The Shadow of Yesterday: Main Rulebook

Author: Clinton R. Nixon
Version: 0.9
Date: Aug 18, 2004
Copyright: This work is copyright 2004 Clinton R. Nixon. This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.
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Table of Contents


Once upon a time, there was a world named Near. It was Near, because it was all its people knew. It was composed of one Empire, taking the best of every civilization it contained and melding it into a cornucopia called Maldor. Whether jungle dweller, plains rider, grubby goblin, wolf-chaser in the snow, or wandering elf, all belonged to Maldor.

Three centuries ago, the Maldor Empire stretched from ocean to mountain, gleaming cities sprouting like flowers in its wake. Their most powerful and successful emperor-general, Absolon, called all of his advisors and most powerful of magicians to him for one singular task to cement the Empire as the greatest the world had ever known: the construction of a language for his varied subjects. He wanted a language to be crafted that was easy for anyone to learn that incorporated all the concepts of every cultural influence under his rule.

The advisors and magicians spent months using their arcane crafts to map the mind of man and examining the nuances of every language spoke within the Empire. They finally discovered their key in the language of the Zaru, the native people of a once tiny-but-prosperous delta kingdom. Their native tongue, which they kept highly secretive, was different than any other known language. It was built not of words, but of things called zu, tiny discrete bits of ideas, each pronounced as one syllable, which were combined in a complex method that could convey any idea depending on the zu used and in what order. Best of all, this language had a unique power: anyone who heard it understood the zu and in prolonged exposure gained knowledge of how to speak the language.

Emperor Absolon commanded his advisors to spread the language of zu throughout his Empire. As soon as the breath that made this command left his mouth, one of the Zaru, a rice-farmer and philosopher named Hanish, burst into Absolon's throne room, the dirt of hundreds of miles of running covering his body. He fell to his knees and begged the Emperor to not unleash zu on the world. He had seen a fiery dot in the sky, bright enough to be seen in mid-day, and swore it was an omen that the language of zu would bring destruction to the world. Absolon, hungry for unification, ignored Hanish and the omen, and the advisors left with the cryptic syllables on their tongues and Hanish left in chains, thrown into Absolon's dungeons.

The language of zu spread like wildfire throughout the Empire. With it, the Empire blossomed even more with new art blending the ideas of all of man shared among all peoples. The Empire's magicians grew in power, the magical language being an optimal way to call on the primal forces they commanded.

In his private quarters, though, Absolon worried. He had his astronomers scan the sky and they too saw the fiery dot on the edge of existence. Even worse, this dot seemed to grow larger by day, as if the sky itself was beginning to burn away. Within six months, this dot grew as large as the sun itself, and burned bright by night, causing fear and unrest in Absolon's newly-solidified kingdom. Mothers held their crying children to their breast, trying to block the fell rays of this celestial fire from their babies' eyes; peasants grew fearful as their beasts moaned in confusion at night; priests proclaimed the end of the world was coming.

And all looked to their Emperor, Absolon, for guidance, but Absolon had none. Zu could not be revoked.

Absolon called on Hanish, threatening him with death if this curse was not removed from the world. Hanish lay himself before Absolon's executioners, proclaiming, "Kill me now, or I die in six months' time. The sky's fire cannot be stopped, and my death comes now or then." Moved by Hanish's bravery and defiance, Absolon took him to his side as his highest advisor and they spent many hours talking alone. The people of the Empire grew more and more worried: their Emperor spent all his days privately conversing with the man who would destroy the world while the fire in the sky grew bigger. Within another three months, this burning orb illuminated everything in the burnt red of flame both day and night. The sun could not even be seen.

And three months later, in the midst of open revolt, chaos, madness, prophets proclaiming the death of all life, assassinations, and depravity, Absolon and Hanish emerged from the Emperor's quarters. The Sky Fire had grown no bigger than half the sky, but its heat was now palpable as temperatures soared to intolerable levels, and the entire sky was painted red and purple in eternal sunset as the globe burned away the air.

Absolon and Hanish stood on the steps of the Emperor's Palace, hand in hand, and began a chant in zu to the sky, intoning ancient syllables which spread throughout the angry crowds outside, calming them as they joined the chant. This chant lasted for three days, and it is said that by the end of those three days, the entire Empire had taken up the chant. The Fire moved slowly across the sky, though, and at the end of the three days, crossed the western horizon and night fell again. Absolon and Hanish collapsed on the stairs where they chanted, their spirits gone and bodies broken.

Then, the world halted.

In the midst of night, the world shook with such a rumble that buildings fell, cracks opened spewing lava, and mountains formed out of plains-land. Men wept and tore their clothes, animals stampeded, and the elderly died of shock. A red glow came from every horizon, with black smoky clouds billowing. The clouds grew and grew as the earth continued to shake for days on end, the sun barely visible, and finally even blotted out that orb of life-giving light.

For a year, the earth quivered and the sun rose no more, with only black clouds looking down on humanity. The earth froze. For one year, through the harshest of winters, people died of plague, starvation, and madness. By the end of that year, the population of the known world was a tenth of what it had been, and the ones that were left found they no longer spoke the language of zu, but instead spoke in tongues that had been forgotten to them, eradicated by the brain-shaping power of zu. Their knowledge, craft, and art were lost to them, destroyed as surely as the sun.

One year after its disappearance, the sun rose weakly in the sky, barely shining through the breaking clouds. People driven to primitivism stuck their heads out of their caves, hovels, and homes to see the beloved sun as it rose to the middle of the sky and the foul darkness broke around it. When it set, though, living persons everywhere shook with horror.

A moon rose in the sky. Never had a moon been seen in the world. The only object ever seen in the night sky was the dread Sky Fire, which this bore too much a resemblance to. Its pale light threw dark shadows onto the land. Worse, when the sun rose the next day, this moon - three times as large as the sun - eclipsed the sun, a black Shadow Moon rimmed in fire.

Three hundred years have passed. The old civilizations have begun to grow again. Even in the shattered realm of Maldor, people inhabit some of the old cities. Elves and goblins wander the world again, and new strange species have developed. Magicians have regained some of their power, as their ancient tongues are recalled, and priests comfort the survivors of an apocalypse.

And once a month, the sun is eclipsed for one entire week by the Shadow Moon.

Some people quiver in abject fear.

And some heroes fight the Shadow, in the darkest caves, the most decayed of civilizations, and the blackest hearts.

What this is

This is a role-playing game (or RPG), which you probably already know if you're reading it. If you don't already know what a role-playing game is, it's a type of entertainment where each player takes on the role of a character they have created using a system that represents the boons and flaws of a fictional protagonist. These players describe what their characters do while one particular player, known in this text as the Story Guide, describes their surroundings and the other characters (often known as non-player characters or NPCs) that they meet. And that's about it. If you like stories, or acting, or spending time making up fantasies with others, then you'll like it.

A little bit about the phrase "role-playing game"

The phrase "role-playing game" is totally misleading. The types of games lumped into this phrase differ from each other as much as playing a first-person shooter computer game differs from acting in a play or recreating a historical battle. "Role-playing game" was the phrase coined for Dungeons and Dragons when it was apparent it didn't fit into other known categories, and it's stuck for a whole class of games, although attempts at using "story-telling game" or "adventure game" have happened and failed.

Why is it a misnomer? Here's why: some RPGs provide a framework for telling a story with your friends, others provide a structured system for representing day-to-day occurrences in a real or fictional world, and others provide a play environment for competition among the participants. Only one of the above - the last - is what would traditionally be called a game, and none of the above, with the possible exception of the second, fit the definition of role-playing as it's used in psychiatrists' offices or corporate team-building exercises. In those, the point is to gain a closer understanding of others - or yourself - by pretending to be in a different situation.

The Shadow of Yesterday, and many other games besides, do none of that. Sure, you can empathize with characters and their struggles, and you can enjoy crushing the minions of some ruthless tyrant in the game, but it's first and foremost about creating a fictional fantasy with your friends. I've tried to think up new names myself, and came up with "story-creation system," "fantastic framework," and other such unwieldy names.

So, "role-playing game" it is. I just thought you should know it's a misnomer.

What this RPG is about

The Shadow of Yesterday is set in a near-destroyed world, the victim of a huge celestial body striking it and causing a moon to shatter away from the world, fragmenting civilization and providing lots of room for characters to run around and re-create civilization as they might want it.

It's built on a great deal of optimism and hope, with a sharp streak of sadness at the state of the world injected. "The Shadow of Yesterday" refers to a world gone and destroyed, with only a terrible Shadow Moon to remind people of it. "The Shadow of Yesterday" refers to characters who desperately seek to save their homes as they are taken away. "The Shadow of Yesterday" refers to my own first discovery of RPGs and the idea of the game I wanted to play then.

Designer's notes

This game is designed with very specific purposes in mind. It's meant to let you make interesting characters with clear purposes in their existence. It's designed to allow for dramatic reversals in those purposes as well, creating thematically-packed instances in play. It's designed to represent a fusion of fantasy-fiction elements I call "pumpkin fiction." This term comes from the person who introduced me to this type of fantasy, and means a type of fantasy where things don't necessarily make common sense, but are always full of style, a bit creepy, a bit comedic, a bit dark and violent, and definitely romantic. You'll notice there's quite a few rules in here that have to do with love and sex, more than in the average role-playing game. I mentioned earlier that this is the game I would have wanted as a teenager: as one, and even now, I love love and sex. I'm a romantic, and think good stories revolve around a few things:

  • Love and sex, as mentioned
  • The propensity for violence and death
  • Wonder and magic, especially in everyday life
  • The chance for hope, even in the bleakest situations

Those four things are what The Shadow of Yesterday is about. If you like those things, too, then you'll like this game.

Now, I've sacrificed some of what you'll see in other RPG systems to make this game. You won't see, for example, any sort of character balance. (This refers to a system that tries to make certain no player's character is more "powerful," or able to affect non-player characters, than anyone else's.) I tried it, and realized it wasn't important, and that's that. You won't see a system for improving players' characters that's based off any sort of in-game causality. Instead, you'll see a system that improves characters for their players hitting the four basic important story elements I mentioned above. You also won't see any "realism," whatever that might mean to you, here. Your character will be able to do some amazing feats because he or she's a hero, and your character won't be able to do other things because they're defined, as a story element, as not being able to.

Other bits of designer's notes will be scattered throughout this text, all prefixed with "Designer's Notes." Don't worry, you'll see 'em.

Oh, one last wiggly bit. Lots of role-playing games these days worry about how to use gender-specific and gender-non-specific pronouns. For the rest of this text, I'm just going to try to avoid any situation where I have to worry about this. I'll use lots of examples where you see that Billy's a player, and Ellie is his character, and he's a boy and she's a girl. When I can't avoid it, though, the generic player, and his character, will be male, and the Story Guide will be female.


This game came about for one reason, and it wasn't my idea. Ron Edwards wrote an essay called "More Fantasy Heartbreakers" (a sequel to an earlier essay, and easily found at in which he suggested (crediting Mike Holmes for the idea) that everyone should write their own "heartbreaker," or game based off of experiences and problems playing Dungeons and Dragons. I planned for this to be a fun little exercise, and it took hold of my imagination and absolutely refused to let go. It's moved a lot from its original focus - I dropped the D&D influence and started using every influence I could - but it's got some ineffable magic that I can't resist.

This is definitely the game with the most blatant theft I've written. A huge portion of the rules and ideas are cobbled straight from other game texts. While this is the case with most games, I've tried to be rather explicit about it. As far as my influences go, here's a short list, all of which are good games in their own right.


The Riddle of Steel by Jake Norwood (Driftwood Publishing) and Sorcerer by Ron Edwards (Adept Press): These games gave me the idea of advancement based off player-set character wants and desires (Keys). Seeing as these are the big two games I play, they've probably crept elsewhere into the game.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer by C. J. Carella (Eden Studios): The basic dice mechanic, including a variation on Success Levels.

Over the Edge by Jonathan Tweet with Robin Laws (Atlas Games): The bonus and penalty dice mechanic.

Fudge by Steffan O'Sullivan (Grey Ghost): Naming the level of success with descriptive terms.

HeroQuest by Greg Stafford and Robin Laws (Issaries): The idea of characters defined by culture, and the "Bringing Down the Pain" system.

Rolemaster by Iron Crown Enterprises: Again, too damn much, but mainly the way characters develop abilities. I played the bejeezus out of this game as a kid.

D&D (3rd edition) by Jonathan Tweet, Monte Cook, and Skip Williams (WoTC): Secrets are directly influenced by the Feat system of this game.

Dying Earth by Robin Laws (Pelgrane Press) and Shadowrun by FanPro: Attributes as resource pools (from both) and refreshment of these pools (Dying Earth).

Schism by Jared Sorensen (Memento-Mori Theatricks): The idea of character "transcendence."

Books and authors

This game is obviously influenced by Tolkien, and even more so, all those cheap-ass Tolkien copiers that most of us read in our youth. Their Dark Lords and magical elves and such permeated and ruined modern fantasy. I'm thoroughly ashamed for the books I read from about 17-20, and especially for the fact that they've influenced much of my writing since then.

In order to rectify myself, I've tried to be equally influenced by Robert E. Howard and his fabulous stories about the Hyborian Age. The different species and brooding darkness are a bit of a slap in his face, owing as much to that fucking hack Robert Jordan than anything else, but the decline of civilizations, great empty walled cities, and black forests are all Howard. ("Red Nails" and "Beyond the Black River" were the two stories that shoved their way into this game in major ways.) An article in the February 2003 Discover magazine, "How Was the Moon Formed?" was also a huge inspiration.

To see photographs of the World of Near, I recommend a book called Secret Corners of the World, produced by the National Geographic Society. The images of places and people in this book were instrumental in painting a picture of Near. I also read Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls: Stories of Castaways and Other Survivors while writing this game, which brought a certain focus on sea life.

Thanks and credits

Much thanks to everyone who play-tested or gave comments on this game that took too damn long to birth. Specifically:

John Harper and Dan Root: Thanks from stopping me from making a pretty awful game and making the first playtest of this truly fun, even with the world's longest combat.

Alan Barclay, James Cunningham, Wilhelm Fitzpatrick, Laura Mortensen, Matt Wilson, and all the Seattle Monday night gang: You guys keep it rocking and thanks for inspiration and comments.

The Shadow Australia playtest group (Mike Hill, Sarah Horton, Emma Lee Horton, Andrew Main and Debra Hill): I appreciate knowing these rules still work even when the toilet flushes backwards.

The attendees of ClintonCon 2, most of which are named above, except Jared Sorensen, who managed to goblin it up in a major way.

Ron Edwards and Keith Senkowski, who found themselves in a snarling ball of fur.

Rules Overview

About the rules

In order to create a narrative framework, The Shadow of Yesterday needs rules that help the players create a story, know what characters can do, and adjudicate situations where the outcome is not certain. As a designer, I've tried to make these rules simple and easy to use.

Just to let you know upfront, this game does use dice of the six-sided variety, the kind found in just about any store on the planet, including convenience stores, grocery stores, and hobby shops.


Characters represent all sentient beings in the game. While not every stranger met by the players' characters may be fully fleshed out in terms of mechanics, all characters that could be created in the game should be able to be created with these rules. In order to define who a character is and what that character can do, there are four mechanical pieces: pools, abilities, Secrets, and Keys.


Pools are resources the player can spend during the game in order for their character to push harder, do more, and perform amazing feats. There are three pools: Vigor, Instinct, and Reason.

Vigor represents the character's reserves of physical power, wherewithal, and mental toughness. Characters with high Vigor are often known for bulging muscles, scarred faces, calloused hands, the "thousand-yard stare," and crushing strength.

Instinct represents the character's reserves of animal-like reactions, both physical and social. This ranges from cat-like reflexes in combat to pheromone-like sexual attraction. Characters with high Instinct are often known for their graceful motion, penetrating eyes, amazing hearing, stunning appearance, or sexual prowess.

Reason represents the character's intelligence and mental power. This could range from book knowledge to an uneducated, but highly practical mind. Characters with high Reason are often known for their vocabulary, ability to identify plants and animals, skill at games of chance, or power over others.

Pools are measured in points, and each pool ranges from one to infinite points, although a pool of more than 10 points is highly unusual. During the game, these points are spent to get bonus dice or activate Secrets (more on all of this below), but are not permanently gone. The scores on each player's character sheet represents the maximum points in each pool, and players will get a chance to restore their characters' pools to their maximum.


Abilities are representations of a character's skill with tasks both learned and innate. Some examples of abilities are Sailing, Tracking, Sword-fighting, and Oratory.

Abilities fall into several categories, listed below.

Innate Abilities: These are actually more reactions and innate qualities than abilities, representing unlearned abilities a character has.

Artistic Abilities: These are the abilities that allow you to create works of art, as well as manage to live as an artist, from hand to mouth.

Craft Abilities: These abilities are used to create works of utility, from swords to carts to dinner, or perform in a useful profession, as well as trade well for your labor.

Fighting Abilities: These are the abilities a warrior would learn in battle, consisting of not only martial abilities, but combat medicine and command.

Illicit Abilities: These are the abilities any criminal, or even slightly shady person, would put to good use, including the ability to sneak well, steal, and find others that would aid and abet your activities.

Outdoor Abilities: These are the abilities any outdoorsman would know, consisting of empathy with animals, knowledge of plants, and the ability to hunt with a bow.

Social Abilities: These are the abilities any person who operates in society would know, including bringing others to your opinion, reading the faces of men, getting others into your bed, and speaking foreign languages.

Priestly Abilities: These are the abilities a priest or leader of men would use in his daily life. Priests aren't necessarily organized, or even religious: they are merely counselors, and have the ability to inspire others, sway crowds, read the faces of people, and comfort the troubled.

Each category of abilities is ranked from A to C, representing how easy it is for a character to improve those abilities.

Abilities are ranked from zero to 10, with 10's being the absolute pinnacle of ability. In addition, each ability has an associated pool. Points from this pool can be spent during the game to get bonus dice or remove penalty dice when using the ability.

When characters are created, most abilities they get to pick from are determined by their species and home culture, while a few are open, which means any character can have these abilities.


Secrets are special abilities a character can learn that augment abilities. These are often preternatural, sometimes magical, and always better than normal. In order to use Secrets, points from a pool are normally spent, meaning that Secrets can be used a limited number of times per game.

Secrets can be better explained with an example:


Secret of the Hidden Pocket: This character is adept at hiding objects on his person. No matter how carefully searched the character has been, he may pull an inexpensive, small (hand-sized) item off his person with a successful Stealth Ability Check. There is no need for the player to have written this item on the character sheet previously. Cost: 1 Instinct.

Like abilities, most Secrets are classified by species and culture, with a few open Secrets.


Keys are the primary method of increasing a character's abilities in The Shadow of Yesterday. These are goals, emotional ties, or vows a character has. By bringing these into the story, the player gains experience points (XP) he can use to advance the character, increasing pools and abilities, or learning new Secrets and Keys.

Again, an example will illustrate this better:


Key of Conscience: Your character has a soft spot for those weaker than their opponents. Gain 1 XP every time your character helps someone who cannot help themselves. Gain 2 XP every time your character defends someone with might who is in danger and cannot save themselves. Gain 5 XP every time your character takes someone in an unfortunate situation and changes their life to where they can help themselves.

Buyoff: Ignore a request for help.

The Buyoff shown above is a special bit about Keys. Whenever a player has a character perform the action shown in one of the Buyoffs, the player can (this is not mandatory) erase the Key and gain 10 XP.

Unlike abilities and Secrets, the number of Keys a character can have is limited. A character can have no more than five Keys at one time.

The Ability Check

In order to perform any action that has a variable outcome in The Shadow of Yesterday, the player needs to state his basic intention for the character. This is not a full description of the action, as the dice provide a randomizer that let the player know how well this action happened. After stating the character's intention and deciding on the relevant ability, a Ability Check is made.

The process is pretty simple: roll two six-sided dice and add your character's score in the relevant ability to the total. Taking this total, compare your result to the Success Level Chart.

The Success Level Chart

Success Level Chart
Roll + ability Success Level (SL)
8 or below Failure
9-10 SL 1 (Mediocre)
11-13 SL 2 (Good)
14-15 SL 3 (Great)
16-17 SL 4 (Amazing)
18-19 SL 5 (Legendary)
20-21 SL 6 (Ultimate)
22 Transcendent

To use the Success Level Chart, take the total of your character's ability and the dice rolled and find the total on the chart. As you can see, you will find whether the character succeeded or failed, a description of that success if applicable, and a numerical Success Level, which is used to compute mechanical effects of that success.

A Mediocre success is all that is needed to succeed at most tasks in the game. Especially hard tasks may require a Good success.

Bonus and penalty dice

While a ability score determines the range of your character's ability, bonus and penalty dice are a mechanic to determine the consistency of your character's ability. When making a Ability Check, bonus dice add to the number of dice rolled, as do penalty dice. However, a player cannot have both bonus and penalty dice: they cancel each other out on a one-for-one basis.

If a player has bonus dice when making a Ability Check, roll two six-sided dice, plus the number of bonus dice. The two highest dice are used to calculate the player's total on the Ability Check.

If a player has penalty dice when making a Ability Check, roll two six-sided dice, plus the number of penalty dice. The two lowest dice are used to calculate the player's total on the Ability Check.

Players can always spend one point from the associated pool to get one bonus die on a Ability Check. If a Ability Check has penalty dice, this must be done before the roll in order to cancel out penalty dice. If a Ability Check has no penalty dice when it is rolled, this can be done after the roll. This is an important distinction: when your character is fully ready and prepared for a task, he may push harder in the middle of it to pull out a greater success. When ill-prepared, he must take what hand fate deals.

Experience and Advancement

A major part of play in The Shadow of Yesterday is character advancement. As mentioned in the introduction, it asks the question, "If you could change the world, what would it be like?" In order to both see the world from an everyman's perspective and grow to influence it, characters are meant to move from being relatively normal people to powerful champions of whatever they might stand for.

One important note that is a bit different from some other fantasy role-playing games is that within a story, characters are meant to go from the lowest levels of power to the highest. The end of a story occurs when at least one character has achieved the pinnacle of expertise in a subject. In order to do this, The Shadow of Yesterday uses a sliding scale to determine how long it takes a character to advance, providing for both short and long campaigns.

The two units of advancement currency are experience points and advances. Experience points are a "hard" unit of currency: that is, there are set amounts of them that the player receives for certain actions in play. Experience points convert to advances on the sliding scale mentioned above. In the average game, it takes 10 experience points to achieve one advance. With an advance, a player can do one of six things:

  • Increase by one the maximum size of one of the character's pools.
  • Increase three of the character's abilities rated at A. (The ability rating system is explained further in Chapter 3: Character Creation.)
  • Increase two of the character's abilities rated at B.
  • Increase one of the character's abilities rated at C.
  • Add one Secret to the character.
  • Add one Key to the character.

When taking advances, none of the above options can be repeated. If you've increased three of your character's abilities rated at A, for example, you can then do anything but increase three more abilities rated at A. After you've taken another advance, you may then go back and increase three more A-rated abilities. Advances can be spent at any time during the game.

Character Creation

Making your character is the most important part of The Shadow of Yesterday. In doing so, you not only define the person you want to play within the world of Near, but you determine exactly what that play will be about. Through a combination of character concepts, species, cultures, and Keys, every player gets to contribute to the content of the story.


In order to start creating a character, a concept needs to be built. The character concept cannot be generated in a vacuum, however; characters must fit together with a certain zest that makes them click, little motors ready to feed off each other. This isn't to say that all characters need to be alike, of the same species and culture, or even from the same place. (The Shadow of Yesterday is easily usable for a game where all characters stick together, or wander about on separate adventures.)

There's not a set process for how concept generation works, but it should be done as a group, in a relaxed atmosphere, preferably with whatever gets your imagination flowing, whether that be coffee, beer, music, or whatever else. Talk amongst each other, and don't think of your idea as sacrosanct: take suggestions from other players and give them back. Remember that in creating these characters, you create the landscape in which you will play.

At the end of generating character concepts, you should have a few things:

  • An idea of where your character is from.
  • A few - and I mean a few - sentences about who your character is and what he cares about.
  • A description of your character's appearance, also short.
  • A name. This is totally not optional. Pick a name before you write a number.

Many role-playing game texts will tell you to have a good idea of who your character is before play. I totally disavow this. You and your friends will get to know your character during play. What that character did before-hand is of some interest, but even those details will emerge during play easier than before play. If you were reading a book, would the author expect you to know the main character before-hand? Of course not.

What you do need to know is this: what species this character is, where he's from, what he's good at, and what might be important to him.


There are five major sentient species in the world of Near. In choosing which species your character is part of, you have to think about the following:

  • What nifty abilities and Secrets can I get because of this species?
  • How does this species fit into the culture we're playing in?
  • How does this species interact with the other characters' species?
  • What does this species represent to me? Why would I want to play this sort of character?

Species are split into two groups: the Old Species, which existed before the coming of the Shadow, and the New Species, which came after the Shadow Moon. Humans, goblins, and elves are in the former group, and ratkin are in the latter.

You will have to decide on what species your character is. If torn, remember that humans are the most populous, and the other species exist in order to put humans' strengths and weaknesses into contrast.

Humans are the most populous species of sentient people on Near, and are found anywhere in the world one might look. Their power has waned significantly, though, since the time of Shadow. They are infinitely adaptable, and pick up new things easier than any other species.

Goblins live wherever others have deemed too hot, too cold, or too foul. Infinitely adaptable beings, the small wiry things manage to resemble demons, dogs, and men at the same time. Their curiosity drives them into all the forgotten places of the earth, and makes them decent apprentices for just about any job: they catch on quickly, but tend to cause as many accidents as they do help. Their bodies have an ability to evolve to match their environment, and their offspring carry these same characteristic. Left alone, their societies are incomprehensible to any outsider.

Most of them do not understand the human concept of love: they have a monomaniacal mind, and live to fulfill whatever craving they are currently fixated on. A few have been observed in a bizarre state that resembles human love, known only as "the Affliction" in their rough language. These goblins leave their tribe and travel, their only goals to prove their love or die.

No one except elves really understand what they are, or where they're from. To hear them explain it, they are native to another world spiritually above Near but travel from world to world. They exist solely as magical beings that create their own bodies, with an immortal spirit that returns to their home upon their death. Like goblins, they do not generally love in a human sense: they view love as a want that debases their personality, as they view all wants.

Elves spend most of their time wandering from place to place, rarely settling down for more than a few months. They form few attachments, and may find themselves in a position of leadership, as a lover, or as a helper, but view all of these positions as only good deeds done towards others, and with complete disinterest. Elves usually take on the appearance of perfect human specimens, but cannot avoid the residual glow that always comes off of their skin from their inherent magic. They can be found nearly anywhere on Near, but are most common in places where humans are concentrated.

Ratkin resemble nutria, enormous rodents, standing on their hind legs with opposable thumbs. About three to four feet tall, they have pointed button noses, whiskers, and are covered in either grey, brown, or black fur, with the occasional albino all-white ratkin. They are generally not trusted by all other species except goblins, and known as dirty thieves. They live primarily in cities.

When among their own kind, ratkin live in a communal situation, with no discernible leader or structure. Property owned by a ratkin, including a mate, is considered free game for other ratkin. While the huge vermin are quick to come to each others' aid against a common enemy, they are vicious competitors within their own society.

It is rumored that among a litter of ratkin, only two or three of the often fifteen to twenty children both actually become ratkin, with the rest becoming larger than normal rats.


You will have to decide on a culture that your character is from. You and your friends have probably decided on an area in which the game will start before play, and your characters will likely come from that area and its surrounding cultures. More on each culture is found in Chapter 5: The World of Near, but a quick run-down of each culture follows.

The northern-most culture in Near, Qek is full of steaming jungles and active volcanoes. Its members are primitive and form close-knit family units. Qek is rich in spices and jewels, but is full of danger. Humans, goblins, and elves come from Qek.

Khale is a land of wild forests, tall tales, magic, and song. It has a tribal culture and values myth and art, and has a definite Celtic influence. It is currently at war with Ammeni, and grows smaller each year as the ruthless invaders attack. Humans, goblins, elves, and the occasional ratkin come from Khale.

The large country of Ammeni consists mainly of delta, swamp, and wet lowlands, and their largest exports are rice and opium. Caste is very important in Ammeni, and those of the upper caste are cruel and dominate those below them. The food is wonderful, though, as would be expected in this French-Vietnam influenced land. Almost all people in Ammeni are humans, although the rare goblin is found as a lackey, and ratkin hide away in the nooks and crannies.

Maldor is the ruins of what once was the Empire. Wrecked by the coming of the Shadow, it struggles to survive, unaided by the feudal system that still controls it. It is full of great castles and cities abandoned and full of secrets to discover. Humans and ratkin are very common in Maldor and elves and goblins are also found there.


Once past the heavy-thought areas of concept, species, and culture, the fun number action begins. First up is your character's pools.

Divide 12 points among your character's pools, with a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 6 in each. (Note: this maximum is just for character creation; your character may end up with a pool later much higher than 6.) Characters of species other than humans have special notes about their pools.

Goblins generally have a high Vigor pool, and low Reason. Vigor may start as high as 7, while Reason can never start higher than 3.

Elves' Vigor and Instinct scores must always add up to twice their Reason score or less, as their bodies are created solely through the application of their Reason to influence the world. This does mean Reason will start at 4 or more, with the other points split between Vigor and Instinct.

Ratkin generally have a high Instinct pool, but weakened Reason. Instinct may start as high as 8, but Reason may not start higher than 4.


Ability categories are rated by how easy it is for the character to learn them. When creating a character, you must set these ratings. Innate Abilities are always rated at A (the easiest to learn.) Choose one other ability category to be rated at A, three to be rated at B, and the rest rated at C.

As with pools, species other than humans have some special rules:

  • If playing an elf, Artistic Abilities must be rated at A or B.
  • If playing a goblin, Illicit Abilities must be rated at A or B. Social Abilities must be rated at B or C.
  • If playing a ratkin, Illicit Abilities must be rated at A or B. If playing an albino ratkin, Artistic Abilities also must be rated at A or B.

At this point, individual abilities must be chosen. These are picked from open abilities, abilities everyone can learn; species abilities, abilities that can be picked by members of the relevant species; and cultural abilities, abilities that can be picked by members of the relevant culture. (Cultural abilities can be learned by members of other cultures later in the game.)

All characters start with all open innate abilities, which are all rated at one initially.

Players can then choose all abilities that fall into A-rated categories, 5 abilities that fall into B-rated categories, and 3 abilities that fall into C-rated categories. Some species and cultures may have mandatory abilities, which are marked. These must be taken, and count against the character's beginning ability slots. These abilities chosen are only for initial ability point distribution: past this stage, you can increase any ability that your character has access to.

Players have ten points to split among abilities rated at A, with no ability ranking higher than 3. They have six points to split among abilities rated at B, with no ability ranking higher than 2. Three points can be split among abilities rated at C, with no ability higher than 2.

Secrets and Keys

Before play, players can choose one Secret and one Key for their characters. These can be taken, like abilities, from the relevant Open, Species, and Cultural Secret and Key lists.

Further Advances

Lastly, players start with a number of advances for their characters. This is determined by the group before play, depending on how powerful characters are to be at the beginning of the game. The standard number is five, with normal rules as to how they can be spent applying.

Playing the Game

More about the Ability Check

The Ability Check is the core of The Shadow of Yesterday's system. All other mechanics are meant to revolve around this roll of the dice, this injection of fortune, that serves as resolution for both instant actions and entire scenes.

Range and accuracy

As a designer, I firmly believe that randomness is the core of a good RPG system. Bad applications of it, though, are the downfall of many ill-conceived systems. So, if I'm going to screw around with probability, I owe the reader an explanation of how it works in this game.

Every Ability Check in this game can be described in terms of range and accuracy. The term range refers to the possible outcomes of an Ability Check. As the player rolls two six-sided dice, results from two to twelve plus a character's pertinent ability is always the range of a check. Note that a character with zero ability has a range with no result better than Good on the Success Level Chart, and a character with an ability of 7 cannot fail. Related to this is the idea of an average outcome, the outcome most expected with any level of ability. Since seven is the most likely outcome on any roll of two six-sided dice, characters with no ability can be expected to fail most of the time. Characters do not succeed on average until their ability reaches 2.

Range seems like a simple concept, and it is. It's also very important, though: notice that a character with even one point of ability always has a chance of beating a character with an ability of 10, albeit small. This is entirely on purpose: in The Shadow of Yesterday, your character has a limit to how good he might do at a task, but it always might be good enough to beat the other guy.

Accuracy is the other parent of an average outcome. Ability Checks can have bonus and penalty dice, as explained in Chapter 2. Each bonus die raises the chance of having a higher result significantly, increasing accuracy. Penalty dice do the opposite, lowering the average outcome, thereby lowering accuracy. The following chart shows the average outcome with various amounts of bonus and penalty dice. The appendix to this book details the statistics involved with bonus and penalty dice further. Knowledge of these is not necessary to play the game, but it's sometimes nice to know that you have a decent chance of beating a character with an ability two higher than your character if you have a bonus die.

Intention, Initiation, Execution, and Effect

Although the Ability Check seems very simple, there's more involved than it seems at first glance. Every time your character takes an action, there are four steps involved: Intention, Initiation, Execution, and Effect. Here's how these break down:

Intention: The player announces the intended action for the character. No movement or action has happened yet, though. The intention and its consequences may be discussed among the GM and players and changed.

Initiation: The player has committed his character to the task, and no changes can be made now. The dice hit the table.

Execution: The character completes his action. The player looks to see how well the character did on the Success Level Chart.

Effect: The players and GM decide what the effect of the task is, whether successfully completed or not.

Now, that sounds like a lot to go through every time you roll the dice. Normally, this all happens without thinking too much about it, making it quick. A player states, "My character's going to do something," he rolls dice, everyone looks to see how the character did, and a decision about what happened occurs.

The reason I bring up the four steps is because if you never think about them, you can cause tension among the players and GM. Imagine a player, Joe, stating, "Jack, my character, hits the priest right in the chest with a sword blow." Now, following the four steps, you realize this has not happened in the game, but is just Joe stating his intention. (While his statement was technically incorrect, in that he stated it happened, and it was an intention, this is a common way of stating intention in role-playing games.)

Carrying on with this example, though, what if the GM is confused about the four steps? He may take this as initiation, for example, and when he says, "The priest grabs his black mace," Joe might want his character Jack to back off. If the GM thinks the above statement was initiation, though, Joe can't do this, and may get angry at the GM for withholding the information that the priest had this mace.

And in the end, what if the group is confused about effect? If Joe's roll is successful, a confused group might think that Joe's stated intention for Jack is exactly what happens. This is not necessarily so: the outcome of the dice and disposition of the players might determine a different effect.

The point is this: take your time to make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to a character performing a task. While the first game or two might run a bit slower than normal because steps are being heavily delineated, the speed will pick up as everyone gets used to following them.

Types of Ability Checks and how they work

While the Ability Check is the core mechanic that ties this entire game together, it actually comes in several forms, each of which add on a layer of complexity.

The first and most simple type is the unopposed Ability Check. This is used when a player wants his character to try a task in which no other character is attempting any action which would stop him. There are four steps to the unopposed Ability Check, and all other types of Ability Checks.

First, the player states the character's intention. This should be easy: "Pieter is going to try to climb that boulder" is a good example.

Second, the Story Guide sets the difficulty of the Ability Check. This is determined simply. If the task is one that any person could do, even if unlikely, the difficulty is Mediocre. The player must get a Mediocre or better result on the Success Level Chart in order to succeed. If the task is one that requires specialized training or information, the difficulty is Good.

An example will clarify this further. Let's use climbing - it always seems to illustrate this well. The difficulty is Mediocre to climb anything an untrained person could climb, no matter how much effort is required. A tree, a fence, a wall, the side of a house, or a rocky mountain can all be climbed by amateurs. The difficulty is Good if the climbing would normally require specialized training. A hundred-yard sheer rock face usually requires knowledge of belaying, rope use, pitons, and the like. An amateur might, under optimal conditions, make it, but generally this requires training. Therefore, it is of Good difficulty to climb a sheer rock face of any height.

The third step is determining circumstances. This is where bonus and penalty dice come into play. Characters may often have either bonus or penalty dice because of Secrets activated, pools spent, damage taken, or The Gift of Dice, as shown below. In addition to any bonus or penalty dice outlined elsewhere in these rules, the Story Guide may assign one or two penalty dice to any Ability Check. One penalty die may be assigned if circumstances render a task especially difficulty. A penalty die would not be assigned to our example climber above if it were drizzling, or dark, or a bit chilly, but one could be assigned if there was an icy wind and hard rain coming down at night. Two penalty dice can be assigned in the very worst of circumstances. A good measure of whether to assign two penalty dice is if the description of the circumstances elicits a stream of profanity from a player. We're talking about seriously nasty conditions here - hail coming down in the midst of an icy rain while gale-force winds tear at our poor climber in the pitch dark.

The fourth and last step is actually rolling the dice. If the total on the Success Level Chart is equal or better than the difficulty, the character has succeeded. The Story Guide and players should use the Success Level to describe how the character performed at the stated intention.

The next type of Ability Check is the competitive Ability Check. This occurs when two or more characters are attempting the same task, but each wants to do it better or faster. All rules for the standard Ability Check apply, and in addition, the conditions of victory are set before the Ability Check: if the Check is over a foot-race, the victor went the fastest; if it's composing a song, the victor made a better piece of work. This should be fairly obvious, but the Story Guide and players can decide together what the conditions of victory are if there's any question.

All players with competing characters make Ability Checks. After Ability Checks are made, any character who succeeded actually completed the task with some proficiency and the player can use the Success Level to compute any relevant outcomes. The character of the player with the highest total score, however, completed the task better or faster, and the other characters are ranked in the order of their players' rolls. In the case of a tie, the characters' feats are so close in speed and quality that a winner cannot be determined between them. They can either tie, or if the players and Story Guide want to, those players can roll again to see which is the victor.

The last type of Ability Check is the resisted Ability Check. This Check, most common in role-playing games, occurs when two characters attempt tasks that would cancel out each other. Examples include:

  • One character swinging a sword at another character dodging.
  • One character trying to get information by twisting another character's arm, who is attempting to suffer through the pain.
  • One character sneaking up on a character who is keeping watch.
  • One character offering a romp in bed to a character who is trying to deny the pleasures of the flesh.

All normal Ability Check rules apply to resisted Checks. The two players involved make their Ability Checks and then compare their scores. The higher of the two wins: in the case of a tie, the instigator of the action loses.

When narrating a resisted Ability Check, both players' Success Levels come into account. For purposes of computing results, the winner's Success Level is used, but the loser's efforts are still significant. An example:


The character Violet, played by Kim, is attempting to drive the character Lore, played by Wilhelm, to his knees with a savage sword attack. Upon rolling, Kim ends up with an Amazing Success Level, and Wilhelm ends up with a Great Success Level. Kim's roll wins, but Lore still made a great block. The action is narrated as, "Violet brings up her sword and makes a vicious stroke down, aiming for the lower leg. Lore, anticipating the swing, throws his shield in the way, but the sword crashes down it, the force driving the shield itself back into Lore's shins as he falls."

The losing player must abide by the winner's stated intention for the Ability Check, even if it was "I kill that sorry character." That's not entirely true, though: what sort of game would this be if your character could die from one roll of the dice? To see how to extract your character from any sticky situation you don't like, see "Bringing Down the Pain" below.

Using abilities together

If you want your character to perform a complex action that uses two abilities together, decide with the GM which ability is most appropriate to the action and which is secondary. The secondary ability is used first and the Success Levels are used as bonus dice on the second Ability Check. The GM and player will have to decide what happens if the first Ability Check is failed: in some situations, the second Ability Check can still be attempted without harm; in others, the Ability Check can be attempted with a penalty die; and in others still, the second Ability Check cannot be attempted.


A character is trying to cut a thong from a guard's belt and snatch his keys, using Swords to chop the thong, and Stealth to grab the keys without being seen. While he is using Swords to actually get the keys free, the Stealth part of the action is most important. The player makes a Swords Ability Check. If successful, the Success Levels are converted to bonus dice on the Stealth Ability Check. If unsuccessful, however, the keys are still on the guard's belt, so the Stealth Ability Check cannot be attempted.

Example 2

Another character wants to approach a wild bear without getting attacked using Animal Ken. In order to help with this, he's going to attempt to remember what bears like to eat and see if he can find some, using Woodscraft. The Woodscraft Ability Check is secondary, and if successful, will add bonus dice to the Animal Ken Ability Check. If unsuccessful, there is no complication; the character just must approach the bear with no food gift.

The Gift of Dice

At the beginning of each session of the game, every player including the Story Guide receives a number of gift dice equal to the number of players at the table. At any point during the game, one of these dice can be given to another player to be added as a bonus die to that player's current Ability Check. This is most often used when a player's character is attempting something especially dangerous, or the player describes his character's intention in a cool way.

These gift dice are an important part of play and should not be forgotten. They encourage cooperation among the players as much as among the characters.

Bringing Down the Pain

Simple Ability Checks are well and good, and make resolution in The Shadow of Yesterday a quick and painless matter. Sometimes, though, for that dramatic punch, you need something a bit more gritty and focused. In this game, that is an expanded resolution system called Bringing Down the Pain. Bringing Down the Pain is a unique option for players to allow them to not only get out of sticky situations, but focus the story where they want it.

Any player involved in a conflict can Bring Down the Pain after a resisted Ability Check. Normally, a player has to abide by the results of this check. However, when a character belonging to a player - a player that is not the Story Guide - loses at a resisted Ability Check, that player does not have to accept the outcome. Instead, he can ask that the Pain be Brought Down. On the flip side, a player can demand this even when he succeeds at a resisted Ability Check. This not only allows him to zoom in the imagined camera on this conflict, but is the only way to permanently injure or get rid of a major named character controlled by the Story Guide.

The Story Guide cannot Bring Down the Pain. He can request it, but another player involved in the conflict must actually declare it.

When a player declares they are Bringing Down the Pain, action breaks down into a round-by-round, gritty basis similar to some RPGs' combat systems. The loser of the simple resisted Ability Check must immediately accept damage to his character equal to the winner's Success Level (see "Damage" below). Both sides of the conflict must make certain their intention - their goal - is clarified and well-stated, for it is very important here. This intention must be clear, but can allow room for differing actions to achieve the goal: "drive away these opponents in battle," "embarrass the noble in front of his peers," or "out-perform this guy on the guitar" are all fine intentions.

After intentions are stated, everyone who has a character involved in the conflict should state what their action will be. Actions can be changed during this stage, where everything, even actions hidden to the characters, is discussed in the open. (In Ron Edwards' Trollbabe, this is called the free-and-clear stage.)

After the free-and-clear stage, everyone rolls Ability Checks for their action. If two characters are taking action against each other, this is a resisted Ability Check. The loser at this Check takes damage equal to the Success Level of the Check, possibly modified by Secrets and weapons. This is true even if the actions are unrelated: if Carlotta is swinging a sword at Daniel, and Daniel's trying to talk her out of it, their players roll against each other and the loser's character takes damage. If a character is taking action against someone who is not taking action against him, that's a normal unresisted Ability Check, and the target will definitely take damage if this Check is successful.

When all rolls are resolved, another free-and-clear stage begins. This continues until one side of the conflict gives up, at which time the winners' intention happens. The trick to Bringing Down the Pain lies in this rule: in any free-and-clear stage, a player can announce that he is changing his character's intention completely. This could change from "sneak up on my enemy" to "kill my enemy," "best the queen in a war of words" to "seduce the queen," or even "out-play this guy on the guitar" to "magically put this guy to sleep." He does not have to state the new intention until the next free-and-clear stage. During the next volley of rolls, he may only defend against one attack, and will deal no damage if he succeeds.

Damage and defeat

"Damage" in The Shadow of Yesterday does not necessarily refer to physical, blood-and-guts rending of flesh and bone. Instead, it is a quality of both the character in the context of the game world and the character in context of the real world. Damage is a count-down of when a player loses control over his character, and can be expressed as any of these things in-game:

  • Cuts and bruises
  • Fatigue and weariness
  • Embarrassment and crushed esteem
  • Loss of concentration and will

Whenever a player loses in an Ability Check while Bringing Down the Pain, his character takes damage. The base damage is equal to the Success Level of the acting player's roll, which can be modified by Secrets or weapons. Again, the type of action being done against the character does not matter - you can take damage from seduction as easily as you can from a sword.

When damage is taken, the player must make an Ability Check using his character's Stay Up ability. This roll, called a Damage Check, is the only exception to the standard Ability Check in the game. This roll must equal or beat the amount of current damage the character has. If it does not, the character is bloodied. When the character is bloodied, the player takes a penalty die to every Ability Check except the Damage Check.

If a second Damage Check is failed, the character is broken. In order for the character to perform any action, even defense, the player must spend a point from the ability's associated pool, and the player still receives one penalty die to this action. Any successful action taken against the character succeeds when he is broken.

The player does get one benefit when his character is bloodied or broken: he can immediately change the character's intention in the conflict without spending a turn doing so.

At any point during Bringing Down the Pain, a player may decide that the damage taken is enough for this conflict and give up. Before a free-and-clear stage, the player gives up the conflict, and his opponent's intention occurs. It is often a good idea to give up before your opponent's intention becomes more deadly, as shown in the example below.


In this example, there are two players, Matt and Emily. The pertinent parts of their two characters are:

  • 'Emily's character:' Tela, a Zaru assassin. Her pools are currently at Vigor 2, Instinct 2, and Reason 1. Her pertinent abilities are Reaction 6, Stay Up 3, Sneak 6, Deceit 3, and Knife Fighting 3.
  • 'Matt's character:' Gael, a noble from Ammeni. His pools are currently at Vigor 5, Instinct 1, and Reason 3. His pertinent abilities are Reaction 4, Stay Up 4, Sense Danger 5, Dash 4 and Viper-Blade 8.

Gael is traveling down an alley-way when Tela sights him, and slides into the shadows to follow him. Emily states, "I want Tela to sneak up on this guy." She makes a resisted Ability Check of Sneak versus Gael's Sense Danger and rolls a 4 versus his 6, for a total of 10 versus 11. "Screw that," she says, and spends a point of Instinct to roll a bonus die. Matt has the same opportunity, but wants to conserve his Instinct pool, since it's low. She ends up with a roll of 9, for a total of 15 - a Great success!

Up until this point, the action has been taken care of by a simple Ability Check. According to the Check, Emily wins, and Tela will sneak up on Gael, giving Emily three bonus dice to perform an action that uses that advantage. Matt's not having it, though: he wants his character out of here, and away from Tela. He says, "No way. I'm not accepting that outcome. It's time to Bring Down the Pain. My goal is for Gael to notice Tela, and get away from her." He immediately marks three damage for Gael on his character sheet, since Emily had a Success Level of 3. Since Gael's Stay Up ability is 4, he doesn't have to roll to see if Gael does stay up. Emily decides to keep her intention of sneaking up on Gael.

During the free-and-clear phase, Matt says, "Ok, Gael stops for a moment and scans the area as the hair on the back of his neck stands up." Notice that Gael knows something's wrong: that's because Matt refused the outcome of the simple Ability Check. Also notice that Matt can narrate whatever he wants for Gael's action, as long as it stays within his goal. Emily, confident in her character's abilities, says "I'm going to creep along the wall slowly towards him, staying in the shadows." Another roll is made of Gael's Sense Danger versus Tela's Sneak, and Matt wins this check too, with a Success Level of 2 (Good). Tela takes two damage, and does not yet have to roll to stay up.

Matt says, "A-ha! Gael sees a glimmer in the shadows behind him, and starts to move quickly away from it." Emily asks the Story Guide, "If I throw some rocks to make noise ahead of Gael, can I count them as a weapon, +1 damage to deceive him about my location?" The Guide agrees that the idea's sound, and Emily says, "Tela scoops up some pebbles and throws them ahead of Gael, trying to confuse him as to her location." Her Deceit's pretty low, so she spends her one point of Reason for a bonus die, and nails it, beating Matt's Sense Danger Ability Check 15 to 13, scoring Success Level 3 (Great). With the +1 weapon, that's four more points of damage to Gael, totalling seven.

Matt now has to make a Stay Up roll, and nearly fails it. Initially, he scores a total of six, but spends a point of Vigor to get a bonus die, and ends up with a total of 10. He says, "As Gael takes off forward, a sound rattles him, and he spins, looking confused, but shakes it off."

Emily says gleefully, "Seeing the Ammenite's confusion, Tela dives and rolls across the alley to get behind him." Matt's worried, but thinks the dice have got to go his way. He says, "Gael spins around, scanning the area for the unseen intruder." Just to be careful, he spends a point from his Instinct pool for a bonus die. They roll, and he gets a 12! Unfortunately, the dice are hot for Emily, and she gets 12 too; she's got a grand total of 18 - a Legendary success!

Taking five more points of damage, Gael's hurt with 12 points total. Matt makes his Stay Up check, but only gets five total. Gael is now bloodied, and has a penalty die to all actions. "Crap," he mutters. "I'm changing my intention. Gael's just going to high-tail it, trying to avoid danger."

Emily's grinning from ear to ear. "As Gael runs, Tela's going to flit from shadow to shadow, staying right behind him." They roll, his Dash now versus her Sneak. Dash uses Vigor for its pool, so Matt spends a point. Again, Emily wins: her roll comes up as a Good success, and Gael takes two more points damage. The Damage Check is not good, and with another failure from Matt, Gael is broken. Emily narrates, "Tela moves so quickly, she gets in front of Gael before he can notice. As he runs, he comes face to face with the assassin."

It's Matt's turn, but Gael will have to spend a point from a pool in order to perform any action whatsoever. If he gives up, though, Tela will have cornered him, which he doesn't want, especially not this damaged. He glowers, "Gael's running as fast as he can." Emily smiles, "I'm changing intention if he's going to run." Mat figures that he can beat her in a foot-race, so he goes ahead, and spends a point and rolls Dash, with a penalty die still, versus Tela's Reaction: she could not sneak, but only defend this turn. With a low roll from Emily, he wins, scoring a mere Mediocre Success Level. The one point of damage doesn't trigger a Damage Check from Emily.

In the next free-and-clear phase, Emily says, "Screw this. Want to know my intention? I'm killing this Ammenite."

Matt's in a real sticky situation now. He's got a plan, though: with plenty more points in Vigor, he can change his intention, and spend his last point of Instinct to defend when Tela attacks Gael this turn, which he knows she will. His Viper-Blade is awesome, and his weapon's +2 versus Zaru. It's risky, but if he gives up this turn, Gael's dead, and he thinks he can scare Emily by dealing some serious damage next turn. He says, "Gael falls back, baffled and frightened by the sudden raise of a dagger. I'm changing intention." Emily says, "Tela brings the dagger in, stabbing at Gael." The roll is tense, 13 to 12 total, with Matt losing. With Gael broken, Tela's intention is successful. Emily says, "The dagger drives deep into the heart of the land-thief, and his blood pours on the ground."

Multiple characters in a conflict

For simple Ability Checks, having multiple characters involved is easy to handle. If the characters are using varying abilities, each building to help another one, it's handled like one character using abilities together. Decide the order the checks have to be performed in, and have each player roll, with Success Levels being added as bonus dice to the next player's roll. As with one character, failure at an Ability Check may mean that the overall action cannot continue, that the next player must roll a penalty die on his Ability Check, or that the checks may continue, with no penalty dice.

If multiple characters are using the same, or fairly equivalent, abilities to perform a task together, use the method above, with the following caveats:

  • Failure always means the next player adds a penalty die to his roll.
  • Always roll from the character with the highest ability to the character with the least ability.
  • If a penalty die is given from the Story Guide because of difficulty, it applies to all rolls.

This does mean that having a character weak with the ability helping may hinder the task.


Mike, Wil, and Susan are going to have their characters Miska, Wolf-Snarl, and Skala try to open a stuck door together. All of them are using Bash and Hold to do this, pushing against the door with their shoulders. Their scores are:

  • Wolf-Snarl: Bash and Hold 7
  • Skala: Bash and Hold 5
  • Miska: Bash and Hold 1

Wil rolls 6, plus Wolf-Snarl's Bash and Hold of 7 for a total of 13 - Success Level 2. With two bonus dice, Susan rolls a 10, plus Skala's Bash and Hold of 5 for a total of 15 - Success Level 3. Finally, with three bonus dice, Mike rolls a 7, plus Miska's Bash and Hold of 1, for an 8 - a Failure.

Wil has Wolf-Snarl growl, "Out of my way, weakling," and grab the door alone. Even with a roll of 4, Wolf-Snarl scores Success Level 1 and yanks the door open.

If Bringing Down the Pain is the ultimate way to test two differing wills, how to you manage it when more people want to get in on the fun? The standard way is easy: whenever one player declares that he wants to Bring Down the Pain, any character around can get involved. Part of the declaration of intention is who you're planning to affect: your character can only damage that character until you change intention. The Bringing Down of the Pain does not end until only one character is left standing, or all the other players have given up.

The Zeitgeist method of group Pain-Bringing may be an easier and more fun way to arbitrate these situations. If everyone on one side of a conflict has a similar intention towards the other side, you can use the above rules for a group Ability Check when everyone is using similar abilities. In the Zeitgeist mode, anyone can spend from their pools to help anyone else, and damage taken is distributed by the losing side among their characters however they like. Whenever a character is broken, his player falls out of the group Pain-Bringing.


In the next scene after being damaged, a player may make a Healing Check for his character to recover from damage. This is a Stay Up Ability Check, and dice from any pool can be spent to add bonus dice to the roll. The Success Level obtained is the amount of damage that can be subtracted. Any success on this roll results in the character moving to a less damaged state of being: from broken to bloodied, or bloodied to normal.

Outside of this, Healing Checks can be made in the following situations:

  • After a full night's rest for the character.
  • Upon expenditure of five points from any mix of pools.

Weapons and armor

Ah, weapons and armor - the love of any player, and an oft-fetishized part of any role-playing game. In The Shadow of Yesterday, damage is, as shown above, an erosion of a character's ability to get his way, instead of always being physical pain and suffering. Therefore, weapons aren't just swords, knifes, clubs, and the like, and armor isn't just padding a character wears on his body. Anything can be a weapon - but only in certain situations.

Weapons add to the Success Level of a successful action. Armor subtracts from the Success Level of a successful action done to your character. In both cases, the items can have +1, +2, or +3 ratings. The level of the rating is determined by the specificity of the damage or protection.

  • Weapons and armor with a +1 rating work in specific situations determined by action taken, and often ability used. Examples include:

    • A sword that gives +1 damage in combat.
    • A royal crest that provides +1 protection when involved in diplomacy.
    • A lute that deals +1 damage in attempts to win a crowd while playing it.
  • Weapons and armor with a +2 rating work in situations with a specific type of people, environment, or other restrictions. Examples include:

    • A mace that gives +2 damage against "hard" armors, like plate or chain.
    • The Seal of Maldor, which provides +2 protection against the law in Maldor.
    • A set of snowshoes, which deal +2 damage in attempts to race across snowy areas.
  • Weapons and armor with a +3 rating work in rare situations or against particular persons. Examples include:

    • A dagger forged to kill the Potenate of Ammeni, which deals +3 damage in attempts to kill him.
    • A writ of birthday immunity, which gives +3 protection against any attempt to prosecute a person for crimes committed on their birthday.
    • A set of goggles which give +3 damage while trying to see motion during an eclipse.

An item can have more than one bonus - it can have up to three +1, two +2, and one +3 bonus.

Weapons and armor can occur in the game in two ways. The Story Guide can declare any item in the game to give +1 damage or protection in a particular situation. Alternatively, any player can declare his character's equipment to have a bonus with the Secret of Imbuement. This purchase is subject to Story Guide approval.

Pool refreshment

Whenever an attribute is not at its full level, it can be refreshed, restoring it to its full level by the character performing an in-game action.

Vigor is refreshed by eating a hot meal and spending a night in revelry. Drinking liquor, taking part in exuberant sex, using drugs, or going to a loud and wild music performance are all good examples.

Instinct is refreshed by performing a substantial act of physical exertion for purposes of enjoyment or exercise, not because of danger. This could be anything from a five-mile run to a night of dancing to spending a morning in the cold hunting elk.

Reason is refreshed by engaging in a substantial act of intellectual stimulation, such as having an intelligent argument with someone, going to a play, or reading a book for a few hours.

Crunchy Bits


Each ability in The Shadow of Yesterday has an associated pool, a pool which can be drawn on in order to give a bonus die to use of the ability. This is noted when naming abilities like this: Ability Name (Pool).

Innate Abilities

Every character in The Shadow of Yesterday has four innate abilities: natural reactions and quantifications of the character's physical and mental stability. They are:

Athletics (Vigor)
This is a measure of raw physicality and fitness. It is used for running, jumping, swimming, or any other strength-based task not listed as a separate ability.
Reaction (Instinct)
This measures the quickness of a character's body and mind. It is as much "how quick the character notices something" as "how quick the character moves." It is used in a variety of situations, from who goes first in Bringing Down the Pain, to dodging blows, to noticing danger.
Resist (Reason)
"Resist" is the strength of a character's will, and is used to prevent compulsion of a natural or supernatural type. This includes physical compulsion: "Resist" would be used for a character to keep his cool under torture, for example.
Stay Up (Special)
"Stay Up" may well be the most unique ability in the game. In one sense, it answers the question, "how much damage can this character take?" Since damage isn't solely of the physical variety in The Shadow of Yesterday, though, it is as much a measure of "how much suffering this character will take before he gives up." "Stay Up" does not have an associated pool: instead, all pools are associated with it. When a character is damaged, the associated pool for "Stay Up" is the same as the associated pool for the ability used to damage the character.

Other Abilities

While The Shadow of Yesterday has a full setting, and plenty of pre-made abilities and rules that go with that, you should never forget that it's your setting. Story Guides and players are encouraged to make up their own abilities, Secrets, and Keys.

Open Abilities follow a few guidelines:

  • They are either innate abilities to a person (Climbing) or things that can be easily learned. Usually, they're both, as in the aforementioned case of Climbing, or Scrapping.
  • They are rather wide in scope, encompassing a field of actions, without being overly broad. Movement is too broad; Climbing Fences is too narrow. Fighting is too broad; Broad-sword Usage is too narrow.
  • They are not specialized knowledge that applies only to a certain people or culture. These are the Species and Cultural Abilities, which are much more narrow in scope.

The pre-made Open Abilities are below. Examine them to get ideas for your own.

Artistic Abilities

Freeload (Instinct)
Freeload is used to get free meals and shelter. Your character can't really get wealthy using Freeload, but you can manage to survive even if broke, which isn't bad.
Create (Instinct)
Create is used for painting, sculpting, and other arts where a concrete item is created.
Story-tell (Reason)
Story-tell is used for creating or telling stories, including ballads.
Music (Instinct)
Music is used for singing and playing instruments, and represents musical talent, not lyrical talent. Music and Story-tell are often used together to make an effective song.

Craft Abilities

Haggling (Instinct)
Haggling is used to get the best price for goods. In the world of Near, coinage doesn't really exist, and this is used to make sure you get a fair trade in barter, which means it can be used to evaluate the quality and worth of goods as well.
Fine Crafts (Reason)
Fine Crafts is used for leatherworking, woodworking, and other crafts that require fine manipulation.
Rough Crafts (Vigor)
Rough Crafts is used for stonecutting, forging, and other crafts that require a great deal of strength.
Complex Crafts (Reason)
Complex Crafts is used for any task that requires a great deal of steps or mixing of different materials, ranging from building clocks and locks to cooking.

Fighting Abilities

First Aid (Reason)
If someone's been physically hurt, this can be used to give them bonus dice in a Healing Check.
Scrapping (Instinct)
Untrained fighting is the center of this Ability. Fists, feet, daggers, kitchen knifes, table legs, and all sorts of clubbery are usually used in Scrapping.
Bash and Hold (Vigor)
Bash and Hold is a specialized strength-based skill, used to represent sheer power. It is used for holding doors shut, breaking doors down, lifting heavy things, bending bars, and wrestling other characters.
Battle (Reason)
Battle is the basic skills and tactics known by any military commander. It is used for giving orders in combat and planning attacks, including ambushes.

Illicit Abilities

Stealth (Instinct)
Stealth is used to sneak up on people, hide from other characters, and conceal objects on your character's body.
Theft (Instinct)
Theft is used for picking pockets, cutting purses, lockpicking, breaking and entering without being noticed, and safecracking, as well as any other theft-related activity.
Deceit (Reason)
Deceit is used to fool other characters, including pretending to be someone else, by outfit or by imitation, forge a document, or straight-out lie well.
Streetwise (Reason)
Streetwise is used to know information about the illegal underground, including where to buy illegal things, sell stolen goods, or know who controls organized crime.

Outdoor Abilities

Climbing (Vigor)
Climbing is used for climbing anything that requires rope or is especially difficult, or more than twice as tall as the character. This is basically rock climbing or tall tree climbing. Getting over a short fence or even onto the roof of a one-story house is covered by Athletics.
Aim (Vigor)
Aim is used for shooting bows and crossbows and throwing objects.
Woodscraft (Reason)
Woodscraft is used to track people or animals, know what sorts of plants and animals are present in an area and their properties, as well as set traps.
Animal Ken (Instinct)
Animal Ken is the social skill for dealing with animals, and is used to deal with domesticated animals or wild ones, as well as riding animals. Domesticated animals are much easier to control, of course, and this may be used to give them commands. For wild animals, on the other hand, this works about as far as scaring them off, or convincing them not to eat you.

Priestly Abilities

Pray (Vigor)
Pray is used for meditation, blessing actions, and performing religious rituals. It involves the character's belief that he is connected to something better than him.
Counsel (Reason)
Counsel is used to bring peace to someone via private conversation, not unlike mental health counseling. It is the spiritual equivalent of First Aid.
Discern Truth (Reason)
Discern Truth is used to tell if someone is being honest, or read a person's intentions.
Orate (Instinct)
Orate is used to sway opinion with speech or demagoguery, and is generally used with crowds.

Social Abilities

Sway (Instinct)
Sway is used to sway individuals through conversation. Unlike Orate, this works better one-on-one, and the character being swayed may not even realize your character's intentions.
Savoir-Faire (Instinct)
Savoir-Faire is used to act smooth, dance, get a kiss from a lady, and get another character into your character's bedchambers.
Etiquette (Reason)
Etiquette is used to know your way around a society, including knowing who is important and where to get favors. It is the non-illegal society equivalent of Streetwise.
Dueling (Vigor)
Dueling is the art of honorable one-on-one battle. Almost every culture has its rituals for physically solving problems, which usually involve a sword.


Secrets are special qualities your character has that let him do extraordinary things. They generally work in the following ways:

  • Permanently get a bonus die to a specific use of an ability.
  • Permanently get +1 damage or protection with an ability.
  • Permanently get a minor unusual ability. This ability may require a skill use.
  • Spend one die from a pool to use an ability in an unusual way.
  • Spend two or three dice from a pool to use an ability in a supernatural or powerful unusual way.
  • Spend as many dice from a pool for a scalable effect. If this effect is especially powerful or unusual, it may carry a cost of extra dice.

Most of the Secrets I've pre-made for The Shadow of Yesterday follow the above guidelines, but not all. Look at the ones below, and examine them for ideas for your own.

Open Secrets

Secret of Enhancement (Ability)
You must select an ability when you take this Secret. You may spend as many points out of the associated pool to give bonus dice to the ability as you like.
Secret of Speciality (Skill)
You must select an ability when you take this Secret. Choose a speciality your character has within that ability - for example, cooking pastries for the Complex Crafts skill. You always have a bonus die when your character attempts an action that falls within that speciality. Cost: none.
Secret of Languages (Specific language)
Your character knows a language outside his homeland's.
Secret of Scribing
Your character can read and write any language he knows.
Secret of the Signature Weapon
Your character has one weapon with which he is bonded. You gain a bonus die to any action taken with that weapon and any other character else attempting to use the weapon receives a penalty die. Cost: nothing. (Note: to change this weapon, this Secret must be taken again.)
Secret of Imbuement
Add a bonus to one of your character's weapons or armor, according to the rules in Chapter 4: Playing the Game.
Secret of Contacts
Your character knows all sorts of people in all sorts of places. You can use this Secret once per session for your character to automatically know a non-player character in the adventure. You may describe the relationship in a short phrase, such as "old enemy," "wartime buddy," "ex-lover," but the Story Guide gets to decide the history and current disposition of the relationship. Cost: 3 points from a pool determined by the Story Guide. Vigor would fit for a wartime buddy, Instinct for an ex-lover, and Reason for a former colleague in your character's field of study.
Secret of Blessing
With a successful Pray Ability Check, your character may bless the actions of a group. You must state a specific goal for them to accomplish. Your Success Level with this Ability Check is a pool of bonus dice any member of this group can use in accomplishing this task. Cost: 1 Vigor.
Secret of Mighty Blow
Your character can strike with extreme might. Spend as many dice of Vigor as you like to increase the damage of a blow in combat.
Secret of Disarm
Your character can disarm an opponent, without changing intentions, with a successful Ability Check using a weapon in Bringing Down the Pain. Cost: 1 Vigor.
Secret of Throwing
Anything is a dangerous missile in your character's hands. He can throw anything fist-sized to greatsword-sized as an attack, using the Aim ability. Cost: 1 Vigor/10 feet thrown.
Secret of Knock-back
Your character's blows send people flying. Knock back a stricken character one yard per Success Level. Cost: 2 Vigor.
Secret of Shattering
The weight of your weapon can be used to destroy other weapons and armor in combat. With a successful attack, your Success Level (not including any damage bonuses) is removed from the damage bonuses of weapons or damage reductions of armor. If reduced to 0, the item is destroyed. Cost: 2 Vigor.
Secret of Flying Leap
Your character can make amazing leaps. Using this Secret, he jumps 10 yards per Success Level in a Athletics Ability Check. Cost: 2 Vigor.
Secret of the Unwalked Path
Your character's footfalls leave little trace for others to follow. You can use your character's Woodscraft ability in resistance to anyone trying to track him. Cost: 1 Instinct.
Secret of Animal Speech
Your character can speak to an animal and understand its signals with a successful Animal Ken Ability Check. Cost: 2 Instinct.
Secret of the Hidden Pocket
Your character is adept at hiding objects on his person. No matter how carefully searched the character has been, he may pull an inexpensive, small (hand-sized) item off his person with a successful Stealth Ability Check. Cost: 2 Instinct.
Secret of the Sudden Knife
Your character is a master of the assassin's art. In a surprise attack, the victim is automatically bloodied if your character successfully hits. If he fails his Stay Up roll, he is automatically broken. Cost: 3 Instinct + 1 Vigor + 1 Reason.
Secret of Evaluate
Your character's battle experience has give him the ability to read an opponent well. Evaluate your character's opponent not in descriptive terms, but in game mechanics, on a successful Battle Ability Check. (You can ask for any of the following information, one bit per Success Level: Vigor score, Instinct score, best combat skill and score, specific skill and score.) Cost: 1 Reason.
Secret of Inner Meaning
Your character's art carries a meaning beyond the surface. Use any Instinct-based ability at a distance via a piece of your character's art. Cost: 2 Reason.
Secret of Herbal Health
Your character can always find an herb that is an effective healing agent with a successful Woodscraft Ability Check in the outdoors. The herb will automatically grant a Healing Check, with bonus dice equal to your Success Levels with this Skill Check. Cost: 2 Reason.
Secret of Quality Construction (Craft Ability)
You must choose a specific Craft Ability when you take this Secret. Your character can craft items of excellent quality. Any item your character creates using this Secret gives one bonus die to a particular ability when using the item, permanently. Cost: 3 Reason.


Keys are the motivations, problems, connections, duties, and loyalties that pull on your character. To the player, they're highly important because they generate experience points. Creating new Keys may be easier than new Abilities or Secrets - they follow very simple rules.

  • A Key must involve a motivation, problem, connection, duty, or loyalty.
  • Keys come in two types: * Motivations. When the motivation is fulfilled in play, gain an experience point. When the motivation is fulfilled against good odds, gain three experience points. * Everything else. When the Key comes up in play, gain an experience point. When the Key presents a minor problem, gain two experience points. When it presents a major problem, gain five experience points.
  • All Keys have a Buyoff, which is a reversal from the Key by the character. All Buyoffs give the character 10 experience points. This Buyoff occurs only when you, the player, wants it to happen: you can lose a battle with the Secret of Bloodlust and still keep the Secret. If you want your character to undergo a change in his personality, though, adding to the story, you can take this Buyoff by fulfilling it. If you do take the Buyoff, you can never take this Key again.

As always, see the pre-made Keys to get a feel for creating your own.

Open Keys

Key of Fraternity
Your character has someone he is sworn to, a friend who is more important than anyone else. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character (maximum 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP whenever your character has to make a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character defends them by putting himself at risk. Buyoff: Sever the relationship with this person.
Key of the Guardian
Your character has a ward, someone who depends on him for security and protection. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character. Gain 2 XP whenever your character has to make a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character rescues them from harm. Buyoff: Sever the relationship with this person.
Key of the Vow
Your character has a vow of personal behavior that he has sworn not to break. This could be a dietary restriction, a requirement to pray at sunbreak every morning, or something else like that. Gain 1 XP for every adventure in which your character does not break this vow. Gain 2 XP every time your character does not break this vow even though it causes him minor harm or inconvenience. Gain 5 XP every time your character does not break this vow even though it causes him great harm. Buyoff: Break this vow.
Key of the Mission
Your character has a personal mission that he must complete. Gain 1 XP every time he takes action to complete this mission (2 XP if this action is successful.) Gain 5 XP every time he takes action that completes a major part of this mission. Buyoff: Abandon this mission.
Key of Faith
Your character has a strong religious belief that guides him. Gain 1 XP every time he defends his faith to others. Gain 2 XP whenever this character converts someone to his faith. Gain 5 XP whenever this character defends his faith even though it brings him great harm. Buyoff: Your character renounces his beliefs.
Key of Bloodlust
Your character enjoys overpowering others in combat. Gain 1 XP every time your character defeats someone in battle. Gain 3 XP for defeating someone equal to or more powerful than your character (equal or higher combat skill.) Buyoff: Be defeated in battle.
Key of Glittering Gold
Your character loves wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth. Gain 2 XP every time you finish an adventure with more wealth than you started with. Gain 5 XP every time you double your wealth. Buyoff: Give away everything you own except what you can carry lightly.
Key of the Coward
Your character avoids combat like the plague. Gain 1 XP every time your character avoids a potentially dangerous situation. Gain 3 XP every time your character stops a combat using other means besides violence. Buyoff: Leap into combat with no hesitation.
Key of Conscience
Your character has a soft spot for those weaker than their opponents. Gain 1 XP every time your character helps someone who cannot help themselves. Gain 2 XP every time your character defends someone with might who is in danger and cannot save themselves. Gain 5 XP every time your character takes someone in an unfortunate situation and changes their life to where they can help themselves. Buyoff: Ignore a request for help.
Key of Vengeance
Your character has a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 2 XP every time your character strikes a minor blow at that group or person (killing a member of the organization or one of the person's lackeys, disrupting their life, destroying their property). Gain 5 XP every time your character strikes a major blow at that group or person. Buyoff: Let your enemy go.
Key of the Masochist
Your character thrives on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time he is bloodied and 3 XP every time he is broken. Buyoff: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.

Running the Game

Designing an adventure

Key Scenes

The main experience engine in The Shadow of Yesterday are Keys, allowing players to decide exactly what sort of experiences in play they are most interested in. The Story Guide is just as much of a player, though, and so he controls a secondary experience engine: Key Scenes. Key Scenes are similar to some fantasy RPG experience systems in that they are particular junctures in the play session that the Story Guide has decided beforehand are worth experience to the characters: Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay is one game that uses this. These are not particular outcomes, though. "Saving the princess," "killing or thwarting the evil overlord," and "taming the wild beast" are not good examples of Key Scenes. Key Scenes should be tense, have multiple outcomes, and force players to make a decision for their characters. (In this, they are like Bangs from Ron Edwards' Sorcerer.)

"Discovering the princess is trapped in a high tower," "meeting the overlord," and "confronting the wild beast" are good Key Scenes, as each can result in multiple outcomes and do not put restrictions on what the player decision is for his character. Key Scenes do not have to tie into any particular overarching plot or story-line; they can be light and humorous, or grim and serious.

Whenever a character is present in a Key Scene, he earns one to three experience points, as determined beforehand by the Story Guide. These experience points are given as soon as the scene is over.

Designing NPCs

Interesting non-player characters (NPCs) are the cornerstone of a good adventure. In their interactions with the players' characters, they provide a mirror to reflect action and values. Before figuring out their mechanics, you should figure out their motivations and general reactions. This is easier than you might think: depending on the importance of their character to the story, you should be able to sum this up in one to three sentences.

Of extreme importance is a name for the character: first impressions are, as it's said, lasting. I recommend making a list of common and uncommon names for the culture that your game is currently set in and having that by your side as a Story Guide. Pick names for your most important NPCs ahead of time; throwaway NPCs can have a name picked on the fly from the list.


Beasts are the easiest NPCs of all to write up. Instead of having the normal gamut of abilities, they should have just these few.

Power (Vigor)
This is the animal's strength and ferocity. Even animals, such as a tame buffalo, that do not normally attack people may have a high Prowess, as they'd whip some tail if provoked. This is used to attack other characters and smash things.
Prowess (Instinct)
This is the animal's quickness and control. It is used to dodge blows, run away, and be fast like a rabbit.
Senses (Instinct)
This is self-explanatory: it is the animal's ability to notice its surroundings.
Brain (Reason)
This is a measure of the animal's intelligence and will, and is used like Reason. While it may be a hinderance to domestication, it is also used for a domesticated animal to understand commands.
Stay Up (Special)
This is as per normal.

Beasts should have few, if any, points in their pools. One or two points in Instinct makes them a much more formidable foe, and one or two points in Vigor makes them devastating. No points should be in Reason unless the animal has very special properties.

An animal may have one or two Secrets to represent special abilities that it has, such as goring horns, or a prehensile tail. You can remove the cost from these Secrets if the ability is built in to the animal.

Punks and pogues

Your average run-of-the-mill scene filler NPC does not need to be fully fleshed out. Instead of creating a character from scratch, assign scores to Innate Abilities, plus one other ability, for the NPC. The Innate Abilities can be made more broad for this purpose: Athletics can be used to attack, Reaction to climb, and Resist to solve a riddle.

These guys should rarely, if ever, have points in their pools. One point makes them dangerous; two points makes them a real nuisance. Likewise with Keys, which they shouldn't have points to spend on, anyway: none is fine, while one or two makes them quite powerful.

Major NPCs

NPCs that you plan to have show up in the campaign more than once should be given a name, and fully fleshed out. The number of advances they have should be the average of the players' characters', plus or minus five.

When using these NPCs, though, their pools should be halved, as they do not have the chances to spend them that the players' characters do.

Running an adventure

Giving out experience points

As a Story Guide, you are responsible for binding the game together into an enjoyable narrative. You may be considered responsible by the players for their experience points and advancement. They are, of course, as wrong as they can be. When you see a player have his character act in a way that should earn him experience from a Key, feel free to announce that out loud. Feel just as free not to: that character is that player's creation, and he should well be playing attention to what's going on, and be invested in his character's advancement.

With the exception of Key Scenes, which you are responsible for, an ideal flow of experience point giving should go like this:

Jack, a player: My character, Willis, leaps forward, his ratkin legs kicking to land in front of the sword-blow coming down on Jeph. (rolls) Success! Hey, that hits one of my Keys. 3 experience, right?

Jennifer, the GM: A-yup.

Running a campaign

The Standard Advance

Before a campaign begins, the Story Guide and players need to decide how long they want the game to be, and how fast they want characters to advance. Each group, and each story, can work differently in these respects, and so The Shadow of Yesterday can be easily changed to accomodate this.

The standard advance, how many experience points it costs to buy an advance for a character, is normally set at 10 XP. This will accomodate a style of play where your character will gain one or two advances at every session, normally, which is pretty quick compared to most RPGs. I suggest moving this standard advance up in increments of 5 XP to change play speed. Set at 15 XP, characters will earn an advance every session or two; set at 20 XP, characters will earn, on average, an advance over two to three sessions; and set at 25 XP, characters will earn an advance every three or four sessions. It is not recommended to set the standard advance higher than 25 XP.

Character Transcendence

"Transcendent" is the result of an ability check result of 22. It signals the end of a character's story, and is a special occasion for that character's player. With this result, the player should feel free to narrate the outcome of his roll himself, with any help he likes from the other players and Story Guide. If the roll comes during Bringing Down the Pain, that ends immediately. If the scene is taking place during the day, the sun is eclipsed by the moon within the hour; if during the night, the moon is eclipsed by the sun.

The story should immediately focus upon the transcendent character. He has just accomplished a feat that will be spoke of by his companions forever, and the day is his. Within 24 game-hours of the moment he became transcendent, his story will be over. The character may die; he may retire for a quiet life; he may disappear over the hills or become something else entirely. His story will end and he will be retired from play.

This does not mean the campaign is over. The player may bring a new character into play after his current character leaves. This character may well be established during the day of transcendence, and carry on the legends of a character who has just had his most glorious moment.