Dragonknights – Session #1

Tonight was a playtest run of Dragonknights, a game in the works by Travis Scott.

A dragon and doll having tea.

Coathios and Ilfwan having tea. Courtesy of Mark Daniels

The Player Characters

Coathios

  • Species: Lustrous Nightfang
  • Temperment: Obsessively Entranced
  • Hoard: Porcelain Dolls (“Ilfwan” an obsidian-headed doll)
  • Wingmate: Skollis is soooo pretty
  • Bond: With the right hammer any dream is possible

Domnus Oric (Smith)

  • High Concept: Bigger & Better
  • Trouble: I Must Touch Everything
  • Mentor: Many hands make light work
  • Role: Hey, its just money
  • Bond: With the right hammer any dream is possible

Skollis

  • Species: Brazen Bolter
  • Temperment: Opportunistic Hotshot
  • Hoard: Arms & Armor from beyond Indgard
  • Wingmate: Coathios takes care of the boring stuff
  • Bond: We make this look good

Domnus Grimaer (Magistrate)

  • High Concept: Glory defined by someone else’s vision
  • Trouble: Too many balls in the air
  • Mentor: The finer points of diplomacy diplomacy ends at a dragon’s snout.
  • Role: Puppet Master
  • Bond: We make this look good

The World

Abject Dangers > Human Perils > Blackguards & Skullduggery > True Rule

Everyone knows that Steward Oldfa is the true power in the domain. She whispers in the ears of the rules, pulls the strings of the local Trade Leagues, and even has a few Magistrates she can rely on to get things done or covered up. Steward Oldfa came to power through financial dominance over other stewards, in particular by placing tremendous pressure on Magistrate Ardolf the Angry.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities & Endeavors > Costs & Bargains

Every traveler takes one of three major trade roads in your domain.

  • The Burning Pass is known for its scalding winds.
  • The Gentle Road is known for its bandits.
  • The Merchant’s Trail is known for its kudzu-like carnivorous grass.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities > Costs & Bargains

The confluence of several major trade routes falls at the outskirts of your domain. The beloved Ogre’s Head Ale is in great supply, and the contraband Root Death (made from yolk of Venomous Whisper Drake eggs) is put up with by the good fold of the domain.

Uncertain Futures > Opportunities & Endeavors > Who Would Rule?

The dominant faction in the local Stewards Council has been ousted, and the people couldn’t be happier! Steward Parduelf has been given the new title of Speaker. He is speaks of progress but is an insidious demagogue. His first major change was to remove the regulations regarding Root Death usage.

Outrageous Fortunes > What Luck > Strange Blessings

What luck! Vast plains support a huge quantity of cattle. Goodman Wufric makes sure that Fort Hope gets its share, though he is cross with Fort Hope because they snubbed Magistrate Ardolf the Angry’s diplomatic envoy.

Established Cast

  • Steward Olfda – the power behind it all.
  • Magistrate Adrolf the Angry – ousted from power.
  • Steward Pardeulf – an insidious demagogue, and puppet of Steward Olfda.
  • Smith Wufric – provides cattle for Fort Hope.
  • Scholar Parewan – Bandit leader, gave Domnus Oric the gift of a letter of introduction to the Melted Library. Domnus Oric reverse engineered a safe for him. Domnus Grimaer orchestrated the safe of Magistrate Ardolf falling into the hands of Parewan. Recently branded a bandit.
  • Domna Bowid, Steward – almond skin, scar from ear to collar, Steward of Fort Hope; Low Eminence, High Stewardship
  • Fraebog (Frilled Mountain King) – Domna Bowid’s bonded dragon, High Eminence
  • Domnus Angwyn, Warrior – A dragon bonded warrior of Fort Hope.
  • Smith Pulfric – Helped Oric craft the masonry shelves for Coathios’s lair
  • The Land of Vos – Blades are forged in the blood of the fallen, in a way creating a family tree. This blade begat this blade.

Campaign Aspects

  • The Glorious Order of the Knights Dragonbonded
  • Unheard Voices
  • Political Unrest

Scenes

Taking a cue from Travis’s GenCon game, I gave each bonded pair a moment in each of the dragon’s lairs. We are also pressed for time, having about 2 1/2 hours to play.

Coathios has a small table set for tea. He is enjoying tea with Ilfwan his prized porcelain doll. Oric enters through the fine crafted door. The lair is shelves of lesser dolls each facing the large soft bed on which Coathios rests.

Skollis has his lair arranged such that morning sun shines in. The polished arms and armor reflects and magnifies the morning sun.

Bowid has asked Oric and Grimaer to prepare their dragons for flight. It turns out that Bandit Parewan has stolen a book that will prove Magistrate Ardolf‘s treason. But they must act in haste for Magistrate Ardolf will be leaving the lands in 6 days time. And this capture should happen within Fort Hope’s domain!

Reconaissance

They take flight to gather information from the city of Iyravandron.

  • Domnus Oric reaches out to Smith Pulfric learning the general whereabouts of Parewan (Contacts, Create an Advantage Obstacle 4, Success).
  • Domnus Grimaer is out talking with the crowds attempting to drum up anger over Parewan. (Rapport via Stunt, Overcome Obstacle 5, Failure choosing Success with Great Cost.) The crowds agree with Domnus Grimaer that justice must be served to Parewan, but turn and say it is the Magistrates who cause trouble. “We don’t need the Magistrates! They bring nothing but trouble!”
  • Coathios goes hunting to find the largest cattle from the fields. He wants to make sure that Skollis is well fed and rested for the upcoming hunt. The cattle are theirs to eat. (Notice, Create an Advantage Obstacle 4, Success)

The Hunt

Two days have passed, but Skollis is confident in getting the scent. After two days of heavy flight, I compelled Coathios’ delicate Lustrous Nightfang frame to drive him and his rider to ground. Coathios accepted the the compel. (Note: in hindsight, reading through the Lustrous Nightfang is not frail and easy to tire.)

Skollis and Grimaer continued on. In flight I called for a Notice check on Skollis and Grimaer, though encouraged a bit of a retroactive Create an Aspect.

  • Grimaer encourage Grimaer to keep the sun at their backs (Lore, Create an Advantage, Obstacle 3, Success with Style).
  • Skollis notices a single ballista and three men (Notice, Overcome, Obstacle 3, Success). There are also grazing sheep nearby, not a distraction for this well-fed and rested brazen bolter.
  • Skollis and Grimaer remain unnoticed proceed to fly around to gain an ambush (Stealth, Overcome, Obstacle 4, Success).
  • A quick ambush ensues. Skollis destroys a ballista, kills a human, injures a second, and captures a third.

A gentle interrogation proceeds, with words of honor exchanged, and the captive released. Parewan is in fact in a cave nearby with 20 men.

The Strike

While Coathios and Oric were waiting, Oric crafted some leather wing enhancements (Craft, Create an Advantage, Obstacle 3, Success with Style) to help.

They agreed to wait until an hour or so before dawn to strike Parewan. So Coathios and Oric took to the air and scouted high in the night sky. They were real quiet (Stealth, Overcome, Obstacle 3, Success with Style) and were waiting.

Coathios’s player opted to spend a Fate point to have Parewan step out to relieve himself. Sounded great by me. Coathios struck fast subduing and dragging off Parewan.

The Deal

Back at their camp Coathios, Oric, Skollis, and Grimaer began bargaining with Parewan. Grimaer, on his honor, promised that if Parewan surrendered himself and the book (a new book written in ancient Indarin) that all of Parewan’s men would be free to disperse. Parewan accepted the terms.

They flew back to the camp where Parewan explained the situation. One by one he said farewall to each man and woman by name, also naming their spouses and children.

Wrap Up

We closed the session with a mission accomplished. In game, four days have passed since Bowid gave the assignment.

It has been a long time since I ran a Fate game, but I was willing to fake an awful lot of things. There are a few things I need to lookup.

Observations

The game that I ran felt as though it belonged in the world of the previous games of Dragonknight I’ve played. In part this is because I’ve had the privilege to play four sessions with the creator of the game. But the richness of the setting generator helps fold the common themes back in upon themselves.

And sweet heavens do I love the detail of honor. I made sure to emphasize that the absence of the empathy skill and the value of honor mean that when you say “On my honor” people will believe you. It is a big thing.

There are too many nuances of the setting for me to have “digested” and gotten right. Conveying the spirit of the campaign world is a challenge. I did not put the “So you’re a Magistrate” paper in front of the magistrate player, so there me be a deviation from canon, but I feel like we have enough moving parts to set things in motion.

I have more thoughts but the hour draws late.

Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski

Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski

Thulian Echoes by Zzarchov Kowolski

Disclaimer: I solicited Lamentations of the Flame Princess for a free copy of the Thulian Echoes PDF with the intent of writing up a review.

From RPGNow’s description:

Thulian Echoes is two adventures in one! In the first phase, players take the role of pregen characters exploring the dungeon long ago… their actions recorded, so that the players’ actual characters can then follow in the footsteps of the previous characters and gain all the riches and magical secrets to be found!

Of my previous three reviews…

…two were for adventures by Zzarchov Kowolski. This review makes the count three out of four.

I will now do my best to avoid spoilers. Instead focusing on what I find fascinating about this adventure.

Zzarchov is crafting adventures that are more than backstory, set encounters, and random encounters. In Scennic Dunnsmouth, Zzarchov wrote procedures to transfer the knowledge components of the adventure framework to the GM.

In Thulian Echoes, Zzarchov focuses on the knowledge transfer of in-game information to the characters by way of the players playing different characters. From the introduction

…the journal of another band of adventures from over a thousand years ago who went to explore a location based adventure. The players are then handed a batch of pre-generated characters and get to play through the events in the journal.

Brilliant! Instead of spending time crafting numerous journal entries with hints and fluff, Zzarchov embraces the “show don’t tell” adage.

The trigger is when the characters study the journal. Not when they commit to the adventure. Yes, it is a bait and switch.

Rehearsal

The first pass through the adventure is brutal. Disposable characters will die. And that is the purpose. However Thulian Echoes is not without sympathy.

Zzarchov recommends, for the first pass through, to provide a luck pool for the players. When a pre-generated character dies, the player can spend from the luck pool to avoid death. When the luck pool runs out…the journal ends.

This mechanism facilitates players paying attention and participating during practice. The mechanism is not used for the “real” run of the adventure. Players have hirelings and henchman to replace a deceased character.

While the players are exploring the adventure site, the GM is taking notes. Both action and inaction will impact the future state of the adventure site. And there is interplay with the alterations.

Once More with Feeling

Once the rehearsal draws to a close, the GM has a bit of work to do. There is a bit of dice rolling and review of the various impacts. It is best to do in between sessions, but could be wrapped up in 20 minutes.

The stage is then rebuilt.

For the second time around with the players’ actual characters, things have changed. A millennium has passed. The players can now witness any potential butterfly effect.

Other Curiosities

Competitiveness

The first pass of the adventure is challenging. But nothing about the adventure forces the players to send their real characters through it. Through social engineering – attempting to succeed after previous failure – most players that I know would attempt to do it again.

The Journey

There is an adventure segment that provides a procedure for dealing with extensive wilderness travel. In doing so Thulian Echoes avoids detailing an extensive set of wilderness encounters.

It is instead there is a distance tracking mechanism and a table for random encounters. The random table has the same structure as The Gnomes of Levnec random table:

  • Roll a d8, d6, d4
  • Consult each entry
  • On doubles, triples, or max value there is a kicker

These tables encode enough information to make the wilderness travel interesting without chewing up too much time.

The Map

Jason Thompson created a gorgeous walkthrough isomorphic map for Thulian Echoes. Jason also drew the walkthrough maps of “Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth”, “Slave Pits of the Undercity”, and the “Isle of Dread”.

Summary

I found the adventure inspiring and interesting. I both want to run the adventure and take the procedures and work on my own. So for my purposes, Thulian Echoes is a resounding “must have”.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

Buy Thulian Echoes if you:

  • Want an example of unique adventure construction
  • Want a dangerous dungeon delve
  • Are looking for your characters to explore a remote island
  • Want an adventure you can run more than once – twice in fact!
  • Think your players would like a second crack at something

Do not buy Thulian Echoes if you:

  • Are looking for an urban adventure
  • Are not willing to yank your player’s chains
  • Know your players won’t be on board for playing different characters
  • Don’t want to deal with timey wimey things