On 15 January, we played the third session on the Stage in the setting of Verden. We resumed testing of the new Defense skill rules and also tested the new Encumbrance rules, the new stacking Bonuses rules, the new parrying rules, and the new non-lethal damage rules. Fun was had!

Read about the previous session here, and about the first session (which includes an introduction to the setting and the characters) here.

Spoilers ahead!

This adventure is set in the world of Verden, a setting for which I am currently writing a sourcebook. Many of its characters and events will become part of the first adventure that is likely to be provided as part of the sourcebook, so there may be some spoilers ahead. Consider yourself warned! 

Where and how?

My players, scattered all over Europe, flew in to meet me at a secret lair in an undisclosed mountainous and snowy area. We stayed there for three days--nerding it up with a bunch of .pdf’s and dice--to happily and slowly lose our sanity and grip on reality. It was good to play face-to-face again, without the complications of webcams and intermittent internet connections. We played about three sessions in Verden over the course of three days and finished the Verden module I had written. I intend to write up logs of all these sessions in the coming days which I’ll post here.

Let’s get to it.

Day 20

We ended the previous session with Berend rallying the villagers and the mercenaries that had gathered at the Blomfjell plateau to return to Glemkant, where the dead were reported to walk again, and to liberate the village. The march should take them about 4 days. At the start of the march, the band consists of just over twenty men, excluding the players, Bern, and Ervild.

After the first day of marching, Berend holds a war council with Ervild, Bern, and Anton (who he presumes to be the leader of the other players) to discuss what to do. Afterwards, Anton and Berend discuss the course of action with the rest of the players as well. It is agreed that they need to investigate the village. If they find that the villager who reported the walking dead was right, they’ll send a contingent to the nearby village of Lundeby for reinforcements. If feasible, they’ll also try to relieve the village.

Also, Flann wrote another song! Avid readers will remember the little altercation between everyone's favorite bard and Ervild the merchant during the previous session. Flann, of course, felt quite guilty after his terrible treatment of such an honorable man and thought it wise and appropriate to write a song in honor of Ervild, perhaps to be presented as an apology... You can read it here!

Day 21

At night on the second day of marching, a column of purple light blasts into the sky, far beyond the western horizon. It glows brightly for several minutes and then diminishes. Ossiaan, who has knowledge of arcane matters, knows such light signals were used by the Etter, the slaver race that once ruled Verden. Berend, who knows much of this area, deduces that the signal came from somewhere around Kongshode, the Etter fort where the players found the corpse of the Høstbarn. It seems the rising dead may not be Glemkant’s only problem.

Day 22

On the night of the third day of their march, the players hear grumbling and moaning sound in the distance. The players and the villagers quickly mobilize and make ready for battle. From the darkness of night, 12 animated corpses of Glemkant villagers charge forward to attack the living. The players quite easily dispatch of the undead (see ‘Battle details’ below for more information), although 3 villagers perish in the fight. At the end of the battle, Berend gives a motivating speech to the villagers, which restores some of their confidence.

Battle details

For this encounter, the players were pitted against 12 undead who came at them in waves. Every Round, between two and three new ones would arrive, until the entire group was there. Part of the encounter's terrain was a ridge that led up a hill that would allow for a more easily defended bottleneck. The players ignored that advantage, but they didn’t need it in the end.

Every Glemkant undead had 24 Character points (half of the players'), no Skill levels above 2, and was unarmed. An individual undead would hardly be a threat to a character with some combat training. However, 12 of them might pose a threat. The battle demonstrated an interesting development in combat dynamics thanks to the new parry and defense rules. Since characters can now parry at a cost of 0 AP (and 1 Stamina point) and can use the Defense skill as often as they like (at the cost of 0 AP and 1 Stamina point), warriors now tend to parry attacks much, much more often (if not almost exclusively). The Defense skill seems to have become a fallback, with characters employing it only when they fail at parrying. The Agility (dodge) skill is hardly used anymore in melee combat. The consequence of this development is that--even when overwhelmed by a high number of enemies--characters still retain their AP and can still pick off the attackers--if they have enough Stamina points or someone who can restore those, that is.

This, I feel, is not unrealistic. Characters in melee try to parry attacks swiftly, using weapons and shields, and rely on armor for the blows that get through their defenses. If we then interpret the Agility (dodge) skill as a sort of ‘full defensive’ move, it becomes realistic that players that want to be on the offensive in melee simply do not use the Agility (dodge) Skill. Instead, the Agility (dodge) skill would be more suitable for a) evading ranged attacks; and b) non-combatants that want to break free. However, this development also reduces the value of the Agility (dodge) skill, which is why I am considering tweaking it. My best idea so far is to combine it with movement. That would mean dodging becomes evading an attacker and disengaging by creating space between the attacker and defender. This would translate onto the Stage as follows: a character that uses the Agility (dodge) skill at the cost of 1 AP gets to move anywhere in his current Cube as part of the evasive maneuver (even if he takes damage). A defender would then not only evade the attack, he would also force the attacker to spend more AP to close in on the defender again, should he be inclined to re-engage. That way, a character gets more bang for his 1 AP. It will also increase combat survivability by giving characters an easy way out of a melee that’s a bit more than they can handle.

The end result of this all is that combat between equals in combat Skill levels may become an affair of stamina: you can parry and block attacks until you run out of Stamina points, at which point you strain yourself and become weaker. The attacker may then profit from that. Combat against an inferior foe, however, will still usually be a matter of cutting them down easily. It also means that warriors will almost always have retained all of their AP when their turn comes, as their defenses no longer cost AP. This is a game changer, but I think it’s a fun one. I’ll have to do an impact assessment on this.

The Summon spell

Ossiaan used the Summon spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 114-115) to great effect. We used it to let him summon human warriors with a Character point score of around 40. Theoretically, he could summon an infinite amount of such warriors, especially when using an Enhancement that extends the Spell’s duration to several hours. I’m totally cool with a Spellcaster summoning several servants, but a maximum might be a good idea, as well as a more accurate description of the kind of creatures that can be summoned (perhaps linked to the sourcebooks that describe different types of creatures); it was a bit unclear to Ossiaan's player.

Day 23

In the early afternoon, the group of travelers can see Glemkant in the distance. Many of the buildings in the village are burned and have collapsed, but the outer palisade and the keep in the village proper are still intact. There are lights coming from the keep. The players cannot see anything moving in the village, so they decide to head in straightaway. Bern, the village priest, protests as there might still be undead hiding among the ruins. In the end, it is decided that Bern and the villagers stay behind while the players scout ahead.

Once in the village, the players go to the town square, where they find the corpses of the village’s ruler, Nysse Carsonn (son of the King and brother of Berend) and his housecarls. Immediately upon this discovery, the players are beset upon from all sides by undead that crawl out of the ruins of Glemkant. The players manage to kill some of them, although Ossiaan is wounded in the process, and then make a run to retreat into the fortress (see Battle details II below). Berend, however, retreats to the villagers, Ervild, and Bern instead of to the keep (he is on horseback and can easily outrun the undead).

Battle details II

The undead in Glemkant are of the same type as those described above (see Battle details above). There were 13 of them this time, arriving at 2-Round intervals. Although the encounter was about the same as the encounter above in terms of enemy strength and numbers, the undead came at the players from multiple sides and the players didn’t have villagers supporting them (although the villagers' role in the previous encounter was limited). It was therefore a bit more difficult and the players called a retreat.

In terms of playtesting, the battle reaffirmed the above: there was lots of parrying and the Summon spell was extensively used by Ossiaan. One of the players tried charging from one enemy he was already engaged with to another, once again bringing into discussion the lack of ‘attacks of opportunity’ or a similar system on the Stage. As such, players can freely move, disengage, or charge from enemy to enemy. I am not really too worried about this: first, battlefield mobility is fun; second, players don't need to disengage and engage for the charge bonus as they can get the same bonus without moving and at the same AP cost by doing a power attack (see Core Rulebook, page 48).

The players that retreated into the fortress meet the few survivors of the Glemkant catastrophe who had holed up in the keep to wait it out. They find out that the village leader, Nysse Carsonn, led a sortie when he found out that the dead were rising. Unfortunately, he and his force were overwhelmed and Nysse Carsonn was killed. The only survivors of that sortie are the Reeve--Lomund Veigsonn--who was wounded; his daughter, Elma Runhilddotter; a soldier, Nils Hendriggsonn (who claims to have fought bravely, but likely hid and didn’t fight at all); Nysse’s widow; and a servant. The survivors also relate the story of how Olrik Fastigsonn--Bern’s cousin and the priest that stayed behind while Bern and the players went on the Blomfjellgang--seemed possessed and traveled north towards Kongshode, from where the purple beacon shone about three to four days after his departure.

There is also some racial tension when Elma (who is quite the warrior princess and a well-known figure in the Kingdom of Althring) insults Anton on account of his being an Oestefolk. Anton returns the insult by stating that at least he didn’t hide in a fortress while the villagers of Glemkant were being slaughtered. Elma furiously challenges him to Holmgang. Anton accepts the challenge, and they agree to duel after the town has been cleansed.

Berend, in the meantime, gathers the villagers outside of Glemkant and persuades them to march into Glemkant to relieve the village. When the players in the fortress see him leading this force, they decide to ride out and join him. Elma joins them in this sortie. The forces of Berend and his villagers and the other players and Elma engage the remaining undead in a pincer movement and defeat them with ease (see Battle details III below).

Battle details III

The final battle against the undead was more of a sweeping up of the remaining six or seven undead than anything else. Since Elma and Berend, both mounted combatants, rode ahead of their columns (a good Sorfolk practice to prove bravery in battle), I had a few chances to test combat on horseback. I liked it a lot: the mobility is superb and plays out really well with the Cube movement system. Characters can dash in and out of combat to deliver a quick charge and avoid the enemy’s retaliation (barring ranged attacks), unless the enemy prepares an Interruption or has a weapon that allows him to deliver an attack as a Reactive action (such as a spear). Nothing needs to be changed there, I don’t think.

When all the undead are killed, there are celebrations all around. The wounded Reeve comes out of the keep to congratulate the players on their victory and before he gets a chance to even propose the next step, the players offer to follow Olrik’s trail to Kongshode to investigate the purple beacon and bring Olrik to justice if possible. The Reeve happily accepts their offer and assures them the King will be grateful and will undoubtedly offer them a reward should they return.

Then, the duel between Elma and Anton takes place (despite some efforts by Berend and the Reeve to postpone or cancel it). Anton uses his magic to kill Elma, which is a big no-no in Sorfolk culture (see Holmgang below), and causes the remaining villagers to turn against him and his outsider friends Swenne, Flann, and Ossiaan. The Reeve (who is also Elma’s father) intervenes despite his grief and gives them an opportunity to leave the village before things turn sour. The players (except Berend) leave for one of the watchtowers on the Blomroad, where they’ll wait for Berend to join them.

Holmgang

The cultural concept of Holmgang became kind of a recurring theme in the coming few sessions. It is actually loosely based on an historical way of settling disputes.

Elma’s character was built to be very, shall we say, inflammable. Also, I had decided that her defeat at Glemkant under Nysse Carsonn made her eager for an opportunity to regain her honor. Finally, she was racist. Considering the quite multi-ethnic make-up of the party, all of this combined was likely to become a problem; I had expected that players would not like her and had even expected they might come to blows, so the Holmgang was no surprise.

Anton did well by winning the initiative in the duel, which gave him the chance to cast his Soul splice spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 111) in preparation. He then parried her attacks until he finally managed to deliver his Soulsap spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 119), which killed Elma at once (she couldn’t resist Soul damage very well). In terms of Character points, Anton and Elma were equals, so this was an interesting demonstration of how a mage/warrior-character like Anton could still defeat a complete warrior like Elma in a duel. This would have been difficult under the old rules, as it was once again the revamped parrying skill that allowed Anton to retain enough AP to cast his Soulsap spell.

Berend mostly ignores the Holmgang between Anton and Elma, feeling it to be stupid waste of time and resources at a time such as this. He asks for Bern’s assistance to bury his brother, Nysse. From his brother’s possessions, he takes an amulet of Otax, the Blood God of the Wendel, and swears vengeance by it. Berend then spends the night at Glemkant’s keep, ready to meet the rest of the players come dawn.

Another great session, which we continued the next day. More campaign logs will follow soon!

A final note on compounding Bonuses

We tested the rules on compounding Bonuses that were introduced here. This new rule works very well. Spells and abilities that grant Bonuses were still useful, but no longer overpowered. It took a while to explain how it worked to some players, but once the concept was grasped, it rested firmly in their minds. This one will stay in.

A final note on Encumbrance rules

We also used the new Encumbrance rules. The new rules were okay, but players still struggled to carry basic stuff that they basically should be able to carry without too much fuss. One player proposed allowing characters to carry extra Encumbrance points equal to their Size category (7 for human-sized characters) as a minimum and amending equipment Encumbrance scores correspondingly. I feel that is an elegant solution and may use it.

Lessons learned

  • I am happy with the new rules on the Defense skill and parrying. We can remove the maximum number of parry attempts per Round that I had introduced in the dev update (it was equal to the Skill level in the relevant Skill). We forgot to use it and I don't think it was missed. That will require me to amend the Defensive stance and Dueling powers as well.
  • The Agility (dodge) skill needs an extra edge to ‘stay in the race’. That edge might very well be adding a movement component to the Agility (dodge) skill that allows players to completely disengage by moving anywhere within their current Cube, forcing opponents to close in on them again.
  • Think about Attack rating, especially in the light of the above. If warriors now have all AP left to attack, weapons with an Attack rating below 3 rapidly lose value as players waste AP when wielding slow weapons. One player also noted that the Attack rating concept can be a bit confusing to new players and perhaps the Stage could do without, which is worth considering.
  • Maximize the number of creatures a character can summon using the Summon spell and introduce some rules on what exactly can be summoned. The former could perhaps be linked to Animism skill level; the latter to Sourcebooks.
  • Consider allowing characters to always, as a minimum, carry item(s) with a total Encumbrance score equal to their Size categories (which is 7 for human-sized characters).

Read about session 4 here!

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