Published by Crafty Games (2013)
Designed by Antoine Bauza and others
Art by Arnü West and others
128 full-color pages, softcover
Is there an actual market for younger RPG players? We’re talking dedicated game, not dumbed-down D&D or Hero with a helping hand. In my day, we were happy just running around playing cops and robbers, cowboys and injuns, haunted house, and so on…. Of course, I plead the 5th when it comes to playing Doctor...
Antoine Bauza is probably best known for his design of the 7 Wonders card-drafting game. Crafty Games has brought his RPG from France into the U.S. market. Is it worth playing? Is it worth buying? Honestly, these are pretty tough questions.
What It Is
Little Wizards is very specific about what it wants to be. It was developed for kids ages 6-10, with the Narrator being an adult or older child. It’s definitely a traditional RPG. Each player gets their own character (a “lil’ Wizard”), the Narrator runs the show and all the non-player characters, and there are plot-based challenges to overcome.
Each character is a “Li’l Wizard” with three stats: Body, Heart, and Brain. In the spirit of encouragement, Strengths and Weakness are simply ratings of Good (+0), Better (+1), or Best (+2). Every stat and ability is rated in this way.
Everyone gets the Broom-Riding power for free. I attribute this affectation to Harry Potter, since before Rowling’s time, I always associated brooms with witches, not wizards. Oh, well.
Players then decide if their li’l Wizard was born with magical powers (Sorceror), or whether they learned them (Mage). Sorcerers get to choose two powers from among Alchemy, Divination, and Spellcasting. Mages choose two powers from among Conjuring, Shapechanging, and Spellcasting. As with stats, you rate your three powers as Good, Better, and Best.
Every character gets a familiar, which is always black. (The player on your right gets to roleplay your familiar, by the way.) There are a number of questions and brief tables to inspire fledgeling roleplayers to better describe their characters’ backgrounds.
Characters are modestly powerful in the beginning of the game, and the experience-point-based advancement is relatively brisk.
Pretty basic stuff here: 2d6 + your trait rating. Difficulties range from Very Easy (5) to Almost Impossible (10). Snake eyes are a Disaster! Boxcars are a Brilliant Success! Either way, you can’t be stopped. No matter what, the show/story must go on – at worst, a failure will (simply and unimaginatively) slow you down. At best, the failure will give you another problem to solve to your eventual benefit.
There are a number of other minor tweaks, including teamwork, obstacles, complications, setbacks, and the like, with modifiers resulting in +/-1 each, or a reroll under certain circumstances.
What Happens and Where
The entire game takes place in Coinworld, a charming, fanciful, 2-sided world. On the Heads side, things are generally happy and cheerful and bright. On the Tails side, they’re happy and cheerful and dark. Yup. Everything’s fairies and brownies on the Heads, and vampires and werewolves on Tails, but it doesn’t matter. Everyone’s happy, they all get along (except when they don’t), and generally it’s a matter of figuring out how to help everyone live in harmony with one another. Kumbaya. Oh, and you want to become better Wizards.
Adventures can be violent, but they are not inherently so. There are no Shadowrun-style steal the macguffin adventures, because stealing is wrong. In fact, this game is as far from hack-and-slash as you can get. It’s a playground for kids to exercise their imaginations, not necessarily vent their frustrations, figuratively or tactically. The strangest thing is that through it all, they’re still kids. They can fly brooms, because that’s magic. But “borrow” and drive a car? No way, even though Coinworld has cars. You’ll get in big trouble. From whom? Not really sure. Them? Whoever They are.
The book includes three adventures, with many opportunities for exploration – lots of open-ended plot prompts. The first adventure starts with no preamble. The next two are prefaced by short introductions to the Coinworld locations in which those adventures occur.
Coinworld is fantastic, literally and figuratively. I’m not sure I’ve seen another RPG present a dual world in quite this way.
The idea of a dual world is definitely not original. There are several platform games and shooters that use “triggered” travel between two worlds to get things done – Klonoa is the one I’m most familiar with.
There’s no rhyme or reason specified as to why Coinworld exists in this duality. Nor is there any firm mechanism for traveling from Heads to Tails. You might fall asleep in Heads and wake up in Tails. Or fall down a well, which turns out to be a gate. Or cast a spell that moves you between the two halves. One of the adventures includes a magic item that is a set of coins that allows one to travel from one side of Coinworld to the other, depending on how a coin lands when it’s flipped. The whole thing is delightfully vague and wondrous – freeing.
Personally, I like the idea of having a fully layered duality, where everything is exactly the same between the two halves, yet different. But that’s not quite how the world is designed out of the box, so I digress.
Really, as slim as this book is, there’s a lot of fertile ground for imaginative storybuilding.
The system isn’t very exciting, but it’s perfectly serviceable. If you’re looking for system innovation, you won’t find it in Little Wizards.
The other bad thing is the lack of violence. Murder hobos aside, my generation was pretty much raised on violent cartoons. Fictionally speaking, violence is a “natural” way to solve problems. Even these days, kids have Kung Fu Panda to guide them. Maybe we counsel against magnifying glass guided ant genocide these days, but that doesn’t stop the imagination. I guess avoiding nearly all possibility of violent options keeps the world from devolving into a cacophony of mayhem.
I’m not saying you need violence. Hmm. Maybe I am. Or at least, there should be a better way to deal with it, because it’s the monstrous enraged elephant in the room. But since the book is written with 6- to 10-year-old kids in mind, confronting the issue of how to deal with in-game violence is frustratingly absent.
Should You Buy It?
For experienced roleplayers, there’s barely enough to pique your interest, and then the book’s over. Then again, this book wasn’t designed for you. But for a book written with youngsters in mind, there’s some very challenging vocabulary within the well-written and generally error-free pages.
Also, with so little to draw from, fledgling Narrators will likely struggle with adventure design, pacing, and mediation skills. Sure, there are three adventures included, but after that? Making the leap from noob to conventional roleplayer hasn't been adequately captured. They certainly teach by example, but I would have preferred to see a sort of cookie-cutter approach to adventure design for beginners. After all, the author does have character building assistance in the form of tables. Something similar could have been done for storybuilding.
I remember when I made the leap from high school to college, there was quite a bit of shell shock and the sudden ramp-up in course difficulty and social challenges. I get the feeling that when you play this game with youngsters, they will experience something very similar when they “graduate” to conventional roleplaying.
Then again, maybe Antoine’s trying to cultivate unconventional roleplayers. Still, I recommend picking this up only if you've got youngsters you're trying to gently introduce to roleplaying, or if you need a little inspiration for really innovative world creation.
Related OgreCave podcasts/videos:
OgreCave.com: Crafty Games at KublaCon 2014 - Interview with Patrick Kapera of Crafty Games, with info on Mistborn RPG's "Terris: Wrought of Copper" and "Alloy of Law", as well as the Little Wizards RPG and Z Corps. With Ogre-in-Chief Allan Sugarbaker. (recorded at KublaCon 2014)