Star Crossed Lovers

It is Valentine’s Day once more and, as per tradition, I will be playing a romantic RPG. This time, it will be Star Crossed (it’s also on itch.io), a game that… uses… Jenga…

Oh boy.

For those who don’t know, I had experimented with a Jenga-based RPG before, and for reasons stated in that post, I elected to make a system that uses no Jenga tower… to great failure. In hindsight, what I realized was that you need to weight the answers as you would the tower. It’s not likely to fall down if the structure was sturdy.

One idea to handle this problem was to use Tabletop Simulator and use a workshop file that plays Jenga. Problem is that the version I got just had a bunch of towers and if you wanted to make one yourself, you’d have to import the small block one by one.

An easier solution comes from Speak the Sky, which doesn’t sound as easy, as you would need one hundred d6s and remove the ones that rolled ones. However, with the advent of online dice rollers like Roll20 and Foundry (okay, technically they’re more than just that, but still), it’s more or less achievable. There is a snag though. How would one be able to count the 1s?

Thankfully, there’s a solution I have. /roll 100d6>1f1. This will count remove all 1s from the check and tell you how many d6s to roll for the next pull. This is going to be as experimental as the Mythic Dread idea, but I’m willing to put faith in something that has been discussed with tons of line graphs and has its own dice roller programmed in, with thanks going to Max Kämmerer for the latter.

However, for the sake of note taking, I’ll be using Roll20 (since it will keep the information of how many dice that I have left should I put the game on pause for whatever reason) for the time being… Now for everything else.

I’ll be honest, I have no idea what scenario I want to play out with this. Other Valentine’s Day games I had either had pre-set scenarios or, in the rare case, I already had a scenario thought out. This, however, I have nothing. However, I have a few ideas meted out thanks in part to the images and examples.

One of the examples has a relationship between an Imperial Vizier and a Galactic Empress while one of the art pieces has an astronaut hook up with a centaur. This caused an idea to be born in my head: Basically, what if Avatar (the movie, not the cartoon) was more of a space opera mashed up with Lord of the Rings?

The Vizier idea had me think back to the Reylo ship, a pairing between the protagonist of the Star Wars sequel Trilogy, Rey, and her main rival in those movies, Kylo Ren. The idea is that the Lead will be someone akin to a Kylo Ren, assigned to a distant planet to keep an eye on and see if it’s deemed worthy for its induction into the Empire. Said planet is stuck in ye old fantasy times and the representative who would be guiding this guy through the planet is an elf lady.

The problem is that, throughout his stay at the planet, he’s grown attached to his tour guide. The guide, similarly, seems to like his presence a little more than one would have for their tourist. One of the major rules when it comes to judging planets is to avoid any bias. As such, should word go out that the two had a fling, accusations that she slept with him to get a favorable result will flood forth and put both their lives at risk.

So, we now have the reason they’re together, what is pushing them towards each other and why they can’t just make out.

Another two things to finalize is who the “partner” will be as well as implementing the X-Card mechanic. I established this before, so I’ll put my mechanic forward while I’ll use the UNE/BOLD/CRGE system for any interactions with the Lead. The reason I pick this is because the Lead decides how a scene begins and what better scene setter than an Emulator?

So, now I’ll make the characters. First, I’ll do my character, the Follow. Her name is Silivrenniel and her most attractive feature is her boundless kindness. The next two features will be decided by the emulator.

[Roll: 83 & 5]

These two new traits are liberal and sensible. Well, that makes sense for her. I already explained the reasons for why they can’t act on their feelings and why that would be bad, so the most I’ll expand upon are the possible consequences that may ensue. Silivrenniel might be ousted as either an Empire sympathizer or even a traitor and may be exiled for falling in love.

As for the Lead, whose name is Pallas. His major attractive trait is that he’s dignified. The two traits I’m going to give him ‘an unwavering devotion’ and ‘honest soul’. Now the Emulator gets to decide why he can’t just confess his feelings and what the consequence will be.

[Roll: 2 & 10 + 93, Accidental Horror]

[Roll: 4 & 8 + 30, Unmistakable Illness]

Getting a little topical, are we? His reason why he can’t act on his feelings is because he’s only on the planet to obtain rare crystals that could cure a disease that had been plaguing one of the central Empire planets. He fears that, by acting on his feelings, he would be distracted from the mission at hand and, as a consequence, people will die, and he’ll feel like it will be all on him.

Alright, a pretty solid plot right here… Let’s begin! Our starting dice pool will be 70 to reflect the taking out of bricks. We begin with our first scene: an introduction. This is how Pallas and Silivrenniel will meet for the first time. To spice this up, we’ll use BOLD to set up the scenario.

[Roll: 8 & 8, 87, & 18]

Before we continue, I want to bring up a screw up I did. I had forgotten that I have to roll 2d10 instead of 1d20, which is a world of difference, since not only does it omit 1 from the results altogether, but that the bell curve is made so that it’s mostly determined by the PC rather than outside circumstances. Originally, I rolled a 6, which was avoidance, but, when I realized this error, I rerolled the number and got 18, fate, which, ironic enough, could also fit. With this note, let’s move on ahead.

So, we have a legendary relative and its solution is fate. Obviously, this is Pallas’s sister, Ceres, who ranks higher than him and is the one in charge of the extraction of the crystals, of which they are known as Kristallium (when in doubt, use German). For whatever reason (that will be decided on later when the thread rears its head), Pallas runs away from her and encounters Silivrenniel. To which, we start the scene.

Now, I know I said I’d be using only the Conjecture Games line of products, but unfortunately, while it has a great system for generating conversations and setting up scenarios, when it comes to directing what a character does, I need something else. Weighing the options between three engines, I ultimately decided on Character Mechanisms I and II from Ken Wickham (just to save you some trouble, he has a bundle full of different tables), since the most I’m trying to get out of this is “what does this person do”. One day I’ll tackle the Behaviour engine from Mythic Variations or the Player Emulator by Katamoiran, but for now, let’s keep going.

Particularly, I think I might use the Reaction table for most of Pallas’s reactions.

[Roll: 2, 8, 8, and 8]

So, how this works is that I rolled up his stimulus response, instinctual behavior, need, and emotion. In this case, it’s expected, avoid & flee, safety, and fear & anxiety. In this case, he’s avoiding his sister out of either fear or anxiety and he’s expected in the safety of the natives.

“Ah, my apologies madam.” Pallas kept a calm face. He knew that chances are, his escape from his sister would land him in someone’s house. He flashed his badge at her with a calm smirk. “My name is Pallas Juno. I’m part of the Imperial Federation and…” He took the moment to come up with a lie. “Your planet has been selected to be inducted into its ranks. However, before that happens, we need to see about how qualified the planet is. Do you know anyone who would be of assistance?” He asked her.

Okay, so it seems that the ‘surveillance’ thing is merely a cover story.

[Q: Is there anyone else with Silivrenniel? Purpose: To Knowledge. A: 42, surge goes up to 1]

Nope, it’s just her.

“Well, I know someone who might show you around.” Silivrenniel gave him a cold glare. The sooner he was out of her hair, the better. Nothing but a colonial prick… Didn’t his kind learn their lesson a thousand years ago that you shouldn’t be going around disrupting civilizations?

“Very well. Show me the way.” He then grabbed her hand.

Now, the way the pull system in this game works is somewhat similar to Dread. We can talk and describe all we want, but actions require pulls. Unlike Dread, though, these are only two specific actions: touching and revealing personal things. The Lead is able to do both of these intentionally once per scene while the Follow is able to do these unintentionally once per scene. Once per game, they can flip the script, so to speak.

And so, with this intentional touch from Pallas, we do the first pull of the game!

[Pull: 61 Bricks Remain!]

Oh, cool, we shaved about ten percent of the pool of bricks.

Silivrenniel gritted her teeth and raised her hand, ready to strike, only to catch herself in the act. If she tried anything funny, he might have her arrested or worse… Best to play along.

I’m considering this as counting as revealing something personal unintentionally, since she kinda wants to keep her hatred to the Empire as best as she could.

[Pull: 55 Bricks Remain!]

“Shall we get a move on?” Pallas asked. The two left the house in search of someone who would help guide Pallas through the planet of Galadriel.

… Yes, I decided to name it that. It was too tempting to pass up. And with that, we end that scene. No Chaos to move up because we’re doing strictly CRGE. The next scene is a little embarrassment, and our ingredients are…

[Roll: 4 & 6, 64, and 12]

It’s a tapped struggle solved by favored skill. Okay, I think I know how this would go.

“Well… That was something…” Pallas muttered as he went to go find his sword which he had dropped at the swamps. They had to battle against living vines during the trek and in the scuffle, he lost it.

[Q: Is he able to find it? Purpose: To Knowledge. A: 22, Surge bringing it down to 20]

A random event happens. We’ll be using Mechanism’s twist for this one. Most of the Wickham charts are unique in that they have routed out four different ways to roll on the chart. For this, however, it’s simple to use 2d12, one for the rows and one for the columns.

[Roll: 2 & 1]

So, Pallas was told a lie about someone. Conclusion? Well…

He was unable to find his sword, having been forever lost in the swamp.

“I’ll admit, your swordsmanship is remarkable. I apologise for the sword. I’ll get a new one for you once we get back to town…” Before she realized it, she had just revealed a small lie.

I feel like this counts as another unintentional reveal of something personal, since this implied that she sent him out on a wild goose chase. Time for a pull.

[Pull: 44 Bricks Remain!]

I’m honestly surprised with how this mechanic works. It definitely makes the ‘tower’ a ticking time bomb.

“When we get back into town? You mean to tell me we went out in the boonies for nothing!?” Pallas asked her.

When having dialogue, the player also has to touch the tower, which becomes riskier the more unstable the tower is. As such, I’m implementing a mechanic where, whenever dialogue is shared, I roll a d100 and if it’s lower than a threshold of 50 minus the remaining number of bricks (then double the result), then it falls over. Let’s try it.

[Touch DC of 12: 48]

Okay, so the tower remains.

Silivrenniel’s intent was to take him far from her village and make him someone else’s problem but seeing as he had risked life and limb to save her life from the living vines, she decided to take initiative.

Pallas got out of the swamp, frustrated with both the loss of his laser blade and the dirtying of his suit. He made it known to Silivrenniel that he won’t appreciate such hijinks again with a glare.

I think this is another pull time since he’s intentionally revealing his feelings.

[Pull: 37 Bricks Remain!]

“No. I merely wish to convey that this swamp is hard to traverse. It is, unfortunately, the only way we can get from one town to another. While walking on foot is possible, it’s much easier to rent a raft.”

“And why haven’t we done that?” Pallas asked.

“Because then you’d be caught, correct?” Silivrenniel said. Pallas grumbled and nodded.

“Fine, so, what now?” He asked.

“I’ll guide you to the town and show you some of the things your empire will be taking in.” Silivrenniel said, taking his hand to guide him through the muck.

Okay, so first off, that’s five touches of the tower to check.

[Touch DC of 26: 10]

… And the tower is accidentally knocked over. I do kinda want to see how this story goes though, so it’s time for me to cheat the rules a little and artificially extend the game.

Okay, so with each “fall”, that’ll take away 5 bricks. After some rolls, we’re knocked down to 27 bricks and now we have the pull from that intentional touch, something she can only do once per game as the Follow.

[Pull: 23 Bricks Remain!]

Perfect. We’re making progress. I say this is a good place to end the scene. The next scene is “Finding Common Ground” and I figure I can’t stay away from Mythic forever and so, I’m bringing it back to flavor this scene.

  • Event Focus: 53, Move Toward a Thread
  • Thread: Auto-Interrupt: Why is he running from Ceres?
  • Event Meaning: 44 & 85, Release Technology
  • BOLD: (8 & 2, 25, 7) Righteous Traitor solved by scarce-used ability.

[Q: Is the traitor Ceres? Purpose: To Conflict. A: 32, surge counter goes up to 1]

As they got to the town, they noticed that one of the Imperials is already at the town, roughing up a random villager with the butt of his rifle.

“Hey! Stop that!” Silivrenniel rushes to him.

[Touch DC of 54: 77]

“Hey! Wait!” Pallas ran with her.

[Touch DC of 54: 68]

[Q: Does this traitor know who Pallas is? Purpose: To Conflict. Odds: Has to be (25). A: 43, Surge making it 41 and SC goes up to 2]

The man looks over Pallas and pays no mind, even as Pallas shows him his badge and using the lie that he is the inspector for the planet. Pallas pulled Silivrenniel away…

That was an intentional touch. Pull.

[Pull: 21 Bricks Remain!]

I have a burning curiosity.

[Q: Is this traitor the inspector? Purpose: To Conflict. A: 48, Surge bringing it down to 44. SC goes up to 3]

Random event time.

[Roll: 10 & 6]

Something that leads to promotion… Hmm… Perhaps by taking this guy down, Pallas proves himself worthy enough to be promoted to actually be an inspector.

Pallas couldn’t help but stare at the man mercilessly beating up an innocent person. Even without his laser sword, he tried to at least score a hit in. Success! He decked him and tossed away the weapon before giving the elder the chance to slip away.

Silivrenniel looked at Pallas and thought about how passionately he went into the fray and fought that crook. Something stirred in her in that moment.

[Q: This is a bad time for Ceres to walk in. Does she walk in? Purpose: To Conflict. Odds: Somewhat Likely (5). A: 97, Surge bringing it up to 103]

Yes, and unexpectedly…

[Unexpectedly: 20… I’ll judge this as twenty bricks have been added.]

Just then, Ceres emerged onto the scene.

“Pallas, what the hell are you doing here!?” She asked him. Immediately, Pallas shrank, no longer the confident man he once was.

This is his Once per Game ability, to unintentionally reveal something personal. In this case, an inferiority complex whenever his sister is involved. As such, it’s time to pull.

[Pull: 31 Bricks Remain!]

“He was showing me around! I’m his guide for the planetary review.” Silivrenniel put a protective hand over Pallas as she instantly read the room on the situation.

 [Touch DC of 38: 38]

Five blocks fall off, and now we have her unintentionally touch Pallas.

[Pull: 23 Bricks Remain!]

Because this will lead to a promotion…

Ceres gave a harsh sigh before she nodded to Pallas. She went over to hoist up the thug, ripping the badge off his uniform.

“As I figured… Another bum thinking that he can dress up as one of us to have their way. Despicable. Finally had a good use for you after all, little brother. Give me your report on this planet by tomorrow.” Ceres hauled the guy away before she glared at Pallas once more. “And don’t get too attached to anything here.” She left soon after.

Silivrenniel jumped once Ceres was fully gone and began to tremble.

She’s making her nervousness with the Empire more and more blatant, even if unintentional.

[Pull: 21 Bricks Remain!]

“It’s okay. She is an intimidating woman… Even I am afraid. She… wounded me.” As he pulled his sleeve up to reveal a scar on his arm. “It was a sword fight to see who would be leading the army. Normally, it would be relegated to the males of our family, but Ceres made a claim citing that, as the eldest, she’d be the better leader. As you can see, she won.”

This is going to be a long dialogue followed by a pull from the intentional reveal.

[Touch DC of 58: 88]

[Pull: 20 Bricks Remain!]

Huh, we’re really getting down to the wire here.

 Silivrenniel understood and decided to move away from the uncomfortable moment altogether. Pallas followed.

And we end the scene there with the irony that Silivrenniel leads Pallas, but gameplay wise, Pallas leads Silivrenniel. Next scene’s called hard at work and, like before, we’ll use Mythic + Bold for the context.

  • Event Focus: 54, Move Toward a Thread
  • Thread Focus: Override, it will be the romance between Pallas and Silivrenniel.
  • Event Meaning: 44 & 47, Release Attention
  • BOLD: 5 & 10, 28, and 2, corrupt rebels solved by legendary help.

Oh boy. This is going to be hairy.

Alright, so I say this is a time skip of about a week. Silivrenniel had been showing Pallas around the planet rather well, though at one point, they get ambushed by some rebels. However, these rebels aren’t the ordinary “down with the empire” kind. They’re clearly just wanting to replace the leader with their own.

Pallas and Silivrenniel stayed bunkered behind as several rebels fired at them.

“Die, Imperial scum!” One of them shouted. Pallas got up to try and fire back at the rebels, only for one of them to fire at his shoulder, injuring him as he falls right into Silivrenniel’s arms.

This would be an unintentional touch, his only one for the game.

[Pull: 16 Bricks Remain!]

“Pallas! Don’t try it, it’s too risky!” Silivrenniel said to Pallas. She bordered on tears as she desperately clung onto the wound.

This would be an unintentional reveal since she’s not outright saying it, but she’s definitely concerned for Pallas’s safety.

[Touch DC of 68: 21]

Five bricks fall and we’re down to eleven.

“We’re pinned down here… It’s no use…” Pallas said to her.

[Touch DC of 78: 75]

Another five bricks fall down.

“Pallas… Before you came along, I assumed the Empire was… horrible. But… then I saw you and…” Silivrenniel could hear the rebels coming for them. This was it. It was now or never. “You’re brave, noble, and completely different from who I imagined someone like you to be… Pallas… I…”

That’s more than enough for an intentional reveal of feelings, her once per game action.

[Pull: 4 Bricks Remain, though touching the tower (DC of 92) resulted in its collapse, so the game will end after this scene.]

Just then, several troops came in with flashbangs as the rebels dropped their guns. Pallas looked up to notice Ceres approach him and Silivrenniel. Ceres looked at him at first with concern, then, upon seeing Silivrenniel with him…

I know I hadn’t used this in a long while, but let’s get that reaction thing a roll.

[Roll: 12, 10, 5, 10]

So, we have Listen & Admit, Hide & cover up, Protect & draw line, and the most important part of this, Shame]

… I see. So that’s why you took up the job to be a scout…” Ceres muttered as Pallas stared directly at her.

And that’s scene. Now we come to the end of the game, which has two different endings depending on how things turned out. If we continued this game for another four rounds (each having their own prompt) and the tower still stood, then the result is that the two characters will never express their feelings to one another…

However, should the tower fall at any point, then we take a look at the total number of stars both characters accumulated from their (un)intentional touch/reveals, then compare the final tally to a table which tells us how our game ends.

Between Pallas and Silivrenniel, they have thirteen stars, which means their passion burns bright, but fizzles out quickly. With that, I think I can write up the epilogue like so:

Pallas was given one week. One week to ride out his feelings for Silivrenniel, whatever they may be. He made the most of that time by getting to know Silivrenniel before he was whisked away to another battlefront, perhaps never seeing Silivrenniel again.

Silivrenniel, meanwhile, was reminded of just how cold and cruel the Empire could be. Their aggressive mining had left her planet devastated. With the only light within that Empire several worlds away from her, she could only gaze into its darkness…

Another year, another broken relationship for Valentine’s Day. I think I’m cursed.

But yeah, that’s Star Crossed. I have to say, I really love the new Jenga system. It definitely lasts a lot longer than the method I had employed. Admittedly, if I hadn’t employed the “each time you speak, you have to ‘touch’ the tower” rule, it might have lasted longer, but the rate of which 1s were being rolled was balanced enough so that, regardless, the tower was sturdy enough for dozens of pulls.

This was also the first time I used a Ken Wickham table. I have to admit, they work pretty well. It always seems like there’s a chart for everything you need (as well as four methods to roll on those tables) and it’s served me quite well for when I needed it. My personal favorite, however, is the reaction table, since each column boasts twelve results and thus can be mixed and matched for different reactions.

On to the game itself… It definitely reminds me a lot of Hot Guys Making Out, in which it’s a two-player game where you have one character who takes the lead while another follows, and the relationship unfolds within 8 scenes. However, there is enough of a difference that makes this stand out. For one, obviously, is that Jenga is played. However, unlike Dread, where every risky action prompts a pull, you’re only able to pull so long as you do a ‘once per scene/game’ action and that it’s even more of a risk to just talk.

Symbolically, this makes sense, as the theme of the game is in the title. Star Crossed refers to, of course, the classic trope of star-crossed lovers, in which two people fall in love, but they are ultimately torn apart by forces beyond their control. The tower in Dread represents the overwhelming sense of a horrible threat lurking closer and closer and that, when it falls, someone will die. Star Crossed’s tower represents a more common problem people face: relationship barriers.

The way to achieve a happy ending is to see what the stars filled out on your sheets add up to. You need at least twenty which can be achievable as early as the fourth scene if you have both characters (un)intentionally touch their partner/reveal something personal every scene and get their once-per-game actions done. But, in doing so, you risk pulling from the tower which can end up toppling if you’re not careful. As a result, it becomes a balancing act of trying not to do too much too fast and trying to ensure you get the tower to fall before all eight scenes are played out. Kinda like an actual relationship.

Overall, this game is a really good Valentine’s Day activity for you and your significant other, either with an actual Jenga tower, a simulated one on Tabletop Simulator, or even just using the dice system that I used. Bon Voyage, gamers.

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