Thursday, January 13, 2022

2022 Character Creation Challenge 12) The Shadows of Yesterday

On day 12, we hit our first Story Game! 

This is a 2004 era Indy/Story game with some interesting aspects: it's meant for rapid advancement through relatively short stories; characters get experience points based on player-selected Keys, which are behavioral prompts, that the player can choose to abandon and pick a new one so the 'you get XP for your core activity' is totally keyed to role playing; PCs have their stories end when they achieve Transcendence, which is a level 7 success using a maximum skill of 4 +/- 3 Fudge Dice so while it's difficult to get it can happen at any time, and Transcendent characters become the story focus for the rest of the day before their story ends. It's an interesting and epic technique. 

The world of TSoY is post-apocalyptic fantasy – an asteroid hit the far side of the earth, caused a global winter, and carved out a moon 300 years ago; all the races in Near (where the story takes place) are recovering from 90% population loss – populated with some baseline fantasy cultures and races. My PC will be from Zaru, which is NOTASIA, as opposed to the NOTEUROPE culture, and Human as opposed to Elven, Goblin or Ratkin. I gotta give it to Clinton R Nixon because while the cultures are thin that's on purpose, and his non-human races are fascinating takes on the ideas. I still went with human because a character concept jumped up and hammered me between the eyes. 

The game has 3 Point Pools – Vigor, Instinct, and Reason – which power your Secrets and act as hero points for your skills. Interestingly you only get those pool refreshed by using them in enjoyable vigorous activity with someone else. Going out drinking all night with friends will improve your Vigor pool, as will accepting physical abuse if that's your thing. Spirited debates about philosophy will refresh the Reason pool. Again, everything in the game is focused on the Role-Playing aspect: if you want to get your powers back, reveal more of your character with someone else. You start with 11 points to split between these, min of 2/max of 7, though you can buy more later.

TSoY also has and 3 Innate skills – Endure, React, Resist – which are used for any passive actions in Vigor, Instinct and Reason respectively. The rest of the skill list is clustered by activity, so there are Artistic Skills, Outdoor Skills, etc. which are there just to make sense of things. The only place it matters is each culture has Cultural Skills, which PCs from that culture can try untrained and others can't do at all. You start with the three Innate skills at 3, 2, and 1 (Master, Adept, Competent), one other skill at Adept and 3 at Competent. Each skill is keyed to one of the pools, and you can spend points from the pool for bonus dice with that action in play. 

You need to select one Secret, which is essentially a character power or special ability that you power with pool points. This is pretty straightforward, but the game makes it clear that one play starts you have to find someone to learn the secret from. There's no Didn’t I Mention or eliding over it. Again, story focused. Each culture and species have their own secrets in addition to the general one. 

You need to select one Key – your method for earning experience points – and you always need at least one of these, but you can purchase more than one later. Once you abandon  a Key you can never take that one again. Again, there are cultural and species specific ones. 

Finally, you take 5 Advancements. Normally you get an Advancement with 5 XP earned (depending on how keys play out you could see 1-3 per session), so this indicates the character has some experience under their belt, at least a story or two. Pretty much everything takes 1 Advancement to improve or learn, so characters change quickly. 

In flipping through the rules I saw two Secrets – Secret of the Flying Leap and Secret of Knockback – that I quite liked, the idea of a hermit or outcast who magically pushed things away from them, and socially pushed away people, but had the Key of Love (a very Human key) that tethered them to one PC in the group. Reading over the Cultures I saw that Zaru had not just a Culture Secret that fed into this (Secret of Kinetic Redirection) but literally the skills of Clandestinity and Serve – how to be clandestine and sneaky, how to act as a servant – and the joy I have of playing sidekick/support characters for someone else kicked in. Gone was the magical hermit, in was the martial artist servant/bodyguard in love with their master. Yes, it's an old gimmick, but the point in this sort of game is to start with that and see where it changes. 

I started with Vigor 4, Instinct 3, Reason 4, and Endure 3, React 2, Resist 1 for my pools and innate skills. Other skills were Uptembo (the Zaru Martial Art) 2, Clandestinity 1, Serve 1, and Haggle 1. 

Secret of Kinetic Redirection and Key of Love ended the first stage. 

My 5 advancements went to 2 more secrets (Flying Leap, Knockback), raising my Resist to 2, and adding Sense Danger and the culture skill of Clay Moulding at 1. 

A lot in this game depends on the other players and their stories, and for this character more than most, but I'm happy with how Cyrus (one of the Zaru default names) came out. 

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