Game: Toybox Lite
Series: Imagination’s Toybox
Review Dated: 22nd, November 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 8/10 [ Really good ]
Total Score: 8
Average Score: 8.00
Toybox Lite is the brief teaser to the full Imagination’s Toybox. In its own words it is “the system boiled down to its barest essence.” The rules are indeed fast and flexible–the whole file is only eight pages. I have found that the only person who even noticed the rules at all was myself–being an old designer and system freak, not to mention the one who was doing this review. Playing Toybox is an enjoyably different roleplaying experience. Toybox is released under a Creative Commons license.
The game is called “toybox” but perhaps “toolbox” would be more accurate. Since there aren’t any of what Uncle Bear himself calls “cruncy bits” in Toybox Lite, there is still a bit of work for the Game Master to do before the game session starts. Without ready-made genres, character types, or settings, there aren’t any guides for players as to what sort of campaign to expect. This however, is Toybox’s biggest strength: its flexability in crafting games. It has a modular design, allowing the various pieces to be added into existing systems as rule tweaks, and does so surprisingly smoothly. Toybox also allows you to “translate” ideas from one system to another, using Toybox as an itermediary. There have been systems in the past designed exclusively to do this, but Toybox does so with a minimum of a “lost in translation” effect.
Toybox lacks lists of standardized abilities. There are no base attributes to roll, and no list of skills or classes to select. Instead, each player makes his or her own choices, subject to approval by the Game Master. The base concept of the system is that everything is rated on a one-to-ten scale, as in “on a scale of one-to-ten the movie was an eight; go see it.” This is compared to difficulty modifiers and a d10 roll to determine the result. The result also determines the depth of the effect, something lacking in most games.
One of the neat features of Toybox is that everything is on one of three scales. Whether you are a normal Joe, a virile action hero, or a star-crunching alien, the rules work exactly the same from the perspective of your scale. It also makes higher powered games simpler, as you no longer need to roll handfulls of dice to see if the stool-pigeon survives being roughed up by Gigantor the Crushinator. Since the ordinary person is on a completely different scale than the megastrong “hero,” he will be automatically pulverised in one hit. Conversely, there would be nothing that Gigantor could do against the Planetary Pool Shark, who treats entire worlds as billiard balls. One nice side effect of this is that powerful “heroes” don’t spend as much time picking on poor defenseless npc’s–it rapidly loses its fun if you don’t even have to roll to hit. Likewise, the intrepid investigators aren’t nearly as likely to suicidally attack the Really Old One that they just awakened. Imagine this scenario.
“I shoot it.”
“Don’t bother rolling. Then what are you going to do?”
“I shoot it again.”
“OK, then what?”
“Don’t I roll now?”
“No. It’s getting closer. What are you doing now?”
“Screw this nonsense, I’m running!”
Having distinct scales for characters is definately a good thing. There are rules that cover how the scales interact, but we have to wait for the full Imagination’s Toybox to be released.
Another interesting feature of Toybox is the concept of the Hot Button, or just Button. These represent character traits such as fears, goals, beliefs, addictions, oaths, et cetera. “When something happens in the game that brings one of these personality traits into play, the character’s Button has been pushed.” These are the personality traits that other games include as merits, disadvantages, traits, or even casually mentioned in the descriptive text. Toybox uses these buttons to integrate roleplaying into the system itself.
Toybox is a skill-based system. How many games these days don’t include skills? There are also Areas of Expertise. In other systems these would be classes, attributes, or skill suites, and include such possibilities as Warrior, Dexterity, or Good with Math. Skills that are extentions of your Area of Expertise stack, that is if you have Accountant as an Expertise at 3, and Tax Loopholes/2 then you can find ways to avoid paying taxes as though you had a combined skill of 5.
Support for different genres is included with Powers. These can be mutant abilities, cybernetic enhancements, or spellcasting knowledge. Specific abilities are purchased as Special Effects. For example, you have Super Speed as your Power, and can create dust devils as a Special Effect.
Additional character modifiers come in the form of Perks and Caveats. Perks are enhancements or notable possessions, Caveats are limitations of some sort. An interesting aspect of Toybox is that Caveats COST experience points, rather than adding to the character’s build pool. This is because, like Hot Buttons, each Caveat that comes into play awards that player an experience point. These experience points are used to modify results, soak damage, or adjust combat order. This gives the players greater control over the story.
Toybox Lite is small, free, simple, and usefull. It may well be what you are looking for in a new system.