Publisher: Third Eye Games
Writing and Layout: Eloy Lasanta
Interior and Exterior Art: Melissa Gay
Year Published: 2012
It isn’t every day an RPG meant for kids is released, but if you’re one of the many people who are bringing up a new generation of gamer at your home then you may want to keep at least one of your eyes on Third Eye Games. Mermaid Adventures is the first of two kid-friendly RPGs by this impressive small press publisher (the other game being Camp Myth, which recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign and is due out later in 2013). I don’t have children myself, but I bought this book with the hope that I will be able to run it in the near future for some family friends and their children.
Written by Eloy Lasanta as a way to get his own children involved in gaming, Mermaid Adventures is, according to the cover, “An RPG of Undersea Fun.” After reading this rules-light and light-hearted RPG from cover-to-cover in a single sitting, I would say they hit that nail right on the head.
As one might expect from a game called Mermaid Adventures, this RPG allows players to take the role of a variety of different mer-folk and tell creative stories with them. It’s not a game just for girls playing mermaids, either. Boys and girls alike can choose from races such as Fishfolk, Lobsterfolk, Urchinfolk, Eelfolk, Jellyfolk, Rayfolk, Octofolk, and Sharkfolk. Each race has its own unique abilities and attributes, and they’re pretty much what you’d expect based on their names.
The game uses a custom system called the Pip System for resolving skills and conflicts. Each character has four attributes: Body, Mind, Charm, and Luck. Each attribute is rated from 1 (Poor) to 6 (Legendary). Any time you would roll a test based on a given attribute (such as rolling Body to lift a heavy object, Mind to solve a puzzle, Charm to convince someone to help you, or Luck to turn the tide in your favor) you would roll a number of white six-sided dice equal to your attribute. For every 4, 5, or 6 that came up on the dice you would get a Success.
On the flip side, you also must roll Black six-sided dice to represent opposed actions or test difficulties. For each 4, 5, or 6 on a black dice you cancel out one of your white die’s successes. After adding and subtracting your Successes you determine how many you have left over. If you have at least one Success, you win the skill challenge or opposed action. Win by 3 or more Successes and something extra good happens for you, but if you fail by 3 or more something extra bad happens.
The entire system is based on this simple mechanic, but there are a variety of factors that can add or subtract the number of dice you roll for any given challenge. Each character also has a number of Qualities that may add or subtract from various rolls. For example, a player with the Beautiful Quality might gain +1W (one aditional white die) any time she would roll a Charm-based check “when a wink and a smile might help.” Characters may also possess Magic Qualities that allow them to cast spells or Items that might help in specific situations.
One of the great things about the game is its simplicity. There are a variety of tables on which characters can roll to help them determine character attributes (if they’re having trouble deciding) but there are not lengthy item tables, gear lists, or resources to manage. Characters may simply possess an Item as a Quality or they don’t. It’s perfectly suitable for the game’s target audience and the one-page character sheet found in the book.
Design and Layout
In addition to the kid-friendly mechanics, the book is laid out nicely and is something worth showing off to the children. The art by Melissa Gay is bright and colorful, and it does a great job of depicting the various mer-folk. There is even a Mermaid Adventures Coloring Book available for purchase, in case your kids want to show their own artistic side.
The relatively small book features a clean, one-column layout with limited distractions. There aren’t a lot of borders or background colors (just a cute graphic on the bottom of each page) and the paragraphs are nicely spaced. It makes the 100-page book feel more like a 50-page book when reading it cover-to-cover, so you can pick it up and read through the whole thing in a single sitting. There are some noticeable typos, but they’re usually small errors and not frequent enough to detract from the overall experience.
One of the things I enjoyed most about the book was how friendly it is to new GMs. There are five included adventures, each of them short and focused on one or two key elements. They offer advice on how to run a game but perhaps my favorite aspect is how they present information to the Navigator (the game’s name for the GM). Each time the difficulty for a check is mentioned within the text, the book displays a large d6 with the pips displaying the difficulty number in addition to the attribute being tested.
It makes it very simple to reference a check and provides a nice visual.
There’s a helpful Index at the end of the book to make finding a specific rule or concept a cinch. I would have liked the PDF Index to be bookmarked (and the Table of Contents too, for that matter) but it does have PDF Bookmarks enabled for easy navigation throughout the book. The book’s simple layout also makes it suitable for reading with a screen reader, which I certainly appreciate.
If you’re a parent and want to get your children into gaming, or even if you just want to play a fun game of make-believe for an afternoon, you can’t go wrong with Mermaid Adventures. It’s clearly not for an all-adult audience (though it may work for the right people) but I couldn’t imagine a game better suited to a young audience. Third Eye Games set out to make a kid-friendly RPG of undersea fun, and it appears as though they succeeded.