I am apparently not the only one interested in conflicts between mortals and fae creatures — Firestorm Ink’s Geasa lets a group of players construct a story about hapless mortals who make deals with Fae beings for magical help (but it doesn’t usually work out the way the mortal plans).
Geasa belongs to a genre loosely referred to as “storytelling games.” They differ from traditional RPGs in that the stories generally only last for one play session (although you could strong together a campaign if you wanted), so the emphasis on character advancement is absent. They also tend to be very light on mechanics, focusing instead on inter-character conflict and plot development. A good example, previously reviewed here at Robot Viking, is Umläut: Game of Metal.
In Geasa, each player creates a person and also a Fae. The first part of the game revolves around everyone creating their backgrounds and identifying plenty of links between their characters, so there’s fertile ground for conflict and story. There are some rudimentary stats to be assigned as well. Then they figure out which Fae are mucking around with which person’s life.
Gameplay occurs in a series of scenes. One person will be in the spotlight for each scene, while other players either use their own characters, or play the roles of NPPs (NPCs, basically) who take part in the scene. Success or failure in the scene is determined by bidding various dice (d6s) that are rolled at the start of the game. Low dice can be used to ensure success for the spotlight player, while high dice can be used to bid for the spotlight player’s failure by the other players. If the spotlight player wins the scene, she gets to narrate the outcome (obviously in her favor). If she loses, the other players narrate the scene by consensus.
If you roll a 1, you can use that to get your Fae to provide a magical effect that virtually guarantees you’ll win the scene. However, whenever anyone rolls a 6, they have to give that die to their person’s Fae, which will surely come back to haunt them at a crucial moment. It’s a “deal with the devil” kind of thing.
The second half of the Geasa book fleshes out the ideas behind the Fae world a bit more, and provides some sample settings and characters to help focus the game and give players a direction when their starting out. As with any storytelling game, it works best as a framework that allows creative people to create fun, interesting stories. A group of strategic wargamers might not get much out of this.
A lot of the storytelling games I’ve encountered before have a humorous leaning, encouraging outrageous adventures and ribald plots. Geasa comes across as a bit more serious, but you can set the “emotional intensity” dial wherever you like. It can be played as a lighthearted kids’ game about mischievous faeries, or you can explore tragedy and despair with a mature group (if that’s your idea of a fun game night).You’re going to get out of this game what you put into it.
My one complaint about Geasa is that the rules feel slightly disorganized and confusing at times. They’re just a bit more verbose than I personally like — they could probably be streamlined a bit for clarity. However, there are very clear and concise rules summaries throughout the book. I recommend reading those first to see how things work, then read the actual rules sections to get more detail (the summaries are presented at the end of each section, so you’ll have to skip ahead). There is actually a shortened version with just the rules to the game available for free — even if you have the full version, the free one is printer friendly so you can have a copy for the game table.
You can download Geasa from RPGNow for just $5 (you can find the free version there too).