Playtest Report: Eagles End

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Playtest Report: Eagles End
« on: September 09, 2014, 06:38:49 AM »
We began the session with a brief overview of a description of the setting to help everybody get into the mood. My players decided very quickly that they didn't want to include Christianity into the game and wanted to focus on mysticism and the fantastic. We ended up with a Dark Age that sounds-like-it-could-be-Earth but clearly isn't.

Because we ran out of time all we got to do was create everything and perform a single season move.

Creating the stronghold
Going through the options, right away somebody wanted the stronghold to have a library and another player wanted a shrine. They're both under the same option so I said their village has both a shrine and a library, the library is closer to the center of the village because they want it well-protected.

The enemies were quickly defined as people who want to destroy knowledge and hate the Empire of Eagles influence. I marked 'hostile clans' here and asked why these enemies would hate the old knowledge, the two ideas that were proposed were that either these enemies couldn't understand much of what was left behind and so they simply wanted to remove its influence, or that some of the knowledge was actually quite powerful stuff like details on how to smelt and build medieval era war machines. This created the idea that the Empire might have been very technologically advanced compared to the locals despite the Empire's decline. But there was also a consensus that anybody who still embraced the old Empire would be enemies to the revival of the Old Gods, and at that I marked 'remnants of the former crown's rule' and decided that the advanced Empire is still revered by some locals. This makes a lot less work for me because anybody who embraces the Old ways and anybody who still clings to the Empire will hate the PCs' stronghold since they gather and study lore left behind by both cultural groups!

When we began discussing fortifications and somebody suggested that their be some kind structure surrounding the stronghold where enemies could be crucified, but describing the brutality of crucifixion made everybody balk at being so ruthless (Here I made a note that their enemies could do this.) I finally passed the Stronghold sheet around the table rather than read off the options. As it passed from each player's hands they all had different options they felt were appropriate. A palisade outer wall and archers' overlooks were both selected, to help defend the village itself and keep their stronghold formidable for small bands. A hilltop position was selected right away after that, to help keep the library off of a flood plain and to make the archers' overlooks justified. Finally, an unusually rich treasury was selected, because gathering knowledge from the countryside also meant that they were gathering jewelry and riches left behind by the Empire's recession.

Detailing the armory became a sticking point because nobody could decide if they should have gear for 10, 20 or 60 warriors. Ultimately they chose the "for 20" option and with "bows and a supply of arrows" selected to compliment the archers' overlooks they added spears and round shields to compliment their hilltop village.

First issue: The selection of the armory was troubled because it wasn't clear what the choices meant (as others have stated) but also it wasn't clear how the improvements and wants fit in, so we ignored them.

you can click on the picture to see it bigger!

Creating Peoples
I insisted we create two Peoples and draw our characters from them, but really I wanted another way to draw conflicts by having two Peoples living together, and that decision fell apart during character creation. I also made creating a household part of character creation, because I view households as families, either through genetic relationships or adopted family members. I left the option open for players to make more if they wanted. Only one player took a People sheet but he left it mostly blank and handed it back to me (this became the Spider Clan).

Second issue: At the end of this process of creating Peoples I felt that creating a People should come before creating a Stronghold, because I think creating the Stronghold first informed how the Peoples were defined and I think it would have made more sense to create Peoples and explain how they came to be living within the Stronghold. But there also needed to be some good choices starting out for how many People should be created.

The first people created were the lore keepers and seekers of knowledge. As we negotiated the details of these Peoples these are the notes I was left with.

the Aetosians
Defined by their desire to gather and collect knowledge left behind by the Empire of Eagles, and consolidate it with the lore of the Old Ways that survived the Empire's reign. Most revere book keeping and historical record, they wish to found a school and are the stewards of a library, the keep Eagle shrines maintained. Cynical scholars, getting greedy as they collect more treasure and artifacts
They look fat and stocky, with pale skin and curly brown hair. They often wear gaudy, bright clothing.
Known for their obsessiveness over the traditions and customs passed down from the Empire of Eagles. Their sorcery, gaudy fashions, strategy & tactics, far-reaching trade routes.
They hold sacred any knowledge that can be acquired.
Numbers:  19 souls in 4 households with 5 warriors
+1 Rites
+0 War
+1 Wealth

the Aetosians were meant to be a people who had descended from pagans that had mixed with the people of the Empire

the Ferdigen
Defined by their ancestral ties to the land. They were once subjugated and enslaved by the Empire of Eagles, but now they speak of themselves as a people reborn.
They look athletic and muscular. With straight blonde hair and tan or tawny skin, they are simple people, but the loud coloring of clothing that the Empire wore, and that the Aetosians wear, has begun to creep into their fashion.
Known for their archers, craftsmanship, and skill at arms. They are a loyal people and consider themselves benevolent protectors of the Aetosians. Their celebrations where they venerate the uprising of the Old Gods sometimes last for days.
They hold sacred their ties to the land and the Aetosians' search for their lost heritage and traditions.
Numbers: 301 souls in 40 households with 40 warriors
-1 Rites
+2 War
+0 Wealth

the Ferdigen were meant to be pagans that didn't mix genetically with the Empire but served the Empire and had been influenced by it, they hold a long standing alliance with the Aetosians because of their direct connection to the Empire

behind the scenes: the names for our Peoples came from entering words that symbolized the People into google translate and switching up the languages until something sounded kinda cool with little modification, Ferdigen came from ferdighet (Hungarian for skill I think) and Aetosian came from aetos (Greek for lore I think).

there were more People to be made but a this point we began Creating Characters & Households
I announced that I would be designing a troll and pushed the players to select Trollkiller, War Captain and War Champion. I also announced that I would make a character along with everybody but I would pick my playbook once I everybody knew what they wanted to play. I also pointed out that the Court Wizard basically has the right to take the day off, in other words "I DON'T WORK ON SHABBAS!"
During this process I talked about a People I created called the Munii and several players were very taken with this People so several characters ended up as Munii. Early on I instructed players to make their character's Household during character creation, but if two or more players wanted to be part of the same Household they should negotiate that and make it together. I also ended up making some Peoples during this time based on my note taking (see below) and somebody joked the MC should have the right to railroad.

the Munii
Defined by their displacement from their homeland by the Empire of Eagles and scattered to many areas.
They look tall and fair-skinned, with muddy-brown hair that they keep loosely cut or tie back with simple ribbons, and typically wear simple clothes without ornamentation or unnecessary coloring.
Known for one prominent and large family who settled along the river in this region and built a village where their descendants now fish and hunt and only trade with those who prove themselves worthy. They are ever vigilant against monsters, their ruthlessness is matched by their great beauty, their sorcery and enchantments as well as their marvelous feasts are envied.
They speak the Nymenian language and hold the brutal cycle of nature sacred by worshipping spirit animals, especially predatory beasts such as wolves and bears.
Numbers: 50 souls in 6 households with 8 warriors.
+1 Rites
+0 War
+1 Wealth

We ended up with a Wicker-wise, Outranger, Dragon-Herald, Court Wizard, Troll-Killer, and a War Champion; and then I made a Keep-Liege.

Third issue: Households seemed extra and almost unnecessary. I explained Households to my players as families, so the characters of one Household might be related or some characters might have been adopted into those Households. It wasn't clear what the default starting equipment was for each character and I told players just to use their own best judgment based on how they wrote up their Households.
Somebody also mentioned that with HX no longer part of the game there was no decent place on the character sheet to list other characters' names. I told him his character sheet has a backside and he was amazed at how blank it was - I'm assuming the Household details should be on the back but I didn't print my sheets 2-sided.
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Re: Playtest Report: Eagles End
« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2014, 06:39:02 AM »
With six players we ended up with only three Households, and I even tried to make the Keep-Liege's Household distinct from everybody else's. Without going into character details, these are the notes I wrote for each character:

the Shrat household

Lothric of Shrat (male ferdigen), the Keep Liege
He is the head of his household and owns the library which rests inside his great hall in the center of Eagles' End, even though he is illiterate he is considered the primary owner of the library. His family's ancient claims upon the land give him the ancestral right and title to rule Eagles' End. His name is tied to all of the trade agreements Eagles' End has with it's neighbors therefore the Shrat family is wealthy and his hall is enlivened by many tenants but strains under the burden of too many dependents.
He spent the last season hunting and has a bounty of furs to show for it.

Ozan Renjara (male aetosian), the Outranger
Holding a place of honor within the Shrat household, Ozan has a personal stake invested in Eagles' End's armory and trade connections. When he is home he is often found wandering the great hall, resting in the library, or scouting the fortifications. He has made several foreign allies on his travels.
He spent the last season traveling, to the south of Eagles' End he was drawn by a sonorous tolling bell which led him to a circle of stones where he could not feel the chill of winter while he rested within the circle.

The Sofia household
devotion (to what? to law? whose law? the Empire? why the Empire?)
library (do they think they own the library?)
reputation for being smart and discerning
a ship (what?! need details)
ugly secrets (what secrets? whose secrets?)

Leon Sofia (male aetosian), the Court Wizard
He wears blue and red. He tries to prevent others from embracing the Old Ways because he values the laws of the Empire more.
He spent the last season traveling and returned to Eagles' End with rumors that an abandoned farmstead to the north is home to a slumbering troll that has been scaring off any who draw near.
(relation to Hypatia? relation to Togquas? devotion to Empire? Arania and Sofia households embrace the Old Ways?)

Hypatia Sofia (female aetosian), the Dragon-Herald
She wants to return to the Old Ways and believes the dragons will return if more people practice the Old Ways. She thinks the dragons are a good thing and her people will prosper if they return to the Old Ways. She also favors gathering knowledge left behind by the Empire and learning from it, though she believes the dragons despise anything related to the Empire.
She spent the last season in celebration, practicing rituals with a musical cacophony meant to wake the dragons from their slumber.
(what does she think of the Empire of Eagles? relation to Leon)

The Arania household
ancient claims (whose claims? for what? the forest?)
forests (they lay claim to the Shrinewood, the forest is a shrine)
kitchen (what's special about the kitchen?)
river (do they lay claim to the river as well?)
sacred shrine (the forest is the shrine)
ancestral shame (whose shame? for what?)

Hurit of Arania (female munii), the Wicker-Wise
The healer and midwife of Eagles' End, she is a master chemist and wears elaborately embroidered clothing and many rings and earrings as a sign of her status within the stronghold. She requires that supplicants kiss her hand to show proper respect before she will address their problems or assist them when she is fortune-telling, which many Ferdigen come to her for.
She spent the last season traveling, and encountered a circle of stones to the east of Eagles' End where a small basin filled with cool water would reveal a vision at the hour of midnight. For Hurit, it revealed when Togquas would go into labor.
(relation to Togquas?)

Togquos the Eagle-Killer of Arania (female munii), the War-Champion
She spent the last season at the hearth, where she gave birth to a daughter.
The father was a Ferdigen who fought beside Togquos, Jesse of Pyreth, and after the battle they spent much of their private time together. Togquos is well-known everywhere she goes and she is known by the Munii as "the Eagle-Killer." She dresses fancy, has many piercings, and carries a magical dagger which no man has ever recovered from.
(why does Togquas kill "Eagles"? home village is gathering Imperial knowledge? relation to Lothric? relation to Leon?)

Aranck of Arania (female munii), the Troll-Killer
As a child Aranck was rumored to be a troll born into the body of a child, and as she grew into adulthood she began traveling as a mercenary. She was determined to prove that she wasn't trollborn and became a hunter and killer of trolls but was still exiled by her aunt, who was also the chieftain of her tribe.
She spent the last season performing rituals to prevent the rebirth of the troll Sil, by slaughtering a baby goat and allowing it to bleed into the river.
(also, I am now starting to write a Trollborne playbook which will be defined by how this player establishes trolls)

Season Move
I gave each player a free season move and declared that spring would be starting next session. We spent the rest of the session determining what those season moves are, which I've already detailed, but when a player selected the Travel season move I decided to create a personal scene of their character discovering or hearing about a magical place because I thought this was more interesting than trying to come up with Stronghlds and Peoples that they might have heard rumors about. And then we pretty much ran out of time.

Next week we will start with a big huge fight!

fourth issue: saying the word "people" got tedious and sometimes required clarification because it's such a generic word, I would suggest changing the name of People to Folk or Kin, we suspected you're trying to avoid the word Race but even using the word Tribe or Lineage would be less cumbersome than People
one of my players actually refuses to say the word "people" and refers to her character's People as "kin"

Non-Player Peoples created during this session

the Rapuns
Defined by the worship of a single god, Stone, who also represents stone and natural rock. Closest neighbors to Eagles' End who fish and herd sheep upriver.
They look tall and stocky with bronze skin. They are stoop shouldered and keep their wiry hair and beards short.
Known for the might of their god and their insular disposition. They are responsible for many of the circles of standing stones and hold many areas of rich land.
They hold sacred the lore and tenets of their god, Stone.
Numbers: 30 souls in 4 households with 8 warriors
+1 Rites
+0 War
+1 Wealth

the Spider clan
Defined by their ties to the Empire of Eagles. They are an outlaw band of descendants of former scholars and craftsmen who took up the sword.
They look much like Aetosians, pale skinned and wear bright clothing, but have spare and willowy bodies topped with curly blonde hair.
Known for their physical prowess and fearlessness in the face of death. They swear blood vengeance over minor disagreements and will engage in brutal raids against their foes. They tattoo their arms and legs, often with web patterns and depictions of spiders, and ornament their weaponry and fur clothing with amber stones.
They hold sacred a mysterious spider god whose legends were left behind by the Empire of Eagles.
Numbers: 12 souls in 1 households with 8 warriors
-1 Rites
+2 War
+0 Wealth

the Matosians
Defined by worship of the witch-king, a title worn by their current king, Malik.
They look fair-skinned with muddy red hair and simple fashions.
Known for their ruthlessness and enmity toward rival deities and sorceries. They are ever vigilant against anything they deem to be corrupted by the Empire of Eagles. They cook spicy food.
They hold sacred the witch-king and Malik's lineage.
Numbers: 300 souls in 40 households with 40 warriors
+2 Rites
+0 War
-1 Wealth

the Aetar
Defined by their ancestors, a military order within the Imperial Legionnaires.
They look pale and dark-haired, with bright yellow and white fashions.
Known for their devotion to Imperial law. Their insular nature and garish fashions, as well as their insatiability in war and ruthlessness.
They hold sacred the Empire of Eagles and any who venerate it.
Numbers: 16 souls in 16 households with 16 warriors
+1 Rites
+1 War
+0 Wealth

not an issue but an idea: we talked about bringing a character from Apocalypse World into Dark Age and see what happens since there was a really easy 1-to-1 with harm and armor, and I suggested that at the end of this playtest we should have somebody make a gunlugger or something suitably Ash-like to fall into the world and play to find out
« Last Edit: September 09, 2014, 08:03:24 AM by nerdwerds »
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Re: Playtest Report: Eagles End
« Reply #2 on: September 19, 2014, 06:22:07 PM »
This game was played last Sunday before a few things about enchantments and war companies were clarified here in the forums.

At the start of the session I gave my players the choice of how difficult I will be making the trolls and supernatural world (i.e. monsters) by describing it as a movie title:
Ghostbusters (rated PG, or everybody survives and it's a happy ending)
Army of Darkness (rated PG-13, or everybody survives including some villains)
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (rated R, or one person survives including the villains)
Cannibal Holocaust (un-rated, or everybody dies except for the villain)

They chose Cannibal Holocaust.?

co-MCing: We tried co-MCing a little which I found a little disruptive because even though I made a character for myself I haven't invested much into the character. When I role-play I usually discover who the character is while I play them and develop their goals as a result of how I am confronted by conflict. I had one player who kept asking me what my Keep-Liege was doing and it was difficult for me to go from having no status quo as the MC to suddenly trying to think of what my character would want to do. I didn't like it.

War Companies and Battle Moves: We started our first session with a big battle. At the beginning of spring a warning horn was sounded and a nearby tribe, the Athomians, were attacking Eagles' End in force. We had written up a single War Company for Eagles' End which was divided into four groups of people.
20 Ferdigen archers with bows and hide armor
20 Ferdigen warriors with spears, hide armor, and shields
8 Munii warriors with hatchets and hide armor
5 Aetosian warriors with hatchets and hide armor

Because the attack was coming in the morning I had each character who wanted to fight in the battle make the muster warriors move and distributed groups from the War Company accordingly. This slowed play a little because I didn't have an individual War Company sheet for each player. I handed out index cards with brief details, harm, and armor ratings and allowed each player to make Battle moves with the portion of warriors they controlled.

The Athomians who were attacking the front gates were armed with spears and shields.

Ozan wanted to figure out who the leader was, and took stock of the situation. We noticed that there was no mechanical benefit for taking stock (unlike reading a sitch) and that was cool because I ended up using my answers to create contradictory narrative elements ("if you draw them toward the gates you'll be well defended and you'll draw their attention from Aranck's counterattack" "if you open the gate and charge them they'll be surprised")

The same player wanted to leap into action to attack the leader, but I pointed out that leading an attack fit better since there were two war companies here and one of the choices was to single out an opponent (I had also set that up as a choice when he took stock). We found in the moment that reading the battle moves was a little confusing because coming under attack says "Do not choose one that your attacker’s choices have specifically denied you." yet there are exceptions in the choices. None of us thought this played well because we hadn't committed these exceptions to memory. I just ignored the exceptions though, when my player chose "You strike at a particular individual in your enemy’s force." I elected not to choose "You protect the individual your enemy is particularly striking." He rolled a 10+ and I rolled a partial hit.

We started tallying harm and armor and counting your fallen seemed to happen as a part of this, so having this as a final move for battles seemed unusual. We also noticed while doing this that the palisades gave extra harm and armor (nobody had looked it up beforehand), and that effectively meant the Athomians broke through the walls into Eagles' End (a choice I made for coming under attack) but were easily slaughtered by the Ferdigen who suffered no losses.

I wanted the players to have more to do so I ruled that a few Athomians were hanging back and started to retreat. Aranck managed to capture 8 of them and Togqous slaughtered any she encountered. The players were rolling 10+ results for everything.

All in all, we found the battle moves interesting but not easy to adapt to on the fly, especially because how the forces were calculated was not precisely dictated. Half of the players around the table are accustomed to playing 3rd edition D&D so having a lot of narrative control over their character was fun but since nobody really knew how the war companies were really defined we just handwaved a lot of the details.

Storytime: We got to use a lot of the more basic moves for the rest of the session. Players spent time reacting to the outcome of the battle or following up on tales learned from their starting season moves.

Hurit spent a lot of time consulting the other world, making the surviving Athomians into slaves, and trying to figure out how to cast enchantments.

Issue with enchantments: Everybody liked the enchantment rules as written, but didn't like the idea that anybody could perform them. There was a unanimous consensus from the other players around the table that nobody should be able to cast enchantments unless they've taken the right - some of the arguments stated were "Then what makes the wicker-wise special?" "If anybody can cast an enchantment then why not play a very charming but lowly farmhand who casts spells in secret?" and the fairly point-blank "That just sounds dumb."

Ozan journeyed south to Salt Hill to ask for assistance in attacking Starbury, where the Athomians came from, but he got embroiled in Salt Hill politics and saved the life of a child that was condemned to die and thus ruined the reputation of Eagles' End by defying the keep-liege there.

Leon and Togquos accompanied Aranck to the farmstead in the north where a troll was rumored to live. They found one survivor of a group of three men who had been trapped by the troll, and Aranck drew out the troll from hiding. We used the single combat moves to determine the fight, but afterward we thought maybe this wasn't appropriate given that more than one character wanted to fight the troll. Looking at leap into action we thought maybe that was the right move for a skirmish between groups of characters that are smaller than a war company.

We did spend a lot more time discussing what defines a right versus a move than we did actually playing the game. Only one person was denied their right but this led to the player looking at the other basic moves as a recourse.

One of the things we discussed at the end of the session was that maybe sieging a fortification should be a move since it's easy to get slaughtered attacking a defensive force, and needing to siege for months was something that definitely happened. This came out of discussing the soldiering season move because nobody really liked it. One of the players pointed out that there was no benefit for taking the soldiering move as even a 10+ resulted with a negative outcome and no xp or narrative benefit (yet all thesother season moves give xp).
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Re: Playtest Report: Eagles End
« Reply #3 on: September 29, 2014, 06:17:09 PM »
So, we had a second session but I've been dilly-dallying over writing about it because I keep looking at my notes and feeling really dismayed. Let's just say, long story short, our group is no enthusiastic about Dark Age. The things in the rules that aren't fleshed out and explained aren't interesting to our group.

Our next session covered Summer, and Lothric had declared war against the Athomians in Starbury, with or without the help of Salt Hill.

The Wicker-wise prepared for war by consulting the Shrinewood, and realized that once the Aetosian and Ferdigen warriors leave town it would be the perfect time for the Munii to take over.

Lothric successfully mustered warriors. I skipped the roll and treated Lothric as an NPC, so he would muster 20 warriors regardless. I gave other players the opportunity to bring more warriors and we role-played out the week's events, trying to muster troops, making concessions for some of the farmers, and preparing to go on the march. (Nobody prepared to be betrayed by the Munii.)

Once everybody declared what they wanted to do and resolved the rolls if it required a move, we skipped ahead to the night before the battle with Starbury. Both Ozan and Aranck scouted around Starbury the night before, and Ozan determined that the warriors he commanded were the strongest force. Aranck used a weird move to receive a vision of the Athomian leader, Rolesworth, and discovered a connection to a spirit-troll that had escaped Aranck last spring. A nearby mine seemed like it was in the process of being worked. Leon consulted his gods for advice, but Lothric ignored it.

The battle: Ozan and Lothric split their companies and attacked Starbury from different sides. They attacked at dawn, which Leon's gods said would be the worst time to attack. The Athomians weren't expecting the attack but were in their best defensible position at dawn. I rolled quickly for Lothric (a miss) and the Athomian defenders (10+), and Lothric's forces were wiped out at the gate. Ozan's forces attacked and he hit an 11 on leading an attack, and the Athomian defenders, who had suffered only 1 harm so far, rolled a 9, but still managed to hold off the attack. The Athomians suffered only 2 more harm but inflicted 5 harm (after armor) and Ozan's group was butchered.
The rest of the battle was more dramatic and less anti-climactic. The players insisted on rolling the fighting in company move and this resulted in characters getting cut off a lot.
We did some quick math and figured out there were only 13 surviving warriors who could still fight. Ozan wanted to rally all of the survivors into another fighting force (I let him with no roll required) and made a defensive retreat.
Hypatia wanted to cross the battlefield (which I told the player to roll+bold but I treated the result like acting under fire from AW because she was literally trying to avoid archers while getting to a new location and neither leaping into action nor undertaking a great labor fit as a move fictionally).
Ozan's forces attacked Starbury's gates and the last of his warriors were butchered, but the Athomians were also reduced to a very small force.
With only about 5 warriors still able to fight on both sides, Aranck provoked the spirit-troll from within Starbury, and Hurit assisted with an enchantment from afar, and Rolesworth answered the summons. The two had a duel to resolve the battle, which ended with Aranck drinking Rolesworth's blood and devouring the troll-spirit but sparing Rolesworth's life. Once the spirit-troll was devoured I told the player to fight in single combat against the spirit using weird. (This entire exchange took about 30 minutes to set up, role-play, and resolve. It never touched upon any of the Battle moves, and it was the most fun and interesting part of the game.)

We resolved the aftermath of the battle, the players forces retreated back to Eagles End and the Munii did not try to take over the stronghold, though it didn't make much difference since most of the Ferdigen warriors were now dead. Then we finished narrating the summer.

Basically, what we discovered with the battle moves was that warriors will wipe each other out, unless they're defended well. Defenders almost always win out. I don't feel like the battle moves really work, at least not the way harm and armor is written, unless its intentional that mutually assured destruction is a common outcome and good defenders almost always win.
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Re: Playtest Report: Eagles End
« Reply #4 on: September 29, 2014, 09:08:36 PM »
Yikes! I hope to god you stop playing!

Thank everybody for us! We're super grateful for your help.