On 8 November, we played our first session on the Stage in the setting of Verden. Exciting times for me, as a lot of my new material is being tested. As most of us are in different countries, we played using Skype and—aside from some minor technical issues—we managed to play for about eight hours straight with very few interruptions. However, Skype has this annoying setting where it allocates priority to some participants on the call, meaning those people always overrule others when someone else speaks. While it would be great if I could do that in real life, it’s kind of annoying when playing.
For things like the playing field in combat, we used the share screen option, which worked brilliantly. I had taken some time to draw out a grid, a décor, and some characters using Inkscape, a great piece of open source software.
Some basics on the setting and the adventure
The adventure takes place in Verden, which is a world based in part on eighth- to ninth-century Great Britain. It is shortly described in Chapter 3 of the Core Rulebook if you want to know a bit more about it. I've copied in a map of Adelfán below.
What is important to know is that there are three races to pick from: Men, Alps, and Gettefolk. ‘Men’ kind of speaks for itself. ‘Alps’ are smaller versions of Men, but bent and very ugly. They’re good at sneaking around. ‘Gettefolk’ are giant goat-people: strong and athletic.
The adventure is set on the island of Adelfán, where Men (called Sorfolk) rule the fertile heartlands. The wilderness that borders the heartlands is inhabited by the Alps, Gettefolk, and a race of Men known as the Ulder.
I had prepared the adventure to take place in the little village of Glemkant, which lies just on the outskirts of the civilized world. Below I’ve copied in (part of) the introductory text that players were given before the adventure.
Glemkant is a small village that lies on the western edge of the heartland of the great island of Adelfán, bordering the untamed hills and forests of the Villmark.
The villagers of Glemkant are fishermen, farmers, or craftsmen that make a living off the sweat of their brows: simple-minded people, who regard strangers with suspicion and who have learned to endure the hardships of Adelfán.
There is one thing, however, that makes Glemkant stand out. Every year, it attracts a mass of penitent pilgrims for the Blomfjellgang. Many of these pilgrims have been charged by the spiritual leaders of their communities to participate in the Blomfjellgang to redeem themselves for crimes, often after a period of imprisonment or other penal measures.
Participating in the Blomfjellgang means to pray for forgiveness during seven days to the Wendel [a sort of spirit goddess—Q] Nena, goddess of virtue, at the plateau of the Blomfjell (the Mountain of Flowers). The pilgrimage traditionally starts at Glemkant, where the penitent pilgrims must make a headband and bracelets of flowers at the Blomstein, a rune stone of the goddess Nena, which they must hang from the statue of Nena on the Blomfjell plateau once they arrive. The journey from Glemkant to the Blomfjell plateau usually takes four days.
I had asked everyone a week before starting to build a character using the Core Rulebook, the Supernatural Rulebook and the draft version of the Verden Sourcebook I had provided. Everyone succeeded, except one guy—but he hadn’t really tried (there’s always one), so that means the character creation section of the books is at least clear. This is what the players came up with:
Jorn is a Sorfolk (Man) is the son of a rich merchant. He lost his position as heir to the family business and became an outcast due to a lack of political finesse. He came to Glemkant a year ago to participate in the Blomfjellgang and now makes a living hunting. He is the only local. In game terms, Jorn focuses on archery (the Ranged combat skill) and the Survival skill.
Flann is an Ulder (Man) who makes a living as a wandering troubadour. He came to Glemkant with a band of traveling artists to try to make some money during the festivities surrounding the Blomfjellgang. In terms of mechanics, Flann has focused on the Creativity skill and some of the Powers from the Icon power tree. Interestingly, he has nearly no Skill levels in the martial skills and is for now mainly focused on support. However, that might change, as the Stage is quite flexible in character advancement.
Anton is an Oestefolk (Man) who has a background as a traveling doctor and priest of Damas, which is not the local main religion, nor is it looked kindly upon by most locals. He traveled to Glemkant as the personal doctor to a wealthy merchant and his sickly son. Anton has some Skill levels in Animism, Medicine, and Close combat. His player has built him so that he can use some of the Animism spells (like Soul splice) to be quite good at fighting.
Ossiaan is an Ettergette (Gettefolk) who poses as a traveling healer. His real name, however, is Dekaokto, and he is a necromancer: a nearly insane secret worshiper of the Infinite, the forbidden god of the Etter, the race of spiderlike creatures that once ruled Verden. He came to Glemkant as a healer to Flann’s party of musicians. Dekaokto seems to be the most skilled magician of all and has a lot of Skill levels in Infusion and Animism.
Swenne is a Krigsgette (Gettefolk) who is extremely strong, but quite naive. He used to work as a bodyguard, but was tricked by his former girlfriend into leaving his charge, who was subsequently robbed and killed. Swenne traveled to Glemkant as a bodyguard to the same merchant that Anton was traveling with. Swenne’s player built him around the Close combat and the Defense skills, so he is quite the warrior; it also helps that he is nearly ten foot tall.
The players wrote some really nice background stories, most of them in English as well. In the future (if I get their permission) I may post them here.
Enough background, let’s get into the game.
As the story begins, it is already late in the afternoon in Glemkant. The road that leads east to civilization is busy with merchants and mercenaries traveling into Glemkant to offer their services to pilgrims during the Blomfjellgang. Among those travelers are Anton and Swenne, who escort a rich merchant by the name of Ervild Herleifsonn and his sick son to Glemkant. Flann and Ossiaan and the band of traveling musicians are on the road into Glemkant as well.
Since Glemkant isn’t a very big village, the only place that travelers can really go is the tavern, Pilgrim’s Rest, which is on the market square. Pilgrim’s Rest is also the place where Jorn is having a few drinks with a few of his fellow townsmen, so this is the perfect set-up for the group to meet each other and either become friends or bash each other’s skulls in (you never really know).
Ervild, Anton, Swenne, Flann, and Ossiaan enter Pilgrim’s Rest at roughly the same time. Besides Jorn and a few townsfolk, they see a band of three warriors, one of them a huge Krigsgette. Jorn, catching the scent of cash on the rich merchant that just came in, has a chat with Ervild, who tells he was escorted here by Swenne and Anton, and is quite pleased with their services.
UPDATE: It was about this time that Flann claimed the stage by starting to sing the song 'Hot Helga', which became a recurring theme. As the guy who plays Flann is quite the artistic soul, he has decided the world would be a better place if he were to actually write the lyrics to the song 'Hot Helga', a highly poetic work on... the merits of prostitution, I guess? How can I disagree? And how can I not publish that here? So here it is, the full, uncensored, unedited, unabridged, rough and tumbling Sorfolk song, 'Hot Helga', written by Flann!
Of all the beauty’s that ever I see,
that Helga is the fairest in her degree,
Serving the drinks, all would agree,
The innkeepers wife, buxom she be.
She stood the tables, while tray she held.
Sang and danced, many man she felt,
Bares her chest for all to see,
The innkeepers wife, buxom she be.
A rich man once, being so to blame,
Did make her blush as being ashamed.
Oh round Helga, Strong and warm he told.
Over your man’s head, horns I would hold.
Thus they laughed and they played,
That rich young man and pretty “maid”,
On her rounds his hands did stay,
Under the blankets whereas they lay.
As the innkeeper did open the door.
The man leapt from her bed to the floor,
While clothes within the inn did stay.
He jumped through the window without delay.
The innkeeper called out the man,
Young lord is welcome to come again,
As paid you did, my wife’s high fare!
The mans abandoned money he held in the air.
Of all the beauty’s that ever I see,
That Helga is the fairest in her degree,
Serving the drinks, all would agree,
The innkeepers wife, buxom she be.
As the tavern grows more crowded, Jorn is approached by Bern, the head priest of the village’s temple. (Remember: Jorn is a local; he and the head priest are well acquainted, even though Jorn is not much of a religious man.) Bern takes a seat and asks Jorn for help on an issue which is of the utmost importance to the temple and Glemkant. Jorn notices that the band of three warriors is listening in on their conversation, and he proposes to go to a place where they can talk privately and without being overheard.
Once in private, Bern explains to Jorn what he needs help with: he (and his cousin Olrik, who helps him at the temple) has discovered that the body of a hero of myth lies buried not too from Glemkant in an old fort called Kongshode. This hero, known as the Høstbarn, was a Steadfolk [the Steadfolk are a race of Men—Q] rebel who fought against the Etter and died centuries ago. Tales of the Høstbarn are well-known locally and reinterment of his body at the holy site of the Blomfjell might increase the popularity of the Blomfjellgang and with it, that of Glemkant. As such, the king has approved that Bern commissions some men to retrieve the body of the Høstbarn from its burial ground and bring it to Glemkant, to have it reinterred at the Blomfjell holy site. The reward would be a total 5 Silvermark. Seeing as there are so many mercenaries in Glemkant, Bern has difficulties finding suitable ones. He wishes to entrust Jorn to find several men to undertake this mission with.
Jorn happily agrees to this proposal (having run on a dry patch) and sets out into the tavern to find some reliable men. As he’s spoken with Ervild the merchant before, who recommended Swenne and Anton’s services, Jorn decides to have a chat with those two first. He invites them (and Ossiaan, who happened to be talking to Anton about the fine art of healing) to his house tomorrow morning to discuss the quest.
When Jorn leaves Pilgrim’s Rest to go to his shack, he is followed outside by the three mercenaries who were eavesdropping. He manages to shake them (see ‘Pursuing Jorn’) and get home safely.
The next morning, the group meets up at Jorn’s shack, despite the fact that it can hardly contain two Gettefolk. Flann—although not invited—comes along anyway. Jorn considers him a good addition to the group, as he may be able to write an epic or a poem of the deeds to come, which the temple may appreciate. Jorn explains to the others what Bern has asked him to help with: retrieving the body of the Høstbarn. It is quickly settled that everyone is keen to join; they will split the reward equally amongst them. As there is some haste (the Blomfjellgang starts in two weeks and the body of the Høstbarn needs to be in Glemkant by then), they decide to set out immediately after they’ve met with Bern.
The newly formed group make their way to the temple to confirm to Bern that they’ll be undertaking the mission. Along the way, they have a slight run-in with the three mercenaries who had been listening in and had chased Jorn yesterday after he had left Pilgrim’s Rest. The Gettefolk among them, who is called Ykka, tries to pick a fight with Swenne, who is also a Gettefolk. Swenne, however, isn’t impressed and pulls out his suurvasar, an eight foot, two-handed maul that could smash anything to smithereens. Ykka is sufficiently intimidated and returns to his friends (see ‘Hammer time’).
Bern pays the group half of the promised amount up front, and they use it to buy some supplies. The remainder is distributed among them. There is also another short run in with the three other mercenaries in the temple when Jorn clearly overhears the Ulder mercenary talking to Olrik, Bern’s cousin, who tells him the name of the group's destination, Kongshode.
The group deduces they might be competing with these other mercenaries, who have been nothing but outright hostile towards them. As they fear the other group of mercenaries might follow them or try to race them to Kongshode, they buy their supplies with due haste and set out to Kongshode immediately (see ‘The Road Less Traveled’).
The first day of the trek is uneventful as it takes players through a rural area.
The Road Less Traveled
I presented the players with three routes to Kongshode:
To travel via the river and the forest, which was the quickest route, but they’d need to procure a ship;
To trek through the wilderness in a straight line towards Kongshode. This was the second fastest, but easily most dangerous route.
To go via the old Blomroad, comes close to Kongshode. This route was a little longer, but the safest route. (As safe as it could get in the wild Villmark.)
Of course, the players choose option number 4, which was to wander out into the wilderness cluelessly. I had to update my encounter tables to reflect this change as the road they created was slightly less dangerous than route number two and slightly more than route number three.
On the second day of their journey, the group gets into the wild hills where civilization ends. They encounter a small shack that seems to have been inhabited recently. Ossiaan salvages a small but expertly crafted wooden statuette of a woman from the shack, a woodcarving knife, and some supplies.
At night, when the group makes camp, they hear wolves howling. They decide to post a double guard and Jorn even sets a few traps. During Anton and Swenne’s watch, two curious wolves approach the camp and are met with hostility. The fight is over in two Rounds as Anton is quite skilled with the old quarterstaff and Swenne has his two-handed suurvasar which splattered a wolf in one blow (see Hammer time II).
Hammer time II
The encounter with the wolves read: “At night, a pack of five wolves may visit the camp. Two of them scout ahead and are looking for food. The wolves’ intentions are not necessarily hostile, but they are probing the group for suitability. The wolves can be convinced to leave by tossing them scraps of meat or by using the Survival (handle animal) skill. The Action difficulty for this Skill check is 4, but characters suffer a -1d penalty as the wolves are wild.”
It’s a nice example of how someone with some Skill levels in the Survival skill could solve a problem, but in the end it was solved with violence, which is fine.
I immediately tweaked the wolves when I deployed them against Swenne and Anton, because they were too powerful. When I’d made them, I decided that they deal extra damage equal to their Body level on a bite attack and extra damage equal to half their Body level on a claw attack. Even after subtracting their -2 damage Penalty (due to smaller Size category) this was still a lot of damage. I’ve made the same mistake with two-handed weapons, which allow the wielder to add his Body level in damage to the attack; that is quite overpowered and—as I risked killing off Swenne on the first attack—I decided to tweak it immediately. Should’ve noticed that earlier.
I did enjoy the wolves’ Grab ability. On a successful bite attack, they can immediately initiate a grapple. Since Swenne had no Brawl skill levels, the wolves would have ripped him apart if it hadn’t been for Anton. I’m happy with this, as that should be the way wolves fight.
The next day is uneventful. The group encounters the bodies of some vagrants that the wolves have been nibbling on and Jorn discovers that the dead vagrants may have fought with the Trow, evil Hulderfolk who live in these hills, although they normally tend to stay away from people. Later in the afternoon, they discover one of the old barrows that litter these hills, sealed off by a heavy stone. The group decides against exploring it.
At the end of the day, they can see the fortress of Kongshode in the distance, and decide to camp out in the wilderness for one more night before approaching it. As Kongshode is populated by a few Trow and their leader, a Trow Mother, the group was spotted from the moment they lit their campfire and the Trow were on high alert.
The next day, the group decides to take on the fortress. It is a large, walled complex and—although the walls can be scaled—doing so might be difficult. Jorn scouts ahead and finds nothing. However, when he tries to open the gate, he finds it barred, and one of the wolves on the other side starts barking (see ‘Blind scouting’), only to be silenced by the raw voice of one of the Trow inside. Jorn returns to the party to convey this information, and the group decides to stealthily march up to the fortress. However, stealth is not the best when there are two Gettefolk in the party and the Trow spot the approach of the large creatures and start pelting them with stones.
The final battle for this session begins!
The group used the cover of trees and rocks to get to the fortress, which was relatively easy, as the Trow that stood on top of the gatehouse platform were really terrible shots with their slings (see ‘The enemies’). It was up to Swenne to bust open the gate with two mighty strokes of his suurvasar. However, once the gate was open, the Trow Mother that hid inside unleashed her wolves (two small ones and one large, summoned one) on Swenne.
The encounter was tailored to be not too difficult, just to test and see if there are any balancing issues. The Trow hunters (there were three) each had 30 Character points, which is 10 less than a player's character. They were actually quite dangerous while wielding their halfspears, but as they spent the entire battle on top of the gatehouse, throwing stones (much more Trow-like than engaging directly with a spear in melee), they were not so much a threat as a nuisance.
But the Trow also had two wolf pets. These had 46 Character points each and were quite dangerous, even when tweaked in accordance with my findings in ‘Hammer time II’ above.
Finally, there was the Trow Mother. She had 79 Character points and was able to cast Spells of the third Circle, like Summon, which she used to summon a large wolf, which has 46 Character points. I positioned her in the courtyard to buff the Trow and summon the wolf. The group would be unable to reach her until they had broken down the gate.
So in total, the enemies had 261 Character points (307 if you count the summoned wolf) over 6 (or 7) characters, whereas the group has a total of 200 Character points over 5 characters.
Even though Swenne is a strong Krigsgette, he had a lot of difficulties as the wolves all set on him (he was the closest and most obvious target). Swenne struggled and lost his armor in the process as the unrelenting wolves managed to breach it several times. However, Ossiaan managed to provide some healing to keep Swenne on his feet and Anton and his quarterstaff provided the firepower needed to dispatch of the wolves (see ‘Details of the fight’).
Details of the fight
Every round (unless he was being pelted by the Trow with stones), Flann played on his flute and used the Inspiring art power, granting his allies a Bonus to their next Skill check with a Body or Soul skill. To be able to use this Power, he needed to overcome (as Action difficulty) the highest number of Intellect and Sanity points combined among his targets. This is based on the principle in the Stage that smart people are not easily influenced by a bad performance. Flann decided to target everyone, except Jorn (who is quite intelligent) to keep the Action difficulty low. I hadn’t seen the mechanics used in that way before, but I liked it, even though it seems a bit unrealistic. I might have to overthink this again.
Anton used the Bonus granted by Flann’s Inspiring art power to bolster his Animism skill check when casting the Soul splice spell. The result was that he could grant himself an outrageously high Bonus to Close combat and Agility for several Rounds, making him an extremely effective warrior. My first thought was that this was quite unbalanced. I believe I may need to tweak the enhancing spells a little bit by, for example, maximizing the Bonuses they grant. I’ll need to have another look at this.
Another thing that I noticed was that the Supernatural Rulebook lists casting times for touch/thrown Spells excluding the time it takes to touch the target or throw the Spell at him; so casting the Spell casts 3 AP, and the a Spellcaster has to spend 1 more AP to touch the target or throw the Spell at the direct. I’m not happy about that, as it becomes nearly impossible to cast a touch/thrown spell and immediately have it affect a target. I am going to change the casting time for Spells with thrown/touch range to 2 AP, so that Spellcasters will generally still be able to affect the target in the same Round.
Finally, we misused the Cantrips power of the Supernatural Rulebook. We thought it reduced the AP requirements for the casting of a Spell while in fact all it does is reduce the costs in Stamina, Intellect, or Will points.
Once Swenne was freed up, he charged into the courtyard and ended the Trow Mother with a single stroke of his mighty hammer. After this, the remaining Trow tried to flee. One met with Anton’s quarterstaff and the other was disarmed by Flann and subsequently released.
After the group had assured that there were no further threats lurking in the fortress, they explored Kongshode. Most of the fortress was empty, save for the lair of the Trow Mother on the ground floor. They searched it and found some simple supplies. They also found a hatch that leads into the catacombs.
The hatch has been used as a refuse pit by the Trow, however, who have been chucking everything in there, from rubbish to excrements. The group risks infection when they go through that filth. However, as they are sure that the body of the Høstbarn is below, they decide to climb down. In the catacombs below Kongshode, they find a mighty vault door of stone and iron, which Ossiaan knows to be a Velv: a door of the Etter that may lead into their underground realm of Fandenhuler. The Velv is locked and the group decides to leave it alone for now.
They search the underground chamber and eventually find a large, loose tile with a carving of a warrior and an inscription:
“HERE LIES THE KEREL HØSTBARN, THANE OF KING BLODDRIKKA, WHO SLEW THE ETTER LORD MANTHAKOS AT KONGSHODA. HE FELL AT KONGSHODA TO QUENCH OTAX’S THIRST FOR BLOOD. MAY HE REST BY OTAX BLESSED.”
The group opens the grave and find the remains of the Høstbarn in wrappings, as well as some gold plates that were once part of a gilded axe. They load the Høstbarn’s remains into their cart, as well as the gravestone, and decide to return to Glemkant as soon as possible.
The return journey is uneventful and takes a little over three days. The only event of note is that Ossiaan (during his watch) opens the wrappings that contain the remnants of the Høstbarn to take a small chip of the skull for his necromantic purposes.
When the group arrives back in Glemkant, they are welcomed as heroes by Bern, who happily pays them the rest of the amount due and thanks them for their services.
In short, a great session and I was happy to see that a lot of the new material worked. To be continued…
- Consider tweaking the Athletics (pursue) skill to make it a Flat check.
- Adding Body level to damage for natural attacks and two-handed weapons is overkill.
- Remember that you can counter any Skill check with the same Skill check (Guile vs Guile; Intimidate vs Intimidate).
- Have another think about Powers (and Spells) that affect multiple targets as characters can bypass heavy Action difficulties by choosing to have their Spell or Power not affect specific targets.
- Take another look at Spells like Soul splice (generally, enhancing Spells). They are currently way out there, especially when used with Powers like Inspiring art or other that enhance the use of a Supernatural skill. Consider maximizing the Bonuses granted or standardizing them and making the Spell’s Skill check a Flat check.
- Spells with a range of touch/thrown should have a casting time of no more than 2 AP.
- Use the Cantrips power for its intended purpose.
UPDATE: Some post-play discussions gave me some extra food for thought:
- Have another look at Encumbrance. Either add Size category to a character's maximum Encumbrance points or change the Encumbrance scores of the items in Verden. Right now, you struggle to even carry a sword around.
- The Prerequisites for Powers regarding minimum Skill levels should be one level lower, as right now it kind of limits the early game choices too much.
- Test changing the Character point system to purchasing Skill levels instead of Body/Mind/Soul levels. That might discourage 'powerplay' and give players an incentive to choose more different Skills just because it's fun, instead of carefully planning their characters.
Read about session 2 here!