Sworn by Ghostlight is a solo play tabletop roleplaying game that also supports co-op play for two people. The game is a hack (a rules modification) of the Ironsworn RPG. Gameplay consists of player(s) making decisions on behalf of their character(s) and letting the dice be arbitrator and prompter when needed. A game master (a player in charge of the game world and rules) is not needed here.
In the game, you play as an occult detective in a fictional haunted Victorian-style city, over which a bleak moon shines its pale light. You are tasked with investigating crime scenes, interrogating suspects, and doing whatever it takes to solve the case. These cases form the base narrative and runtime of a single campaign. At the moment of writing, there are two of these cases available for purchase: The Case of Ebon Wood Effigies and The Wings of Rot. The former was played for this review.
In theory, the flow of the game is simple. The case you´re playing gives you a starting scene from which you move onward at your own pace. You decide what you wish to accomplish and if such a task is dangerous, you throw three dice: one action die and two challenge die. After adding a stat that you think corresponds to the task at hand to your action die roll, you compare the result to the results of the challenge die. If the action roll is higher than both, you succeed. If it´s higher than only one you succeed on a smaller scale. If it’s less than both, you fail. What happens next is up to the player to decide/interpret based on where the story has headed up to that point. Then it’s time to move to the next scene. This somewhat vague, player-driven structure will certainly make or break the game for many.
As for me, I had fun during my play sessions. Yet I found myself yearning for some more depth, even as I started to understand how the game wanted me to engage it and writing up a storm. Mechanically the game is sound, but while its concise presentation and size (one A4 sheet per case) makes it easy to pick up, the tables and the prompts they offer feel somewhat limited. On the flip side, Sworn by Ghostlight is meant to be played in short, concise sessions. All the information given to you will most likely be enough to fill the few hours you spend with the game. Still, especially the game’s world (the grand city bathing in the rays of a cracked pale moon literally bleeding light) is hauntingly beautiful and I wish there would be more descriptions here to sink my teeth into.
For those who, like me, step into the world of solo RPGs for the first time, Sworn by Ghostlight might not be the best place to start. There is not enough space in the pamphlet for instructions to ease you into the mindset for this kind of game and you are soon left to your own devices. With some beforehand information of these style of games and/or patience you will get into the groove, however, and might find your imagination spurred on by the great theming. I just wish there was more where that came from. And there actually might be, as the creator has hinted for more cases to come in addition to the existing two. Hopefully, the game and its world get to grow and expand to create something truly special. As it stands now, it is a great tool for those wishing to flex their imagination and for those searching for something completely different from your big-budget role-playing games. Remember, though, that your mileage may vary.
Developer: Matthew “Yuigaron” John
Playtime: 3+ hours
Pictures taken by the author. The header picture is a promotional picture for the game from https://yuigaron.itch.io/sworn-by-ghostlight
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