The Saving Throw
Golden Sky Stories 2014
There are many secrets that I'd like to share with you, I will show you magic if the words you say are true. Imagine that the wildest dreams are in this mystery. It's the perfect place for you and me

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Overall Review
published by Starline Publishing reviewed by Scott Wachter
144 pages, 2013, $10.00 PDF
Game Setting 5
Art 2
Character Generation 4
Game Rules 3.5
Intelligibility 5
Review Scoring

It's always a disappointment as a reviewer to come across the assignment pile a game that immediately, through no fault of its own, bears a strong else but not as good. Being fair is hard enough, but becomes maddeningly difficult when a voice in at back of the mind keeps whispering "This other game tackles this idea better." This brings us to Golden Sky Stories, the pretty good bastard offspring Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple and Hillfolk, as raised by Japanese gamers.

Players of GSS cast themselves as Henge (pronounced HEN-geh), shape-shifting animal spirits, in a rural Japanese village as they go about trying to resolve locals problems, forge deeper emotional bonds and try to not get found out by the muggles. It's a solid premise and there are a bevy of different animal types to play as, each offering a different gameplay feel and jumping off point for characterization and RP.

The Game Master's section spends a great deal of time immersing the reader in the tone and style of the game. A quarter of the book seems to be dedicated to examples of play and in-universe fiction that does capture the designer's ideas about 'rural fantasy'. A lot of emphasis is placed on telling stories that are not about violence and capture the sense of wonder and strangeness of the folklore around the Henge. Were I to run this, I would sit my players down with Pom Poko and then say 'now do that'. So, kudos to this team for putting in the effort.

The game's mechanics are simple and straightforward. Abilities are grouped into a handful of traits with a numerical value that gets compared to any opposition; high number wins. And this does provoke a question; considering how atypical that core activity of the game is and how much word count is spent on describing these ideas, would it have been better served with more narrativist mechanics? This where my less than favourable comparisons to story games come in. Do is very much in this game's wheelhouse, Hillfolk could take this into a more Shoujo anime mode, but what we have is a game that bridges the game between more traditional crunchy games and the indie story game scene that can't quite serve both masters.

This game is a localization of a foreign language game, not that the reader would notice. Unlike some of the products coming over from France and Germany, there doesn't seem to a single awkward phrasing in the entire text.

In terms of art, the pieces are somewhat problematic. The style skews pretty hard moé side of the manga-verse. Personal feelings about current trends in anime aside, this setting is about small wonder and rural simplicity of the good Takahata movies. The art, however, only seems to conjure images of sad girls in snow and three hundred dollar resin statues. These things are not necessarily complementary tastes.

Barring a few aesthetic hiccups, Golden Sky Stories is a fine game with some excellent mood reading. It is unfortunate that it invites some unbalanced comparisons. If this strikes an RPGamer's fancy, don't let my hipsterdom stand in the way of good gaming.

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