Introduction: I'll preface this review with a high recommendation for the free Golden Sky Stories Demo PDF. It actually contains most of what you need to understand and try out a henge roleplaying game. Henge (pronounced hen-gay) are animals who can transform into humans, and their stories take place in small countryside towns in Japan. Henge adventures are small, slice-of-life stories about helping others by doing little things. It's a child who's lost something, a Japanese shrine protector who's lonely, or a misunderstanding that needs to be taken care of.
The demo PDF not only summarizes the rules (although presents them in an alternate form for purposes of learning the game), but includes a complete introductory adventure. Print multiple copies so players have their copies of the rules and character generation. The PDF truncates the complete rules and does not have all the henge character types (see character generation), nor game master support. But, for some players and game masters, henge roleplaying can be so far from conventional combat-oriented RPGs that they may find the demo quite useful to get used to it. Individual pages from the PDF can be printed as rules summaries, character type summaries, and the character sheet. I would recommend first playing through the demo, then using the book for further storytelling.
GSS demo: http://starlinepubli-
Each player will play a henge. (GSS still has a game master, called the narrator.) A henge is an animal who is able to take human form, and, in Japanese countryside culture, many animal types have stereotyped personalities: Foxes are haughty centuries-old creatures, often associated with the local gods surrounding the town; Raccoon dogs, or tanuki, are shapechangers, including into inanimate objects; Cats and dogs are close to their western perception as independent or friendly creatures; and Rabbits are needy -- but spoiled -- creatures. The setting for a henge is typically a small countryside Japanese town, with local gods (more like supernatural entities) reflecting aspects of the nature around them.
Each character receives a set of powers associated with their henge, and selects up to three weaknesses associated with their henge. For example, the Cat powers are Kitty (0), Fuzzy (4), Peek into Hearts (6), Stealthy Feet (8), Cat Paths (10), and Friends (14). Numbers indicate the cost in Wonder tokens to activate the power. Each Weakness also provides an additional Power. The Can't Swim weakness, for example, is paired with the Acrobatics (4) Power.
Each character has four attributes: Henge, Animal, Adult, and Child. Henge represents supernatural abilities; Animal strength and animalistic power; Adult the ability to do adult things, including technology; and Child the ability to do emotional things, like wheedle adults and have fun.
Each player then defines the connection their henge has with each other player's henge. A connection is a description and degree of a relationship that you have with another entity. For example, your character could have a Rivalry of strength 1 to another character. While connections need to make sense, they need not be the same -- one character may have Protection 2 towards another character, but the other character may have Love 2 towards the first! The strength of each connection is 2 if there are two other characters, or otherwise 1. Player henge also have connection to non-player entities, such as humans, animals, and even the town itself.
Rather than conventional "roll dice to beat or exceed a number", GSS uses a currency-based system. The game has three currencies:
Dream: Dream tokens are awarded during a scene by players and the narrator for good roleplaying. At the end of a scene, players spend dream tokens to increase their connections with other characters (including themselves) that they've encountered during the scene.
Wonder: Wonder tokens are used during a scene to pay the cost for a character to use one of his powers. For example, the shapechanging raccoon dog has the Become Anything (8) power, so would spend 8 Wonder whenever he shapechanges. Players gain Wonder tokens at the beginning of scene equal to the total of their connection strengths TO others.
Feelings: Feeling tokens are used during a scene to add to an attribute to make a "check". Similar to adding a dice roll to a stat to make or beat a target number, the Narrator tells the player which attribute will be used and what total result will be required. The player may spend any Feeling he needs to pass or exceed the check. Players gain Wonder tokens at the beginning of scene equal to the total of their connection strengths FROM others.
While the mechanics aren't difficult, the terminology and gameplay is quite different from conventional, combat-focused RPGs. I found it tricky to understand the complete rules of the book, so recommend learning from the demo. A glossary and index would also have been useful. The mechanics are probably best learned through the demo pdf, and the rulebook used once the narrator has the basics down.
GSS provides support for the narrator to adjust to this different sort of roleplaying: story design advice, town setting advice and a premade town, two introductory stories, an animal bestiary, descriptions of the various types of people in town, and both play sessions and an example story. The descriptions of the types of animals and people in the town include adventure seeds narrators can use to form adventures. After all, henge stories are often about helping others. Despite henge stories being different than western generic fantasy roleplaying, they may be well-suited for improvisational play: the narrator presents and open-ended problem, the players brainstorm a possible solution, and the narrator runs with it. After all, if a boy wants to try to confess his feelings to a girl, there are many ways of doing it! Also, like slice-of-life manga stories, GSS stories may be one-shot, as well as longer-running stories.
The primary artist is manga artis Ike (altitude attitude). His own manga, Nekomusume Michikusa Nikki, "Catgirl's Wayside Grass Diary", is about a henge cat girl who lives in a small countryside town. (The manga is occasionally risque, so would be rated for older teen or higher. Most of Ike's art on Danbooru, Pixiv, and Konachan are SFW.) Unlike the generic fantasy art in most rulebooks, the art in GSS not only supports the section of the book it appears in, but often shows a glimpse of the personality of whoever is in the picture.
If you're looking for a gentle, non-violent, all-ages roleplaying game, this is it! Mechanics still stay within the realm of conventional roleplaying, but the simple countryside setting and "helping others" gameplay are entirely different. The slice-of-life genre allows the narrator to adjust the story to the amount of time available for the gaming group, and subject matter to the group's sensabilities.
[4 of 5 Stars!]