Review: ‘Another Fine Mess’

another fine messFor the last few years I’ve been accruing roleplaying games without having the time to read or play them. This is partly due to the ridiculously good Bundle of Holding collections that have been coming out and partly due to prioritising other aspects of my time. However, in an attempt to actually keep up with some of the innovative work being done in RPG design, I’m tasking myself with trying to plough through and write about some of the rpgs I haven’t read.

So, Another Fine Mess by Anne Dupuis, a pre-written adventure for a fantasy setting – what makes it new and different is that the characters are sentient animal familiars to a wizard who has gone missing.

Another Fine Mess is actually a good few years old by now, published way back in 2000. For that reason, some aspects of it are a little dated in the modern story gaming era. It uses the FUDGE system, which I’ve never tried, and I would definitely run this with FATE these days (they have the same root, but the new FATE edition has made things a lot more intuitive). These days, FUDGE looks a bit creaky, but it was a revolutionary idea when it first came out, and was a big inspiration for a lot of story games.

Another Fine Mess has a really good idea behind it, one I’m amazed hasn’t been done more. Playing a group of wizard’s familiars is just fantastic. However, Another Fine Mess isn’t a sweet and fluffy roleplaying game of magical creatures – not unlike that famous animal-based RPG Bunnies and Burrows, it is quite dark and horrific in places. This is a scenario with body horror and not a bit of implied animal cruelty. The concept could very easily become more child-friendly if a GM made some changes or used the idea and characters without using the adventure, but this scenario isn’t for the faint-hearted.

another fine mess 2

Horrific monstrosities ahoy!

It is, however, a solid adventure. There is a lot of detail about how to characterise the animals and get into the mindset of their limitations, and the animals all have strong personalities. I could see this being a really good bonding game for a group who haven’t roleplayed much before or want something a bit different and memorable – the clear character descriptions will mean that even fairly new or unconfident roleplayers will have an idea of what their character is like. I won’t go into detail of what happens in the adventure but it is well-structured with lots of room for adding bits in and taking bits out to extend or contract the adventure. It is very linear but, well, it’s a pre-written adventure.

The adventure space (it’s essentially a dungeon crawl through a cave system) is well-described and one of the strengths of this adventure is the amount it tells you about the environment. I certainly feel much more educated on cave systems than I did before! The obstacles are all environmental or tie in with the core adventure premise and I imagine playing this would be an atmospheric and potentially frightening experience. The adventure also never loses sight of the fact that the player characters are animals – they have enough intelligence to problem-solve, but lots of the challenges are designed with the different animal abilities (and limitations) in mind. This game does have a risk of character death at various points, but since there are 8 characters available, it would be easy enough to simply replace characters.

There is a handy summary of how FUDGE works at the end of the adventure, which makes it very self-contained, and there are plenty of ideas for how it could be turned into a campaign or the game extended. It is a complex adventure that relies heavily on the GM working through a lot of text during play – I think this is partly a product of when it was written, as modern adventures (for instance, the World of Darkness Storytelling Adventure System, which has got accessibility and layout down to a tee) often focus on providing helpful aide memoires during play itself rather than expecting the GM to memorise everything or work through paragraphs of text. However, there are some wonderful maps from different angles that can be printed out or photocopied and a strong sense of progression. My only other criticism would be that the final fight is a little anaemic compared to the rest of the adventure, as the animals are facing a powerful enemy who will probably win if they face him alone. Their only recourse is to free their master and let him fight for them, which is unsatisfying – a convenient magical weakness for the boss to even the playing field would probably improve this a little, even if it is a little clichéd.

While it is a little outdated these days, Another Fine Mess is an excellent adventure with a really interesting spin on the classic adventuring party. I’m definitely going to try running it at some point, especially if I can remove the system and put something else in place. And you’ll end up learning more about cave systems than you ever expected!

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