"To be honorable and just is our only defense against men without honor or justice." -Diogenes of Sinope
[When asked if he would give a speech, Jinx said,] "Me, I'm a doer, not a talker." And when they asked him what it was he did, he said, "Sleep, mostly." -Walter R. Brooks
This is a semi-review, meaning I've read the rules thoroughly - some sections multiple times - but have not actually played the game. Take my conclusions with whatever level of salt you judge appropriate.
What Is It?
Laser Ponies (hereafter: LP) is a Kid-Friendly RPG aimed specifically at young girls (and boys - but mostly girls) who love ponies. LP uses QAGS, which in this genre stands for Quick Action Game System. (It stands for something else in their games for older players.) I'm not a big fan of QAGS, though it has some strong points, so I won't go into the system details too much. I'd rather focus on what I like about the game.
The designer writes, "A Laser Ponies game should feel like the most awesome Saturday morning cartoon never made." He doesn't quite live up to this admittedly high goal, but you can get an idea of what it's supposed to be.
Except for one map drawn by an adult, the art in the game is by the very young Katie Staffiera. It's wonderful, as you can tell by the cover. I'm a big fan of getting kids to draw, and Katie has stepped up to task admirably. The cover shows the evil Chasm Queen, enemy of all Laser Ponies, apparently unconcerned that a Laser Pony is in the act of destroying one of the Queen's monsters. There are plenty more where that one came from ...
The game is set in the land of Panagonia. The book includes the geography of Panagonia, centered on Glitter Valley, where the Laser Ponies live. There are plenty of other places for adventuring: the Craggy Mountains, Red Plains, Evergreen Forest, Rainbow Falls, and the unnamed forest, full of monsters, leading to the dreaded Chasm.
The book includes history, religion (including a creation myth), philosophy, physiology, culture and societal structure of the Laser Ponies. Other species, such as bears, wolves, lizards, glorps and monsters, are also briefly described. None of this is in too much detail, and it's nice to have - this is a well-done section.
Laser Ponies, BTW, are very much like regular ponies, except they're sentient and can shoot lasers out of their eyes.
LP largely follows the standard QAGS rules, with a few tweaks to allow for animal PCs. Basic Attributes are Body, Brain, Nerve, Job, and Gimmicks. Characters also have a Weakness, Skills, a Tag Line (which is a personality indicator), Hit Points and Yum Yums (QAGS version of what I would call Fudge Points).
Since all Laser Ponies have a standard Gimmick of "Shoots Lasers", each character gets a second Gimmick.
Character creation can either follow the QAGS 2nd Edition rules (which you would have to purchase separately), or the included Qik Start Rules, which are an abbreviated version but, unlike the full rules, only allow for random character generation. (If you bought the Haiti Relief package from rpgnow.com, BTW, you picked up the full QAGS 2nd Edition - kudos to Hex Games for supporting that charity drive!)
This is the only genre-specific QAGS product I've seen, but judging from the Qik Start Rules included, I'm guessing they incorporate the same set Qik Start rules in every game. In this case, I think it was a mistake to use the standard rules - this genre really needs a customized version. I mean the sample Jobs list includes things like Airborn Ranger, Taxidermist, Cat Burgler, and so on. Some sample skills are Basketball, Origami, Weight Lifting, and so on. Gimmicks include Jukebox Hero, Automatic Writing, and Vampire. Somehow I don't see Laser Ponies doing/being these things.
However, in the main text, they do list some sample Laser Pony specific Jobs, Skills, Gimmicks and Weaknesses. Still, I would have liked to see the Qik Start rules customized.
QAGS is a simple system, and I normally approve of simple systems. In this case, though, it's a flat distribution with a large standard deviation, a combination that always makes me twinge. Roll a d20 and try to get under your Attribute plus relevant skill, if any - not too bad. 2d10 would have been better, and 3d6 much better, but that's just my tastes.
However, the damage system seems a bit clunky and hard to figure for children. While QAGS may be very easy for adults, it'll be hard for the prime target of this genre. This is a case of where the genre doesn't match the mechanics, but since the author of LP is one of the two main authors of QAGS, I can understand why he chose it. And why he probably disagrees with me!
At any rate, it's not outrageously complicated, so it'll do.
Gimmicks & Weaknesses
Gimmicks are this systems version of Supernormal Powers. Some of them are more mundane, such as Tough and Extreme Speed, but many of them allow characters to do things beyond what other characters can do. Since all Laser Ponies have an innate Gimmick (Laser Eyes), each player character takes another. This is great - kids love supernormal powers!
Weaknesses are character flaws that can come up during a session. Flaws, Faults, Disadvantages - they have many names in other games. In this game they actually have a numerical value, and the GM can roll to see if one is triggered - another nice feature. Children will feel less picked on if the dice reveal their weakness rather than GM fiat.
GM advice is pretty slim. There's really only a page of actual advice, then a two-column list of adventure seeds (20 in each column - you can randomize if you wish) and another page of NPCs, including the Evil Chasm Queen. This is followed by six pages of the standard Qik Start Rules, which includes character creation, action resolution, combat, wounds, healing, and Yum Yum use. A major ommision are character advancement rules - you are referred to the main QAGS rulebook for those. This really isn't a good thing, since the rules for LP are sold as not needing the main rules.
By now you know I wouldn't run this game in the system provided. It's not a bad system, really, just not to my taste. However, I would definitely run the gameworld for girls with the appropriate love of ponies - I know it would be well received. It would be easy to translate it to another system.
Especially since the price is extremely low, I can honestly recommend the game to anyone who knows gamers who would love the setting. I more than got my money's worth out of it!
[Note: this is part of my series of semi-reviews of Indie game products, which I've neglected for way too long, sorry ...]
Crafts keep me sane.
New recruit to the spoonie army.
My sister and I have joked around with the idea of a freeform based on My Little Ponies, where the players get stickers on their hips to represent their character traits and powers. So the idea that a game like Laser Ponies exists gives me renewed motivation...