In their youth, they journeyed to a land of wonder. There they became heroes and saved lands from a great evil. Then they grew up. Now as adults, they’re called back to fight peril to a realm transformed.
Inspirations: The Magicians, The Chronicles of Narnia, Ni No Kuni, The Books of Magic, Grimm, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Digimon, The Phantom Tollbooth, Zot!, Alice in Wonderland, Return to Oz, The Talisman, Coraline, Pan's Labyrinth, Un Lun Dun, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. The game's pitch line riffs on the Fate World of Adventure, Nest.
I'd sketched the basic idea before, but reading Nest's premise got me to add my pitch to our "what should we play?" list. I've actually avoided reading Nest until after we get a few sessions in. It looks awesome though. To play I put together a loose set of PbtA rules, building on what I wrote earlier for Pug'buttah and adding Keys to the mix (h/t to Rich). I'll probably put those out there after we see how it plays and I clean it up. In any case, I put together some sample characters to include with the rules. GMs might find these useful for a modern fantasy game, for a Nest play-through, or even for When the Dark is Gone.
NAME: Jessie Vont
REALM: Tar-no-Bog, the Land of Hidey-Holes
ADULTING: Administrative Assistant
Vanishing +0 (fading out, making other things disappear)
Childhood Key: Key of the Odd Girl: +1 XP when you do something small but weird to everyone around you. +3 XP when you do something that causes you to be excluded from a group or event. Buyoff: Figure out what’s driving you in this behavior.
Adult Key: Key of the Nice Girl: +1 XP when you do something nice because that’s what’s expected of you. +3 XP when being nice costs you a significant opportunity. Buyoff: Loudly put your own interests ahead of someone else’s expectations.
Skill: Wallflower Awareness: Your natural worry makes you preternaturally aware when you enter a new place. You have +1 when you make a Move that relies on knowing the layout or exits of a location.
Stuff: Invisibility: You can turn invisible for as long as you hold your breath.
Critical Move: Yes, But: On a 12+ with a Discover move, you may suggest a modification or significant addition to an answer received.
Jessie grew up as the youngest child, with two older sisters. Not as pretty as them, her mother drilled into her that she needed to be good to fit in and get along. When Jessie fell into Tar-no-Bog, she fell in love with the wilds and brambles of the place. Her natural skill at Hide-and-Go-Seek allowed her to trick the Lukbugs that tormented the inhabitants. When her family moved, Jessie expected she’d still be able to go to the Realm. But though she sought high and low in their new town, she never found passage again.
NAME: Vedat Iskander
REALM: Ferdumpus, the Exalted Scrapyard
ADULTING: Ticket Scalper
Scavenge +0 (reusing the broken, finding the useful)
Childhood Key: Key of the Unrequited: You fall into love and infatuation easily and deeply. Gain +1 XP when you fixate on a new persons. Gain +3 XP when you do a risky or embarrassing thing in front of that person to gain their attention. Buyoff: Suffer a painful rejection.
Adult Key: Key of the Thrifty: People toss away good stuff. Gain +1 XP when you rescue and hang on to something someone throws away. Gain +3 XP when a rescued object proves useful. Buyoff: Clean out your hoard.
Move: Finders Keepers: When you search for a necessary or significant object, ROLL…
10+ You discover what you want. Choose one: it has key importance to the moment or scene; +1 it offers +1 Ongoing for the scene (choose move); or it offers +2 Forward (Set Up). You may only have one such item “effective” at a time.
7-9 You make a discovery, as above, but you must lose or sacrifice something of importance.
Skill: Hunger Artist: You’re used to living on little and getting buy. You know how to stretch resources. Add +1 to a Move when you have to survive or aid others to survive.
Stat: +1 Wise
Vedat grew up in a massive family, a gathering of immigrants who’d chosen shared living and a communal lifestyle. The result was a herd of children, all struggling for attention. Like his brothers and sisters, Vedat collected things for memories and a sense of his own place. He found Ferdumpus after one of his brothers stole his small stash. There Vedat could find anything needed, a talent useful in bringing down the Crusherman and his Hoist Boys.
NAME: Amanda Eagleton
REALM: Sunspark, the Questers’ Freehold
ADULTING: Road Worker
Hercules +0 (lift heavy things)
Childhood Key: Key of the Competitor: You love contests and love to win. Gain +1 XP when you enter a competition. Gain +3 XP when you actually win such a contest. Buyoff: Gracefully concede to another.
Adult Key: Key of the Matchmaker: You like seeing romantic pairings work, though perhaps not your own. Gain +1 XP when you try to set up a pairing. Gain +3 XP when you try to set up a pairing and it actually clicks. Buyoff: You turn your attention to your own romantic life.
Stuff: Red Lead Sword: Weapon does +2 Harm. May be taken away.
Stuff: Resilient: +1 Harm box.
Move: Bring Down the Pillars: When you try to use your great strength to create a massive change in the environment, ROLL…
10+ You do what you set out to do: walls come tumbling down, statues fall, hillsides crack open.
7-9 It breaks, but not as you wish. Something’s damaged, others endangered, or a new peril revealed.
Amanda grew up, a small young thing, raised by a father who worked as a bouncer, lifter, and general strongman. He said men should be strong, but she shouldn’t have to. Then her father died of a heart attack while working a club. She found her way to Sunspark even as she swapped between family members’ care. Her ability to lift nearly anything allows her to complete Brancow’s Seven Challenges and save the realm. She left the realm reluctantly, but knowing she had to find a way to be as strong in the real world.
NAME: Nadja Salt
Speaker +0 (Talking to anything)
Childhood Key: Key of the Twice Shy: You’ve learned to avoid blame, but reflexively avoid credit as well. Gain +1 XP when you can pin your success on someone else. Gain +3 XP when they readily take full credit. Buyoff: Exclaim your own awesomeness.
Adult Key: Key of the Procrastinator: Gain +1 XP when you’re able to successfully delay a due date for yourself. Gain +3 XP when you manage to finish something major after the last minute after putting it off. Buyoff: Get something done well in advance.
Move: Tempest in a Teapot: When you ask a tool or weapon to create problems, ROLL…
10+ It does so, creating and effect and causing Harm if you wish it to.
7-9 It does so, but causes damage to or problems for an ally or yourself.
Skill: Musician: You can coax a tune out of most instruments. But you only gain a +1 when you’re not trying to play a set piece or established song.
Stuff: The Unspent Quarter: You have a quarter that always returns to you at sunset.
The only time Nadja got noticed in her family was when something went wrong. Then, it felt to her, she’d be the scapegoat, regardless what had happened. Even good stuff usually got turned around on her by parents who seemed to relish laying verbal traps for her. In Summertithe, no one expected anything of her. She could laze about and just talk and dream. That’s how she learned the secrets which stopped the Helperman taking the younglings away to the Work-School. Nadja’s kept that detachment in her adult life, cutting corners and gliding by as best she can. Even when she’s inspired, she tries to hide it.
NAME: Cole Winters
REALM: Galloping Gulch
ADULTING: Safety Inspector
Sheriff +0 (Keeping things orderly, enforcing the rules)
Childhood Key: Key of the Right Way: Things have rules. People are supposed to stick to the rules. That’s how things should work. Gain +1 XP when you try to correct someone’s violation of a rule. Gain +3 XP when your complaints change the person’s action or decision. Buyoff: Let the breaking of rules go by unremarked.
Adult Key: Key of the Skeptic: Gain +1 XP when you find an alternate explanation for a fantastical event. Gain +3 XP when your unwillingness to accept the strange keeps you from progress or success. Buyoff: Finally acknowledge the reality of the Realm.
Stuff: Catch: Do +2 Harm when striking someone who has broken a promise to you or your allies.
Critical Move: Tin Star: When you Act to avoid danger or Harm and roll a 12+, you may protect a group of others (like nearby innocents or your group).
Stuff: Loophole: Tell the GM when you want to spot a loophole, gap or weakness. They will offer you one, though not necessarily related to the immediate problem. Once a session.
Cole grew up in a household with two busy and ambitious parents. They worked hard at their jobs and badly juggled obligations and promises. That only worsened when they divorced. In Galloping Gulch, Cole enforced the rules and kept the peace. He learned how to use those to put down the Rampagers and Backgivers. In the Gulch everything had its place, and you just had to figure out their codes to keep them in line. It was a forced therapy session that taught Cole the Gulch wasn’t real, couldn’t be real. The world didn’t work that way. Eventually he bought into those rules and forgot his experience there.
NAME: Michael Gyo
REALM: The Last Tower
ADULTING: Call Center Rep
Wizarding +0 (Magic spells and conjurings!)
Childhood Key: Key of Keepsakes: You like to hang on to mementos. Gain 1 XP when you find and pocket a significant object. Gain 3 XP when you tell a story about one of your collectibles that connects to the moment. Buyoff: Dump out your pockets in the trash.
Adult Key: Key of Lies: You’re a habitual liar, not necessarily about big stuff. Gain 1 XP when you tell a lie when you don’t have to. Gain 3 XP when one of your lies creates a major problem. Buyoff: Tell the truth to someone you’ve lied to for years.
Move: Magic Tricks: When you attempt to use simple magic to entertain or distract, ROLL…
10+ You succeed and you may add something to the scene: conceal a small object, change something’s color, unstitch threads, etc.
7-9 You succeed, but something’s goes wrong shortly: chair breaks, milk sours, pages catch fire.
Stuff: Bryzantimus the Rat: You have a small and exasperated rat familiar. He can scout out ahead for you, lift tiny objects, and criticize your decisions.
Stuff: Fan Fiction Followers: You have a gaggle of people who keep up with your posts about “The Last Tower,” which you loosely position as fan-fiction for a popular YA series. You can use them for aid or information in the real world.
Michael started lying early. He had to. He couldn’t tell his parents about the Last Tower, about how they taught him to be a wizard, about how he excelled there. He never excelled in regular school, much to his parent’s disappointment. Michael burned through every excuse covering for his travels and adventures. All of that stuck with him later, sitting at his mindless 9-5 job. He began to write up tales of what he’d seen. But he buried them by attaching them to the coattails of more famous worlds. His gift for imaginative lying served him well and garnered him an audience. But he even lies about that success still, hiding that from his well-out-of-his-league girlfriend for fear of losing her.