Let me be perfectly clear. Despite having never reviewed it, Kobolds Ate My Baby is probably my favourite RPG title ever. It’s a game I will even willingly run. I think I’ve mentioned my preferences on that enough times to indicate how rarely say that.
In KAMB In Color they point out that pretzels only seem to exist as something to do while drinking beer. Similarly (and more relevantly to this conversation) rules only exist to help people enjoy games. The rules in KAMB have changed a lot of the past 20 years. At the same time, most of those changes haven’t been so significant that a person can’t play and mix ‘n’ match stuff from older versions and newer versions. Which brings us to this year. The 20th anniversary of Kobolds Ate My Baby. That means the BEER Engine behind the game will finally be old enough to drink itself. (Is that weird? Meh, get used to weird on this one.) To celebrate, the fine Wizards at 9th Level Games re-released a limited run of the original zine version of the game.
For those youngins in the crowd, a “zine” was a low budget game/magazine, that was (often) photocopied and (usually) hand assembled. It was a very popular format when the home computer was still young, and the internet was still running dial-up. The problem with this largely-analog format is that there are no backup files meaning many of these gems are lost to the sands of time. Sadly, I’m told, this includes A Very Kobold X-Mas. However, the joy of the internet is that many things that are officially lost have been digitized by the fans. Thankfully, this also includes A Very Kobold X-Mas. So, with a PDF-of-ill-repute in hand, I prepared to send a group of hapless Kobolds to their inevitable doom.
The story begins with the origins of Santa’s toy factory, how the Big Man thought gnomes were elves, and his less than pleased reacting to finding out he was wrong. From there King Torg (ALL HAIL KING TORG!) tells his furry brethren that The Great List (Santa’s naughty and nice list) exists and that the kobolds need to kill Santa and bring this list of succulent children back to waiting paws of King Torg (ALL HAIL KING TORG!).
Regardless of which version of the base rules you are using, there are a bunch of functionally minor, and thematically major, changes. For example, any cheque that would be made on a “Kobold Horrible Death Record™” is instead made on the “Kobold Horrible Death Due to Catastrophic Gnomic Device Failure Record™”. This is not an unusual change for the game now, but it’s still an amusing one. Similar changes are made for most of the kobold creation process. There is also an “X-Mas House Rule” called “limited resources” that suggests limiting the number of replacement kobolds to a set number. We added to that rule that said replacements must enter play from an adjacent room.
The other fun, but completely semantic, change is the term “X-MASter”. The X-Master is synonymous with the gamemaster in most games, “Mayor” in most versions of KAMB, and “The Biggest Geek” in the 2015 Free RPG Day Quick Start edition of KAMB.
The X-Master should setup the factory map, and determine who and what the kobolds will face, but there is a pre-populated version included. Those who and what include the sorts of enemies you would expect in a Christmas game. Toy Soldiers, Plush Toys, Robots, Elves, and of course Santa himself.
The hardest part about trying to run A Very Kobold X-Mas with current rules is the difference in what stats are used between versions of the game. For the kobolds themselves, it’s easy enough to just use the current BEER stats. But for the baddies the X-Master should take some time to adjust their stats. HOW those stats shakeout is less important, but it’s helpful to have like details. If you don’t really want to take that time, 9th Level Games still has a few copies of the 20th Anniversary reprint that should be completely compatible.
As I mentioned, the copy I have of A Very Kobold X-Mas is completely unofficial. I did ask the Wizards at 9th Level if they were ok with this and will be sending them the file. Someday I hope to see an official return of this title, and the other relics of its time, updated to current rules. Maybe those could be included in 9th Level’s new Free RPG Day Project, Level 1. Although I’d personally prefer standalone hard copies.
Until then you can find Kobolds Ate My Baby (both the current and Anniversary editions) on the 9th Level Games website, https://www.9thlevel.com or their newish Facebook Page, facebook.com/9thLevelGames or King Torg’s page facebook.com/AllHailKingTorg (ALL HAIL KING TORG!)
I like to end my holiday reviews with a bit of extra cheer, and with A Very Kobold X-Mas featuring so many fascinating gnomic devices, there could be no better song to feature than one by the non-gnomic devices of Steam Powered Giraffe.