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Saturday 11 June 2022

Solitaire: Be Like a Crow

Be Like a Crow: A Solo RPG is a journaling game which enables the player to take to the skies as a corvidae—crow, magpie, jackdaw, or rook—over multiple landscapes and differing genres, achieving objectives, exploring, and growing as they learn and grow old. It is clever and thoughtful in that it makes the reader and player think outside of what they might traditionally roleplay and explore a world quite literally from a bird’s-eye view. It combines the simple mechanics and use of a deck of playing cards typical of a journaling game with five genres—‘Urban Crow’, ‘Cyber-Crow’, ‘Gothic Crow’, ‘Fantasy Crow’, ‘Clockwork Crow’, and ‘Ravens of the Tower’. Each of these presents a different place and time for the bird to fly over, land on, encounter the denizens, and more. The book is easy to read and the rules and set-up easy to grasp, such that the player can start reading and taking inspiration from the prompts in Be Like a Crow: A Solo RPG and begin making recording entries in his journal, with little difficulty.

Be Like a Crow: A Solo RPG is not a roleplaying game about anthropomorphic birds. The player is very much exploring worlds and recording the experiences of an actual bird, as it goes from a fledgling to a juvenile to an adult. Each bird is defined by its size and habits such as nesting, diet, notable characteristics, and habitat. In game terms, each type of bird begins play with a certain number of ticks in various skills. Skills are broken down into four categories—‘Travel & Exploration’, ‘Social Interaction’, ‘Tools & Rituals’, and ‘Combat’—each of which has four skills. A corvidae begins play with two ticks in any one skill and one tick in a skill in each category, plus ticks in five skills for his species. He also has authority with two skills. The player’s choice of setting will add ticks to certain skills as well.

Species: Magpie
Lifecycle Stage: Fledgling
Setting: Cyber-Crow

Travel & Exploration: Fly 1, Hop 1, Search 2, Navigate 1
Social Interaction:  Befriend 1, Signal –, Scare 1, Mate –
Tools & Rituals: Dance –, Sing –, Use Tool 1, Preen 1
Combat: Peck 1, Claw –, Divebomb 1, Evade 1

Mechanically, Be Like a Crow is simple. It uses a standard deck of playing cards and when a player wants his bird to undertake an action, he draws a card from the deck. This sets the difficulty number of the task. To see whether the bird succeeds, he draws another card and adds the value of a skill to the number of the card if appropriate. If it is equal or greater than the difficulty number, the bird succeeds. If an action is made with Authority, whether due to circumstances or a skill, the player draws two cards and uses the highest one, whereas if made at a Penalty, two cards are drawn and the lowest value one used. When drawn, a Joker can be used or saved for later. If the latter, it can be used to automatically succeed at a combat or skill check, to heal injuries, or to discard a card and draw again. Combat is a matter of drawing a card for each opponent, adding a skill if appropriate, and comparing the totals of the cards and the skills. The highest total wins each round and inflicts an injury. Eventually, when the deck is exhausted, the discard pile is reshuffled and becomes the new deck.

Half of 
Be Like a Crow consists of prompts and settings. There are prompts for events in flight and on land that are standard to all six settings, but each setting has its set of tables for objectives, objects, characters, and locations. Only one set of objectives is given for each setting, but the objects, characters, and locations are divided between the black and the red suit colours. This gives thirteen objectives per setting and double that for each of the other categories. Each setting also includes a double-page, full colour map. Notes on each setting give the extra abilities and skills that a bird gains at each stage of his lifecycle, from fledgling all the way up to ol’ crow.

The play and thus the journaling of 
Be Like a Crow is driven by objectives as achieving these will enable a bird to advance through his lifecycle. An objective for the ‘Clockwork Crow’ setting, might be for example, “[character] has gone missing, last seen in [location]. Air ship pirates might be involved. Travel there and find them and return them back to their home in [location].” The player will also need to draw cards to identify the character and both locations, and then as his bird flies from hex to hex across the map, draw cards for events in flight, and then for events when he lands. The player is free to, and advised to, ignore prompts if they do not fit the story, and this may be necessary if a prompt is drawn again, but ideally, the player should be using the prompts as drawn to tell a story and build the life of his crow.

Physically, Be Like a Crow: A Solo RPG is a lovely little book. The artwork throughout is excellent and the book is well written and easy to use.

Be Like a Crow: A Solo RPG is published by Critical Kit, a publisher better known for its scenarios for Dungeons & Dragons, Fifth Edition, as is unlike anything that the publisher has released. It sets out to provide the means to explore the life of an animal, sometimes in a fantastical setting, sometimes not, constantly prompting the player to tell his crow’s story, where he went, what he did, and who he met, but always to think like a bird. In keeping a journal it enables the player to articulate and express that experience of the world around him, from a very different point of view, and that roleplaying in a non-traditional way. The result is the Player Character in Be Like a Crow soars and flaps, hops and preens, pecks and divebombs, exploring a world from above and below, always through the beady eyes of his bird. The result is that Be Like a Crow: A Solo RPG is a delightfully contemplative and engagingly different playing experience.

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