Playtest Report: Brother's Blood

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Playtest Report: Brother's Blood
« on: February 02, 2015, 02:19:21 PM »
Setup:

Success! Setup took about two hours to complete. There was a little remarking about the sheer number of pages lying around the table. The instructions were rather straightforward, but there was a bit of jumping back and forth between multiple sheets (People, Household, War Companies, etc.) trying to generate them. The players have all played Dungeon World before (one of them has played Apocalypse World as well) and the similarities between the rules set helped smooth the transition.

For stronghold and peoples generation we were content to simply pass around the sheet and make small consensuses on the most exciting items.

Character sheets were smooth and easy to fill out.

One of our players had a copy of the first look and bemoaned the loss of the Outlaw Noble (Outlaw Prince?). The playbooks seemed to overlap a little with Court Wizard/Wicker Wise and War Captain/War Champion. Looking back I would have been pleased to have created our own playbooks from a pool of existing rights, maybe as a storytelling element with each right selected each turn and a character giving backstory on how they gained that right. That said, we probably wouldn't have actually got to any actual game play. (Microscope anyone?)

After the dust and unbound pages settled, this was our world:

Our Stronghold:
An unnamed village of nomad refugees in a river valley lined with slippery slate cliffs and moss. (- An outpost in an enemy land.)
Enemies:
- Fractious and rebellious free landowners. (We haven't established who these people are.)
- Hostile clans, never conquered. (There's a lot of volkswanderung going on and it's every clan for themselves.)
An unlawful crown, seized by a tyrant. (Not fully fleshed out yet: Someone got to the throne after a bloody civil war and the vassalage is weak and defenseless?)
Fortifications:
-Archers' overlooks.
-A bottleneck approach.
-Deep cellars, crypts and bolt holes.
(Caves in the cliff walls.)
-A well or deep cistern.
Armory:
Surprisingly my players were eager to choose crude weapons to go with a more "dark ages" feel. We ended up with spears, hide coats, shields, and archery supplies.

What do we do with the Improvements or Want sections on the Stronghold sheet? For now we omitted them, as they seemed to be connected to game play.

Our People(s):
The Sarkozi - (Ri +2, Wr +0, We -1; 50-60 souls, 6 households, 12 warriors) A displaced tribe of tall, big-footed, steppe nomads, who worship a powerful water goddess. Hungarian language.
The Sobeska - (Ri +1, Wr +1, We +0; 80-90 souls, 20 houses, 30 warriors) A sister tribe to the Sarkozi, dispersed throughout these lands. Hungarian language.
The Thancmor - (Ri +0, Wr +2, We -1; 170 souls, 20 houses, 40 warriors) Hardy, hawk-faced men from the frozen forests of the north. Norse language.
The Arnwald - (Ri -1, Wr +2, We 0; 16 souls, 16 houses, 16 warriors) Clean shaven Germanic warriors, remnants of the last legion of the Empire of Eagles. Germanic language, Latin names.

Our Characters: (I'll post the character breakdowns if requested.)
Orban, the Last (War Champion) - Last of his family, a prideful Sarkozi warrior.
Breja (Outranger) - A Sobeska scout, always welcomed for her trinkets and stories from afar.
Sten (Troll-Killer) - An exiled Thancmor hunter, living with the Sarkozi for many years.
Adel (Wicker Wise) - A shrieking, old Sarkozi hag, buried under a ever shifting mound of soiled furs.

Adel is my character and without enough prep-time for our second MC, she takes a backseat to this adventure.

Play begins:


We settled in and announced our season turns. Orban had been working the fields for, Miklos, his lord. Breja travelled back to the village over the winter, seeing famine in the surrounding lands. Sten was enjoying a bountiful supply of rabbit from his winter hunting. And Adel was buried in her hut reciting the names of the Old Gods.

All of the characters chose rather peaceful seasonal moves. I found it difficult to press them for anything at this point. Perhaps each move could be at the expense of something else? Someone must hunt, someone must work the land, someone must pray, someone must rule, and more, each season or else the stronghold suffers. A choice between finding food or keeping your Gods satisfied (or anything else on the AW:DA Hierarchy of Needs) might be interesting here, and provide an opening conflict to build off of.

I opened the scene on Orban, bloody-handed, with a corpse at his feet of a visiting Thancmorian dignitary, and asked his player if Orban was innocent. Orban's player decided that he was guilty, and described the bloodied knife in his right hand and the gash in the dignitaries neck. I asked Breja's player why the dignitary had to die, who had an ominous Valar Morghulis-y reply. Sten's player added the detail of the emissary being his brother.

Gameplay took off rather marvelously from there. Orban's character quickly developed the story that Sten's brother was here to take Sten back to his clan and had insulted the Sarkozi, and so deserved to die. Breja called the tribes leader, Miklos back from his hunt. Sten seemed complicit at first with the act but then upon seeing his brother's body, demanded single combat with Orban.

Rolling blind for combat works great to increase the suspense of fighting. The first round of combat, both players rolled the same and bid 4 on winning. The tie resulted in this lovely break, where both players sized each other up to see if they still wanted to fight. The players of course, did not back down.

Breja broke up the fight after Orban plunged his knife into Sten's shoulder.

Adel showed up and demanded the dead body be immediately given to the Goddess of the River, to prevent the murdered ghost from returning. Sten refused to do so until he had dismembered the corpse and cut of it's tattoos.

I noted "Angry Thancmor ghost" as a future front/Troll idea.

Orban was waiting for his chief inside the main hall, brandishing his spear, which is a taboo amongst the Sarkozi, who leave their weapons outside. The old, maimed, but incredibly virile leader Miklos (who has fathered the majority of the remaining Sarkozi warriors) returned and the village gathered for an assembly. Breja went to find others of her tribe in the area and tell them to clear out, and got back in time for the assembly.

Sten and Orban chat at the falls as they wash the blood from their clothes, and Sten tells Orban that the Thancmor worship Aina, the Taker, a goddess of destruction, her symbol of two snakes twined around a man, and that is the reason why they became unsatisfied with their life in the north and have come south to pillage.

At the assembly Orban said that the emissary, Sten's brother Solveig, insulted the honor of the people and tried to reclaim their warrior ally, Sten. Orban insisted that the emissary had run off and should be brought before Miklos and the Sarkozi to be punished for his insult.

At this point, Orban's player has taken full charge of his character's story. The other players, including myself, don't actually know what happened in the cave where the emissary was murdered. Despite this being a major plot point, this nebulousness has been a very fun point of tension to bring up. What is Orban's motive? What did Breja see Orban do? Did Sten want the murder to happen?

At the beginning of the assembly I had them ask what they all wanted out of this scene. Orban's want boiled down into a Win Someone Over, and the rest of the characters focused on trying to determine the truth by Sizing Someone Up, in this case Orban. We played out the discussion at the hall with characters being able to interject with questions they received with their roll. It went smoothly.


Orban manages to get the Chief's 3rd son, Big Jenci, assigned to him as an aide.As the meeting progressed it became apparent that Miklos is dependent on Orban's strength and popularity amongst the men to keep control. It also became apparent that Orban is duty-bound not to flaunt this. Sten is looked upon as an outsider, but the Sarkozi cannot afford to lose anymore able-bodied hunters. Breja is skeptical about Orban's story and position within the tribe.

They set out the next morning on a "quest" to find the man that they murdered. Sten refuses to bring Adel along as "the witch is too loud." Adel however covers Sten's hand in a poison, to allow him to poison a meal by touching it.

For Adel's action I proposed transferring the benefits of a successful wise in poison-craft roll to Sten's player for a one-use duration. This probably won't happen again, as I can see the abuse of that becoming very popular.

Breja ends up leading the party to the Thancmor camp the long way. Along the way, Sten tracks down the last village that Solveig visited before coming to the Sarkozi camp and Orban fills Big Jenci's head with ideas about his fathers cowardice.

Classic "the thief botches a sneak roll" moment with our Outranger rolling snake-eyes while trying to find her way by road or trail, thankfully the mechanic works to advance the story and allowed them to arrive at the destination.

The text of the Troll-Killer's strike a quarry's trail is also funny to read when the quarry is dead, as option 1 becomes kind of irrelevant.


Our party finds their way to the Thancmor camp, downriver on the edge of a large swath of farmland with a distant castle (the unlawful tyrant!). They discover a language barrier problem and Sten steps in as translator. They speak with Sorley, Jarl of the Thancmor and demand that he find and bring them Sten's brother Solveig (who was, let me state again, murdered by the characters) who they claim "ran away after Orban challenged him." Sten claims that he's arrived to "claim his brother's share, in his absence" but Sorley shouts him down declaring that he is no longer Thancmor.

Orban's player pointed out that he was using his right to be known by reputation and had rolled an 8, allowing him to demand things of Sorley without retribution. Sten's character did not have that right, but attempted it anyway. Was this an acceptable response? It felt like it worked in game.
 
Sorley sends for Solveig, but Solveig can not be found (given that his dismembered remains were probably halfway to the North Sea by then). Sorley dismisses them saying if Solveig does turn up he'll send him back to the Sarkozi "for justice." Satisfied, the party leaves. Sten however wants to get rid of his poisoned hand, and so convinces them to wait for nightfall for him to sneak back in and dip it in the Thancmor well.

No sneak roll or it's equivalent was apparent in the rules. We determined that Sten would Take Stock of the scenario and find out when it was best to slip in. He botched the roll. Was the sneak mechanic left out on purpose? If so it could really change the dynamic of the game if you simply can't hide from your problems.

Sten sneaks back in to the Thancmor camp without telling anyone else in the party. He dips his hand in the well and before he can sneak back out his way is blocked by a guard out for a piss. The guard stands for longer than expected and begins singing an old Thancmor song about the raven who stole the thunder.

"Raven was so happy when he stole the thunder from the sky.
But when he brought it back to his nest, the thunder was so loud.
It chased his wife away. It broke his little eggs.
It shook poor Raven's nest apart.
"

The guard looks over his shoulder at Sten, and Sten feels a cold point of steel in his back.

"Don't move," says the guard behind Sten.

And we left it there. Next session I'll hope to tackle the battle mechanics. (I have a feeling the Thancmor are going to accuse the Sarkozi of poisoning their well, so war is certainly nigh.)

No real hiccups this session, but I expect as the players grow more confident and take over more of the story the cracks will appear. Most of the issues were simply in keeping the scene focused and advancing the antagonizing fronts. There is a lot of extraneous paper, especially with all the basic moves and people moves and war party moves.

We only used the People sheet and the War Party with "Notables" at the bottom as it makes it easier to keep track.

Everyone seemed very eager to get some additional Rights.

Were we supposed to engage in question asking before choosing experience? How much does the character have a say in how/where they advance? Also, when do we make the choice to open it up to the Ungiven future?

Re: Playtest Report: Brother's Blood
« Reply #1 on: February 17, 2015, 12:20:54 PM »
Session 2: Part I
Setup

We had a new player join us, who was unfamiliar with the game. Thankfully, he was happy to be inserted directly into the action as the character of Big Jenci. After some talking about what kind of game he'd like to play, we chose "Peasant Beauty" as Jenci's playbook for a more political/interpersonal struggle.

Sten's player was also eager to create a new character using the rites from scratch, and had an easy time doing so. We conferred outside the table and decided that Sten would be played until his character came to an interesting end, and then Uri would be introduced somehow.

So, now our characters look like this:
Orban, the Last (War Champion) - Last of his family, a prideful Sarkozi warrior.
Breja (Outranger) - A Sobeska scout, always welcomed for her trinkets and stories from afar.
Sten (Troll-Killer) - An exiled Thancmor hunter, living with the Sarkozi for many years.
Adel (Wicker Wise) - A shrieking, old Sarkozi hag, buried under a ever shifting mound of soiled furs.
Jenci (Peasant Beauty) - An untested but inspiring leader, third in line for the Sarkozi crown, often overlooked by his father.
Uri, the Burnt (Custom Playbook) - A cunning and fell sorcerer, from the culturally advanced Aftal'i of the east.

Our game traditionally does a recap before each session, and characters who offer to re-tell the events get XP for reinforcing the story and remembering the proper names of things. There's no mechanic for this, but I like the oral history aspect of it, and may attempt to work in an extra XP in our house rules for an appropriate group of rites. Any ideas on what group that would be?

Game play:

As always: Questions and mechanics are in blue.

We left Sten, the Thancmor outcast, having just been caught trying to poison the well of the Thancmor camp with his cursed hand. Sten complied with the guards, who took him into captivity.

I started off the game asking Sten's character if Sten would resist or go along with his captors. Then since, Sten's player created the Thancmor, I asked him to devise a suitable Thancmor punishment for a thief, and to be prepared to describe it.

Back in the woods outside the camp, Sten's presence is noted as missing. The group waits until the moon is at it's zenith before heading back into camp. Breja sneaks in, while Orban and Jenci in true nomadic warrior fashion, stroll manfully into camp and demand to look around. It is decided that Jenci speaks better Germanic than Orban (the Sarkozi are a Hungarian lingustic group). They hear Sten, screaming for Sorley (the Thancmor leader) and quickly figure out where he is. Breja also notices a number of the Romanesque Arnwald soldiers camped with the Thancmor and talking with their leadership.

Sten is being held in a hogs pen, buried to his neck in filth, with his arms and legs pinned down by four huge ale barrels. Guards surround him, pelting him with rocks and feces. The group arrives at the same time that Sorley finally is roused from his lodging. Most of the camp converges on the pig pen to witness the showdown, and the group realizes they're outnumbered.

Jenci demands Sten's release. Sorley accuses the Sarkozi of poisoning their water. Sten demands single combat with Sorley "to reclaim his honor." A tense three way argument follows. Jenci abdicates his demand and joins Orban in taunting Sorley to accept the duel with Sten. Sorley accepts the duel.

Sten's character takes narrative authority to explain that Thancmor duels are performed with bows. The rivals stand back to back and their seconds stand twenty feet away with a single arrow. When the word "Death" is shouted, both contestants sprint for the arrow, grab, aim and shoot.

Before the duel, Sorley approached Jenci, and told him there was no way Sten was leaving the camp alive, duel or no.

Breja's character is worried about Sten's life and decides that her best option is to replace Sorley's arrow with a tampered arrow that will not fly straight. She elects to offer a "tribute arrow" from her people, the Sobeska. Sorley asks his Arnwald advisor if the Sobeska have paid tribute. The advisor nods, and Sorley accepts, but demands Breja must be held captive, in case some treachery is afoot.

I enjoy that the game has seemed to make opponents less "monsters with hit points" and more "forces to be bartered with." Breja's player is occasionally reluctant to enter into direct conflict when outnumbered. With increased narrative authority, however, she was confident that the table would find a solution to her predicament.

Also, mechanically speaking, I should have decided on a modifier for Sorley with the arrow. I didn't, and this comes into play later.


Jenci saw Breja was in danger and decided to move into position behind her captor, intimidating him enough to get him to lower his weapon from her neck. Orban offered to be Sten's second, and stood with the arrow. Sten however, sensed something strange, and consulted the other world. In it he saw that the power of the Thancmor goddess Aina the Taker seemed to stem from the Arnwald. Sten made the speculative leap that the Arnwald and Aina were the reason the Thancmor have changed their ways and come south.

"Take Stock" and "Consult the Other World" moves have been a really interesting way to provide players with narrative information. When they ask, "What do I do, to get this person to do X?" I say "You must perform Y. Do you do it?" and give potential consequences. If they elect to do it, I let them, without further rolls. Is this how it is intended?

The duel began, and after a few breathless seconds. Both Sten and Sorley had released their arrows. Sten had an arrow through the neck, and Sorley was unhurt. However, Sten didn't fire at Sorley, opting to use the chance to put an arrow in the chest of the unarmored Arnwald leader standing near the outskirts of the circle. The same leader that Sorley had consulted with before.

This is why I love roleplaying. The character Sten's player shot was the leader of the Arnwald, Longinus, who were poised to become a major antagonist. I had decided that Longinus was going to fill the "Unlawful crown, seized by a tyrant" role marked on the player's stronghold. However, it seems that Sten's character deduced that the Arnwald were the real threat and took a very noble chance. I could have smoothly retconned it had him plug an Arnwald stooge, but the surprise move made for a great story, and so the Arnwald lost their devious leader.

At this point Jenci rushed in and demanded the body of the dying Sten. An astonished Sorley allowed them to collect Sten. However he regained his senses as they approached the edge of camp, saying, "Run. Run and hide. We are coming for you."

At this point we shifted the focus to macro, as things had fallen apart a bit. I forgot to honor Breja's characters actions with the faulty arrow, and so strong-armed a bit of narrative power to Sten's player to give any additional information on the Thancmor and counted this as an advantage on a later roll.

Orban and Jeci deliberate over the best course of action. Orban is eager to fight, and slowly convinces a reluctant Jenci. They agree to persuade Jenci's father Miklos to stir the Sarkozi to battle.

All the players seemed to be eager to choose a People move and prepare for war. We were not sure if we were allowed to choose a season move as well, or if the people moves were limited to one per person, or one per people per season. We decided on one per people per season. The group chose "Ask for Their Blessing" and rolled an 8.

Adel approached Jenci and asked for his participation in a ritual that would ensure his survival in battle. To do so, Jenci would have to sacrifice his youngest sister to the River Goddess. Jenci agrees after some persuasion. Orban, desiring marriage within the ruling family, is enraged to see an unmarried sister being sacrificed. Orban demands Jenci not participate, and challenges him to single combat.

(To be continued...)

Re: Playtest Report: Brother's Blood
« Reply #2 on: February 17, 2015, 03:12:22 PM »
Session 2: Part II

After challenging him to single combat, Orban bests Jenci, and pins him to the ground. Orban holds aloft a huge rock and asks Jenci if he would willingly trade places with his sister, and sacrifice himself to the Goddess instead. Jenci, grieving over the choice he has made, says he gladly would. Orban then begins smashing Jenci's head in with the rock.

We took a second here after Orban's character declares that, without resistance, he was going to kill Jenci. Jenci's player, perhaps a bit unsure if he was allowed to fight back after Orban got two points towards "winning the fight" over his character, said that he couldn't struggle.

I would like to point out that there is no animosity between the two players, so this was not an in-game resolution of an out-of-game problem.

Unwilling to create another character with limited time on the clock, we were unsure how to proceed. Sensing he may have stepped into a level of gaming the newest member of the table was unprepared to explore, Orban's player offered that perhaps Adel shouted to him and commanded him to stop. We agreed to go on from that point.


Jenci struggled back from a bloody vision of the future to find Orban still over him with the rock, and Adel shouting at Orban to stop. Jenci, now assured by the spirits that Orban would indeed kill him, agrees to go through with the ceremony. With the blessing of the Goddess, the ritual guidance of Adel, and lots of spilled blood, Jenci drowns his sister that evening. As her struggles cease beneath the icy waters, he feels her life force enter into him, forming a cold hard wall around his heart.

Necromancy (ii) was a really thrilling story option for me, so I had to try it on someone.

Jenci and Orban meet with Miklos and convince him that the Sarkozi need to fight. Jenci defers to Orban throughout most of this conversation, and sees his fathers faith in him shift to Orban instead. It is agreed that the people must flee, but that the warriors will remain and fight.

Jenci has no troubles convincing the warriors that their cause is worthy. Breja returns with a few Sobeska soldiers to add, telling Jenci that the Arnwald and Thancmor army has gathered to the north. Miklos flees with the women and children south along the river. The smoke of many campfires creeps through the woods and into the valley stronghold.

Uri, the Burnt is traveling along with the Thancmor army, exchanging protection for small trinkets and enchantments. He is looking for "the Bear Woman" whom he believes to be Adel, as he has received an omen that great fortune follows those in her presence. Knowing battle is imminent, strikes out under the cover of night to intercept the Sarkozi.

At this point, we've got forty minutes remaining and I want to test the battle mechanics. I ask the players if they want to fight in their stronghold, or somewhere else. They choose somewhere else. I then go around the table and have them each come up with a trait of the landscape.

The Sarkozi war party seeks to ambush the Thancmor at a nearby natural bridge, with forest at their back, easy lanes for archery, that unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) is in the territory of a very dangerous Troll. Jenci dispatches one of his younger brothers Harlan to try and rouse the troll, and then draw it back to the battlefield.

Uri arrives and parks his cart right in the middle of the natural bridge and lights a pipe. Crows begin to gather around the battlefield, sensing the carnage about to happen. Jenci advances the Sarkozi across the bridge and plans to pepper the Thancmor with arrows while drawing them back to the bridge.

We run into a few hiccups: If the group decides to undertake Harassing Your Enemy is the opposing army allowed a Come Under Attack move? We agree that they can, but can not find a definite answer.

The War Parties are as follows:
Army of Longinus: 55 Warriors (40 Thancmor + 15 Arnwald) +2 War; 4(7) Harm (+3 with numbers), 3(6) Armor (+3 with numbers); Archers
Jenci's Warband: 15 Warriors (12 Sarkozi + 3 Sobeska) +0 War; 4 Harm, 3 Armor; Archers


Uri calls out to Sorley and the Arnwald's new leader, Caius, from his spot on the bridge. He tries to use his right to council them against attacking the Sarkozi by telling them a terrible fate awaits them if they do. They do not heed him and the battle proper begins.

The Sarkozi strike, and it becomes inherently obvious that the Thancmor outnumber and outclass them. Secret flanks of Thancmor archers emerge and pincer the Sarkozi, and the air grows dark with the buzzing of arrows.

Orban met Caius on the battlefield and exhibited his incredible prowess. Caius, mounted attempted to slash at Orban, but Orban goaded Caius' horse to rear up and sneaking underneath, took his legendary antler-tipped spear and thrust it through the horses belly, through the saddle, and up into Caius from beneath. The horse collapsed partly on Orban, and Orban spent the rest of the battle pretending to be a corpse while wriggling his spear loose from the bloody horse kebab he created.

Breja allowed herself to get separated from the rest of the army by outflanking them and taking many Thancmor and Arnwald lives. Eventually taking refuge in a large pine tree.

Jenci draws Longinus' army back to the bridge at great cost of soldiers. Surveying the slaughter of their initial encounter, Jenci blows his horn to signal a retreat and the Sarkozi army is routed.

Throughout all of this, Uri decided to withdraw to the other side of the bridge and wait.

The group was a little shocked when I did the math for calculating losses. Outnumbering the other army has a very distinct advantage, and the Sarkozi army was butchered. There was a little bit of protest, and I explained that even I was surprised. We agreed that no one had scouted the Thancmor army, and I expressed that despite my efforts in highlighting their numerical superiority (number of campfires, the sounds of the approaching army, etc.) the Sarkozi went ahead with the engagement.

In hindsight I am okay with this, war as a choice of action in this world is risky and very dangerous, and has dire consequences if it is taken lightly.


As a bloodied Jenci pulled his fallen brothers across the bridge, Harlan appears dashing through the Thancmor ranks shouting "Run for your life!" Behind him, a half rock, half man, as tall as a castle keep, with a mouth full of hoary stalactites, came crashing through the earth. The Troll enraged by the smell of blood and the sound of the battle crashed into the Sarkozi flank, scattering men. The giant monstrosity knelt among the fallen like a drunkard and with one massive arm, began shoveling the living and the dead into his mouth. Surprised by the Troll and knowing they had won the day, Longinus' army fled.

Poor Orban was still among the fallen, and trying to avoid getting eaten by the troll when Jenci spotted him. With only two maimed soldiers remaining. Jenci undertook the great labor of drawing the Troll away from him by blowing his horn, and slowly retreating further into the mountains. Before long, only the carrion birds remained, to harvest those forgotten by their kinsmen.

A summer passed before Jenci was able to wear the Troll out and send it into another decade long slumber. He came down from the mountains to find the season slipping into an early fall, and the Sarkozi encamped without a stronghold many leagues to the south. When he arrived, Orban did not greet him, instead choosing to keep sharpening his spear. Uri's strangely painted cart was set up next to Adel's tent, and Breja was no where to be found.

With so many dead Jenci found himself next in line to lead his people. An unexpected outcome from this tragedy, however, it now made him much more of a rival to Orban.

Meanwhile in the east, Breja was trekking home to her people the Sobeska, who had recently joined around a strong and wise king and had proclaimed a new homeland for themselves to the south.

And that's where we left it.

An interesting session with only a few mechanical hang ups. Seasons I still have yet to get the hang of (i.e. what is their purpose?) and I am eager to explore some non-combat skill tests in upcoming games, before, perhaps introducing a more evenly matched adversary.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2015, 03:17:49 PM by THAC0ISM »

Re: Playtest Report: Brother's Blood
« Reply #3 on: February 17, 2015, 06:04:23 PM »
Session 3
Setup

Breja's player and Jenci's player were unable to attend this session (record snowfalls!). Jenci's player was enthusiastic about the new system, and asked me to advance Jenci's agenda on two points. I felt comfortable with this and the game went on as normal.

Our characters this session:
Orban, the Last (War Champion) - Last of his family, a prideful Sarkozi warrior.
Adel (Wicker Wise) - A shrieking, old Sarkozi hag, buried under a ever shifting mound of soiled furs.
Uri, the Burnt (Custom Playbook) - A cunning and fell sorcerer, from the culturally advanced Aftal'i of the east.

Game play:

As the short fall quickly turned to winter, Orban chose to heal his wounds. Uri and Adel spent the time communing with the River Goddess, and I decided that someone should do the hunting so sent Jenci to lend a supporting roll by scouring the forest for meat. As a whole the Sarkozi are suffering from too much travel, and lack of food. Hunters are scarce, and the people grow thin and filthy from travel. Hunger is plaguing them.

I had a much easier time explaining season moves as "What rites do you want to advance your character in?" and have them choose from there.

Orban stormed into Miklos' tent and demanded that he be allowed to go to a nearby village and demand tribute from them. Miklos, sick from a lack of alcohol and in a delirium, agreed quite easily.

Orban went to Uri's strangely painted cart and demanded that he cast stones to determine where the nearest village was. Uri asked the Goddess "What will I gain from the nearest village?" the reply he received, "A demon." Intrigued, Uri agreed to travel with Orban to a nearby village.

The lands surrounding the Sarkozi camp are more temperate, and the river is much wider. Signs of a once prosperous kingdom litter the area: deserted farms, cobbled roads, signposts in a cryptic language. The nearest village is a tiny unnamed hamlet of only four longhouses. The people are of a Welsh tounge, but speak some Hungarian and Germanic.

Orban confronts the leader of the village and asks if the Thancmor have been through the area. The man says no. However, one warrior from the north did stumble in to the village last night, "seeking someone who wasn't there." The warrior was sick and bedridden. Uri demands to see the warrior. The town leader acquiesces.

The warrior is a Thancmor who, as obvious from the snake tattoos on his body, worships Aina the Taker. His neck is almost comically swollen. A dark orange pus seeps from sores hidden in the folds of his engorged flesh.

Uri demands the house be evacuated except for Orban and himself. Uri then begins enchanting a bottle to hold whatever force is plaguing the Thancmor warrior. Uri wants to enchant the bottle permanently, but lacks five worthy sacrifices. Orban helps by demanding tributes and outright stealing from the village. While demanding that the villagers fetch water for them, one of the young men of the village hurls a stone at Orban. Orban is unmoved, and the villagers, fearful of their lives acquiesce.

I am glad that permanent enchantments require extreme amounts of effort and foresight. Uri was only able to perform four sacrifices (and by doing so, severely alienated the village and earned an enemy) and bought himself a few days (until the next new moon) of keeping the demon trapped in his bottle. It ups the stakes and easily prevents people from using magic to create any deus ex machina for the characters.

Uri performs the enchantment, describing how he overpowers and controls rats and other vermin to hold items and to draw symbols for his work. (I counter with cats being ever present around wherever he makes his enchantments, waiting to pounce and break the ritual if ever things go wrong.) The demon is sucked into the bottle, and in the process the longhouse is flooded and almost set ablaze.

Uri and Orban stride pridefully out of the village. Orban takes the one pig they did not sacrifice from the household of the leader. As Orban leaves, the same young boy hurls rocks at him. Orban turns and lifts his spear as if to challenge him, but seeing that he is only a boy, heads again into the woods.

By nightfall the two return. Orban presents his pig to Miklos. Jenci wishes to speak to Orban in private, but Orban refuses. Jenci replies that he will resolve the matter without Orban's permission then. Jenci and Uri have a long talk about the nature of magic and the River Goddess.

Even though Jenci's player couldn't make it, he informed me over the phone that he would like to advance his agenda on two fronts. First, he wanted to find a female caretaker for Orban to help "domesticate" him. Second, he wanted to connect with Uri as he does not trust Adel after she got him to murder his sister for personal gain. I did not act in the first person as Jenci, but took that time to execute the player's requests.

Later, a lookout spots firelight coming from a village downriver. Orban climbs a tree and notices what looks like the fires of a large camp outside the village as well. Orban also smells salt on the wind. They have almost followed the river to it's terminus in the sea. Orban goes to Uri to cast the stones and see if the village is friend or foe. Uri asks "Who guides the village?" and the vision he receives is that of a lost sailor trying to judge the stars by looking through a coin.

Orban leaves Uri's cart, and is enraged and horrified when his legendary spear (which, as is the custom of the nomadic steppe-dwelling Sarkozi, he left outside) has been stolen. He barges back inside and agrees to gouge out one of his eyes to determine the true name and location of the thief.

No real rule for this. Just a great bit of improv and a personal enough sacrifice for me to say okay to it. Uri's player was more than willing to fill in the rituals description for us and to smear burnt, gouged eyeball over Orban's tounge.

The thief's name is Alwan, he is the young boy from the small hamlet that Orban had menaced. In a blur Orban, boiling over with furious anger, finds himself suddenly at the village, well after dark, cornering the boy, who is playing with Orban's spear. Orban (in true Orban fashion) declares that he will fight the child, to the death if neccesary, to reclaim his spear.

Orban and Alwan fight, and Alwan stabs Orban deep in the gut with his own spear before getting smashed to the ground by Orban's knife. Alwan, due to Orban's smashing blow has also lost the same eye that Orban has, and so Orban spares his life. He then picks up the unconscious Alwan and attempts to kidnap him. The hamlet is roused by the fight, and two men emerge. Uri notices the men have ornate daggers, not customary of lowly peasants, but there is little they can do. Not looking for more innocent bloodshed Orban abandons Alwan, and the two flee.

Orban returns home to find a woman in his tent. She tells him she is Jenci's sister-in-law and lost her husband in the battle with Longinus' army. Jenci sent the widow, Gizella, to aid and comfort Orban, but with the condition that he may not wed her until it is spring and she has completed her mourning. As she tends his wounds, Uri arrives, and reveals that he went back and abducted Alwan for Orban, and dumps a drugged Alwan at Orban's feet. Suddenly Orban finds he has the beginnings of the family he has always desired.

Throughout this, it was very fun to offer Uri's character "aid" from the demon, on the condition that he uncork the bottle. It got up to offering a twelve on any roll, provided he open the proverbial Pandora's box. Uri's player however, did not take the bait.

The next few days pass quickly. Adel performs a ceremony that binds Alwan to the Sarkozi, and makes Alwan Orban's blood successor. Uri prepares for a better binding ritual for his demon, that requires a greater sacrifice from Jenci. Orban, Adel and Uri all pray to the River Goddess for a better leader to emerge for the Sarkozi than Miklos.

We opted not to go into Uri's ritual without Jenci's player there. Separately I asked the players what sacrifice would have to be made for a great leader to emerge from the Sarkozi. Orban stated, Miklos must die early. Uri, stated Adel must lose all respect of the tribe. Taking this, I advance the demon's agenda.

The next night, the players all watched in panic as the moon gained a bloody hue and the sky began to eat away at it. Orban joined Jenci in the watch post on the tall oak, and as the sky grew black and the great shadow consumed the moon, they felt a sickness creep across them, and their necks began to swell.

Back in camp, Uri watched the shadow slowly pass over the moon. Hearing in the background, only Adel's chanting, and the slowly growing sounds of all the Sarkozi men falling into coughing fits. Climbing back up into his cart, Uri found the stopper ever so slightly pushed out of the demon's bottle.

Just as the was moon re-emerging from the darkness, Orban burst into Adel's tent, demanding aid. Adel recoiled in terror at the sight of Orban's bleeding and engorged neck...

"This... This is not what my visions showed me..." she mutters.

And we left it there...