A Mad Chemist’s Brew: A review of Macchiato Monsters 1.0

This RPG blends elements from the Black Hack, the White Hack and a dozen other influences from Into the Odd to 5e to create stimulating chaos.

Macchiato Monsters 1.0

Published by Lost Pages

First Edition 2018

Eric Nieudan and others

Available as a PDF or Softcover

Every once in a while, indie RPGs go through a boom period where it seems like everyone is riffing on a formula to see what it’s capable of. Over the last few years, The White Hack and The Black Hack spawned a seemingly endless series of Hacks covering everything from mechs to vigilantes. Built on a light chassis, these 3rd generation OSR games combined streamlined mechanics with innovative gameplay. This edition of Macchiato (a White and Black hack blend, get it?) Monsters builds on the foundation of the Zero edition, released in 2016. Some familiarity with its influences will make this game a lot easier to learn.

CHARACTER CREATION

Character creation, which features the classic six attributes generated with 3D6, injects randomness by using tables to generate your starting equipment. This creates roleplaying and story seeds immediately, by forcing the player and GM to adapt to what comes up. For example, I rolled the following:

Equipment & Food

Boiled turnips and butter, empty saddlebags, bedroll and two bear traps.

Wealth & Valuables

Furs

Melee Weapons

Whip or scourge

Armour

Breastplate

Missile Weapons

Sling and bag of stones

Magical Trinkets

Elixir of the Cross (healing)

Heirlooms & Heritage

A curse! Your blood carries something bad, like lycanthropy or passive aggressiveness.

Faith

My Church ventures into the wilderness to further Holy Civilisation.

This array suggests a particularly stern holy man, striding into the wild, whip in hand. The curse creates a story seed that can be used for world-building. This is not a character I normally would create, but I am intrigued. This approach to equipping a character reminds me of Ben Milton’s Maze Rats and Knave, and I like it as a stimulant for the imagination.

Character creation also borrows White Hack’s traits, allowing for more story seeds and customization. I invent a trait I’m going to call Jigsaw Man. I have no idea what that means yet, but I like the sound of it, and it is up to the me and my GM to flesh it out. Employing a trait allows you to roll with advantage a la 5e. Traits are great for worldbuilding and feel like a straighter version of PBTA’s Ask Provocative Questions and Use the Answers principle.

Though classless in principle, other options like Martial Training or Magic Training have mechanical benefits and let you steer your character in the direction of your choice. Spells and magic follow White Hack’s negotiated results approach, which requires and great deal of imagination and trust to pull off.

ALL THE DICE IN THE WORLD

Actual gameplay uses roll-under mechanics and “risk dice” an expanded version of the Black Hack’s usage dice (which I’d argue are that game’s best innovation). Risk dice are used for everything in this game, from resource management to timers. Macchiato Monsters also features many, many random tables and dice drop tables that influence dungeon exploration, weather, wilderness exploration, factions, townspeople and a lot more. This will not be to everybody’s taste, but with the right group of experienced players that randomness will trigger improvisation that can take an encounter or setting in fresh directions. And that level of comfort with randomness and the mechanics from the other hacks and games is key, because this game does not come with a ton of introductory guidance. You are, quite literally, going to have to roll with it.

DESIGN

The game itself is cleanly laid out, and at only 58 pages (including OGL) really easy to navigate. The various random tables and drop tables are well presented and easy to use. The artwork features a combination of black and white and simple colour illustrations that lean toward the whimsical and follow through on the coffee-based theme – from coffee pot automatons and coffee stains to dragons sipping hot java. They vary in quality but are a lot of fun. There is a beastiary, but it is unillustrated which works in its favour – I think I’d rather imagine what a Snail Horror looks like.

VERDICT

In many ways, Macchiato Monsters is a periodic table of RPG elements brewed together with a single-minded dedication to randomness infusing the game. You’re going to be rolling a lot of dice. For everything. For the right group that’s going to be a lot of fun.

I would argue that it doesn’t improve on the White or Black Hack or feel as innovative as either of those games, but by taking their best elements and cranking them it carves out a space for itself. If you love usage dice, random tables, and improvisational gaming and co-creation, you’re going to dig it. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and you shouldn’t take it too seriously either. As an experiment, it’s really interesting and has a marvelous energy. Worth the cost of a latte.