Tabletop RPG Review: Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set

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A lot of us have picked up new hobbies and skills during the pandemic. One of my new skills has been starting to learn to be a Tabletop RPG Gamemaster (GM) via some pre-made game sets that have been designed to get our two kids A (a fifth grader) and W (a second grader) into tabletop gaming. When I got a chance to look over some gaming products from Steamforged Games, my attention went straight for the Animal Adventures RPG line. My kids had no idea this existed but I knew they would want it (for the record, I was right). Steamforged Games was kind enough to send a selection of Animal Adventures products to encourage the boys into the world of tabletop RPGs, including the Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set.

What is the Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set?

The Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set is a tabletop RPG (role-playing game) featuring animal-based characters in a sword and sorcery fantasy setting. It is compatible with Dungeons and Dragons 5e. The set is designed for ages 2-8 players ages 8+ and takes around 120-360 minutes to run through all of the adventures included. This set is really geared towards very young and/or new tabletop gamers, but also doubles over as nice training wheels for a new GM like myself. It has a MSRP of $39.95

Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set Components

Components for ‘Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set.’ Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set contains the following:

  • Rule/Adventure Book
  • 4 Dog Miniatures
  • 3 Cat Miniatures
  • 7 Character Sheets
  • Double Sided Game Map
  • Gamemaster Screen
  • Set of Illustrated Tokens
  • Set of Dice

I will freely admit that one of the coolest parts of this set is the Cat and Dog Miniatures. Each mini matches one of the 7 pre-made characters and are simply fun and whimsical with all of their little details. Steamforged Games really put out some variety here with a nice mix of dog and cat breeds as well as character classes. The animals have armor and weapons and just so many fun details like potion bottles and scrolls attached to their packs. For the first time in well over a decade, I actually broke out the mini paints and took the time to paint a mini for each of my kids because I was so excited about them. I can’t wait to paint the rest either. The character sheets that go with them have fun illustrations and are nicely organized and simplified. Experienced gamers familiar with Dungeons and Dragons or very similar d20 based games will notice that specific Skill Checks, leveling up, and Saving Throws have been pulled out. Other things have been incorporated or are handled under more general Ability Checks. They really are designed to make a sheet of stats and notes feel way less intimidating. My only suggestion is that if you want to be able to mark up and reuse the sheets to print out copies before handing them out and use the originals as masters. The following characters are included:

A closer look at the minis including the ones I painted. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.
  • Chantilly, Labrador Fighter
  • Brianna, Boxer Paladin
  • Kai, Shina Inu Cleric
  • Elvis, Cavalier Bard
  • Whisper, Sphinx Sorcerer
  • Molly, Lykoi Rogue
  • Solan, Persian Warlock

The Gamemaster screen may be my favorite GM screen because instead of heavy tagboard, it’s actually like traditional board game thickness. The interior does a good job of giving quick information snapshots and I love the sturdiness of the screen. My oldest is already getting Gamemaster ambitions and I feel better handing something off to him that’s a bit more solid. 

The Game Map includes three scenes and is gorgeously illustrated. There’s some nice variety between a road through the forest, an sewer tunnel, and a two-story mansion. Part of the idea is that you can later create your own adventures with the pieces included and this should lend itself well to that. The tokens feature some potions, cages, a key, and 4 different villains/monsters. Again, they feature nice artwork and can easily be used in conjunction with the maps to create some different battle scenarios once you’ve finished up the included adventure line.

The dice included are your basic d4, d6, d8, d10 percentiles, d12, and a d20. The d20 does feature a little paw if you roll a 20 which is pretty cute. It’s not anything crazy fancy but including dice really does emphasize that this set has everything you need to just pull the game out of the box to play.

The Rule/Adventure Book really does sum up everything you need to know to play in about six pages, and two of those just describe the attributes. I was able to explain to the kids what they would need to know in under ten minutes and get them right into the game. For anyone that’s ever played a game with a kid, you know kids can get very squirmy sitting through long instruction explanations, so that was super nice. The Adventures are broken down nicely with maps, sections for what the GM reads highlighted, and other little notes to help the GM run the adventure. There’s two smaller scenarios and 1 bigger one that acts like a gamer’s first dungeon. It’s just enough for a player to gain a feel for handling combat, searching areas, and making checks. 

Overall, I like how these pieces are put together, I really like all of this an an overall set, and I clearly need more time to finish painting adorable animal minis.

How to Play Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set

I would like to note that included in this set are the basic rules. Other sets include more advanced rules and will require you to have the Dungeons and Dragons 5e Core books. If you are familiar with Dungeons and Dragons, or even Pathfinder, you will note that certain aspects of the game are stripped down or scaled back for this set because it really is designed to be a starting point. If you want the more advanced rules and customizing options, you’ll want to go with the other sets. 

Goal

The goal of an Animal Adventures came is to collaboratively take on a scenario described by the GM. It could be combat related, social skill related, or both. 

Setup

A session ready to play. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

Setup is really not that complicated. You’ll be ready to play following these simple steps:

  1. Your GM should set themselves up with the Gamemaster Screen, the Tokens, and the Rule/Adventure Book. The Players should not see the contents of the Adventure book.
  2. Set out the map for the scenario you are playing and place the relevant Tokens and Character Minis out.
  3. Put the dice where everyone can reach them.
  4. Set up the scene by readying the scene setting text.

It took mere minutes, and I didn’t feel like I needed a huge amount of prep time since everything was pre-made. I was able to get things rolling and the kids engaged in moments and it was great.

Gameplay

Attributes: Characters are defined by six attributes that impact their stats and rolls.

  • Strength (STR): Physical power, how much an animal can carry or how hard they bite.
  • Dexterity (DEX): Agility, how good an animal is with their paws and how accurate they are.
  • Constitution (CON): Durability, can they get over a cold or handle a pie not meant for them?
  • Intelligence (INT): Deduction and reasoning, can they remember or puzzle things out?
  • Wisdom (WIS): Perception and insightfulness, can they get a feel for if someone is friendly on sight?
  • Charisma (CHA): Likability, are you the cutest creature on four paws or not?

Instead of specific Skills or Saving Throws, all checks of that nature are made with Ability checks. Players roll a d20 and add their ability modifier to the roll. The premade adventures have check numbers set for different scenarios but there’s also a table for judging other scenarios that may come up or when you want to make your own adventures.

  • Very Easy (5) Opening a rusty lock with a key.
  • Easy (10) Getting information from someone friendly but nervous.
  • Medium (15) Intimidating a thug.
  • Hard (20) Picking a good quality lock with tools during active combat.
  • Very Hard (25) Intimidating a group of thugs while surrounded and on your own. 
  • Nearly Impossible (30) Picking a magic lock with a hairpin while being attacked by a red dragon.

Sometimes if a situation is particularly good or bad you may be asked to make a check at an Advantage or Disadvantage. Roll a d20 twice and, for an Advantage, use the higher number, but for a Disadvantage take the lower number.

A combat situation has come up. Photo by Elizabeth MacAndrew.

Combat: Before combat each Player rolls a d20 and adds their Initiative score. The GM rolls Initiative for each villain type. If Players tie, they decide who goes first among them. On your combat turn you may take up to two actions, in any order, but may not do the same action twice.

  • Move: Move up to as many squares as your base move number.
  • Cast a Spell: Declare you are casting a spell and then follow directions given for that spell.
  • Dash: Allows you to move again up to the same number of squares as your base move number.
  • Attack: There are melee attacks (up close like with swords) and ranged (like arrows). Declare who you are attacking within your range and roll a d20 adding your To Hit modifier. If your number is equal to or higher than the foe you are fighting then you hit, and you roll for damage based on the weapon’s stats. If a Foe or Character is reduced to 0 Hit Points, they are removed from combat. A Player might return if healed by another Player.
  • Other Actions: Unlocking something or drinking a potion would count as one of these actions.

Game End

Each adventure ends when the players have found a way to meet their goal or there is a resolution for not meeting the goal. Of course there are always new adventures to go on, so the game truly continues as long as the players and GM want to play.

Why You Should Play Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set

My quickest summary of why you should play Animal Adventures RPG Starter Set is flat out that it was not only a lot of fun, but some of the most RPG fun I’ve had with my kids yet. Not only did they get along for several hours without fighting (a near miracle lately), but we had to wait to do the final scene on another day and they were actually disappointed they had to stop for the day. They were so engrossed they almost missed screen time and didn’t care. They had a great time collaborating and learning about spells and taking advantage of enemies grouped together closely. They mastered ability checks and how to fight in combat. They even go to learn how to try to search a room and fallen foes, get information out of NPCs, when it’s worth using one time abilities, and how to take advantage of a surprise round. I really felt like they had a feel for the basics on how to play and I suspect that bouncing off to the more advanced rules will be much easier for them as a result. They really got into deciding things about who their characters were and their personalities too. Things moved quickly and pretty smoothly. I did pull back on how hard a few villains went on them with only two players. You may need to adjust the amount of foes, etc. depending on the number of players you have. I also introduced the idea of a Critical Success to them to give them a little extra advantage against their foes, and when my foes rolled 1s, I let that be a dropped weapon scenario. 

Overall, new players, absolutely use this game as an introduction to playing RPGs. This is a really good resource for experienced players learning to GM too. People who are new to RPGs might have a hard time running a game if they’ve never played just because of the ability to predict what shifts you may need to make if you have fewer or more Players than the standard four. but this is probably an easier game to learn on if you’re going to go that route.

Overall, this is really well put together and fun enough that it should appeal to kids and adults alike. I enjoyed the characters and scenarios enough that I can’t wait to check out the more advanced stuff and my oldest is trying to plot his own adventures already, so we may soon have another aspiring GM in the house. The age range was spot on for this game, although kids just under eight with good imaginations who can read and do basic math can probably handle playing because of the cooperative nature. I don’t think I could turn it over to an eight-year-old to run as the GM if they are not pretty experienced with tabletop RPGs, but I feel like teens and adults can make that leap more easily. I will add that the first two scenes took us about an hour each with the third being about 90 minutes. Given that time frame, if you want to use this to give a new player the basics before joining a more advanced full game, you can probably do so over an afternoon or so.

The Dungeons and Dragons 5e compatible part is super intriguing as their are a lot of settings I am tempted to try out with the Animal Adventures characters now. A lot of one shots that might not fit well with other campaigns may actually work well for these characters.

If you have a kiddo who loves things like Redwall, Mouse Guard, or the Warriors books, this is definitely the game to pick up. Priced at $39.95 for a game that got my kids off of screens, playing together nicely, engaging their creativity, and sharing a favorite hobby with me, I say absolutely grab yourself a copy. The fact there’s enough pieces to easily play DIY adventure afterwards only underscores this bargain. I really can’t wait to get the next sets and neither can my kids.

You can get yourself a copy and check out the more advanced offerings from Steamforged Games here.

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