Friday, March 15, 2024

Golden Sky Stories Review Part Two of Three

This is the continuation of my review of Golden Sky Stories. You can read the first part of the review HERE.

Character Creation

The first thing a player should do is consider what kind of animal they want to be. A player’s animal form is their true form. There are six animal types to choose from in Golden Sky Stories. (There are a number of supplementary books available that expand these options.) 

Pick Your True Form (Animal Form), Powers, and Weaknesses

The six base animal true forms are: Fox (Kitsune), Raccoon Dog (Tanuki), Cat (Neko), Dog (Inu), Rabbit (Usagi), and Bird (Tori).

Each animal comes with its own set of unique magical powers. In addition, players must choose at least one weakness. The sting of this requirement is offset by the fact that every weakness carries along with it a specific bonus power. 

Players can even choose additional weaknesses (up to a maximum of 3 total weaknesses) in order to obtain the associated bonus powers. (Powers cost points to activate, and as mentioned in part one of this review, these are paid for using Wonder.) 

Once you’ve chosen your true form and your henge powers and weaknesses, it’s time to assign some points to your character’s four basic attributes.

The Four Basic Attributes

Henge have four basic attributes that reflect their ability to perform actions. The four attributes are: Henge, Animal, Adult and Child.

Henge is used to perform actions specifically related to the magical henge, their powers, interactions with the local gods, and for the knowledge about other henge and about magical things, myths and legends.

Animal is used to do animal things, identify a scent, climb a tree, run, jump, hide, or anything else physically tied to strength, agility or constitution that an animal could normally do. This is used for these things even when the henge is in human form.

Adult is used to interact with the world without losing your cool. It’s used when you try to do anything related to technology, or act responsibly, or with composure. Its used to think strategically, considering the consequences of an action rather than acting on impulse … you know, adulting.

Child reflects how well you express emotion. It’s tied to empathy and compassion. You can use child to plead, charm, or otherwise cajole others into letting you have what you want. It’s also used when you’re acting impulsively, or when you’re just trying to goof off and have some fun.

Players have 8 points to spend on their attributes. Each attribute must be given a value between 1 and 4. The only exception to this is that Adult can have a value of 0 if you want.

While the math is pretty light, the distribution choice here feels huge to me. These four attributes are really cleverly chosen. They speak not just to what your character can do, but also to how they are likely to behave. The balance between, adult and child, and animal and henge really gives a player a lot of information about how to play their character.

Decide On A Human Form

What does your henge look like when they take human form? This is purely an aesthetic choice, but it will inform the way that you play your character, and the way that others react to and behave around them. This brings us back to connections.

Back To Connections

The final step of character creation is to decide on your connections with the other players. All connections between player henge will have a strength of 2, but the contents of each connection is up to the players.

I talked at some length about connections in part one of this review, but one important aspect that I failed to address is the fact that connections go both ways. There’s what your henge thinks about someone, and there’s what someone thinks about your henge. These aren’t always going to be the same thing.

On your character sheet, every connection has two sides with a star drawn between them, right in the middle. 

When recording your starting connections with the other players you record the strength of the connection by filling in little boxes equal to the connection’s strength (2) and you write that connection’s contents as they relate to your henge’s attitude towards the other character on the left side of the star.

The other players will tell you what contents they have chosen for their connections to you. You will fill in boxes equal to the strengths of their connections to you (again 2), and record the contents of their connections with you, along with their names on the right side of the star.

Once you have done this for all the other players’ henge, your character’s creation is complete.

Connections Back To You

In part one, I said that you got Wonder and Feelings equal to your connections at the start of each scene. This was a simplification. 

Any time the rules refer to “your connections” they refer to the connections on the left side of the star. Those connections on the right side of the star aren’t yours. They belong to the person or henge that you are connected with. That’s part of THEIR connections.

Now it’s time to clarify and bring the picture into focus:

At the start of each new scene you get Wonder equal to the total strengths of YOUR connections. (Those on the left side of the star.) Also, at the start of each scene, you get Feelings equal the total strengths of OTHER peoples’ (and henge) connections to you. (Which is why you need to record them on your character sheet.)

Again, I feel this has a beautiful logic. Feelings are empathetic, they are driven by self-esteem which is strongly influenced by the way others see you. This game mechanism is also a little scary, because it means that you don’t have complete control over the generation of your resources.

Impression Checks

With the exception of your connections to the other players, when you meet a character in the story, and you want to form a connection, you have to pass a test. I alluded to this in part one. Tests in Golden Star Stories are called checks. To make a check you compare one of your abilities to a difficulty number. If the ability score equals or exceeds the difficulty, then the check is successful. The thing that makes Golden Sky Stories different is that you don’t add the roll of a die to this. If you need to succeed at a check and your ability score isn’t high enough, then you have to spend your feelings to make the ability score temporarily higher.

Forming connections requires you to succeed at a check. This is called an Impression Check. The way that your henge is behaving or the action that they are taking at the time that first impression is made will tell you which ability score to apply to the check. The rules also provide some recommendations on what contents to give to the newly formed connection based on which ability was used to make the check.

One important caveat to this is that you can’t form a connection unless the other person wants to make a connection back.

Narrator Created Connections

The stories provided in Golden Sky Stories (the pre-written adventure scenarios) each grant the narrator a pool of Wonder and Feelings that they can use while narrating the story. One big thing the narrator will do with their Feelings is form connections from the characters that they control to the henge controlled by the other characters.

A connection from a person controlled by the narrator to a henge will grant that henge feelings for use in later scenes. (Players only acquire a fresh influx of Wonder and Feelings between scenes.) Providing these connections is vital to the story’s success, but they are still under the Narrator’s control.

Players will want to pay close attention to the impressions that they make on the other characters that they meet in the story. Again, this is a mechanical choice that influences the way players will play their characters, and it all lends itself to a grand sense of cooperation and shared story telling that is far removed from the “kill them and take their stuff” mentality that is cultivated by almost every other RPG I’ve played.

Coming Up Next

In the next post I’ll talk about the mechanisms in the game for character advancement. These take the form of Dreams, Threads and Memories. (You can read part 3 HERE.)

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