Thirsty Sword Lesbians is a tabletop RPG about fighting for your beliefs and your community. It’s about exploring your characters’ deep emotional conflicts while creating bonds with and supporting other characters.
Thirsty Sword Lesbians is played with a GM (the “gaymaster”) whose goal is to facilitate the kind of story the players want to play with the kind of characters and conflicts they want to explore within it. The players’ goal is to feel deeply, dive headlong into action, and support their fellow players in doing so, too. It is a very collaborative game.
At the beginning of any game, GM and players discuss what they want to see and which topics are off-limits. The handbook contains an expansive set of tools for making sure that everyone playing feels safe and comfortable.
Powered by the Apocalypse
Thirsty Sword Lesbians uses the Powered by the Apocalypse framework.
This means that players pick their character’s type from a selection of “playbooks." Characters interact with the world through “moves” (some basic, some particular to the individual playbooks). These are resolved via the combination of a 2d6 dice roll and stat modifiers.
A move’s level of success falls into three tiers. On a 10+, the character succeeds excellently, on a 7-9 they succeed at a cost. A 6- something happens to complicate the character’s goals. Rolling 6- earns the character a point of XP, which can eventually can gain new moves or better stats.
TTRPGs that are Powered by the Apocalypse often centre around a genre. In Monster of the Week, for example, you play to explore the kind of action-horror mysteries found in the likes of Buffy or X-Files.
Thirsty Sword Lesbians focuses on a different kind of genre. As the handbook puts it: “Now is your chance to tell the story you wanted when you shook your fist at the TV screen and shouted, “Make it gay, you cowards!”
Rather than a setting, a certain type of quest, or a particular set of enemies and tools with which to fight them, Thirsty Sword Lesbians is centered on the emotional core of characters, on their relationships with each other and their community, and how this community fits within the rest of the world.
This focus is reflected everywhere in the mechanics.
The basic stats are Daring, Grace, Heart, Wit, and Spirit, and the basic moves are Fight, Defy Disaster, Entice, Emotional Support, and Figure Out a Person.
No stat is used only for one move. Several of the basic moves allow you to choose which stat to use for it. For example, you can Fight with either Daring or Grace, and any stat can be used to Defy Disaster.
Most of the moves come with a list of options you can choose from and the character you are using the move on may gain something themselves.
If you are trying to Figure Out a Person you may get to choose a number of questions to ask about the character. They may also get to ask a question of you. If you use Fight move, you can inflict a condition on your opponent or learn something about them. However, they can do it right back.
In this way, moves constantly raise the stakes and expand the narrative and what the players know about the characters.
Characters in Thirsty Sword Lesbians do not have a health stat, rather they have conditions (similar to in Tales from the Loop). If a move or the narrative demands it, a character can become Angry, Frightened, Guilty, Hopeless, or Insecure.
Each condition gives a -2 to one of the basic moves. They can be cleared either by another character providing Emotional Support or with a destructive action. For example, a character may clear their Guilty condition by sacrificing something important to hurt themselves for what they did.
Whether through the personal connections forged by receiving Emotional Support (or shattered by rejecting it), or the consequences of a destructive action, conditions always bring the narrative and character development forward.
Choose between the Beast, the Chosen, the Devoted, the Infamous, the Nature Witch, the Scoundrel, the Seeker, the Spooky Witch, and the Trickster.
Every playbook has an “inner conflict” as their centre, which their moves playoff. For example, the Seeker’s inner conflict is tradition and upbringing versus justice and personal values. They can choose from moves such as “People Are People”, where the Seeker can gain advantages by admitting a flaw of or sharing something good about their home, or “Listen and Learn”, where the Seeker asks someone with a different perspective for help and gains advantages if they follow the advice.
Strings represent emotional influence over another character. They can be gained by Enticing a character. Giving Emotional Support, as well as other ways, and can be spent to help, influence, or hinder a character.
At any point, you can decide that your character is smitten with another character. After announcing that this is the case, you answer your playbook-specific question about what obstacle lies in the way of the romance. Which again helps shape the narrative going forward.
While smitten, your character gains an array of advantages and disadvantages. For example, receiving Emotional Support from the character they are smitten with is more powerful. Whereas someone they are smitten with refusing to take their Emotional Support inflicts a condition.
Settings and Adventures
“Anywhere that swords cross and hearts race, thirsty sword lesbians are there”, the handbook says and as such. There is no core setting in Thirsty Sword Lesbians. Rather the handbook provides a selection of potential settings and conflicts, from a multitude of genres and inspirations. Fantasy, sci-fi, modern-day neighbourhoods threatened with gentrification, or a cyberpunk city, are just some examples.
Additionally, the handbook contains tools for creating your own setting.
The handbook is full of vibrant, gorgeous art that illustrates the different settings. They also give examples of what characters might look like, and show the kind of scenes one might play out in the game. When preparing to run a session, I found the latter especially helpful in pinning down a specific type of action and the kind of stakes I wanted to present to my players.
I absolutely adore this system. It's really refreshing to play a TTRPG that places the characters and their relationships, emotions, and identities at the centre. Whether they're investigating a conspiracy, fighting to save their neighbourhood, or going on a magical quest, that core focus remains.
You do not have to engage in combat. Even if you do (after all, how else would you get to lift another character’s chin with the tip of your sword?), inflicting conditions is not the only way to win. The handbook puts great emphasis on the potential to seduce and even redeem adversaries if that is what interests the players.
The mechanics facilitate a really in-depth narrative with rounded characters who get to explore their inner conflicts. These are the parts of roleplaying I personally enjoy the most. While they can be achieved in systems that focus more on combat or mystery-solving, I sometimes fear it will slow down the action for other players and/or stall the story.
I will recommend Thirsty Sword Lesbians to anyone who similarly feels like they want to explore emotions and interpersonal relationships more in their RPGs. And especially to anyone wanting to centre this exploration around LGBT+ characters and themes.