Sunday, April 29, 2007

RPGs that time forgot... Toon

Tag Line: The Cartoon Roleplaying Game
Makers: Steve Jackson Games

What is it?
A game where you pay cartoon characters in Looney Tunes-type scenarios ("short subjects" or even "feature films"). The 208-page main book contains the rules, a cast of sample characters, and some 130 pages of sample adventures.

Neat Stuff
-The GameMaster is called the Animator, one of many lovely touches in this game.
-Your character cannot be killed, only "fall down". After all, how many times has the Coyote fallen to his death, or Daffy Duck been dynamited?
-The game encourages you to leap before you look and to act before you think. It really is "anything goes" like an old WB cartoon. If it's entertaining, then it's allowed. A 50% Rules basically says that if a player asks if there's a mailbox here, there's a 50% chance there is. And mail orders are instantaneously delivered, is why I give that example. If you're caught thinking about strategies, then your character is "boggled" (it goes all Tex Avery and doesn't do anything except roll up its tongue for that turn).
-In addition to your 4 basic Attributes (where it's actually useful to be dumb, because then you might not know about gravity and could run in mid air), your character has a Shtick, which may range from superspeed to Disguise to Cosmic Shift (like going through a tunnel you just painted on a wall). As far as equipment goes, up to 8 things can fit in your back pocket, from a stick of dynamite to a grand piano.
-The book has one of the best collections of tables ever put to paper. If someone calls a taxi, roll and a Sherman tank might arrive. There's a random trap table, a random disguise table, silly/really silly/unbelievably silly species tables if you want to throw some randomness into character creation, and more. Randomness is a good thing in Toon.
-The large collection of adventure scenarios makes this a one-stop shop for hours of role-playing fun. Especially since the same cartoon can be played over and over with various twists (how many times have we seen Coyote vs. Road Runner in the desert, for example?). There's even an easy random adventure generator (and an apocalyptic big finish table to round it out).
-I could go on and on with the little bits of cartoon madness in this thing, and it already seems like I have... portable holes, signs, independent shadows, the angel and devil on your character's shoulder, instant fine print, sound effects... it's great.

Bad Stuff
-It's really only meant to simulate the madcap cartoons of Tex Avery, Warner Bros., Walter Lantz and perhaps Jay Ward. The game does suggest genre campaigns (especially in follow-up books), but the crazy nature of the game makes it difficult to keep the plot ontrack. But it's most often a question of having a contract between Animator and players as to how far the game can go. There's no reason Toon couldn't be used to simulate the Powerpuff Girls or even the Teen Titans, but it IS geared towards American cartoons, and not anime conventions.

"The second way to end the game is by time limit. Allow 20 minutes per player for a Short Subject [...] and when the time is up, the time is up! Each player is then given an Action to do something for a good punch line ending."

How I've used it
I've got a couple of character sheets from the early 90s, including a potted plant that was played in a solo adventure by my girlfriend of the time, and a samurai rabbit who just didn't fit the game with his goal of finding converts to his religion or whatnot. So I definitely ran games, but probably no more than an introductory scenario. It was probably the Toon Olympics loose structure discusses in the rules, and probably more than once. I did photocopy many of the characters in the book to make the game more visual without resorting to showing the open book, but like many of my "going all out, we'll be playing for YEARS" plans, nothing really came of it.

In conclusion
With it's subject matter and extremely simple rules, I should think this would be a great first RPG for kids, though the pressue of being funny can be daunting for even the most experienced player/Animator. I run with the improv crowd, so that's no trouble at all, and I'd love to run a few games. Toon is an excellent complete package and worth the read if only to change your preconceived notions about what an RPG should be.


doctormi said...

Thanks Siskoid for that great review. Toon is a favorite of mine. It can be a gateway RPG of sorts and RPG novices grasp the simple gaming aspects quite quickly. They have fun and understand why gamers do this regularly.

RPG veterans go all out by my experience. It's quite a hoot once they grasp the 50% rule. I even allowed second or third rolls if it sounded funny.

Gamers without a sense of humor don't like this game as it has no goal (like gaining XP, changing levels, etc).

Play it and you might find that the common element to any RPG (any game for that matter) is to HAVE FUN!

Siskoid said...

God forbid, eh?

Actually, there ARE awards in the form of Plot points, but these are like Hero Points (in DCH), in that they can be spent during a game to create even crazier effects.