Reading Solar System by Eero Tuovinen

A few years ago I ran a short campaign using the rules from Clinton R. Nixon’s The Shadow of Yesterday. We were all very impressed by how the rules bound the characters together through the innovative Keys mechanic. Now I am about to run the same campaign again for a new set of players, I thought I’d take a look at Solar System, which is a revision of the rules used in The Shadow of Yesterday. Solar System is also generic in regards to setting, instead of being coupled with a fantasy setting like The Shadow of Yesterday.

The book
The book is an 88 page US-letter sized booklet (also available in PDF), black and white and there is no stiff cover. Just like the rules in my old 2300AD box set, without the protective benefits of actually being in a box. However, at EUR 5 that is not a big concern. Should the book fall apart a new one can be had cheaply.

There are a few illustrations by Pyry Veteli, all done in a style that reminds me of 80’ies RPGs like Traveller and some SJG games, nice retro! While I envy Eero of his command of the English language I wonder if the book hadn’t been faster to read if it had been written using slightly shorter sentences and a somewhat more limited vocabulary. Still, everything is crystal clear, no ambiguities here.

The setting
Being a generic set of rules there is no setting as such in Solar System, however, there are instructions for how to build your own setting, or adapt an existing setting to the rules.

The rules
Solar System uses FUDGE dice in the base mechanics, special 6 sided dice marked +1, +1, 0, 0, -1 and -1. Roll a number of them, and count either the three highest or the three lowest dice depending on if the character had an advantage or disadvantage in the situation. Add an Ability and if the result is one or better the action was a success. Simple enough, however the real strengths of the rules are not in the task resolution, but in the experience mechanism.

In Solar System the players choose what kind of actions they want to be rewarded XP for. The rules call it Keys, and all characters have at least one such Key, select a Key of Bloodlust and get XP from fighting and killing. Select a Key of Romance and get XP from having dates with your love interest. Select a Key of Fraternity and you get XP just from being in the same scene as an other character. This may sound strange at first, but it is very neat. The players select the Keys that will reward them for doing stuff they think is fun, and then they are rewarded when they do those things, and have fun. When we played The Shadow of Yesterday this was a real eye opener.

Also there is a conflict/combat system that encourages the characters to surrender in fights that go badly, and that allows conflicts to end in other ways than the death of the opponent.

The form
The XP mechanics is as much an element of Form as it is an element of the Rules. From a Rules perspective it says ‘This is how you get XP.’, but from a Form perspective it says ‘You should do stuff that you think is interesting and fun.’ This is the core of Solar System (and the older version, The Shadow of Yesterday).

Further the text stress how important it is to first establish the stakes and then to roll the dice. The players should always know what will happen if they succeed, or if they fail. Bringing this into the open like that is also an element of Form.

Also the game encourages strong scene framing. First frame a scene, then play it and finally cut it when it is over. Then play the next scene. (Our experience from The Shadow of Yesterday showed that this allows for more actual play in a session. Unimportant things don’t take valuable play time.)

While RPGs in general have the assumption that the characters will form a party that goes adventuring together, it is not necessarily so in Solar System. You can play the game like that, of course, but if you want to play several stories in paralell, each around a player character, the game supports that to, and encourages it. Players are given bonus dice, that they can only spend on other players’ rolls, this gives inactive players something to do while waiting for their turn to play, they can be an active audience to the other players’ scenes. And they can actually influence them by giving bonuses to things they approve of. (After we played The Shadow of Yesterday we actually stole this mechanic for use in other games.)

There is no setting.

The rules are very good. They do what they aim to do, and without bloat or slowdowns.

The form is excellent. All the rules are clearly written to encourage a certain kind of play. (And a kind that I found very rewarding.)

Will I play it?
Yes, as a matter of fact I will. Character generation with the new group tomorrow.

I recommend other gamers that haven’t played either The Shadow of Yesterday or Solar System to do so, it may very well change the way you play RPGs. – The official Solar System page. – The official The Shadow of Yesterday page.

Reading Witch Quest – Book II: Playing the Game by Tsugimi Wakiaka

Have you ever wanted to use magic?
To transform into someone else…
To get on a broom and fly through the air…
To talk to animals and plants…
To make people happy…
This is a “magical book” just for you.

… starts the introduction of Witch Quest – Book II: Playing the Game by Tsugimi Wakiaka, translated by Ewen Cluney. Witch Quest is a game about witches and cats, in the style of the movie Kiki’s delivery service.

The book
The book is a 40 page PDF, that can be downloaded for free from the translator’s blog. The original was released as “share text”, and the PDF is rather plain and sparsely illustrated by clip art witches and cats. The text is very welcoming, the author speaks to the reader as a friend.

The setting
The setting is magical present day. On the Land Isles time flows differently for each area, hours can pass in one place, when months pass in another. This causes little trouble since people just adapt to the life style of the area they’re in. However, the witches do not adapt, instead they order their lives around a 28 day lunar calendar.

In the setting the witches act as some sort of friendly problem solvers that are sent on missions by the oldest witch in their area. Missions that can not be solved by violence. This is a very friendly game.

The rules
The players play either a 13 year old witch, or a one year old cat. This must be done in pairs, one player and one cat in each pair. The two are a team, and follow different but interlocking rules. If there is an odd number of players the GM also generates a character to make up the last pair.

Character generation is highly random. The witches three stats: Norma, Witch and Broom are each rolled by a D6. The player can choose which skills to have, but their levels are also rolled by D6s.

There are a few different mechanisms in the rules, depending on what the PCs want to do. Ordinary skill checks are done by rolling 2D6 once for every level of the skill, every pair yields a success. Combat is completely random, the player rolls 2D6, each 1 indicates a hit on the enemy, but each 6 indicates that the witch herself was hit. This game is not about combat, at all. And then there is the magic system where the 2D6 are rolled, and the dice are multiplied to get a value from 1 to 36, roll under the spell’s difficulty to succeed.

Difficulty for magic varies immensely and includes things as how much the target believes in magic, even if the target is inanimate.

The cat PC mostly helps by giving extra rolls on skill checks, but can perform some magic on its own. The experience mechanism in the game is rather neat, the more the cat has helped the witch, the less experience she gains, but the cat gains more experience the more it helps.

Also the game uses a custom tarot deck for various things, and there are even a few different methods for doing fortune telling with the cards in the GM section of the book.

The Form
The game is played as a traditional game with a GM and players. The players pair up in witch/cat pairs, playing if a player is missing from a session could be tricky, since that means that someone else has to play that PC, no zombie or out of camera-PCs here!

Even if Book II of Witch Quest focuses on the rules of the game it comes with a short scenario, and a method for generating adventure seeds with the tarot deck is also provided.

The setting of the game is OK. It is rather briefly described, but if the players have seen Kiki’s delivery service, or possibly some other similar anime, manga or movie they should be able to fill in the gaps themselves. The stuff that is there is very nice though.

The rules are OK. The rules cover the needed areas. The non-violence aspect in the setting material is strongly propagated by the rules themselves.

The form is good. They really focus the play on the witch/cat pair, and having different but interlocking rules for the two is interesting.

Will I play it?
I might. Building the custom tarot deck will be a lot of work, and it really is necessary for playing the game. But the friendly theme should appeal to players who are not fond of the violent and/or grim-dark themes in games I usually play. Perhaps I can get my GF to the gaming table with this game. – The release note for Witch Quest, where the game can be downloaded. – IMDB link to the movie Kiki’s delivery service. – Announcing Witch Quest entry on Ewen’s blog, that gives the background for the game.

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