|The Strange Banner Art
By Cathy Wilkins and Michael Startzma
©2016 Monte Cook Games
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
Marketplace: Monte Cook Games
Engine: Cypher System
No Thank You, Evil! is a kid-friendly game designed by Shanna Germain to introduce children to Fantasy Role-Playing. It is written with a pretty young audience in mind, but runs on a simplified version of the Cypher System, which is also the engine driving The Strange and Numenéra, MCG's flagship games.
|Cypher System Cover Art by Roberto Pitturru
©2015 Monte Cook Games
For those not familiar with Cypher System, it is an extremely light and versatile system. All monsters and obstacles in the game are given a Level between 1 and 10. To overcome a challenge a player-character must roll a d20 and beat Level x3. Characters are Trained in some tasks, which lowers the effective level of that task by -1. If they have optimal gear, they can lower it by another -1.
Characters have three pools: Speed, Intelligence, and Body, that start at 8-15 each. They may expend points of an appropriate pool to lower difficulties even more. Being hurt also depletes these pools. Each time a pool depletes to 0 a character takes a wound: a third wound is death. Pools refresh by making rolls a limited number of times per day. Monsters have a pool of hit points that are equal to its level, sometimes with a multiplier for a really big monster. Attacks do 1-2 damage for PCs, or Level from monsters.
Cypher System games build characters by filling in blanks in a sentence from a set of options. "[Name] is a [Adjective] [Noun] who [Verb]s" based on a list of available options. Like "Brian is an Intelligent Nano who Channels Electricity." This gives you a set of skills, attribute modifiers, discounts on pool expenditures, and special abilities that you can fuel by expending your pools.
It is the list of the Descriptors [Adjectives], Character Classes [Noun], and Focus [Verbs] that set one Cypher System setting from another.
One defining features of the Cypher System is the Cyphers: these are expendable, one-shot items selected from a d100 table of incredibly weird and wonderful powers. Cyphers cycle in Cypher System games at a break-neck speed, allowing characters to toss about an endless supply of chaotic magical effects.
Finally, Cypher System has a fast-moving experience point economy. XP is rewarded fairly frequently in game, and each time it is rewarded to one player, they get to pass additional points on to other players. XP can be used to ret-con your character's background to give them a limited skill, build relationships with parties and factions, and build up character abilities on the fly. A preset number of specific improvements, once purchased on the fly, level a character up (referred to as "Tiers" rather than levels), granting them a choice of new abilities from their class, and one new ability from their Focus (Descriptors are a one-time modifier.)
Additionally, XP can be used to cancel a story event just declared by the GM in a formalized system called "Intrusions." This is a prime example of the mechanics that grant the player greater Praxis and Agency than a PC normally would have that characterizes story games over more traditional Role-Playing Games.
Cypher System Games are characterized more by their setting-building than their rules. They build the world by offering a list of Descriptors, Classes, and Foci that give it flavor, and then have a fairly large section with an extremely effective way of describing and giving hooks for various locations in the world in question.
How No Thank You, Evil! Differs
No Thank You, Evil! strips down the already light Cypher System to a bare minimum.
The pools are converted to Smart, Quick, and Tough, and reduced to numbers starting between 2 and 4, reducing the Level of a difficulty is now a one-for-one exchange rather than a point cost that can be discounted. Tiers are removed entirely. A fourth pool: Awesome is added that players can spend to use teamwork to lower the Level of another player's roll.
Instead of a d20 rolled against Levelx3, NTYE! rolls are made with a d6 against the level itself to simplify the math.
Beginning players only start with part of the character sentence. "[Name] is a [Noun]" with the classes being fantastical storybook archetypes like "Pirate", "Superhero", "Robot", and "Prince/Princess." As they get expereince as players, they can eventually choose to add a Descriptor and then a focus. So, for example, my Son's veteran character Lark started with Lark is a Pirate. Then it became "Lark is a Quick Pirate" and finally "Lark is a Quick Pirate who Plays Video Games" as the campaign went on and my son became more comfortable with the system.
Rather than death, players "conk out" when they have received two wounds, and cannot return to play until another character spend points from their Awesome Pool to wake them up. Monsters flee after their hit points are depleted. Instead of rolling three times a day to regain a d6 of pool points, players can spend "Fun points" to take a break from playing the game to do something else fun for 5-10 minutes, and come back with their characters ' pools fully replenished.
The game completely excludes the use of XP and Levelling altogether. Characters do not improve past the point of a first-tier character in another Cypher System Game.
Each character has a cartoonish pet that has one special power it can use once per adventure. Players can find special "treats" they can give the pet that either recharges that power, or gives them another one at the GM's discretion, which is the replacement for the Cyphers.
The game is named after its "safety" feature: every player may, at any time shout "No thank you, Evil!" to instantly end any encounter that they do not enjoy, forcing the monster to run away or magically vanish in some other way. This is hardly a surprise: the author of this system is Shanna Germain, who has been one of the two pioneers for RPG safety tools, and was the creator of the "Consent in Gaming" forms that have become popular with a certain brand of gamer.
The game is set in a four-part other-world called Storia, which is a realm created by the imagination of book-loving children, and is further broken down into four countries based on book themes: "Under the Bed" for horror, "Behind the Bookshelf" for science-fiction and weird adventures, "Into the Closet" for fairy-tale stories, and "Out the Window" for high adventure. Each features over a dozen detailed locations with multiple hooks and a few NPCs for each.
What I Loved
|The Strange Cover Artby
Matt Stawick ©2015 Monte Cook Games
One of the clever things that has been left essentially unsaid about No Thank You, Evil! is that it fits perfectly into the more mature game The Strange by Bruce Cordell: a world in which heroes are a rare few people that have the ability to visit fictional realities given shape by the collective unconscious of humankind. They are structurally similar, and even thematically similar. Kids could easily "graduate" to The Strange while barely having to adopt new rules or even make a new character: the Descriptors can easily translate, and the Class and Focus can be replaced with equivalents.
The artwork in No Thank You, Evil! is bright, weird, and whimsical. It is like a psychedelic children's book. It might not be to every taste, but it definitely stimulates the imagination. And, pursuant to my previous article: it throws Genre completely out the window. It encourages the genre to remix ideas to their heart's content.
|Monster Museum; ©2016 Monte Cook Games
Storia is a wild blender full of puns, visual gags, Weird locations, and idiosyncratic characters that are enjoyable to read and give a GM tons of material to work with. While different areas are thematically linked, Genre is, for the most part, tossed firmly out the window in order to take best advantage of Kids' wild imagination, instead of trying to narrow their experience through forced Genre Emulation.
|Map of Storia; ©2016 Monte Cook Games
Cypher System is an Elegant design. It let's a very small amount of information do a lot of heavy lifting, and does some amazing things with resource management. No Thank You, Evil! takes what is already a great design and tightens it even more. The thought that went into the design is impressive.
No Thank You, Evil! has a winning structure for telling a story. It includes advice on helping kids be silly as they play that you will find nowhere else.. Much of which is tailored really well to the way kids enjoy serialized story books.
Safety System is Easy to Abuse
Look, I don't like safety systems. They are a way to help bad DMs abbrogate the responsibility of using empathy and good communication. And as events like "robogate" showed us, they only work if someone is being mature enough to advocate for themselves. With kids, you certainly can't expect that. In fact, you have a responsibility to exercise a lot of empathy when gaming with kids.
What the "No Thank You, Evil!" tool will do is let smarmy kids "win" the game by whooshing away ay challenging encounter. Certainly my Son tested out my commitment to letting that ability work. Certainly, I know kids who would absolutely be delighted to "win" an adventure or two that way, and the game certainly even acknowledges as much.
The Setting is Saccharine
Okay, so Storia is varied, has lots to work with, and is certainly chock-full of ideas that would make for fun games. The problem is that the setting is saccharine. Even the "scary" "Under the Bed" setting is designed to have little conflict. Most adventures are built around helping to find missing persons, fix experiments gone wrong, or help people understand that the intimidating monster is just understood. It just doesn't have enough meaningful conflict and danger to engage kids beyond a certain point.
|"Fearsum"; ©2016 Monte Cook Games
"No Thank You, Evil!" as a title suggests kids doing something to stop the Forces of Evil from spreading mayhem. Which helped give it a draw. But aside from being a catch phrase, there is no struggle of good versus evil anywhere in the game. Aside from the Sawtooth Witches (who are incompetent), there is nothing that is evil - or good for that matter - in a meaningful way. The game lacks any commitment to telling moral stories. In fact, almost any "evil" that characters might run into is usually misunderstood. Even the vampires, werewolves, and zombies of "Under the Bed" are incongruous friendly, everyday characters.
Low Audience Respect
This is a hangup I have with a lot of kid's media in this day and age: the respect for children is low. there seems to be an assumption that kids can't learn a complex game system, handle moral dilemmas, or solve complex problems without a lot of hand-holding. The Adventures offered in the boxed set is disappointing in terms of offering challenge. In fact the game's structure removes much of the challenge altogether.
Fun Points and Rewards
No Thank You, Evil! tackles the issue of keeping the attention of small children by offering breaks on demand. Every player can expend one of their three "Fun points" to take a short break to do something else, like play a video game. Eating sweets is recommended repeatedly. On the one hamd, building in breaks is not a bad way to tackle the problem... but it also introduces distractions to the table.
Likewise, it is recommended that victory is celebrated both by describing an in-game celebration and then following it up with fun activities and sweets. It almost feels like the kids are being bribed or classically conditioned to associate playing role-playing games with a reward.
Personally, I would rather make sure that the kids wanted to play a role-playing game for the sake of enjoying the game, not because it is interspersed with shots of video game dopamine and sugar.
A Kid's Eye View
Storia is Great Bedtime Story Fodder
A couple of Summers ago, my son was desperate for novel bedtime stories when we were visiting my in-laws. Telling him tales of the places he could visit in No Thank You, Evil! the lake Lochtopus in partuclar captured his imagination and got him really excited for adventure.
Art was a Turn on Until it was a Turn Off
Kids, especially little boys get very Lear notions as to what is for kids bigger than them, and what is for kids younger than them. And they loathe the idea of being fed Pablum. Omce my son hit about 4, the bright, cheerful, Weird art looked less like his favorite books and more like the books we were reading his little brother. And that meant the art became a turn-off for him instead of a selling-point.
Quickly Moved to Heavier Games
I choose my son's media carefully. I make sure he is exposed to ideas like good, evil, self-reliance, and virtue. I started reading him The Chronicles of Narnia as soon as he was old enough to understand them. And, accordingly, games where you are a hero, where good and evil are going concerns, and where bad things sometimes happen, and can be made right was in high demand. My son understood right away that NTYE! was not built to tell that kind of story, and started to ask for stories that had that element of cheroism in it. If your kid wants Heroic themes in their stories, you may find that they lose interest in NTYE! fairly quickly..
Easy to Understand
No Thank you Evil was easy enough to understand that, as a reasonably clever three-year-old he was able to get a solid grasp on the rules and play the game with very little hand-holding. The game is pretty easy to set up in a hurry, and sessions built along the suggested structure last onyl about a half-hour.
No Thank You Evil! was my son's first role-playing game. And it was a good introduction. By the time he was four, however, he was already looking for something a little more action-packed, and where Good and Evil seemed to matter.
As a jumping-off-point for other role-playing games it is not a bad start. However, unless your kid is big on saccharine and "kiddish" for an extended period of time, you will find that it loses its appeal. And it does not create Heroic narratives well at all. A lot of kids grow out of it quickly and start to look for alternatives.