30 August 2014

Epyllion: Drake Edition

Epyllion, by Marissa Kelly of Magpie Games, is a game of draconic friendship and adventure in a mythic setting of looming darkness.

Before I get started, it is important to mention this is the "Drake edition" of this game. It is a preview (ashcan) of the game and explicitly incomplete.

This is a new entry to the games which are "Powered by the Apocalypse" (I prefer to think of it as the Apocalypse Engine in no small part because it is less of a mouthful), including most notably Apocalypse World (which started it all) and MonsterheartsIf you are familiar with these games, Epyllion is going to look familiar. Though it takes things in new directions to tell an entirely different kind of story.

The basic premise of Epyllion has the players portraying a clutch of young dragons. The setting, Dragonia, is highly stratified based on age. Elder dragons sit at the top and deal with politics and running things, while younger dragons are sent out (quests) to complete tasks (adventures) for them. In the background, there was The First War Against the Darkness in which dragons eked out a victory against the corrupting Darkness at significant cost. The good news is the Darkness has been driven away forever and will no longer bother dragons.

Of course, the bad news is this is not actually true and the PCs are naturally going to be at the forefront of discovering this, bring the news to unbelieving elder dragons who refuse to admit they were wrong in the face of ever mounting evidence. Only after a great and selfless sacrifice will the elders realize their folly and allow for the dragons to finally mount an effective defense against the Darkness, but it may already be too late...

At least, this is how it all plays out in my head. As with all things, you mileage may vary.

This strays from the traditional Apocalypse Engine setup in a few ways. First, there is more structure and clearer expectations as to what exactly the PCs are doing and why. The second, and most important, is while Epyllion can get a little dark, it is inherently hopeful. Everything involves the PCs working towards a greater goal and not just causing a big terrible mess.

To go along with this, Epyllion borrows the idea of Strings from Monsterhearts, but changes the tone. This is clear since they are called Friendship Gems. Instead of being held over others, they are used to power the dragons' magic of the moon and stave of the corrupting influence of the Darkness. They aren't a price, but something you want to freely exchange with each other. They can be used to hinder others, but I would consider this to be a rare occurrence rather than the standard use given the tone of the game.

Another item borrowed from Monsterhearts is the Shadowself. This is the dark, self-centered reflection of the dragon's role within the clutch. While it seems to be played straight, there is an interesting nuance which shows a great deal of the expectations placed on the players. Specifically, the self-centered aspect. In a vacuum, the Shadowself may seem not so bad.

For example, the Warrior believes they must defeat the Darkness all alone, no one else is strong enough to help them. For each playbook, the character relies only on themselves and this is stated to be a bad thing. The theme is clear: you need your friends. In fact, the only way to rid yourself of this is through intervention by your friends.

Epyllion is different in how it approaches character growth (or, how it says it does - this is an incomplete game as of now). It is designed to be long term with characters aging and gaining the associated influence and power. It won't be long before you are bossing around younger dragons (there's a Move for that). The mechanics for death also play into this part of the game and in an interesting way.

Since this game goes in dark places, death is a real thing. However, it does not have to be a permanent thing. The work of some dragons (*cough*PCs*cough*) isn't finished when they die and the moons return them to life to finish what they have started. This process forces the dragon to mature and they automatically advance to the next age, which is a good thing and a bad thing. It means you have the benefits of being older, but you will never get to take the advances you missed before your death. It is the price of being forced to grow up too quickly. This is clever to me: death is a thing, but it isn't permanent, however there is a cost - your innocence. 

While the back of the book indicates it is for ages 12+, this feels like a game which can be appropriate for younger audiences with an adult running it for them. A grim My Little Pony.

There is a lot to like about this game and I am looking forward to it. However, there are some pieces which are missing and if you aren't familiar with Apocalypse Engine games it may be confusing due to an assumed familiarity.

The name of the historical conflict, The First War Against the Darkness, bothers me (perhaps irrationally). It implies there was a Second War Against the Darkness, but there was just the one. Which means it should be The War Against the Darkness; World War I was The Great War right up until there was a sequel.

This isn't the only issue, however I do not want this review to end will all of the negative items to what is explicitly an unfinished work. This looks like a lot of fun for a variety of people who want different things from a game. I have every intention of putting together a game with what is available and taking it for a spin. Whenever it becomes available, I plan to be one of the first people in line to pick up to final version.

EDIT: Based on feedback and requests, below is a discussion of the mechanics in the draft. 

The stats used in Epyllion (and the rough Apocalypse World analog) are Charm (Hot), Courage (Cool), Cunning (Sharp), and Heart (Hard). There is no Weird equivalent and the most interesting change is Heart, which may be surprising until the overarching themes become apparent: this is about fighting to protect your friends and home.

Here are the basic and peripheral moves presented in Epyllion: Examine an Object, Study Another Dragon, Battle the Darkness, Stand Up to an Older Dragon, Convince a Dragon of Your Age or Younger to Do What You Want, Act Despite Danger, Call Upon the Magic of the Moons, Help or Hinder, Nest in the Wild, Keep a Look Out, and Lead Others Against the Darkness. 

The rolling dice section indicates 7-9 makes the story more complicated or interesting. While this is generally true, it isn't always true. Also, many of the moves are considerably more passive than in Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts. For example, gaining information in Apocalypse World (through Read a Sitch or Read a Person) immediately makes the situation or interaction "charged". This goes into the lighter tone of the game overall; not everything is about to go terrible at any moment. Just like the only "forceful" options are against the Darkness - taking things from your friends and allies is not something you can do.

There are two different moves based around getting what you want in a social situation. Each is used depending on the age of the target relative to you. This makes the importance of the social order in Dragonia right in your face. The good news about bending the younger generations to your will is three of the four stats (sorry Courage) can be used, depending on your tactics. If you prey on the interests, Charm; duty and obligation is Heart; while trickery is Cunning.

Call Upon the Magic of the Moons is a bug, squishy ball. This move requires Friendship Gems to be spent, the number (up to 3) is your bonus on the roll. The effects you can conjure depend on the moon you are calling upon and the result allows you to choose what goes right. What ever doesn't go right is probably going to go wrong. Access to the moons changes as you age - each age bracket forever cuts off your connection to one of the moons, with some increased power to call on them (?). The last part isn't entirely clear, which is fine for where the game is currently at in development.

Keep a Look Out fills a strange place. It is only used during Nest in the Wild, but isn't a requirement. In fact, there doesn't seem to be a specific downside to not using this move, though it could be interpreted as an invitation to screw with the players. This isn't explicit from a player side and how it is supposed to be used needs more clarification. What it does specifically: If using the move and something approaches your encampment, on a hit it is a friend. 10+, the bring you things. Those things could be information and supplies, or they could be news of danger or a call to action. 7-9, they're pursued by danger or need your help. On a miss, the DM (Dragon Master) gets to do their thing, as per usual. Based on those results, there isn't necessarily a strong reason to use this move - it basically invites trouble without providing any specific help. 

Lead Others Against the Darkness is a clever way to resolve a larger conflict without getting too bogged down in the details. It allows the players to define the terms of their "victory" and decide the associated costs. There is also a strong incentive for everyone to work together; bonuses to this roll are scarce and it is one of them.

A change from how Apocalypse Engine games traditionally work is in earning experience. Generally, two stats will be highlighted and when they are used, the character marks XP. In Epyllion, everyone earns XP when the roll a 6. I'm interpreting this as a  bittersweet reward for almost succeeding, meaning your final result is a 6, rather than the numbers on the dice totalling 6 (in which you could succeed and earn XP).

The playbooks presented in the Drake edition are the Academic, the Crafter, the Daredevil, the Nature Adept, the Seer, and the Warrior. Each has two stats which start with a +1 and one with a -1, players get to add +1 to one of the stats. This setup is most similar to Monsterhearts, though with an additional +1 hiding in there. Each of the four stat is represented at least once as the low stat, though the good stats only exist in two combinations: Charm and Cunning, or Courage and Heart. To be honest, this is a little disappointing because it cuts down on the variety and is exactly what would be expected and creates a dichotomy of physical versus non-physical characters.

Beyond this, each of the playbooks has one stat which is featured in every playbook specific move which has a roll. The Academic and Crafter only use Cunning, the Daredevil, Nature Adept, and Warrior only use Courage, and the Seer only uses Charm. Interestingly, the Warrior is the only playbook which doesn't get a bonus to the listed stat (they get Heart), though they only have the one move with an associated roll.

Not all of the moves are quite created equal. For example, the Warrior starts with True Warrior which allows them to return a Friendship Gem at the beginning of each session to improve their Battle the Darkness move. This is problematic because it requires you to sacrifice a resource on the hopes you may use a move, which is also the least likely move to be used in a session.

Each of the playbooks also has two Houses listed. I haven't brought these up previously, but there are six Houses, each with their own themes. After each House is a task, e.g.: Defend someone weaker than you (the Warrior, Tessith, the House of Diamond). Earlier in the book it is indicated performing this task helps fight off the hold of the Darkness over you. While it isn't explicit, this probably means it eliminates a Condition on your Shadow Track. This is something which can stand to be more explicit.

There is a brief discussion regarding showing cruelty and evil which is not the result of corruption. Typically this is a good tactic - there are entirely mundane forms of darkness in the world. However, the way in which corruption manifests itself, it seems like it would be impossible to distinguish between such casual cruelty and true corruption. This is an idea which needs more textual support to distinguish it from corruption and expand on the concepts and themes surrounding corruption.

To reiterate, this is just the draft which was put out there and I do not want to end on a note of criticism for an unfinished game. There are a number of innovative ideas and different takes on what feels like a classic system at this point. I am very optimistic of what the final product will look like and plan on lending my support.

26 August 2014

Hana Academy: Introduction

Welcome to Hana Academy, a Fate-based game about relationships and growing up in a school with mystery, magic, and flowers.

As one of the Gifted, you stand apart from the rest of their classmates as special. As a symbol of this status, all gifted bear a garland. These garlands hold many secrets for those able to decipher the language of flowers. The Gifted are able to travel to strange, beautiful, and often dangerous vistas through arbors - gates between our world and the garden.

The Garden is how the Gifted refer to places beyond our world. Curiosity is a powerful motivator and there is nothing quite like the Garden anywhere else. Sensations are more intense and there is the promise of adventure beyond every corner. Some of the Gifted try to avoid these familiar yet alien places, but are drawn to them by some machination - normally of their friends!

Gifts make the impossible a reality, but they don't seem to actually solve any of the most important problems: your childhood friend who is growing away from you, the bully who keeps picking on you, and why won't Alex pay attention to you? Nor do they make the looming questions of finding yourself any easier to answer. They do manage to make conflict more intense and the stakes always seem higher higher. A scuffle on the lacrosse field takes on new proportions when one of them can conjure flames and the other summons a sword from a plane of chaos.

The good news is you have your club to help you with the real problems. No matter what, you know they will be there for you. Through these bonds of friendship the gifted learn themselves and one another. You help each other grow into these new powers, sharing in victories, and easing failures.

As much as your relationships can cause you problems, they are what you derive your sense of self from. They are a very real part in determining what you are good at; either the relationship defines the skill, or the skill defines the relationship. As you grow and change, so will your interests and relationships. 

Hana Academy is a place to grow and learn. You will blossom into who you are meant to be and give you everything you need. Even if it doesn't seem so at the time. 

22 August 2014

Earthdawn 4E: Anatomy of a Thread Item 01 - Es'caliban

This is the first 4E Anatomy of a Thread Item, an ongoing series about Earthdawn Fourth Edition. Introduction and Index.

Everything contained here is the work of a fan and not associated with FASA Games.

Part One and Part Two (3E) of this series.

The numbering for the series has restarted as this is the first entry in the series for the new edition, Earthdawn Fourth Edition. The design parameters have changed and this item will be updated to go along with them. This also represents a good opportunity to bring development of the item to a close.

Maximum Threads: 3
Mystic Defense: 16
Legend Point Cost: Warden

Thread Rank One
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the sword’s Name.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 6.

There is no longer a standard effect of applying the maximum Forge Weapon bonus to thread items. This is being changed to a simple damage bonus.

Thread Rank Two
Effect: The wielder gains +1 rank in Inspire Others. This talent may be used simply by brandishing the weapon.

This is getting moved up a Rank to go with the trend in 4E which encourages weapons to have more than just damage bonuses.

Thread Rank Three
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the Name of who created the sword.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 7.

I was going between a damage bonus and a rank to Tactics for this rank. Ultimately the damage bonus won out because I didn't want to stack too many different effects on the same item. There is a place for items with a number of different bonuses to talents, but the place is when this is the theme for the item in question.

Thread Rank Four
Effect: The wielder now gains +2 ranks in Inspire Others.

Increasing the bonus to make it more usable and builds on the theme for future use.

Thread Rank Five
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn the Name of whom commissioned the sword.
Deed: The wielder must earn the approval of a member of the Landis royal family in good standing.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 8.

It is still a weapon and should be good at the whole being a weapon thing. The previous version had an additional bonus here, but this has been cut to be in line with the current thread item standards.

Thread Rank Six
Effect: Brilliant Edge: For 2 Strain, Inspire Others may be used as a Simple Action instead of a Standard Action.

An interesting ability which I like to play with uses this general template. It takes a talent, then improves it with an additional cost. The warning to go along with this is it can unintentionally break the game. Talents which encourage teamwork are more likely to get the pass from me if they may be too powerful since I am all for anything which encourages a player to take actions which benefit their group more than them. The other bonuses here were cut to keep this in line with the current guidelines. Also, Lion Heart is no longer just a fun talent - it is a very good talent.

Thread Rank Seven
Key Knowledge: The wielder must learn Name of the last keeper of the sword.
Deed: The wielder must perform a significant service for the Kingdom of Landis.
Effect: The sword is now Damage Step 9 and the wielder now gains +3 ranks in Inspire Others.

A little more of everything. Bonuses and abilities are getting switched around to create a capstone ability, rather than just ending with bonuses. 

Thread Rank Eight
Effect: Brilliant Edge may also cause fear in the wielder's enemies. This is resolved using the same Inspire Others test result and functions as the Battle Bellow talent (causing only penalties). The wielder may spend an additional Karma point on Inspire Others tests.

This is a very nice capstone ability. It improves a previous ability, which I like to do for Warden and higher thread items. The ability is good, since all of the costs are already being paid, but isn't terribly powerful since the wielder is only gaining half of the benefits from the talent. Allowing another Karma point on the test is a nice boost and something a bit different than just a rank bonus. For a talent like Inspire Others, it probably comes in just below an additional rank, even though it is +4 when used, since most players will save Karma for other tests and it is a finite resource.

19 August 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 30 - Can't We Get Beyond Thunderdome?

This is the thirtieth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

While the conflict between Thera and Throal is at the forefront, there is another conflict brewing the background. Iopos is moving pieces into position - well, eliminating key pieces to create maximum disorganization on all fronts. Their true goals have always been concealed within larger plots, and what exactly those are is a mystery to the few who have noticed their actions.

Adventure Log – 030 Can't We Get Beyond Thunderdome?

Written By: Ting the Merciless of Urupa

Date: 12 Gahmil –  14 Gahmil, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

I find Rasp. We have a lovely evening in town fighting in bars and enjoying a nice few rounds of pit fighting.

Next day consists of plotting our moves with the spy(1). We find a consensus and the group separates to start gathering forces.

Shortly after splitting, half the city bursts into flame, and a number of mercenaries start attacking anyone moving. Most of the violence avoids me, and I am told that the attack is to draw out and kill Bleys. So I head to the forge to help... bodyguarding. Everyone is waiting there, minus Honeysuckle. Elmod brought his girlfriend.

Honeysuckle shows up know the location of Antien, and we gather together to head out. Bleys is really irritable and suits up to come with us, but as we wander by Whisperwind, he gets distracted by some magic map(2), and we hire the mercenaries to join us(3). We head up to the enemy camp. On the way, we witness some K'tenshin(4) assholes fire bombing a building and set to stabbing them, and finish our way to the fort they have made.

Bongani throws a firebomb we looted from the t'skrang among some guards in front of the building, though it bounces quickly off the walls and explodes elsewhere. Honeysuckle opens the gate, stabs a few guards, and finds a secret door Antien bolted down.

Bongani leads us through the underground maze bringing us to a warehouse with a stone airship, Antien, and five of her bodyguards. Antien and Coriolis square off, and the rest of us focus on the dwarfs, but these were experienced men and not easy to bring down. Just as we started cleaning up, the hired mercenary band finally shows up with Tarr to help. Everyone left drops weapons.

Shortly afterward, Tarr has a public exhibition with Antien and what was left of her Swordmaster goons to speak their crimes and be dragged off. After a very dramatic moment of Antien crying out how Maester Bleys is in charge of Bartertown, Tarr is hit with an arrow in the throat, where he is revealed to be Maester Bleys(5) and then dissolves into a liquidy flesh puddle(6).(7)

*     *     *
(1) We need to find out who this is and what it means.
(2) This should confirm the rumors we have been hearing, this is The Strategic Projection.
(3) Seven Winds of War
(4) This needs to be verified and go upstairs.
(5) Many questions were answered, but it spawned nearly as many more which will never be answered. Bartertown is a mess.
(6) This stinks like Ishkarat.
(7) Received and edited by Ela Pono

Multiple years in and out of game all came to fruition in this session. For the most part, it was an action packed whirlwind, though the players thought it was going to be more like a caper/black op. They did not realize their opposition had plans of their own and their previous assassination attempt put everything into action.

The firebombing specifically started with Coriolis who was personally firebombed with a note which read, "You are fired." From there, the action started and it was about trying to put out fires (literally and figuratively). What no one had particularly planned for was an opposition which had no interest in actually holding the city in the end. At this point, they just wanted a mess which would force Throal's hand.

Unfortunately, the group had built up contacts and trust within the city to eventually mobilize an effective containment strategy. By which I mean, they got some other people who were much better suited for such a thing to do it while they went to go cause some violence. This was playing to their strengths; it was lamented that the wrecking of the city really should have been there plan at one point.

There were a number of plot points which showed up in addition to the numerous action scenes. Including the presence of K'tenshin within the city acting with Theran agents and the final assassination in a style which they had seen previously in Travar. The reveal of Maester Bleys and Tarr being the same person was foreshadowed enough to have one player guess it a number of sessions ago.

Which brings us to the absolute most important part of the session, Antien Tighe rendered helpless having the following exchange with Tarr:

"Who runs Bartertown?"

"...You know who."

"Say it."

"Maester Bleys, Tarr."

"Say it loud."

"Maester Bleys, Tarr!"

And then he got killed. But it was worth it, just two years to set up that little bit. Completely worth it.

14 August 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 29 - Tomorrow-Morrow Land

This is the twenty-ninth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

Bartertown is a common feature in many Earthdawn campaigns and this one is no exception. It is not the canon Bartertown by any stretch, with its own map which has only a passing resemblance to the canon map. What is most notable is the strategic location of Bartertown. It is, essentially, an enormous, uncontrolled shanty town at the doorstep of Throal. The dwarfs have pretty much left it be, since taking it under their wing would be a nightmare for a laundry list of reasons. It serves as a valuable gathering point for those who wouldn't normally enter Throal, but where the dwarfs can keep an ear to the ground and subtly exert some influence.

This Bartertown is the target of a Theran campaign set to either gain control of the primary entrance to Throal, or sow chaos to the point where Throal is forced to enforce martial law over the libertarian "paradise". This will inevitably create a strain on resources to maintain a police presence in a city which does not want them and they do not want to be there. Additionally, they would have to work to ensure the rest of the province didn't interpret this as the beginning of greater colonial interests. All of this would ultimately serve to fracture the province a little more.

However, they aren't the only faction which has been at work in the city. Though the Theran Plan B gives a great deal of latitude to be successful. There are some notable personages whom have been working to keep the community together and turn it into a socialist "paradise". In a very ends justify the means way, versus the highly stratified classes favored by the other side.

Adventure Log – 029 Tomorrow-Morrow Land

Written By: Bongani Kreskas

Date: 15 Mawag –  11 Gahmil, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

It has been some time since my friends and I have met. Our adventures are many and we have much to share: Ting discovered a new family that accepted her avian differences and taught her the secrets of winged combat. Elmod learned elemental magics from the dwarfs of Throal. Never get into dept to a dwarf, my master used to say(1).

Honeysuckle found subtlety in the Thief's art at the feet of the trickster Tarr. Maester Bleys schooled her in the crafting of weapons. Loyalty and community are fine virtues! Omasu was her second trainer, a man of great skill and wisdom.

Honeysuckle is quite popular among the local windlings, but such is the price of having friends willing to cheat on your behalf. I spend my time in Bartertown where I met the love of my life, Harika. She is my great companion(2).

Coriolis takes a job with a woman Named Antien, who I have met before. Bartertown is in danger, perhaps. Coriolis plays a dangerous game of double-dealing, but I am confident that his shadowy second employer will not have him do anything untoward. Still, working for Thera is profitable, for he was able to pay off Elmod's debt!(3)

Bartertown is restless, sleep does not come easy, and suicides occur almost daily. Bleys' patrols attempt to stamp out the drug trade, and conflicts between them and the Consortium has dropped to almost none. Krokodil continues to plague the city, but it is related to the bad dreams and ominous signs.

Coriolis is a fabulous eye in the center of this grim, grey storm. He bought a jacket for 1300 silver pieces! Such a grandiose display, quite the dapper gentleman! Meanwhile, Elmod speaks with his friend Fastoon and has an enlightening conversation about Iopos. Truly Iopos is a great jewel of the Barsavian crown. If only there were a head to put it upon.

I visit Coriolis at his apartment and we drink and discuss his current employment situation. He asks me to be frank, so I tell him the identity of his employer. We part as friends with the agreement to seek out proof of her identity. The testimony of one former slave is not sufficient, I suppose!

Elmod gets to work on the enchanted eye. I am excited to receive it! The experiement is a complete success and I am greatly pleased with the result. Now that I have this sight beyond sight!

Honeysuckle gets to work on the bow Elmod intends to enchant. Everyone is working so hard to equip me!

Honeysuckle, Ting, Elmod, and I go to the slums to investigate the rash of suicides. Many have been children, killing first their families then themselves. A "white shadow" appears to them at night and drives them to kill. It has been going on for a while. We must find this creature. "Chunny" has seen it, but he is missing. The flophouse is in a deserted area of the city and inside is (Ed Note: there is quite a bit of gibberish and a picture of a face on a mountain?)

This is a fie we cannot oppose with our mortal strength. We need wisdom, so we send Elmod to research the... creature.

Antien instructs Coriolis to destroy her rival. We meet to discuss our options. We agree to warn the victim, and I find Honeysuckle to acquire an audience.

I am visited by Hithorn, a windling of some knowledge and influence. He instructs me to remove Ms. Antien. I agree, reluctantly. Now we must form a plan to destroy her. Coriolis gets close to Antien.

Elmod receives a visit from Mistriel. They hash our their differences over drinks while Ting and I listen in. Mistriel possesses a Horror Mark, and was apparently used by the White Hand to hunt Horrors(4). She seems love struck, but I am not convinced.

Honeysuckle and I sneak into Antien's room and cut her throat. But the death does not take. We must attempt a new plan. New plan: we fire bomb the house in the middle of the night, then Star Shower and pick off survivors.(5)

*     *     *
(1) Ahahahahahaha!
(2) Reports do not indicate who this is. Though he does seem to have a new dog? 
(3) Everything here would have been significantly more helpful prior to the conclusion when we received these logs. This does give a good retrospective of events and details we do not have any other intelligence regarding.
(4) This information needs to go upstairs.
(5) Received and edited by Ela Pono

The final act of a plot which was started in the second session begins here. This is the culmination of three years of building events. I'm going to be honest right now, all of this work was to provide a foundation for some epic, long-term trolling of the players. I am gratified they did not realize what was happening until it happened. The name of the session is a hint.

Details left out of this adventure log were done deliberately. The most notable was the reveal Hithorn is an agent for the Theran Admiral Lokrun, who has his own designs on Bartertown and the province as a whole. The interaction which took place was important as it marked a new point in character development.

There were a number of events foreshadowing what was to come and building up future plots. Admiral Lokrun is becoming more important, Mistriel hasn't gone away yet, the krokodil drug problem cannot seem to be stamped out, and the deaths plaguing the poorer parts of Bartertown continue unabated.

I always like to keep a lot of irons in the fire. It gives me more options on where to take things based on player actions and I think gives a sense of a larger world beyond just the problem which is the focus of the session. That sense of continuity and consequences is an important theme for this particular game.There are some events from those very first sessions which will still be coming back.

12 August 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 28 - Everything Ends

This is the twenty-eighth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

This is not a canon location.

Adventure Log – 028 Everything Ends

Written By: Honeysuckle Sunspray of Glenwood Deep

Date: 1 Mawag – 8 Mawag, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

Our time in the forest continues. I use my time to learn about the botany here. I am finding lots of unique plants and berries. Each morning everyone goes their separate ways to discover what the forest has in store for us today. Bongani has managed to find food for use each day since the forest spirits found our food to be better than what they had before.

Elmod is making torches in the hopes of keeping the shades at bay to explore the tree at the heart of the forest. First, I found quarsh berries. They look pretty neat and like something we can use(1). While gathering berries there was a lot of screaming. Heading that way, everyone converges on an unconscious Ting and a canopy full of gleaming white, winged monkeys(2). Coriolis was able to recover Ting's body and the rest of the day will be committed to getting back to full strength.

Before returning to camp, I find some jimicia fruit. I'm sure Elmod would be interested in pursuing the visions the fruit offers(3). Coriolis claimed to have talked to a shade, a windling Weaponsmith who claims that someone connected to the forest might be able to get past the shades.

Elmod takes one of the jimicia fruit and has visions of his "mother" and betrayal(4). Kristof arrives and claims that the fruit just makes hallucinations rather than visions of the future.

The following day we head out together only to discover what we thought were moon moths. Upon closer inspection we discover they are death moths. Death moths are so scary. I've never seen anything so scary, maybe this is why the forest spirits are afraid of moths and butterflies. Elmod and Coriolis have seen way creepier things than moths and take down the moths(5).

Later on in the day, Elmod finds the prettiest gem in a tree. Using my awesomeness, I get the gem! On our way back to camp, we encounter a true wonder: a black unicorn, so wonderful and sweet to be around. I got a unicorn ride. Being an adventurer is the best thing ever.

Kristof says he will help us with our search for the free in a few days because it sounds like it will help a friend who has become a shade with unfinished business. We spend a few more days in the forest waiting until it is time to complete our task. The more time we spend here, the more time we spend saving Elmod from being eaten by shades.

After saving Elmod the most recent time, we happen across shades building a step pyramid out of skulls and bones of those that came before us. Spending more time in this forest, we keep seeing stranger and stranger things, yet we continue our questing here. I wonder if we will ever leave, or if we will simply become wanderers of the forest permanently(6).

There have been more sightings of the windling Weaponsmith. I haven't seen him yet and I worry that if I see him, he will disappear. I have a feeling this is my father, Firefly, whose spirit went out a while ago and I now carry his heartblade(7). Kristof required a meeting with Elmod before finally helping us. Kristof confirmed my theory that it is Firefly here, it seems they traveled together for quite a while along with Mestoph. Kristof says I can see Firefly once more, but only once, and then he will be released from this place

Mestoph seems to be watching Elmod and helping to make sure he stays alive, a return on his investment as Mestoph claims. A strange claim, but nothing we haven't heard from Mestoph before(8).

The next day we head off on our tree adventure to find if this is truly Regia's tree. With Kristof's help, hopefully we will have an answer. The tree is pure white and appears to be multiple trees wrapped together; the leaves are white as well. As Elmod and Regia approach the tree, small children's faces appear in the trunk. There is a spot where one child's face is missing, making it seem as if the face had been hacked off, red sap runs down the tree(9).

The faces seem to be reaching out toward Regia, beckoning her to come back to them. Elmod makes a crucial and strange decision and pushes Regia into the tree. The children take her back into the tree and she is gone(10). Before we leave the forest, I say goodbye to Firefly and receive a set of armor from him(11). We leave here and decided to try civilization for a while.(12)
*     *     *
(1) If you need to put someone to sleep for a while. These heroes need an editor.
(2) Ice flyers. 
(3) This does not surprise me. There are conflicting claims about the veracity of the visions. There is a minority within the Library which maintains the "power" of the visions depends on a number of factors, such as location, the user, their state, etc. This would be a very bad place to use them.
(4) Which, of course, he did.
(5) This entire paragraph needs more details.
(6) This comment makes me wonder how many of these "shades" are travelers which simply never left the forest and turned.
(7) We still need information about this. It is a provincial treasure.
(8) What does this mean?
(9) This makes perfect sense, actually. It is just that wrong.
(10) I can now sleep a little safer at night knowing the doll is gone. Seriously creepy.
(11) Yet another provincial treasure we know nothing about.
(12) Received and edited by Ela Pono

This session closed out the arc and went to some surprising places.

The continued exploration of the forest got stranger and more disturbing. This wasn't actually planned, but randomly worked out favorably. There were quite a few encounters which were left off of here, but were largely inconsequential in the bigger scheme.

There were a number of sit downs with the forest guardian, Kristof, to get information from him. He eventually explained some of the theories regarding karmic ties and how they impact the world. The end result is his hands were tied on how much he was willing to offer since he still had an important task in front of him for now. This also went to shed some light on the strange behavior others have been engaging in, such as Mestoph trying to game the system, and Poison Wing and Firefly severing all ties with family (not to mention for political protection). There were some hints of why Firefly died so young and he may have found a loophole to exploit.

The last fireside chat went to some dark places and was foreshadowed by the title of the session. It was the talk of someone facing their own mortality; as their power grew, their ability to directly use it shrank. The table was rather solemn for the rest of the session.

What happened at the tree surprised everyone, myself included. There was a disturbing imagery, and the distinct impression was given the forest isn't a force for good in any sense of mortal comprehension. Elmod's final solution was painful to portray - he was essentially killing his daughter (despite how strange their relationship was) for what he thought would make the world a better place. There was screaming, crying, pleading, but to Elmod the ends justify the means. While most of the group is happy they no longer have to worry about Regia, there is a little nostalgia for here (she comes up multiple times every session) and some slight fear this plot thread may not be over.

At the end of the session was a father and daughter united for the first and last time. It was not the first time they had met, but the revelation which had taken place certainly changed the tone. It was bittersweet, cementing Firefly as one of the most influential NPCs they have come across. One of the few truly decent Namegivers in the setting, who they have now watched die twice. It's interesting when he could surface at the table as a topic - he isn't mentioned. There is just a bit of silence for his memory.

08 August 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 27 - Dark Heart

This is the twenty-seventh Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

This is not a canon location.

Not all of the background and secrets of Ashwood Forest can be divulged since the characters may not yet be done with this place.

They have learned the forest is a place of power, inviolate to Horrors and those who bear their mark; at least, that is the claim. Though surveying astral space confirms it is completely free from their taint. Some who pass on to death come to reside in the forest, trapped as shades for reasons unknown, though there were a few theories put forth. The transformation into a mindless shade takes time and those who can resolve whatever keeps them in this place will pass on from it.

It has a bounty of natural resources, with true elements and living crystal forming within its borders. There are also plenty of natural dangers, not to mention the shades, to go along with this. Such is the draw for this place, the guardian related a story told to him by his predecessor that the war between Cara Fahd and Landis was fought over the forest and everything within it. There was some circumstantial evidence to support this of ancient battles outside of the borders where their airship had crashed.

Adventure Log – 027 Dark Heart

Written By: Coriolis of Travar

Date: 27 Rua – 30 Rua, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

We are currently in the Ashwood. This area is filled with spirits and mysteries. The guardian of this place cryptically tells us about the many dangers that await us in this place.

We now stand in a sea of ash trees without a solid plan on how to find the one tree we're looking for, so we turn to the spirits for advice. The forest spirits stand about 16 inches tall. They are curious little child-like things(1). Apparently they're also hungry things as well.

Ting showed them that they can eat our food during Elmod and my watch. They ate almost all of the food we had. Which means rather than focus on finding the tree, we now have to use our skills to find food and survive.

Growing up in Travar has taught little of wilderness survival. I talk to the forest guardian for help, hit while polite, he didn't offer much help. Luckily the rest of the group had a little bit more success than I did. Bongani came back to camp with enough food to get us through the day, but only one day.

Using the rest of the day light, we combined our efforts into a single hunting party. Our party came across three behemoths. Luckily, with Elmod's magic we were able to scare off the biggest of the beasts. The rest of the beasts quickly fell to my more blood thirsty companions. We harvest any useful bits off the beasts and head back to camp.

The next day, we leave foraging to Bongani and the rest of us forget the dangers of yesterday and set off, leaving the safety of numbers and traveling alone through the woods. Our solo adventures reveal the wealth of riches that is in the forest(2). The most interesting of these riches was the tree Elmod was looking for this whole time.

A group of shades seem to hang around the tree. Shades are small, Horror-like beings(3). Getting to this tree is going to be a problem.

That night our camp is visited by these shade creatures. We draw weapons for battle and Bongani works on restarting our fire. The fire lights before the blood bath can start. At the sight of the light, the shades recoil to the edge of the light. We don't pursue the confrontation and keep within the safety of the light until dawn breaks.

The next morning, we set off on our own adventures, but are quickly brought back together by the battle cry of Bongani. We ran together to find him set upon by five nightmares(4). Their coats were black as a moonless night. The battle was epic and there were many wounded on both sides. It was a hard fought battle, but we came out the victors.(5)

*     *     *
(1) We have no information on what this could be. The description is specific; refer to an Elementalist for more information and taxonomy.
(2) What kind of riches? Need details. 
(3) What is a shade? Again, this seems to be specific, but we have no records of anything like this; refer to a Nethermancer for more information and taxonomy.
(4) Are these literal nightmares given form, or yet another thing which we have no information about? Details, people, details!
(5) Received and edited by Ela Pono

Par for the course, there was a great deal left out here. Some is covered in the introduction, and a large portion regards the specifics on what they did and found each day. Everything left out of this log was a deliberate choice of the group. There were a great deal of specifics they did not want getting out. Including specific information about Ashwood Forest, the strange things which reside there (spirits and shades), the wealth and rarities which can be found within the borders, and the fact they murdered a herd of unicorns. Yeah, those were the "nightmares". To be fair, they were pre-Scourge unicorns who had been living with the forest for generations, untouched by the Horrors, one got away (though it did stalk them), and they only took a few of the horns to sell. If a few is all of them. Yes, the engaged in unicorn horn smuggling and ended up selling it all to their favorite Nethermancer in Bartertown, Fastoon.

From an actual session planning perspective, this was fairly intensive and allowed some of the less used abilities to have their day. It was pretty simple to have the group separate themselves from their supplies. Which was the first time they were far from a base of operations, in dangerous territory, with nothing to eat, or safe to stay. Wilderness Survival became incredibly useful. Though there is a bounty of life, much of it is strange and dangerous, making every expedition potentially dangerous. This also meant time had to be divided between staying alive and finding the secrets of the forest.

Which leads to the major feature of their time in the forest:

I created a bunch of envelopes (well over a hundred), each with an encounter of some kind within. The characters would set out into the forest and use some kind of ability to help them in their exploration. Each of the envelopes fell into a category, whether it was botanical in nature, an animal encounter, mystical, or random, and the ability used would dictate what category of envelope they drew from. Result level would give how many encounters they had in a given day.

Included in a number of the envelopes was the tree they were looking for, The Dark Heart. This was very popular with the players and caused them to make all kinds of terrible decisions which nearly resulted in their deaths; if you disappear into the forest alone, no one will be able to use a last chance salve on you. They spend significantly longer than they had probably intended in the forest, just exploring.

Some examples of encounters include:

Dead Ash: A black ash stands lifeless. There are no leaves or forest spirits in its branches.

Fruit of the Forest: Protruding from the trunk of a giant ash tree are nuggets of wood which appear exceptionally vibrant.

Massacre: A macabre scene happened here. There are eight bodies resembling bipedal wolves, slightly smaller than a human. Fur has been sloughed off in places, revealing long, black marks on their skin. The eyes have been plucked and their tongues torn out.

Message in a Bottle: Perched in the boughs of an ash tree is a very small scroll case. At the base of the tree is the corpse of an ork. They haven't rotted, but show some signs of being picked over by scavengers, black marks on their skin, and broken limbs. The scroll case contains some scraps of paper with cramped, but tidy, cryptic writing.

A Monument to... Something: A step pyramid has been constructed of skulls. They appear to be mostly human and ork, but all Namegivers seem to be represented. The ground in the surrounding area is torn up and a buzzing drone fills the air.

Unexpected Undergrowth: Around the base of an ash tree are protruding some small, green, opaque crystals. A bit of excavation reveals there is significantly more underground.

Unnatural Remains: A number of ash trees have grown around a large, otherworldly corpse. A single, pristine, white ash is growing through what would mostly likely be consider its "heart".

Those in the picture, which are ones they did not find, are:

Murder Scene?: A large swath of ash trees and undergrowth are brittle, dry, and dead. Eventually, you discover briar and wood in the shape of a woman with a long iron spike in "her" chest. her face has a look of terror and her body is frozen in pain.

Penny Lane: You come upon a lane of trees, black and white. Some have grown around copper-colored chains, others just starting. Some of the chains hold skeletons. Shades climb down the trees, faces contorted in pain, reaching out, stretching their long limbs and fingers.

A Tale of Two Kaers: A skeletal arm emerges from the trunk of an ash tree. Clenched in its bony fingers is a scroll case. Within the case are notes which imply the existence of two kaers located somewhere south of Jerris. The evidence is in the form of Theran supply logs, ancient letters to family members from a destroyed kaer in Landis (in Dwarf, not Throalic), and records of some news spread by Hugh Louis - famed pre-Scourge Troubadour.

Topo Berry: This black and pink berry is bitter and causes severe nausea in anything who consumes them for a day. Prolonged exposure can result in death.

The Wreckage of Stars: Scattered through this portion of the forest is the wreckage of a Theran kila. It has long been destroyed and overrun by the forest. There is a cemetery nearby, overgrown with ash trees, though the gravestones are untouched. 

05 August 2014

Earthdawn: Adventure Log 26 - A Very Blustery Day

This is the twenty-sixth Adventure Log in an ongoing series about Earthdawn. Introduction and Index.

This version of Barsaive features a Theran Empire which diverges from the traditional portrayal. Instead of one primary faction with one set of goals and methods, there are multiple players with designs on the province.

There are a number of personalities with their goals and preferred tactics, and each of them in turn supported by their subordinates with their own goals and preferred tactics. The relationships between these Namegivers is just as important as their means and ends. For most, the ultimate goal is to gain power and prestige back in Thera. Often this comes at the expense of their rivals.

While the Overgovernor in Vivane is part of this Gordian knot of plotting, they still have their hands tied to a certain extent. They are forced to rely on the army and navy for actual forces to carry out their orders. In theory, those units assigned to Sky Point are to execute the Overgovernor's demands, but the reality is much messier. All of the officers owe loyalty to their houses and commanders, not to mention the favors, and so on up the chain.

This all leads to a situation where actually enforcing an order on a recalcitrant officer can lead to considerable trouble down the line. Ultimately, unless you have a commander with clout in your pocket, nothing gets done. Of course, the Overgovernor arranged for this long ago and has a pet general and admiral who are often played against each other to prevent them from establishing power bases to threaten the Overgovernor's.

While things haven't been going well, the rebellious province still hasn't been brought to heel, they were stable and there was plenty of profit to go around. This was, of course, until certain developments forced the factions and their players into action.

Adventure Log – 026 A Very Blustery Day

Written By: Elmod from the Other Side of the Well of Glenwood Deep

Date: 14 Rua – 26 Rua, 1508 TH
Group Name: Mismatched Steel

Group Members
Bongani the Scout
Coriolis the Swordmaster
Elmod the Nethermancer
Honeysuckle Sunspray the Windmaster
Ting the Swordmaster

Resting in Jerris after our crab hunting escapade, we find tickets to airsail our way to Vivane on the ship "The Minnow". During the four day trip, I work on Bongani's blood eye, and he and Coriolis join our Mismatched Steel Group Pattern.

A large airship, Thera's Sword(1), is seen at a distance. Bongani says it is Admiral Lokrun's ship, who he trained with, and am reminded I briefly met before in the Servos Jungle(2).

On the third day, the weather turns for the worse and flying becomes troubled. I realized too late how little constitution I have on wooden airships and add a garish amount of color on many parts of the ship - even in the darkness(3). There was brief respite in the middle of the night, and just when I thought I might sleep, all chaos broke out again. I put a few minor fires out with well placed hurls. Eventually it is clear the ship is crashing though. The captain and a few others are killed by the masts. It is pretty much just us. I help steer Coriolis a bit, allowing us to survive our crash landing.

We survey the carnage, Bongani tending those not killed. Among the recoverable objects on the ship were several pots of Grumbah, one of which contained the corpse of a strange tattooed human. When the commotion died down, I performed a quick Experience Death spell on the corpse(4). The sacrificial being was an odd occurrence to say the least. More said could fill tomes.

With the remaining crew, we move camp eventually into the edge of the forest. Bongani and Honeysuckle decide to make a scouting party to go and get help while we others stay behind.

After a say weathering the storm, I investigate the forest a bit in the astral plane, discerning that the forest has a True Pattern of its own(5), and has absolutely no traces of corruption or taint(6). I investigate with Ting and Coriolis a bit further into the forest, but leave when we hear distant howls.

The next day Bongani and Honeysuckle return with half-a-century of Theran soldiers and set up camp. They depart the next day and break their camp(7).

Our party is again left alone. In the night, I burn the body of the strange tattooed corpse.

The next morning we venture into the Ashwood Forest(8). We come across a small skeorx, and soon find its mother. The young flees, but the others, Honeysuckle lands the fatal blow, decapitating it.

Further down the "trail", the bellowing we heard earlier appears in the form of a large, golden brithan. We parlay for a few moments, nominating Honeysuckle to single-handedly duel it, but we are stopped at the very last moment.

Its keeper turns out to be Kristof the Blue(9), the guardian of Ashwood Forest. We talk and learn of the forest and go back to Kristof's camp to learn of the other forest guardians: bony pig, precis, multi-eyed owl, enormous orange skeorx, purple thundra beast, and the flowing forest spirits.

Kristof cannot apparently leave his guardianship post.

He says the White Hand is an old Horror from the Wastes, and may have had interests, beyond Landis and Cara Fahd, in capturing the old power of the forest(10).(11)

*     *     *
(1) We have other reports of this airship being active in the area, particularly near the Servos Jungle. It is rather famous and commanded by Admiral Lokrun. This is not good for the province.
(2) This intelligence would have been considerably more useful if it had been delivered at the time. Details!
(3) Does this mean what I think it means? [With this guy, who knows?]
(4) Only a Nethermancer would have this as their first response when encountering a strange corpse.
(5) This is typical.
(6) This is not.
(7) Hardly an insignificant number of soldiers. What is being left out here?
(8) We have scant reference to this Name. The texts which do seem to have a higher than usual incidence of disappearance, accident, or failure of preservation spells.
(9) This is another of the "Four Fathers", who have largely disappeared from Barsaive.
(10) My attention - you have it.
(11) Received and edited by Ela Pono

Going back over this session always amuses me, in part because it was so long ago (a year and five months) and is a trip down memory lane. Mostly, it is because of the long term groundwork this was laying, what was about to happen, and what wasn't recorded in the adventure log. There is a lot which is missing. Omitted by accident or on purpose, I cannot know. I do know on more than one occasion it has been remarked certain events should not be recorded in the log, because they are supposed to be the heroes of this story. Seriously, their motto is now "... Well, that could have gone better".

This was the first session in a three part arc which was set to change things one way or another. Spoiler alert: I did not see the final direction coming, which is saying something. The primary purpose for this was to find the next Key Knowledge for Elmod's Sinistral Puppet, Regia. This was supposed to be a three-hour tour scenario in their minds, and is pretty much how it went.

Under the surface, a lot of this was just trolling the group. Tragically, much of the trolling was omitted from the adventure log, though I still have this part to record it for posterity.

During their travel from Jerris to Vivane, there was some tension over the Theran vedette following them. They assumed this was because of them. The pilot of The Minnow was acting increasingly strange because he thought it was after him. They found his journal during the crash and discovered he was having an affair with a Theran lieutenant and the lieutenant's wife had found out. This caused a serious of poor decisions and ended with the pilot deciding to lose the Therans by flying into a storm. Things went sharply downhill from there. Turns out the Therans were just flying the same route because it is a convenient route and there have been some crystal raiders in the area.

Despite their omission, there were actual quite a few survivors and getting supplies for them was important. This was the purpose of the excursion and why the Therans were brought back along with the vedette, Thera's Sword. They were actually looking for survivors of what could only be assumed was a crash. What survivors remained when the Therans arrived we flown back to Vivane. It's also important to note a lot of the survivors disappeared during the night from something in the woods. Only those who wandered in there, but they were given instructions to notify and not let anything strange escape. Those left were suffering from PTSD when they were rescued. Well, that could have gone better.

The strange corpse was both a plot hook into the larger ongoing plot and an exercise in, to put it bluntly, manipulating a player. Other pieces which were omitted from the log was the information gathered about the forest and what happened when the corpse was burned. The Nethermancer had a pretty good idea the corpse was involved in some bad things (they were a willing sacrifice and had been altered via powerful blood magic). He also knew there was a spirit trapped in the body and wanted to talk with it. The forest seemed to do some strange things with spirits. So, he burned the body in the forest to release the spirit so they could have a chat. This was pretty much exactly what I wanted to have happen, but I honestly wanted a player to do my dirty work.

When things go wrong, it has considerably more impact when you are cleaning up your own mess, rather than someone else's mess.

This all seemed rather innocuous at the time. Definitely weird, possibly ill-advised since it was explicitly done without the knowledge of the rest of the group, but nothing terribly untoward. but two sessions down the road, there was a moment when realization about exactly what had been done and what the long-term implications were. I'm not going to lie, it was a very good moment. It's always a good thing to see the player's starting to take responsibility for their actions, even if their character's don't realize it yet. That is the investment I want.

In all, this is one of my favorite arcs from this game, period. I hope those reading it agree.