Friday, November 21, 2014

Review: Girls Elsewhere (a Heroine RPG Supplement)

Upfront point: massive apologies to Josh, because I said I'd do this review a long time ago. But there's no time like the present to change that! Girls Elsewhere is a supplement to Josh Jordan's storytelling game Heroine, which I reviewed previously on this blog last year. It's a supplement that expands the types of stories that you might tell with Heroine, and it's a wonderful way to broaden your scope of storytelling for the game.

What's Girls Elsewhere?
Girls Elsewhere is a supplement for Heroine that introduces a variety of settings for the game, along with helpful material that gives you more than enough to play a game in any of these worlds. This includes world details, tweaked rules, and even name lists. If you haven't played Heroine, check out my review here; it's a game where one player is the young Heroine who has found her way into a strange world, and the other player is the Narrator, who gives them trials to overcome. Other players can play the Companions who help the Heroine. It's the sort of story you find in The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and Alice in Wonderland.

Here's the settings found in the book, written by a wide variety of mostly women authors.

  • Swords, Sorcery and You: a setting based loosely on medieval England, where the Heroine might use magic and swordplay to find her way.
  • Alice Little Through the Space Glass: a somewhat whimsical science fantasy setting inspired by Lewis Carroll's stories, where the Heroine seeks to investigate and understand the new life she encounters.
  • Cinder Girl Cries: inspired by Cinderella and several similar fairy tales, this setting could've come straight out of Disney, as the Heroine tries to find love and escape her cruel life.
  • The Five Elements: this setting has a strong feeling of Avatar about it, particularly The Legend of Korra.
  • The Forest of the Gods: reminiscent of a modern Princess Mononoke, it's a story about an ancient, magical forest that stands in the way of a developing world; the Heroine has to help others see the world that is being forgotten.
  • Gabi: the Isles of Night: a dark, sometimes creepy setting drawn from the myths of the Philippines, where the heroine must battle sinister monsters in her ventures in the supernatural world.
  • Misses: veering strongly from many of the other settings, this setting casts the heroine as a powerful psychic being hunted by a sinister organization. Yeah, there's shades of X-Men in there too, and the setting also reminds me of Psi*Run.
  • The Space Scout of Mezarim: this setting feels a lot like 50s space adventure, as the heroine explores foreign planets and completes missions as a member of the Space Scouts.

What the Settings Include
Each setting has extra or tweaked rules for each of the three roles in the game (Heroine, Narrator, Companion), some backstory fiction, and a Name Pack. The Name Pack is incredibly helpful, because it frees players up some. Instead of wondering what to call something, you can pick a name from the list. It also helps you to move outside of your standard scope of knowledge, which can often be a barrier to making fantastical stories. They've done some name research, so that you don't have to.

The biggest game-changers are the rules tweaks that a setting introduces. Some limit the Heroine to succeeding and being heroic in specific ways. For example, Alice Little Through the Space Glass limits the Heroine's success to four arenas: Inquiry, Deduction, Empirical Research, and Anthropology. In The Five Elements, the Heroine must be Mighty, Creative, or Exemplary in order to be heroic. Other tweaks introduce Themes that replace the default Themes of Heroine (), Injuries and Divisions appropriate to the setting, and particular Challenges.

The settings also feature an introduction for the Heroine, several possible locations, and different ideas for Companions that she might meet along the way. All-told, it's an enormously complete package that made me feel like I understood the stories being referenced and displayed. It's more than enough for anyone to use that setting in a game of Heroine. It's rather concise (5 or so pages per setting), but the information is very carefully chosen. Nothing seems very gratuitous. My only complaint is that some of the settings differ slightly from the normal format, which threw me off when reading through the whole book. It's all very usable, however.

Finally, the very end of the book lists all of the different rules tweaks in alphabetical order. If you want, you can borrow from those to make your own settings!

Final Thoughts: this is an immensely enjoyable supplement merely because of its length. Not only is it useful for the game, but it also acts as a helpful Cliff's Notes of several diverse genres. I think that more RPG settings should follow this model, emphasizing the gameable aspects of the setting and staying light on the bulk of details.