I’ve been playing games now with the Little Mephling for a while. I started out with a game of my own creation, then switched to No Thank You, Evil! when he was a little older. Most recently he’s become obsessed with My Little Pony so I took a chance on the Tails of Equestria RPG and I’m here today to tell you that it was a good thing I did.
Let’s start this review by saying the big questions I have about this RPG. In a nutshell, I wanted to figure out whether this game worked for young kids (the mephling is currently four, albeit a precocious four-year-old), whether it was a good game or just a marketing stunt, and whether it was worth getting the game when you could just use something like No Thank You, Evil! with pony characters. Keep reading to find out!
Are You One of… Them?
First, though, I want to address the Clydesdale in the room. I’ve mentioned the Mephling’s love of My Little Pony to people and I keep getting the same response: “Oh, is he a brony?” First of all, no that term has a vague definition but one thing generally agreed on is that it’s for adult fans of the show. There is the question, though, of why you’d be interested in playing a game about a kid’s TV show with your children anyways. If you’ve watched it and don’t like it then I get that but if you haven’t seen it then I recommend seeing a few episodes.
Aside from the appeal of the show (funny nerd-culture references, empowering messages, fun animation) the game is a way of promoting a different sort of game experience from a lot of RPGs and a lot of what kid’s encounter. I love D&D and Eclipse Phase, for instance, but there’s something awesome about playing Star Trek Adventures where everyone is working with each other, selflessness is the expected default, and decisions are made morally and carefully. This is that experience but in a package for a young audience. I for one love the idea of challenging what my son expects out of conflicts and maybe roleplaying as a good character trying to help their friends will stop him from sitting on his little brother so much.
The game works with a pretty simple mechanic: roll a single die against a Difficulty. Roll the Difficulty number or higher and you do the thing. Roll a 1 and that’s a crit fail (called a “Bad Luck” in the game) and roll double the Difficulty or higher and that’s a crit success (or “Amazing Success” here). Difficulty can range from 2 to 20 but because you just need to worry about whether the die result is higher or not this is something kids can do from a pretty young age.
What die do you use? Well, that depends on what the Trait that you’re testing. Every pony character has a Body Trait for physical stuff, Mind for mental stuff, and Charm for social stuff. They might have other Traits as well, everything from Fly and Telekinesis to Creative Flair and Juggling. Each of these have a single die rating from d4 to d20. In the case of a head-to-head competition, including combat (or a “scuffle” as this game puts it), you can hold a Challenge where each side rolls their Trait and they see which side gets the higher amount. This is a little more complex than a straight roll against a Difficulty but again you just need to look at which number is higher so the math skills are still very basic.
This might seem like a lot of complexity but I actually see it as a real benefit of the game. Most kids’ games (such as No THank You, Evil! and Hero Kids) have adding or pools of dice and as a result they keep things simple with d6s. Tails of Equestria, meanwhile, is just a simple roll against a number so they use all the different polyhedral dice. It might just be a draw for gaming parents but the joy of seeing the Mephling learn all the different shapes and sizes of dice is just as fun of listening to his growing creativity.
A big part of My Little Pony is cooperation and friendship (it’s in the title of the show, after all) so there are rules for assisting other characters, of course. When characters help you to do something that can lower the Difficulty, typically one per assistant, and then you roll as normal. The biggest means of helping each other, though, is through Tokens of Friendship. These are a little more complicated to use and probably the most involved part of the game. You can spend one token to reroll a die, two to ignore a failure and roll a d20 instead of your normal die, or three for an automatic success. Weighing the different benefits of these options and managing the relatively limited resource of these tokens is some tricky planning but you can certainly help young players through that.
Something I love about the kids games I’ve been playing is that character creation is simple enough to have it led by the kids and Tails of Equestria is firmly within that mold. Creating a pony character in this game is an eleven step process but most of the decisions are limited in their options and many are simple filling in spaces, both of which are definitely assets to a game with kids.
The first decision is the biggest: what kind of pony do you want to be? Like in the show, there are three types of ponies that can be charactetrs: pegasi (like Rainbow Dash and Fluttershy) can fly, earth ponies (like Applejack and Pinkie Pie) are strong and brave, and unicorns (like Twilight Glimmer and Rarity) can use magic. The book has ten pages of information on pony types and their roles in Equestria but all you really know is how they determine your starting Talents and they say what future Talents you can get. You can’t do any aerial tricks if you aren’t a flying pegasus, for instance, and you can’t get magic powers if you aren’t a magical unicorn. The next several steps have you set your level (1 unless you’re doing something special), pick your Element of Harmony as a stand-in for alignment, and pick whether you’ll have Body d6 and Mind d4 or the other way around. Step five is putting your Charm down as d6 and step six is writing down Stamina (10 unless you’re an earth pony).
Picking out Talents is the seventh step of character creation and they are much like feats in D&D, but less complicated. To put it most simply, Talents are just more Traits with their own die rating and you use them just like Body, Mind, or Charm. You get two Talents at character creation, one determined by your type of pony (pegasi get Fly, earth ponies get Stout Heart, and unicorns get Telekinesis) and the other from a five-page list of options. Picking the same Talent twice just bumps up the die by a size (they start off at a d6 rating). This second Talent, by the way, is what’s associated with your cutie mark which is pretty cute.
While there are details and suggestions on each Talent, it’s really just a concept that you can use whenever it seems useful. It can be a lot to ask for kids to be creative in using this sort of thing, but this is a way to build up the skill of lateral thinking. Similarly, step eight is to pick one of the game’s Quirks, roleplaying suggestions that give you some angle for making your character unique, whether a strong Allergy, being Overconfident, or being Too Silly. The two following steps are coming up with the appearance, cutie mark, and name. Lastly you spend 400 bits on equipment like books, a helmet, kits for cooking or disguising, a ten-foot pole, or other useful horse- or adventuring-related items.
Levels and Leveling Up
There aren’t experience points or reputation in this game, leveling up is determined by the GM, typically after a big adventure or two. When you gain a new level you increase one of your three basic Traits (Body, Mind, or Charm), recharge your Friendship pool, increase any Talents rolled in the previous adventure, then boost an unused Talent or pick out a new Talent. Stamina might also increase since it’s the sum of the max of Body and Mind: if you have Body d8 and Mind d6, for instance, you’ll have a Stamina of 10.
The max level is Level 10, after which some ponies might retire to a comfortable life of being celebrated heroes. You can also keep going with “epic quests” which can be huge endeavors like stopping an invasion or discovering a new land. Another interesting option, though, is the “Cutie Mark Crusaders Quest” where you start with a Level 0 character and take on an adventure to gain your cutie mark. I won’t go into the details but I love the idea of shaping your characters in play.
By now it should be clear that I really like this game, but it’s worth considering the cost of it as well. You might love playing with your kids but even the most die-hard pony fan will eventually want to switch out. Kids also have a notoriously short attention span… So how much are we talking about spending here?
So far I’ve been talking about just what’s in the core rulebook. You can get a pdf of that from Drive Thru RPG for $24 and there’s enough in there to get you and your players hooked on this game. There’s even a starting adventure that can get you to Level 2 which means two adventures if you have players do a cutie mark quest first. One thing that’s missing, though, is adversaries for future adventures beyond the half-dozen found in the intro adventure. You can make up ponies who stand in your way (uppity ponies like the Boy Bullies or Diamond Tiara) or situations that need brave characters and their abilities without actual foes (like a landslide or a lost foal). Because the game mechanics are fairly narrative too you can make creatures to fight by giving them Body, Mind, and Charm ratings and maybe a special Talent or two.
Eventually, though, you’ll want to have plenty of options for your adventures in Equestria so recommend the Bestiary of Equestria as your first supplemental purchase. In fact, I’d say it’s pretty necessary for a regular gaming experience, much like you can run D&D without the Monster Manual but no one would recommend it. After that there are adventure modules (I recommend the Curse of the Statuettes as it has the least lore-barrier to starting) and these are long enough to be adventure arcs instead of one-off stories. Finally there’s an Official Movie Sourcebook if you’ve gotten that far in the series but it’s definitely not an essential.
All in all you’re looking at about $47 to get started with the game in earnest, then $13 every time you want a new adventure arc to play through. If you want to complete the set that’s another $20 for the movie sourcebook. These are all digital products as well so if you prefer hard copies it’s going to cost more… Still, you’d spend more than that on D&D books to get a group started so I think this still evens out. It depends entirely on your situation, though.
This is a good game. It plays well, it offers something that other kids’ games don’t, and it makes it easy to play the sorts of stories that draw fans to My Little Pony in the first place. The game’s themes and stories are positive and offer an alternative to quests of monster-slaying and bad-guy-punching. The math skills are also not too demanding so there’s a very low bottom limit in terms of age, and you get to try all those neat polyhedrals which means you can make a gift of your kids first dice set as part of their experience. There are nine seasons of material to get through (plus a movie) but then again this is your Equestria and you can make it your own just like all the other canon settings out there.
Basically, if you’re at all interested in roleplaying with kids or with roleplaying in the world of My Little Pony, or especially if you’re interested in both, then I highly recommend picking up a copy of Tails of Equestria and strike off on adventure.