This is a text synopsis of the session that was released as Episode 1 of the Designer vs. Reality Podcast.

On Wednesday November 18, 2009, I had an approximately 4 hour playtest session of Final Hour of a Storied Age (rev 0.4 of the rules) with Joe, Jeff, Wil, and me (Dan) played over Skype. I’m working from a combination of notes, an audio recording, and the Skype chat log where we recorded our token bids, but we didn’t record 100% of the information, so I may be a little off in some places, or we may have been making some minor math mistakes as we played (I can’t get all of the token bids to add up properly).

To start with, we generated these seeds:

Dan: A powerful religion has used its influence to displace the true king.
Joe: A noble of the summer family has lost his great fire sword (6 intersections)
Dan: A man must balance his family’s affections against his desire for a diamond ring
Joe: A failure of responsibility; a cold lesson has been learned; the mountains and farms of the south have been covered in ice.
Wil: When the Northern Star reaches its peak, a young man will inherit a divided kingdom of mountains in the center of the field of ice.
Wil: A prophecy of an underground oracle family foretells of a powerful seafaring winter noble to rise to power, while he currently searches for his lost love from a rural village (11 intersections)

Wil’s seafaring winter noble is the Protagonist, and his community is “the sea”. Joe is the antagonist with his summer noble: a supernatural flame spirit who, if he recovers his sword, will bring a fiery apocalypse that will boil away the sea. Joe’s plot segments are: Unleash his potential, Assault the winter lands, Acquire the artifact (his sword). Wil’s plot segments are: Seek out the wise (his lost girlfriend), Travel (back to the winter lands), Destroy the Arftifact (neutralize the sword before Joe’s character gets to it). I decide to use the man who wants the ring, and create Goran the Thief as my character, with a plot to recover an artifact (the ring). Jeff takes King Vladek as his character, with a plot to acquire land. We all picked 4 traits and assigned dice to them.

Joe’s Character: Sol. Foolish Noble 2d8. Summer’s Wrath 2d8. Binding of Fate 1d10. Hordes of Summer 3d6.
Wil’s Character: Myrddin of Winter. Tricky ?d?. Duellist ?d?. Explorer ?d?. Legions of Ice ?d?.
Dan’s Character: Goran the Thief. Black Sheep of the Family 3d6. Quick 1d10. Steady Hands 2d8. You’ll Never Catch Me 2d8.
Jeff’s Character: King Vladek. Rich 1d10. Master Swordsman 2d8. Master Horseman 2d8. Spiteful 3d6.

We created this map:

We finished with this setup stuff an hour and ten minutes into the session. We distribute the initial Spotlight and Adversity Tokens and are ready to begin.

Current Tokens: Will 6s0a, Joe 3s3a, Jeff 0s6a, Dan 0s6a.

Chapter 1 Spotlight Bid: Joe 3, Wil 3
Chapter 1 Adversity Bid: Joe 1, Dan 1, Jeff 1 (Joe gains 2 Spotlight)
Myrddin of Winter has sailed out with some of his closest men in search of his lost love who has been kidnapped by persons unknown. Joe introduces adversity in the form of a ship which has the symbol of a massive flaming spiral, the symbol of the religion that has swept the Kingdom of Vladek. After some rules discussion, we decide that this shipful of fanatics is an Active Environmental Threat (Joe didn’t have enough tokens to introduce them as a full NPC). Wil, being a Tricky Explorer, outnavigates them and manages to lose them in the icy seas. (Wil won the die roll). Wil advances his plot segment by one step, so he is now 33% finished with the task of finding his girlfriend. Wil also uses his victory tokens to establish a specific NPC from his crew: Baldic (Assassin 1d10, Loyal 2d8, Educated 2d8, Dagger 3d6)

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 5s0a, Joe 5s2a, Jeff 0s8a, Dan 0s8a
Chapter 2 Spotlight Bid: Joe 4, Wil 2
Chapter 2 Adversity Bid: Dan 4, Jeff 3 (Dan gains 3 Spotlight)
Joe’s character Sol is trapped in the formless ether between dimensions, but is feeling winter encroaching on his domain back in the real world, so he is trying to return. I present adversity in the form of ethereal spirits that are nothing but faces and claws. Joe wins and I exhaust my traits, so Joe overcomes the spirits and returns to the mortal realm. Unfortunately, his body is a dried and dessicated husk (I presented the decay of his mortal form as a passive environmental threat). Joe invokes his Foolish Noble nature, and calls his Hordes of Summer to come help him. (Joe loses the roll). His body, still not responding to his will, lies lifeless as the fire spirits gather around. I introduce an active environmental threat, a fire spirit who is speaking out against Sol, trying to rally the forces of fire to his own banner. (I win, but exhaust my traits). Sol returns to life, but is obviously weak, and now there is widespread grumbling among his followers (an active environmental threat of Grumbling Followers). Joe introduces a new NPC, Wrath of the Noonday Sun, his true lieutenant. (Fists like anvils 2d8, Burns brighter 2d8, Simple Minded 3d6, Loyal to Sol 1d10). (I win the roll). Noonday sun smashes some of the fire elementals and chases them off, but that fails to cement Sol’s position as leader. I spend my 2 victory tokens to acquire an Adversity Token.

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 5s0a, Joe 4s2a, Jeff 0s8a, Dan 3s7a
Chapter 3 Spotlight Bid: Wil 1, Dan 1, Joe 1
Chapter 3 Adversity Bid: Joe 1, Jeff 4, Dan 5 (Dan gains 5 Spotlight)
Myrddin is sailing with Baldic and they spot an island, but there are razor rocks between here and there. I spend 2 tokens to introduce Radavan the fanatical captain of the religious ship (Fanatic 1d10, Crew 2d8, Able Sailor 2d8, Fires of Truth 3d6). Myrddin tries to lose him in the razor rocks, and gets pretty far ahead (Wil wins the roll, and I exhaust my traits). However, Myrddin hasn’t cleared all of the razor rocks, as I introduce them as a passive environmental threat. What’s more, Radavan is pushing his crew even harder to catch up. (Wil wins the roll, and I exhaust my traits). Myrddin lands on the island, and Radavan’s ship is damaged on the rocks. Radavan, preaching his fiery religion, exhorts his men to sail on regardless of the damage they’re taking (spend a token to reactivate Radavan). They battle on the beach, Wil comes out ahead. Wil advances his plot segment by 1, and also declares that Myrddin and Baldic are Travelling Together. Wil also spends a token to create an NPC for Myrddin’s girlfriend Rhlain (Oracle 1d10, Clever 2d8, Stunning Beauty 2d8, Commoner 3d6).

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 6s0a, Joe 6s1a, Jeff 0s6a, Dan 7s5a
Chapter 4 Spotlight Bid: Wil 1, Joe 1, Dan 2
Chapter 4 Adversity Bid: Joe 1, Jeff 3 (Jeff gains 1 Spotlight)
Goran the Thief skulks around the winter family vaults (Goran is the Black Sheep of Myrddin’s family). Goran flattens himself against a wall to avoid detection by the guards, but it’s a wall of ice and two magical icy hands emerge to grab him. Using You’ll Never Catch Me, I win the die roll and escape the hand’s grasp just in time. Some guards noticed the movment, though, and now there’s a passive threat of Heightened Alert. Even though Goran is the black sheep, he is a member of the family, so he is able to use his knowledge of the guards’ routine as well as his quickness to dodge any pursuing guards. I win the roll but exhaust those traits. Goran slips into the vault and shuts the door behind him, looking for the ring (which isn’t there) or at least an inventory showing where it is. Jeff introduces the Captain of the Guard as a new active threat, but Goran has the documents in his Steady Hands and the guards will Never Catch Me. I win the roll. I advance my plot and discover that the ring was taken from the vault by someone going on a long sea voyage. I also spend some tokens to advance my Quickness trait to a 1d12.

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 7s0a, Joe 8s0a, Jeff 1s6a, Dan 5s8a
Chapter 5 Spotlight Bid: Wil 3, Joe 6, Jeff 1, Dan 1
Chapter 5 Adversity Bid: Dan 2, Jeff 1 (Dan gains 1 Spotlight)
Sol travels through Gloomwood, toward the Summer Font which is a shrine to him. On the way he runs into some giant spiderwebs. Sol uses Summer’s Wrath (winning the die roll) and smashes through them, finding the long-neglected shrine. Long-neglected, that is, by everyone except the giant spiders! Joe invokes his Foolish Noble and Binding of Fate to demand that these denizens of his place of power obey him. Joe wins. He advances his plot, increases Summer’s Wrath to 3d8, and creates an NPC for the Deadly Spiders (Deadly Claws 2d8, Evil Venom 1d10, Webs 2d8, Compound Eyes 3d6).

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 6s0a, Joe 5s0a, Jeff 0s8a, Dan 5s9a
Chapter 6 Spotlight Bid: Wil 1, Joe 1, Dan 1
Chapter 6 Adversity Bid: Joe 6, Jeff 1, Dan 7 (Dan gains 7 Spotlight)
On the island, Myrddin finds a giant mountain, the presumed location of girlfriend. Radavan is back, fanatically racing up the mountain after Myrddin. Myrddin uses Explorer and Tricky to move quickly and set up traps behind him. (Wil wins the roll). Myrddin uses his ice powers to create sheets of ice and snares behind him. As he gets higher, he can hear Rhlain singing. However, Radavan’s Fires of Truth will make short work of the ice, and he and his Crew Fantacally pursue Myrddin. Additionally, Rhlain’s voice is actually coming from a Maze of Caves. Wil uses Trickery. (I win the roll). Myrddin is confused by the maze, and Radavan charges in and starts pounding on Myrddin and his men. Myrddin is fighting with Duellist and Tricky. A cyclops emerges from the maze of caves! (I win the roll). Myrddin is tossed around and bruised, his men start losing hope. During the fight, the cyclops was knocked off his feet, into the walls, starting a rockslide, another environmental threat. (I win the roll). They’re driving Myrddin back down the slopes. Rhlain has noticed what has happened, and Myrddin now hears her plaintive wails because she is losing hope. (Passive threat). Using Trickery and Legions of Ice, Wil wins the roll. Myrddin makes a wall of ice, Radavan is caught between the wall of ice and rockslide / cyclops. Using Fires of Ice, Radavan melts through ice (I win the roll). Myrddin was overconfident, and now the crew is losing hope because Myrddin’s best trick barely worked. The cyclops also rejoins fight. (I win a roll). Myrddin is forced backward, cornered into a dead end passage (passive). Myrddin is an Explorer, and thinks he will be able to find secret tunnel, and is using Duellist and his ice powers to fight. (Wil wins the roll). He skewers the cyclops and escapes through secret tunnel, knowing this is the way to Rhlain. However, I have the balance of Victory Tokens, and I use that to buy Scatter to break the Travelling Together on Myrddin and Baldic – they were separated in the confusion!

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 7s0a, Joe 5s1a, Jeff 0s10a, Dan 11s5a
Chapter 7 Spotlight Bid: Wil 3, Joe 1, Dan 8
Chapter 7 Adversity Bid: Joe 1, Jeff 1 (Joe gains 1 spotlight)
Goran tries to find passage on a ship that can take him to the ring. He finds a pirate captain in a bar, but the pirate captain demands that Goran beat the 7-foot-tall Tiny Pete in a drinking contest to earn his way on board. Goran is no stranger to alcohol (one of the reason’s he’s the Black Sheep) and wants to use his Steady Hands to make sure that he has the advantage in any technicalities. Joe wins the roll. Goran tries to argue that Tiny Pete spilled a few drops, but Pete just grabs Goran’s drink and finishes it, too. However, I still win because I came in with so many tokens. I advance my plot, and join up with another pirate who was amused by the spectacle: Barnabas Blood (Pirate 1d10, Wily 2d8, Cruel 2d8, Capricious 3d6). I start Travelling With him.

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 6s0a, Joe 7s1a, Jeff 0s13a, Dan 3s9a
Chapter 8 Spotlight Bid: Wil 3, Joe 7, Dan 1
Chapter 8 Adversity Bid: Jeff 4, Dan 1 (Jeff gains 1 spotlight)
Sol is going to go to the Darkunder to find some of his stolen sunlight. As he’s leaving Gloomwood, Sol encounters a roving band of centaurs who hate all elementals (Active Threat). Sol uses Summer’s Wrath and the Hordes of Summer. (Jeff wins the roll). The centaurs force the elementals back into the woods. The centaurs bring their pack of wolves to help them! Joe brings Wrath of the Noonday Sun into it, as well as the Binding of Fate to order the centaurs to let them pass while Noonday Sun will use his fists like anvils. (Joe wins the roll) The centaurs are kept from interfering, and Noonday sun sets the wolves on fire. Sol continues to the Darkunder. The oracles there definitely have the stolen sunlight. (Jeff pays to establish them as NPCs and activates them). (Not sure about the traits…) The Oracle family will use Centaur Bodyguards and Blindfighting. They’re born blind but have other senses. Noonday Sun is Simpleminded and Loyal enough to do the fighting. (Jeff wins the roll, but his traits are exhausted). The chapter ends, and Joe has net 4 victory tokens. The oracles beat the sunlight out of Sol, but while they’re beating him, one minor minion sneaks in and steals the sunlight back. Joe advances his plot segment and creates the little guy as an NPC named Running Fire (Quick like fire 1d10, Cowardly 3d6, Torchbearer 2d8, Mocks the king 2d8). He also alters his trait from “foolish noble” to “beaten, foolish noble”.

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 5s0a, Joe3s1a, Jeff 1s12a, Dan 2s11a
Chapter 9 Spotlight Bid: Wil 3, Joe 1, Jeff 1, Dan 1
Chapter 9 Adversity Bid: Joe 1, Jeff 3, Dan 5 (Dan gains 4 spotlight)
Myrddin has gone into the tunnels, looking for Baldic and the Rhlain. The Maze is a Passive Threat. Myrddin is an Explorer and Clever. (Wil wins). He calls out to Baldic. Unfortunately, calling out also attracts Radavan! Baldic will use Loyal and Myrddin uses Duellist and Tricky. (I win). The fantatics beat them back, and set some of Baldic’s clothes on fire. Myrddin kicks Baldic into the enemy (Tricky, Duellist), and Baldic is Educated and knows how to use the fire against them. (Wil wins, but exhausts his traits). Radavan: “Now, while he’s unarmed! Go! GO!”. Baldic is Loyal and an Assassin, and Myrddin has Legions of Ice. (Wil wins). Shards of ice are propelled at the fanatics! Baldic notices Radavan’s troops approaching and impales some of them with the dagger. Radavan: “It doesn’t matter how many die, as long as our mission is complete! Ignore his foolish ice powers, only the fire matters!” (Fires of Truth, Fanatic). The commotion has also attracted another cyclops. (Wil wins). Myrddin beats back Radavan, creating snow and hail to hold them back. Myrddin sprints up the spire to find Rhlain. Wil spends 4 points. Myrddin finishes his plot segment! He freezes the lock and punches it open, finding his girlfriend. Wil spends tokens to have Rhlain, Baldic, and Myrddin Travel Together. He also alters Duellist to Swashbuckler.

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 4s0a, Joe 6s0a, Jeff 0s12a, Dan 4s9a
Chapter 10 Spotlight Bid: Wil 1, Joe 6, Dan 1
Chapter 10 Adversity Bid: Jeff 10, Dan 6 (Jeff gains 6 spotlight)
Jeff pays 1 token to bring in King Vladek. He doesn’t want anyone to know Sol exists, because that would undermine Vladek’s political power. He uses his Master Swordsman and Horsemaster traits. Sol uses Binding of Fate and Summer’s Wrath. (Sol wins!) Oracle Mmnks pursue Sol out of the mouth of the caves of the Darkunder (an active environment). Vladek is Spiteful against Sol, and also uses Master Swordsman. (Jeff wins). Sol is beaten up and retreats, but calls in his Deadly Spiders. The spiders, however, are actually being pursued by centaur hunters. Jeff reactivates the Monks, and also uses Vladek’s Rich trait for his exquisitely crafted sword. Spiders will use Evil venom and deadly claws. (Jeff wins). It all turns into a frantic melee, and the tide of battle is turning against Sol. Jeff reactivates Vladek and they fight. (Joe wins). The spiders manage to catch the cavalry in their webs, which lets Sol’s forces regroup and form up. (Jeff still has 6 tokens at this point). Jeff introduces a Bulette (landshark) as a passive threat that bursts up through the webs. (Jeff wins) The spiders panic and fall back through Sol’s lines, which screws up their formation. Jeff reactivates the Bulette. Vladek is Rich, and a good horseman. (Joe wins). Bulettes don’t have good eyesight, and it blunders into the trees. Sol regroups again. The oracle family hears the sounds of Sol’s victory and joins the fight. (Joe wins?) The Bulette doesn’t distinguish between threats, so it causes chaos and the monks can’t bring their kung-fu into the fight effectively. (Joe has 4 victories, Jeff has 3). Jeff refreshes centaurs. Rolling 4d8 (Centaurs + Bulette), Vladek and Monks are rolling 1d10 each. Joe spends a chapter token to bring in Wrath of the Noonday Sun. He burns super-bright, and is loyal, and the spiders will use their deadly claws. (Jeff wins). The oracles throw holy water at Sol, and the holiness doesn’t matter so much, but the water hurts the fire elementals. Joe pays a point to activate Running Fire. Jeff brings in the centaur’s wolf pack. Wrath of the Noonday Sun will burn bright enough to blind the pursuers while Running Fire will lead them all away. (Jeff wins). Running Fire, being cowardly, runs back to Sol’s formation rather than leading the Bulette away. Wrath of the Noonday Sun will try to burn the Bulette and Running Fire will lead Sol’s forces to safety. Jeff only activates the Bulette, to make a climactic showdown. (Jeff wins). At the end, Jeff has 6 victory tokens, Joe has 4, as well as 3 chapter tokens left over, which means that Joe nets 1 victory token that he can spend. Joe advances his plot. The monks are satisfied that Sol isn’t a threat. (This chapter was WAY too long!)

Refresh! Current Tokens: Wil 5s0a, Joe 3s1a, Jeff 6s2a, Dan 2s6a

We ended the session there. The playtesters suggested that there ought to be an audience participation mechanism (like fan-mail from PTA, or audience dice from Shock:) which is something I’ve incorporated into the 0.41 rules. The token economy was kind of out of whack, so I adjusted that for the 0.41 rules, too. There were too many instances of “bumbling to victory” where characters would lose most of the exchanges but still win the chapter because they came in with so many tokens. That changes in 0.41, too.