Adventure Review: Grimm Tales (Fortune’s Fool) by Jay Stratton and Pantheon Press

Have you noticed that fairy tales are taking over again? This fall has seen two new shows – ABC’s Once Upon a Time and NBC’s Grimm. Plus there’s Mirror Mirror and Snow White and the Huntsman hitting theaters in 2012. The influences of the Brothers Grimm seems to have hit a fevered pitch again, and not in a saccharine, sickly-sweet, Disney kind of way. There’s darkness in these stories. And that’s great!

For the last decade as my two daughters have been growing up I’ve been marveling at how fairy tales are constantly being reinvented. And reading about Joseph Campbell‘s “Hero’s Journey” offers different lenses through which the old tales (Disney-ized, Grimm, or otherwise) from around the world can be taken and used to form satisfying adventures for roleplaying games.

So Grimm Tales by lead designer Jay Stratton for Pantheon Press‘ game Fortune’s Fool couldn’t have come out at a better time. Not only does it weave a narrative of nine different adventures in a war-torn, fantasy-tinged Europe, but it brings out the Grimm-infused
darkness of the original tales in a compelling story that I think players and GMs are going to really enjoy.

I don’t want to say too much without spoiling the surprises scattered throughout the fairy tale horrors awaiting both players and GMs, but I have to say a few things or you might not be as tempted to pick this thing up as you should be. Personally I think our lives (both in real life and in the games we play) would work much better if we paid more attention to the rules in fairy tale stories. (Whether you’re a kid or a parent, I encourage you to read Neil Gaiman‘s Instructions – a book he did about the rules of fairy tales with Charles Vess.) Plus, it might be interesting to see some of our government officials deal with troll bridges for a change…

But I’m off topic… Back to Grimm Tales.

First, the names in this set of adventures are glorious. Georgie Peorghi. Brilliant. Misha Moffet. Amazing. Twists to make them modern without removing the fantasy quality that fairy tale characters should have.

Second, there quite a few twists and turns that are just… inspired. Zombies, killer dolls, kissing monsters… All within a consistent fairy tale framework that allows flexibility without going completely off the rails.

And lastly, whether you play Fortune’s Fool or not, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of this book as the basis for a campaign in whatever system you play in. I’m seriously considering massaging it for a D&D 4e campaign with my daughters. Yes, it might be a wee bit warped for them, but honestly I think they’ve already been warped by having me as a father and seeing Tim Burton’s wonderfully twisted tales on the big screen. (Speaking of which, I wonder if Jay and the folks at Pantheon Press have thought about writing and marketing a script based around these adventures for Hollywood. I’d definitely buy a ticket!)

The book itself features nearly 100 pages of content out of 102 pages, which I think is outstanding. There are a few typos here and there, but nothing major and the writing kept my attention throughout. The layout is similar to Fortune’s Fool with a single-column approach for the most part and scattered gray boxes, tables, and artwork to break up the text. The art beautifully reinforces the fairy tale aspects, with some black and white line drawings and grayscale paintings. And the maps for each chapter/adventure are crisp and clean. I wish there was some kind of a scale on the maps, but that’s a very minor gripe.

Grimm Tales captures an entire series of adventures in the Grimm tradition that is worthy of being on your gaming shelf. I definitely encourage you to check it out!

For more from Pantheon Press, check out their website at www.pantheonpress.com. Check out Grimm Tales at RPGNow and at the Pantheon Press store.

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