by Steve Kenson
The rules in A Song of Ice and Fire Roleplaying are designed around a specific play style—but one that supports a broad range of tastes and interests. The noble house provides an excellent unifying element and offers opportunities for schemers and warriors alike, and can serve just about any kind of saga from warfare to intrigue and everything in between.
However, the world of Westeros is a big place, with many different stories to tell. The following alternate play styles are presented in the game as options for different kinds of stories, along with the necessary changes to facilitate these styles.
Although possessed of many unique characteristics, SIFRP is a fantasy roleplaying game—and one in which there is opportunity aplenty for the more traditional themes of exploration, high adventure, and quests employed by certain other games in this genre. Rather than explore the fortunes of a noble house, you can alter the tone of the game to support characters of a variety of origins, uniting them through some other common purpose, namely high adventure.
Stories in this play style see the characters traveling to remote corners of the world, exploring old temples, lost fortresses, and perhaps even, say, "dungeons." The characters might set out to find fabled Valyria to learn what transpired there and recover ancient artifacts and relics from this lost civilization. Another possibility is for the characters to all be crewmembers on a sailing ship. They may be pirates raiding merchant and military ships, smugglers, or even explorers, sailing to far-flung ports throughout the world.
Another option is for the players to take the roles of questing knights. They might be hedge knights or heirs to a noble house, but they seek fame and fortune in the Seven Kingdoms, selling their swords or undertaking courageous quests to right wrongs and save damsels in distress. Between adventures, they could participate in tournaments and rub elbows with some of the greatest knights in the land, all while preserving the tone and flavor that makes SIFRP the exciting game that it is.
To run an Adventurers style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: Ignore the house creation rules defined in Chapter Six. If any players have characters of noble birth, they may use the house creation rules to define their family’s heritage and background, but the mechanics of running the house are not used, as the assumption is the character do not control their house.
Rewards: Characters earn Experience and Coin in the course of their adventure. They do not earn Glory for their house, however.
Another interesting variant is for the players to take the roles of wildlings beyond the Wall. In this play style, the characters might be members of the same tribe, fighting to survive the perils of their unforgiving land and waging war against the Night’s Watch and the darker horrors skulking about the land in the depths of Endless Winter. The characters could be raiders, crossing the Wall to hit settlements and holds throughout the North, or they might be part of a small tribe as warriors, mystics, or hunters. Given the scarce resources, conflict is common.
Free Folk games are excellent for groups hungry for more fantasy since the lands beyond the Wall are rife with supernatural agencies, monsters of legend, and more. While contending with the Others and wights, giants and savage wargs, the characters could participate in the search for the Horn of Winter and other relics they might find to save their people from the doom that hunts them in the cold light of the moon.
To run a Free Folk style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: Ignore the house creation rules defined in Chapter Six. You might consider extrapolating some of the rules to come up with a similar set of guidelines for constructing wildling tribes, giving the characters control over their tribe’s fortune.
Rewards: Characters earn Experience and Coin. They only earn Glory if you are using a tribal system based on the house system.
The Sworn Brothers of the Night’s Watch broadens the game’s scope to encompass characters from all origins, from smallfolk to former princes. These brave men vow to take no wives, and sever all ties to kin and friendship to join the Brotherhood in defending the Wall against the enemies of the Seven Kingdoms. Originally founded to protect Westeros from supernatural threats, the Night’s Watch spends nearly all its time maintaining the Wall and fighting wildlings. A chronicle detailing the Night’s Watch might explore rangings beyond the Wall, scouting missions, and intrigues within the Brotherhood. Alternatively, you might focus on events that unfold at the same time as the novels: the characters could be Sworn Brothers at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea or Shadow Tower, doing their part to fight wildlings and Others alike.
To run a Night’s Watch style game, consider making the following changes.
House and Character Creation: Ignore the house creation rules. Instead, players are encouraged to come up with a history that culminates in their taking the black. If they come from a noble house, the player can choose an existing house or create one using the house creation rules. Otherwise, players are free to play whatever they like, from studious types that will become stewards or skilled warriors who might join the rangers.
Rewards: Characters earn Experience, but not Coin, as the Night’s Watch is about service rather than wealth. They only earn Glory if you wish to allow them to apply it to their castle or stronghold of the Brotherhood, advancing its fortunes.
The Game of Thrones
One of the most interesting themes revisited in the novels is the game of thrones, the intrigues and treacheries that define the political arena of Westerosi lords. A skilled player of the game can reach the heady heights of the great houses, while a poor player might tumble from whatever his forbearers achieved to find all has been torn from him. The noble house rules presented in this book exist to engage this dynamic in a way that’s not immediately destructive to the player characters and gives them at least the possibility of having a haven in the tumultuous arena of realpolitik as it applies to their house and those of their rivals.
An interesting variant that can explore some of the deeper tensions in the setting is to widen the scope so that instead of playing the part of a single character, each player takes the role of a house. Within the house are a number of characters—the lord, lady, heirs, sworn swords, maesters, and more—whom the player might use to interact with the setting. Any given story might feature characters from different houses, bound together by circumstance or design, and players might move their characters in and out of stories depending on their needs and the challenges presented by the story.
The benefit of this variant is that it allows you to tell a variety of stories, from intrigues in King’s Landing to thrilling battles as two houses—each controlled by different players—who settle their disputes on the battlefield. If you want to shift the focus to the Night’s Watch, the players simply have to come up with a character from their stable to participate. One might be a Sworn Brother, while two others might be visiting to inspect the Wall. Similarly, you could have the players unite for a time to face an external threat, pooling their resources to defeat an aggressive foe.
All of these advantages come with a price, however. The stories you would tell rapidly approach the epic, with numerous characters, plots, and developments. With the sheer number of characters present, it becomes much harder to keep everything straight, requiring a great deal more preparation and anticipation on your part. Finally, the game is always at risk of devolving into a war game rather than a roleplaying game, which can be very unattractive to players who would rather devote their time to developing one or two characters.
Therefore, before embarking on a grand game-of-thrones style chronicle, be sure to talk with your players to gauge their interests in such a game. While a challenging style of play, it does carry its rewards, so proceed with caution.
To run a game-of-thrones style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: Each player creates their own house. All houses should be in a realm of your choosing to avoid the inescapable contrivances bound to arise in games where the houses are on different sides of Westeros.
Character Creation: For every full 10 points of Influence, a player creates one character. At least one character must be of blood relation to the house. Other characters can be sworn swords, maesters, and so on, as normal.
A reasonable concern about playing in any setting based on a literary source is finding room for player characters to grow and develop while remaining true to canon. The closer you stay to the books, the less chance the characters’ house has of attaining greatness, of reaching beyond the sea of minor houses to add their names alongside House Baratheon and House Lannister. In a way, cleaving too close to the source material creates a glass ceiling for the characters, tantalizing them with the possibility, but forever barring their access to the greater power and greater influence over the lands.
One way to remain true to the novels while not denying your players the possibility of achieving greatness is to change the era in which the game takes place. There’s no reason why the stories you tell have to involve the reign of King Robert Baratheon; they might occur a century before, during the Targaryens’ rule, and heroes like Ser Duncan the Tall roamed the land with a prince at his side. You could also go further back, perhaps to the time of Aegon’s Conquest, the Rhoynar invasion, or even the Andal invasion. If you prefer more magic in the game, consider setting your stories in the time of the Dawn Age when the First Men carved the first human kingdoms out of the perfect wilderness of Westeros. The further back you set the games, the less chance you’ll have of contradicting the events of the books, thus giving you a great deal of freedom to explore and develop the game in whatever way you’d like.
To run a historical style campaign, consider making the following changes.
House Creation: When determining the house’s First Founding, ignore the examples. A chronicle set during the Andal Invasion could have ancient houses, as well as new houses. Simply modify the perspective of these houses to address the historical climate in which your game takes place.
Evan (he/him) got his start in tabletop games in 1995, as a co-founder of Rubicon Games. Among other games, he has worked on Cranium, Cranium Hullabaloo, and the Pokémon trading card game. RPGs he has edited for include Everway, Ork! The Roleplaying Game, Spaceship Zero, Warhammer Fantasy second edition, the d20 System, A Song of Ice and Fire, Mutants & Masterminds, Dragon Age, Fantasy AGE, Modern AGE, Blue Rose, Pathfinder, and Critical Role (5e). He has been managing our web sites since about 2002. He co-designed Walk the Plank, our card game of piratical trick taking, currently available in print-on-demand format via DriveThruCards.com.