Free RPG Day Review #4: Little Boy Lost
The inaugural Free RPG Day was held on Saturday June 23rd in the USA and Saturday 21st July in the UK. Its aim was to bring gamers and potential customers into their local games store by making available a number of free mini supplements kindly provided by the publishers. Each is intended to introduce and showcase a particular RPG or range of supplements, either already available or forthcoming. The purpose here is to review as many of the following as possible in a series of mini-reviews, taking into consideration how well each stands on its own, how good each serves as an introduction or prequel to another fuller product, how well it stands up as Free RPG Day product, and just how good it is in general.
I have access to the following items, for which I would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge:
- GamesMastery Module D0: Hollow's Last Hope
- DCC #51.5: The Sinister Secret of Whiterock
- Wicked Fantasy Module #0: Temple of Blood
- Tunnels & Trolls Quick-Start Rules
- Mutants & Masterminds Beginner's Guide: Quick-Start
- Castles & Crusades Fantasy Role Playing Game Quick Start Rules
- Dungeonbattle Brooklyn for Xcrawl
- Changling: the Lost -- Free Rules and Adventure
- Little Boy Lost for In Dark Alleys
- Call of Cthulhu Quickstart Rules
- The Pig, the Witch and her Lover -- Free Adventure for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay
- Flashpak for Cyberpunk 3.0*
- The Rifter #38*
- Return to the Tomb of the Five Corners*
- GURPS Lite Fourth Edition*
- Scion: the Hero*
These do not constitute the full list of items available on Free RPG Day. There were some items that I was not able to get hold of and there cannot offer a full review.
* To be fair although I have a copy of The Rifter which was given away on the day, both time and personal prejudice will probably prevent me from giving a fair review. I declined a copy of the Flashpak for Cyberpunk 3.0 as I did not think that I could do a fair review of it following the extremely unfavourable review I had to give Cyberpunk 3.0 elsewhere. Similarly, Return to the Tomb of the Five Corners, GURPS Lite Fourth Edition, and Scion: the Hero have been covered elsewhere in detail, though all do a decent job of introducing their respective games.
Little Boy Lost is one of several items made available on Free RPG Day in the USA and the UK. Unlike most freebies for the day, this is not for the d20 System or Dungeons & Dragons, but is a modern horror adventure. Specifically it is a demo adventure for Vajra Enterprises' RPG of modern horror, In Dark Alleys, written for up to six players. Not only does it include the full scenario, it also provides a cut down version of Vajra Enterprises' house rules, which are also used in the publisher's Fates Worse Than Death and Tibet RPGs.
Little Boy Lost is also different in that it comes as a 20-page digest format booklet done on glossy paper. Really though, it need not have been, as the booklet's use of colour is minimal, amounting to the yellow shading of the image of the front cover, some grey shading inside, and images of the publisher's other titles on the back cover. In order, the booklet presents the six pre-generated characters, the core rules, and the adventure itself, which like the full game carries a mature readers warning.
To do things in In Dark Alleys a player rolls a twenty-sided die and adds the appropriate attribute and skill to beat a target, the moderate target being 20. For each skill level above 1, a character receives a +4 bonus to the roll. Combat is not that complex, with a list of easily explained manoeuvres. How damage is worked out and applied needs further explanation as it is not immediately obvious. Mechanically, In Dark Alleys feels a bit clunky and outdated, perhaps having been cutting edge twenty five years ago. Nor does it help that there is a plethora of new TLAs ("Three Letter Abbreviations") to get used to, too many of which are just slightly different to hobby's accepted standard for each. Thus Strength is not STR but STH, Intelligence is not INT but INL, and so on.
The six pre-generated characters provided for the scenario are all undergraduate students at UCLA, members of a calculus study group. Oddly all three female characters are Caucasian, but the three male characters are not. All are fully detailed though, but I suspect that not every character is immediately useful for the scenario and players will have to work hard to use some of their characters' skills, let alone get themselves involved. One character is central to the scenario and it is her that the others are visiting when the scenario begins. She is babysitting a young boy, Kai, and between her answering the door to her friends and them going into the living room, he has disappeared from where he had been watching television. Searching the house confirms his absence, and in order to get started, the party must come back to what he was last seen doing.
Little Boy Lost is designed to introduce the players to the supernatural reality of the world in In Dark Alleys. It does this via a series of dark encounters reminiscent of the television series, The Outer Limits, almost quite literally, though the horror here feels influenced by Clive Barker. The one real weakness is suggesting that the encounter order be determined randomly, since this means it is possible to locate Kai and solve the scenario's central dilemma in the very first encounter. Instead the GM should ensure that the order of the encounters appears to be random, but run them in the order that best creates both a decent storytelling and horror experience. All of the encounters warrant the "Mature Readers" only label, especially the one which deals with child molestation, though here it is only given a cursory treatment.
Overall, Little Boy Lost is a decent introduction to In Dark Alleys. It stands out as being a little different to the other items available on Free RPG Day, not just in genre and setting, but also tone. In the hands of a GM it should provide a single session's dark entertainment, and if the mechanics of Little Boy Lost are not to the GM's liking then the scenario is easily adapted to other systems.
Highs: A dark nasty scenario that should appeal to the horror fan.
Lows: Lacks GM advice and the rules are a little too underwritten, and some may find the mechanics clunky.
Overall: Just like the Call of Cthulhu Quick Start Rules, Little Boy Lost succeeds in providing an introduction to its parent game, in this case, In Dark Alleys.
For Free RPG Day: Providing a decent alternative to many of the Fantasy offerings available on the day, Little Boy Lost is a dark, nasty horror scenario.