This is a text synopsis of the same playtest featured in episode 3 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast. Listen to the podcast audio first if you want to avoid spoilers.

On Wednesday December 2, 2009, I had a three and a half hour playtest session of Final Hour of a Storied Age (rev 0.41 of the rules) with Joe, Jeff, Wil, and me (Dan) played over Skype.

As normal, we started by generating seeds. First, we roll on the theme table to generate lists of words. Once we each have our word lists, we rearrange them until they inspire us to write an evocative sentence based on the words. Once we have the sentence written, we use the order of the words to cast the Star Charts, which gives us a number of intersections for each seed.

Joe: Winter Forest Blood –> “A young woman was killed in a snow-covered forest; Her blood awakened something.” 0 intersections

Dan: Large Star Lies Ambition Corruption Poor –> “A false astrologer seeks to manipulate the poor”. 1 intersection.

Dan: Summer Female Learning Rich Ring –> “An elvish woman is learning to craft jewelry from precious metals.” 1 intersection

Wil: Crown Hate Responsibility Family Small Mountain –> “A nobleman who hates responsibility leaves his family for a small mountain town.” 2 intersections

Wil: Poor Sea Duty Summer –> “A poor seafaring vagabond takes up the mangle of general during the Summer of Sorrows.” 1 intersection

Jeff: Prophecy Small Love Gold Division Blood –> “A prophecy has been foretold by the shaman of a small tribe that its leader’s love for gold will cause a division of bloody proportions between the tribe.” 3 intersections.

Jeff: The lies of a noble family convince a poor thief to steal the Crown of Ice before it can be inherited by the noble’s young daughter.” 3 intersections.

The number of intersections determines the protagonist seed and antagonist seed. Normally the seed with the most intersections is the protagonist, but there is a tie between Jeff’s so he rolls a die and determines that his “poor thief” seed will be the protagonist seed. Since he has both the protagonist and antagonist seeds he needs to hand one off. He decides to give the antagonist seed to me (Dan). With the roles decided, we need to pick a protagonist character, a community that he represents, and a negative change to that community that the antagonist is trying to bring about.

Protagonist Seed: The lies of a noble family convince a poor thief to steal the Crown of Ice before it can be inherited by the noble’s young daughter
Antagonist Seed: A prophecy has been foretold by the shaman of a small tribe that its leader’s love for gold will cause a division of bloody proportions between the tribe.

We discuss things a bit, and determine that Jeff wants the poor thief from his seed to be the protagonist character. The context of the sentence makes it seem like the thief lives in a kingdom which is currently ruled by a corrupt nobility. We decide that this kingdom is the community – the lying nobles are a sour note in an otherwise good place to live. For the antagonist, either the shaman or the leader has possibilities, but I choose the leader since the seed is already hinting at him as a source of strife. It isn’t clear how the leader of a small tribe would be a credible threat to an entire kingdom, so we decided to bring in the “her blood awakened something” seed: My character wants to get control of the monster that was awakened, and will use it to make war on the kingdom to get their gold. Wil decides that his supporting character will be the responsibility-hating nobleman, and Joe decides that his supporting character will be the dead girl’s brother, searching for her whereabouts. We each pick names, four free-form traits, and assign dice to the traits.

Jeff’s character: Gonff: Agile 3d6. Sleight of Hand 2d8. Duellist 2d8. Throwing knives 1d10.

Dan’s character: Kojo: Leader 2d8. Greed 2d8. Spear 1d10. Plots and Schemes 3d6.

Joe’s character: Stoham: Martial Master 2d8. Code of Chivalry 1d10. Head Strong 3d6. Huge Horse 2d8.

Wil’s character: Themas Tiber: Smooth Talker 1d10. Spiteful 2d8. Free Spirit 2d8. Truthsayer 3d6.

We also outlined plots for each character. Kojo’s plot follows pretty directly from the main plot axis we already decided on. This is how he will enact the negative change if not stopped by the protagonist of the story. He will 1) Find someone who will teach him the ritual that will let him control the monster, 2) Perform the ritual, and 3) attack the kingdom. Gonff the Thief’s plot will be the way he thwarts the antagonist. He will 1) Steal the Ice Crown, 2) Unlock its power, and 3) attack Kojo’s forces. As a supporting character, Stoham’s subplot is to find out what happened to his sister (his character doesn’t know that she’s dead). As another supporting character, Themas Tiber’s subplot to win enough influence among the nobility to displace the corrupt, lying nobles that are current in charge.

We distribute our starting Spotlight and Adversity tokens and start the bidding process that will lead us into chapter 1! First, players bid Spotlight Tokens to see who will be the Spotlight Character for the chapter. They describe where the chapter will take place, and what their character’s plot goals are. Then all of the other players bid Adversity Tokens in order to see who will present adversity that makes it hard for the spotlight character to achieve his goals (sort of like a traditional GM). The winner of the adversity bid gains as many Spotlight Tokens as he wins the bid with, which he be able to use in later chapters to bid for the spotlight.

Chapter 1 (0:43:13 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 4s0a, Dan 2s2a, Joe 0s4a, Wil 0s4a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 2, Dan 1, Joe 0, Wil 0
Adversity Bid: Dan 1, Joe 1, Wil 4 (Wil gains 4 Spotlight)
Gonff is fed up with the lies of the nobility and the astrologer, so he has resolved to steal the Crown of Ice. He tries to sneak into the palace. Guards are actively watching to prevent Gonff from getting in. Gonff uses some Sleight of Hand to throw some rocks as a distraction and his Agility to get over the wall (die roll: Jeff 6,6 vs. Wil 6,1. Jeff wins because he has the highest single die, and the obstacle Wil introduced is exhausted because he got at least one 1 on his dice). Inside the palace grounds there are lots of lights and torches. Gonff tries to use his Agility to keep to the shadows but is spotted (Jeff 5,1 vs. Wil 6,5,4). The young nobles that have caught sight of him advance toward Gonff, but Gonff uses his Sleight of Hand to flourish one of his knives at them and throw it into their midst, knocking one of their swords to the ground and then ricocheting into a torch, extinguishing it and throwing the scene into darkness. (Jeff 6,? vs. Wil 5,?,1). However, the still smoldering torch ignites a large fire, throwing the palace grounds into chaos. Gonff tries to dodge past the flames with his Agility (Jeff ? vs. Wil 8,8). Gonff makes it into the palace building, but the fire cuts off his escape. (Since they each won two exchanges, both Jeff and Wil get two victory tokens. Jeff is also allowed to convert his unspent Chapter token into a Victory token. Jeff has one more Victory Token than Wil, so he can spend it on a variety of options. Jeff uses his Victory Token to advances his first plot segment by one step, 33% of the way toward getting that crown). At the end of every chapter, the Protagonist gets two more Spotlight Tokens and everyone else gets two more Adversity Tokens.

Chapter 2 (0:53:21 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 4s0a, Dan 1s3a, Joe 0s5a, Wil 4s2a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 1, Dan 1, Joe 0, Wil 2
Adversity Bid: Dan 3, Joe 5, Wil N/A (Joe gains 5 Spotlight)
Themas is preparing to leave the palace to head off to a small mountain town, but first tries to convince the other nobles the error of their ways. Joe creates Themas’s uncle, Laffter Forforn, as an NPC that has been implied by the story.

Laffter Forforn: Pompous 1d10. Richer than sin 2d8. Well staffed 2d8. Vicious tongue 3d6.

Laffter, being Pompous and having a Vicious Tongue, talks about how great his leadership of the noble house has been, and how clever he’s been about exploiting the people in the countryside. Themas Spitefully tells him the Truth, which is that it hasn’t been as good as he’s making it out to be. (Wil 8,5,4,4,3 vs. Joe 6,4,3,2). Themas scores some points with the other nobles who are watching the argument, but Laffter suggests that the peasants are less than dirt and should be ignored. Additionally, the boredom and ennui of the other nobles is a passive threat for Themas successful making his case. Themas Smoothtalks them. (Wil 8,7,4,3,3,3,1 vs. Joe 6,?). The nobles are unable to ignore what Themas is saying, even if they aren’t particularly interested. Laffter tries to distract everyone by proposing a fox hunt, which will be especially good because Laffter is Richer Than Sin and will spare no expense. Themas, being a Free Spirit, wants nothing to do with such entertainments, (Wil 5,3 vs. Joe 10,?), but the other nobles are very interested. (Wil has 2-1=1 Victory Tokens, +1 for the unspent Chapter Token. He uses them to alter his Smooth Talker trait to Orator, and advances his subplot by one step).

Chapter 3 (1:02:50 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 5s0a, Dan 0s2a, Joe 5s2a, Wil 2s4a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 3, Dan 0, Joe 5, Wil 1
Adversity Bid: Dan 2, Jeff N/A, Wil 4 (Wil gains 4 Spotlight)
Stoham is making his way to the village where his sister was last seen. As a passive threat, the mountainfolk don’t like foreigners. Stoham intimidates them with his huge horse. (Joe 5,? vs. Wil 3,2,1). Stoham does some work around town, winning the people’s trust. He learns that the leader of the tribe knows something about his sister, but unfortunately the leader of the tribe speaks in riddles. Stoham’s Chivalrous training has taught him to deal with people who aren’t direct, and he is Headstrong so he won’t leave until he gets an answer, (Joe 6,?,1 vs. Wil 8,2), but he can’t get it directly from him. He finds the oldest matron in the village and implores her to help. However, she is old and ugly, and it’s difficult for Stoham to even look at her. Nevertheless, Stoham is a strapping young Martial Master and that causes the old hag to take a liking to him (Joe 6,?,1 vs. Wil 5,4,2,1,1). He learns that his sister was taken off to the woods several days ago by an outcast from the village. Stoham prepares himself to set out, but the old woman begs him to stay with her. Stoham Chivalrously promises to return later, and rides off on his Horse (Joe 4,? vs Wil 3,3). (Joe has 5 tokens to spend. He advances his plot, increases his Code of Chivalry to a 1d12, and changes Head Strong to Heart Strong).

Chapter 4 (1:14:28 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 7s0a, Dan 0s2a, Joe 0s4a, Wil 4s2a
[Bookkeeping error? It seems like Jeff should have 4s and Wil 5s]
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 4, Dan 0, Joe 0, Wil 4
Adversity Bid: Dan 2, Joe 4, Wil 1 (Joe gains 4 Spotlight)
Gonff has just sneaked into the palace and is searching for the crown. However, since he doesn’t know exactly where in the palace he is, he must search the records room, sneaking past an old librarian and using his Sleight of Hand to get a scroll. (Jeff 5,4 vs. Joe 6,3). The librarian catches him in the act, and demands that Gonff help steal back a locket that a noble took from the librarian. The nobleman keeps the item under his pillow, and is a light sleeper (Wil liked this turn of events, and gave it a fan-mail discount). (Jeff 6,6 vs. Joe 6,2). Gonff deftly snatches the locket and returns it to the librarian. The librarian explains that the greatest treasures of the noble families are buried with the dead, so Gonff will have to search the tomb of King Vonjourn II for the crown. Gonff heads down to the catacombs and encounters the first of the Traps that guard the tomb (an active environmental threat), some large bladed pendulums. Gonff tries to use his Agility to Throw some knives and jam the blades, but doesn’t get all of them and gets a nasty cut for his trouble (Jeff 7, 6 vs. Joe 8,2), which will manifest mechanically as a passive environmental threat of Wounds. Gonff faces the next Trap, a door with a complicated puzzle-lock. Gonff, using Sleight of Hand, finagles the mechanism with one of his Knives (Jeff 10,8,?,1 vs. Joe 6,?,1). There is a mass of snakes in the next room, and Gonff uses his Duellist training and his Throwing Knives to fight them off (Jeff 10,3 vs. Joe 3,1). (Jeff has 3 tokens to spend. He advances his plot, and radically alters Duellist to Shrewd).

Chapter 5 (1:26:33 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 2s0a, Dan 0s2a, Joe 4s2a, Wil 1s3a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 1, Dan 0, Joe 4, Wil 0
Adversity Bid: Dan 1, Jeff N/A, Wil 3 (Wil gains 3 Spotlight)
Stoham is in the woods, looking for his sister. Wil decides he wants to create an evil doppelganger of Stoham as a form of adversity. He wants to use the “Dark Mirror” character creation rules to do this, although that’s not what they were intended for. I pointed this out at the time but didn’t try to veto it (Wil and I were butting heads a lot in this session, and I didn’t want to strain things further).

Dark Stoham: Martial Master 2d8, Code of Malicious Intent 1d10, Heart Crusher 3d6, Flaming Nightmare Horse 2d8.

They both go all-in with their traits (Joe 11,? vs. Wil 7,?). Stoham, at peace with himself, allows the doppelganger to strike, but the sword passes harmlessly through him. (Joe has 4 tokens to spend. He advances his plot, and advances Heart Strong from 3d6 to 2d8). He finds a set of footprints leading into the woods.

Chapter 6 (1:37:37 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 3s0a, Dan 0s3a, Joe 0s4a, Wil 3s2a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 3, Dan 0, Joe 0, Wil 3
Adversity Bid: Dan 3, Joe 1, Wil 2 (Dan gains 3 Spotlight)
Gonff enters the chamber with the crown, but he’s not the only one who’s after it! I create a new NPC:

Darius the Astrologer: Astrologer 1d10. Deceitful 2d8. Wealthy 2d8. Uncaring 3d6.

He’s mentioned on the seeds, so that’s 1 token, and it’s plausible but unexpected for him to be there which costs another token. As an Astrologer, he saw in the stars that someone would try to steal the crown today, so that’s why he’s there waiting. Gonff Shrewdly uses his Sleight of Hand to distract the astrologer while he Agilely whips some Knives at him. (Jeff 10,6 vs. Dan 10). Darius’s uncannily accurate astrology made him overconfident – he thought his mere presence would frighten the thief away, but he’s no match for Gonff in a fight! Gonff incapacitates him and puts the crown on. (Jeff has 3 tokens to spend. He advances his plot, completing his “get the artifact” quest to get the Ice Crown. He also creates a new NPC: the elf girl who has been learning about jewelry has an interest in the crown and has been watching Gonff’s progress from afar. She comes into existence as neutral, but Jeff moves her to Ideologically Aligned with Gonff).

Multani the Jeweler: Swift 3d6, Jeweler 2d8, Precious Weaponry 2d8, Pet Wolf 1d10

Chapter 7 (1:50:56 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 2s0a, Dan 3s2a, Joe 0s5a, Wil 0s2a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 1, Dan 3, Joe 0, Wil 0
Adversity Bid: Dan N/A, Joe 1, Wil 1 (Joe gains 1 Spotlight)
Kojo is in his village, trying to find someone who will teach him the secret of the ritual. The shaman, the wisest person in the village, can sense his evil intentions and refuses to divulge what she knows. Kojo is the Leader of the tribe partly due to his strength, and attacks her with his Spear (Dan 7,4,1 vs. Joe 4,4). Kojo beats the hell out of her, forcing her to reveal that she doesn’t know the ritual but the wood elves do. (I have 3 tokens to spend. I spend one to advance my plot and decide there’s nothing I want to spend the other two on).

Chapter 8 (1:56:39 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 3s0a, Dan 0s4a, Joe 1s6a, Wil 0s3a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 2, Dan 0, Joe 1, Wil 0
Adversity Bid: Dan 1, Joe 6, Wil 1 (Joe gains 6 Spotlight)
Gonff has learned from Multani that her people can teach him the secrets of the crown. He heads toward the woods, but it is a long journey, and he faces a passive threat of his tiredness. Gonff, being Shrewd, tries to find the best way through the desert. (Jeff 7,5 vs. Joe 5,?,1). However, Darius the Astrologer has pursued him from the city, bringing a band of thugs with him (I liked the band of thugs, so I gave that active threat a discount with my fan-mail). He has used his Astrology to plot the perfect ambush under the stars, and has used his Wealth to arm his men with the best weapons money can buy. Gonff comes up with a Shrewd battle plan involving his Throwing Knives, Multani’s Precious Weaponry, and her Pet Wolf (Jeff 9,? vs. Joe 6,?). Darius and the thugs are forced back, taking heavy losses. Gonff makes it to a river, but hostile river spirits (an active threat) try to capsize his boat (Wil gives that a fan-mail discount). The thugs also choose this moment to renew their attack, from the finely built boat that Darius bought with his Wealth. Gonff works on a Shrewd plan to cross the river while Multani holds off their foes with her Precious Weaponry (Jeff 6,?,1 vs. Joe 8,?,1). The boats smash into each other and Gonff and Multani are forced to swim to shore. Joe reactivates the thugs to pursue them across the open ground. The thugs are tired, but Darius is Uncaring and forces them onward. Darius has also Deceived a local band of horse nomads into believing that Gonff is a horse thief. Gonff and Multani try to Swiftly get away, using the Pet Wolf and Throwing Knives to cover their retreat (Jeff 5,4,1,1,1 vs. Joe 8,7,7). Darius and his horde of minions pursue them tirelessly, driving them further and further away from the forest. Gonff and Multani are tired (a passive threat) from the long journey, and Darius has planned the perfect attack using his Astrology. Gonff tries to dodge with his Agility, but doesn’t pull it off (Jeff 4,? vs. Joe 7,?,1), and is forced far off course to the north. (Joe has 1 token to spend, but decides there’s nothing he wants to spend on).

Chapter 9 (2:12:02 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 3s0a, Dan 0s5a, Joe 6s2a, Wil 0s4a
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 6, Dan 0, Joe 6, Wil 0
Adversity Bid: Dan 5, Joe 1, Wil 1 (Dan gains 5 Spotlight)
Gonff is headed through the mountains to get to the forest. Darius is still on Gonff’s trail, since he saw this all in the stars. Darius is Uncaring about his men, so he hasn’t stopped to reprovision, which is allowing him to catch up to Gonff again. Gonff and Multani try to come up with a Shrewd plan to Swiftly evade the astrologer (Jeff 8,?,1 vs. Dan 9,?), but they can’t escape. While Darius may not treat his men well, he certainly pays them well with his Wealth, so the thugs attack. Gonff and Multani fight with Throwing Knives, Precious Weaponry, and the Pet Wolf (Jeff 9,? vs. Dan 8,?). Gonff and Multani win the exchange, having claimed the high ground, and move further into the mountains. A big storm blows in, which is something that Darius foresaw with his Astrology. This lets the thugs catch up and attack Gonff again. (Jeff 10,? vs. Dan 8,?). Gonff and Multani, however, are Agile and Swift and able to adapt to the stormy conditions better than the thugs, getting the best of them. Gonff and Multani move through a pass controlled by a mountain tribe, but the Deceitful Darius has convinced them that Gonff is an enemy of their tribe. The storm still rages, and Darius promises his men a handsome reward from his vast Wealth to whoever brings him the crown, incentivizing his thugs to renew their attack. (Jeff 9,8,? vs. Dan 8,7,7,7,7,?). Multani uses her Jewelry to impress the primitive tribesmen, distracting them long enough for her and Gonff to make their escape, forcing the thugs to muscle their way through the tribesmen’s village. Darius is Uncaring that the tribesmen are angry, he just Deceitfully tells them more lies to get them even more worked up. Furthermore, the rain has made the ground treacherous (another passive environmental threat). Jeff creates a new NPC, the seafaring vagabond general:

General Khurzong: Tactical 3d6, Brawler 2d8, Men of the Sea 2d8, Mantle of the General 1d10.

He pays 1 to create him since he’s directly mentioned on a seed. It costs 2 to establish him here, since it’s surprising that the seafaring general would be lost in the mountains. Then 1 to activate him. He joins the fight on Gonff’s side (Jeff 8,7,? vs. Dan 8,6,?). Darius is pushed back by Khurzong and his troops, allowing Gonff to get away. (Jeff has 3 tokens to spend. He advances his plot. He also moves Khurzong’s Friendship Track to Ideologically Aligned and declares that they are Travelling Together).

Chapter 10 (2:24:03 in the podcast)
Starting Tokens: Jeff 2s0a, Dan 5s2a, Joe 0s4a, Wil 0s5a
[Bookkeeping error? I think Joe should have 4 Adversity]
Spotlight Bid: Jeff 1, Dan 3, Joe 0, Wil 0
Adversity Bid: Dan N/A, Joe 1, Wil 5 (Wil gains 5 Spotlight)
Kojo is travelling from his village to the forest when he is beset by horrible flesh-eating mongooses (an active environmental threat, and the game takes a bit of a silly turn). Kojo has his Spear, and is Greedy for the tasty mongoose flesh (Dan 5,? vs. Wil 6,4). Wil creates a new NPC, a Dark Mirror of the elf jeweler: an elven hunter who makes necklaces of human ears:

Enilithis the Hunter: Swift 3d6, Hunter 2d8, Precious Weaponry 2d8, Pet Giant Owl 1d10.

Enilithis the Hunter sees Kojo fighting the mongooses and attacks with his Precious Weaponry. Kojo Schemes to get the mongooses between himself and Enilithis so that they interfere with each other. He attacks with his Spear, using tactics that he has used before when he has Led his people in battle (Dan 9,8,? vs. Wil 8,7,?). Kojo inflicts severe wounds on the mongooses, and Enilithis is forced to withdraw and reevaluate, having initially underestimated Kojo’s skill. The mongooses have worked themselves up into a fury, and Enilithis Swiftly rejoins the fight, using his Hunting skills and Precious Weaponry, and sends his Giant Owl against Kojo. Kojo, being Greedy, would like to get some of the feathers from a powerful creature like the owl, to form a powerful totem. Having a totem like that will surely help with his Schemes to undermine the shaman and cement his position as Leader of his tribe. He strikes with his Spear! (Dan 10,7,5,? vs Wil 10,6,?,1). Kojo gets a really good shot in on the owl, sending some feathers flying, which causes Enilithis to retreat since he’s never seen anyone face down his owl like that before. (I have 3 tokens to spend. I advance my plot by one step, and I would have created the tribe as a character, but we ended the session and decided that we would play a different game next session, so there was no point in actually statting them out).

I’m still looking for more people to playtest with me over Skype. If you’re interested in trying the game out with me, let me know!