I have very little nostalgia for being a child in the 1980s. I fondly remember the toy lines and pop culture—G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, Knight Rider, Transformers—but that’s an artifact of how far out of tune I was with other kids. A combination of anxiety disorder and undiagnosed food allergies meant I spent most of my childhood in a haze of confusion and embarrassing decisions, spending more time playing with toys and watching TV than hanging out. I went on one woodland hike with neighbor kids and everybody got ticks in their hair except me. I saw E.T. during its opening week and liked Megaforce better. I’d happily play a roleplaying game about listening to alternative rock and smoking clove cigarettes as a college student in the ‘90s, but I’m the exact wrong audience for a Stranger Things-inspired RPG.
Which probably makes me the perfect person to evaluate one.
First off, the free preview of The Monster Hunters’ Club available on DriveThruRPG is physically beautiful. The graphic design and layout by Karl Keesler—famous in the Savage Worlds community for his beautifully-rendered character sheets and gorgeously-detailed convention games—perfectly evokes an ‘80s paperback horror novel (the aesthetics of which I do have nostalgia for, even if I never read any). The digital paints of Veronica Jones (who has also illustrated the similarly-themed Little Fears) are some of the best art I’ve ever seen in a Savage Worlds licensee product, rendering everything in a pseudo-charcoal sketch style that perfectly matches the tone of the game—full of childhood wonder, but turned foreboding with a wash of gray and black.
Darren G. Miller hooks me in the introduction by turning literature nerd and giving us a brief history of children’s adventure fiction, beginning with The Swiss Family Robinson. By emphasizing the long history and universality of kids’ adventure lit early in the book, Miller provides an “in” for those (presumably few) of us who remember our childhoods (especially our ‘80s childhoods) with less than fondness. I may have spent my early years usually inside, playing with action figures alone with my brother instead of with the neighbor kids, but it’s not like I didn’t read Encyclopedia Brown.
The preview does not present a sample adventure and pre-generated characters, as I would usually expect, but instead a couple of sample archetypes from the 18 promised to be in the full book: the Brain and the Clown. These archetypes are not the simple set of stat blocks and line or two of explanatory text seen in most Savage Worlds products, similar to character creation in Streets of Bedlam. This gives the archetypes a depth usually only seen in Powered by the Apocalypse game playbooks.
A significant advantage to this approach is that Miller is able to stick to the spirit of the core Savage Worlds Young Hindrance while providing a means of creating more competent heroes. The painfully-familiar Brain archetype, for instance, gets the Young Hindrance’s 3 attribute points, but also starts with a Smarts of d6 while the 10 points to distribute among skills are enhanced by a free d4 in two Knowledge skills. Additional color is provided by bonus Edges and Hindrances (a more-forgiving requirement for the Scholar Edge, an adult mentor, and a weakness to bullying) as well as a choice of background. Because of these bonuses, players can only choose either a Major Hindrance or two Minor Hindrances for additional character points.
The backgrounds move the character creation process into the enhanced levels provided by The King is Dead’s secret societies or Rifts® for Savage Worlds’ M.A.R.S. packages, but still remain balanced with the intent of The Monster Hunters’ Club. The Brain can choose between the Academic (gaining Jack-of-all-Trades for Knowledge skills only, but also becoming a Doubting Thomas), Hacker (gaining bonuses to rolls involving technology but becoming even more socially awkward), and the Sleuth (gaining bonuses to investigatory activities but becoming blind to danger). Each background also modifies the starting equipment characters get (encyclopedias for the Academic, an early PC for the Hacker, and a magnifying glass and “junior detective set” for the Sleuth).
The preview ends with a partial overview of the Arcane Backgrounds available in The Monster Hunters’ Club. Instead of the usual Magic, Miracles, Psionics, Super Powers, and Weird Science, the child heroes may instead select Belief, Gadgetry, Psychokinesis, and Storytelling. Similarly to the conflict over consensual reality and Paradox in Mage: The Ascension, these abilities are powered by childlike wonder and innocence, and are thereby harder to use in the presence of adults. Belief and Storytelling are previewed; Belief is the make-believe of over-imaginative daydreamers while Storytelling is a bard-like ability to lift spirits and spook people out by spinning yarns. It’s a genre-savvy approach to Arcane Backgrounds that veers sharply into the magical realism side of kids’ adventure, reminding me of The Bridge to Terabithia and The Simpsons episode “Lisa the Drama Queen.”
With such an auspicious preview, I can highly recommend keeping an eye out for news on The Monster Hunters’ Club. Even if I personally can’t see myself ever playing in a setting like this, I can’t imagine a better product for this niche coming to Savage Worlds. The art and design are gorgeous and the writing is genre-savvy with the perfect tone. It all adds up to a project I’m eager to see succeed and which I heartily recommend to fans of ‘80s kids adventure.
BONUS: My Stats
|Ok, I was probably five or six in this picture, not ten.|
- Power Points: 10
- Powers: Healing (plush lion named Sylvester)
- Bookworm: Whenever you make a roll for a Knowledge skill you do not have, you roll a d4 instead of d4-2
- Malicious Envy: -2 to Tests of Will to resist Taunt
- Mentor: Joseph Sullivan (grandfather, high school principal)