As a longtime tabletop gamer, I am always looking out for interesting new ways to approach Role Playing Games. I have played on several systems in my time, including traditional Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, the Star Wars RPG system, and the Vampire system. But today, we are going to take a quick look at an upcoming system that requires a lot less learning, but no less experience.
Enter The Shadowside and its accompanying system, Destiny, are unique in that they are not your traditional tabletop RPG. Because I am more interested in the system rather than the setting, I am going to go more in-depth on this matter as the setting is secondary to the gameplay — you can just create your own setting.
The Destiny system is narrative based, meaning there is a heavier emphasis on the story than the actual gameplay. There are no dice, no levels, no classes, and only the barest character sheet is used to keep score of your items and traits. How do the players determine outcomes? With the use of a standard deck of poker cards.
Now, bear with me a moment — if you are an experienced tabletop player some of these ideas might seem odd. Players are dealt cards, much like poker, from different decks that represent one of the four different character traits on the character sheet — typically Combat, Magic, Influence, and “Everything Else”. As you might guess, the four different suits of playing cards represent the different traits, and a player gets more or less draws if they are “good”, “average”, or “poor” in one of those traits. The number on the card determines what difficulty level of obstacle a certain card can overcome. In a sense, it’s like knowing your dice rolls ahead of time, and choosing the time and manner each roll is used.
The Destiny system essentially break challenges into “easy”, “medium”, “hard” difficulties, and each of those difficulties can be beaten by a card of a certain number or higher, with certain cards (2, 3, and 4) always failing. Furthermore, the outcome might be affected by how much a player exceeds or fails the challenge. As this game is largely narrative-driven, the Story Host — Destiny‘s equivalent of Game Master — is left to decide the result of a challenge based on how well the character performs using the card played. A moderate challenge requires an 8 or greater, for example, but playing an 8 might result in some negative effects as well because it is barely passing. The Story Host is encouraged to write “Yes”, “Yes but”, or “Yes and” on the passing cards and the same for “No” on the low value cards to reflect this.
A player can only refill their hand for a particular trait when they have used up all their cards for that trait, meaning a player might have to swallow a few failures by playing the low cards drawn. However, players can strategize and choose when and how to play cards. For example, a skilled player might take a few defeats that won’t hurt too bad in order to hold onto a high power card for a more dire situation.
Combat is handled just like any other trait, and since there are no hit points or levels to gauge skill, role play becomes essential to figuring out how much damage a player can handle. The only “damage” that is done is to players’ traits, which lowers the amount of cards one can draw — but that doesn’t translate directly to life or death. These decisions are made by the Story Host based on how the player role plays and what cards they play — this is ultimately a lot of power and faith being placed in the Story Host’s hands because of this.
I’ll grant that a lot of this might sound complicated, even to a person who regularly learns new tabletop systems. In fact, Destiny might even be a great way to get people into tabletop gaming — specifically those who might otherwise be intimidated by all the dice, numbers, and paper that usually rule such games. The familiarity of using poker cards can ease learning curve, and once the game gets started it becomes clear how the bulk of the game plays out.
Now, as this is heavily narrative-driven, the quality of the game is entirely dependent on the group and the Story Host. With so few actual mechanics to work with, much of the responsibility of decision making falls to the players. Good story improvisation is a must for any player in the group, as is a fair minded Story Host who can balance the narrative with the players’ desires.
It’s positively interesting that Destiny is so reliant on collaborative narration. In many ways it reminds me of forum-based roleplay, only with a system in place to make general skill checks as opposed to freeform narration. With the right group of players, it might even translate well into a web arena, allowing groups to roleplay through video services like Skype.
With all the talk about the Destiny system out of the way, I would like to briefly go over the setting that accompanies it. The Enter the Shadowside setting is actually fairly interesting in itself. It is focused on a mysterious parallel dimension that is made entirely of thoughts and ideas — similar to Plato’s higher plane of concepts — where thoughts, desires, and memories form abstract realities. This alternate dimension “Shadowside” is explored and exploited by various guilds that focus on different goals and styles in a modern setting. There is a hacker-style guild, a mafia one, and many more — each specializes in using the “Shadowside” for magic in different ways.
Much of the aesthetic reminds me of the d20 Modern setting, but with a little more flavor and fleshed out organizations. The comic in the beginning of the book, and all the little stories and artwork definitely help set the tone for the rest of the game if you want to stick with their included setting. Most of the book is about the setting because the game itself isn’t very hard to learn, which is a positive because there is a lot of setting for Story Hosts to work with, especially if they like to work with big organizations and shadow governments.
Enter the Shadowside and the Destiny system utilize some innovative elements, and I am looking forward to trying it out with my own tabletop group. Because it is so easy to learn and only requires a little paper and a deck or two of poker cards, groups might even be able to wrangle some new players into their next tabletop session! It might even make a decent gift this holiday season for RPG groups looking for something different to work with.
That’s all for me, Nation! Thanks for reading this first impression on Enter the Shadowside and don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @APGNation for news, reviews, and more!