Author: Sean Cox
Year Published: 2011
Free RPGs are easy to come by, but finding good free RPGs is a little trickier. Thankfully, RPGGeek often runs game design contests and it has produced several gems.
One such game, designed in just two days for the 2011 48-Hour Design Contest, is HelperMonkey.com. This game won first place (even beating my own Colors of Grey) and I enjoyed it so much I even wrote an adventure for it.
There are a number of contributing factors to why this game is both great and accessible. For starters, it’s free–the only barrier to entry is your time. At 20 pages, it won’t take you long to read through and grasp its simple Fudge-based concepts, and most of all it’s a heck of a lot of fun.
From the introductory paragraph:
They say a man with a lot of responsibility, a man who can perform a number of jobs wears many hats. Here at Helper Monkey, we‟ve taken that sentiment to heart. If you have a problem, any problem, we‟ll dispatch a team of cybernetic monkeys to help you! Our team of monkeys come with bio-mechanical neural interfaces to give them the skills they need to complete any mission. This not only allows our monkeys to understand both written and spoken language, it also allows them to learn valuable skills based on the hats they equip themselves with. To have Helper Monkeys solve your problem, simply log on, describe the nature of your problem in 140 characters or less (we do accept tweets), and our code monkeys will trace you down and send a top team of gorillas, chimpanzees, orangutans, and other simians to help you! No matter the problem, no matter how far, we have a monkey in a hat for that!
HelperMonkey.com is a self-titled “beer and bananas RPG” that doesn’t take itself seriously. You play a primate who belongs to an organization known as the Helper Monkeys. When the Helper Monkeys get a distress call (or tweet) from a client, the Dispatch (in other games known as a Game Master) sends the monkeys to help.
The monkeys may wind up helping with just about anything, from rescuing someone who’s locked inside a bank vault to helping someone deliver pizzas in 30 minutes or less. Since monkeys aren’t normally capable of doing these things on their own, they’re equipped with cybernetic implants that let them don a variety of profession-related hats, each with its own unique abilities that are bestowed upon their wearer.
It’s a fun concept — monkeys with swappable hats that give them different skills — and it can make for some exciting and silly adventures.
HelperMonkey.com uses a sort of “Fudge Lite” system. Everything you need to know about how to play is contained within the short document, so even if you’re not familiar with Fudge it won’t take long to learn.
What sets HelperMonkey.com apart from other Fudge games is its take on the Trait Ladder. It alters the ladder to allow for “No, but…” or “Yes, and…” types of results. That is, successes and failures aren’t always cut-and-dried. If you succeed well enough, something extra cool may happen. If you just barely fail, you may still experience a partial success.
The ladder looks like this:
-4 | No And
-3 | No
-2 | No
-1 | No But
+0 | Yes But
+1 | Yes But
+2 | Yes
+3 | Yes
+4 | Yes And
For example, if Timmy is attempting to pick a lock but scores -4, something terrible might happen in addition to failure. It might be “No, and your lockpicks break and jam the device!” Poor Timmy. Or, perhaps he’s wearing his racing helmet and trying to out-maneuver a pursuer. If he rolls a +1, he might evade them this round but they’re still hot on his tail.
This sort of “degree of success” mechanic is not new, especially not to Fudge players, but having it spelled out like that on the Trait Ladder makes it easy for newbies to pick up on the concept.
The monkey’s hats are probably the most unique aspect of the game though. Each monkey gets one primary hat — the hat they always have with them — and may select a certain number of additional hats to take with them on any given mission. Each hat provides skill bonuses to the monkey wearing it, and some skills may be extremely difficult for a monkey to use without the appropriate hat.
For example, a race driver helmet might provide a bonus to the monkey’s Drive skill, a fedora might add to his Archaeology skill (yes, that’s in the game), or a ninja mask might add to his Stealth skill. There are a surprising number of hats already included in the game, and the rules provide instructions on how to make your own balanced hats as well.
There is a lot more to the game, and it’s pretty impressive what the designer was able to do with a mere 20 pages of text in a span of 48 hours.
Design and Layout
This is not a professionally-designed and published RPG. It was probably written in Word and exported as a PDF, but for a free RPG I can’t really fault it. There’s no art, no table of contents, and a fair amount of typos.
That being said, it is in a two-column layout, which helps with readability and the lack of complexity makes the PDF screen reader friendly for the visually impaired.
HelperMOnkey.com is a fantastic free RPG that’s worth a read even if you don’t plan on playing it. There’s plenty of humor and a lot of interesting ideas, which both make it worth the short read. If you decide to download HelperMonkey.com, let me know what you think. If you play it, I’d definitely like to hear about your experiences.