Geek Girls of San Diego Message Board › Story RPGs: Let's Play!

Story RPGs: Let's Play!

A former member
Post #: 20
Hey folks! I wanted to start a discussion about role playing games (RPGs, if you've been living under a rock). Namely, why you should play them. I'll also be trying to get a group together to bust out a few adventures!

Escapism is one of the key tenants of geekdom. Video games, books, movies... the best geek fantasies revolve around what we would do with/to (Mmm... Robb Stark) the character if we were a member of the cast. After all, who doesn't want to be a Jedi (I'm more of a Sith myself, but nobody's perfect) or the next incarnation of the Doctor? Speak Elvish (or Dothraki)? Ride a dragon?

These things are all possible... with the right game. And if you're interested in hearing about one such game, read on.

I'm most familiar with a game released in 2004, which was voted best Indie game of the year. The Shadow of Yesterday (TSoY to fans; long since released to the geeky public by the author) is a weird-fantasy adventure focusing less on game mechanics and more on story (story RPG, derp) and character relationships. To accomplish this each character has Keys (up to 5) that outline their personality.

These are Keys:

Key of the Coward: Your character avoids combat like the plague. Gain 1 XP every time your character avoids a potentially dangerous situation. Gain 3 XP every time your character stops a combat using other means besides violence. Buyoff: Leap into combat with no hesitation.

Key of Renown: Gain 1 XP whenever you see to it that your name and deeds are known, by bragging about them or making sure there are witnesses. Gain 2 XP whenever you put yourself at risk to do something unnecessary or foolish that will add to your reputation. Gain 5 XP whenever you risk your life to take credit for your actions. Buyoff: Give someone else credit for an action that would increase your renown.

Every time the player acts the character to their Key(s), they get experience. So while they don't have to follow the Key, it's the best way to level up. This leads to sometimes hilarious situations where 2 players in 1 situation have completely opposite Keys. The first might try to keep the peace (Key of the Coward) after the second starts bragging about how they killed the Duke's son to his face (Key of Renown). Both get experience for playing to their Keys, but now the Duke orders his guards to arrest them. In this case both players would continue to get experience if the braggart kept going on and on and on about the murder while the other tried frantically to shut them the hell up.

The Buyoff means that if your character does it, the player gets the option of either getting rid of that Key forever (and receiving 10 XP) or keeping it and getting 0 XP.

Unlike D&D, you will rarely find a concrete description of anything in the book: instead you get a skeleton, a basic gist of who's who, what's what, and how these things are intertwined. This gives the Story Guide the utmost freedom in creating the world. They invent the location, the supporting cast (NPCs) and the Problem (the end goal of the story, if there's one at all). A game of TSoY can go in any number of directions because it's ultimately the players' decision. The Story Guide adapts to what the players want to do and flesh out what happens.

There's more to know about the game, but you can easily read it for yourself (in case you missed it before). If what I've shared so far was too difficult to follow, I have an example.
A former member
Post #: 21
(Continued for several posts)

This was how my first game of TSoY played out. Skip my next few posts if you'd like, because this is going to be a long one.

First, some more Keys:

Key of Love
Your character has a deep love, whether friendly, erotic or familial, for someone else. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character. Gain 2 XP every time your character has to make a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character puts herself/himself in harm's way or makes a sacrifice for them. Buyoff: Sever the relationship with this person.

Key of Unrequited Love
Your character has a love for someone who does not return this love. Gain 1 XP whenever your character has to make a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 2 XP every time your character attempts to win their affection. Gain 5 XP every time your character puts herself/himself in harm's way or makes a sacrifice for them. Buyoff: Abandon your pursuit of this person or win their love.

NOTE: So I'm not saying, "this guy's character," or, "that girl's character," the whole time, I'll be referring to these players as their characters. Yay!

There were 5 of us playing the characters of Keaghan (The Chief), Evelina (The Scout), Tamim (The Prophet), Jayska (The Pathfinder) and Cathair (The Hunter). We were all members of the Khale, which in the context of the game are like the barbarians of Britannia after the fall of the Roman Empire (if they were pot-smoking hippies). They're a bunch of nature-loving forest people who live in tribes. Men in the tribes are expected to be warriors and women are expected to be women. It's considered shameful for a woman to learn a man's skills in this setting.

First, the complex web of relationships. I played Evelina, a woman out to prove that women could be just as tough as men. Cathair was my father, and Jayska my step-mother (which could have gone either way, but the other player and I played them as hating each other, and would apologize during breaks for all the shitty things we'd said/done to each other in the game). I had the Key of Renown and the Key of Love for Tamim. Tamim (The Prophet) was an outcast, an orphan who'd been shunted from family to family within the tribe and never stayed long because his magic would freak people out. Keaghan (The Chief) was interesting. In the context of the story our tribe had been destroyed and our people enslaved. His father was one of the deceased, making him the new chief of a whopping 5 people. He had the Key of Unrequited Love for Evelina. Already that set up an interesting dynamic at the table: the more I tried to get Tamim to notice me the more jealous Keaghan became. The two players were huge dicks to each other (they'd apologize during breaks and laugh it off), and Keaghan often contested Tamim's prophecies because of this. Any time I followed Tamim's "hunch" out of the path of danger Keaghan would follow, not because he believed, but to keep me safe (and then he'd glower some more at Tamim).

I said it before, but our story started after our tribe had been razed ot the ground. Many of our people were missing; the rest were dead, and there were weapons found that suggested another tribe had committed the deed. We had survived because Tamim (who was a strange, mousy fellow, who avoided conflict like the plague) had warned me of a vision he'd had, a vision where our tribe had been destroyed and us with them if we didn't leave. I didn't believe him (belief came later in our session), but because my character was in love with him I followed Tamim anyway. The others survived because I convinced my father and horrid step-mother to come with me, and Keaghan (at this time only the son of the chief, not yet the chief himself) followed me out of the village.

Now we were back, and the Story Guide released us to do as we pleased.

Cathair was the first to notice that the weapons were from another tribe. Keaghan and I immediately jumped on this as proof of their guilt. On the other hand Tamim insisted that it wasn't them: he'd seen visions of fire and darkness, and our people dying. While we argued Jayska left us to wander the village, trying to find survivors (she failed that check, and found no survivors; later we would dig graves for the deceased, which we only stated and didn't have to act out). Despite my love I questioned Tamim's vision, convinced by the concrete proof of our enemy's weapons. So in that regard Keaghan got something to gloat over, and our group decided on our first direction to go in.

We were going to find those bastards, and make them pay.

At this point in the game I felt bad for Tamim. I tried to cheer him up (which also earned me experience, since we were present in a "scene" together), but he wasn't having any of it (too butthurt). We kept conversation at the table light until the Story Guide stated that between the trees we could see 2 people talking, people who hadn't noticed us yet. Even from a distance one of them was recognizably a tribesman from the tribe we suspected had destroyed our own. Since I was the Scout (and the stealthiest character in the group) I hid the others in the brush and then snuck in close to overhear what they were talking about. The gist of the conversation was a load of gossip about the destruction of our people.

There's a thing about Keys that's really fun to learn in the middle of a game. You see, they're almost like a dare. The greatest amounts of experience is often attached to some sort of danger to your character, something that you (as a player) might not be tempted to do otherwise. So let me reintroduce you to one of my character's Keys.

Key of Renown: Gain 1 XP whenever you see to it that your name and deeds are known, by bragging about them or making sure there are witnesses. Gain 2 XP whenever you put yourself at risk to do something unnecessary or foolish that will add to your reputation. Gain 5 XP whenever you risk your life to take credit for your actions. Buyoff: Give someone else credit for an action that would increase your renown.

Gain 5 XP whenever you risk your life to take credit for your actions.

Rather than play it safe and sneak back to the others, I walked right out in front of them. "Hey guys! You know I'm from that tribe you destroyed, don't you?" Across the table from me both my parent-character players were slapping their foreheads (Jayska even made a dry remark to Cathair about me being his daughter). Keaghan's player stated he was getting ready to charge in if things got ugly, and Tamim just buried his face in his hands because I was being so stupid. But whatever: 5 XP!
A former member
Post #: 22
(Continued for several posts)

This was how my first game of TSoY played out. Skip my next few posts if you'd like, because this is going to be a long one.

Actually, both men saw me and immediately ran, so I only got 2 XP. The Story Guide turned that into a chase challenge: Cathair, Keaghan and I started throwing the dice to see if we caught one of them. Keaghan didn't, but Cathair and I did, and we cut one guy off. The rest of the group caught up, and the interrogation began. Keaghan and I were livid: we still firmly believed that his people were responsible for the massacre. Jayska was insisting we be gentle, and Tamim was passive-aggressively insisting we had the wrong person (Cathair remained neutral, holding the guy at spearpoint). As the conversation dragged on and the man's innocence started to become apparent I began leaning more towards Tamim's argument, so much so that I eventually told the others we should let him go. He couldn't tell us anything anyway. The others were for it.

... Except Keaghan.

The guy playing him was pretty awesome at this point. He got furious at Tamim, partially because he blamed him for the massacre ("How could you know about it if you weren't involved!?") and partly because Tamim had swayed me to his side of the argument. Declaring that justice was at hand and that he'd kill every last one of our enemies, he ran the guy through with his spear, instantly killing him. The shock (and secret glee, because we're all fans of a good conflict) at the table was almost audible. Yet no one played themselves as more hurt than me: I blamed myself for that man's death. If I hadn't revealed myself to them or caught him when he ran, he would still be alive. Blame turned to anger, and after shouting at Keaghan for a good minute I (deliberately, just to play to the good-natured tension we'd created at the table) turned to Tamim and asked what we should do.

We talked it out and decided that we were going to travel south, into the country of Ammeni (because that's where Tamim felt his vision of darkness and fire was leading him). Before we left I insisted that we bury the man, so that's what we did. The Story Guide stated that by the time we finished night had fallen, so we set up camp about 100 yards away.

The Shadow of Yesterday is like The Lord of The Rings if LoTR also included sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. We took a short break, and when we came back Jayska and Cathair told the Story Guide that their characters were going to sneak off into the woods and bone (since they both had the Key of Love, this meant XP to them). Great.

When their characters were "gone" the Story Guide pulled Tamim's player aside and told him another vision he'd had in private. When they came back Tamim went to Keaghan (who was asleep at this time; I was standing watch) and woke him up to warn him that we had to leave. Again Keaghan's player was pretty funny: he told Tamim to shut up and let him sleep. Mousy Tamim gave up trying to encourage our "leader" that we had to go and came out to tell me. This time I believed him; after all, he'd been right about our village, and my trust in Keaghan was greatly shaken after the murder of the man I'd come to believe was innocent. I wasn't 100% behind his visions yet, but I was getting there. While we didn't find Jayska and Cathair in their tents, we did find that Keaghan had gone back to sleep. I woke him this time.

Keaghan was still butthurt about me yelling at him, and when I insisted that we had to go ("Why? Because Tamim said so, that's why!") he opted to ignore me. I told him it was fine; we'd just leave without him. And we did: Tamim and I left the camp, striking out into the dark woods alone. It was that Key of Unrequited Love that kept our group intact: Keaghan finally got out of his bedroll to follow us.

As we snuck through the forest the Story Guide asked for a Sense Danger check. Being the Scout I had the highest training in this skill, and so our group was forewarned about the ratkin (intelligent rat creatures in the context of the game, who travel in packs and walk on their hind legs) heading our direction. Just as I had before I hid the others in the brush, and the ratkin passed by our hiding spot. But they were heading for our camp, and what if Jayska and Cathair had returned? Keaghan pointed this out, and so I opted to double back and see if they were there, perhaps to warn them.

I failed.

That's the fun thing about this game: sometimes, if you fail a check, things turn out awesome. As I tried to find my way through the underbrush back to the camp I took a wrong turn and stumbled directly into the path of the oncoming ratkin. Of course they spotted me, and the nearest one hissed and tried to grab me. Keaghan (hooray, Key of Unrequited Love again) saw this from his hiding place and immediately came to my rescue, charging from the brush to tackle the creature that had grabbed me. Tamim, however, had the Key of the Coward, and he opted to stay hidden. Freed from the beast's grip my first thought was of Tamim, and I ran back to protect him (dick move, yes, but hey: I was in love). Jayska and Cathair, hearing the noise, came charging to the rescue soon after.

This was the tensest moment in our session. See, the ratkin had grabbed Keaghan, but he wrestled free of them, and they made no move to attack us after that. Tamim and I were hidden back in the brush (I readied my bow, wary of everyone's safety) watching as Jayska got her chance in the limelight. A persuasive woman with a gift for talking to animals, she tried to diffuse the situation by persuading them that we weren't a threat to them. It would have worked, too, if one of them hadn't been drugged. The leader of the ratkin was a drooling, wild-eyed mess that didn't talk: he only hissed at Jayska, while his subordinates muttered amongst themselves about us. She pointed out that their leader was obviously sick, and their concern started to swing toward him. We might have gotten free of the confrontation without spilling a drop of blood had Keaghan not stepped in.

See, Keaghan's player got it into his head that this was a perfect opportunity for his character to practice the skills a chief would need to lead his tribe. Problem: he was a warrior more than a leader, which is why none of us had been letting him take the lead since we first started this game. Surprisingly, he didn't fail at convincing the others they should turn tail and leave. Who he did fail to convince was their crazed leader, who the Story Guide had set up as something of a mini-boss. The leader became furious with the obvious hesitance of the others, so much so that he lunged forward and ran one of his own through with a spear. That effectively ended any further negotiations between our two groups, and the ratkin attacked.
A former member
Post #: 23
(Continued for several posts)

This was how my first game of TSoY played out. Skip my next few posts if you'd like, because this is going to be a long one.

The ratkin attacked.

After their leader ran one of his subordinates through, the playing field was level. Since I'd had my attack prepared for several tense negotiation rolls I was allowed to go first. I let fly with my bow and struck one of them in the back, injuring but not killing him. He and one other turned my way, charging through the forest at Tamim and I. The other three attacked Keaghan, Cathair and Jayska (who was not at all skilled in combat). Keaghan was tackled and began wrestling with one of the ratkin on the ground. The crazed leader and another attacked Jayska. While the second missed, the leader landed a critical and stabbed her in the gut. Cathair abandoned his bow and charged in to save his wife.


I still had two charging at me, and the dice fairies decided I'd been too much of a dick to Keaghan to survive this conflict. I missed two shots before the ratkin were on top of me, and one of them struck me with a slash of his dagger. I called for my father (Cathair; in character, of course) but he was obviously busy trying to protect Jayska, fighting off the ratkin's leader and one of his troops. Neither could Keaghan help me, because he was still trying to get free of the one on top of him long enough to kill it. I called for Tamim's assistance and he remained cowering in the darkness, which really hurt. Hadn't I come back to protect him?

As I switched to my character's dagger I took another hit from one of the attacking ratkin. Every blow landed against me gave me a penalty die, so I started losing my counterattack rolls like none other. A fourth attack hit me. At this rate I probably would have died if Tamim hadn't finally come to the rescue. Mousy little Tamim, who'd been cowering in the shadows up to that point, came charging out of the brush and grabbed hold of the ratkin who'd last attacked me. Here the Story Guide stepped in: until that point the only evidence we'd seen of Tamim's magical gift had been his questionable prophecies. The Story Guide had him do an unnamed roll and (seemingly satisfied with the results) described that when he grabbed the ratkin his hands sunk into its skin, and it tore away like so much tissue paper as it pressed the attack on me. After a, "What the hell was that!?" moment between us I dispatched the remaining ratkin. The one he'd injured was writhing around on the ground in pain, but I wasn't feeling particularly charitable at that moment and slit its stupid throat.

The others had managed to kill the ratkin attacking them, and the fight was over. Jayska and I had the worst injuries, but she was a healer, and was at least able to bandage our wounds. Battered and bruised, the first person I sat down to talk to was Tamim (while Cathair and Jayska did the same, and Keaghan was left out like the fifth-wheel he was). We talked about what had happened, but were both equally mystified by it. The least I could do was clean the blood of his squeamish hands (he kept throwing up everywhere until I was finished) and thank him for saving my life. But I was still hurt that he hadn't opted to help the others, and had only stepped in to help me when he thought I could die. At this point I thought about buying off The Key of Love, but I wasn't ready to (yet).

Feeling self-conscious after my awkward conversation with Tamim, I left him to talk to Keaghan (who was starting to seem more like a leader at this point, and who'd put himself in danger when he'd seen the ratkin grab me at the start of the confrontation). Though confused by Tamim's new powers I still managed to thank him for coming to my rescue (which meant XP for him, having won a token of my affection).

We returned to camp for the rest of the night. The next day (we took a 10-minute break from the table) we left the forest for the lands south of us. We left for Ammeni.
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