This past weekend, my family and I had the absolute pleasure of attending CritHit AZ: Year Zero. Not quite a con, the tabletop gaming retreat featured dozens of tabletop and board games, run by Game Masters and designers from around the state. While Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder certainly made an appearance, the event placed a huge focus on lesser-known TTRPGs – including those available for sale by the local vendors and designers.
One such fantastic game that I was lucky enough to try out was Fatal Familiar: A Monster Collecting RPG by MC Griffin.
The Gameplay of Fatal Familiar
Normally, I would start with a discussion of a game’s story, rather than its gameplay. But Fatal Familiar isn’t tied to a particular setting or story! It does have one (Elseworld, a corporate post-apocalyptic dystopia with monsters called Figments, which is wonderfully detailed within the handbook), but the rules are broad enough that they can be used in any number of settings. Pokémon, Digimon, and various animal-collector settings come to mind right off the bat, or you can even create your own. Contrary to most indie TTRPGs, this game’s mechanics are wholly removable from the story you might choose for it.
Like most TTRPGs, the first thing you’ll need to do is make a character. This can be done intentionally, or almost entirely randomized by rolling on tables. Either way, it’s a straightforward process.
First, you create your Character:
- Allocate points among your skills. You have 10 points to be spread between 15 skills, none of which can have more than 3 points. Don’t worry, having a 0 in a skill isn’t the end of the world.
- Allocate points among Assets. You also have 10 points for these, and a maximum rank of 3. But unlike Skills, you get to invent your Assets. They can be a defining characteristic, a cool piece of gear, or an interesting ability – anything about your character that they’re going to be using to their advantage.
- Fill out your Movement, Capture Asset, Elemental Affinity, and Summoning Method. These have small impact on the actual gameplay, but work as a boon and a restriction for how you play your character.
Second, you create your Familiar (sort of like your sidekick Pokémon):
- Set their Power and Reliability. These need to add up to 5, and determine how hard your buddy hits, and how many Moves they have available.
- Determine their Moves. Create a number of moves for your familiar, equal to their Reliability score. You can roll for these, or decide them yourself, keeping in mind that Moves with more effects are more costly for a familiar to perform.
- Choose a Special Power (if you want). Your familiar’s special power can be anything you want. Maybe they burp rainbows. Maybe they can reverse gravity. Maybe they can make the perfect cup of coffee. Once again, keep in mind that the GM is free to place a ‘weakness’ on powers that might be overpowered mechanically.
And that’s it! You’re ready to start playing! You have a lot of room for creativity here, so don’t be afraid to come up with some really crazy ideas!
Gameplay and Mechanics
Fatal Familiar uses a very simple single d6 system for all of its rolls.
When you as a character want to do something, you roll that d6 and add the number of ranks you have in the associated skill. Then you check the success chart, which ranges from Failure to Infinite Success (with Mixed Result and Success being the most common results). You’ll probably be using your Capture Asset a lot, since that’s the one you’ll be rolling with to see if you can capture the monsters/Pokémon/animals/etc.,
Attacking, or having your familiar take an action, is a little more complicated. To do so, you can either Trust them to act, or Command them.
When you Trust a familiar, you roll a d6, and they perform the Move on their sheet associated with that number. If they don’t have a Move for the number, they hesitate and do nothing.
When you Command a familiar, you spend a number of SP equal to the cost of the Move, and the familiar performs that Move.
Either way, you then roll a d6 and add the familiar’s Power rank to see if they succeed. Different types of Moves, and different Effects that might be applied to them, react in different ways, triggering responses or preventing them, and causing different results.
The Atmosphere of Fatal Familiar
The exact atmosphere of any given game of Fatal Familiar is likely to be determined by the precise setting that the GM chooses to set their game in. When I demoed it with MC Griffin, we used Elseworld, the dystopian setting that comes with the handbook. It’s simultaneously grunge and psychedelic, with surreal monsters, but fairly down-to-earth characters, and crazy things happening to regular guys who you might expect to act pretty rationally.
Fatal Familiar’s History and Availability
This game is the result of 6 years of work from MC Griffin, which came to a head in 2022, when it was crowdfunded on Indiegogo. You can now buy a pdf for a mere $5 on their website (MCGriffin.itch.io), or purchase a physical copy on Amazon for $20.
If you want to test it out before you play, you can also check out the free demo that they have available here: Fatal Familiar, A Downloadable Game
Our Personal Thoughts on Fatal Familiar
I absolutely adored Fatal Familiar.
I found my foray into the Elseworld to be an entirely exciting one, where I was able to make a fun character, meet some fantastic creatures, and interact with the other characters in a fun and challenging way. And I can see the system being just as enjoyable in any other setting as well.
Fatal Familiar manages to capture just the right balance of open-ended creativity and strong mechanical underbelly. It gives you the freedom to determine your own abilities and create any character and familiar you want to, while ensuring that you have a balanced playing field for everyone involved and allowing you to stretch your problem-solving legs.
If you’re looking to try out a new TTRPG with your group, this should be it. It’s approachable, engaging, and fun all the way through. Who doesn’t want a monster of their very own?
Have you played Fatal Familiar? Did you enjoy it? How did your game go? Let us know in the comments below!