Guest Author - Jay Shaffstall
The Shadows Of Yesterday is an indie game by Clinton R. Nixon.
To get my personal bias out of the way, I own the other games Clinton publishes, and enjoy each. They're all fun games that target specific styles of play very well. So I expected the same of out TSOY.
The fantasy setting in the game is post-apocalyptic. Massive asteroid strikes have broken apart the planet, devastating a world-wide empire, leaving remnants of humanity struggling to survive and rebuild.
One of the things I like about the setting is that it's low magic. Some of the character abilities seem like magic, but you won't find wands of fireballs in the game. And while religion plays an important part in some of the cultures, the gods don't take an active part in the world (and may not even exist).
This all leaves the adventure up to the characters. They're the prime movers in this world.
One of the best bits about the game is the notion that each character defines for herself how she gains experience.
A Key defines for a character how that character advances. A character with the Key Of Bloodlust, for example, gives your character experience when she defeats someone in combat. This is what's typical for fantasy based games, but it's only one out of dozens of Keys available in The Shadows Of Yesterday.
So each character in a group can have a different way of gaining experience, and perhaps have more than one way. This allows creating a character that is exactly what you want her to be.
You get to choose between human, elves, goblin, or ratkin for your character in the game.
Humans are, well, humans. Their defining trait is their ability to love, and they have a couple of species specific Keys you can take that allow you to gain experience from love, or the absence of it.
Elves are immortal beings who once, in the distant past, were human. Now they are reborn whenever they die, returning to the world again and again. They distance themselves from the struggles of those who haven't recognized the essential illusion of the world, and focus on their own goals. Elves have available a number of magical abilities, as well as species specific Keys.
Goblins are adaptable creatures, able to alter their bodies in subtle ways to suit their environment. They're also prone to addiction, and many are in the process of becoming human through finding love. That isn't socially acceptable for goblins, so there are many goblin outcasts among the other cultures. Those goblins that have the most control over their bodies can fashion innate weapons and armor from their own body.
Ratkin are the only species that wasn't once human. They evolved relatively recently from rats, and are loyal to their friends. They have loose notions of property rights and love shiny objects, though, so other species often see them as thieves.
Action resolution in TSOY is typically a single roll, regardless of the scope of the scene. For example, a single roll would be enough for a character to defeat a group of thugs intent on relieving her of her hard-won loot.
That's great if the roll goes your way, but if it goes against you, you can always call for Bringing Down The Pain. This is an extended action resolution mechanism where one roll is really one action, rather than an entire scene. This is more like what you'd be used to with other fantasy games, where one sword stroke or one hand of gambling is one roll.
The decision to Bring Down The Pain is always the player's. You decide based on how important the outcome of the roll is to you. If you don't care, take your loss and be done with it. If you do care, then Bring Down The Pain.
The only exception to this is that named major NPCs must be defeated by Bringing Down The Pain, since those should be more dramatic encounters.
It'll take players used to typical fantasy games a little time to get used to how Bringing Down The Pain works. Players discuss what everyone else is doing, and perhaps adjust what their characters are doing based on what makes the best story and fits in with their characters most. So you even discuss actions being taken that the characters wouldn't know about, which is counter-intuitive to those of us who grew up on Dungeons & Dragons.
TSOY uses Fudge dice. I have a ton of these from when I used to play Fudge at conventions (they'd give you free dice to try and promote the game).
These are funky dice that are six sided, and have two blanks, two plus signs, and two minus signs. If you roll three, you have a range of -3 to +3. TSOY uses a nice bonus and penalty dice system that doesn't increase the range you can roll, but weights it either positively or negatively. A bonus die allows you to remove a minus sign result, improving your overall score, while a penalty die removes a plus sign result.
If you don't have Fudge dice yet, don't let that be a reason to not buy the game. You can take standard white six sided dice, and color two sides red and two sides green. Count the green sides as plus signs, the red sides as minus signs, and the white sides as blank.
I think The Shadows Of Yesterday is a great fantasy game that emphasizes storytelling rather than tactical combat. Players used to typical fantasy games might have a little trouble getting used to the system, but I think it'll be well worth it.
Here's CRN Games home page, for more info on the game.