From late 2009 until early 2012 I produced a podcast called Designer vs. Reality, putting out 38 episodes by the end. The premise of the podcast was that it was actual play (i.e. a recording of people actually playing a roleplaying game) of RPGs that were still in the design/development process. The kind of game design that I advocate is one of hard-headed empiricism: it’s easy for a designer to think their game works one way inside their head, but the only way to know how it actually works is to get it to the table and see. Then, you use observation of play to guide tweaks to the game until it achieves the desired result. It was my perception at the time that there was a lot of “mysticism” associated with the design process, and I felt it would be valuable for the community to start looking at game design, development, and playtesting as something we could consider objectively, and that we could develop good techniques and methodologies for how to playtest well. Additionally, I was listening to a lot of writing advice at the time and heard several writers say that they learned a lot of stuff by engaging with flawed in-progress stories that they never would have picked up from reading only finished, edited work, and I thought something analogous ought to apply to game design: many of the podcasts of the time were trying to showcase and popularize games, so one that tried to expose the guts would be a valuable addition.
I knew that most people have limited experience with testing (and many people’s first instincts about testing tend to be well-intentioned but misguided), but I felt that I had some things to say about testing that I learned in my engineering career where my job was to help find bugs in microprocessor designs. Being a listener of AP podcasts, and believing that there’s no substitute for concrete examples, I figured that producing my own AP podcast that showcased warts-and-all playtesting would be a good starting point for conversations about game design. It was also my hope that by rolemodeling playtesting games I could encourage more people to want to playtest, either with me (I was playing via Skype at the time) or on their own, increasing the amount of RPG playtesting that was happening in the world. While I started with a burst of enthusiasm it eventually become emotionally unsustainable for me and the show pod-faded (i.e. I stopped producing episodes without an explicit and intentional end-point).
The initial episodes of the show were some very rough play sessions of my game Final Hour of a Storied Age with one of my regular Skype groups at the time (the game itself was rough at the time, and there were some social incompatibilities in the group that eventually led to it dissolving). Then I managed to find some other game designers on a game design forum who were willing to engage in online mutual playtesting where we’d each be playtesters in each others’ games, and that led to a lot of sessions. Eventually the group ran out of inventory we wanted to playtest (the games either needed external testing rather than internal with-the-designer testing, or the designer was insufficiently invested in revising the game based on what they learned from one test to make another one worthwhile, plus we weren’t designing a lot of new games). We ran one external beta test series of another designer’s game, but without the motivation from mutualism we didn’t have a burning desire to continue a regular sessions and we amicably allowed the group to wind down. I tried to recruit some other groups, and also featured some recordings from my regular non-playtesting group playing a game that happened to be in beta at the time, but without the regular sessions to generate the content the prospect of doing the playtesting and producing the podcast was taking more emotional energy out of me than I was getting back from the process and I had to stop. Here are some of the reasons I couldn’t continue:
Editing a podcast is work
Doing the audio-editing on a podcast is work. It’s work I don’t particularly hate, and sometime even enjoyed to an extent, but I didn’t enjoy it intrinsically enough to do it without it serving some external purpose. When it became clear to me that it was unrealistic to hope that I’d get the audience response I wanted I had a hard time maintaining motivation to do the audio editing.
Evangelizing an AP Podcast became exhausting
Actual Play Podcasts are a niche medium. When I’d try to drum up listeners for the show I’d rarely encounter enthusiasm or even open-mindedness. By far the most common reaction was “oh my God, that must be sooooooo booooooooring…”. Hearing that from seemingly every other person ground me down. The obligations of politeness always prevented me from retorting the way I’d like to, which was to note that the only basis people who haven’t listened to AP would have for speculating would be by projecting from their own gaming experience, which would be an indication that their own play was pretty lackluster. Of course, the other big misconception is that many people imagine that you give your undivided focused attention to the audio, as if it’s the 1940s and you’re all gathered around for a radio show, when the reality of podcasts is that people use them as supplements to other activities, e.g. I listen to them when I take long walks. Some games are indeed boring to listen to in AP format, but there seems to be a pretty strong correlation between those games and games I don’t enjoy playing, so I don’t blame the medium. Regardless, facing the same blanket resistance to the show’s concept over and over and over again was emotionally rough for me, especially when I felt I needed to self-censor my desire to correct people’s misconceptions (I know that you can’t lecture someone into liking something).
The Cult of the Designer
I didn’t get a lot of buzz for my show, but some of the conversations that did happen highlighted the prospect of listening to people “playtest with the designer” as the best thing about the show, as if this should be some special treat. Personally, I think that if you get a “truer” experience by playing a game with the designer it’s a symptom that the designer hasn’t done a very good job with the game text. We don’t expect to have a unique and special experience when an automotive engineer is driving a car. The entire point of my podcast was to try to remove the personalities and mysticism from the process of playtesting so the games themselves could be laid bare to be observed objectively, not to be a vehicle for fanclub-building and treating designers as gurus or VIPs. Seeing that I was unintentionally feeding into the dysfunctional Cult of the Designer meme in the indie scene made me deeply ambivalent about putting out more shows.
Couldn’t find a way to get trusted content from others
The one common thread in all of my episodes was that I was either playing or GMing in every session. This was because those were the session recordings I had access to. Even though it wasn’t an intentional plan, it had the effect of making me a central focus of the show. I didn’t want the show to be “listen to Dan playtest”, but I couldn’t figure out a way to get other people to generate content that I wanted to feature. I couldn’t offer a blanket “send me your recordings and I’ll edit them into a podcast” because I wasn’t interested in featuring all styles of games (e.g. I find games in which you aren’t expected to follow the rules to be utterly useless from a game design or playtesting POV and wouldn’t want to waste my time with them, but I couldn’t figure out a non-rude way to say that) and I didn’t want to have to deal with any awkward conversations where I might need to say “no” after someone submitted a recording. Unfortunately there weren’t any good rallying points for the kinds of games or game design I was interested in so I couldn’t connect with many like-minded people. As a result the only content I had to work with was stuff I generated it myself.
Not enough conversations
It had been my hope when I started the podcast that I could get a “best of both worlds” effect by appealing to both AP podcast fans and game design fans, having both groups listen and engage in conversation. AP fans would be able to bring their breadth of experience, e.g. picking up on patterns or emotional cues that they recognized from listening to a lot of play, and design fans would engage with the nuts and bolts of how the games were (or weren’t) working. I think the audience was more like the intersection of those sets rather than the union: not a lot of people cared about the show, so there wasn’t critical mass to have self-sustaining conversations. The conversations that did happen tended to be people talking directly to me. My hope had been that the conversations would develop some energy of their own rather than being carried on my shoulders as host, and my self-consciousness about not wanting to “dominate” conversations made some of these interactions anxiety-inducing for me.
When we ran out of internal content that needed playtesting I figured I would try to be a positive force in the community and offer to playtest other people’s stuff, so I posted on a forum asking for games in need of playtesting. Unfortunately a lot of people buy into the conventional wisdom of needing to “sell” their games to potential playtesters so it immediately became labor-intensive to try to separate the wheat from the chaff and the actual design information from the sales pitch (if the game didn’t do anything new from a game design POV but was just “roll + attribute vs. target number as the GM railroads you through a plot” there was nothing that could be gained by playtesting it or podcasting about it). It also left me with a general antipathy toward all the “shills” who weren’t actually interested in real playtesting but just wanted more cheerleaders for their game. It was probably unfair of me to tar everyone with the negativity caused by the bad apples, but it’s an understandable emotional reaction, and the feeling that my generosity was being taken advantage of was more weight than I could realistically carry.
I can’t stand organizing sessions
I have some social anxiety issues, and I find initiating a conversation with someone extremely aversive. I am also much more of a “big picture” than “detail oriented” person, I find it emotionally exhausting to need to keep track of lots of details. Therefore trying to wrangle groups of people to show up at particular places at particular times is one of the things I particularly hate doing. When my recurring session trailed off I figured I could build up some new contacts in the community and find other people to play with, but the emotional drain of trying to set up the play sessions was too much for me.
Episode 26 of the Mom’s Basement Podcast has a discussion of Final Hour of a Storied Age based on a playtest they did. There are some interesting thoughts and feedback, and I learned even more by listening to the audio recording of the session that they sent me (including some places where they way they were playing wasn’t the way I intended, highlighting places the rules need work). I have some followup comments on the RPGCrosstalk discussion thread for the episode. The “verite” style of the podcast probably isn’t for everyone (and they used at least one word I wish they hadn’t), but I appreciate their playtesting and their feedback.
On January 9, 2011, Leo, Nolan, and I got together on Skype for a two hour and twenty minute playtest of Final Hour of a Storied Age rev 0.67, continuing the story from our previous three sessions. An audio recording of this session is available as episode 17 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast.
Viewpoint: Dan 10. Leo 10,4.
Adversity: Dan 6,2. Nolan 2,2.
Pyrotenax and Robur are swept down the river. [I spend my 6 to introduce a d4 passive threat: freezing cold water, and I spend my 2 to introduce a d4 passive threat: powerful current] The cold water [d4] weighs heavily on Robur’s body and Pyrotenax’s spirit as the river’s current [d4] makes it difficult to get to the bank. [Leo spends his 10 to activate Pyrotenax’s Fire Magic at d8 and his Mystical Will at d6] Pyrotenax heats the water around them [Fire Magic d8] and begins exerting his will [Mystical Will d6] upon the currents, urging them to push himself and Robur to the shore. [Leo 2,1 vs. Dan 1,1. Leo wins and bumps Mystical Will to d8, but I don’t exhaust.] Pyrotenax keeps the chill from setting into Robur’s body as he swims, and the current begins to slow, but they aren’t safe yet. The cold chill of the mountains still runs through the river [cold water d4], making movement difficult, and the current [d4] still pushes them toward the sea. Pyrotenax unleashes more of his power, heating large swaths of the river [Fire Magic d8] and concentrating his divine will [Mystical Will d8] to persuade the currents to push them to the bank. [Leo 7,4 vs. Dan 3,1. Leo wins and I am completely exhausted so Leo wins the chapter.] The currents shift and Robur is able to gain purchase on the bank, pulling both of them to dry land. [Leo realizes here that he has just completed his “Find the True Host” segment as is caught a little flat-footed. He has been playing as if Robur wasn’t the “true host”, but also feels like it would be awkward to introduce a brand new character as the closing narration of a chapter (and, mechanically, we aren’t able to stat out a new character here). We discuss a few alternatives, such as the river having washed them to the capital, or deciding that Robur is the best host as a matter of convenience. Leo synthesizes these a bit for his closing narration.] As Robur emerges from the river, he and Pyrotenax realize that they aren’t far from the capital. Pyrotenax considers that Robur has been carrying him loyally and tirelessly for some time, and has been a good and faithful servant. He decides that he is content to let Robur carry him to the throne as his true host. [Leo gets two traits worth of narrative special effects for completing a segment, and also has a story die he can use for that. He changes Robur’s alignment to personally aligned with antagonist. He also changes Robur’s Fiercely Loyal trait to True Host.]
Viewpoint: Dan 10. Leo 7,5.
Adversity: Leo 12,10,9. Nolan 9,9.
Locked up in the camp of the mountrous bandits, Marcus [Leo spends his 9 on a d4 passive threat: wooden cage] finds himself trapped in a cell made of wooden branches and tree trunks [wooden cage d4]. [I spend my 10 to activate Marcus’s Scholar’s Apprentice at d8 and Quick-witted at d6.] As soon as he can [Quick-witted d6], Marcus studies the branches to identify the ones that come from the weakest types of trees [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] and begins working on escape. [Dan 6,2 vs. Leo 2. I win and bump Quick-witted to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] He selects one branch which would appear strong to the untrained eye, but that he knows is weak if bent and twisted in the proper manner, and begins working it back and forth. [Leo spends his 10 to introduce a d6 active threat: ogres] A pair of ogres [d6] comes over and sits down next to the cage [d4] that Marcus is still locked inside. Knowing that they’ll be able to hear him, Marcus begins remarking on the weather, rattling off several indications that a storm must be coming [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], so that when the branch he’s been working on finally snaps he claims the noise is thunder from a nearby lightning [Quick-witted d8]. [Dan 7,2 vs. Leo 4,4. I win but my traits are maxed out, and Leo doesn’t exhaust.] The ogres do fall for the trick, but it only succeeds in getting the ogres riled up, not dashing off to investigate the lightning strike as Marcus had hoped. With no further signs of the storm materializing, the ogres [d6] look skeptically through the bars of the cage [d4] at Marcus. While few people know much about ogres, Artax was something of an expert [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], so Marcus knows that they aren’t the smartest creatures. Marcus figures they’re sure to fall for the old throw-a-stick-to-create-a-distraction trick [Quick-witted d8]. [Dan 2,1 vs. Leo 4,3. Leo wins and bumps ogres to d8, I exhaust both traits.] The ogres turn out to not be quite as dense as Marcus expected. He creates his distraction and tries to wriggle through the gap in the bars, only to hear a deep, “Back in the cage!” as he is walloped back into his cell. The ogres [d8] scowl at Marcus through the bars of his cell [d4]. [I spend my 5 to activate Secret Prince at d8] Marcus rubs his head where the ogre smacked him. “Fine,” Marcus says, scowling. “But if you just keep me locked in here until someone pays the ransom [Secret Prince d8], you can be sure you won’t be getting a fair share. Smart ogres would get me out of here so they could get all the money for themselves.” [Dan 6 vs. Leo 3,1. I win and am maxed out, but Leo exhausts both.] “Ransom?” one ogre says to the other. “Nobody said anything to us about ransoms.” “Yeah, and nobody said anything about shares, neither!” They pull Marcus out of the cage, looking surreptitiously over their shoulders at the other bandits, and carry him away from the camp and start marching toward the capital. [Leo spends his 12 to activate a d6 active threat: ogres] The ogres [d6] have Marcus securely tied and one of the ogres carries him under an arm. “You know they won’t want to see you treating me like this,” Marcus pleads. “In order to get top price for a prince [Secret Prince d8] they’ll need to see that you’ve been treating me well!” [Dan 2 vs. Leo 3. Leo wins and I’m exhausted, so Leo wins the chapter.] An ogre growls in reply, “If they know what’s good for ‘em, they’ll be happy just to see you alive!” as they continue their journey. [Leo won as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d10 for his eighth phase.]
Viewpoint: Dan 1. Leo 9,8.
Adversity: Dan 9,2. Nolan 5,1.
Pyrotenax and Robur move confidently toward the capital city, and the sight of it ahead reminds Pyrotenax how tantalizingly close he is to achieving his goal. Ahead, on the road that leads to the city gates, Robur sees some ogres carrying something. [I spend my 2 to activate Marcus’s Quick-witted at d8. Since we had previously established that Marcus was headed for the capital it’s reasonable and expected for him to be here, so the plausibility tax is zero, and Marcus was last seen nearby so the distance tax is also zero] The bundle under one of the ogre’s arms calls out, “Hey, look behind you! There’s a knight! You could capture him and hold him for ransom as well! [Quick-witted d8]” [Leo spends his 9 to activate Pyrotenax’s Beguiler of Mortals at d8 and spends his 8 to activate Robur’s Knight at d8] Robur draws his sword and charges at the brutes [Knight d8] as Pyrotenax whispers into their minds, “If you value your lives you will kneel and surrender to this knight [Beguiler of Mortals d8]”. [Leo 8, 5 vs. Dan 7. Leo wins but his traits are maxed out. I don’t exhaust.] The ogres are somewhat confused, which lets Robur get into a dominant position for his assault. “Be careful!” Marcus calls to Robur. “This fellows are quite strong, you wouldn’t want to get too close!” This, of course, is merely a distraction [Quick-witted d8], [I spend my 9 to activate the Fire Drake’s Fire Breathing at d8] so that the fire drake that has been following Marcus at a distance can charge in and breathe fire at Robur and the ogres [Fire Breathing d8]. “I am your master now!” Pyrotenax whispers into the ogres’ minds [Beguiler of Mortals d8]. “Protect this knight!” Robur circles around, positioning himself behind the ogres to avoid the worst of the drake’s attack [Knight d8]. [Leo 8,2 vs. Dan 4,1. Leo wins but is maxed out. I exhaust Quick-witted.] Pyrotenax’s insidious will worms its way into the ogre’s minds, and they do a good job of shielding Robur from the worst of the flames. The drake, seeing that Marcus is still in the clutches of an ogre, concentrates his fire [Fire Breathing d8] on the least ogre-like target he sees: Robur. Pyrotenax urges the ogre that has its hands free to rush to Robur’s aid [Beguiler of Mortals d8] and Robur hopes his armor [Knight d8] will protect him from the flames. [Leo 8,6 vs. Dan 5. Leo wins and I exhaust. I am out of stuff so Leo wins the chapter.] The ogre gets there in time to take the brunt of the attack, and Robur’s armor protects him from the little that gets past. Robur sets off toward the city at a run, not wanting these distractions to delay Pyrotenax’s path to the throne any longer. [Leo won as viewpoint, so he advances one phase along his plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 2. Leo 6,4.
Adversity: Dan 9,2. Nolan 4,4.
Inside the capital city, Pyrotenax and Robur make their way toward the palace. [I spend a 9 to activate Marian’s Demigoddess at d8, deputizing Nolan to act for her (we kind of forgot to discuss tax, but it was probably zero). I spend my 2 to activate a d4 passive threat: crowd] A throng of people clog the streets [crowd d4], making it hard to move. Almost instinctively, the demigodess Marian detects the divine presence of Pyrotenax, and the mystical force of her presence makes it even more difficult for Pyrotenax and Robur to move toward the palace. [Leo spends his 4 to activate Pyrotenax’s Mystical Will at d8 and spends his 6 to activate Robur’s Courtier at d8] Pyrotenax pushes back against Marian [Mystical Will d8] and Robur uses his position of authority in the court [Courtier d8] to bypass as much of the crowd as he can. [Leo 5,4 vs Dan 4 and Nolan 5. Leo wins but his traits are already maxed out. Neither Nolan or I are exhausted.] Shrugging off Marian’s interference, Robur makes his way steadily toward the palace. However, the crowd [d4] is even denser close to the palace, making it difficult to move at all, let alone quickly. As Pyrotenax draws closer, Marian finds it easier to focus on him, and tries with all of her divine might to hold him back [Demigoddess d8]. Pyrotenax, not wishing to waste his time with a direct confrontation yet, exerts his will [Mystical Will d8] to disguise his divine aura, making it harder for Marian to pinpoint him. Robur, meanwhile, loudly demands that the people make way for him [Courtier d8]. [Leo 8,7 vs. Dan 2 and Nolan 6. Leo wins, exhausting both of us, and wins the chapter.] Robur arrives at the palace, requests an audience with the king, as is quickly ushered off in that direction. [Leo won was viewpoint so he advances one phase along his plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 8. Leo 7.
Adversity: Leo 10,8,4. Nolan 17,5.
Trying to recover from the chaos of Robur’s passing, Marcus and the ogres see [Nolan spends his 17 to introduce a new NPC: Hydrallia the Sea Goddess. She has the traits Goddess of the Sea, Unfathomable, Beutiful, and Good. Since she is mentioned on a seed her creation tax is 1. For plausibility, we considered possible but surprising but ultimately settled on plausible but unexpected, since her return to the mortal realm was promised by one of the seeds, which gives a plausibility tax of 1. Normally a 17 would activate 4 traits, but after tax Nolan gets 4 – 2 = 2 traits. He activates Hydrallia’s Beautiful at d8 and Goddess of the Sea at d6] the moisture in the air coalesce into a painfully beautiful being. Her awesome presence [Beautiful d8 Goddess of the Sea d6] is too much for the ogres, who run off, and threatens to shatter Marcus’s mind. [I spend my 6 to activate Marcus’s Scholar’s Apprentice at d8] However, one lesson that Artax drilled into Marcus from his youth was the proper prayer to offer to Hydrallia upon her return [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. He covers his eyes and begins reciting the prayer. [Dan 8 vs. Nolan 2,2. I win but my trait is maxed out. Nolan exhausts both of his traits.] Like her daughter, Hydrallia is quite pleased when mortals know the proper greeting. [Nolan spends his 5 on a d4 passive threat: feels sick] In a blur of color and motion, Marcus finds himself teleported by Hydrallia’s power inside the palace, a decidedly unpleasant and sickening experience [feels sick d4]. Artax was also sure to teach Marcus how to treat nausea and dizziness, which Marcus had always assumed was in case his elderly mentor had needed help [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. He crouches down and tries to recover his composure. [Dan 5 vs. Nolan 2. I win and Nolan exhausts. Nolan is out of stuff so I win the chapter.] He stands up and sees that the fire drake was teleported along with him, and is pleased to be so close to his destination. [I have left over story dice which I use for some narrative special effects. I adjust the alignments of both the fire drake and Hydrallia to personally aligned with protagonist. Since I won as viewpoint, I advance one phase along my plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 6. Leo 9.
Adversity: Dan 5,4. Nolan 3,1.
In the palace throne room, Pyrotenax and Robur barely notice the mourning displays as they approach the empty throne. [I spend my 4 to activate Hydrallia’s Goddess of the Sea at d8] The air begins to shimmer as the moisture coalesces into the form of Hydrallia [Goddess of the Sea d8]. She cries out, “I shall never allow filth like you to sit upon this throne!” [Leo spends his 9 to activate Pyrotenax’s Fire Magic at d8] Pyrotenax puts forth his divine power and Robur’s hands seem to burst into flame. A deep, booming voice comes from Robur’s mouth. “The throne shall be mine. I am as ancient a spirit as you, and I won’t let you stop me this time.” He raises his hands and balls of fire shoot from them toward the goddess [Fire Magic d8]. [Leo 2 vs. Dan 7. I win and Leo exhausts. Leo is out of stuff so I win the chapter.] Hydrallia laughs as the fire slams into her and dissipates harmlessly. “Fool! Do you think you are more powerful than I am, here in the center of all my worshipers?” Pyrotenax realizes for the first time how many of the courtiers in the throne room are displaying Hydrallia medallions, and that many of them have dropped to their knees in prayer for Hydrallia. Pyrotenax feels water beginning to condense all around him, sizzling away to steam at first, but knowing that there is more to come. [I won as adversity so I get another viewpoint die. I take the d12 for my ninth phase]
Viewpoint: Dan 9,5. Leo 8.
Adversity: Leo 8,7,4. Nolan 13,1.
From the room where Hydrallia teleported him, Marcus swiftly makes his way to the throne room. [Nolan spends his 13 to activate Pyrotenax’s Beguiler of Mortals at d8 and Ancient Spirit at d6] As the two divine entities battle each other [Ancient Spirit d6], Pyrotenax’s mind-warping power affects Marcus’s perceptions [Beguiler of Mortals d8]. Instead of the reality of the situation, Marcus sees the reverse: a fiery manifestation of Pyrotenax defending the throne, with Hydrallia on the attack. [I spend my 5 to activate Secret Prince at d8] Regardless of the fight, Marcus decides he should trust that Artax and the dragon prophet have a good plan, and that it should be his top priority to get to the throne [Secret Prince d8]. He tries to skulk around the side of the throne room, staying out of the crossfire. [Dan 4 vs. Nolan 4,1. Nolan wins and bumps Ancient Spirit to d8, but I’m not exhausted.] He makes progress toward the throne, but the awesome presence of two gods is nearly impossible to ignore [Beguiler of Mortals d8 Ancient Spirit d8], and Marcus is nearly transfixed by the vision of them. He is sorely tempted to just wait and observe, perhaps even take some notes on this miraculous event, but he knows that getting to the throne is important, and wonders if people might start following his orders for a change if he does [Secret Prince d8]. [Dan 4 vs. Nolan 5,2. Nolan wins but is maxed out, but I’m not exhausted.] He manages to take a few shuffling steps toward the throne, but is unable to rip his eyes away from the gods. [Nolan spends his 1 to activate Pyrotenax’s Mystical Will at d6] In the illusion that Pyrotenax is projecting, the image of Hydrallia is nearly overcome by the image of Pyrotenax [Ancient Spirit d8], and she cuts such a pathetic figure that Marcus feels an overwhelming need to rush to her aid [Beguiler of Mortals d8], an impulse that seems almost alien in its insistence [Mystical Will d6]. [I spend my 9 to activate the fire drake’s Fire Breathing at d8] “You’ve got to help her!” Marcus calls out as the fire drake finally manages to make it to the throne room through the passages that weren’t designed for easy travel by dragons. The drake, however, is unaffected by the illusion that was meant for human minds (perhaps the reason that the dragon prophet sent him along to help). He attacks the actual Pyrotenax [Fire Breathing d8], disrupting his mental control enough for Marcus to make more progress toward the throne [Secret Prince d8], [Dan 4,1 vs. Nolan 7,3,1. Nolan wins, his third in a row.] but it isn’t enough to completely shake off the illusion. [Nolan won as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d12 for the third phase of his complication segment.]
Viewpoint: Dan 8,6. Leo 3.
Adversity: Leo 5,4,3. Nolan 14,6.
Epilogue[Nolan’s supporting character completed her subplot and was ideologically aligned with the person who won the story, so he gets a minor positive change in the world. He suggests that Marian uses her influence to reform the city, making it more accepting and egalitarian. Since Leo’s antagonist was able to complete two segments of his plot thread we get a bittersweet ending. He decides that Artax dying would be a suitable bitter note for the end of the story.] As had long been arranged, Marian and Marcus agree to wed, with Marian planning to use her position as queen to be a champion of the downtrodden. Marcus goes to his mentor’s house to invite him to the wedding and ask him to be a royal advisor only to find that the old man has died while Marcus was away on his adventure. Saddened by the loss of his friend and mentor, Marcus returns to the capital with a heavy heart, knowing that he now only has the lessons Artax taught him rather than the wisdom of the man himself to guide him as king, but glad that he has the compassionate heart of Marian at his side.
That’s where we ended the session. We were all really satisfied with the story, and it was a real nail-biter at the end. The game worked well enough mechanically in this series of playtests that I decided to move the game from alpha testing to beta testing.
(Final Hour of a Storied Age is currently in beta testing. I really need feedback from people trying to play my game without my direct involvement. I would deeply appreciate it if you would consider giving the game a shot. I want to produce the highest quality game I can, but I can only do that with the help of playtesters. If there’s anything I can do that would help you get a game going just let me know.)
On January 3, 2011, Leo, Nolan, and I got together on Skype for a 3-hour playtest of Final Hour of a Storied Age rev 0.67, continuing the story from our previous two sessions. An audio recording of this session is available as episode 16 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast.
Viewpoint: Dan 16. Leo 2.
Adversity: Leo 10,2,6. Nolan 16,6.
Marcus peers through the doorway of Astrin’s house. [Nolan spends his 6 on a d4 passive threat: ash and debris] The debris and swirling ash that fill the house [d4] make it difficult to find anything inside. [I spend my 16 to activate Marcus’s Quick-witted at d8, Scholar’s Apprentice at d6, Yearns for Adventure at d6, and Secret Prince at d4] Having studied such things [Scholar’s Apprentice d6], Marcus knows that these are mere annoyances, not actual dangers. [Dan 1 vs. Nolan 2. Nolan wins and bumps Ash and Debris to d6, I exhaust Scholar’s Apprentice.] The residual heat from the fire makes it oppressive inside the house, and the swirling ash gets into Marcus’s eyes, making his search all but impossible. [Nolan spends his 16 to create a new NPC, a fire drake. He gives it the traits Fire Breathing, Lizard Like, Powerful Musculature, and Tough Hide. This is a new NPC so we have to figure out the creation tax. We settle on 2 for “implied by previous fiction”. It’s a bit of a stretch, but we have established fantasy creatures in the world with the earlier appearance by the goblins, and something had to be responsible for burning the town. For plausibility, we choose the plausible but unexpected level, which is arguable since you could make the case that this is a surprising development rather than an unexpected one, but we all thought this character was cool so we were inclined to accept the tax levels that would allow Nolan to introduce it. A 16 normally activates 4 traits, but after tax Nolan gets 4 – 2 – 1 = 1 trait. He activates Fire Breathing at d8.] From under the rubble [Ash and Debris d6], the lizardlike form of a dog-sized fire drake emerges, a gout of flame streaming from its maw [Fire Breathing d8]! Rather than fear, Marcus is thrilled that he has come face to face with a dragon [Yearns for Adventure d6]! However, he’s no fool [Quick-witted d8], and knows that the most dangerous place is in front of its mouth. He reasons, therefore, that the safest place would be on its back. [Dan 4,3 vs. Nolan 5,4. Nolan wins and bumps Ash and Debris to d8, I exhaust Yearns for Adventure.] As he tries to move around it, it seems to thrash around as if defending something, shooting flame indiscriminately, and Marcus is forced backward. Marcus deduces from its behavior [Quick-witted d8] that the drake isn’t acting like a mindless animal. He calls out to it, “Please, mighty dragon, I am a prince of this realm [Secret Prince d4] and seek an alliance with you.” [Dan 5,2 vs. Nolan 6,5. Nolan wins, his third in a row.] The drake gives no sign of comprehending Marcus, but also no sign of allowing him to enter the house. [Nolan wins as adversity so he gets a new viewpoint die. He takes the d12 for the second phase of his segment that supports the protagonist’s third segment.]
Viewpoint: Dan 12. Leo 1.
Adversity: Leo 7,7,4. Nolan 5,4.
Marcus looks on apprehensively as [Leo spends a 7 to activate the drake’s Fire Breathing at d8 and its Tough Hide at d6] the drake chuffs smoke [Fire Breathing d8] and generally makes it clear that he has no intention of being dislodged from the house any time soon [Tough Hide d6]. [I spend my 12 to activate Scholar’s Apprentice at d8 and Yearns for Adventure at d6] Marcus recalls from his studies [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] that, while dragons are very territorial, they always emerge from their lairs to hunt for food. He hunts around the village and finds a partially intact smokehouse and takes a generous cut of meat which he can use to lure the drake out into the open. [Dan 6 vs. Leo 8,6. Leo wins and bumps Tough Hide up to d8, but I don’t exhaust.] The drake moves forward, his hide [Tough Hide d8] scraping on the door frame as he approaches. He snorts some flame [Fire Breathing d8] at Marcus who panics and drops the meat, only to have it snatched from the air by the drake who withdraws back into the house. He seems to have a particularly smug look on his face as he eats the meat. Knowing he’ll have to get past this standoff if he ever wants to get on with his adventure [Yearns for Adventure d6], Marcus recalls from his reading [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] that dragons will often sleep after a big meal, so he settles in to wait until that happens so that he can sneak past. [Dan 2,1 vs. Leo 3,1. Leo wins but his dice are maxed out. I’m not exhausted.] Marcus waits. And waits. And waits. And eventually concludes that the meal wasn’t large enough to trigger the sleep response, as the dragon simply sits there watching, occasionally chuffing smoke [Fire Breathing d8] and scraping its scales against the floor [Tough Hide d8] in a dominance display. Racalling that Artax would always be thirsty after a meal [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus hopes the drake will have a similar tendency. He goes to the village well and raises up a bucket of water, hoping to tempt it out that way. [Dan 8 vs. Leo 7,3. I win but my die is already maxed out. Leo exhausts both traits.] The drake is tempted, and Marcus perches the bucket on the edge of the small stone wall surrounding the well. As the drake climbs up to drink the wall crumbles beneath him, causing him to tumble into the well. Marcus dashes back toward the house. [Leo spends his 3 to activate the drake’s Lizard-like at d8] [Leo narrated the drake dashing back into the house ahead of Marcus, but I asked him to rewind that a little bit since I was having trouble dealing with the adversity of the drake inside the house.] The drake uses his talons to grab onto the walls of the well and scamper back up to the surface [Lizard-like d8]. Based on his studies of the effects of light and darkness [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus suspects that the beast will be disoriented for a moment when he emerges. He figures that this might be his one opportunity to get on its back, since he would certainly like to experience what it’s like to actually ride a dragon [Yearns for Adventure d6]. [Dan 4,1 vs. Leo 4. I win and bump Yearns for Adventure to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Marcus is able to get on top of him, but is quickly reminded of the old adage about being careful what you wish for, as the agitated dragon races around town trying to buck the boy from his back. The frantic dragon tries everything, even occasionally rolling to toss Marcus off [Lizard-like d8]. With the initial shock fading into thrill [Yearns for Adventure d8], Marcus recalls from his study of horses [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] that if you ride it out the animal will eventually accept your dominance, and he hopes dragons are the same. [Dan 4,4 vs. Leo 4. I win, my third in a row.] Eventually the drake does give in and allows Marcus to explore Astrin’s house in peace. [I won as viewpoint player so I advance one phase along my plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 5. Leo 10.
Adversity: Dan 3,1. Nolan 18, 2.
At the abandoned farmstead, Pyrotenax [Nolan spends his 2 on a d4 passive threat: encased in rock] realizes that the earth he previously heated to liquid has cooled and hardened around him, encasing him in rock [d4]. [Leo spends his 10 to activate Pyrotenax’s Fire Magic at d8 and Mystical Will at d6] He focuses his fiery energies on the earth, returning it to liquid [Fire Magic d8], and changes his own density so that he can float to the surface [Mystical Will d6]. [Leo 6,4 vs. Nolan 2. Leo wins and bumps his Mystical Will to d8, Nolan exhausts.] The ring surfaces and the ground hardens underneath it, with the ring slightly indented into the liquid-smooth surface. [Nolan spends his 18 to introduce Robur into the chapter. We decide that the farmstead is a short journey away from Whitehollow for a distance tax of 1 and that it’s plausible but unexpected for Robur to show up here to investigate the fire for a plausibility tax of 1. An 18 usually gives 4 traits, so after tax Nolan gets 4 – 1 – 1 = 2 traits. He activates Strong at d8 and Fiercely Loyal at d6] Robur, intent on carrying out his mysterious task from the king [Fiercely Loyal d6], crosses paths with Marius and the farm workers, who warn him away from a fiery evil at the farm. Pyrotenax detects the strong-willed Robur [Strong d8] approaching, his mind focused on getting on with his task as quickly as possible. Pyrotenax heats the air around himself [Fire Magic d8], creating an eye-catching heat haze, and wills [Mystical Will d8] the sunlight into him, making the ring shine temptingly. [Leo 7,3 vs. Nolan 6,2. Leo wins but his traits are already maxed out. Nolan exhausts Strong.] Robur is unable to resist the dreamlike image and approaches curiously. He uses his dagger to pry the gold ring free and holds it up to examine it. [Note: the back-and-forth nature of the exchange broke down a little bit on this one as Leo and Nolan negotiated back and forth what was happening in this exchange. I think Nolan was having a hard time justifying the use of this character to himself, and that tentativeness came across in his contributions. I think he felt a little bit trapped by his own earlier narrative choices, since he had Marius and the farm workers leave the farm at the end of chapter 16, but his story die showing an 18 required him to introduce an NPC.] Even though he’s distracted for a moment, Robur’s mind is never away from his task for very long [Fiercely Loyal d6], so he pockets the ring and resumes his journey. Pyrotenax heats the air around him [Fire Magic d8], hoping the haze will distract and disorient the knight while he hammers away at his mind [Mystical Will d8]. [Leo 7,6 vs. Nolan 2. That completely exhausts Nolan, so Leo wins the chapter.] Robur succumbs, believing himself too tired to continue with his journey, and makes camp. He idly reaches into his pocket and brings the ring back out, growing increasingly fascinated with it. [Leo won as viewpoint, so he advances one phase along his plot thread. This completes his first segment, “Be discovered from underground prison”. For completing a segment he gets 2 traits worth of narrative special effects. He decides to adjust Robur’s alignment to ideologically aligned with antagonist, and also gives Robur and Pyrotenax the traveling together relationship.]
Viewpoint: Dan 9. Leo 10,5.
Adversity: Dan 10,10. Nolan ?,?.
Robur breaks camp and marches stolidly toward the capital, with Pyrotenax safely in his pocket. [I spend a 10 to introduce Marius. He was last seen at the farm, which we decide is a short journey away from the current location, so I have to pay a distance tax of 1. We decide I don’t owe any plausibility tax. Normally a 10 can activate 2 traits, but after tax I get 2 – 1 = 1 trait, so I activate Marius’s Savvy at d8.] Marius, savvy [d8] enough to know that there’s something unusual going on, has followed Robur. “That ring is evil and must be destroyed, or at least cast off!” Marius shouts. [I spend my other 10 on a d6 active threat: angry mob] Robur turns and sees that the farmer is at the head of an unruly mob of peasants bearing farm implements [d6]. [Leo spends his 10 to activate Pyrotenax’s Beguiler of Mortals at d8. Normally a 10 would activate 2 traits, but Pyrotenax was last seen in the same vicinity as Marius so he needs to pay the same distnace tax of 1. He also spends his 5 to activate Robur’s Fiercely Loyal at d8. Since Robur is traveling with Pyrotenax he doesn’t have to pay any tax since Leo already paid it when activating Pyrotenax’s trait.] Pyrotenax reaches out to Robur’s mind [Beguiler of Mortals d8] and warns him that these peasants are trying to steal his ring, boosting his motivation to protect Pyrotenax [Fiercely Loyal d8]. [Leo 8,4 vs. Dan 6,2. Leo wins but his traits are maxed out. I exhaust my angry mob.] Robur draws his sword and charges, and the peasant rabble scatters, unwilling to face the wrath of a trained knight. Marius, more clever than most [Savvy d8], slyly suggests, “If the ring is not evil, then you should have no problem praying to the water goddess while wearing it!” “Ignore this nonsense,” Pyrotenax whispers, “you have more important things to do.” “I’m on important business! [Fiercely Loyal d8]” Robur growls. [Leo 8,1 vs. Dan 1. Leo wins but is maxed out. I don’t exhaust.] “Don’t trouble me with any more of your religious foolishness,” Robur calls behind him as he stomps onward, “I’m on an important mission for the king.” “Well you certainly don’t want to go that way!” Marius says. “The bridge is washed out in that direction,” he adds, hoping he can use his superior knowledge of local geography [Savvy d8] to get Robur and Pyrotenax lost and confused. “That’s what the king wants us to investigate,” Pyrotenax whispers to Robur [Beguiler of Mortals d8], and Robur marches onward with determination [Fiercely Loyal d8]. [Leo 7,1 vs. Dan 8. I win and Leo exhausts both traits. He doesn’t have any dice or traits left so I win the chapter.] The seed of the idea planted by Marius grows under Pyrotenax’s exhortation, causing Robur to fixate on the idea of a bridge as he makes his way toward the river. [I won as adversity so I get another viewpoint die. I take the d12 for my seventh phase.] [A lot of interesting conceptual stuff came up in this chapter based on Leo’s understanding of how the game is supposed to work, the nature of adversity, how it’s difficult for the adversity player to introduce adversity if the viewpoint player isn’t pushing strongly toward a goal.]
Viewpoint: Dan 15. Leo 12,6.
Adversity: Leo 10,8,5. Nolan 7,4.
In Astrin’s house in the burned-out village, Marcus [Leo spends his 5 to activate a d4 passive threat: rubble] sees that everything in the house is covered by ash and debris [Rubble d4], not to mention the cast off bones from the drake’s feeding. [I spend my 15 to activate Marcus’s Scholar’s Apprentice at d8, Quick-witted at d6, Yearns for Adventure at d6, and Secret Prince at d4] Marcus quickly realizes [Quick-witted d6] that the principle of searching the house for information should be no different from searching the library [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], a task with which he’s intimately familiar. [Dan 4,3 vs. Leo 4. I win and bump Quick-witted to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Marcus begins shifting the rubble, hoping to start on some system of organization, and gets a glimmer of hope when he begins to notice books and papers mixed in with everything else. They are, however, so dirty and grimy that it will be difficult to make anything out [Rubble d4]. Marcus knows he’ll never be able to move on until he figures this out [Yearns for Adventure d6], so he concentrates harder than he ever has before [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. [Dan 4,4 vs. Leo 2. I win and bump Yearns for Adventure to d8 and Leo exhausts.] He finds a journal which indicates that there is a prophet who is supposed to live in a nearby cave, so he sets off in that direction.[Leo spends his 8 on a d4 passive threat: thunderstorm] A thunderstorm brews up quickly. As Marcus rushes toward the apparent safety of the caves, [Leo spends his 10 on a d6 active threat: dragons] two dragons who were battling each other nearby and focus their attention on Marcus. With multiple threats to deal with, Marcus racks his brain trying to remember everything he can about caves in order to find some safety. [Dan 4 vs. Leo 5,2. Leo wins and bumps Dragons to d8, but I don’t exhaust.] Marcus finds a suitable candidate to give him shelter from the storm [d4], but it isn’t long before he discovers that the cave is inhabited — by dragons [d8]! Not wasting a second [Quick-witted d8], Marcus dashes from the cave the moment he sees the dragon, hoping it will chase him, because he knows [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] that dragons are particularly vulnerable to lightning. [Dan 8,3 vs. Leo 5,1. I win, and we mistakenly believe that it’s my third win in a row, so we continue as if I won the chapter.] The beast chases Marcus, and as it raises its head up to strike, its sinuous body acts as a lightning rod, and its corpse is left charred and crackling. [I won the chapter as viewpoint so I advance a phase in my plot thread. This completes my “Find the prophet” segment.] As Marcus stares in disbelief that his longshot plan worked, he is buffeted by the flapping of enormous golden wings as a mighty dragon lands before him. She explains that she is the prophet that Marcus has been seeking, and that she has waiting a long time for him to come. [For completing a segment I get two traits worth of narrative special effects. I choose to make the fire drake ideologically aligned with the protagonist and he and Marcus are now traveling together] The dragon prophet explains that she has been working with a secret cabal of scholars so that someone trustworthy like Marcus will be able to take the throne, keeping it from the grasp of Pyrotenax who will tear the mortal realm asunder. She dispatches her youngest offspring, the young drake that Marcus met in the village who has been surreptitiously following him, to assist Marcus in his quest.
Viewpoint: Dan 6,3. Leo 12,9.
Adversity: Dan 9,5. Nolan 4,2.
Pyrotenax and Robur arrive at a bridge across the river. [I spend my 5 to introduce a d4 passive threat: lost] Pyrotenax has been hammering Robur’s mind so heavily that he has become confused and lost, and Pyrotenax himself has been buried for so long that he has no better idea where they are. They are lost [d4]. [I spend my 9 to introduce another d4 passive threat: water] In addition to the river, rain begins to fall from the sky, and Pyrotenax finds the proximity of so much water [d4] to be oppressive and uncomfortable. [Leo spends his 12 to activate Pyrotenax’s Ancient Spirit at d8 and Beguiler of Mortals at d6 and spends his 9 to activate Fire Magic at d6] Pyrotenax creates a shell of heat [Fire Magic d6] around them, causing the rain drops to sizzle away into steam as they hit it, and exerts will upon Robur, letting him feel an ounce of his immortal calm [Ancient Spirit d8], hoping it will help him get his bearings. He promises that the sooner they can finish the task, the sooner Robur will be free of his burdens [Beguiler of Mortals d6]. [Leo 5,2,2 vs. Dan 4,2. Leo wins and bumps Fire Magic to d8, but none of mine are exhausted] In the center of the bubble of warmth, Robur finds his center, and accepts his role in finding a suitable host for Pyrotenax. However, none of that gives them any better idea where they are [lost d4], and the rain begins to pick up [water d4], with a few drops even managing to make it all the way through the shield. Pyrotenax intensifies his shield to drive away the rain [Fire Magic d8], and begins communing with the world [Ancient Spirit d8] to find the direction and the distance to the place where he’ll be able to connect with his true host. [Leo 5,2 vs. Dan 1,1. Leo wins and I’m exhausted. I don’t have anything left so Leo wins the chapter.] Robur confidently strides forth in the direction Pyrotenax decrees, and the rain tapers off with help from Pyrotenax’s not-so-gentle touch. [Leo won as viewpoint player so he advances on phase along his plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 9,4. Leo 7,1.
Adversity: Leo 9,3,2. Nolan 17,2.
On the road to the capital, still some distance away, Marcus spies someone ahead of him on the path. [Nolan spends his 17 to introduce Marian. We decide it’s a short journey from the capital to the current location, so he has to pay a distance tax of 1. We decide that it’s possible but surprising for her to appear, so he has to pay a plausibility tax of 2. A 17 normally activates 4 traits, so Nolan gets 4 – 3 = 1 traits after tax. He activates Marian’s Demigoddess at d8. He also spends his 2 to activate Champion of the People at d6.] As Marcus gets closer he sees that it’s a radiant woman [Demigoddess d8] in a dress like seafoam. “I am looking for the true prince that will lead the people [Champion of the People d6],” she says. “He is supposed to come this way, and I feel he must be near,” she adds, as if expecting Marcus to give her directions. [I spend my 4 to activate Marcus’s Secret Prince at d8 and my 5 to activate Scholar’s Apprentice at d6] From his studies [Scholar’s Apprentice d6], Marcus recognizes the signs of Marian’s divine heritage and addresses her by the proper title. He explains, “I am the prince. There’s this prophecy you see, and I need to take the throne or it will be very bad for everybody.” [Dan 6,4 vs. Nolan 2,1. I win and that takes out everything Nolan has.] Marian is quite impressed that Marcus knows her title, even pronouncing it correctly, and listens to his story and accepts him as the prince. [I still have a story die left over, so with Nolan’s consent I use it to update Marian’s alignment to ideologically aligned with protagonist. I won the chapter as the viewpoint player so I advance one phase along my plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 2. Leo 9,8.
Adversity: Dan 7,4. Nolan 11,2.
Pyrotenax urges Robur forward over a bridge on the river, toward the direction where he will identify his true host. [Nolan spends his 2 on a d4 passive threat: the river] The river is swollen and racing, covering the bridge [river d4]. [Leo spends his 9 to activate Pyrotenax’s Mystical Will at d8 and spends his 8 to activate Robur’s Strong at d8] Pyrotenax exerts his will [Mystical Will d8] to increase the pull of gravity, keeping Robur solidly grounded as he moves stolidly across [Strong d8]. [Leo 8,1 vs. Nolan 4. Leo wins but both his traits are maxed out. Nolan doesn’t exhaust.] Robur marches across, nearly to the far side, when the bridge finally gives way under the force of the river [d4], plunging Robur and Pyrotenax into the water. [Nolan spends his 11 on a d6 active threat: sucking current] Furthermore, the rush of the current past the ruined pilings creates a terrible suction, pulling Robur back to the center of the river [Sucking current d6]. Pyrotenax focuses his attention on the water [Mystical Will d8], making it frothy and foamy so that Robur will have an easier time moving through it [Strong d8]. [Leo 2,2 vs. Nolan 6,3. Nolan wins and Leo is out of stuff so Nolan wins the chapter.] It isn’t enough. The big man is swept downriver, barely maintaining his hold on Pyrotenax. [Nolan wins as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d20 for the first phase of his support segment.]
Viewpoint: Dan 3. Leo 11,6.
Adversity: Dan 1,1. Nolan 14,7.
Viewpoint: Dan 9. Leo 8,5.
Adversity: Leo 10,7,5. Nolan 9,1.
Still on the road to the capital, Marcus [Leo spends his 10 on a d6 active threat: orc and ogre bandits] is surprised when a swarm of orc and ogre bandits spring out of concealed positions at the side of the road [Orc and ogre bandits: d6]. [I spend my 9 to activate Marcus’s Quick-witted at d8 and I spend my 7 to activate the fire drake’s Fire Breathing at d8] “Quick, boy!” Marcus calls to the drake [Quick-witted d8], “give them a good roasting! [Fire Breathing d8]” [Dan 1,1 vs. Leo 2. Leo wins and bumps the bandits to d8, I exhaust both traits.] The ogres turn out to have far tougher hides than Marcus and the drake suspected, as they merely shrug off the flames while they pummel the young drake. They move in around Marcus and he realizes he’s completely surrounded by bandits [d8]. [I spend my 1 to activate Secret Prince at d8] “Oh, you’ve got me!” Marcus cries melodramatically. “I’m sure that once you take me to the capital, my father the king will pay a princely ransom for me! [Secret Prince d8]” [Dan 2 vs. Leo 3. Leo wins and I exhaust. I’m out of stuff so Leo wins the chapter.] The bandits seem to take little notice of his words, merely bundling him off to a makeshift cell in their bandit encampment. [Leo wins as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d10 for his seventh phase. He also has some left over story dice that he could spend on narrative special effects like making it hard to re-introduce the fire drake, but I’m not sure he realizes that and I forget to remind him.]
That’s where we ended the session for the night. I’ll have the conclusion of the story in the next playtest report.
(Final Hour of a Storied Age is currently in beta testing. I really need feedback from people trying to play my game without my direct involvement. I would deeply appreciate it if you would consider giving the game a shot. I want to produce the highest quality game I can, but I can only do that with the help of playtesters. If there’s anything I can do that would help you get a game going just let me know.)
On Monday November 29, 2010, Leo, Nolan, and I got together on Skype for a 3-hour playtest of Final Hour of a Storied Age rev 0.67, continuing the story started in our previous session. An audio recording of this session is also available as episode 15 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast.
Viewpoint: Dan 1. Leo 8,7. Nolan 9,9.
Adversity: Dan 4,1. Leo 5,4,3.
Tossed by the storm, Marian’s ship is wrecked on a beach. [Leo spends his 5 to introduce a d4 passive threat: Don’t Know Where You Are] Looking around on the desolate shore, Marian realizes she has no idea where she is [d4]. [Nolan spends a 9 to activate Demigoddess at d8]. Marian centers herself, trying to use her divine nature [d8] to commune with the spirits of the world and figure out where she is. [Nolan 7 vs. Leo 3. Nolan wins but his d8 is already maxed out so he can’t increase it, and Leo’s passive threat is exhausted.] Hidden to most by the noise of the surf, Marian makes out the whispers of some sea spirits saying the name of the place she has landed. [Leo spends his 4 to introduce a d4 passive threat: Hundreds of Miles Off Course] Marian is on the continent she was headed for, but is hundreds of miles off course [d4]. Having supernatural capabilities far beyond mere mortals [d8], Marian sets off running toward the capital. [Nolan 7 vs. Leo 2. Nolan wins but still can’t bump, Leo exhausts again.] The wind blows through her hair as her breathtaking, tireless pace carries her swiftly to the capital, her destined home. [Leo spends his 3 to introduce a d4 passive threat: Tattered and Dirty Clothing] Although Marian’s journey on foot was little effort for her body, it didn’t treat her dress kindly. As she enters the city, the residents see only a girl dressed in dirty, tattered clothes [d4]. She strides into the city, trusting her divine nature [d8] to shine past her earthly raiment [Nolan 1 vs. Leo 2. Leo wins and bumps Tattered and Dirty Clothing to d6, Nolan exhausts Demigoddess.], but the people scoff at her claims to divine heritage. They see her only as a filthy urchin [d6]. [Nolan spends a 9 to activate Adaptive at d8] Marian calls out to the people around her, daring them to name any challenge [Adaptive d8] and she will prove that she is who she says she is. [Nolan 3 vs. Leo 3. Leo wins and bumps his Tattered and Dirty Clothing to d8, but Nolan doesn’t exhaust.] A priest emerges from the crowd, saying that she speaks nonsense, since they know what the hero Marian is supposed to look like, and she doesn’t match the description [Tattered and Dirty Clothing d8]. Unphased by this new challenge [Adaptive d8], Marian turns to the crowd and begins asking questions about the prophecy of Marian’s arrival, pointing out the many aspects of the story that do apply to her. [Nolan 7 vs. Leo 5. Nolan wins, Leo exhausts. Leo is out of traits and dice so Nolan wins the chapter] The people, forced to look past their initial rash judgments, are compelled to admit that Marian is who she claims to be. [Nolan won the chapter as viewpoint so he advances one phase along his plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 19. Leo 6,6. Nolan 3.
Adversity: Leo 12,5,2. Nolan 6,2.
Marcus, having had no luck figuring out what he should study in the scholar’s absence, realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to set out on an adventure, just like in the stories he’s read! [Leo spends his 2 to introduce a d4 passive threat: Don’t know where to go] Despite his enthusiasm, Marcus realizes he doesn’t really know where to go [d4]. [I spend my 19 to activate Yearns for Adventure at d8, Quick-witted at d6, Scholar’s Apprentice at d6, and Young at d4] He says to himself, “I may not know exactly where to go, but the first step is obviously to head down this road and I can see where it leads from there! [Yearns for Adventure d8]” As he walks, he remembers the years he’s spent with the scholar [Scholar’s Apprentice d6], hoping to notice a clue that will point him in the right direction. [Dan 4,1 vs. Leo 4. I win and bump Scholar’s Apprentice to d8, but Leo isn’t exhausted.] He finds the scholar’s glasses lying on the side of the right, reassuring him that he’s headed in the right direction. [Leo spends his 12 on a d6 active threat: Goblin bandits] As Marcus ponders how to proceed [Don’t know where to go d4], a band of goblin bandits [d6] bursts out from the undergrowth! Thinking quickly [Quick-witted d6], Marcus employs a tactic he recalls from his studies [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]: he climbs a tree, knowing that goblins are poor climbers. [Dan 6,4 vs. Leo 4,4. I win and bump Quick-witted to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] The plan works to the extent that he isn’t run through by their spears or stabbed by their knives, but as he clings to a tree branch Marcus realizes that he’s till in quite a predicament. The goblins [d6], crafty little schemers, light a fire at the base of the tree, leaving Marcus no place to go [Don’t know where to go d4] as the smoke wafts up into his eyes. Having studied trees like this [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus realizes that the fire will weaken the base of the tree and cause it to fall before it spreads up to him, and if he can time it right [Quick-witted d8] he ought to be able to leap from the falling tree and over the goblin’s heads. [Dan 3,2 vs. Leo 6,2. Leo wins and should bump up a die size on one of his traits but it seems like he may have forgotten, but I don’t exhaust.] Unfortunately, his studies didn’t cover how trees respond to particularly dry weather, as they’d been having in this area lately, and the tree goes up much more quickly than Marcus was anticipating. He tumbles to the ground and is captured by the goblins [d6], making it less likely than ever that he’ll be able to get where he needs to go [Don’t know where to go d4]. Marcus quickly realizes [Quick-witted d8], however, that goblins are unlikely to hurt someone they’ve taken prisoner, and if he goes along quietly he may be able to band together with other prisoners, as happens so often in the tales of adventure that he’s familiar with [Yearns for adventure d8]. [Dan 7,2 vs. Leo 6,1. I win but can’t bump anything above a d8. Leo exhausts Don’t know where to go] As he’s trundled into the camp, Marcus sees that there is indeed another prisoner: his master the scholar![Leo spends his 5 to introduce a d4 passive threat: The scholar is weak and close to death] The scholar seems to have been badly roughed up [Scholar is weak and close to death d4], but the goblins [d6] that swarm about the camp don’t seem to care. Marcus rushes to his master’s side [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], quickly [Quick-witted d8] administering some of the first-aid techniques that the scholar taught him. [Dan 2,2 vs. Leo 3,1. Leo wins and bumps the goblins to d8, but I don’t exhaust.] Marcus stabilizes the old man, but he’s still very weak [d4]. More goblin hunting parties [d8] return to the camp, making escape seem that much more difficult. Marcus immediately realizes [Quick-witted d8] that his situation won’t improve by waiting, and he doesn’t want his adventure to be cut short by lowly goblins [Yearns for Adventure d8], so he hefts his master [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] over his shoulder, hoping that his youthful vigor [Young d4] will be enough to get the both of them out of there. [Dan 8,6,6,4 vs. Leo 5,4. I win and bump Young to d6, Leo doesn’t exhaust.] He exits the camp, his legs pumping as fast as they can. The old scholar, weakened as he is [d4], weighs heavily on Marcus, and the goblins [d8] run screaming after him, their pursuit relentless. Unwilling to leave his master [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] to these horrible goblins, Marcus keeps running, hoping he won’t tire before they do [Young d6]. [Dan 6,5 vs. Leo 2,1. I win and would bump Young, but Leo is exhausted and doesn’t have anything else to throw at me, so the chapter is over] Eventually the goblins, lazy and indolent by nature, give up the chase and Marcus eventually stops in a place to relative safety to rest. [I won as viewpoint and advance one phase in my plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 4. Leo 7,3. Nolan 7.
Adversity: Dan 5,2. Nolan 5,5.
Despite Pyrotenax’s contact with the farmboy’s mind, [Nolan spends a 5 to activate Agricola’s Pig Headed at d8] Agricola is so stubborn [d8] that he continues his normal routine instead of attempting to dig up the ring. [Leo spends his 7 and 3 to activate Pyrotenax’s Beguiler of Mortals at d8 and Mystical Will at d6] Pyrotenax focus his will [Mystical Will d6] and speaks directly into the boy’s mind, saying, “Agricola, my child, come to me [Beguiler of Mortals d8].” [Leo 5,5 vs. Nolan 3. Leo wins and bumps Mystical Will to d8, Nolan’s Pig Headed is exhausted.] “You must free me from my prison, child.” [Nolan spends a 5 to create a d4 passive threat: Buried deep] Even with the boy’s reluctance overcome, the ring is still buried deep in the earth [d4]. [Leo didn’t actually narrate anything here, but rolled both of his traits.] [Leo 7,1 vs. Nolan 3. Leo wins but his traits are already maxed out. Nolan doesn’t exhaust.] “You must come rescue me,” Pyrotenax says. “Whatever the cost, whatever the effort, I need you.” Even a strong boy like Agricola has trouble digging deep enough to reach the ring [d4]. Pyrotenax forces his will [Mystical Will d8] upon the boy, commanding him to work through the pain, and promising that his rewards will be great once he succeeds [Beguiler of Mortals d8]. [Leo 8,6 vs. Nolan 2. Leo wins, Nolan exhausts and is out of traits and dice so Leo wins the chapter.] Agricola digs feverishly, getting ever closer to the buried ring. [Leo won as viewpoint so he advances one phase along his plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 13. Leo 11. Nolan 10.
Adversity: Leo 12,10,10. Nolan 7,5.
In the forest clearing, Marcus [Leo creates a new NPC: Artax the Scholar with the traits Old and Frail, Learned, Enigmatic, and Stern. He isn’t mentioned on any seeds but he has been discussed in the fiction, so Leo must pay the implied-by creation tax of 2. Since the previous fiction established the scholar here, the plausibility tax is 0. Leo spends his two 10’s, each of which would normally activate 2 traits. After the tax, Leo gets to activate 4 – 2 = 2 traits. He activates Old and Frail at d8 and Enigmatic at d6.] realizes that his mentor Artax is breathing shallowly, and begins to cough [Old and Frail d8]. [I spend my 13 to activate Scholar’s Apprentice at d8 and Quick-witted at d6] Remembering his old lessons in herbology [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus dashes off to find an herb that grows in the area that is supposed to be good for ailments of the respiratory system [Quick-witted d6]. [Dan 8,6 vs. Leo 4. I win and bump Quick-witted to d8. Leo exhausts.] He gathers a few handfuls and rushes back to Artax’s side, crumbling it under his nose so that the vapors can calm the old man’s cough. [Leo spends his 12 to activate Stern at d6 and Old and Frail at d6] “Boy, what are you doing here?” says Artax. “You should be at home studying, as I instructed you to do. [Stern d6]” Thinking quickly [Quick-witted d8], Marcus answers, “But Master, you didn’t tell me what to study, so I came to find you! [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]” [Dan 8,4 vs. Leo 6. I win but my traits are already maxed so I can’t bump them up. Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Artax’s expression softens slightly as he realizes his apprentice has a point. Looking at Marcus with the eyes of a father figure, Artax says, “Boy, must I spell everything out for you? I am old and frail [d6], and you must study the ways of life so that you may take over when I am gone. [Enigmatic d6]” “But Master,” Marcus protests, “you need me as much as I need you! You may be wise in the ways of learning, but if I leave you who will cook your breakfast? [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]” [Dan 4 vs. Leo 6,3. Leo wins and bumps Enigmatic (I think), but I don’t exhaust.] Artax replies, “Child, there are many things you must learn but I cannot teach you, you must find them out for yourself.” He continues, “You have not learned who you truly are [Enigmatic d6]. Until you learn that, you cannot fulfill your destiny.” Tempted by the thought of adventure, Marcus quickly recalls [Quick-witted d8] what a dangerous place they’re in. “But Master, there are still goblins about, I can’t leave you alone! [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]” [Dan 5,3 vs. Leo 4. I win but can’t bump anything, Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Artax concedes the point. “Child,” Artax scolds [Stern d6], “when did I tell you that what you needed to learn about yourself was anywhere but at home? [Enigmatic d8] Now help me home so that I may rest [Old and Frail d6] and you may study!” Marcus comes to a sudden realization [Quick-witted d8], “Wait a minute! This is another one of your tests, isn’t it? [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. That’s why you’re saying so many contradictory things! You want me to figure out what you really mean.” [Dan 5,2 vs. Leo 5,5,4. Leo wins and bumps Stern to d8 (I think) and I exhaust Quick-witted.] Artax merely scowls at the boy as he is escorted home.
Marcus helps the scholar into bed and is left alone in the library to ponder just what his master meant [Enigmatic d8]. Not knowing what else to do, Marcus starts at the topmost shelf of the leftmost bookcase, and hopes that he’ll be able to stumble across whatever it is he’s supposed to find [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. [Dan 3 vs. Leo 1. I win but my d8 is already maxed out. Leo’s Enigmatic is exhausted.] In the second book he opens a piece of paper falls out. He examines it and finds a list of names with every one crossed out except for “Marcus”. Artax shuffles past on his way to the kitchen, saying, “Ah, you’ve found some names have you? Find the meaning of those and you may begin to understand.” He takes a few sips of water and then shuffles back to bed [Old and Frail d6] without giving Marcus any better clues. Having worked with Artax for many years [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus knows that the old man has a habit of talking in his sleep. After he dozes off, Marcus sneaks into the bedroom and begins whispering the names from the list into the scholar’s ear. [Dan 4 vs. Leo 4. Leo wins and bumps Old and Frail to d8, but I don’t exhaust.] Unfortunately, none of Artax’s mumblings are decipherable. The old man stirs in his sleep [Old and Frail d8] and sees Marcus watching him. “What are you doing here? You have studying to do! Back to the library! [Stern d8]” Knowing that Artax doesn’t have the best handle on the passage of time [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus prepares the morning tea, hoping he can trick the old man into thinking he’s had a full night’s sleep the next time he wakes. [Dan 4 vs. Leo 5,4. Leo wins but is maxed out. I don’t exhaust.] Artax does awake, but quickly figures out Marcus’s ruse since it is still dark when he goes to the outhouse. “You’ll have to do better than that, boy. Now back to your studies! [Stern d8].” With none of his tricks paying off, Marcus realizes he has no alternative but to hit the books [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. [Dan 2 vs. Leo 2. Leo wins, his third in a row, so he wins the chapter.] He studies long into the night, still puzzled about what he is meant to learn. [Leo wins as adversity so he gets a new viewpoint die. He takes the d10 for his fourth phase.]
Viewpoint: Dan 2. Leo 9. Nolan 8.
Adversity: Dan 8,3. Nolan 16,11.
Pyrotenax, still buried, feels he is on the cusp of freedom. [Nolan spends his 11 to introduce a d6 active thread: Other farm workers] Under the ring’s influence, Agricola has been surreptitiously digging, but the other farm workers [d6] are growing suspicious of his odd behavior. [Leo spends his 9 to activate Pyrotenax’s Fire Magic at d8] Pyrotenax extends his consciousness out beyond his earthly prison and feeds energy into the hearth burning in the farmhouse, causing it to flare up and set the house ablaze [Fire Magic d8]. [Leo 7 vs. Nolan 3. Leo wins but his d8 is maxed out. Nolan’s active threat is exhausted.] The farmhouse quickly catches fire and the farmers’ attention is focused completely on this emergency. [Nolan spends his 16 to introduce a new NPC: Marius, the owner of the farm. He has the traits Tyrannical, Savvy, Well-off, and Experienced. Since he’s part of the family mentioned on Leo’s seed, he has to pay the mentioned-on-seed creation tax of 1. It’s reasonable and expected for the owner of the farm to be here at this time, so there’s no plausibility tax. A 16 normally activates 4 traits, so after tax Nolan can activate 4 – 1 = 3 traits. He activates Savvy at d8, Tyrannical at d6, and Experienced at d6] As the rest of the family is fighting the fire, Marius the owner of the farmstead notices that Agricola isn’t helping but is instead digging near the cornerstone [Savvy d8]. He confronts the boy and demands and explanation [Tyrannical d6]. As the farmboy stammers excuses, Pyrotenax focuses his magic upon Marius brain, heating it and giving him a scorching headache [Fire Magic d8]. [Leo 5 vs. Nolan 6,2. Nolan wins and bumps Tyrannical to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Marius raises his hand to his forehead and notices the unnatural heat and recalls from his family history that a great evil supposedly lies under the farm [Experienced d6] making him realize [Savvy d8] that Agricola is up to more than simply boyish hijinks. He orders [Tyrannical d8] several of the farm workers to fill in the hole that Agricola has dug and to keep him from any more digging. Seeing that the time for subtlety has passed, Pyrotenax turns his power on the workers’ tools, turning the wood to ash [Fire Magic d8]. [Leo 2 vs. Nolan 3,3,1. Nolan wins and bumps Experienced to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Although the tools are burned to uselessness, Marius knows from family history that he can’t afford to let the work stop [Experienced d8], and is such a furious taskmaster [Tyrannical d8] that he demands the men use their hands to finish the work. Pyrotenax turns his power on the earth itself, heating it so that the men won’t be able to touch it, to the extent that it begins to melt into glass [Fire Magic d8]. [Leo 5 vs. Nolan 6,2. Nolan wins, his third in a row, so he wins the chapter] The men, fearing Marius’s wrath, work through the heat and pain, and the hole that Agricola had begun ends up filled with glassy slag. [Nolan won as adversity player so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d12 for his second phase]
Viewpoint: Dan 14. Leo 5. Nolan 10,4.
Adversity: Leo 11,8,4. Nolan 9,4.
In the library of the scholar’s house, Marcus continues his studies. [Leo spends his 4 to introduce a d4 passive threat: tired] Marcus has studied so long that his exhaustion is causing him to not remember details [Tired d4]. [I spend my 14 to activate Marcus’s Young at d8 and Scholar’s Apprentice at d6] Marcus knows from previous all-nighters [Scholar’s Apprentice d6] that if he keeps pushing, he ought to get a second wind of youthful [Young d8] energy. [Dan 6,1 vs. Leo 4. I win and bump my Scholar’s Apprentice to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] He does perk up a bit, but is still deeply fatigued. [Leo spend his 8 to introduce a d4 passive threat: faded scroll] Marcus finds an old genealogy which seems to be relevant, but many of the names are faded [Faded Scroll d4], and his tired [d4] eyes are having trouble making them out. Reminding himself that he’ll have time to sleep when he’s old [Young d8], Marcus holds the scroll up to a candle to try to decipher what it says [Scholar’s Apprentice d8]. [Dan 5,1 vs. Leo 4,2. I win but my traits are maxed out. Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Fighting back yawns, Marcus thinks he’s beginning to make progress. Even so, the scroll is difficult to make out [Faded Scroll d4], as are the other references that he consults, and it’s made even more difficult by the exhaustion [Tired d4] creeping into his fingers, his clumsiness making it difficult to treat the ancient texts with the care that they need. Marcus prepares some tea, Artax’s special blend. Although Artax has warned that you should never drink more than one cup a day, Marcus thinks that his constitution can take it [Young d8]. He gulps it down, nearly scalding his throat in the process, and returns to the scrolls with his eyes a little wider. [Dan 7 vs. Leo 1,1. I win, my third in a row, so I win the chapter.] Marcus is finally able to decipher a family tree in which all of the descendants match the list of crossed-out names he has, although the top of the tree, the person from whom they all descend, is still unclear. [I won as viewpoint so I advance a phase along my plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 5. Leo 3. Nolan 11,10.
Adversity: Dan 3,1. Leo 9,7,5.
Marian in in the church dedicated to her mother, where the priests are preparing her with information she needs to live her life among humans. [Leo spends his 5 to create a d4 passive threat: beggars and urchins] A matron comes to escort Marian to the palace, but on their way there they must travel through a virtual sea of beggars and urchins asking for alms and help. [Nolan spends his 10 to activate Marian’s Virtuous at d8 and Demigoddess at d6] Marian uses her divine power [Demigoddess d6] to conjure things that they need [Virtuous d8]. [Nolan 4,3 vs. Leo 2. Nolan wins and bump Demigoddess to d8, Leo exhausts.] Marian blesses the hungry with full stomachs and the sick with healing, and the crowd is satisfied. [Leo spends his 7 to create a new d4 passive threat: more beggars] However, as word of Marian’s benevolence spreads, even more needy people converge on her [more beggars d4]. [Nolan spends his 11 to activate Marian’s Adaptive at d6 and Sea Creature at d4] Instead of trying to address each one individually, Marian changes course [Adaptive d6]. She calls out to the people of the city, her divine voice carrying to everyone [Demigoddess d8], imploring them to have compassion on each other and to take care of their own [Virtuous d8]. [Nolan 6,3,2 vs. Leo 4. Nolan wins and bumps Adaptive to d6, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Some people begin heeding her call, helping the crippled to stand and bringing bread from their homes to the hungry. [Leo spends his 9 to create another d4 passive threat: cold rain] A cold rain [d4] begins falling on the crowd [d4], making their misery that much worse. Sensing the hand of the storm god at work, Marian calls to the heavens [Demigoddess d8], praying to the storm god not to harm the people [Virtuous d8] with any anger he might be directing at her. [Nolan 4,2 vs. Leo 2,1. Nolan wins, his third in a row, so he wins the chapter.] The rain subsides and the clouds part, and as the sun shines down on the city Marian sees that even more people have come from their homes to heed her call to help each other. [Nolan won as viewpoint player so he advances one phase along his plot thread. This completes his supporting character’s Learn to Live with Humanity subplot. For completing a segment, he gets two traits worth of narrative special effects. He chooses to change his Sea Creature trait to Champion of the People. Also, since he’s finished with his subplot he will no longer roll for viewpoint, but he will now be able to use his support and complication segments when they apply.]
Viewpoint: Dan 14. Leo 7.
Adversity: Leo 12,8,1. Nolan 5,1.
Still in the scholar’s library, Marcus has fallen asleep on top of the genealogical tome he found. [Leo spends his 12 to activate Artax’s Learned at d8 and Enigmatic at d6] Artax wakes him up and congratulates him on identifying the correct book. “What have you learned about yourself in all this?” he asks enigmatically [d6]. [I spend my 14 to activate Marcus’s Quick-witted at d8 and Scholar’s Apprentice at d6] Rapidly collating [Quick-witted d8] the results from his studies the night before [Scholar’s Apprentice], Marcus replies, “Clearly my name fits in this family tree here, so one could deduce that these other names are brothers and sisters.” [Dan 8,2 vs. Leo 3. I win and bump Scholar’s Apprentice to d8 but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Artax smiles approvingly, glad that his apprentice is at least on the right track. “You deduce correctly, my boy, but you must go further. You have not uncovered all of the secret that is you [Enigmatic d6],” clearly referring to some fact that Artax knows [Learned d8] but wishes Marcus to discover for himself. “But master,” Marcus protests, “I know all of the books you have here [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], and surely you wouldn’t have records from a humble orphanage…” The wheels of Marcus’s mind turn [Quick-witted d8]. “These people aren’t just random orphans! They must be important people!” [Dan 5,2 vs. Leo 3,1. I win but can’t bump any traits because they’re maxed out, and Leo exhausts Enigmatic.] Artax nods and Marcus realizes he’s on the verge of figuring out what Artax is trying to teach him and heads over to the shelf with the rest of the genealogies. “You are looking in the right place,” Artax says. “Let me tell you a story.” He begins a tale of an ancient royal family, filling it with so many obscure details [Learned d8] that Marcus risks nodding off from boredom. Having worked with him for so long [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], Marcus knows that even though his master’s memory for detail is strong he is easily distracted. He “accidentally” knocks over a teacup, hoping Artax will lose his place in the story and can be convinced to cut to the end [Quick-witted d8]. [Dan 5,2 vs. Leo 7. Leo wins and I exhaust both traits. I don’t have any traits or dice left so Leo wins the chapter.] Unfortunately, it does little more than annoy Artax who demands that Marcus clean up the mess while he continues his rambling tale. [Leo won the chapter as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d10 for his fifth phase.]
Viewpoint: Dan 10. Leo 3.
Adversity: Leo 8,5,1. Nolan 9,5.
Marcus, listening to his master drone on and on, struggles to pay attention. [Nolan spends his 5 to introduce a d4 passive threat: The mystery of the story] At the conclusion, he’s puzzled as to what the point could have been [Mystery of the story d4]. [I spend my 10 to activate Quick-witted at d8 and Scholar’s Apprentice at d6] After pondering for a bit, Marcus realizes [Quick-witted d8] that sometimes the genealogies are written in a more archaic form of the language that doesn’t exactly correspond to how it’s commonly spoken. He consults the translations [Scholar’s Apprentice d6] to see if he can correlate them. [Dan 8,5 vs. Nolan 2. I win and bump Scholar’s Apprentice to d8. Nolan exhausts.] He does, figuring out exactly how Artax’s tale fits into his earlier research. [Nolan spends his 9 to introduce a d4 passive threat: illegible name] The only missing piece is the one illegible name that would explain Marcus’s parentage [illegible name d4]. Marcus realizes [Quick-witted d8] that, with the story to work with, he can cross-reference [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] the histories as well as the genealogies to find the information he’s seeking. [Dan 7,4 vs. Nolan 3. I win and Nolan exhausts. Nolan doesn’t have any more traits or dice so I win the chapter.] He turns a page and runs his finger down, stopping on the key name: Aurelius, the current king. Marcus is stunned. If Aurelius is his father, that makes him a prince! [I won the chapter as viewpoint player so I advance one phase in my plot thread. This completes my “Learn true heritage” plot segment and I get two traits worth of narrative special effects. I change Artax’s alignment to Ideologically aligned w/ Protagonist and change my Young trait to Secret Prince.]
Viewpoint: Dan 11. Leo 6.
Adversity: Leo 8,4,4. Nolan 14,5.
Having learned all he can at the scholar’s house, Marcus says his goodbyes to Artax and sets off on the next stage of his adventure. [Nolan spends his 5 for a d4 passive threat: Journey to Whitehollow] Following a map given him to Artax, Marcus begins traveling to the nearby village of Whitehollow [d4] where he is supposed to find a man named Astrin. [I spend my 11 to activate Yearns for Adventure at d8 and Quick-witted at d6] Eager to get started [Yearns for Adventure d8], Marcus hurries down the road. [Dan 8 vs. Nolan 1. I win but can’t increase the d8, but Nolan exhausts.] He arrives at the village without incident, his enthusiasm only slightly mellowed by the journey, and begins hunting for Astrin. He quickly discovers that the village is deserted and many of the buildings are in ruins. In the center of the village he sees a figure standing among the wreckage, Robur the knight who took Artax away from the house! [Nolan spends his 14 to bring Robur, Assistant to the King, into the chapter. For distance tax, we determine that this village is nearby to the last place he appeared in the story, since Marcus was in those places too and we didn’t establish them as very far away, so he doesn’t have to pay any distance tax. For plausibility, we decide that it’s plausible but unexpected for him to be here. It’s certainly not expected, but it’s also not a surprise that he would show up again, so Nolan needs to pay a plausibility tax of 1. A 14 normally activates two traits but it seems like Nolan mistakenly believed it was activating 4. Starting from there and applying the tax Nolan gets 4 – 1 = 3 traits. He activates Strong at d8, Fiercely Loyal at d6, and Knight at d6.] “So, the scholar figured a way around his curse,” says the burly knight [d6]. “But I can’t permit you to go further than this. [Fiercely Loyal d6]” Not wanting this new adventure to be over before it begins [Yearns for Adventure d8], Marcus runs to one of the abandoned buildings where the cramped spaces will make it harder for Robur to fight with his sword [Quick-witted d6]. [Dan 8,2 vs. Nolan 5,4. I win and bump up Quick-witted to d8 but Nolan doesn’t exhaust.] Marcus positions himself in a low-ceilinged corner of one of the burned-out buildings.
Undeterred [Fiercely Loyal d6], the mighty [Strong d8] knight [d6] runs in after him, swinging his sword in fury. Thinking quickly [Quick-witted d8], Marcus realizes that the half-collapsed building could readily become a fully-collapsed one. He hurls his weight against one of the partially burned beams, hoping to collapse the roof. [Dan 3 vs. Nolan 6,6,1. Nolan wins and bumps Fiercely Loyal to d8 but I don’t exhaust.] It breaks, but Robur is so burly that he is barely staggered when the building comes down around him. He continues his furious [Fiercely Loyal d8] assault [Strong d8 Knight d6]. Seeing a man acting like an enraged beast, the idea dawns on Marcus [Quick-witted d8] to try to connect with whatever spark of nobility might still be in the man’s heart, saying, “Is this all you wanted from your life? To be an assassin? Don’t you want something better? [Yearns for Adventure d8]” [Dan 4,3 vs. Nolan 4,4,1. Nolan wins and bumps Knight to d8 but I don’t exhaust.] Robur hesitates, but only for a moment. “I do what my king requires! [Fiercely Loyal d8]” he shouts. Marcus, trying to edge backwards, stumbles to the ground and Robur brings his sword to the boy’s throat [Strong d8 Knight d8]. Terrified, Marcus’s life begins flashing before his eyes, but so much of his life was spent listening to Artax tell him stories of adventure [Yearns for Adventure d8] that these are the details that stick out most, and he especially recalls one tale in which the hero triumphed over a foe by throwing ashes in his eyes. He realizes [Quick-witted d8] that his hand is in a pile of ashes right now, so he hurls them at Robur. [Dan 2,1 vs. Nolan 8,1,1. Nolan wins, his third in a row, so he wins the chapter.] Robur flinches reflexively, the blade of his sword slashing Marcus’s neck as the ashes fly into his eyes. Marcus collapses to the ground with his blood flowing freely, and Robur rubs the ashes from his eyes. With his vision impaired, he thinks the deed is done, and leaves Marcus for dead on the floor of the ruined building. [Nolan won as adversity so he gets a new viewpoint die. He takes the d12 on the first phase of the segment that complicates the antagonists third segment.]
Viewpoint: Dan 10. Leo 7.
Adversity: Leo 12,12,5. Nolan 12,4.
In the burned-out ruins of Whitehollow, Marcus [Leo spends a 12 to create a d6 active threat: neck wound] feels himself growing weaker as the blood flows from his wounded neck [Neck wound d6]. [I spend my 10 to activate Quick-witted at d8 and Scholar’s Apprentice at d6] Although Marcus’s education was eclectic it did include medicine [Scholar’s Apprentice d6] so he knows it’s important to stop the bleeding instead of giving in to unconsciousness. He quickly tears a strip of cloth from his own shirt to serve as a bandage [Quick-witted d8]. [Dan 7,3 vs. Leo 1. I win and bump Scholar’s Apprentice to d8, and Leo exhausts.] The bleeding slows and Marcus is thankful that the blade didn’t strike any major vessels. [Leo spends a 12 to create a d6 active threat: wind] Marucs emerges from the ruined building and a wind kicks up [Wind d6], blowing ash around the village, seemingly directly into Marcus’s lungs. He quickly [Quick-witted d8] tears another strip of cloth from his shirt, fashioning a crude mask. [Dan 3 vs. Leo 2. I win but my d8 is maxed out, Leo exhausts.] The mask does its job, keeping the worst of the ash out as Marcus explores the village looking for clues as to what happened here. [Leo spends his 5 on a d4 passive threat: night] Night begins to fall [Night d4], making visibility poor. Marcus, however, has often studied late into the night [Scholar’s Apprentice d8], and his eyes are well versed in making out details in even poor lighting. He rushes around the village, hoping he can make sense of some clue he passes by [Quick-witted d8]. [Dan 7,4 vs. Leo 4. I win, my third in a row so I win the chapter.] He notices a soot-blackened doorframe with a name carved over it: Astrin. He approaches the house, knowing that this is the home of the man he was supposed to find here. [I won as viewpoint so I advance a phase along my plot thread.]
Viewpoint: Dan 3. Leo 11.
Adversity: Dan 10,4. Nolan 15,8.
At the farmstead, [Nolan spends his 8 to create a d4 passive threat: still buried] Pyrotenax is buried under earth and glass. [Leo spends his 11 to activate Pyrotenax’s Beguiler of Mortals at d8 and Mystical Will at d6] The imprisoned god stretches out his will [Mystical Will d6], sending a message to the minds of all the workers: “The master has deceived you. You should not have buried me. He fears having me uncovered. You should dig me up and free me from my prison. [Beguiler of Mortals d8]” [Leo 6,5 vs. Nolan 2. Leo wins and bumps Mystical Will to d8, and Nolan exhausts.] Many of the workers, not especially sharp-minded men, believe Pyrotenax’s words and begin digging for him. [Nolan spends his 15 to activate Marius’s Tyrannical at d8, Savvy at d6, Well-off at d6, and Experienced at d4.] Marius, brandishing a whip [Tyrannical d8], rushes at the men, demanding that they stop if they value their livelihoods [Well-off d6]. Pyrotenax calls out to them [Mystical Will d8], “Do not let him deceive you again! Destroy him if you must, but you must free me from this prison! [Beguiler of Mortals d8]” [Leo 7,1 vs. Nolan 7,4. Nolan wins and bumps Well-off to d8. Leo exhausts Mystical Will] The men haven’t learned to fear Pyrotenax yet, but they do know to fear Marius when he is enraged, so they return to their normal duties. Marius realizes that it is dangerous to have so many weak-minded people near Pyrotenax [Savvy d8], so he orders them all away from the farm [Well-off d8]. Pyrotenax whispers into Marius’s mind, “Marius, you are mistaken. You were told my power is dangerous, but it could be useful to you [Beguiler of Mortals d8].” [Leo 6 vs. Nolan 4,2. Leo wins but his d8 is maxed out. Nolan’s Tyrannical and Well-off are exhausted.] Marius becomes intrigued, realizing that he could wield considerable power if he allied himself with Pyrotenax. However, he’s a shrewd man [Experienced d6], so he demands [Tyrannical d8] assurances of his own safety before he commits. “Once you have freed me,” Pyrotenax whispers, “you will have enough power that you won’t need to worry about such things [Beguiler of Mortals d8].” [Leo 8 vs. Nolan 8,2. Nolan wins and bumps Experienced to d8, but Leo doesn’t exhaust.] “I know the physical world [Experienced d8],” Marius replies, “but all I know of magic is that it’s dangerous. Why should I trust you? [Tyrannical d8]” “You don’t need to trust me,” Pyrotenax says. “Trust yourself. When you free me the power will be yours. [Beguiler of Mortals d8].” [Leo 3 vs. Nolan 3,1. Nolan wins but is maxed out. Leo doesn’t exhaust.] “My gut tells me to leave you alone [Experienced d8],” Marius says as he turns to stomp away and tend to his own concerns [Tyrannical d8]. “Look inside yourself,” Pyrotenax calls after him, “can you honestly say that you do not desire more power? [Beguiler of Mortals d8]” [Leo 3 vs. Nolan 7,2. Nolan wins, his third in a row.] Marius is silent as he departs. [Nolan won as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes a d12 of the first phase of his segment that supports the protagonist’s third segment.
That’s where we broke for the night. The story will continue in the next playtest report.
(Final Hour of a Storied Age is currently in beta testing. I really need feedback from people trying to play my game without my direct involvement. I would deeply appreciate it if you would consider giving the game a shot. I want to produce the highest quality game I can, but I can only do that with the help of playtesters. If there’s anything I can do that would help you get a game going just let me know.)
Leo, Nolan, and I got together on Skype for a two hour session on November 15, 2010 for a playtest of Final Hour of a Storied Age rev 0.67 (An audio recording of this session is available as episode 14 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast). This was the start of a new story arc so, as usual, we all roll for words on the theme table and transform them into story seeds:
Nolan gets one group of eight words: Male, Throne, Power, Inherit, Female, Learning, Family, Star
He rearranged them to inspire the seed: A man and woman must learn to work together to obtain the throne of the celestial family and the power that it represents. (1 intersection).
Leo rolls enough words to form three groups, and creates a seed for each one.
Leo’s first group: Belief, Crown, Large, Greed, Learning, Poor
Leo’s first seed: A prophet claims that a king’s immense lust for knowledge will leave the kingdom impoverished. (6 intersections)
Leo’s second group: Ring, Underground, Family, Farm, Throne, Fire
Leo’s second seed: A magical ring beneath an ancient family farmstead hides a throne of fire. (7 intersections)
Leo’s third group: Female, Sea, Return.
Leo’s third seed: The Goddess of the Sea will return to the mortal realm. (0 intersections)
I also roll eight words in a single group: Large, Belief, Noble, Learning, Division, Power, Prophecy, Duty
Dan’s seed: A young prince, being groomed to take the throne one day, believes in a prophecy that the kingdom will be torn asunder. (11 intersections)
With all the seeds created we figure out the plot axis. Since the star chart for my seed has the most intersections that is the protagonist seed. Leo’s magical ring seed has the next most intersections so it is the antagonist seed. Figuring out the protagonist is pretty simple: the young prince is the protagonist and the kingdom is the community that’s in jeopardy. We discuss several alternatives for the antagonist, and Leo expresses excitement for the challenge of playing the ring itself as an antagonist. We synthesize some of the ideas from various seeds and come up with the backstory that the ring is the earthly embodiment of the god of fire who tried to seize the throne of the heavens eons ago so that he could remake the world into something more to his liking (a hellish inferno), but his plans were thwarted when the other gods sent the throne of heaven to the mortal realm for safekeeping. The fire god has embodied himself in a magic ring in the mortal realm where he can complete his original plan if he takes the throne. We decide that my prince character has been raised in secret by a cabal of prophets and scholars who are trying to thwart the fiery apocalypse.
With the main plot axis sketched out, Leo and I elaborate our competing three-stage plot threads.
My protagonist thread is: Learn true heritage, Find the prophet, Take the throne.
Leo’s antagonist thread is: Be discovered from underground “prison”, Find the True Host, Ascend to the Throne and Assume True Form.
Nolan thinks that a fun supporting character for him would be the woman who needs to learn to work with a man to obtain the throne. We decide that his character has an arranged marriage with whoever is next to sit on the throne, and that she is actually the daughter of the Sea Goddess who has lived all of her life to this point under the sea and hasn’t yet learned how to live among humans.
Nolan takes the subplot: Learn to live with humanity. This will complicate the antagonist’s third segment and support the protagonist’s first segment.
With the plot outline established, we created characters:
Dan’s Protagonist: Marcus. Traits: Young, Scholar’s Apprentice, Quick-witted, Yearns for adventure.
Leo’s Antagonist: Pyrotenax. Traits: Fire Magic, Mystical Will, Beguiler of Mortals, Ancient Spirit.
Nolan’s Supporting Character: Marian. Traits: Demigoddess, Sea Creature, Virtuous, Adaptive.
Based on the backstory (and a little bit of foreknowledge about how the game plays out over this and the next three sessions) here is what might be the prologue of the story:
Long ago, beyond the memory of even the oldest dragon, there was a war in the heavens. The fire god Pyrotenax wished to return the world to his forge where he might refashion it to his liking. The other gods resisted, so Pyrotenax tried to overturn the celestial order and seat himself on the throne of the gods from whence his will would dictate the cosmos. To safeguard the throne, the sea goddess Hydrallia transported it to the mortal realm and gave it to her most devoted followers. They founded a peaceful and prosperous kingdom around it where the throne would pass from father to son throughout the generations, thus guaranteeing by the magic of the throne that no god could sieze it.
But, with time, even the strongest traditions can go awry. A king ascended the throne with a lust for knowledge so intense that it bordered on madness. In all the books and scrolls and songs and stories there was one secret that eluded him, one question that seemed to have no answer. It was said that the sea goddess commanded that the very throne he held be passed from father to son through the generations, but what would happen if there was no heir? What great celestial truth would then be revealed? A cabal of prophets and scholars saw the folly of the king’s path and smuggled his infant son out of the palace where he could be raised in safety and secrecy so that he would be ready to ascend to the throne when the time was right.
The Story Begins
Viewpoint: Dan 19. Leo 5. Nolan 5.
Adversity: Leo 7,7,3. Nolan 16,7.
For as long as he can remember, Marcus has lived in a small, secluded house with his mentor, studying a wide variety of topics in the scholar’s immense but eclectic library. [Nolan spends his 16 to introduce an NPC, an envoy of the king who has been sent to consult the scholar. Since it’s a reasonable implication that a king would have vassals, Nolan has to pay the implied-by creation tax of 2. In describing the location I said that people occasionally came to consult the scholar, so we decided it was reasonable and expected for this NPC to be at this place at this time, so the plausibility tax is 0. A 16 normally activates 4 traits, but there is a tax of 2 traits, so Nolan can activate 4 – 2 = 2 traits. Nolan names the NPC Robur, and gives him the traits: Strong, Fiercely Loyal, Knight, Courtier. He activates Fiercely Loyal at d8 and Courtier at d6] The influential knight Robur, Assistant to the King, arrives to consult the scholar and Marcus is relegated to a back room. Robur and the scholar get into a heated argument. Robur is clearly intent on following his liege’s orders [Fiercly Loyal d8] with regard to some mysterious courtly intrigue [Courtier d6] and is trying to force the scholar to do something against his will. [I spend my 19 to activate all four of my character’s traits (I don’t owe any tax). I activate Scholar’s Apprentice at d8, Quick-witted at d6, Yearns for adventure at d6, and Young at d4.] Ever eager to be where the action is [Yearns for adventure d6], Marcus prepares a pot of tea for his master [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] and takes it to him, hoping he will be able to insert himself into the converation. [Dan 4,3 vs. Nolan 5,5. Nolan wins and bumps Courtier up to d8, my Scholar’s Apprentice and Yearns for adventure are exhausted] Robur is too clever a courtier to let anything important slip in front of a mere apprentice, however, so Marcus’s efforts are for naught. Despite the scholar’s reluctance, Robur is able to manipulate the scholar into leaving the house with him [Courtier d8], in furtherance of the king’s plan [Fiercely Loyal d8].
Marcus quickly realizes that he needs to follow them surreptitiously if he has any hope of figuring out what is going on [Quick-witted d6]. [Dan 5 vs. Nolan 8,5. Nolan wins but I don’t exhaust.] Robur hears Marcus following and orders the scholar ahead while he turns around and blocks the path. [Nolan spends his 7 to activate Strong at d6] “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to,” Robur says, taking Marcus more seriously than he is used to being treated. The burly knight readies himself to physically confront Marcus [Fiercely Loyal d8, Strong d6]. Marcus quickly deduces [Quick-witted d6] that, even though he is not being especially courteous, Robur is still bound by the code of honor and shouldn’t raise a sword against an unarmed young man like Marcus [Young d4], so Marcus marches right up to him to call his bluff. [Dan 3,1 vs. Nolan 7,6. Nolan wins and would bump a trait if there was going to be another exchange, both of my traits are exhausted.] Robur grabs the scrawny apprentice and lifts him up to say directly to his face, “You’re right, my honor won’t let me draw my weapon here, but it won’t stop me from breaking you if I need to.” Marcus is terrified, and Robur tosses him to the ground and stalks off after the scholar [Nolan won as adversity so he gets an extra viewpoint die. He takes the d12 on the first phase of his subplot].
Viewpoint: Dan 8. Leo 11. Nolan 9,3.
Adversity: Dan 2,1. Nolan 12,8.
After millenia of waiting, Pyrotenax’s consciousness, embodied in a golden ring buried in the earth, senses that the time has come for him to make his move and claim the throne that will allow him to impose his will on all of creation. [Nolan spends his 8 to introduce a d4 passive threat: buried under a farmhouse] The ring is not just underground, but under a cornerstone of the farmhouse, built there to contain Pyrotenax’s evil. [Leo spends his 11 to activate Beguiler of Mortals at d8 and Ancient Spirit at d6.] Pyrotenax calls out to the minds of the mortals in the area [Beguiler of Mortals d8], hoping to find someone who can rescue him. [Leo 2 vs. Nolan 1. Leo wins but his d8 is already maxed out so he can’t bump any traits. Nolan’s threat is exhausted.] The psychic influence weighs heavily on the men who work the farm, especially on a farmboy whose work begins to suffer. [Nolan spends his 12 to create a new NPC, the farmboy Agricola with the traits Pig Headed, Strong as an Ox, Eagle Eyed, and Farmer. He’s part of the family mentioned on Leo’s seed, so Nolan has to pay the mentioned-on-seed creation tax of 1. It’s expected that he’d be on the farm so there’s no plausibility tax. A 12 normally activates 2 traits on a character, so after tax Nolan gets 2 – 1 = 1 trait. He activates Pig Headed at d8] Although Pyrotenax is able to communicate with the boy, he’s so dense and set in his ways [Pig Headed d8] that Pyrotenax finds it difficult to manipulate him effectively. “Listen to me, child,” Pyrotenax whispers to his mind. “I am your ancient god [Ancient Spirit d6] and I need you to help me [Beguiler of Mortals d8].” [Leo 7,3 vs. Nolan 2. Leo wins and would bump something up if the chapter wasn’t ending, but Nolan’s trait is exhausted and he’s out of traits and dice.] Agricola the farm boy finds this argument compelling, and Pyrotenax knows he can exploit this weakness to begin bending the boy’s mind to his will [Leo wins the chapter as viewpoint so he marks his first plot phase complete].
Viewpoint: Dan 11. Leo 8. Nolan 10,7.
Adversity: Leo 12,11,9. Nolan 9,8.
Marcus has returned to the house [Leo spends his 9 to introduce a d4 passive threat: Alone] where he is alone [d4] and left to his own devices without guidance about what to study. [I spend my 11 to activate Scholar’s Apprentice at d8 and Quick-witted at d6] Marcus figures [Quick-witted d6] that his master [Scholar’s Apprentice d8] must have some notes about what lessons he was planning next, so he begins searching for them [Dan 2,1 vs. Leo 3. Leo wins and would bump Alone to d6, but I’m out of traits so the chapter is over.] but finds nothing but a sense of directionless confusion. [Leo won as adversity so he gets a new viewpoint die. He takes the d10 on his second phase.]
Viewpoint: Dan 3. Leo 3,1. Nolan 7,6.
Adversity: Dan 10,10. Leo 11,11,6.
Marian, daughter of the Sea Goddess, is aboard a large sailing ship bound for the capital city where she is destined to marry the land-dweller who becomes king. [Leo spends an 11 to introduce a d6 active threat: Lightning Storm] The god of thunder must not want Marian to reach land, because a huge thunderstorm heads straight for the ship. [Nolan spends his 6 to activate Virtuous at d8 and his 7 to activate Demigoddess at d6] At first she is unconcerned, knowing she can survive perfectly well in the water even if the ship is smashed to splinters, but then she remembers that she should care for the humans who crew the ship as well [Virtuous d8], so she extends her power over the water out to calm the waves around them and drive away the rain [Demigoddess d6]. [Nolan 1,1 vs. Leo 1. Nolan wins and bumps Demigoddess up to d8. Leo doesn’t exhaust.] Thus protected, the ship begins sailing through the storm. A huge bolt of lightning [Lightning Storm d6] strikes the mast, shattering it [Leo spends his 11 to introduce a new d6 active threat: Adrift] and leaving the ship adrift. As the crew rushes to attend to the burning splinters of the mast, Marian feels her obligation to help these people [Virtuous d8] and calls on her power to have the waves themselves push to vessel in the direction in needs to go [Demigoddess d8]. [Nolan 3,2 vs. Leo 6,5. Leo wins and would bump something if the chapter wasn’t over, but both of Nolan’s traits are exhausted and he has no more dice so he can’t continue.] Unfortunately, the chaos of the storm has so befuddled the captain and crew that they are hopelessly lost. [Leo won as adversity so he gets another viewpoint die. He takes the d10 for his fourth phase.]
That’s where we broke for the night. The story will continue in the next playtest report.
I’m looking for beta playtest groups for my game Final Hour of a Storied Age: A Roleplaying Game of Epic Fantasy. The playtesting I’ve done with the 0.67 revision has been very successful, producing fun sessions and really satisfying Epic Fantasy stories. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but they all seemed to be in line with the problems that any new group might have when learning a new game. In order to get a better handle on what still needs work in the game before I officially publish (either with the mechanics themselves or with they way I explain them in the text) I need some feedback from groups playing the game without my direct participation. I would really appreciate any beta playtesting people are willing to do for me. I would absolutely love audio recordings of the game in play, honest reactions, AP reports, or really any feedback people would be willing to give me. I’m happy to answer questions about the game, and would appreciate feedback or discussion about the text itself even if you’re unable to playtest.
I believe the game works best with 3 or 4 players, but might work with as few as 2 or as many as 5. The recent playtests I’ve done have been 3 player games and have both finished story arcs in four 3-hour sessions. I posted the first arc in AP podcast form as episodes 10 to 13 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast, and in text summary form on my blog (here, here, here, and here). I’ve got the audio from the second arc in the can I’ll be editing that and posting podcasts and text summaries over the next few weeks.
I think there’s value in transparency in the design process so I’m happy to discuss the game in the open (I blog here, and also participate on Story-Games, Praxis, The Forge, and RPG Geek). E-mail conversations are great, too, if you’d prefer a less public conversation (I’m firstname.lastname@example.org).
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!)
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.]
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].
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]
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]
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]
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.]
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.
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.
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
On October 25, 2010, Leo Lalande, Nolan Callender, and I held a playtest session over skype of Final Hour of a Storied Age rev 0.66, continuing th story from our previous sessions (an audio recording of this session is available as episode 12 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast – listen to that first if you want to avoid spoilers!).
Viewpoint: Nolan 7,4. Leo 11,1. Dan 8,6.
Adversity: Nolan 4,1. Dan 17,8.
Zheng Long’s army is still camped near the Ice Clan capital. [I spend my 17 to bring in Lin Bai. This distance tax is zero, but we decide that it’s unexpected for her to attack the camp rather than wait inside her city, so I pay a plausibility tax of 1. I activate her Clan Leader at d8, Power of Ice and Snow at d6, and Protective at d6.] Snow begins to fall from the night sky [Power of Ice and Snow d6], but the quiet is pierced by a battle cry as a party of Ice Clan warriors charges into the camp [Clan Leader d8]. [Leo spends his 11 to activate Brilliant Strategist at d8 and Loyal Army at d6] Zheng Long orders his most loyal troops [Loyal Army d6] to leave the camp to make his main force appear weak and while simultaneously outflanking the attackers [Brilliant Strategist d8]. [Leo 5,2 vs. Dan 7,3. I win and bump my Power of Ice and Snow to d8, Leo exhausts his Loyal Army] Although Zheng Long’s flanking troops would be well positioned on normal terrain, the preternatural snow manages to make the ground so treacherous that they end up effectively cut off from the battle. The weather intensifies, with a driving sleet mixing with the snow [Power of Ice and Snow d8] as the Ice Clan warriors [Clan Leader d8] rampage through the center of Zheng Long’s camp. [Leo spends his 1 to activate Loyal Army at d6] Zheng Long’s loyal troops [Loyal Army d6], experienced with ice and snow, are merely delayed where other men would have been stopped and manage to come in behind the Ice Clan, completing the pincer maneuver that Zheng Long had planned [Brilliant Strategist d8]. [Leo 5,1 vs. Dan 6,1. I win, both traits are already at max, and Leo doesn’t exhaust any] A wild melee ensues in the center of Zheng Long’s camp, with tents knocked over and untethered horses screaming and running in terror. Lin Bai, satisfied that chaos has been sown in the camp and protective [d6] of her men [Clan Leader d8], orders a controlled withdrawal back to the safety of her city walls. Seeing the withdrawl, Zheng Long cleverly [Brilliant Strategist d8] orders some of his scouts [Loyal Army d6] to try to blend into the mass of men and sneak into the city with them, [Leo 6,6 vs. Dan 8,2. I win and would advance a trait, but it’s the third win in a row so it doesn’t matter] but the scouts are spotted, and Lin Bai’s troops manage to return to their city with Zheng Long’s army in disarray [I win as adversity player and add the d20 to my third plot stage. I also spend my other story die to make Lin Bai ideologically aligned with the protagonist.].
Viewpoint: Nolan 9,4. Leo 10,6. Dan 6,3.
Adversity: Nolan 9,2. Dan 7,3.
Zheng Long is in his army camp, attempting to rally his troops after the chaotic raid, hoping to set up a blockade of the city. [Nolan spends his 9 to bring in Chen Lim with no tax, activating his Disreputable at d8] Chen Lim, never one to waste the opportunity provided by misfortune [Disreputable d8], is moving among the troops claiming credit for Zheng Long’s good ideas while recounting Zheng Long’s failures. [Leo spends his 10 to activate Intimidating Countenance at d8 and Ambitious at d6] Scowling with menace [Intimidating Countenace d8], Zheng Long confronts Chen Lim and says, “This is my army and my war [Ambitious d6]. You will not supplant me.” [Leo 4,4 vs. Nolan 6. Nolan wins but can’t bump his trait because it’s already at d8. Leo exhausts both traits.] Unfortunately, Zheng Long chose the worst time to confront Chen Lim, as he is surrounded by his cronies who close ranks behind him and build his confidence to stand against Zheng Long. Chen Lim brazenly [Disreputable d8] decries Zheng Long right in front of him, openly questioning whether he is worthy of the army’s loyalty. [Leo spends his 6 to activate Loyal Army at d8] “Who is it that led this army at the battle of Zhan Hu?” Zheng Long demands. “It was me. Who led this army at the battle of Kin Gou? It was me. I led this army to many victories in many battles, and that is why they are loyal to me [Loyal Army d8].” [Leo 6 vs. Nolan 1. Leo wins but is already at d8. Nolan’s Disreputable is exhausted.] The men nod along with Zheng Long’s words, acknowledging the truth of them and letting the steam out of Chen Lim’s efforts to undermine the general. [Nolan spends his 2 to activate Chen Lim’s Ambitious at d8] Unwilling to cede the opportunity, Chen Lim boldly [Ambitious d8] claims that he was the one truly responsible for those victories because the plans would have failed without his planning and advice. “Think back, Chen Lim, you weren’t even with the army [d8] for all of those battles,” Zheng Long replies. [Leo 8 vs. Nolan 6. Leo wins, Nolan’s last trait is exhausted.] Humiliated, Chen Lim hangs his head in shame and skulks off. [Leo wins as viewpoint and advances on stage in his plot]
Viewpoint: Nolan 15,8. Leo 7,7. Dan 10,8.
Adversity: Leo 11,5,2. Dan 6,5.
Zheng Wei begins climbing back up the mountain toward the cave. [Leo spends his 11 to create a d6 active threat: an avalanche] From the mountain above, an ominous rumbling alerts Wei to the avalanche [d6] tumbling toward him. [Nolan spends his 15 at activate all of his traits: Sword of Fire at d8, Loved by the Rightful Queen at d6, Accomplished Warrior at d6, and Trickster at d4] Wei holds his sword [d8] in front of him and channels his passion and determination [Loved by the Rightful Queen d6] through it to cocoon himself in a bubble of fire. [Nolan 8,2 vs. Leo 1. Nolan wins and bumps Loved by the Rightful Queen up to d8. Leo’s avalanche is exhausted.] The avalance tumbles and roars past but Wei is protected inside his flaming shield. [Leo spends his 5 to create a d4 passive threat: buried in snow] Although it can’t penetrate the shield, the huge mass of snow manages to cover it, burying Wei. He again focuses his will [Loved by the Rightful Queen d8] through the sword [d8], causing a stream of fire to extend from the tip, tunneling through the snow to the surface. [Nolan 5,5 vs. Leo 3. Nolan wins but can’t bump any traits, Leo exhausts.] Wei climbs through the tunnel and begins making his way back up the mountain. [Leo spends his 2 to introduce a d4 passive threat: obscuring snowfull] Unfortunately, the avalanche has kicked so much snow into the air that Wei’s vision is obscured, making it difficult to know which way to go. Waving his burning blade [Sword of Fire d8] ahead of him, Wei relies on his warrior’s instincts and years of travel in harsh conditions to see him through [Nolan 6,3 vs. Leo 4. Nolan wins, his third in a row, so he wins the chapter] and makes his way back to the mouth of the cave.
Viewpoint: Nolan 15. Leo 2,2. Dan 9,3.
Adversity: Leo 5,4,2. Dan 6,4.
At the mouth of the cave [I spend my 6 to activate Lin Xun’s Outcast at d8], Wei spies Lin Xun who says, “This cave is my home [Outcast d8], why do you seek to take it from me?” [Nolan spends his 15 to activate Trickster at d8, Loved by the Rightful Queen at d6, Accomplished Warrior at d6, and Sword of Fire at d4] “It is not your home that I seek to take from you,” Wei answers. “The philosopher Lee Tai used his fire to guide me here in order to prove to him that I am the one who deserves to use the magic ring. If you mean to stand in my way, I would advise against it [Accomplished Warrior d6]. It is for love of the queen [Loved by the Rightful Queen d6] and the good of the country that I do what I do. You must let me pass.” [Nolan 6,4 vs. Dan 4. Nolan wins and bumps Accomplished Warrior to d8. I am not exhausted.] Lin Xun sees the logic in what Wei says and allows him to enter the cave. “Love is a wonderful thing,” Lin Xun concedes. “It has been many years since I’ve even known friendship [Outcast d8], let alone love.” Wei sees the depths of Lin Xun’s loneliness and desire for conversation, but also feels the pull to press onward with his quest. “Oh, that’s so sad,” Wei lies. “I am sure that once I achieve power I will be able to return you to the good graces of your people. [Trickster d8]” [Nolan 1 vs. Dan 4. I win but my trait is already maxed out. Nolan exhausts Trickster.] Lin Xun sees right through the deception. “Oh, that’s how it is. You think you can just dismiss me and that I’m not important?” [I spend my 4 to activate Power of Ice and Snow at d6] Lin Xun grows angry again. “The power of fire isn’t the only power in this land. If you wish to learn of magic in my home [Outcast d8] you must contend with my magic first!” The air begins to chill [Power of Ice and Snow d6]. “I’m not afraid of you [Accomplished Warrior d8],” Wei says as he brandishes the Sword of Fire [I think it should be d4, but I think Nolan rolled a d6], daring Lin Xun to come at him again. [Nolan 4,2 vs Dan 7,2. I win an bump my Power of Ice and Snow to d8. Nolan doesn’t exhaust.]
Far from backing down, Lin Xun proclaims, “Do you think I feel fire? The Ring of Ice is everywhere and my power is attuned to it so I have no fear of heat or flame [Power of Ice and Snow d8]. You should stop this foolishness and act the proper guest.” Wei grits his teeth and responds, “Your power may be everywhere, but this sword [d6] is a symbol of my love for the queen and her love for me [d6], and if you have any love left for this country you’ll back down and allow me to accomplish what must be accomplished. If not I will smite you if necessary [Accomplished Warrior d8].” [Nolan 7,4,2 vs. Dan 5. Nolan wins and bumps Sword of Fire to d8. I don’t exhaust.] The Sword of Fire once again responds to the intensity of Wei’s love and erupts into a font of flame that causes Lin Xun to flinch backward. Lin Xun realizes the seriousness of the threat he faces, so he springs forward and grabs Wei by the shoulders. The air whirls with ice and snow, and the two of them seem to waver back and forth between the real world and a vast, featureless plain of ice as Lin Xun tries to cast out Zheng Wei into the Ring of Ice and Snow [Outcast d8 and Power of Ice and Snow d8]. Drawing on his focus and experience [Accomplished Warrior d8], Wei fixes an image of the queen in his mind [Loved by the Rightful Queen d6], hoping to anchor himself in the real world. [Nolan 7,3 vs. Dan 7,2. Nolan wins and bumps Loved by the Rightful Queen to d8. I exhaust Outcast]. Wei holds firm, and Lin Xun is exhausted from the effort. Regardless, the intense expression of icy magic has caused the entire cave to ice over, and Wei is disoriented by shining reflections of his sword in countless ice crystals [Power of Ice and Snow d8]. We shoves his Sword of Fire [d8] into the ground, pouring all of his passion [Loved by the Rightful Queen d8] into it, pitting the two magics against each other. [Nolan 6,1 vs. Dan 6. Nolan wins, the third in a row.] Waves of heat radiate from the sword, melting the ice. [Nolan wins the chapter and advances his plot, which also completes his Get the Fire Mages to Reveal the Location of the Magic Ring segment] Lin Xun relents and agrees to help Wei find the stone tablet deep in the cave. The two of them use their respective powers of heat and cold to crack it open. Inside, Wei finds a ring which will give him access to the realm of fire. [For completing a segment, Nolan gets two traits worth of special effects. He changes Loved by the Rightful Queen to Ring of Fire and moves Lin Xun to ideologically aligned with the protagonist.]
Viewpoint: Nolan 3. Leo 3,1. Dan 4,4.
Adversity: Nolan 8,7. Leo 11,11,8.
At the Fire Temple, Lee Chang [Leo spends an 11 to activate Lee Tai’s Ancient and Wise at d8 and Gold and Jewels at d6] is approached by Lee Tai, who says, “If you wish to find this knowledge that you seek, which I admit we have been concealing from you, you can find it. But you must do the work yourself to attain it – the wisdom of the ancients [Ancient and Wise d8] lies within our libary, and it is at your disposal… for a price [Gold and Jewels d6].” [I spend a 4 to activate Idealism at d8] “Lee Tai,” Lee Chang responds, “the time has come for you to stop making others run in circles for your own amusement [Idealism d8]. You know what the information is, so just tell me now without any more of your games.” [Dan 2 vs. Leo 5,3. Leo wins and advances Gold and Jewels to d8, my Idealism is exhausted] “Wisdom only comes with hard work,” Lee Tai responds. “To gain wisdom [Ancient and Wise d8] along with the knowledge you seek you must acquire it with your own sweat. The price has just gone up [Gold and Jewels d8].” [I spend a 4 to activate Fire Magic at d8] “If the answer is in here,” Lee Chang says pointing to the library, “then surely it is the most valuable thing our order possesses, and will thus be the first thing you try to save when I do this!” He unleashes a torrent of magical fire upon the racks of carefully stacked scrolls. [Dan 4 vs. Leo 5,3. Leo wins but is already maxed out. I don’t exhaust.] “Lee Chang,” the old philosopher scolds, “do you truly think we are foolish enough to store the only copies here? We have others, in safe places.” [Leo spends his 8 to activate Lee Tai’s Fire Magic at d6] Lee Tai pits his own magic [Fire Magic d6] against the young upstart’s. Lee Chang responds in kind, and the two are locked in a war of wills [Fire Magic d8]. [Dan 7 vs. Leo 1. I win but am maxed out, Leo’s Fire Magic is exhausted] To the suprise of the old philosopher, Lee Chang’s magic proves more powerful. “If these are not the only copies, why do you fear their destruction? No, I think this is another one of your tricks, and these truly are the only copies.” [Leo spends an 11 to activate Fire Magic at d6 and Philosopher at d4] Lee Tai scowls. “Although we have copies elsewhere, it is much wiser [Ancient and Wise d8] to protect what we have rather than rebuild the library later. The cost would be great, and we should not bear it if we do not need to, even though we can [Gold and Jewels d8]. You are insolent.” Lee Tai unleashes a flash of fire at Lee Chang’s eyes. Lee Chang shouts back, “You speak of costs when it would be far cheaper to simply tell me what I need to know! But if you insist on doing it this way, we can!” He hurls a ball of fire at the old monk. [Dan 3 vs. Leo 5,3,1. Leo wins. We mistakenly thought it was his third win in a row.] Lee Tai’s flare blinds Lee Chang who stumbles to his knees. Lee Tai grabs him by the hair and says, “Your youthful exhuberance is admirable, but your insolence will be your undoing.” He waves his hand and the flames in the library are extinguished. [We thought Leo won the chapter. He adds a d10 viewpoint die to his third phase]
Viewpoint: Nolan 8. Leo 10,7. Dan 3,2.
Adversity: Nolan 10,8. Dan 11,6.
In his army camp, Zheng Long is overseeing a blockade of the Ice Clan capital [I spend my 11 to activate Chen Lim’s Quartermaster at d8 and Disreputable at d6] when he gets word that his direputable [d6] quartermaster [d8] Chen Lim is operating a black market, selling vital supplies to the Ice Clan around the blockade. [Leo spends his 10 to activate Brilliant Strategist at d8 and Abmitious at d6] Hoping to turn Chen Lim’s treachery into an advantage, Zheng Long cleverly [Brilliant Strategist d8] orders his spies to inflitrate the black market and use it as cover to make their way into the city he hopes to conquer [Ambitious d6]. [Leo 5,2 vs. Dan 8,4. I win and advance Disreputable to d8. Leo exhausts Ambitious]. The spies make no progress. In fact, Chen Lim hauls one of them by the scruff of the neck up to Zheng Long. “General, this man was caught trying to pilfer supplies [Quartermaster d8] to sell to the enemy,” Chen Lim says smarmily [Disreputable d8]. “What are you going to do about it?” [Leo spends his 7 to activate Loyal Army at d6] “Of course he did this,” Zheng Long announces. “He is one of my loyal [d6] spies, and does so at my orders [Brilliant Strategist d8].” [Leo 8,6 vs. Dan 7,6. Leo wins and bumps Loyal Army to d8. I don’t exhaust.] Zheng Long chuckles. “Once again you underestimate the loyalty of my men, and the subtlty of my strategies. Go ahead and continue your black market. I will merely use it to my advantage.” Chen Lim does indeed continue it, and Zheng Long is surprised a few days later to hear his men grumbling about the quality of the rations. It seems that Chen Lim has taken the highest quality supplies and sold them to the Ice Clan [Direputable d8 Quartermaster d8], leaving only nearly-rancid meat and mealy grain for Zheng Long’s troops. Zheng Long dispatches his scouts [Loyal Army d8] to raid any passing merchants for their supplies [Brilliant Strategist d8] [Leo 2,1 vs. Dan 8,8. I win but am maxed out. Leo exhausts both traits. He doesn’t have any more so I win the chapter], but the scouts fail to find any merchants to raid. The grumbling among the troops increases as they realize the black market that Zheng Long gave his blessing to is causing their deprivation and strengthening the enemy at the same time. [I won ad adversity player. I take the d12 for the first stage of my complication segment]
Viewpoint: Nolan 5,4. Leo 9,2. Dan 3,1.
Adversity: Nolan 9,3. Dan 3,1.
Zheng Long confronts Chen Lim, [Nolan spends his 9 to activate Disreputable at d8] but the lietenant denies any wrongdoing [Disreputable d8]. [Leo spends his 9 to activate Intimidating Countenance at d8] Zheng Long grabs Chen Lim around the neck and roars [Intimidating Countenance d8], “Don’t play games with me.” [Leo 5 vs. Nolan 1. Leo wins and Nolan exhausts. Leo uses his 2 to move Chen Lim’s alignment track to ideologically aligned with the antagonist] Zheng Long’s intimidating presence finally cows his recalcitrant lieutenant. [Nolan sepnds his 3 to introduce a d4 passive threat: hunger] Even with the pilfering stopped, the damage is already done: the troops are desperately hungry [d4]. Zheng Long tightens his grip around Chen Lim’s neck and says simply, “Fix this [Intimidating Countenance d8].” [Leo 7 vs. Nolan 1. Leo wins, Nolan exhausts. Nolan doesn’t have anything else so Leo wins the chapter.] With his attentions properly focused, Chen Lim shows why he was made quartermaster in the first place and manages to scrounge enough to satisfy the men. [Leo wins as viewpoint player and advances one stage in his plot].
Viewpoint: Nolan 2. Leo 1,1. Dan 4,2.
Adversity: Nolan 8,3. Leo 10,8,8.
At the Fire Temple [Leo spends an 8 to create a d4 passive threat: blindness], Lee Chang realizes that Lee Tai’s magical attack has been rendered him blind [d4]. [I spend my 4 to activate Meticulous Mind at d8] Remembering every detail of the rules of the order [Meticulous Mind d8], Lee Chang recalls that the monks are required to help those in need. He spreads word that, being blind, he requires assistance in his research. [Dan 4 vs Leo 3. I win but am already maxed out. Leo’s blindness is exhausted.] A veritable army of monks-in-training move in and out of the library, reading scrolls to Lee Chang. [Leo spends an 8 to introduce a d4 passive threat: scrolls in unknown language] Unfortunately, many of the scrolls are in a language that none of the younger monks speak. Lee Chang meticulously [d8] notes down each word so that he can ask the older monks what they mean, [Dan 3 vs. Leo 3. Leo wins and bumps his scrolls to d6. I don’t exhaust] but his blindness affects his writing, and the other monks don’t feel that their obligation to help extends to that [unknown language scrolls d6]. Lee Chang begins sorting the scrolls based on language [Meticulous Mind d8], reasoning that if Lee Tai expected him to find the answer then it must be on one of the scrolls in a language that is known. [Dan 7 vs. Leo 6. I win, Leo exhausts.] Chang manages to sort the scrolls, narrowing his search to only those that are readable. [Leo spends his 10 to activate Lee Tai’s Fire Magic at d8 and Philosopher at d6] His eyesight begins to return, just in time to see Lee Tai approach. “You are persistent, I will give you that,” the old man says. “That scroll there is the one you seek. But can you read it fast enough?” He points his finger and a corner of the page bursts into flame [Fire Magic d8]. [I spend my 2 to activate Youthful Exhuberance at d6] Applying all of his focus [Meticulous Mind d8] and energy [Youthful Exhuberance d6], Lee Chang begins reading the scroll as fast as he can, [Dan 2,1 vs. Leo 5. Leo wins, I exhaust. I’m out so he wins the chapter.] but it isn’t fast enough – the dry, ancient paper turns to ashes before his eyes as the flames race across it, obliterating anything he might have learned. “Look within yourself for the answer,” Lee Tai lectures. “It’s really not that difficult to find.” [Leo wins as adversity. He takes the d20 viewpoint die for his fourth stage.]
Viewpoint: Nolan 4. Leo 9,8. Dan 8,7.
Adversity: Nolan 6,1. Dan 5,3.
With his attempts at infiltration by subterfuge continually thwarted, Zheng Long assembles a group of his most skilled scouts and spies and orders them to make their way into the city by stealth. [Nolan spends his 6 on a d4 passive threat: lack of intelligence about city] Unfortunately, the task is complicated by a lack of intelligence about what they’ll find inside the city [lack of intelligence d4] because they’ve not yet been able to get past the walls. [Leo spends his 8 to activate Loyal Army at d8] Nevertheless, Zheng Long orders his men [Loyal Army d8] to go through with the plan [Leo 4 vs. Nolan 3. Leo wins but is already maxed out. Nolan exhausts.] and the scouts make their way in. Once they’ve gotten past the walls they are able to gather valuable intelligence about the defenders that will let Zheng Long crack the city wide open. [Nolan spends his 1 for a d4 passive threat: changing of the guards] But, on their way out, they realize that the guards that patrol the walls have shifted to a new routine [d4], complicating their escape. They quietly move up behind the patrols that are giving them trouble [Loyal Army d8] [Leo 7 vs. Nolan 3. Leo wins, Nolan is exhausted and has no more traits.] and slit their throats. The scouts make it out and back to Zheng Long’s camp where they deliver their report. [Leo won the chapter and completes a stage. This finishes his first plot segment: Conquer the Ice Kingdom] Zheng Long orders his assault on the city, employing the intelligence his men gathered to devastating effect, crushing the Ice Clan defences. He has Lin Bai forced to her knees in surrender, and then dispatches her to a dungeon, where she won’t be heard from again [Completing a segment gives Leo two traits worth of special effects which he uses to “thwart an NPC” on Lin Bai, meaning it will be considered surprising for her to appear in the story again].
Viewpoint: Nolan 3. Leo 14,10,10. Dan 7,2.
Adversity: Nolan 9,7. Dan 9,8.
With the Ice Clan subjugated, Zheng Long takes his army to the docks and boards them onto ships to sail toward the fire temple. [I spend my 8 to introduce a d4 passive threat: choppy seas] The seas are rough, as the ships are bucked and tossed on angry waves [choppy seas d4]. [Leo spends a 10 to activate Ambitious at d8 and Loyal Army at d6] Zheng Long cares nothing for the hardships, only for his goal of bringing the fire wielders under his control [Ambitious d8], and orders the ships to stay the course. [Leo 6 vs. Dan 3. Leo wins, I exhaust.] The ships sail across the sea and as far upriver as they are able, and the army disembarks in the foothills around the mountain of the fire temple. [I spend my 9 to introduce a d4 passive threat: narrow and treacherous paths] The paths that lead up the mountain are notoriously narrow and treacherous [d4], making it difficult to move an army through. Despite the danger, Zheng Long’s army follows him [Loyal Army d8] upward toward the temple that he yearns to conquer [Ambitious d6]. [Leo 4,3 vs. Dan 1. Leo wins, I exhaust. I’m out of traits so Leo wins the chapter.] They arrive at the temple and begin preparations for the attack [Leo wins as viewpoint and advances one stage in his plot].
Viewpoint: Nolan 9. Leo 6. Dan 5,3.
Adversity: Leo 6,5,2. Dan 4,3.
After placing the physical ring on his finger, Zheng Wei finds himself within the ring of fire, an otherworldy realm of heat and flame. [Leo spends his 2 on a d4 passive threat: shadows of the real world] In the flames, Wei sees a shadowy vision of Zheng Long’s army approaching the fire temple [shadows of the real word d4], a distraction from his desire to master this place. [Nolan spends his 9 to activate Accomplished Warrior at d8] Wei has forced himself to wait many times [Accomplished Warrior d8], and knows that rushing to face his brother now would be a mistake. [Nolan 3 vs Leo 2. Nolan wins but is maxed out, Leo exhausts.] Zheng Wei turns away from his brother and begins to move deeper into the alien reality he finds himself in. [Leo spends his 5 to introduce a d4 passive threat: physically ill] The constantly shifting terrain is disorienting, and Zheng Wei finds himself physically ill [d4] from the prolonged exposure. As an accomplished warrior [d8], Zheng Wei has endured sickness during battle before, [Nolan 6 vs. Leo 2. Nolan wins but is maxed out, Leo exhausts.] and journeys deeper into the realm of fire. Fiery orbs float through the space around him as he gets farther and farther from the real world. [Leo spends his 6 to introduce a d4 passive threat: getting lost] In this fiery dreamscape, Wei realizes that he has no solid reference points to find his way back [getting lost d4], but he has been in the thick of battle before [Accomplished Warrior d8] and knows that sometimes you have to risk the future to gain the moment. He pushes deeper. [Nolan 7 vs. Leo 1. Nolan wins, his third in a row] Zheng Wei goes so far into the fire realm that there is no longer any semblance of the real world.