For a retro-themed role-playing game day at Endgame, Edmund chose to run SkyRealms of Jorune; specifically, he used the third edition published by Chessex under license in 1992 as well as some older sourcebooks from previous editions. I had played in a short campaign Edmund ran for me eight or ten years ago, and read a lot of the setting material on and off over the years before and since, but it sure had been a while.
If you don’t know the game, it drew a cult following back in the late 1980s-early 1990s because of its rich and original background, its effort to support fantasy conceits with plausible in-world explanations, and its atmospheric art by Miles Teves as well as Janet Aulisio, George Barr, and others.
But the system, in all its incarnations, was at best clunky and sometimes opaque. There is a lot of jargon, a lot of character sheet scouring in order to locate appropriate skills, a lot of rule mechanics that pull in different directions, and a lot of whiffing.
Despite the system obstacles, thanks to a game-master and two players anchored in modern role-playing aesthetics, we had a blast. Sean Nittner (of Big Bad Con game convention, Evil Hat Productions, and Narrative Control podcast fame) and I picked among the six pre-generated characters; Sean picked Persiphon, a human durlig farmer (the durlig is a labour-intensive crop), and I played “Dark” Mood, a Bronth private eye (a genetically engineered were-bear.)
We were harvesting durlig when a fearful Thriddle went running past us at high speed, before hitting a wall and knocking itself out. We discovered that it was suffering from hypothermia despite the hot Sobayid sun! After giving it care and reuniting the Thriddle with others of its species for medical care, we went investigating what it had been running away from. We found a hole that led to a crevasse that led to a room filled with crystals and a mysterious portal… We stepped through and found ourselves on a Sky Realm in the middle of a blizzard. We fought Cleash, we rescued Persiphon’s five-year old cousin Jessa from being eaten by the Cleash, we found a Shanta preserved inside a large crystal… We had adventures!
Edmund made it easier to play by giving a large penumbra for skills we did have rather than demanding we use the skills we didn’t have. He also reduced the number of steps needed when we got into combat. The system requires: (1) an Advantage roll to determine who has the upper hand; an attack roll; if you hit, a hit location roll (which Edmund dropped), then a roll to penetrate armour if the opponent is wearing any, and finally a damage roll if you make it that far. Oh, and the defender may have a defense roll to avoid being hurt. You generally want to roll low… except when it’s time to roll for Advantage and for damage.
Because Edmund limited the rolls to where they made sense, and because Sean and I were completely into the modern mind set of “look at the die and narrate what happens,” rather than the old “Must Not Fail Roll!!” we had a great time. We also played our backwater hick-but-gung-ho characters to the hilt. In truth, I would love to play the further adventures of Persiphon and Moody!
For more on SkyRealms of Jorune, read Grognardia’s overview, Grymbok’s “Let’s Read” feature on RPG.net, or The Lonely DM’s review.