14 April 2017
Is this kid-friendly introduction to roleplaying worth ponying up for?
The idea of teaching your kids how to play an RPG can be an appealing one; roleplaying can encourage creative thinking, establish concepts of morality and co-operation, build stronger relationships between players, and become a relatively cheap and meaningful way to spend free evenings. In practice with younger players, however, it can be a frustrating experience of trying to stimulate improvisation and allow them to lead the story – not to mention the trouble of explaining (or simplifying on-the-fly) some of the more fiddly systems involved.
Tails of Equestria aims to provide a helpful mid-way point to full-blooded roleplaying, boiling down many of the genre’s staple mechanics and elements to a pure, accessible form, wrapped up in the welcoming setting of My Little Pony.
The book is designed to be read by an adult GM – who can be an RPG fan or not – offering helpful asides that explain how to guide the young players’ creation of their PCs (‘pony characters’) and subsequent adventuring around the eponymous fantasy world. The tone strikes a wonderful line between informative and easy-going, providing a frankly surprising amount of depth in a clear, digestible manner. There are plenty of references to TV show Friendship is Magic that provide a comfortable point of familiarity for fans, while a dedicated tips chapter acts as a gentle way of introducing overarching RPG concepts to players and the GM alike.
The book itself is a solid hardback tome with the vivid colour palette you’d expect. It’s effectively structured, flowing from presenting the basics through to an included three-part campaign crammed with cameos sure to excite fans.
While the pages are laid out well and the images are useful as a way to illustrate the concepts, the inside generic artwork and stills from the TV show pale in comparison with the beautiful custom art on the cover. Several of the images are also blurry, and there are multiple typos – disappointing, but not a dealbreaker.
When it comes to gameplay systems, Tails balances accessibility and depth with unexpected tact. Character creation aspects such as class and race are condensed to three types of pony – Earth ponies, pegasi and unicorns – with positive talents and negative quirks providing fleshed-out personalities, as well as additional gameplay options. This is expanded by the presence of the six in-universe Elements of Harmony, which present a simplified and thematic alternative to the alignment system. One particularly endearing detail is the inclusion of boxes on the character sheet so that players can draw their pony avatar and symbolic ‘cutie mark’.
Tests and challenges are resolved using a simple system where the level of one of the three key traits – body, mind and charm – relates directly to a particular die, from d4 up to d20. Difficulty (decided by the GM) dictates the success result required, but – true to My Little Pony’s philosophy – players can spend one or more of their friendship tokens to influence the result, with the group able to work together to overcome the odds. It may be basic, but the system works like a charm, capturing the can-do attitude of the TV show and highlighting Tails’ greatest characteristic: the belief that anyone (or ‘anypony’) can achieve whatever they put their mind to.
Combat is equally easy to resolve – nobody dies, but they can lose stamina and bow out. There are economy, equipment and levelling systems, too, which skew towards the more advanced end of the scale as they introduce additional effects and attributes as players acclimatise to the ABCs of RPGs.
The campaign in the book will wrap up in an hour or two, so you’ll need to wait for supplements or go it alone to continue the story – and your own motivation to do so will probably come down to your investment in the world of My Little Pony. Yet, there’s more than enough mechanical strength in this core book to construct a solid, engaging campaign for younger players that maintains all the right ingredients of its bigger roleplaying siblings.
Make no mistake: this may be a RPG aimed at kids, but it’s far from just tail fluff.
How easily you and your kids take to Tails of Equestria will likely depend on your affinity for My Little Pony. If you’re already invested in the fantasy world, the RPG mechanics and systems here are refined to such a welcoming – yet meaningful – level that it’s hard to resist the game’s charms.
Publisher: River Horse
Recommended players: 2-6
This review originally appeared in the April/May 2017 issue of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here – or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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