The Core Rules
Thirsty Sword Lesbians relies on a few basic concepts and terms, described in this section.
Making a Move
When certain situations arise in the story, you pause the conversation to roll dice. This is called making a move, and each move has a different trigger condition.
Each PC has access to the same basic moves, plus a few moves and features that are specific to the playbook they choose.
Whenever you roll, roll two six-sided dice and add them up, for a number between 2 and 12. You often add a stat, like Daring or Grace. This is denoted by “roll +Daring” or “roll +Grace.” So if your Daring stat is 1, roll +Daring means roll two six-sided dice, add them up, and add 1.
Each move gives different results depending on whether you roll a total of 10 or more (10+), 7–9, or 6 or less (6-). A 6- is also known as a down beat, 7–9 as a mixed beat, and 10+ as an up beat. These terms refer to the narrative tone that follows from each result.
In this game, there is no roll result that means “nothing happens.” Something interesting is going to happen—you roll to find out if it’s good or bad for the PCs.
Up Beat: When you score a 10+, the PC generally achieves what they set out to do in a particularly effective way, without serious complications. Alternatively, they may discover a useful or positive fact or opportunity.
Mixed Beat: On a 7–9, the PC generally can accomplish their aim, but at a cost or with a complication. They could also discover a risky opportunity.
Down Beat: On a 6-, the GM narrates something that complicates the characters’ lives. This is referred to as making a GM move. GM moves are described in GMing the Game, page 99. A 6- doesn’t necessarily mean that the character failed at the task they set out to achieve; it might mean that it wasn’t the best idea for an unforeseen reason, or an unexpected complication arises. Down beats are often just as fun as up beats, sometimes even moreso. Page 108 includes guidelines for narrating the results of down beats depending on the tone and pacing of the game.
On a down beat, the PC also marks experience (Experience and Advancement, page 22). Go ahead and roll those low stats—you’ll probably learn something along the way.
Stats broadly describe your character’s talents and determine which approaches to problems are more likely to result in up beats. Most moves that involve a roll add one of the following stats:
- Daring: Skill at arms and forcefulness, both in terms of muscle and personality
- Grace: Elegance, poise, and agility
- Heart: Emotional awareness and expression
- Wit: Cleverness and knowledge
- Spirit: Metaphysical power and integrity
Forward and Ongoing
Some game effects grant “+1 forward” to a character. This means that the character adds 1 to their next roll. Similarly, “+1 ongoing” grants a +1 bonus for all applicable rolls as long as the effect lasts.
The physical and emotional challenges faced by the PCs can take an emotional toll on them in the form of Conditions. Conditions are difficult emotional states that have both narrative and mechanical effects.
When a character has a Condition, they take a penalty on an associated basic move.
In addition to their mechanical effects, Conditions indicate that the specified emotion is particularly powerful for the affected character and remind the players to explore and express what that means for them.
If you ever have to mark a sixth Condition, you’re Defeated, which means you’re taken out of the action for the scene. You might faint, rant uselessly in incoherent rage, curl up into a ball, or get knocked out—whatever the details, you can’t act until the following scene (and you still have all five Conditions marked at the start of that scene).
The Five Conditions
Angry: You might seethe or lash out. Are you angry at yourself or someone else?
- Penalty: -2 to Figure Out a Person
Frightened: You might freeze or flee or fawn over the source of your fear. You might be unable to sleep or concentrate because of your worry. Are you frightened of something that’s happening or something that might happen?
- Penalty: -2 to Fight
Guilty: You might ruminate on your guilt or seek reassurance. Are you guilty about something you did or something you feel?
- Penalty: -2 to Emotional Support
Hopeless: You might give up on a goal or interest or despair aloud. Do you feel you’re facing impossible obstacles or simply that you’re inadequate to rise to the challenge?
- Penalty: -2 to Defy Disaster
Insecure: You might read far too much into an interaction or you might confront an object of jealousy. You might cling to connection or fish for compliments. Are you insecure because you don’t think you deserve connection, or because you’re jealous of the connections others seem to have?
- Penalty: -2 to Entice
Several moves allow you to clear a Condition; this means you unmark the Condition and end its effects. For example, when you offer someone Emotional Support, they may choose to clear a Condition. This happens immediately when they pick the option. Providing emotional support doesn’t just lead to rewarding roleplaying moments, it’s also an important way to recover after a confrontation. Conspicuously roleplaying a character’s Conditions can be a good reminder to the other players that your character could use some support. You can also simply ask or suggest a supportive scene.
NPCs may be so distressed that they have Conditions of their own, which you can clear using moves like Emotional Support, just as you would for PCs. If an NPC has a Condition and a mechanic gives them an opportunity to clear it, they will generally choose that option.
For each Condition, there is also a destructive action that a PC can take to clear the Condition. If a character doesn’t get emotional support, they’re more likely to act out in a toxic and harmful way. The need to clear a Condition can also provide the impetus to create some messy, fun drama for the PCs. NPCs do not clear Conditions via destructive actions.
Unlike moves that allow you to clear a Condition right away, destructive actions allow you to clear a Condition at theendof the scene in which you act out.
Some mechanics may instruct you to take a Condition that can only be cleared by taking the associated destructive action. Note these with an asterisk or other reminder when you mark the Condition.
The destructive actions for each Condition are:
- Angry: Break something important to you or to someone you care about
- Frightened: Run away and leave something important behind
- Guilty: Sacrifice something important just to hurt yourself for what you’ve done
- Hopeless: Lose yourself in escapism or pleasure when you should be doing something important
- Insecure: Take rash action to confront the object of your jealousy or prove your worth without conferring with friends or making a plan first
Inflicting Conditions and Defeating NPCs
You can inflict Conditions on both NPCs and fellow PCs. The player in charge of the affected character should choose a Condition they haven’t marked yet, guided by the narrative situation.
Many confrontations end with de-escalation, seduction, or discovery of a new twist. If, however, you’re trading barbs or blows with an adversary and you really want to defeat them and take them out of the action, the way you achieve that is by piling on Conditions.
The GM decides how many Conditions a particular NPC can take, depending on how formidable the NPC is. Some foes are so readily overcome by the PC’s prowess that they crumble without a roll of the dice. More capable individuals are Defeated upon taking one or more Conditions. Some opponents may be Defeated as soon as they suffer a single Condition, while the most formidable adversaries are only Defeated when they suffer all five Conditions.
Beware: when a powerful adversary suffers a Condition, they are likely to lash out! Some adversaries automatically respond to taking a Condition, for instance by calling for backup, conjuring a ring of rage-fueled fire to cut off escape, or starting the countdown on their ultimate weapon. More information about narrating such responses is in Formidable NPCs Trigger GM Moves upon Taking a Condition, page 104.
Being Defeated partially deprives the character of their agency, at least for the rest of the scene. For NPCs, the person who took them out gets to propose how this happens, in keeping with the fiction that led to the Defeat. An opposing duelist might surrender, be knocked out, or even killed. The pompous aristocrat might be unable to continue arguing because they faint, are booed out of the room, or succumb to the poison the Trickster slipped in their drink. The GM can veto proposals that aren’t in keeping with the fiction and the NPC’s personality.
Bear in mind that inflicting Conditions is emotionally violent, and sometimes physically violent. Defeating someone this way is usually not going to get them to see common ground with you or grow as a person, and it leaves them distraught at best. That said, some things are worth fighting for and conflict is often necessary before oppression and toxic behavior can be halted. Besides, even friends can hurt each other’s feelings, and no one is perfect, particularly not the complex, conflicted PCs inThirsty Sword Lesbians.
Strings represent emotional influence over another person. This could be the affection of a friend or lover, or it could be blackmail material. Think “heartstrings.” When you gain a String on someone, make a note of it on your playbook. You might also find it helpful to use colored tokens or different types of coins to denote Strings. For instance, the Beast player chooses red tokens. When you gain a String on them, take a red token and keep it where others can see. At the end of each session, record the Strings by writing them down or taking a photo of the tokens.
The basic move Influence with a String describes how you can spend Strings to influence others for good or ill, and several of the basic moves and playbook moves become stronger if you spend a String, as noted in the descriptions of those moves.
This influence comes in the form of tempting them to your desired course of action, helping or hindering their rolls, or gaining insight about them. You cannot dictate another character’s actions or feelings with Strings.
If you gain a fourth String on someone, you have a profound insight and learn something about them that even they don’t know. The player tells you what you learn, possibly asking the GM for ideas. It’s up to you whether you share that insight with the character or not. In addition, clear all but one of your Strings on them and gain 2 XP. Some scenarios may assign additional effects to a String Advance.
Some players spend Strings frequently to help, hinder, or influence fellow PCs. Others hoard Strings and to trigger String Advances. Neither approach is wrong.
Special Rules for GM Strings
Each session, the GM has a number of generic Strings equal to the number of players, for use during that session.
The GM may spend these generic Strings to Influence any PC as long as they might plausibly be tempted or persuaded by an NPC in the scene. The GM may Influence a PC with a String at any time, not only when a player rolls a down beat.
Individual NPCs can gain Strings on PCs as the result of certain moves. These follow the normal rules for Strings: they may only be spent to Influence the PC in question, and they don’t go away at the end of a session.
NPCs don’t earn String Advances, and can hold any number of Strings on another character. The GM is encouraged to spend those Strings rather than hoard them.
Experience and Advancement
PCs receive experience (XP) whenever they roll a 6- or when a move tells them to mark XP. Some moves instruct a PC to mark XP whenever a trigger condition is met; the PC can only gain that XP the first time in each scene that they fulfill the trigger condition—not every time.
A PC can spend 5 XP to take an Advance.
If you’re playing a single session rather than an ongoing game, you earn an Advance every 3 XP instead of every 5. A number of mechanics use XP to tempt or press the PCs to do something suboptimal or to reduce the sting of a down beat. These mechanics would lose their teeth in a one-shot game if XP were ignored or if too many XP were required to achieve an Advance.
You have several options for your Advance, listed at the end of each playbook and in the following section. One option is to take a move from another playbook. However, you can only choose moves listed in the Playbook Moves section of each playbook—other playbook features such as a Nature Witch’s Trials or a Devoted’s Devotion are exclusive to that playbook. Similarly, if a playbook move relies on a playbook feature and doesn’t make sense for a character without that feature, you may not take it. For instance, the Beast’s Transform lasts until the character’s Feral drops below 4. Without a Feral track, the move would break, so PCs of other playbooks may not take this move.
When you fill your XP track, you gain an Advance from the list. Consider a dramatic costume change for your character whenever they Advance.
Your first five Advances must be from the top six on the list. After you take your fifth Advance, you can choose to switch to another playbook or live happily ever after. Choose one of these last two options when the emotional conflict at the core of your playbook has been resolved or eclipsed by a new conflict corresponding to a new playbook.
- Take another move from your playbook
- Take another move from your playbook
- Take a move from any playbook
- Take a move from any playbook
- Add 1 to a stat (max stat of 3)
- Add 1 to a stat (max stat of 3)
- Switch to a new playbook (page 25)
- Live happily ever after (page 25)
What Happens When You Switch Playbooks?
Switching playbooks signifies that your character has grown past the emotional conflict that defined them and is grappling with something new. Maybe the Trickster is no longer too terrified to tell others what she’s feeling, but instead flees when the feelings get too intense and becomes a Scoundrel. Maybe the Spooky Witch feels secure about her social connections to her monster friends, but struggles with her own self-expression versus fitting in and becomes a Beast. Maybe the Devoted realizes that her Devotion was toxic and made her hurt people and becomes an Infamous. Or maybe the old conflict isn’t resolved at all, but a different one rises to prominence.
You gain the stats, playbook features, and playbook moves of the new playbook as if you were making a brand new character. Consider a dramatic costume change that reflects the new playbook, too.
You lose the mechanical effects of your old playbook and Advances, but can keep one playbook move. Treat this as if you had chosen the “Take a move from another playbook” Advance, except you don’t need to check off that Advance on your playbook; you can still take that Advance twice more.
Keep your Strings and Conditions, and you may keep any narrative elements of the character that make sense, even if you lose the mechanical impact. You might still have devotees who believe you have a Destiny, but it no longer rules you. You may still have a monstrous familiar, but it doesn’t have a mechanical effect unless you keep that playbook move.
Living Happily Ever After
When you choose “Live happily ever after” as an Advance, the character is retired from play. They can continue to appear as an NPC, but their story and their feelings are no longer central to the narrative. Instead, narrate an epilogue for them and describe how they’ve resolved their emotional conflict and what their “ever after” is like.