Free RPG Society: Golden Sky Stories Demo

In the April episode of The Shrieker I mentioned Golden Sky Stories, which I'm going to elaborate on here. Originally published in Japan in 2006 as Yuuyake Koyake by Ryo Kamiya, the game was translated and brought to the US in 2013 by Ewen Cluney. That year, to promote the game and to celebrate Tabletop Day, the US publisher, Star Line Publishing released a 23 page simplified free demo, which will be the focus of this review. The demo version is a complete, playable game, with a couple mechanics streamlined and a few character build options withheld.

Golden Sky Stories is radically different from any other game I've played but that's not because of it's country of origin. I am in no way an expert in Japanese games but some quick research indicates that their most popular RPGs tend to play like a mixture of D&D and JRPG video games. Golden Sky Stories does not bear much resemblance to either of those. Golden Sky Stories is powered by an unusual set of mechanics and emulates a genre of story that I've never seen an RPG tackle before.

Most RPGs thrive on high octane adventure, tales of powerful heroes facing perilous danger to thwart great evil. Not Golden Sky Stories. This game takes place in a rural Japanese village where minor animal spirits (controlled by the players) help the citizens sort through their everyday problems. Strictly slice of life stuff. The characters might help an elderly lady reconnect with her grandchildren, visiting from the big city. They might advise a local forest god who has fallen in love with a rice farmer. No dragons to slay, no treasure to collect. It's from this cute genre that Golden Sky Stories derives it's tagline, "Heart-warming Role-playing". This kind of game won't appeal to every gamer, obviously, but it could be refreshing after an intense adventure in another game or it could be the perfect game for someone who is turned off by an RPG's usual violence. My players found Golden Sky Stories to be a nice change of pace.

Combat isn't the only RPG staple that is missing from Golden Sky Stories. It's also missing the dice. Instead of dice this game bases all it's mechanics on a slightly complicated token economy. Players earn one currency (Dreams) by making their characters do cute/clever/in-character things. Dreams can be spent to increase a character's Friendship score which determines how much of two other currencies (Wonder and Feelings) the character earns at the start of each scene. Feels are spent to succeed at ability checks and Wonder is spent to activate supernatural powers. Friendship is the biggest change between the free demo and the complete game. In the full game, instead of a Friendship score you track the details of your character's relationship to every other character in the game, including the kind of relationship, the strength of your connection to other characters, and the strength of their connection to you. For it's simplicity and the easier bookkeeping, I kinda prefer just using a Friendship score. Another difference is that the full game has a system for storing relationships between games, which builds up the character over time, where as the demo version just has you reset your Friendship to 4.

Normally, at this point in the review, I like to write up a short play example that demonstrates the mechanics I just summarized. I don't think I can really do that for this game. The ebb and flow of the Dream/Friendship/Wonder/Feeling economy really takes place over a whole game and I can't really do it justice here. If you need help understanding how everything connects, as I did, try downloading the demo and diagramming how things affect other things in a flowchart as you read through it. That's what worked for me.

The demo also has more limited character options. There are four types of animal spirits available (Fox, Cat, Dog, and Bird) which is two shy of the full game (lacking Rabbit and Raccoon Dog). This isn't really a big deal, there's still enough diversity to go around the table, though Raccoon Dog seems to be a popular choice when the full game is played. Characters also get a few less powers to play with in the demo version (3 as opposed to a maximum of 5 in the full game) but that could be a feature, speeding up character gen a bit.

I adore Golden Sky Stories for the unique genre niche it fills. The demo is wonderful game available for free, which should make it easy for any gamer to give it a try, broadening their gaming experience with very little investment. The included pages on setting, GMing advice, and prepared scenario could even make the demo an ok choice for potential players who have never played an RPG before, though their experience with this game might not translate to more typical games readily. All in all I give it a solid 4 warm hearts out of 5.

If your group tries it and likes it, you can grab the full game for more character options and improved long term play. And if your REALLY like it, there have been expansions released for playing as fairy-folk in the English countryside (Faerie Skies) and a D&Dish setting (Fantasy Friends). If you want greater insight before trying the demo, Six Feats Under recorded an actual play of the full game with translator Ewen Cluney using some content from the Colors of the Sky expansion. There's also a pretty cool song that a fan made about the game.

Free RPG Society: Lasers and Feelings Review

On a recent episode of The Shrieker Podcast, I reviewed Lasers and Feelings, a wonderful little game by John Harper at One.Seven Designs. It was built to play short Star Trek-esque adventures. Supposedly it was inspired by the song Lasers and Feelings by the Double Clicks, which surprises me a bit since the song, at least judging by the music video, is about a super villain rather than a space opera. Regardless of the idea's origin, the game is a fun, solid, easy to understand game with broad appeal and accessibility.

The author, John Harper, should be a familiar name to anyone with a taste for RPGs that expands beyond D&D and Pathfinder. He is currently working on Blades in the Dark, an urban theif-y Powered by the Apocalypse game, that was backed by nearly 4,000 people on Kickstarter. Prior to that he created some wonderful and freely available games including Lady Blackbird, one of the most well known microRPGs, which will definitely be reviewed by the Free RPG Society later.

Lasers and Feelings is a delicate exercise in constraint and simplicity. The entire game fits on the single side of a standard 8.5 by 11 sheet of paper with large enough font to be easily read and enough wiggle room for pleasant layout and graphics. The characters are equally elegant, consisting of two descriptors and a single number that divides a scale of 1 to 6 into lasers ability and feelings ability. When a character attempts something that could go horribly wrong the GM declares whether it takes a successful lasers roll (requiring technical expertise) or a feelings roll (using the character's interpersonal skills) and the player casts up to 3 six-sided dice, depending on how prepared the character is for that action. A roll is successful if it results in a number that on the correct side of the scale (lasers or feelings) and the total number of successes determines the outcome.

That may be hard to parse so lets break it down with an example. Bossa Nova is a dangerous pilot (her two descriptors) and she was created with a 3 on the scale. To succeed at a lasers roll (like flying safely through a field of astro-mines) she'd count die results that are under 3 (1s and 2s). If she is attempting something that needs a feelings roll (like provoking an enemy captain into a premature attack by talking smack about his momma) she'd count die results over 3 (4s, 5s, and 6s). Bossa Nova is a pretty balanced character but she has slightly better odd of succeeding at feelings rolls.

What happens when Bossa Nova rolls a 3, you ask? What happens when a die result is right on the number that divides the scale, that is neither on the laser nor the feelings side? Well, dear readers, that is my favorite part of this game. That roll result is called LASER FEELINGS! When a player gets laser feelings they are allowed to ask the GM a single question that must be answered honestly. Players love this result because they get a sneaky insight into the GM's wicked plans, which should be a nice advantage for them. Really, though, the GM benefits from laser feelings the most. My experience is that the questions asked by the players indicate pretty clearly what they feel is the most exciting direction the game could take. Laser Feelings essentially tricks the players into writing their own plot twists. Now, clever GMs have been allowing their players to steer the story for a long time but Lasers and Feelings builds it into the game mechanics, making it possible for even dullards like me to do it.

Above all else, Lasers and Feels is easy to run. There are few numbers to keep track of. the Laser Feelings rolls steer the story for you, and that's not all. Every game begins at the same point (Captain Darcy is out of commission in a medical pod) and the ship has built-in flaws chosen by the players that complicate things if the game hits a lull. There's even a brief random plot table.

The game does come with some limitations. It has no mechanic for character advancement and does not lend itself to on-going campaign play if that's what you're looking for. To be clear, this is not a weakness, it's just not what this game was designed for. It is perfect for spontaneous pick-up games, such as when a groups normal GM misses a week (as was the case both times I've run it). Similarly, it isn't a highly tactical wargame. You can't break out your miniature starships and use Lasers and Feelings to simulate space combat. Also, I mentioned on the podcast that the game probably works best when all the players are familiar with Trek tropes. Phil Vecchione, on the Misdirected Mark Podcast, disagreed with that. He contended that the game slides easily from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactaca or Firefly. This may be true. However, the players still need some shared fictional foundation for the game to run as smoothly as possible. I'm sure Phil would point out that that argument hold true for RPGs as a whole; they function on genre emulation. Being as short as it is, Lasers and Feels doesn't have much text explaining what an RPG is or how to play one. I imagine it would be a bit difficult for a group to figure out if no one at the table had experience with other RPGs.

All in all, I can't praise Lasers and Feelings enough. It's single laminated page has earned a permanent place on my game shelf, it's PDF a spot on my phone. If you're looking for a short, light game that almost runs itself, I award it 5 pews out of 5. If you want to hear an actual game, the One Shot Podcast has recorded a couple excellent actual plays and She's a Super Geek played it with the Double Clicks.

Ouch, right in the laser feels...

Ouch, right in the laser feels...

Free RPG Society: Introductions

Hey there everyone! I'm Matt Bohnhoff, host of The Shrieker Podcast, kicking off a new series of articles. Each month I'll be playing and then reviewing a roleplaying game that is available online for free. I'll focus on games that are short and simple, making them accessible to the game-curious who have either never tried this kind of game before or have an insatiable appetite for a wide variety of games. The games will be played at one of the Albuquerque Area RPG Meetup Group's Thursday Night Game Nights (open invitation to join us any week) and I'll be including the thoughts of my players whenever possible. We're going to start strong with a look at Lasers and Feelings so stay tuned!