I recently came across Beyond the Wall on DrivethruRPG. I was surprised to see that it was a Platinum best-seller on the site and had 15 glowing reviews when most products have at most one or two.
Beyond the Wall is a simple tabletop role-playing system that places a lot of emphasis on the ‘role’ playing, and not so much on the ‘roll’ playing.
Beyond the Wall can model most kinds of fantasy stories, but is particularly well-suited for the brand of fantasy literature exemplified by Ursula K. LeGuin’s first three Earthsea novels and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. These are stories of low fantasy about young heroes finding their way in dangerous situations. At its heart, Beyond the Wall is a game about young heroes who find themselves in over their heads and have to grow as a result of their experiences.
The mechanics of the system is built on older versions of Dungeons & Dragons. However, the real heart of material is the character and threat creation process. Players build their characters by rolling on a series of tables that detail the life events their character has experienced. These experiences, in turn, are what builds up the final stats of the character. A similar process is used by the GM to flesh out threats to the player characters.
As opposed to the random “you meet at an inn” lead-in to the formation of most adventuring groups, the player characters all start as friends and acquaintances from a small village. The character creation process forges links between the characters using circumstances such as “once you saw the Wild Hunt in the woods outside the village and the character of the player to your right was with you (+2 Wisdom to you, +1 Intelligence to them)”.
The result is a very well-bonded group with intersecting life stories. At the same time, because this is mostly table-driven it is quick to set up and start playing.
In the Days of Perky Pat
I’m tempted to recommend Beyond the Wall as a first RPG experience for younger players. If you can catch them right after they’ve read some Lloyd Alexander, that might work. The trouble is that my own memory of being a younger person is that I didn’t want to play myself, I wanted to play Elric or some other platinum dragon-slaying hero. Playing some level 0 snotnose? No, thank you.
So the real audience for Beyond the Wall is actually adults with a nostalgia for their own past. Folks who can watch the movie Stand By Me and see themselves. After all, the movie is about a bunch of level 0 snotnoses having their first adventure.
Speaking to those adults, Beyond the Wall is a great RPG for what it intends to do. There are several free pieces of content on DrivethruRPG that you can download to get an idea of the system. If you don’t like the core system, certainly the character and threat creation tables can be adapted easily to the system you are familiar with. Also, if you are a writer this is very effective material get you started on writing a middle-grade fantasy.