Everything’s coming up Game of Thrones these days, and I’ll be the first to admit I was late to the party and didn’t start reading the books until around the time the TV series started. But like most of the world, I’m now hooked and want a dire wolf and Needle of my own. So when one of my friends announced he would be running a game using Green Ronin’s Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying system, not even the Others could have kept me away.
We’ve been playing for a few weeks now, and I have nothing but good to say about the game. It’s absolutely nothing like any other RPG I’ve ever played, and I’m enjoying it immensely. I’m even quite close to declaring it the best RPG I’ve ever played. What makes it so damn special? Well, imma gonna tell you.
Standard Party Structure Does Not Apply
You realize this is going to be a different kind of game from the moment you sit down for character creation. Instead of everyone doing their own thing and creating a hodgepodge of characters that the GM then has to figure out how to bring together, the first thing the players do is create a house. Together, the players decide the house’s location, history, size, power, holdings, wealth, and liege. We created House Glastone, an ancient house of the north that has fallen on hard financial times. We are bannermen for House Stark, and our words are “Ice and Iron” (in reference to our location on the coast of the Bay of Ice and the iron mines we own).
Only once the house is fully fleshed out do you start creating your characters – who are all members of the house, be they family, retainers, wards, etc. The characters are all connected from the very beginning, so it’s important to work together on background and how they feel toward each other. What kind of characters can you make? SIFRP doesn’t use a class system – while there are character roles, like rogues, leaders, and schemers, your character can be anything you want them to be. If you want to play a character much like Sansa Stark, with no fighting skills and only her wits to keep her safe, you can, and there will be things for her to do in the game.
We have four players, and we each created a primary character and a backup character. My husband is playing Eddard Glastone, first son and heir to Stoney Point (who loves the ladies and is apparently trying to repopulate the north with his bastards), and a young maester, Daermon, recently arrived to the house. My little brother is playing Sigurd, second son who is riddled with debt and a love for alcohol, and Charlotte, a young handmaiden who happens to be one of Ed’s bastards. I am playing Sorcha, the first daughter, still unmarried at 17 after her betrothed – a nephew of Greatjon Umber – was killed in a fight with wildlings. Her father is desperately trying to marry her off to a good house, but she is trying to hold out to marry for love – and her very protective older brothers are doing their best to help her. My second character is Pedro, the waterdancer who trained the boys in combat. The fourth player created the house steward and a member of the house guard.
The Dice Can’t Always Save You
SIFRP is a roleplay heavy game, full of intrigue, diplomacy, and subterfuge. Combat, like in the books, is brutal and deadly. The rules actually recommend that one character should die per story arc. So far our story has consisted of traveling to a tournament at the Old Stones, where Ed and Sig were to try to win money and glory for the house, and with hopes of finding a good match for Sorcha along the way. The steward has been making nothing but enemies for us as his attempts to learn about potential husbands for my character have come off as nosy and creepy (he has good intrigue stats, but the words coming out of the player’s mouth aren’t winning any friends). An ambush on the way to the tourney showed us how harsh the combat is – where in D&D or Pathfinder, a foe can take a beating for round after round, our enemies all died horrific deaths from one or two blows or arrows. Both brothers came away from the tournament with broken bones, which will slow our return home.
The most exciting thing about the game, in my opinion? All campaigns start out prior to the events of A Game of Thrones, and the actions the characters take can change the outcome of the story. The cannon characters are supposed to show up, and your characters are supposed to interact with them. Several weeks into play, we’ve stayed at House Mallister (where Sorcha impressed heir Patrick Mallister with her marksmanship, but he didn’t impress her with his fondness for the wenches at the banquet), we’ve just heard word that the Hand of the King, Lord Arryn, has fallen deathly ill, and Sig has made friends with Tyrion Lannister.
Who Wouldn’t Like A Game Like This?
While my fellow players and I have nothing but praise for SIFRP, like anything, it’s not for everyone. There are some specific types of gamers who might not care for this type of game.
GMs and players who are used to letting the dice decide everything. If your idea of persuading an innkeeper to tell you who of importance has stayed at their establishment recently is, “I persuade him. I rolled a 19,” you’re going to be toast in this game. Your in-character words and actions have to match your intent. The game rules refer to the GM as the Narrator, and that’s a far more appropriate title for this system. The Narrator has to be able to handle nuances and socio-political actions and reactions.
Power-gamers and hack-and-slashers. Maxing out all your stats doesn’t do you any good if you can’t roleplay your way out of a wet paper sack. Likewise, those who want to spend most of each game session killing things will quickly grow bored by the politics and scheming, and will then be pissed to find their character dead a week after battle from an infected cut.
Players who want all the women to be warriors. I dare anyone to say that Catelyn Stark or Daenerys Targaryen doesn’t kick ass and take names. There are many powerful women in the lands of Westeros. But… No women take the Black. Armies are full of men. Women who can swing a sword are a rarity rather than a common occurrence, as are female heads of houses. D&D/Pathfinder fans who are used to gender not being an issue may have difficulties remembering that in this setting, things are different.
If you have love for George R. R. Martin’s work, and are eager to play a new type of RPG, you will be very happy with SIFRP. I would encourage anyone who enjoys roleplay more than rollplay to give it a try!
Have you ever played SIFRP?