Trapped in the Closet: Kobolds Ate My Baby

I’ve acquired so many games over the past few years that I’ve never even played several of them. Last week, I put up a poll to have our readers choose which of these lost games would be played next. Scotland Yard was the least favored game, but it did earn a few votes. The real competition, however, was between Kobolds Ate My Baby! and Primordial Soup. It was neck and neck until the very end, when Kobolds Ate My Baby! claimed the win.

Kobolds Ate My Baby! is billed as “the Beer and Pretzels” roleplaying game, and it lives up to that description because it really would have been improved with some beer. Not that I think you need to be plastered to enjoy it. The game would just be better received by players if it was treated more as a party game than a roleplaying game. It’s easy to see why the game became so popular at cons. A game can be put together in a few minutes, and the sessions are as brief as the short lives of most kobolds. But I ran an adventure for only two players on a lazy, beerless Sunday afternoon, and while I had a great time, the players felt unsatisfied.

KAMB! is simple to play, which may have been to our detriment. I couldn’t grasp the combat when I tried it years ago, but it makes sense now that I’ve experienced a variety of systems. Attacker’s roll the defender’s agility in dice, and the attacker needs to roll under their own attack stat. It’s a unique system without being complicated. I appreciated the skill selection because they were varied and fun. For example, the Speak Human skill allows a kobold to speak only seven words of human speech, which the player determines and writes on the back of their sheet. There’s no option to use a base stat if you don’t have a skill though, so you’ll have to wade across that river if you don’t know how to Swim.

The book is only 50 pages, which makes all the rules easy to find. The game still squeezes in enough fluff to understand the setting, but the book falls short when it comes to providing GM (referred to as “the Mayor”) material. There are some stats for enemies and a sample adventure, but most of the  tools provided to the Mayor are house rules and the Kobold Horrible Death Chart. It doesn’t make creating an adventure, or even a campaign impossible, it just means that the Mayor has to put in a little more work than they might have expected.

The house rules are were a lot of the fun of KAMB! is found, and they are what would make this such a great party game. For example, the All Hail King Torg rule dictates that whenever King Torg (the kobold leader) is mentioned, everyone needs to shout “ALL HAIL KING TORG,” or suffer the chance of dying from the Kobold Horrible Death Chart. While my players complied with the rule, they were not as enthusiastic as the designers intended. Once again, this is a Friday evening with beer game, not a Sunday afternoon with water game.

The last thing I want to mention is the aesthetic of the game. John Kovalic handles the art duties, at least in the Super Deluxx Edition, and the kobolds are adorable. The entire tone of the book is Monty Python-esqu, and despite the title, it wasn’t until the climax of the adventure that we discovered what “Kobolds Ate My Baby” really was about. Our “heroes” snuck into a village, murdered a man and woman (despite the humans fighting bravely), and brought their baby back to King Torg, where they were celebrated at a baby feast. When we finished, all I could think was “wow, that was really fucked up.”

The simple gameplay and cute art cover up the grotesque and macabre nature of the game. I’ve always wanted to recommend this as a beginner RPG for kids, but now I’d have to reconsider that. At the very least, gamer moms and dads might need to change up the goals a little bit before having their little ones committing home invasions and kidnapping babies. But the game isn’t malacious or disgusting in how it approaches the subject, so mature groups shouldn’t mind the them at all. This is one of the few RPGs I would honestly consider on par with a traditional party party games, but it would be one messed up party.

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