On November 8, 2010, Leo Lalande, Nolan Callender, and I held a playtest session over skype of Final Hour of a Storied Age rev 0.66, continuing the story from our previous sessions (an audio recording of this session is available as episode 13 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast – listen to that first if you want to avoid spoilers!)

Chapter 24
Viewpoint: Nolan 3. Leo 2. Dan 5,1.
Adversity: Nolan 7,2. Leo 12,4,3.

Lee Chang steps outside the mighty doors of the fire temple and sees Zheng Long’s approaching army. [Leo spends his 12 to activate Zheng Long's Loyal Army at d8 and Brilliant Strategist at d6] He notices that Zheng Long has strategically [Brilliant Strategist d6] dispatched troops [Loyal Army d8] to surround the temple, which will trap all of the monks inside. [I spend my 1 to activate Fire Magic at d8 and my 5 to activate Idealism at d6] Despite his misgivings about the behavior of some of the elders, Lee Chang is loyal to the order and wishes to defend it [Idealism d6], so he unleashes his fire magic [d8] on the enemy troops. [Dan 7,6 vs. Leo 7,3. I win and bump my Idealism to d8. Leo exhausts Brilliant Strategist] Chang’s flames roast the squads that were trying to get behind the temple, but the main force marches inexorably forward. [Leo spends his 4 to activate Brilliant Strategist at d6] Identifying the danger that Lee Chang poses to his troops, Zheng Long orders [Brilliant Stategist d6] a squad of his shock troops [Loyal Army d8] to assault the young fire monk directly. Lee Chang, knowing that if he falls the rest of the order will be endangered [Idealism d8], wills the ground to burst into flame [Fire Magic d8] beneath their feet. [Dan 5,4 vs. Leo 6,3. Leo wins and bumps Brilliant Strategist (maybe?) to d8 – he said he was bumping Loyal Army but that didn't make sense]. Lee Chang is too slow, and the troops surround him before his spell can take effect. The troops [Loyal Army d8] take Lee Chang prisoner. As a man of strong principles [Idealism d8], Lee Chang recongnizes that the men who have taken him have none, and is unwilling to trust them to treat prisoners fairly. He crouches down, pulling all of the fire magic [d8] he can muster into himself and unleashes it in a huge explosion. [Dan 7,5 vs. Leo 5. I win but am already maxed out. Leo doesn't exhaust.] The blast knocks the troops back and Lee Chang withdraws to the gates of the temple while his attackers deal with their burns. [Leo spends his 3 to activate Abmitious at d6]

Eager to claim his prize [Ambitious d6], Zheng Long orders his archers [Loyal Army d8] to fire, sending a rain of arrows down on Lee Chang and the other defenders at the gate. Lee Chang holds his hands before him, channeling his will to form a wall of fire between the arrows and their targets [Fire Magic d8]. [Dan 6 vs Leo 8,6. Leo wins and bumps Ambitious to d8. I don't exhaust.] The arrows pass through the fire and several plunge into Lee Chang’s body, knocking him to his knees. He feels a painful burning from the wounds, and realizes that the wily [Brilliant Strategist d8] Zheng Long has had his men employ poison arrows. Offended to the very core by such dishonorable tactics [Idealism d8], Lee Chang turns his fire magic [d8] inward as he tries to burn the poison from his own blood. [Dan 8,5 vs. Leo 3. I win but am maxed out. Leo exhausts Brilliant Strategist.] It works, and Lee Chang calls out to his fellows, “Fear not their poison! We can burn it from ourselves as a prelude to burning them from the countryside!” Growing impatient [Ambitious d8], Zheng Long orders a full squadron of his elite troops [Loyal Army d8] to converge on Lee Chang. Not wanting anyone else to risk themselves while he’s still capable of fighting [Idealism d8], Lee Chang rushes forward, fire bursting from his hands [Fire Magic d8] to meet the soldiers. [Dan 8,5 vs. Leo 3,2. I win but am maxed out. Leo exhausts both and is out of traits and story dice.] They are driven back by the flames, and the other monks are filled with a new respect for Lee Chang who they had previously dismissed as an irritating child but who is now clearly a powerful force defending the order. [I win as viewpoint and advance my plot.]

Chapter 25
Viewpoint: Nolan 1. Leo 2. Dan 9,2,2.
Adversity: Nolan 10,6. Leo 5,4,3.

Recovering from his exertion, Lee Chang goes back inside the temple. [Nolan spends his 6 to introduce a d4 passive threat: Lee Tai's injuries] A throng of monks usher Lee Chang into a chamber deep within the temple where he sees Lee Tai lying on a stone slab, having been grievously injured in the attack [Lee Tai's injuries d4]. [I spend a 2 to activate Meticulous Mind at d8 and I spend a 2 to activate Idealism at d6] Despite their differences [Idealism d6], Lee Chang doesn’t wish the old monk to die, so begins to study every inch of him [Meticulous Mind d8] to see if he can figure out what is wrong. [Dan 6,6 vs. Nolan 3. I win and bump my Idealism up to d8. Nolan exhausts.] Lee Chang realizes that the same poison he faced earlier is at work again, and employs the same cure. [Nolan spends his 10 to introduce a d6 threat: the magic of the fire realm] Healed, Lee Tai sees the admiration that the other monks hold for Lee Chang. “I can give you what you seek,” he says. “But the ring has conditions of its own.” He holds out his hand and a fiery image of a ring appears above it. Lee Chang reaches out his hand to grasp the flaming ring, and is thrown into the realm of fire, where tongues of flame lash at him [magic of the fire realm d6]. [I spend my 9 to activate Fire Magic at d6] Lee Chang extends his will, trying to force the fire realm to obey his commands [Fire Magic d6], knowing that someone like him must control this magic to save the order [Idealism d8]. [Dan 8,6 vs. Nolan 3. I win and would bump up, but there's no point because Nolan is exhausted and out of traits and story dice.] The fiery maelstrom subsides and begins responding to Lee Chang’s will, accepting his mastery. [I won the chapter as viewpoint and advance my plot, which completes the segment. I use the special effects to make Lee Tai ideologically aligned with the protagonist and change my Youthful Exuberance to Master of the Ring of Fire].

Chapter 26
Viewpoint: Nolan 10. Leo 8.
Adversity: Leo 11,?,?. Dan 16,10.

Deep within the realm of fire, Zheng Wei [I spend my 16 to introduce Lee Chang. I pay a distance tax of 1 and a plausibility tax of 1. I would normally activate four traits with a 16, but the tax reduces that to two traits. I activate Master of the Ring of Fire at d8 and Idealism at d6] feels like he’s being watched. He turns and sees a young man in monk’s robes that wasn’t there a moment before. Lee Chang says, “What are you searching for here in this realm? Are you here for an important purpose? [Idealism d8]” [Nolan spends his 10 to activate Ring of Fire at d8 and Sword of Fire at d6] “This is not like the mountain. I know where my destiny lies. It is not just for an important purpose, it is my only purpose. If I do not defeat my brother all is lost.” He focuses his will through his ring and his sword to push the monk away. [Nolan 8,5 vs. Dan 1. Nolan wins and bumps Sword of Fire to d8. I exhaust Idealism.] He trudges on through the world of fire and flame, questing ever deeper. Lee Chang’s disembodies voice speaks to him again. “I understand your passion. Zheng Long is my foe as well, but before you can face him you must understand this place [Master of the Ring of Fire d8].” “Am I not master of this place?” Zheng Wei shouts as he channels his will to make the flaming landscape obey his commands [Sword of Fire d8 Ring of Fire d8]. [Nolan 7,4 vs. Dan 1. Nolan wins but is maxed out. I exhaust.]. Zheng Wei again shoos Lee Chang away from him and begins walking deeper into the realm of fire. [I spend my 10 to activate Meticulous Mind at d8 and Idealism at d6] Zheng Wei is again challenged by Zheng Wei’s voice. “I don’t seek to question your skill or your power, I question your focus. You lash out indiscriminately when you should direct your energies to your true foe. Instead of competing with me to see who is more powerful, you must think clearly, like I do. [Idealism d6 Meticulous Mind d8]” Zheng Wei looks down at his ring [d8] and his sword [d8] and realizes that to have true mastery he must be able to quiet them as well as inflame them. [Nolan 7,6 vs. Dan 5,2. Nolan wins, his third in a row.] The raging inferno around him eases as Zheng Wei quiets his burning desire to travel deeper into the realm. With Lee Chang at his side he returns to the edge of the real world and looks out at the fire temple, under siege by Zheng Long. [Nolan won as viewpoint player and advanced one stage along his plot]

Chapter 27
Viewpoint: Nolan 4. Leo 11.
Adversity: Nolan 1,1. Dan 6,4.

At the fire temple, Zheng Long continues his assault. [I spend my 6 to activate Lee Tai's Fire Magic at d8 and Gold and Jewels at d6] As he surges forward with his men he realizes that not as many of his troops accompany him as he expected, some of them having been bribed [Gold and Jewels d6] to hold back. The mighty doors of the fire temple open, and a huge fireball [Fire Magic d8] hurtles straight toward the center of Zheng Long’s front line. [Leo spends his 11 to activate Ambitious at d8 and Intimidating Countenance at d6] The general glowers at the stragglers [Intimidating Countenance d6], reminding them how much they should fear his displeasure, and orders them to take the temple [Ambitious d8] at all costs. [Leo 7,1 vs. Dan 4,4. Leo wins and advances Intimidating Countenance to d8. I don't exhaust.] Reminded where their true loyalties lie, all of Zheng Long’s troops join the fight as they charge forward in the face of the fire and force their way into the temple to begin ransacking. However, their weapons and armor begin to burn red hot [Fire Magic d8]. Lee Tai calls out to anyone who can hear him, “I’ll give any man who brings me the head of the general his own weight in gold! [Gold and Jewels d6]” Zheng Long raises himself to his full height [Intimidating Coutenance d8] and makes an announcement of his own. “The man who brings me Lee Tai’s limp corpse [Ambitious d8] shall become my second in command!” [Leo 8,5 vs. Dan 6,5. Leo wins but is maxed out. I don't exhaust.] Spurred on by Zheng Long, the men ignore the distractions and swarm Lee Tai, tackling him to the ground, but the old fire monk disappears in a puff of red mist. In the air above, tendrils of flame coalesce into a huge burning image of Lee Tai [Fire Magic d8] with eyes that shine like rubies [Gold and Jewels d6], and it begins stomping on Zheng Long’s men, immolating them. Zheng Long scowls [Intimidating Countenance d8] and shouts at his men to ignore it and focus their attention on the other monks who still resist [Ambitious d8]. [Leo 7,6 vs. Dan 4,2. Leo wins, his third in a row.] As the troops move among the fire monks to capture them, the image of Lee Tai is unable to bring its full force to bear. As the last of the monks is taken the image winks out of existence in a puff of smoke. [Leo wins the chapter as viewpoint and advances one stage in his plot]

Chapter 28
Viewpoint: Nolan 5. Leo 9.
Adversity: Nolan 9,1. Dan 2,2.
[Since Leo is moving through a segment I have targeted with a complication segment, I have the option of rolling my dice to help the adversity player. I choose to roll my d10 and d12. I get a 1 and an 11, and I give my 11 to Nolan in place of his 1, so his story dice are an 11 and a 9]

Inside the temple, Zheng Long supervises his men as they secure the captured fire monks. [Nolan spends his 11 to activate Accomplished Warrior at d8 and Sword of Fire at d6] Zheng Wei, half in the real world and half in the realm of fire, appears as a translucent spirit of fire and begins forcing his way past the doors of the temple [Accomplished Warrior d8 Sword of Fire d6]. [Leo spends his 9 to activate Ambitious at d8] Seeing that the spirit of his brother isn’t completely real, Zheng Long focuses his attention on his goal of subjugating the monks [Ambitious d8]. [Leo 8 vs. Nolan 8,6. Nolan wins and bumps Sword of Fire to d8] Wei’s burning blade parts the doors, and he strides into the temple, giving new hope to the fire monks. He charges forward [Accomplished Warrior d8] with his sword blazing [Sword of Fire d8] to rescue the prisoners. Zheng Long steps forward and calls out, “You don’t intimidate me. I will win this war! [Ambitious d8]” [Leo 5 vs. Nolan 8,2. Nolan wins, but is maxed out. Leo doesn't exhaust.] Zheng Wei’s sword passes through any obstacle, whether men or stone walls, as easily as through the air. He holds his sword [Sword of Fire d8] in the air and cries out to the fire priests, calling them to join him in battle [Accomplished Warrior d8]. Zheng Long, fearing that his prize is at risk [Ambitious d8], draws his sword and rushes foward to attack the fiery image of his brother directly. [Leo 8 vs. Nolan 8,1. Nolan wins, his third in a row.] He can’t get there in time, and the troops that had been keeping the fire monks prisoner are thrown into disarray. [Nolan wins as adversity. He adds a d12 to his ninth plot stage]

Chapter 29
Viewpoint: Nolan 6,3. Leo 6.
Adversity: Leo 9,8,7. Dan 5,3.

Zheng Wei turns his attention to his brother Zheng Long. [Leo spends his 7 to activate Ambitious at d8] “Let’s settle this, brother!” the general calls out [Ambitious d8]. [Nolan spends his 3 to activate Accomplished Warrior at d8] Zheng Wei lunges forward to meet him in battle [Accomplished Warrior d8]. [Nolan 8 vs. Leo 3. Nolan wins but is maxed out. Leo exhausts.] Zheng Wei outfights his brother, forcing him backward until he is pushed up against a wall. [Leo spends his 8 to activate Ambitious at d8 and Brilliant Strategist at d6] With the renewed fervor of desperation [Ambitious d8], Zheng Long strikes at Zheng Wei, trying to take advantage of weaknesses in Wei’s fighting style that he remembers from their sparring as children [Brilliant Strategist d6]. Wei strikes furiously, hoping that he has learned enough over the years to best his brother [Accomplished Warrior d8]. [Nolan 3 vs. Leo 7,5. Leo wins and bumps Brilliant Strategist to d8. Nolan exhausts Accomplished Warrior.] Despite all he has learned, Zheng Wei still has quirks in his fighting style that Zheng Long is able to exploit, knocking Zheng Wei onto his back. The general holds the point of his sword to Zheng Wei’s neck and says, “I could end this now, and I think I should. [Ambitious d8]” [Nolan spend his 6 to activate Ring of Fire at d8] Zheng Wei begins summoning the magic of the ring [Ring of Fire d8], hoping to move the battle to more advantageous terrain. [Nolan 3 vs. Leo 8. Leo wins and Nolan is out of dice.] Zheng Long’s sword pushes forward but strikes the floor of the temple instead of his brother’s flesh as Zheng Wei vanishes into the realm of fire, unable to pull his brother with him. [Leo wins as adversity. He takes the d10 viewpoint die for his sixth stage.]

Chapter 30
Viewpoint: Nolan 12,5. Leo 5,4.
Adversity: Leo 12,10,4. Dan 9,6.

In the realm of fire, right on the verge of the real world, Zheng Wei [Leo spends his 10 to activate Intimidating Countenance at d8 and Ambitious at d6] sees his brother with a fearsomely [Intimidating Countenance d8] triumphant look on his face. “Well, brother, where have you gone? I am waiting for you!” Zheng Long goads. [Nolan spends his 12 to activate Trickster at d8 and Ring of Fire at d6] Zheng Wei tries to maneuver behind his brother [Trickster d8] so that he can pull him into the realm of fire with him [Ring of Fire d6]. [Nolan 5,2 vs Leo 3. Nolan wins and bumps Ring of Fire to d8. Leo doesn't exhaust.] He succeeds, and the fearsome general scowls to find himself in the otherworldy realm of heat and flame. [Leo spends his 4 to activate Brilliant Strategist at d6] Zheng Long surveys the space around him, calculating how he can best take advantage [Brilliant Strategist d6]. Zheng Wei uses his power to manipulate the realm [Ring of Fire d8], trying to keep his brother off-balance [Trickster d8]. [Nolan 6,2 vs. Leo 4,2. Nolan wins but is maxed out. Leo doesn't exhaust.] In a sea of fire, Zheng Long is unable to get his bearings and Zheng Wei begins to move in, hoping to finish the battle. [Leo spends his 12 to introduce a d6 active threat: his troops] Back in the fire temple, Zheng Long’s troops panic at the disappearance of their leader and begin executing fire monks, demanding Zheng Long’s return. As the fire monks are slain, their connection to the magic of fire causes chaos in the fire realm, ripping tears into the very fabric of its existence [troops d6]. Zheng Long, seeing an opportunity [Ambitious d6], tries to push Zheng Wei into one of the rifts. Zheng Wei focuses his will to exert his mastery over the realm [Ring of Fire d8], trying to move the chasm and turn Zheng Long’s own plan against him [Trickster d8]. [Nolan 6,3 vs. Leo 5,5. Nolan wins, his third in a row.] It works, and Zheng Long is sent hurtling down an endless chasm of flame.

Epilogue

Zheng Wei marries his beloved queen and unites the kingdom in peace, but [Leo completed one segment as antagonist, so he gets to declare one fact to make the ending slightly bittersweet] the destruction wrought by Zheng Long against the Ice Clan cannot be easily undone nor their bitterness easily unwound, and reconstruction is a difficult task during Zheng Wei’s reign. His quest complete, Zheng Wei gives the Ring of Fire to Lee Chang, [A supporting character who completes his subplot and is ideologically aligned with a character who completes his plot (which describes the situation for me) gets to declare a minor change in the world] who guides the fire monks to end their reclusive ways and travel about the countryside as champions for justice.

Playtest Results

I was very happy with this series of playtests. We had a few hiccups, but overall the story was very satisfying (and had some cool literary elements, like parallelism) and the action within each chapter tended to be enjoyable. Leo and Nolan enjoyed it and want to play again, but did offer some points of feedback:

1. Active/passive threats seem a bit toothless compared to NPCs

2. Cocern that the characters don’t change mechanically, that problems and failures don’t carry forward to later chapters.

3. Concern about downtime; impatient/inattentive players might get bored if they’re not involved in a chapter (also might be very different in true tabletop environment).

4. Concern that the plot segments can be nebulous; desire to “map out” particular milestones

5. Concern that the adversity player needs to be involved with viewpoint character’s motivation/identity in order to provide adversity.

6. Star charts seem compelling, so it’s disappointing that they aren’t more tied-in mechanically