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Friday 10 June 2022

Goblins in a Gaberdine

We have a fascination with the antics of little people, whether that is of Goblins, Hobbits, or Kobolds. In gaming this goes all the way back to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and thus Middle Earth Roleplaying, but it really comes into its comedic own with Kobolds Ate My Baby!, published by 9th Level Games in 1999. The latest entry in this comedy subgenre is published by CobblePath Games, best known for Locus: A roleplaying game of personal horror. Stacks of Goblins: A Comedy roleplaying game of camaraderie, stupidity, and spite takes the comedy of the raucous antics of small and bumptious persons and literally puts them on top of another gag—the ‘Totem Pole Trench’ or ‘Two Kids In a Trenchcoat’. In other words, Stacks of Goblins puts one goblin on top of another goblin on top of another goblin, and puts them in a Trenchcoat—of seemingly elastic length—and a fedora, and sends them out to do mischief. The situation is simple. Their Snikittyness the Goblin ruler has a mighty need and multiple Goblin minions ready to see that it is met! Plus every Goblin has his heart set on finding something he desires. The best way to meet both that need and that desire is in a nearby People Place. Of course, Goblins are not welcome in this People Place. Hence the Trenchcoat and the fedora.

Stacks of Goblins: A Comedy roleplaying game of camaraderie, stupidity, and spite is a storytelling game involving multiple wants and multiple roles—roles which switch as the Goblins argue and fidget for dominance in the Trenchcoat and quite literally a higher place in the pecking order. Or rather picking (up) order. Designed for between two and six players, it requires one twelve-sided die, one eight-sided die, and several ten-sided dice. It also requires twenty tokens. The tokens represent the ‘Obliviousness’ of the inhabitants of the town or village to the Goblins who have infiltrated in their disguise and to their shenanigans. Over the course of the game, the number of ‘Obliviousness’ tokens in play will decrease to Goblin actions, first limiting their ability to move and act, and ultimately forcing them to flee the People Place. The ‘Obliviousness’ tokens also represent the game’s timing mechanism, twenty tokens being enough for a standard-length game.

A player and his goblin has one of three roles depending upon his place in the Trenchcoat, either Top Goblin, Middle Goblin, or Bottom Goblin. The Top Goblin is the hands and mouth of the operation. He operates the height of Goblin technology—a grabber in each hand. His player rolls a twelve-sided die when the Top Goblin acts. The Middle Goblin can help or hinder the Top Goblin. His player rolls a ten-sided die and can add or subtract the result from any of Top Goblin’s die rolls. The Bottom Goblin decides where the Trenchcoat goes. His player rolls an eight-sided die when the Bottom Goblin acts. His player chooses which locations in the People Place the Trenchcoat visits and narrates the outcome of the Trenchcoat’s actions. The player of the Bottom Goblin is thus both narrator and player. However, the position and role of each Goblin can change in the Trenchcoat. Consequently, the role of the player and the die size he rolls can also change.

Mechanically, to have his Goblin act, a player rolls his Goblin’s die. The result can either be a ‘Screw Up!’, ‘Good Enough!’, or ‘Goblin Success!’. Both ‘Screw Up!’ and ‘Good Enough!’ result in a complication and with a ‘Screw Up!’, another Goblin can also shuffle around and swap places with the Goblin who failed! A minimum roll of five is needed for a ‘Good Enough!’ and a minimum roll of nine is needed for ‘Goblin Success!’. Which means that the Bottom Goblin with his eight-sided die can never roll a ‘Goblin Success!’.

A Goblin can also shuffle around and swap places if his player removes an ‘Obliviousness’ token from the pile. If multiple Goblins want to change places in a shuffle in the Trenchcoat, their players have a dice off. An ‘Obliviousness’ token can also be removed if a player wants his Goblin’s action to automatically succeed. An ‘Obliviousness’ token is also removed if a Trenchcoat makes someone’s life materially worse and when a Goblin successfully acquires his desire. Ultimately, the pile of ‘Obliviousness’ tokens curbs the maximum result on any dice roll, so the more successful the Goblins are in acquiring their desires, the more material harm they cause, the more obvious their actions become to the inhabitants of the settlement, and the harder the Trenchcoat’s actions becomes.

Stacks of Goblins has tables for defining each Goblin, what their Snikittyness the Goblin ruler wants, and what each Goblin desires. Other tables determine the mission, including the target destination, the Goblin means of escape, and events happening in the destination.

When the number of ‘Obliviousness’ tokens drops below the number of Goblins, the Trenchcoat’s cover is blown and it is time to escape. The Trenchcoat must make its way back through the chaos and disarray left in its wake as it progressed through the People Place. Once the Goblins get home in their Trenchcoat, they count their loot, that is, their desires and whatever it was that their Snikittyness the Goblin ruler wanted. A Goblin succeeds if he brings home both.

Physically, Stacks of Goblins: A Comedy roleplaying game of camaraderie, stupidity, and spite is very green. As you would expect. It is simply and clearly written. The cartoon artwork varies in quality, but some of it is really quite decent.

Stacks of Goblins: A Comedy roleplaying game of camaraderie, stupidity, and spite lives up to its subtitle. It is fun and silly. It is semi-cooperative as the Goblins are forced to work together and no one Goblin is in charge, but forced into conflict with each other in order to assume the three roles in the Trenchcoat, each one necessary to grab both need and desire. It is stupid because dice rolls will fail and a Goblin always thinks he can do better, and to do better means a higher role and thus potential for a higher roll. Then as one Goblin gains his desire and their Snikittyness the Goblin ruler’s need, and the other Goblins do not, desperation and spite kicks in as one Goblin looks like succeeding and his rivals do not. All this would be fun enough, but the shifting roles from Top Goblin to Bottom Goblin and back again, enhances all of this, keeping everyone involved, and giving everyone a turn at each role. It does this through play and through each Goblin’s drive to obtain both desire and need. Which means that without knowing it and without it being forced upon him, a player gets to be the narrator of the Trenchcoat’s progress (and thus the roleplaying game’s storyteller or Game Master).

Stacks of Goblins: A Comedy roleplaying game of camaraderie, stupidity, and spite is simple and idiotic, but that simplicity and idiocy hides some clever little design decisions and a Trenchcoat full of silliness, squabbling, and fun.

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