adults brushing it aside as amateurish or cheesy. Of course, they are not the target audience in much the same way Archie Comics aren’t really written with a 40 year old male in mind. Although I’m not a child, nor do I have/want any of my own, this is definitely the sort of art that would have appealed to me as a young kid, but also something I’d have brushed off as “lame” when in my teens and fully into D&D, Call of Cthulhu, and other RPGs like that. As an adult now I think my feelings towards the art lie somewhere in the middle. Perhaps either quaint or charming would be proper descriptors.
All in all, Mermaid Adventures is a really cute rules lite system that I think a lot of small children can really have fun with. It’s not really something I can see older gamers or even tweens playing a lot of, as they’ll probably want something a little deeper. Still, it’s a wonderful little game to introduce children to the world of tabletop gaming, even if they don’t stick with it for too long. Do you know a budding young gamer who likes your tabletop miniatures but has no idea what you are doing with all those dice and words like “initiative” or phrases like “free action”? Then you might want to consider starting them off with Mermaid Adventures. As it’s only a ten dollar PDF, it won’t break the bank and it just might be the gateway towards your child developing a lifelong love of rolling dice, casting spells, and earning experience.