[Final Hour of a Storied Age] Kindred Blood and Kindled Flames

edited June 2010 in Actual Play
I'm running a skype playtest of my epic fantasy story game Final Hour of a Storied Age with Lenny Balsera and Lance Allen. I released an audio recording of the session on my podcast and posted a text synopsis on my blog. The game is highly procedural and the fiction is pretty tightly integrated with the mechanics. I'm going to try an AP-posting experiment and just post the fiction here without explaining how the mechanics produced it. Check out my blog post to see the operation of the game mechanics interspersed with the fiction.

The main characters:

Julian, a stubborn but goodhearted young man from the farming community of Red Valley, seeking to wed the daughter of a wealthy farmer.

Gerhard, a cold and calculating prince, envious of his older brother who is destined to both take the throne and become the vessel of the magic of the Valley of Fire.

The Elder, a short-tempered old wizard, the current wielder of the magic of the Valley of Fire who must pass it on to the next rightful recipient.

Chapter 1
The Elder storms into the palace of Cresthaven, demanding an audience with the crown prince. Prince Gerhard lies that his older brother Steffan is out among the poor of the city and The Elder should search for him out there. The short-tempered Elder demands that the crown prince be brought to him, since he has already journeyed far and is in no mood for further inconvenience. The Elder shouts Gerhard down, demanding that the crown prince be brought to him at once. Gerhard offers apologies and suggests that The Elder wait in the dining room while they fetch the crown prince, calculating that The Elder will overindulge as usual and eat and drink himself to sleep. The Elder's long experience should let him handle it, but he notices that the cooking has improved considerably since the last time he was here, stuffs himself, and falls into a deep sleep.

The next day, Gerhard tells The Elder that the crown prince tried to meet with him during the night but The Elder wouldn't wake up for him, calculating that The Elder will be too embarrassed to cause more commotion. The Elder, his anger evident, says that his business is more important than any affairs of state that might be occupying the prince. The Elder flies into a rage that intimidates Gerhard. Gerhard lies that there is a fire at the granary and The Elder should go put a stop to it. Still angry, The Elder says that his business is far more urgent and important than a fire. The Elder calls Gerhard on his lie. Gerhard admits that he was trying to distract The Elder, claiming that the crown prince is afflicted with plague and they've been hiding him in a plague-house in the city. Gerhard begins leading The Elder to a plague house, calculating that he'll be able to lose him in the crowd. The Elder gets angrier and angrier the longer the journey takes, complaining the whole way. Gerhard leads The Elder to a plague house and then slips out the back way. The Elder, fuming, realizes that Gerhard is up to something and vows not to be fooled again.

Chapter 2
Julian is in Red Valley on market day. He has arranged a meeting with Klaus in order to ask permission to court his daughter. Klaus, protective of his daughter Astrid's heart, orders Julian to shop for her to prove that he knows her well. Julian realizes what a daunting task this is, but stubbornly goes forward anyway, trying to find things that she would actually like rather than things that would impress her father. Julian walks through the marketplace, selecting items which are simple but of good quality, knowing that's what Astrid prefers. Klaus is impressed, but says that Astrid is a craftsman's daughter and appreciates fine workmanship. He orders Julian to tell him which of the items would make the best gift. Julian eyes the items while fingering the silver ring in his pocket, knowing that's the gift he'd truly like to give to Astrid. Julian doesn't have the nerve, and Klaus pounces on his hesitation. “No man who lacks conviction will have my daughter!” Klaus, never one to mince words says, “If you have something to show, you should show it.” Julian reluctantly pulls the ring from his pocket. “I would choose to gift her with this, but I think the most important thing I can offer is that I was born of this country and know the woods, know the hills, know the farms, and would give her the true heart of a Red Valley man.” Although Klaus doesn't grant permission to court Astrid, Julian can tell that Klaus is warming up to him. Klaus says, “Son, when I was your age, I courted my wife by breaking into her father's stable, stealing his best horse, and running it ragged across the country daring him to stop me. You're a nice kid, but I want to see your spirit. Now buy these things and give them to my daughter.” He walks away, leaving Julian holding a bunch of items that he's not sure he can afford.

Chapter 3
Fed up dealing with functionaries, The Elder returns to the palace, expecting to talk to the king directly, but he finds Prince Gerhard sitting on the throne. Believing that The Elder's pride is his weakness, Gerhard calculates that he can humiliate him in front of the assembled nobles. The Elder pounds his staff on the ground, sending up a blast of magical flame, saying that he is immensely powerful and should not be trifled with. Gerhard says, “Don't you remember that you met my brother last night? Have you gone senile? Is this what we have to look forward to, a foolish old man who's lost his wits, with more power than he knows what to do with?” Clearly, Gerhard's plan to undermine The Elder with the nobility is working, and he is confident that he can push as hard as he wants because he believes that The Elder would never strike down someone of royal blood. The Elder, having dealt with politicians before, suggests that if he is losing his mind the proper reaction is fear and obedience. The nobles realize that The Elder is dangerous and should not be mocked. Gerhard leaps from the throne, draws his sword, and holds it to The Elder's neck. Calculating that The Elder is bluffing, Gerhard says, “You think you're the only one with a temper, old man? Perhaps you'd better rethink what you're saying.” The Elder rolls his eyes, wishing that the children who rule kingdoms would learn not to trifle with wizards of his power, and his anger nears the boiling point. The Elder sees the cold look in Gerhard's eyes and knows he won't back down. Twenty years ago, The Elder would have easily been able to defeat Gerhard, but today he isn't so sure. Is he too old for this? He backs down and apologizes for creating such a scene.

Chapter 4
Julian, hoping to prove himself worthy of Astrid, is out hunting a predator that has been taking out local livestock. There aren't any tracks on the cold, hard ground. A country boy like Julian knows more ways to track than just studying footprints, but they don't seem to work either. With no way to track it across the hard ground, Julian stubbornly begins checking every place the thing might attack. The cries of a wolf are heard in the distance across vast stretches of hard, stony ground. Julian, a stubborn country boy, starts running after the sound as hard as he can. Julian sees it and gets off a shot with his bow, mortally wounding the wolf. It takes off into the woods and Julian follows the blood trail to find the creature dead just outside a hole in an embankment from which he can hear pitiful sounds. Klaus, also hunting the wolf to protect his family, steps out of the woods. “So, Julian,” he says. “Are you going to kill all of them?” Julian isn't comfortable with the idea of killing the pups. “No, I've eliminated the threat,” Julian says. “These pups can be relocated, and then it will be up to nature whether they live or die.” Klaus doesn't say anything, but gives Julian his hunting vest to wrap up and carry the pups, an unspoken gesture of approval. Julian moves them to a new den, far enough away that they won't threaten the community.

I'll try to post more chapters once I've typed up the events from the second session. (A question for anyone reading: do you like this mechanics-free writeup, or is the way I've done it on my blog with the fiction+mechanics better?)


  • That was a fun read!

    I must say, I'm surprised at the modest scale. A tale of peasant courting isn't what I expected, nor are the largely verbal exchanges between the prince and wizard. I thought in a Storied Age there'd be more mountains getting smashed in half. :)
  • Posted By: David BergI must say, I'm surprised at the modest scale. A tale of peasant courting isn't what I expected, nor are the largely verbal exchanges between the prince and wizard. I thought in a Storied Age there'd be more mountains getting smashed in half. :)
    The second session brought the violence in pretty starkly by contrast.
  • Part of what's going on is that I chose a modest first arc for my character, Julian. I want to establish some of the pastoral culture of the setting, whilst getting a feel for both the game and my own character. Another part is that in the first session Dan, whose character is notably more.. driven, didn't get any spotlight chapters. Each of the chapters is an attempt at furthering your plot arc. Three successes finishes an arc. Chapters 1 and 2 were failures by the spotlight character, meaning the story didn't move, mechanically, toward the eventual endgame.

    This first session was a lot of fun, and it shows a lot of potential to go good places. Chapter 2 was hallmarked by me getting spanked moderately often, largely due to bad dice rolls on my part, and as Lenny said, a lot more violence. It's kind of strange, because my portion of the story is still in pastoral scale, whereas the other portion of the story has gone to much grander and darker places.

    It's also notable that, in this three-player game, Lenny and Dan's play has intertwined fairly heavily, whereas my scenes are pretty much completely divorced from the stories of the other players. I'm certain that will change, but it hasn't as of yet.
  • Yeah, the sense of buildup is pretty deliberate in the game, as far as I can tell. 2-4 sessions seems about the normal amount of time for a single story to complete, dependent upon the group and how fast they move through the chapters. It's not intended to be all crazy "stab 'em in the kidneys" kind of stuff all the time. I definitely do have a sense that all the work we've done to establish Lance's character in his quiet, pastoral circumstances will pay off when chaos and madness come to it - that's pretty much high fantasy par for the course.

    The pacing is, actually, my favorite thing about the game right now - a lot of hippie games (or whatever, God we need a better name for them than the ones we have) rely on an urgency of pace for the narrative. This is a bit more leisurely, a bit more relaxed.
  • Sounds good to me. I always have trouble caring about the dramatic fate of a character who I've only been playing through 4 or 5 scenes at a breakneck pace. Establishing scenes rock.
  • I posted the podcast for the second session, and a fiction+mechanics AP report on my blog. As before, here's the fiction-only report:

    Chapter 5
    The Elder, not wanting another direct confrontation with Gerhard, sneaks into the palace to find the crown prince. He quickly discovers that he's not as young and spry as he used to be, as his old and creaky joints slow him down and seem destined to attract every guard in the place with each click and pop. Even though it's not as easy as it used to be, The Elder has done this before and is able to avoid the guards and make his way to the door of the crown prince's chambers. Outside it stand a pair of foul-tempered palace guards, clearly in no mood to grant anyone entry. The Elder, of course, has dealt with their type before and knows that fire is an ideal solution. He unleashes a blast of flame at their feet, forcing them to flee in terror. The Elder notices that his blast of fire wasn't quite as narrow and focused as he intended as a tapestry goes up in flame and fire begins to spread down the hallway. Annoyed at yet another distraction, The Elder mutters chants of quiet to bring the flames under control. The Elder slowly calms the flames, but a smoldering tapestry falls from the wall, igniting the carpet, and he sighs in frustration as he redoubles his effort to extinguish the fire. The fire spreads down the hallway, away from the prince's chamber, and The Elder glances back and forth between the flames and the doorway, wondering whether he should just forget about the fire and let it burn. Prince Steffan emerges from his chambers with a bucket of water, dumps it on the fire, and shakes his head disapprovingly at The Elder.

    Chapter 6
    Julian decides to take a picnic basket to Astrid's and invite her out for the day, but as he approaches her house on his plow horse he sees his rival for Astrid's affections. Herman, who always gets what he wants, has had a similar idea and is knocking on Astrid's door with a picnic basket of his own, waiting to whisk her away in his fancy carriage. Julian stubbornly refuses to accept defeat, so he rides around the back of the house to Astrid's window. While Herman is busy talking to the housekeeper, Astrid comes to the window to talk to Julian, and he invites her to come for a ride. Just then, the housekeeper opens the door to Astrid's room and shows Herman in. "Ah, Astrid, I've prepared a wonderful picnic for us. Well, I should say my servants prepared it, but I'm ready to show you a wonderful day together." Julian pushes forward with his plan anyway, reaching through the window to scoop Astrid out onto his horse. Flabbergasted by Julian's uncouth behavior, Herman crosses the room just in time to grab a hold of Astrid's leg, locking Herman and Julian in a tug-of-war with Astrid in the middle. Although Herman smiles to Astrid whenever she looks his way, he fixes Julian with a murderous glare, making it clear that he is ready to go as far as he needs to in order to get Astrid. Julian wouldn't hurt someone just because he's a romantic rival, but he isn't prepared to let Astrid go. While it begins playfully enough, Julian gets the sense that Herman won't keep it that way for long. To prevent Astrid from getting hurt Julian lets go, doing so just as Herman was yanking her toward him. She tumbles back into the room and the two of them land in a heap on the floor with Astrid giggling excitedly. Herman flashes his smile and escorts her out to his carriage.

    Chapter 7
    After some time has passed, Julian rides his horse through town, wondering how he can possibly get closer to Astrid. He is shocked to see Herman talking and giggling with another girl. Herman stares right at Julian. "Nobody has to hear about this, do they, farm boy?" Julian, never one to step away from a problem tries to deal with it the best way he knows how: he climbs down from his horse and takes a swing at Herman. Herman, despite his dandy nature, is no pushover. He blocks Julian's swing and manages to trip Julian into the dirt. "How rude can one be?" asks Herman. "Not even a proper challenge. But if it's a fight you came for, I'll give it to you. You really should know your place, though. I could buy and sell you ten times over." Julian isn't ready to let it go and says, "All the money in the world can't buy you honor or integrity, Herman." Herman goes slightly red in the face as he realizes the entire town is looking on and that news of what he's been doing will certainly get back to Astrid. Julian, realizing that he's already won, gets back on his horse and rides off.

    Chapter 8
    Prince Gerhard approaches his brother the crown prince's chambers. Guard Captian Gunter, known to be a loyalist, guards Steffan's door and is willing to challenge anyone, even Prince Gerhard. "It's a late hour. What business brings you here?" "Gunter, clearly I was concerned for my brother's safety. I heard there was a fire." Gunter snorts derisively. "Come now, sir, no one else can hear us, you can speak plainly. When was the last time you were truly concerned for your brother? Tell me your actual business and perhaps I will give you access to the prince." Gerhard gives him a cold smile. "Gunter, I know you're a loyal man, but perhaps you should rethink who you are loyal to. Once my brother and father are out of the way the army may very well need a new general." Gerhard is confident that Gunter's ambition will outweigh his loyalty, and has no qualms about making promises he has no intention of keeping. Gunter, clearly intrigued by the offer, steps aside and lets Gerhard approach the crown prince's door.
  • Chapter 9
    A few days after the encounter in the town square, Julian approaches Astrid's house expecting that she will have heard about Herman's womanizing by now. As he gets close enough to see inside, he spies Astrid and Herman sitting on a couch, much closer than Julian would have expected. Herman says, "Astrid, darling, you have to understand that the only way I could be sure that our love was true was to test myself with those other girls. But I know now that you're the only one for me." Julian enters the house. "I'm tired of trying to play polite. I'm tired of pretending to be smooth and polished, since there's no way I can compare to Herman an his easy lies. Astrid, I have loved you since we were children and if you give me the chance I'll show you that every day for the rest of our lives." Herman replies, "I agree with you about one thing, there's no way you compare to me." He turns to Astrid. "Darling, why don't you let this boy know that his childish infatuation is a distraction that you've outgrown?" Ignoring him, Julian implores Astrid, "Do you remember when we were thirteen and we were down by the river and we found that tarnished silver ring? Will I've kept it, and over the years I've polished it up for you. I realize it's nothing so fine as the gifts you're used to, but it's something that I've always believed should be yours. I would choose to give this to you on the day that we are wed, but if you should choose someone whose love is less true then it should still be yours." Clearly, Astrid is embarassed that Julian is telling stories about her playing by the river like a little girl when she wants to be thought of as a woman.

    Herman says, "Don't worry, darling, I'll get rid of him." He looks Julian square in the eyes. "I think the lady would like you to leave, and so would I." Julian answers, "I think the lady can speak for herself and doesn't need a fancy mouth like yours to do it." Astrid turns away, clearly mortified at being thrust into the center of the conflict. "I think that says more than enough," adds Herman. "Why don't you just leave here before there's trouble?" Julian fully expected Astrid to come to his defense, but the fact that she stayed silent has his head spinning and he doesn't even think to protest as Herman pushes him out the door and slams it in his face.

    Chapter 10
    Gerhard opens the door to his brother's chambers and, instead of Steffan, meets The Elder. He has his staff out, ready for battle. "You're too late, Gerhard. I have protected him from your treachery." Magical flames dance on his fingertips, daring Gerhard to try his resolve. Prince Gerhard draws his sword and says, "I see it has taken you a while to build up your courage," figuring that needling The Elder will take him off his game. There's a furious back and forth, Gerhard's blade flashing, The Elder's fires burning. The Elder, still skilled with his staff even if he's not as quick as he once was, knocks Gerhard's sword aside, pushes the prince to the floor, and looms over him. "Get you gone, princeling. Your efforts here will only lead to your demise. Trust me, I've seen it happen to many a dynasty." Gerhard, lying on the floor, holds out his hands nonchalantly. "Oh no, I've been disarmed. Whatever shall I do?" He smiles as Gunter the royal blademaster comes in behind The Elder. The Elder turns to face the new threat and Gerhard leaps to his feet, sword back in hand, to trap the old wizard in the middle. As skilled as he is, The Elder can't parry two men at once. Gerhard and Gunter laugh, playing with the outmatched old man. The Elder is backed into a corner, driven beyond mere anger, and unleashes a spell he's used before when his magic has almost been depleted, a searing ball of fire. Gerhard and Gunter, confident in their footwork from countless hours of sword practice, move to duck out of the way, knowing that Gunter's cronies will be there to rush them to the surgeon if they end up a little singed. The fire hurtles past them, failing to even scorch their clothes. The Elder is dumbfounded as no one has ever dodged his magic in all his long years. The fight gone out of him, The Elder sinks into the corner as Gerhard laughs at him.

    Chapter 11
    Gerhard looks for his brother and finds Crown Prince Steffan at the end of an underground passage that leads from his chamber to the stables. Steffan draws his sword and faces his brother, saying "You didn't kill the old man. Did you?" Gerhard replies, "Of course I didn't kill him. He's still useful. Unlike you." Their swords clash again and again, a blistering flurry of strokes and counterstrokes, parries and ripostes. Slowly but surely Steffan pushes his younger brother back. A bluish aura trickles from Steffan's shoulder into the blade, and his blows seem to strike with a power beyond even the greatest of swordsmen. "I have endured your machinations for too long, brother. It ends now." Steffan continues his furious assault. Gerhard tries to parry the attacks, but with only the strength of a normal man he is at his brother's mercy. Holding Gerhard at swordpoint, Steffan says, "You are my blood, and if you cease this nonsense I promise you that your fate will be a gentle one. This does not have to lead to suffering." Knowing that his brother will not be able to resist, Gerhard reaches out his hand. "Of course, brother, merely take my hand and we can come to some agreement." Steffan takes Gerhard's hand but doesn't fall for Gerhard's ploy – when Gerhard's hidden blade flashes forth Steffan's own sword is there to meet it. "When will you learn, Gerhard? When will you learn?" He shoves Gerhard backward and they continue in a fair fight. Battered and bruised, Gerhard does his best to match his brother. The swords clash more furiously than ever, sending sparks flying with each deafening blow of steel upon steel. The battle grows ever more desperate and all semblance of civility is shed as both men use fists, feet, elbows, knees, anything to gain an advantage on the other. Ever so slowly, as the battle rages, Gerhard's strength begins to wane. Steffan's assault drives him backwards, then to his knees, then to his back. Eventually Gerhard doesn't even have the strength to lift his sword, but he still stares at his brother with hate in his eyes. Steffan, exhausted but victorious, prepares to put an end to the struggle, his heart heavy with remorse. As Steffan lifts his sword to strike the killing blow, the stablemaster slams a pitchfork down on the crown prince's head, cracking his skull. "I'm sorry my prince," the stablemaster says to Gerhard, "I didn't realize you'd need my help quite so quickly." He helps Gerhard to his feet, and Gerhard says, "Thank you for your help." Then he runs the stablemaster through with his sword. He shakes his head and rehearses his lie. "My brother and the stablemaster fought. I tried my best, but they killed each other before I could stop them."

    Chapter 12
    The Elder sits alone, locked in a cell guarded by Guard Captain Gunter, who still seems alert despite the revelry that he and other supporters of Gerhard have been engaging in. Although confined, The Elder is far from helpless. He holds out his hand and his staff flies to it through the bars and he unleashes a gout of magical flame. The bars on the cell melt into slag and The Elder steps through, past the startled Gunter, and runs up the stairs. Although the exact manner of the escape came as a shock, Gunter suspected that The Elder would try something funny, so the exit to the dungeon complex is locked and double-reinforced. The Elder turns his flames on the door, but it's made of case-hardened steel and doesn't yield as easily as the bars did. The Elder grits his teeth and throws all of his power against the door, his flames burning white hot. The Elder bursts through the door, but the delay in getting through it has given Gunter a chance to catch up. He pulls his sword and says, "You won't get away that easily, old man." The Elder brings up his staff to parry the blow. "You'll find I still have a few tricks up my sleeve, young man," says The Elder while he pummels Gunter. "And you think I don't?" Gunter replies. "You think I would station only one guard on you?" Hearing armored footsteps approaching, The Elder redoubles his efforts to take out Gunter with his staff. As they fight, neither one gaining ground, the footsteps fade down another passage, revealing Gunter's threat of more guards as merely a bluff.

    The stomping guards, however, masked the quieter approach of Prince Gerhard. "All right, Elder. The deed is done," he says. "I'm ready for you to transfer the power to me, now." Cursing, The Elder hurls a ball of flame at the prince. The fireball slams into Gerhard, sending him flying across the room where he smashes into a table. The Elder looms over him and declares, "There will be no heir to the magic of the Valley of Fire thanks to your treachery. This era of magic will come to an end. But at least I will have the satisfaction of destroying the perpetrator." He raises his hands and sends another blast of flame toward Gerhard, but at the last moment Gunter interposes himself to take the blast for his prince and is burned to cinders. Disgusted that the prince was saved, but with his magic already taxed to its limits, The Elder limps away.
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