Everyone knows the Brothers Grimm scoured the lands of their native country for folk stories and compiled them into a book that came to be known as Grimm’s Fairy Tales. What is less widely accepted is that these stories had their basis in reality, or at least in truth. With the completion of the book, the Grimm Lands became something more than a fable, but something less than real. In the Grimm RPG, you play children trapped in the Grimm Lands. Your powerful imagination is a blessing and curse—it gives you power in the land of fairy tales, but may also be the thing keeping you here.
The characters in Grimm are children—ordinary kids who have lived, until recently, ordinary lives. They are the Bully, the Jock, the Outcast, the Nerd—all different, cast together by fate, and trapped in the Grimm Lands.
Fortunately, even ordinary kids are special—isn’t that what their parents and teachers tell them every day? In the Grimm Lands, they have power. Their imaginations can reshape the storybook fabric of reality—and even a third grader has three years more education and knowledge than most of the creatures of the Grimm Lands.
Part fable, part reality, the Grimm Lands exist… somewhere else. Forged from the dreams and nightmares of little boys and girls, the Grimm Lands are very similar to our own in some ways. There’s a sun, a moon, grass, trees, air to breathe, people, rivers, and everything in between. In other ways, however, the differences are profound and perhaps unsettling. The Sun and Moon aren’t just celestial bodies—they’re recurring characters—and the grass and trees don’t necessarily thrive on just soil. And everything, and everyone, has an interest in children.
Sometimes that interest is benign. Common people may be in awe of the knowledge even a grade school child has at his command. A digital watch or a flashlight is clearly an item of incredible wizardry to such people. But many times, in the dark and twisted place the Grimm Lands have become, that interest is malevolent. Witches lurk in dark woods, waiting to cook and eat the fattest children they can find. Trolls lurk under bridges, eager to take a toll from any child who tries to pass. The inhabitants of the Grimm Lands want the attention, the imagination, and the reality that children provide—or maybe they just want a tasty snack. And something rotten lies at the heart of it all…
Sitting on his throne in the middle of the Great and Awful Forest, the egg-like being once known as Humpty Dumpty rules much of the Grimm Lands. Cracked from a fall some time ago and mad with fear, power, and paranoia, the Rotten King spreads his poisonous influence across all of the Grimm Lands. Even in the Checkerboard Kingdoms, noble folk of all descriptions fear, honor, or respect him.
Children are of special interest to the Rotten King. In order to keep himself safe, the Rotten King must, of course, extend his dominion over all of the Grimm Lands by any means necessary. Children, with their exotic knowledge and their powers of imagination, are a key piece of his plan. Any child trapped in the Grimm Lands would do well to steer well clear of the Rotten King and all his servants. On the other hand, the endlessly scheming would-be-tyrant could prove to be an invaluable source of information about how to escape the Grimm Lands… not that he should be trusted, of course.
Their imaginations give children power in the Grimm Lands. Since fable and fiction are the building blocks of reality in this strange place, that reality is mutable to a truly imaginative child. Over the course of a game of Grimm, children may use their imagination to “just happen” to find the right tool for the job, to “conveniently” land on something soft after falling, or to manipulate reality in even broader ways.
Magic exists in the Grimm Lands, but it is dangerously unpredictable and usually far too powerful for most kids to handle. Naturally, that doesn’t stop the occasional brave or foolish kid from attempting to master a few spells. Magic is powerful in Grimm, but it always carries a hefty cost. Every time a kid attempts an act of magic, he risks “estrangement,” which can happen when a user of magic is so overwhelmed by power that a portion of his soul is lost forever. The more estranged from the Real World a kid becomes, the less likely he will ever be able to return there.
Grimm uses an innovative new roleplaying system that places the emphasis squarely on the story. The underlying concept of the Grimm system is that most characters can perform tasks of their level most of the time—exceptional performance or botches are the exception, not the rule. To perform a task, a character rolls a single six-sided die. On a 2-5, the character performs the task at his listed trait level. On a 1, he drops a grade level and rolls again, continuing to lose ranks until he does not roll a 1. On a 6, on the other hand, his performance is boosted to the next grade level and he rolls again, continuing to boost until he does not roll a 6. So, if John is trying to lift a heavy rock (listed as a 4th-grade task) and his muscle trait is 4th grade, he will succeed at his attempt on any roll of 2 or better. If Amy tries to pick a lock (5th-grade difficulty) but her juvie trait is only 3rd grade, she’ll have to roll a 6, followed by another 6, to succeed—unless she gets help!
Teamwork plays an essential role in this system, as well. Kids must work together to survive in the Grimm Lands, and by combining their resources, they can accomplish tasks that none of them could do individually. Each additional kid that helps on a task adds another die to the skill check. When teamwork is involved, boosts occur on any roll of 6, but botches only happen if all the dice come up 1. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of Grimm: The Roleplaying Game.