RPG Playtest – Afterlife: Wandering Souls

Things got a bit busy for me, so this is a few days later than expected, but hey, at least it actually got written! Progress! That said, I do owe Liz an apology for how long it took to get this done, I really did want to get it posted earlier in the campaign so it could potentially help more with funding. Anyway…

So a few years back, my friends Terry, Evan and I ran a playtest session for a game called Afterlife: Wandering Souls, by Angry Hamster Publishing, the same company that created Witch: Fated Souls, a game I reviewed back in 2016 (for those who can’t be bothered reading the review, I really liked it, and it’s only grown on me more over the years). Afterlife was supposed to hit Kickstarter in 2017, but was delayed for an overhaul after the playtests were run. Well, it’s finally up on Kickstarter, and honestly, it was worth the wait. Before we get into the system though, what is Afterlife: Wandering Souls? Well, the Kickstarter campaign sums it up pretty well:

Afterlife: Wandering Souls is a macabre fantasy game set in surreal plane known as the Tenebris. You take on the role of a Wanderer—someone who died, but didn’t end up in Heaven, Hell, or any other traditional afterlife.  Devoid of any memories of your life on earth, you find yourself in an endless desert filled with gateways. Search different planes of existence for clues of your former life – or a semblance of one. Along the way you’ll encounter strange inhabitants, alien cultures, and other humans who’ve lost all hope and are bent on destroying you. 

Most of the action in Afterlife takes place in Mirages (cities located within the Tenebris itself, inhabited by natives who were never humans) and Limbos (extremely varied and sometimes very strange planes of existence accessed from gates within the Tenebris, where the inhabitants may not even know there’s a world outside of their own). The travel between Mirages and Limbos is usually handled in a fairly streamlined manner, referred to in the rules as Encountering the Dark, where the GM presents a scenario and each player takes a turn determining how they want to try and overcome it, building on the results of earlier actions by other players.

So in the interests of testing out the new rules, I gathered a group to run through the quickstart adventure provided for the game. Back when I playtested the original version, it was comparable to a slightly simplified version of Witch: Fated Souls, with a fairly traditional resolution mechanic and skill/tools/weapons system. It’s seen some pretty big changes since then.

System Overview

The mechanics for the game are relatively simple and stripped back. Players choose one of three archetypes, or Approaches, representing how they present themselves and deal with the world, and also determining what their primary weapon is. Bows are quick witted, nimble and intelligent; Shields are protective, wise and hardy; and Swords are passionate, strong, and decisive in their actions. Each character has three core stats, each with three linked attributes, a concept pool (used to boost rolls related to that core), and a virtue pool (individual health pools related to each core). Each character also has at least one Talent that provides them specific abilities; and Deathmarks that represent memories they’ve found of their past life, as well as providing further abilities. There are also Tricks, but they’re not covered in the quickstart rules. I’m not going to dive into the fine details here, but if you want to check it out in a bit more detail, you can have a look at the Kickstarter or the quickstart.

Resolution mechanics are also very simple. The player tells the GM what they’re doing, and depending on how difficult the task is and if the players are doing anything to make it harder on themselves, the GM sets a target number (1 is very simple, 5 is near impossible, and it can go higher than that), and tells the player which core stat and linked attribute to add together to get their dice pool. They can also manipulate their dice pools by finding a way to use their Approach or a Talent to assist with their action. The player rolls that many dice, and for each result of a 4, 5 or 6, they get a success. If they have successes equal to or exceeding the target number, they succeed in their action. If not, things get worse in a manner decided by the GM. The GM doesn’t actually roll any dice, which I found a little hard to deal with at first, but it did get a bit easier as the game went on.

Having given the group a quick overview of the rules, I handed out the provided characters from the quickstart pack to the group. We ended up with a party of Wanders consisting of Grayson, a Sword; Harper, a Shield; and two Bows, Echo and Quin. The players introduced their characters to each other, and we dived in to the quickstart adventure…

The Wall of Thorns

If you’d like to try the quickstart for yourself, you can find it on DriveThruRPG

The group began by trading some supplies for information from another Wanderer that they’d met in a Mirage. He informed them that a nearby Limbo, the Wall of Thorns, was apparently able to provide Wanderers with glimpses of their past lives, if they could find a way to deal with the guardian of the Limbo, a being called the Reaper. This was a nearly irresistible opportunity for any Wanderer, as their goal in the Tenebris is to learn enough about themselves earn their Requiem, a true afterlife. So off they went, searching for the Wall of Thorns.

Shortly after departing for the Limbo, I brought in the first Encountering the Dark interlude. The group encountered a father and son pair of injured centaur-like creatures called ungkiin. While generally unfriendly towards non-ungkiin, they needed assistance, or at the very least, to take some supplies by force. The players took turns trying to calm the father, until he explained that he and his son had been attacked by Unrequited, Wanderers who lost all hope and motivation to find their requiem, instead choosing to drag others down with them into despair (though as the players would later learn, they can still be tempted by knowledge of their former lives, even if they don’t intend to find their Requiem). They patched up the ungkiin’s wounds, gave them some supplies, and sent them on their way, now with the knowledge that there were at least six Unrequited ahead of them, heading in the same direction. Armed with this new info, the party made their way on to the Wall of Thorns…

Finding a wrought iron gate, wound with vines and roses, they entered the realm of the Wall of Thorns. Inside, they found an endless grey expanse below a dull sky, featureless except for a ten metre high wall stretching as far as the eye could see, covered in more vines and roses. Swarming around the roses, somehow moving them along the wall, were countless small green serpents. The only other thing they could see was an enormous scaled tail, weaving in and out of the wall. After watching the serpents for a while, Quin decided to try and take a closer look at a rose. As she did, an anguished cry rose up, and the gigantic tail began to move. The upper body of a beautiful woman, eight feet tall, came crashing over the top of the wall, revealing that her waist melded into the tail of the giant serpent. The Reaper had noticed their arrival, and was screaming demands that they give back her daughter…

I won’t give any more of the story away than that. But the adventure, while fairly linear and short, gave a really good sample of various elements of the game, including combat, environmental hazards, the Encountering the Dark system, and the various ways you can approach situations in the game. All the players had a really good time, and found some novel ways to use their abilities and Approaches to overcome obstacles. One of the more memorable moments was Echo’s player being the first to really understand that the Approaches aren’t limited by their forms, so he began throwing his shield around like Captain America, ricocheting it off walls into opponents. The big fight with the Unrequited was also very cool, because it showed off how they become twisted versions of Wanderers. The Swords become Hammers, Shields become Whips, and the Bows turn into Guns, with each of them having a unique ability.

The consensus was that the rules system was really solid, and everyone was excited to see how the full rules turn out when the Kickstarter delivers. Hopefully we’ll get a campaign going. So if you’re interested in checking out a quirky, surreal RPG about finding your way through the afterlife, make sure to check out the Kickstarter campaign (as of when this was posted, there are ten days left on it). The third stretch goal for the campaign has just been unlocked, and there’s at least a few more in the works if they can get the funding, including an additional book that focuses entirely on the various Limbos and Mirages in the Tenebris.

Art in this post was taken from the Kickstarter campaign page for Afterlife: Wandering Souls.

Written while listening to Kaura, which feels appropriate given that I was listening to their album That Which Defines Us back when I wrote the review for Witch: Fated Souls. I still love the album, though I hadn’t listened to it for quite a while. But it felt especially appropriate with a few things that are going on at the moment.

I’ll try to get another post up in the next week, work allowing. It’ll probably be related to some plans for a game I’m looking at starting soon, or possibly restarting an old one.

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