This is the ninety-third entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.
It’s time for another random selection from the itch.io Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The random number generators picked Michtim: Fluffy Adventures, by Zev Mir (AKA Grim Ogre Labs). Its tagline in the bundle reads:
A heartwarming TTRPG about hamster-like beings going on missions to save…
Look out, Mausritter! There’s another tabletop role-playing game about small rodents (well, rodent-like creatures) in town. Given that we’ve found two of these in less than a hundred entries makes me wonder how many more might be lurking in the bundle. We’ve still only sampled 5% of it, after all.
Like Mausritter, and indeed most of the tabletop role-playing games that have come up in this series so far, I am unable to actually play Michtim: Fluffy Adventures because it requires a group of players. Instead, I’ve read through the book so I can write about my impressions. The book is sizeable, a color PDF with 118 pages, although the actual writing isn’t too dense. Whereas Mausritter listed a slew of inspirations including other games and blogs from which it took various ideas and synthesized them into a new game system, Michtim boasts an entirely original ruleset based on the shifting emotions of its characters. The book doesn’t list any sources of inspiration, but the itch.io page claims the game is a love letter to Saturday morning cartoons like Ewoks or The Smurfs. Michtim aims for a friendly atmosphere that’s welcoming to all, with stories about helping out friends and stopping humans from destroying nature. The rules allow for combat, but it’s decidedly non-lethal, with adversaries running away or yielding when they lose, and players simply getting knocked out (which can then lead to interesting new story directions, like capture and an eventual daring escape). On the itch.io page, the author states that they created Michtim with their disabled partner so they would have a safe space to play together, and hopes that it might be such a safe space for others as well. A fitting entry for a bundle about racial justice.
A surprising amount of the book is spent on worldbuilding. The titular Michtims are an intelligent species who resemble hamsters but are actually unrelated. The existence of their civilization, which is richly detailed, is kept secret from humans through the magical Veil, which must be actively upheld. I read about their capital city of Turnaya, built into a tree, and about Michtim nests whose members come together by choice, rather than through family bonds or other relations. I learned about the schooling that youngsters receive, before choosing an allegiance to a Haus, and about the various Callings that they might pursue. There’s even a pronunciation guide for many new terms inspired by the German language (the author is from Austria). While the game does not offer as much guidance for new players as Mausritter does, all of this work on the setting makes it easier for newcomers to design adventures to play, and later sections of the book offer advice for how to create these adventures and how to change parts of the worldbuilding when desired.
This background info also offers a way to scale the complexity of the game. Players unfamiliar with tabletop roleplaying might wish to play as youngsters still in school, who have not yet chosen a Calling or Haus. They must do little more than choose their name and a few things that define their personality. Slightly more advanced are apprentices, who have picked their first Calling, but are still studying and have not yet chosen a Haus. More experienced players can start off with a Hero, who has mastered their first Calling and chosen a Haus, or even a Veteran, who has accumulated additional Callings. Before getting into how Callings and Hauses work, however, I should explain some of the basic rules, which center on characters’ emotions.
Instead of the typical character attributes (e.g. strength, dexterity, etc.), characters have ratings in five emotions: Joy, Love, Grief, Fear, and Anger. The ratings indicate how many six-sided dice a character may roll when attempting actions that align with each emotion. Every character starts with one die for each emotion and then may distribute seven more however they please, as long as no single emotion has more than four dice. In this way, players determine the personality of their character. A high Joy rating suggests an ebullient and outgoing personality, whereas Fear denotes caution, and Anger, aggression. After an adventure session, if it makes narrative sense to do so, characters may shift their emotional disposition, perhaps exchanging an Anger die for a Love die because they’ve met a new person that they care for and wish to protect. But the total number of dice must remain the same, and no emotion may ever have more than four dice.
Each action in the game is associated with one of these five emotions, and characters roll their designated dice when doing so. Typically, the value to match or exceed is 7, so rolling multiple dice has a good chance. But merely succeeding at a test only scores a single “hit”, which might not be enough. Leaping a particularly wide chasm, for example, might require two or even three hits on the roll. To do that, a character must keep some of their dice in reserve. Leaps or other acrobatics fall under the purview of Joy, so a Michtim with a Joy rating of three may decide to try to beat the challenge with only two of their three dice. Each die held in reserve adds another hit if the roll succeeds. If they roll 7 or higher with their two dice, then that reserve die means they’ll score two hits, hopefully enough to pull off the daring jump.
An interesting twist to this system is that any dice that come up as a 6 during a roll will grant the character mood markers in the appropriate emotion. These reflect shifts in the character’s mood, as they become extra Fearful for doing really well on Fear tests, or quite Angry after acing an Anger test. Markers provide bonuses to future rolls in their respective emotions, but are detrimental for actions that oppose that mood. An Angry character will have trouble using their Love to heal others, for instance. These markers can also be spent in order to gain extra dice in their respective emotion for a single test. If our acrobat above had gained some Joy markers, they might spend them for extra dice so they’ll be sure to score enough hits on that difficult jump.
Every emotion has a role to play (heh) within the rules. In addition to quick or acrobatic movement, Joy governs Michtims’ ability to discern details of their surroundings. Anger, as you might expect, is used for attacking things. Grief gives a fortitude that helps Michtims weather attacks, while Fear lets them dodge them entirely, or use stealth to avoid being noticed. Love governs healing, but it can only be used on others; a Bande of Michtims will rely on each other to recover after any dangerous adventures. But those are just the basic actions. When Michtims follow a Calling — the game’s version of classes — they gain new abilities that let them modify how they use each emotion. Sorcerers get to do all of the basic actions at range: shield others at a distance with your own Grief, heal an ally with Love from across the battlefield. Other Callings might let Michtims target groups instead of individuals, or spend their mood markers to help their friends or hinder their enemies.
Callings are also how characters grow throughout their adventures. Characters will never get any more emotion dice, other than the temporary ones purchased with mood markers, and they never gain any more health either. Every Michtim can take up to seven wounds before getting knocked out, and that will never increase, unlike high-level characters in games like Dungeons & Dragons who end up with huge pools of hit points and are nearly gods compared to starting characters. Instead, Michtims can learn new Callings. Their original Calling comes fully mastered, but new Callings are learned one emotion at a time, so a character might learn some Sorcerous tricks for ranged healing (via Love) but not ranged attacks (via Anger). Characters can collect as many Callings as they like, but can’t have more than three of them attuned at any given time. Even so, this provides a lot of flexibility in character development and allows for some interesting synergies between Callings. Characters can also learn special abilities called Ultimates that temporarily boost specific emotion ratings and add cool secondary effects, further increasing the options for personalized characters. And I haven’t even gotten into the Hauses, which act as factions with specific agendas and beliefs, to guide characters and give them a code of conduct to follow (among other benefits).
It’s hard to gauge how well these systems work without actually playing the game, but they’re certainly intriguing. I like how malleable characters are, and how each emotion is treated as equally important no matter what Calling one follows. For a game that emphasizes friendship and helping others, however, I was surprised at how many examples seemed to focus on fighting. Sure, there are other types of challenges, but many of the rules examples, and even the lists of the types of items Michtims might use, point towards combat. It seems common for many tabletop role-playing games to have the most complex rules govern combat, whereas all of the non-combat situations are resolved more through quick thinking on the parts of the players, as they converse with the GM to find a solution to their predicament. So perhaps this is not surprising. The example scenario given at the end of the book describes an adventure with only a few combat encounters in it, some of which can be avoided entirely, so that may inspire players to design adventures that aren’t centered on violence. Reading the book up to that point, however, might skew a reader’s sense of the tone of the game a bit.
The version of Michtim: Fluffy Adventures in the bundle also comes with several extras: illustrated Calling cards, as well as cards to track wounds, and optional personality cards which offer pre-set emotion ratings for different character archetypes, like The Scout, The Caretaker, or The Assassin. These may go some way towards justifying the high asking price: those who did not get the bundle must pay a minimum price of $25 for the game, a bit more than other tabletop role-playing games that have come up so far. But rhere are some community copies available for those who are broke / marginalized or otherwise can’t justify paying full price. And of course, bundle owners already have access to the game. It’s worth checking out, and not just for its intriguing ruleset. The friendly theming may entice players who like the idea of tabletop role-playing adventures but aren’t that interested in fighting off wave after wave of goblins, and the adjustable complexity makes Michtim ideal for younger players. It may be the perfect game for parents to introduce their kids to roleplaying. If any of what I’ve written above sounds interesting, give Michtim a look.
And no, I’m not going to pass judgment on whether or not Michtim is better than Mausritter. There’s room for more than one role-playing game about small animals going on adventures. Room for a lot more than one, in fact, given how much of the bundle is left. This is only 93 down, with a whopping 1648 still to go!