Guided by the Sun
Guided by the Sun is a System Reference Document for designing tabletop role-playing games based on W.H. Arthur’s The Sol Survivor. It is a card-based, GM-less system about undertaking a journey and making friends along the way.
The title of the system is suggested by Ieuan San Jose Jones. The system itself takes inspirations from Joshua Fox & Becky Annison’s Lovecraftesque.
Written by W.H. Arthur (@Aryl_Ether)
This work is licensed under CC BY 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit:
You are free to create Guided by the Sun games and use the logo (colour, resize, or do whatever you want to it). It would be appreciated if you credit The Sol Survivor by W.H. Arthur (https://aryl-ether.itch.io/the-sol-survivor).
In Guided by the Sun games, 3-6 players tell the journey of a protagonist on a mission. It is played over a series of “turns", where the protagonist faces a challenge/adversary with a new ally they meet along the way. Depending on what cards are being played, the ally may join the protagonist on their journey. At the end of the journey, cards are played to determine the outcome of the protagonist’s mission. The more friends they have made along the way, the more likely they are to succeed.
Generally speaking, a deck of playing cards and a counter (usually a 6-sided dice) is required to play a Guided by the Sun game. Writing materials at the table would be helpful in facilitating the game.
A Guided by the Sun game should have a theme that revolves around the journey. The Sol Survivor is a Chinese mythology game about the fallen sun making their way back to the heavens.
Here are some example concepts:
• A post-apocalyptic game about a scavenger journeying across the wasteland to search for parts for the water purifier in their family bunker.
• Someone has stolen a time machine and they messed up the timeline! As a temporal agent, you have to journey across time and space to fix any anomalies you encounter.
• A swashbuckling story about a pirate journeying across the seven seas to hunt for the greatest treasure known to mankind.
A deck of 52 playing cards is used in the game. It is shuffled before play. Each player has three cards in their hand, and they always draw back up to three after a card is played.
A counter that starts with 6, and is decreased by one every time the protagonist fails a challenge. When it reaches 0, the journey ends prematurely. In The Sol Survivor, the counter represents the Sun’s faith in the world.
Recruited companions are placed in a row next to the deck. It is empty at the start of the game.
At the beginning of the game, the players answer a questionnaire about the protagonist and the setting. In broad strokes, it should include:
- The protagonist’s name and appearance.
- Something about the protagonist’s weakness or restrictions.
- Evocative world building questions that reinforces the premise of the game, while allowing the players to customise the specifics, making the world their own.
- How does the protagonist plan to achieve their goal, and why does it involve a journey?
The game is played over a series of turns, each turn constitutes a part of the protagonist’s journey, in which the players take the roles of protagonist, ally, and narrator (the roles get rotated every turn). At the beginning of a turn, the ally and the narrator each plays a card, and it determines the character they play for the turn. (In The Sol Survivor, the narrator plays their card in secret to add an element of mystery.)
- The Protagonist - They play as the protagonist, describing everything the character thinks and does, while keeping in line with the established history and personality of the character.
- The Ally - They play the character on their card, and assist the protagonist in their journey for the turn.
- The Narrator - They describe everything in the setting, other than the thoughts and actions of the protagonist and their ally. They also have the character on their card at their disposal, which serves as an adversary to the protagonist.
- Other Players - In a game with 4+ players, the other players can suggest details to the scenes, and take on roles of NPCs and recruited companions.
At the climax of a turn, or when it is narratively appropriate, the protagonist plays a card to resolve the scene.
- If value of the protagonist’s card is greater than the narrator’s card, the protagonist overcomes the challenge and/or something good happens.
- If the value of the protagonist’s card is lesser than or equal to the narrator’s card, the protagonist made it out barely and/or something bad happens. The counter is decreased by one.
- If the suit of the protagonist matches the ally’s, the ally joins the protagonist’s journey as a companion. The ally’s card is then placed face-up on the companion track.
The protagonist may choose to play a face-up companion instead of a card from their hand. If they do, the companion sacrifices themselves for the protagonist’s cause, and is flipped face-down.
After the resolution, the roles are passed around clockwise, and a new turn starts.
Ending the Journey
When the journey comes to its natural conclusion, or when the counter drops to zero, count the number of cards on the companion track (including face-down ones). This is the score.
Draw a number of cards equal to the conditions the protagonist has met, plus one. The lowest card is the difficulty rating. The standard conditions are:
- Whether the protagonist has actually achieved their mission.
- If there is anything left on the counter. Draw an extra card if it is 4 or higher.
- Whether the weakness/restrictions of the protagonist has been addressed during the game.
If the score beats the difficulty rating, the mission is a success. If the score is equal to the difficulty rating, the protagonist has a bittersweet ending. If the score is lower than the difficulty rating, the mission ends in failure. Afterwards, the players take turns to narrate the epilogue.
By default, a Guided by the Sun game has 26 types of characters that the protagonist can encounter. Each of them has their own number and colour in the playing card deck. Below are a few things to keep in mind when designing the characters:
- A type of character can potentially show up twice in the journey.
- Since each character can be an ally or an adversary, none of them should be truly evil.
- When played as an adversary, higher number cards present a greater challenge for the protagonist. In The Sol Survivor, they are the legendary creatures such as dragons and phoenixes.
- J, Q, K are treated as 11, 12 and 13 respectively. An ace is normally treated as 1, but it can beat any court cards (J/Q/K) played against it.
Feel free to alter the rules as you see fit. Here are some ideas:
- Include 52 characters instead of 26. This will allow every character to be unique, with no duplicates.
- Include jokers in the deck, and add a new mechanic when they are played.
- Instead of playing cards, use tarot cards. Or your old Magic/Pokemon cards!
- Alter the number cards in the players’ hands. Having only 2 cards in a player’s hand would restrict their options, while having 4 cards would give them more control on how the story goes.
It is important that TTRPG safety/support tools are used when playing the game.
Either point players to places where they can find more information on the tools available, or outright incorporate the tools into your game.