I enjoy roleplaying games, but rarely have the opportunity to play them. And so, in recent years, I have been acquiring board games that approximate the feel of RPGs without requiring a huge investment of time. Arkham Horror is among my favorites, as is Tales of the Arabian Nights. And to that list I expect to add the forthcoming Story Realms, a prototype of which I had the good fortune to play at PAX Prime.
As in traditional RPGs, most players of Story Realms take on the roles of characters, such as Lightbringers and Riftwalkers. Characters have six skills — Might, Talk, Move, Think, Explore, and Magic — each with a ranking from 1-3. They also have a “Talent” (e.g., Curious or Tricky), a backpack full of equipment, and a handful of additional powers and artifacts that further personalize the adventurer.
Player board for the Talespinner character
The remaining player serves as the Storyteller, and guides the party through the adventure. A game of Story Realms is composed of three scenes, during which the characters strive to achieve a goal or overcome an obstacle. Counters placed on various tracks record the state of play during a scene. In a basic scene, the players may simply need to advance the counter on the Progress Track from 0 to a predesignated target; in a more complex scene, a counter may also be placed on the Threat Track, and players may struggle to move this marker backward to mitigate perils they face.
A player uses his turn to describe what his character is doing, and the Storyteller decides which of the six skills best fits the action taken. The player then rolls a number of dice equal to the ranking of the skill; if he invokes his Talent, or if he uses an item from his backpack that is well-suited for the task, he may receive bonus dice as well. The “Success” symbol appears on three sides of the the game’s custom dice, and a counter is moved on one of the tracks for each Success that is rolled.
During my game, for example, I played a Talespinner with the “Flashy” Talent. In one scene we came across a small girl in a forest, who was under attack from a ogre, and our goal was to get the child to safety. My character was lousy at combat, so I yelled at the monster in the hopes of distracting it from the girl. This, the Storyteller ruled, used my “Talk” skill (3 dice), and he awarded me a bonus die for my Flashy talent (which helped whenever I did something to attract attention to myself). I roleplayed my action and rolled the four dice; the Storyteller moved the counter on the Threat Track back three spaces, one for each Success I received.
I (at left) and two others play a demo at PAX Prime. Photo taken from the Story Realms blog.
Story Realms was one of the highlights of PAX for me. It definitely falls on the “roleplaying game” side of the board game / RPG divide, as it requires improvisation on the part of both the Storyteller and the players, but the beautiful art, components, short playing time, and clear goals make it accessible to gamers of all stripes. And although it appears pitched toward families and children, I and the two other adults who played the demo had a blast. I would have bought a copy on the spot but, alas, the game is not yet available. I am, however, backing the Kickstarter project that went live last Friday, and looking forward to playing Story Realms in the years to come.