Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Let's Read: Cupcake Scouts 1st Edition

If I’m going to revise a game, I suppose I should re-familiarize myself with said game. That seems to be the least I could do.
I want the game to be a little over the top. It’s a ridiculous concept – that 11-year-old girls are supernaturally empowered to battle the mother of all monsters and defeat her progeny wherever they appear. I think that the game should draw a distinction between ‘monsters’ (which can be redeemed) and ‘fiends’ (demons and undead which cannot be redeemed, and must be destroyed). Your strategies, tactics, and purposes are different depending on what you are fighting. The idea is that even the most fearsome giant can be convinced through snacks and friendship to give up its evil ways and join the town above, which is full of decent folk in general.
Page 2: I still like the hook for this game. I ‘get’ it right away (but I wrote it, so I admit to a heavy dose of bias).
Page 3: The background. The one longer review on DriveThru said that the background was too minimal, and I can see his point. This is a broad strokes view of the town, and there is enough to go with here, but there are key questions (which that reviewer brought up) that are left hanging – when does this game take place? I believe that I address some of this later, but an additional page or two of world building would be very helpful at the outset. I can make this text fun and engaging without missing out on some key ideas that would ground players in the game better.
Pages 4-5: We get into mechanics here pretty quickly - and dang this game is simple. It’s 1d6, with a single modifier to see if a check was successful or not. Challenge ratings are variable depending on the situation. Now that I’ve played it a bit, I like the fixed target, with the changes being to how many dice you roll with + or – edges. I feel like as a GM having to determine a challenge rating puts the onus on me… it’s better in play to put the onus on the dice. I could see this still working as a target 6 for everything, and then adding or removing dice from the pool. It would give the same mechanical flavor to this game as Hack’D – but I still like 1d12 better for longer play and character advancement. Plus, part of me wants the two games to be compatible, but I suppose that’s not a deal breaker. The 1d6 here is pretty nifty, and the versatility of edges gives me some subtlety to layer in.
Pages 6-8: The game breaks down types of checks. Since the game has no traits, it provides the context for these through the types of checks you might make; all checks are level checks, so the modifier is generally going to be your level. There is a typo where the intro to the section talks about ‘action checks’, whereas they are ‘attack checks’ in the body. Attack check is better, because that is the only application of that type of check – to hit something in combat.
I cannot remember how I resolved spell casting (my guess is that it’s a knowledge check), but I would want to port over a lot of the magic rules for Hack’D… so maybe I need to consider mana as a sixth type of check. Spellcraft? Casting? Something like that. I like that social checks are part of the core mechanic.
Here we get into the rules for advantage/disadvantage which are stolen directly from D+D. I can see how it gets messy already with both advantage/disadvantage and the challenge ratings being variable. There is no reason to adjust challenge ratings – just always add or subtract an edge and you are good to go.
Time is better in Hack’D (I think I’ve finally solved actions/tasks/rounds in a way that is intuitive, flexible, and easy to use… I want to port that over directly).
Page 9: Range and combat are pretty standard, although (again) this is presented more elegantly in Hack’D. I just want to bring those rules over. They aren’t vastly different, but they are different enough to be worth the change.
Page 10: Here’s where the game really diverges. It doesn’t have hit points per se, but instead health equal to your level +1. There is no variable damage – if you get hit, you lose a health point. Some attacks can deal 2 if they are really, really bad. I don’t love this – I think that having a wider range of hits adds quite a bit of drama to the game… but I want to consider keeping something like this. I’m interested to see how this affects things deeper into the game. I can already see here that monsters are presented in very broad strokes – this is an even simpler version of monsters than those presented in Hack’D. The monster IS its level, with a few modifiers. The end of the page reinforces this – Everything about the monster is tied to its level. It deals damage, resists attacks, and attempts any check based on its level. Monsters are entirely static – the scouts check to resist static attack ratings and check to hit monsters with static defenses. The game has no allowance for monsters fighting other monsters… because monsters never roll. I remember why I did this (to keep scaling in check and to put the onus on the players), but it really cuts the knees out of the flexibility of the system. I don’t intend to keep this. It overly simplifies the game.
Page 11. The five types of scouts are overviewed. These are the ‘character classes’ of the game. I know that I abandoned the idea of classes in Hack’D, but that’s a different game with a much wider footprint for character options. Since this game is more focused, the presence of the five troops makes a lot of sense. I think I’ll be keeping this. It then builds in the +1 edge – you get a +1 edge in your troop’s type of check.
Page 12: Savant scouts are cool. They are monk-like with some healing. Nifty.
Pages 13-16: Scholar scouts and magic. Wow this is well done. I can see why I liked this so much at the time. The rules for wands and attacks and simple and clear, and the use of gems is a good way to resolve magic. I don’t know that the mana rules need to come over, although they could… or I could merge them. This is a very good magic system, however, and I might end up keeping it in large part. It’s well done. I think that there might be different tiers of gems – you unlock common gems and level 1, and advanced gems at level 3… but other than that, this is a keeper.
Page 17: The Seeker Scout. I am surprised by how much I like the presentation of these troops in terms of their function in play – there is a brevity of information, but I did a great job presenting how you ‘play’ this troop, and how the Scoutmaster would create challenges for you or help you to navigate them.
Pages 18-19: Singer Scouts and social mechanics. They also have songs that give mechanical benefits.
Page 20: Stalwart Scouts. The fighters. Pretty simple, but they have fortitude and resolve that give them some extra toughness.
In general, the troops are good and diverse. There isn’t a lot of room for customization. Hack’D really leans into giving you a lot of choice in building your character – Cupcake Scouts really locks you into an archetype, and doesn’t give much wiggle room within that. The scholar and singer scouts have some choice because they have a larger range of abilities to choose from, but even these are finite options. As written, the game has few options for cross classing, or picking up a little magic, or personalizing your character mechanically. There are opportunities to add to your character through roleplaying and cosmetic add-ons, but there isn’t much I can add here in terms of mechanical benefits without bloating the game. It’s lean, but very focused, and it works as it is.
Pages 21-22: Gear and the handbook. I love all of this. It’s very evocative, is clear, and suggests a whole bunch of roleplaying. The Buffy/Supernatural vibes come through quite clearly in this section.
Page 23: Treats. Yum. These are basically ‘potions’ with small power ups and abilities. They can be a little gonzo (shrinking and growth are quite Alice in Wonderland-y), but that’s great. I’d like to add more to this list.
Pages 24-25: Character advancement and abilities. These are the game’s version of tags, and it’s not bad. I could see revising this list some – the troops gave a +1 bonus, whereas these grant the advantage (or +1 edge). I kind of like that… I would want to be a weapon specialist as a stalwart scout, because that gives me both +1 to hit and +1 edge on my dagger attacks. That seems solid.
Pages 26-27: Badges. Oh, wow, this is cool. Okay, I want to expand this section a LOT, and add some more concrete things, but the foundation that’s here is pretty great.
 Pages 28-31: The Scoutmaster. A cursory exploration of running the game. I think that this section needs a lot of fleshing out, with more concrete examples of the kinds of things that cupcake scouts might do, and how to resolve those things. There are no rules for traps, or finding hidden things, or exploration… there’s a lot that is hand waved.
Pages 32-33: Treasure and magic. This is a bit cursory as well, and ends up being kind of generic. I don’t like the idea of generic magic items for this game; I’d rather have a list of six relics for each troop (so 30 items total) that they could find. The idea would be that you can only activate one relic per level, so you’d max out at getting five of the six relics for your troop anyway. A lot of the flavor and vibe of the rest of the game is lost here in presenting generic magic items. This is an opportunity to lean into the world and lore a bit and explore that through objects.
Pages 34-50: Here there be monsters. This is where the full-color monster art in my improving style is going to make a big difference. In general, the art is serviceable throughout, but not particularly evocative. This section has some hits, and some definite misses in the art department. The gargoyle, mummy, ooze, and vampire are particularly weak drawings. I can see how I was trying to nail down the new style, and not always finding it. In general, monster descriptions are pretty good, and there are some good ideas in here I’ll want to keep (some monsters are ‘grody’, and these cause a check to fight them because they are so gross). That sort of stuff is really, really good. The expanded stat block putting these closer to Hack’D is going to help a lot.  
I don’t know that I need the level of distinction that there is (corruptions vs. elementals vs. fiends)… it’s enough that a creature is cursed. Cursed creatures are evil, irredeemable, and must be destroyed. ‘Nuff said. Whether this is an imp, a vampire, a demon, or a medusa, it’s a cursed creature that was spawned by Moridis in some way - and therefore must be destroyed.
The Adventures (pages 51-62) are really, really good. These are almost five-room dungeons, and this was before I even knew what a five-room dungeon is! (at least, I think that’s how I remember it). These can be tightened up a bit, but these do a great job of setting the flavor and tone of the game. There’s a lot to like in this section.
The Cupcake Scouts Campaign (pages 63-64) is quite cursory, and sets up a few ideas in the loosest of ways. Much of this could be placed earlier (in the introductory text), and what is here could be expanded or re-designed.
The addition of Moridis as the ‘big bad’ of the game world is going to add a level of texture and focus to the game overall. Having the fight be against an immortal and unbeatable mother of all monsters gives the game a tighter focus. I suppose you could then run the Cupcake Scouts campaign-to-end-them-all where the troop actually finds and destroys Moridis once and for all, but that is the two-part series finale after five good seasons. I think Moridis is more interesting than the Raven Queen suggested in the rules as is. She’s an add-on here at the end, rather than being a core force. It’s almost like the Scoutmaster should exist for the sole purpose of opposing the efforts of Moridis to move beyond her labyrinth.

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