The Shadow of Yesterday

The Shadow of Yesterday (TSoY) is a fantasy game that was originally created and published by Clinton R. Nixon, a game designer whose website you can find at CRN Games. Clinton’s game is under a very permissive license, which I’ve used to create a new edition of the game; this is the third edition of TSoY, and the first one written and published by somebody who is not Clinton himself.

If you’re unfamiliar with TSoY

Clinton published the first edition of the game in 2004, after which many people, including me, have grown quite fond if it. After five years TSoY is still the single best attempt at combining a classical tabletop fantasy adventure roleplaying game with modern, Forge-style design. In many ways it has the best of both worlds: toolbox approach, a strong GM-figure, conflict resolution, entrenched player rights, careful attention to creative agenda… technically it’s a quite robust game.

Being a traditional adventure fantasy game, TSoY has a pretty simple mandate: it has a large and colorful fantasy world out of which the gaming group weaves heroic characters and stories. The world of Near (the name of the setting, that) is unique in fantasy gaming as a major setting that refutes mysticism while celebrating humanity; I call this “Clinton’s west coast hippy fantasy” when discussing the game’s genre with friends: it’s very genre-aware in that all the sword & sorcery staples are in there, as well as weird takes on the mandatory post-Tolkien stuff like elves and dwarves, but it’s also very original and organic, refusing to bend to genre stricture. People are always at the center of the stories created in this game; in fact, we have a motto that is always being used to explain what the game is about:

  • No Gods: whatever choices characters in these stories make, they are their own. Faith might have power, but that power is wielded by people, and nothing guarantees the moral purity of their actions – that is always judged by the players at the table, not by the game designer or Story Guide.
  • No Monsters: problems encountered by the characters in the game are not caused by incontrovertible evil that can be tidily destroyed. There are wild animals and horrors summoned into the world, but those are coincidences or symptoms, not a cause.
  • Only People: there is good and evil in the world, but they are always caused by people, human or not. Player characters might be causes, or they might react to events caused by others; either way, they have to make their own choices and interact with choices made by others without anything to guide them by their own convinctions.

I find the setting built upon the above precepts an interesting challenge exactly because there is no genre guiding our play: it’s fantasy of sorts, sure, but the style might range anywhere between pure chivalric romance and the grittiest, most nihilistic sword & sorcery. It all depends on the people, no more and no less.

The deal with the game

Clinton used to sell the game as one big book, but I’m going at it a bit differently, with two books:

  • Solar System is the universal rules set used by TSoY. I published it last year to a pretty good reception as a cheap saddle-stitched booklet. I’ve written about that on its own page.
  • The World of Near is the setting portion of the game. It’s larger than the rules booklet and looks more like the major roleplaying game it is, with color covers and such.

As you need both of those books to play the game, I’m just going to pack the SS booklet with all WoN sales I make. We printed extra copies of the booklet last year for this exact purpose.

Because it is expected with large fantasy roleplaying games, I probably should tell you about the support plan: at this point I have no plans for supporting The Shadow of Yesterday with a supplement treadmill of any sort. The World of Near was a work of vision, and it includes everything you need to play the game just the way I do. If I ever come back to Clinton’s fascinating world, it’ll be because I have something new and fresh to say about it.

That being said, TSoY is by its nature a creative anarchy. People create material for it all the time, and while most of it is freely available in the Internet and not published with any sort of fanfare, it’s just as usable all the same. Already a dozen different people contributed to my book with their ideas, and I only hope to see new material inspired by the new book make the rounds in the Internet before long. That’s how my book came about: I saw a need for an updated, tidied reference work that would include both Clinton’s material and the various ideas developed since then.

For TSoY Veterans

Most of what I say above is already known to you, obviously. What you want to know is whether you should get the new book. Here’s my viewpoint in a nutshell:

  • The new book has something like three times as much material as Clinton’s book did. The World of Near includes the Southern Initiative of Josh Culbertson, as well as a number of lesser additions to the setting made through the last couple of years. This includes at least three new major magic systems, half a dozen cultures, a couple or three new species and so on. So if you want to read about ideas others have had for the game, the book’s an obvious pick.
  • My own major contribution to the book (aside from editing and such) has been the crunch reworking and additions made to bring the material up to Solar System standards. Nothing is mandatory, but I myself consider the new equipment rules much more flexible and balanced than the old were, for example. It’s overall pretty clear that nothing this intricate has been released for the Solar System crunch-wise. Some things are simpler than before (due to how Effects simplify some things), others more complex (as that’s how I like it), but ultimately it’s your call as to what you use and what you don’t.

That’s pretty much it. I wouldn’t consider this book mandatory at all, but if you enjoy Near as a setting or want to see the top of the line Solar System crunch design, those are where this book is at.