On 17 January, we played the fifth (and final) session on the Stage in the setting of Verden. This was our third day in our top-secret mountain refuge. We further explored the new Defense skill rules, the new Encumbrance rules, the new stacking Bonuses rules, the new parrying rules, and the new non-lethal damage rules. And there was even more death than during the previous session...
We ended the previous session with more than half of the party being wiped out by the Buggane. Only Flann (who now suffers from Disability counters due to lost Spirit points) and Berend (riding a mortally wounded horse) managed to get away.
Flann and Berend find a place to rest, away from the Buggane, and decide to continue to Kongshode tomorrow to investigate. If they find enemies there, they’ll return to Glemkant and get reinforcements; if not, they’ll try to finish their charge on their own.
Day 26 – 28
Flann and Berend continue their journey towards Kongshode. Progress is slow, because there are only two of them left, which forces them to rest for extended periods as one needs to guard the camp while the other sleeps.
In the afternoon, Flann and Berend arrive at Kongshode. They approach the fort to inspect it and spot a large, stone creature patrolling the fort’s courtyard. There are also a few undead lingering in the courtyard, apparently allied with the large, stone creature. The stone creature notices them when they approach the gatehouse: it is hostile and gives chase. Flann and Berend decide this is more than they can handle for now and retreat.
They return to their camp and find that Berend’s horse succumbed to its wounds while they were away. Flann and Berend decide to return to Glemkant and report the presence of foes there. They will try to get reinforcements before they head out again.
The module that I’d written didn’t anticipate the players would be nearly wiped out by a Buggane and would have to return to Glemkant for reinforcements. This new course of events risks the suspension of disbelief as Olrik, now possessed by an Etter spirit that is over 500 years old, had traveled to Kongshode to find a way to go to the Fandenhuler, the underground realm of the Etter. However, the passage into the Fandenhuler in Kongshode is blocked and he would have to look for an alternative solution. Under those circumstances, it makes no sense for him to just wait around for several weeks in Kongshode until the players show up.
I shortly considered improvising and having the players find Kongshode empty on their return, but full of clues of where Olrik went. I decided against, as I wanted to test the module as I’d written it and not deviate from the plan; the players were graceful enough not to openly question this idiotic behavior of the newly possessed Olrik.
To prevent this for future playthroughs, I should make the travel distances (Glemkant - Kongshode and Glemkant - Blomfjell) shorter to allow for quicker travel. Also, if I make it so that Kongshode can be seen from Glemkant, the surviving villagers can tell the players with certainty that the purple signal came from Kongshode. The players now had to determine that for themselves (which they did), but other groups might not be so quick to ‘take the bait.’
Day 30 - 35
Flann and Berend travel from Kongshode back to Glemkant.
When Flann and Berend return to Glemkant, they report their findings to the Reeve, Lomund Veigsonn. Lomund is sorry for the deaths of Berend and Flann’s comrades, but judges it to be the justice of the Wendel and retribution for Anton’s foul play during the Holmgang with his daughter. Berend asks for reinforcements as he wishes to return to Kongshode. The Reeve asks the new men (reinforcements and mercenaries from the nearby village of Lundeby) for volunteers. Among them are the new player characters, Sigmund, Odmund, and Anastasia, as well as Nils Hendriggsonn, one of the few survivors of the Glemkant catastrophe.
New player characters
Sigmund Goodheart is a Sorfolk doctor who has a knack for lies and deceit. While Sigmund is a capable doctor (although he can’t read and write), he is also a bit of a quack and makes a living convincing others to buy bits and baubles with ‘healing properties.’
Odmund Barsonn is a Sorfolk mercenary who makes a living as a spellsword for hire. He uses the Psionics skill (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 49) and associated Spells to aid his combat ability and travels from town to town, fighting and drinking and is an avid partaker in Holmgangs.
Anastasia (with an extended surname) is an Oestefolk Celestine: a female noble warrior who hails from the continent of Oest and greatly values the traditions of Damas. She is one of the surplus daughters of a noble family and took to traveling to carve out her place in the world. She is an archer.
The players decide to spend the night at Glemkant before setting out again. Odmund gets in a duel with one of the other local warriors, a Skølle, and defeats him in combat (eventually sparing him). He also tries to win some information about Damas from Anastasia, and expresses interest in converting to the religion.
Flann, in the meanwhile, visits the ruins of Glemkant’s temple where he looks for the shrine of Hualla, the Spirit-in-the-Spirits, Goddess of alcohol, thieves, revelers, and bards. He prays for an explanation of what happened during the fight with the Buggane and gets angry when he receives none.
Restoring Spirit or Sanity points
In the current iteration of the Stage, there are no rules on how to restore Spirit points (or Sanity points). Players, however, would want to see those points restored, as with each point lost they incur a Disability counter, which in turn costs them one die on every Skill check (see Core Rulebook, pages 21-22).
To regain his Spirit points, I told Flann’s player he’d need to tell me how his character copes with the loss of Spirit points, which was the direct result of his battle with the Buggane during which more than half of his allies fell. His anger at the goddess Hualla, who he expected to protect him, was the first step in that process of that coping.
In the coming iteration of the Stage, I am very likely to introduce a game mechanic to restore Spirit and Sanity points. This will be linked to the new Powers and the Science skill (for restoring Sanity points) and the Speechcraft skill (for restoring Spirit points) by means of neurology and psychiatry respectively. I have some double feelings about this, as I greatly enjoy that characters have to role-play restoring their sanity and spirit; however, as Sanity and Spirit point loss may occur frequently, I feel players need a fair and less arbitrary way of restoring them.
Reeve Lomund provides the players with a donkey to carry their supplies (water and food), while they obtain some more weaponry from the keep’s armory. They set out early in the morning for Kongshode and spend the first night in a small shack they come across underway.
According to the group’s calculations, this day’s travel brings them close to the place where the Buggane attacked their party. Unfortunately, they find no trace of the battle. Flann goes about gathering firewood and does so loudly and extensively in the hope that he will attract the Buggane; he is pining for revenge. His efforts are unfortunately unsuccessful.
The next day, the players find out Anastasia’s backpack has been stolen. Anastasia is not particularly happy as it contained her spare arrows.
As Flann was pining for a fight and tried to lure the Hulderfolk to them (again, this was part of his coping process for the loss of Spirit points), I decided to roll randomly for an encounter. The single Trow thief was the result. Trow may be quit useless in combat (although they did kill Jorn), but they are nice and stealthy, aided further by their size. The Trow slipped past the watch unnoticed, sneaked into Anastasia’s tent and took the backpack.
The players follow the tracks of the thief for about 3 hours, against Berend’s wishes, but as they’re not gaining on the thief, they decide to give up and continue on their way to Kongshode. They camp out in the wild.
At the end of the day, the party arrives at the Etter fort of Kongshode. Contrary to earlier encounters, the party has now decided to try to cooperate more closely. They make a battle plan and try to engage the creatures by luring them out of the fortress’ easily defended courtyard. They fail on the first attempt and disengage to try again. They manage to kill the stone creature (a Stone Golem) and the 4 undead that accompanied it (see Battle details below).
The undead that the players faced were the same as the ones that had been used for previous encounters. Each of them had 24 Character points, no combat skills above Skill level 2, was unarmed, and had no special properties. The Stone Golem had 39 Character points and a Defense skill level of 4. It had 21 maximum Defense points (thanks to its stone skin and the armor it wore) and a Resistance score of 5. Also, it suffered no Disability counters from Body damage. It did, however, have almost zero fighting capabilities. It was, in essence, a tank with low damage output.
The Golem’s build worked nicely with the new Defense rules. It was basically impossible for the players to damage the Stone Golem; it absorbed nearly every point of damage dealt with the Defense skill. It did, however, block itself to death, as each attempt to block an attack with the Defense skill costs 1 Stamina point. In the end, it just crumbled, without having dealt any considerable damage due to its incompetence in combat.
The Stone Golem is an extremely useful ally for enemies. Its combat output may be low, but it can use the Defense (deflect) skill to block attacks made against its adjacent allies. It makes a good summon, too, thanks to its low Soul level.
Upon defeating the creatures in the courtyard, the players entered Kongshode. Flann had been there before and knew the layout of the keep. They went into the catacombs below the keep and found the Velv door, which had been closed when they first came there, to be open. The players ventured into the dungeon.
The Kongshode Velv is the ‘traditional’ dungeon of the module, as well as its final instance. I think it was a good dungeon crawl: there were creepy magic lights, several locked doors (which the PC’s rammed with an improvised ram), some none-too-difficult traps, a few weird remnants of the Etter that once dwelled there, and some good treasure that was hidden among the debris.
The dungeon had three levels, the second being the largest. It consisted of slave quarters, Etter barracks with a mess hall, a workshop, a temple, and some smaller rooms. There was also a natural tunnel, dug by vile Halfworms. The players ignored that tunnel and went straight for the lowest level. Because of that, they didn’t get a hold of the key to the final door (and thus had to bash it down, alarming the Etter spirit that possessed Olrik of their presence) as well as some armor made of Fandelhuler steel (which is extra strong).
While dungeon crawling, the players encounter a group of Halfworms and dispatch of them with ease (see Battle details II below). They also find a tablet with prayers to the Infinite, the Etter god, in four different languages, including Ettersk, which can function as a Rosetta stone for learning the Etter language. Especially Flann was excited about that.
Battle details II
The players faced 4 Halfworms, which are hybrid creatures that are part spider, part worm. A Halfworm has 46 Character points and no Skills with a Skill level above 2. It can, however, spit a low potency poison, which could cause 1 Disability counter. The players were lucky, however, and the poison didn’t affect them. The Halfworms also had scales, giving them 9 maximum Defense points and 1 Resistance, as well as the ability to regenerate 2 Stamina points per Round (or 6 when spending 3 AP). Finally, they were segmented, and suffered no Disability counters from Body damage.
I had imagined 4 of these to be at least some challenge to the players, but was taken aback by the ease with which the players dispatched them. I think their problem was that their Body skills were too spread out. Halfworms have Skill level 2 in 4 Body skills, causing them to be mediocre at best in nearly all, but excel in none. They might need a little tweaking to be more interesting.
The players eventually rested in the dungeon, as they had arrived just prior to nightfall and were very tired after multiple battles and exploring the dungeon.
After a short rest, the players continue down to the last level of the Kongshode Velv. On the way, they discover a temple to the Infinite, as well as a laminar plate armor made of Fandenhuler steel: a mighty piece of armor with increased Resistance.
They ultimately find the hallway that would normally lead deeper into the Velv and towards the Fandenhuler, the underground home of the Etter, but the hallway has collapsed. There is but one door left, and when the players try to enter it, they find it blocked. Inside is Olrik Fastigsonn, priest of Glemkant, possessed by an Etter spirit who lived during the height of Etter power on Verden. The spirit tries to parlay with them and requests their help. They agree to a truce and the Etter spirit lets the players into his room if they promise not to attack him.
What follows is a disturbing conversation with the alien spirit, who is amazed to learn that the humans defeated his kind, and shocked to find out that more than 500 years have passed since it was imprisoned. The players learn that the spirit was locked in an amulet that was buried with the Høstbarn. When the players returned the Høstbarn to Glemkant, Olrik took the amulet and released the Etter spirit, Manthakos, which took possession of his body.
Manthakos now seeks to return to his home, the Fandenhuler, but the passageway has collapsed, and he does not know how to proceed. He shows the players a vial with liquid that he knows to function as a portal device, but he has no knowledge of such magic and asks for their aid. Osmund casts his Identify spell (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 92) on the item. The Spell takes an hour to cast, and Berend and Flann engage in conversation with Manthakos while Anastasia, who finds the Etter an abomination, stands at some distance.
The players discover that the Etter consider men to be little more than tools, who should feel honored that the Etter employ them as such, so that they can at least serve the greater good. As a reward for their aid, Manthakos offers to take the players to the Fandenhuler, where they can learn so much more than their feeble human world has to offer. As time passes, the players grow more and more reluctant to aid this alien spirit. When Osmund’s casting on the item doesn’t reveal anything of significance, the players break their truce and attack (see Battle details III below).
Battle details III
Manthakos was a formidable foe. He had 120 Character points and was assisted by two Stone Golems (the same as described above). He also had a potent magic item: a blade that had been imbued with the Ritual of Phasing (see Supernatural Rulebook, page 139). It increased the Action difficulty to hit him by 3d for 7 Rounds. Manthakos activated it in the first Round and it prevented him from getting hit. He was also armored, with a Resistance score of 4 and 10 maximum Defense points. Worst of all, he had an Animism skill level of 5 and access to some terrible Spells, such as Despair, Possession, and Soul switch (see Supernatural Rulebook, pages 81, 104, and 112).
The players attacked Manthakos en masse, but missed most of their attacks in the first Round, due to the high Action difficulty to hit Manthakos. In the second Round, they distributed their dice a little better and hit Manthakos, forcing him to spend Stamina points on his Defense (absorb) skill. By then, Manthakos had already cast Possession on the NPC that accompanied the party, Nils Hendriggsonn.
At the end of the second Round, Manthakos had incurred 1 Disability counter due to excessive blocking. He then cast the Despair spell, which deals Soul damage to up to five targets. He cast it successfully and dealt 10 Soul damage, which was enough to kill the entire party in one fell swoop.
The Despair spell is perhaps a bit too powerful, as are all spells that deal Mind or Soul damage (this one-shot Elma in her Holmgang duel with Anton in one of the previous sessions as well). The problem with Spells and Powers that deal Mind or Soul damage is that there are a lot less ways to defend against such damage than there are ways to defend against Body damage. Players can either resist the Spell (by having a high Mind or Soul level) or they can counter it (which is only possible if they have the appropriate Supernatural skill or Power). I need to look at this: I want Mind and Soul damage to be as real a threat as Body damage, but that also means providing as much defense against it as there is against Body damage.
There are several ways I can do this. I can introduce Skills that can absorb such damage (much like the Defense skill can absorb Body damage); I can introduce Skills that allow players to dodge or parry such attacks (comparable to the Close combat (parry) or Agility skills); I can make them more difficult to cast (by increasing the Action difficulty to cast them); or I can remove the lethal effects. I’m sure there are more options.
I’ll need to spend some time to think about this. I really like the concept of Mind and Soul damage and I’m not letting it go, so it needs to be balanced out. This should be something for the next iteration of rulebooks.
Unfortunately, Manthakos proved too powerful for the players, who had no defenses against his Spells of Animism (Ossiaan would have come in handy here). The battle ended in a total party wipe.
It was a bit of an unsatisfying end, but that’s how the dice fell. This was supposed to be the final encounter of the module, but it turned out to be the final encounter of the campaign, as we called a stop to it after this session. I ended the campaign because I now have enough input to create a new, stable version of the rulebooks (which will hopefully be the last beta). We’ll playtest this (hopefully final) beta next season, if everyone’s up for it! In the meanwhile, we’ll hopefully continue with a campaign hosted by one of my friends.
So we come to an end to our little foray into Verden... A farewell and an honest thank you to Jorn, Ossiaan, Swenne, Anton, Berend, Flann, Odmund, Sigmund, and Anastasia! They shall be forever remembered for their services to the Stage! And a massive thanks to the players for coming out to play, for demonstrating infinite patience (which is not always easy with such a rapidly evolving system), for their criticism and feedback, and for gracefully dealing with my crap (Lord knows that can get difficult)!
- Include a mechanic that allows players to restore Sanity points and Spirit points, combined with the Science and Speechcraft skills respectively and unlocked through Powers.
- Powers and Spells that deal Mind or Soul damage need to be tweaked. As it stands, there is too little that players can do to defend against them.
- (For the adventure module) Consider decreasing the travel distances and placing Kongshode within sight of the village of Glemkant.
- (For the adventure module) Tweak the Halfworms; they were very weak and easily dispatched. It could be a more challenging encounter.
Read my final thoughts on this campaign here!