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Friday 17 June 2022

Strange & Simple

The Silver Road is a rules light—a very rules light, minimalist storytelling. It is so light that it does not even have its own integral setting, although it does include a scenario and a set of sample Player Characters. Designed to be played by two or more players—though four is the perfect number, plus a Game Mediator, the types of stories The Silver Road is designed to tell should be ideally composed of discrete scenes, whether arrayed along a narrative or organised into a flowchart. Each scene should involve one or more problems with potential consequences. The example given in the book involves a child attempting to pick the lock of her bedroom, the consequences being that if she fails, she will get frustrated, stamp her feet, and so attract the attention of her stepmother downstairs. The story could be the exploration of a dungeon or an escape room, a fairy tale, a race across Europe to escape with information from behind the Iron Curtain, or the infiltration of the moon base home to a gang of space pirates! Whatever the story, the mechanics are designed so that ultimately a character will always succeed, but will have to suffer the consequences of their initial failure, and as a storytelling game, provides scope for a player to add elements to the scene beyond whatever their character is doing.

The Silver Road is published by Handiwork Games, best known for BEOWULF: Age of Heroes, and requires a single six-sided die each for both the players and the Game Mediator, and some pencils and paper. A character is simply defined. He has a name, an important fact about them—such as a job, role, or what he is, two things he is good at, two things he is bad at, and lastly, a Magic Number. The latter ranges between two and five, and is unique to the character. Character creation can be done as a group or separately, but ultimately, the players should have as a group a reason to stay together and face the hostile situations designed and presented to them by the Game Mediator.

I am a Cat Who Belongs to No-One

Things I am Good at
I am good at getting people to trust me
I am good at sneaking

Things I am Bad at
I am bad at meowing
I am bad at dealing with children

In terms of play, the Game Master will have ready a series of scenes containing obstacles and consequences, which when one is overcome will lead to the next and so on and so on. She will present the scene and then in turn, each player will narrate what his character will do (it need not be in turn order round the table, but that is the default). To have his character undertake an action, a player rolls his die. If it is something the Player Character is good at, he will nearly always succeed. If it is something the Player Character is bad at, he will nearly always fail. If he fails, there will be consequences, but if it is something the Player Character is good at and he fails, there will be consequences also, but he will succeed on his next turn.

There are no rules for combat in The Silver Road, the outcome of any direct conflict being already built into the rules through the effect of consequences. In conflicts, these can be that the character is hurt—or depending upon the story being narrated, actually killed. The former is more likely than the latter though, and even if killed, a character could return as a ghost—depending upon the story, of course.

In addition, if the result on any die roll is equal to a player’s magic Number, that player can ‘Butt-in’. This gives him the opportunity to add to the current scene or action within the scene—even if it is not that player’s turn—with his new narration having to begin, “But…” The Butt-in’ interjection can be used to bring in the player’s own character, or that of another player, to add something to the scene (even to warp it to make it even more challenging for the current or next player!), and so on. The narration thus switches from player to player to the Game Mediator and back again, with the interjections happening at random.

The Silver Road could be criticized for being too simple—and arguably, given the size of the book and the extent of its mechanics, it is. After all, they have been developed from one page of rules. 
Nevertheless, their simplicity makes them easy to learn, teach, and use—such that this roleplaying game could be run with children—and further, what that space allows is advice for the Game Mediator on organising and running the game, handling consequences, getting hurt and more. The roleplaying game also comes with a set of example Player Characters and Obstacles, as well as a scenario or story, a sort of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five affair which spirals into a fairy tale.

The Silver Road is well written, easy to read, and ready to run in five minutes. In addition, the simplicity of The Silver Road expanded into a booklet-sized roleplaying game has the advantage of allowing space for fantastic artwork on every page. This has an ethereality to it, suggesting something lost or over there on the edge where figures, often in odd or period garb, slide into the mists, doors stand closed in hedges, buildings crumble atop rises, and ghosts linger in the morning light. The implied nature of The Silver Road is liminal, somewhere between the modern and the past, a step or two’s way from somewhere further back or elsewhere.

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