Little Fears, Nightmare Edition, is a modern horror storytelling game that toes the line between survival and investigation. The front cover proclaims it to be “The Game of Childhood Terror”, and the content inside hits that mark. Not necessary a family or kids game, it is a game where you take on the role of an adolescent child. Children could easily grasp the basic concepts of the game, but the flavor is not necessarily geared toward them. Young children, at least; older children may thoroughly enjoy it. The true environment of the game seems to be a recreation of your deepest fears and superstitions from when you were a child. Kind of a way of re-living those childhood years where all the things you thought were scary actually are. In the light, the shadows are no longer hat stands with a jacket hanging on them; they’re monsters feeding off you.
Little Fears is a complete romp through the land of the weird (the fantasy horror kind, not the silly kind). The game takes place in two locations: Earth and Closetland. Earth is where we live, but with a bit more scary stuff thrown in. Basically, the monsters in Closetland sometimes come through to haunt our world. The basics of it is to make real all the things you were told, as a child, aren’t real: monsters under your bed or in your closet, the house that eats children, the dog that is half demon; things like that. Closetland, on the other hand, is effectively a land of nightmares come true. One that is so twisted that every time I started reading what I thought was going to be the “here’s how you escape Closetland,” it turned out to be “here’s how you think you’ll escape Closetland, only to get eaten by a child-eating monster.” Or something like that. Unfortunately for you, the reader, I’m not going to spoil any of that because it completely blows away the horror and desperation of what Closetland is.
In the opening, I noted that Little Fears toes the line between investigation and survival. It kind of functions within a grey area between. Sometimes you’ll create a game on Earth that is mostly investigation and partly survival. Sometimes you’ll create a game in Closetland that is mostly survival with a bit of investigation. I’m going to go as far as saying this game does an amazing job of marrying the two so that they seamlessly weave themselves together in that amazing weird fantasy horror genre (a genre I happen to love). If you don’t know what I mean, refer to the Goosebumps series of books/movies and the more recent Stranger Things.
Little Fears calls itself a storytelling game, which I mostly agree with. One of the major reasons I agree with this is due to how it approaches combat. First, combat is extremely deadly, much like it should be. Second, monsters are incredibly more powerful than children. Third, it might be best to avoid combat all together in the hopes of surviving. Another major reason I agree with this is how it handles fear (especially given the characters are children). Not only is fear a powerful tool, it’s considerably dangerous when it comes to monsters. Fear is used against the characters in a way that is detailed and believable. It doesn’t just make you run away; it slowly tears you down piece-by-piece until you can no longer move.
Little Fears is powered by a roll-and-keep dice pool system (called the Top 3 System). Dice pools are formed using d6s, and after rolling them, three dice are chosen to be the final result. The character then either succeeds or fails at the task at hand. As always, there are difficulty modifiers, bonuses, skills, and a lot of the regular stuff you’ve come to expect from all role-playing games.
A large portion of this core rulebook is setting material. The problem is, you can’t really discuss the setting material without spoiling the ins and outs of how the game works against the player characters. Yes, I just said AGAINST them. Although Earth is a giant sandbox of fun and games, Closetland is a place that will attempt to eat you up… literally. If you find your characters going into Closetland; good luck, and you’re in for a hell of an exciting ride!
I really like this game. I may be slightly biased due to my love of the weird genre, but that is the target audience, after all. If you like the weird genre, then this is a great game to take a look at. I’m not so sure about playing it with young children, but older children would probably have a good time. Otherwise, stick with your normal gaming group! I will note that it is extremely genre-heavy and anyone who doesn’t enjoy that weird fantasy horror-style of Earth will probably not like this game (even if they like the mechanics). The setting is a major part of the game and you will never enjoy the game unless you enjoy the setting.