I’m always on the lookout for new RPGs suitable for kids, and I’m also always looking for RPGs with a different set of assumptions to D&D. Golden Sky Stories is both, a youth-centered RPG where fighting isn’t the focus or even something to expect. It’s a beautiful RPG with some great potential, so let’s dive in and see what it’s about!
The stories of Golden Sky Stories are definitely rooted in Japanese folktales and storytelling. The characters for the game are “henge” (as in hengeyokai), shapechanging creatures that can turn into humans or animals. While this is something that can easily be translated into other traditions (and there are expansions for playing in fae stories or high fantasy world) but the language and setting of Golden Sky Stories is definitely rural Japanese with train lines running through town, bamboo groves to rest in, and quaint shrines and temples dotting the landscape. This isn’t the draw for me (I don’t have any connection to Japan myself and don’t want to wander around unsupervised) so I’d want to change up the setting assumptions. Probably I’d go with the fairy book linked above.
The bones of the system, though, are fantastic. First you pick what kind of henge your character will be (one that guides lost people, one that plays tricks, etc) and then what their true animal form is (fox, raccoon, cat, dog, rabbit, or bird). Henge, like animals, have weaknesses so you pick at least one of those from your true form, get a power for each weakness, then divide eight points into your four attributes (Henge, Animal, Adult, and Child) which all have to be between 1 and 4 (except Adult which can be zero if you’re completely immature). Pick your human appearance, a name, and away you go!
The game currencies are Wonder (the mystical part of the world) and Feelings (the emotional part). When you want to do something the Narrator sets a difficulty normally between 3 and 7 (though it’s theoretically unbounded). You don’t roll a die for this, just compare your attribute to the difficulty and see if you meet or exceed it. If you don’t exceed it, you can spend Feelings to boost your ability past its norm. You can also use your henge Powers which take a number of Wonder points to enact. You get new Wonder and Feelings every seen (depending on your connections to what’s happening and your investment in the story) and you roll over any unused points.
I love this as a simple mechanic that fits this “heart warming” game really well. There’s no feeling of loss or failure, but there is a randomness to it since you don’t know what’s coming. It creates tension while not making you feel like things are out of your control or that you are at the mercy of chaos. Combined with the suggestion that this is a game for “little stories,” I can see some wonderful afternoons of this game. It’s basically a tabletop version of the fun imaginative games that kids play anyways, ones where you’re pretty sure the protagonists will be wildly successful in the end but you don’t know how they’ll get there.
Is it perfect for every story? No, not at all. But it’s great for this type of story where things are sweet and nice and pleasant. Let’s be honest, that’s something we could all use in 2020.