[Final Hour of a Storied Age] An Empty Throne Beckons

edited January 2011 in Actual Play
I've started releasing a new series of AP podcast episodes and blog posts chronicling my most recent playtest story arc of Final Hour of a Storied Age. For those who prefer a "fiction only" approach to AP, I present the AP report here with the mechanics stripped out.

An Empty Throne Beckons


Prologue

Long ago, beyond the memory of even the oldest dragon, there was a war in the heavens. The fire god Pyrotenax wished to return the world to his forge where he might refashion it to his liking. The other gods resisted, so Pyrotenax tried to overturn the celestial order and seat himself on the throne of the gods from whence his will would dictate the cosmos. To safeguard the throne, the sea goddess Hydrallia transported it to the mortal realm and gave it to her most devoted followers. They founded a peaceful and prosperous kingdom around it where the throne would pass from father to son throughout the generations, thus guaranteeing by the magic of the throne that no god could sieze it.

But, with time, even the strongest traditions can go awry. A king ascended the throne with a lust for knowledge so intense that it bordered on madness. In all the books and scrolls and songs and stories there was one secret that eluded him, one question that seemed to have no answer. It was said that the sea goddess commanded that the very throne he held be passed from father to son through the generations, but what would happen if there was no heir? What great celestial truth would then be revealed? A cabal of prophets and scholars saw the folly of the king's path and smuggled his infant son out of the palace where he could be raised in safety and secrecy so that he would be ready to ascend to the throne when the time was right.

Chapter 1

For as long as he can remember, Marcus has lived in a small, secluded house with his mentor, studying a wide variety of topics in the scholar's immense but eclectic library. The influential knight Robur, Assistant to the King, arrives to consult the scholar and Marcus is relegated to a back room. Robur and the scholar get into a heated argument. Robur is clearly intent on following his liege's orders with regard to some mysterious courtly intrigue and is trying to force the scholar to do something against his will. Ever eager to be where the action is, Marcus prepares a pot of tea for his master and takes it to him, hoping he will be able to insert himself into the converation. Robur is too clever a courtier to let anything important slip in front of a mere apprentice, however, so Marcus's efforts are for naught. Despite the scholar's reluctance, Robur is able to manipulate the scholar into leaving the house with him, in furtherance of the king's plan.

Marcus quickly realizes that he needs to follow them surreptitiously if he has any hope of figuring out what is going on. Robur hears Marcus following and orders the scholar ahead while he turns around and blocks the path. "Don't think I don't know what you're up to," Robur says, taking Marcus more seriously than he is used to being treated. The burly knight readies himself to physically confront Marcus. Marcus quickly deduces that, even though he is not being especially courteous, Robur is still bound by the code of honor and shouldn't raise a sword against an unarmed young man like Marcus, so Marcus marches right up to him to call his bluff. Robur grabs the scrawny apprentice and lifts him up to say directly to his face, "You're right, my honor won't let me draw my weapon here, but it won't stop me from breaking you if I need to." Marcus is terrified, and Robur tosses him to the ground and stalks off after the scholar.

Chapter 2

After millenia of waiting, Pyrotenax's consciousness, embodied in a golden ring buried in the earth, senses that the time has come for him to make his move and claim the throne that will allow him to impose his will on all of creation. The ring is not just underground, but under a cornerstone of the farmhouse, built there to contain Pyrotenax's evil. Pyrotenax calls out to the minds of the mortals in the area, hoping to find someone who can rescue him. The psychic influence weighs heavily on the men who work the farm, especially on a farmboy whose work begins to suffer. Although Pyrotenax is able to communicate with the boy, he's so dense and set in his ways that Pyrotenax finds it difficult to manipulate him effectively. "Listen to me, child," Pyrotenax whispers to his mind. "I am your ancient god and I need you to help me." Agricola the farm boy finds this argument compelling, and Pyrotenax knows he can exploit this weakness to begin bending the boy's mind to his will.

Chapter 3

Marcus has returned to the house where he is alone and left to his own devices without guidance about what to study. Marcus figures that his master must have some notes about what lessons he was planning next, so he begins searching for them but finds nothing but a sense of directionless confusion.

Chapter 4

Marian, daughter of the Sea Goddess, is aboard a large sailing ship bound for the capital city where she is destined to marry the land-dweller who becomes king. The god of thunder must not want Marian to reach land, because a huge thunderstorm heads straight for the ship. At first she is unconcerned, knowing she can survive perfectly well in the water even if the ship is smashed to splinters, but then she remembers that she should care for the humans who crew the ship as well, so she extends her power over the water out to calm the waves around them and drive away the rain. Thus protected, the ship begins sailing through the storm. A huge bolt of lightning strikes the mast, shattering it and leaving the ship adrift. As the crew rushes to attend to the burning splinters of the mast, Marian feels her obligation to help these people and calls on her power to have the waves themselves push to vessel in the direction in needs to go. Unfortunately, the chaos of the storm has so befuddled the captain and crew that they are hopelessly lost.

That's where we broke for the night. The story will continue in the next playtest report.

If you're at all interested in the game please check out my other thread where I'm asking people to participate in beta playtesting of my game.

Comments

  • Here's some more "fiction-only" AP posting. If you want to listen to audio of the session, check out episode 15 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast and if you want to see the mechanics and how they relate to the fiction check out the full AP report for this session on my blog.

    Chapter 5

    Tossed by the storm, Marian's ship is wrecked on a beach. Looking around on the desolate shore, Marian realizes she has no idea where she is. Marian centers herself, trying to use her divine nature to commune with the spirits of the world and figure out where she is. Hidden to most by the noise of the surf, Marian makes out the whispers of some sea spirits saying the name of the place she has landed. Marian is on the continent she was headed for, but is hundreds of miles off course. Having supernatural capabilities far beyond mere mortals, Marian sets off running toward the capital. The wind blows through her hair as her breathtaking, tireless pace carries her swiftly to the capital, her destined home. Although Marian's journey on foot was little effort for her body, it didn't treat her dress kindly. As she enters the city, the residents see only a girl dressed in dirty, tattered clothes. She strides into the city, trusting her divine nature to shine past her earthly raiment, but the people scoff at her claims to divine heritage. They see her only as a filthy urchin. Marian calls out to the people around her, daring them to name any challenge and she will prove that she is who she says she is. A priest emerges from the crowd, saying that she speaks nonsense, since they know what the hero Marian is supposed to look like, and she doesn't match the description. Unfazed by this new challenge, Marian turns to the crowd and begins asking questions about the prophecy of Marian's arrival, pointing out the many aspects of the story that do apply to her. The people, forced to look past their initial rash judgments, are compelled to admit that Marian is who she claims to be.

    Chapter 6

    Marcus, having had no luck figuring out what he should study in the scholar's absence, realizes that this is the perfect opportunity to set out on an adventure, just like in the stories he's read! Despite his enthusiasm, Marcus realizes he doesn't really know where to go. He says to himself, "I may not know exactly where to go, but the first step is obviously to head down this road and I can see where it leads from there!" As he walks, he remembers the years he's spent with the scholar, hoping to notice a clue that will point him in the right direction. He finds the scholar's glasses lying on the side of the right, reassuring him that he's headed in the right direction. As Marcus ponders how to proceed, a band of goblin bandits bursts out from the undergrowth! Thinking quickly, Marcus employs a tactic he recalls from his studies: he climbs a tree, knowing that goblins are poor climbers. The plan works to the extent that he isn't run through by their spears or stabbed by their knives, but as he clings to a tree branch Marcus realizes that he's till in quite a predicament. The goblins, crafty little schemers, light a fire at the base of the tree, leaving Marcus no place to go as the smoke wafts up into his eyes. Having studied trees like this, Marcus realizes that the fire will weaken the base of the tree and cause it to fall before it spreads up to him, and if he can time it right he ought to be able to leap from the falling tree and over the goblin's heads. Unfortunately, his studies didn't cover how trees respond to particularly dry weather, as they'd been having in this area lately, and the tree goes up much more quickly than Marcus was anticipating. He tumbles to the ground and is captured by the goblins, making it less likely than ever that he'll be able to get where he needs to go. Marcus quickly realizes, however, that goblins are unlikely to hurt someone they've taken prisoner, and if he goes along quietly he may be able to band together with other prisoners, as happens so often in the tales of adventure that he's familiar with. As he's trundled into the camp, Marcus sees that there is indeed another prisoner: his master the scholar!

    The scholar seems to have been badly roughed up, but the goblins that swarm about the camp don't seem to care. Marcus rushes to his master's side, quickly administering some of the first-aid techniques that the scholar taught him. Marcus stabilizes the old man, but he's still very weak. More goblin hunting parties return to the camp, making escape seem that much more difficult. Marcus immediately determines that his situation won't improve by waiting, and he doesn't want his adventure to be cut short by lowly goblins, so he hefts his master over his shoulder, hoping that his youthful vigor will be enough to get the both of them out of there. He exits the camp, his legs pumping as fast as they can. The old scholar, weakened as he is, weighs heavily on Marcus, and the goblins run screaming after him, their pursuit relentless. Unwilling to leave his master to these horrible goblins, Marcus keeps running, hoping he won't tire before they do. Eventually the goblins, lazy and indolent by nature, give up the chase and Marcus stops in a place to relative safety to rest.

    Chapter 7

    Despite Pyrotenax's contact with the farmboy's mind, Agricola is so stubborn that he continues his normal routine instead of attempting to dig up the ring. Pyrotenax focus his will and speaks directly into the boy's mind, saying, "Agricola, my child, come to me." "You must free me from my prison, child." Even with the boy's reluctance overcome, the ring is still buried deep in the earth. "You must come rescue me," Pyrotenax says. "Whatever the cost, whatever the effort, I need you." Even a strong boy like Agricola has trouble digging deep enough to reach the ring. Pyrotenax forces his will upon the boy, commanding him to work through the pain, and promising that his rewards will be great once he succeeds. Agricola digs feverishly, getting ever closer to the buried ring.

    Chapter 8

    In the forest clearing, Marcus realizes that his mentor Artax is breathing shallowly, and begins to cough. Remembering his old lessons in herbology, Marcus dashes off to find an herb that grows in the area that is supposed to be good for ailments of the respiratory system. He gathers a few handfuls and rushes back to Artax's side, crumbling it under his nose so that the vapors can calm the old man's cough. "Boy, what are you doing here?" says Artax. "You should be at home studying, as I instructed you to do." Thinking quickly, Marcus answers, "But Master, you didn't tell me what to study, so I came to find you!" Artax's expression softens slightly as he realizes his apprentice has a point. Looking at Marcus with the eyes of a father figure, Artax says, "Boy, must I spell everything out for you? I am old and frail, and you must study the ways of life so that you may take over when I am gone." "But Master," Marcus protests, "you need me as much as I need you! You may be wise in the ways of learning, but if I leave you who will cook your breakfast?" Artax replies, "Child, there are many things you must learn but I cannot teach you, you must find them out for yourself." He continues, "You have not learned who you truly are. Until you learn that, you cannot fulfill your destiny." Tempted by the thought of adventure, Marcus quickly recalls what a dangerous place they're in. "But Master, there are still goblins about, I can't leave you alone!" Artax concedes the point. "Child," Artax scolds, "when did I tell you that what you needed to learn about yourself was anywhere but at home? Now help me home so that I may rest and you may study!" Marcus comes to a sudden realization, "Wait a minute! This is another one of your tests, isn't it? That's why you're saying so many contradictory things! You want me to figure out what you really mean." Artax merely scowls at the boy as he is escorted home.

    Marcus helps the scholar into bed and is left alone in the library to ponder just what his master meant. Not knowing what else to do, Marcus starts at the topmost shelf of the leftmost bookcase, and hopes that he'll be able to stumble across whatever it is he's supposed to find. In the second book he opens a piece of paper falls out. He examines it and finds a list of names with every one crossed out except for "Marcus". Artax shuffles past on his way to the kitchen, saying, "Ah, you've found some names have you? Find the meaning of those and you may begin to understand." He takes a few sips of water and then shuffles back to bed without giving Marcus any better clues. Having worked with Artax for many years, Marcus knows that the old man has a habit of talking in his sleep. After he dozes off, Marcus sneaks into the bedroom and begins whispering the names from the list into the scholar's ear. Unfortunately, none of Artax's mumblings are decipherable. The old man stirs in his sleep and sees Marcus watching him. "What are you doing here? You have studying to do! Back to the library!" Knowing that Artax doesn't have the best handle on the passage of time, Marcus prepares the morning tea, hoping he can trick the old man into thinking he's had a full night's sleep the next time he wakes. Artax does awake, but quickly figures out Marcus's ruse since it is still dark when he goes to the outhouse. "You'll have to do better than that, boy. Now back to your studies!" With none of his tricks paying off, Marcus realizes he has no alternative but to hit the books. He studies long into the night, still puzzled about what he is meant to learn.

    Chapter 9

    Pyrotenax, still buried, feels he is on the cusp of freedom. Under the ring's influence, Agricola has been surreptitiously digging, but the other farm workers are growing suspicious of his odd behavior. Pyrotenax extends his consciousness out beyond his earthly prison and feeds energy into the hearth burning in the farmhouse, causing it to flare up and set the house ablaze. The farmhouse quickly catches fire and the farmers' attention is focused completely on this emergency. As the rest of the family is fighting the fire, Marius the owner of the farmstead notices that Agricola isn't helping but is instead digging near the cornerstone. He confronts the boy and demands and explanation. As the farmboy stammers excuses, Pyrotenax focuses his magic upon Marius's brain, heating it and giving him a scorching headache. Marius raises his hand to his forehead and notices the unnatural heat and recalls from his family history that a great evil supposedly lies under the farm making him realize that Agricola is up to more than simply boyish hijinks. He orders several of the farm workers to fill in the hole that Agricola has dug and to keep him from any more digging. Seeing that the time for subtlety has passed, Pyrotenax turns his power on the workers' tools, turning the wood to ash. Although the tools are burned to uselessness, Marius knows from family history that he can't afford to let the work stop, and is such a furious taskmaster that he demands the men use their hands to finish the work. Pyrotenax turns his power on the earth itself, heating it so that the men won't be able to touch it, to the extent that it begins to melt into glass. The men, fearing Marius's wrath, work through the heat and pain, and the hole that Agricola had begun ends up filled with glassy slag.
  • Chapter 10

    In the library of the scholar's house, Marcus continues his studies. Marcus has studied so long that his exhaustion is causing him to not remember details. He knows from previous all-nighters that if he keeps pushing, he ought to get a second wind of youthful energy. He does perk up a bit, but is still deeply fatigued. Marcus finds an old genealogy which seems to be relevant, but many of the names are faded, and his tired eyes are having trouble making them out. Reminding himself that he'll have time to sleep when he's old, Marcus holds the scroll up to a candle to try to decipher what it says. Fighting back yawns, Marcus thinks he's beginning to make progress. Even so, the scroll is difficult to make out, as are the other references that he consults, and it's made even more difficult by the exhaustion creeping into his fingers, his clumsiness making it difficult to treat the ancient texts with the care that they need. Marcus prepares some tea, Artax's special blend. Although Artax has warned that you should never drink more than one cup a day, Marcus thinks that his constitution can take it. He gulps it down, nearly scalding his throat in the process, and returns to the scrolls with his eyes a little wider. Marcus is finally able to decipher a family tree in which all of the descendants match the list of crossed-out names he has, although the top of the tree, the person from whom they all descend, is still unclear.

    Chapter 11

    Marian in in the church dedicated to her mother, where the priests are preparing her with information she needs to live her life among humans. A matron comes to escort Marian to the palace, but on their way there they must travel through a virtual sea of beggars and urchins asking for alms and help. Marian uses her divine power to conjure things that they need. Marian blesses the hungry with full stomachs and the sick with healing, and the crowd is satisfied. However, as word of Marian's benevolence spreads, even more needy people converge on her. Instead of trying to address each one individually, Marian changes course. She calls out to the people of the city, her divine voice carrying to everyone, imploring them to have compassion on each other and to take care of their own. Some people begin heeding her call, helping the crippled to stand and bringing bread from their homes to the hungry. A cold rain begins falling on the crowd, making their misery that much worse. Sensing the hand of the storm god at work, Marian calls to the heavens, praying to the storm god not to harm the people with any anger he might be directing at her. The rain subsides and the clouds part, and as the sun shines down on the city Marian sees that even more people have come from their homes to heed her call to help each other.

    Chapter 12

    Still in the scholar's library, Marcus has fallen asleep on top of the genealogical tome he found. Artax wakes him up and congratulates him on identifying the correct book. "What have you learned about yourself in all this?" he asks enigmatically. Rapidly collating the results from his studies the night before, Marcus replies, "Clearly my name fits in this family tree here, so one could deduce that these other names are brothers and sisters." Artax smiles approvingly, glad that his apprentice is at least on the right track. "You deduce correctly, my boy, but you must go further. You have not uncovered all of the secret that is you," clearly referring to some fact that Artax knows but wishes Marcus to discover for himself. "But master," Marcus protests, "I know all of the books you have here, and surely you wouldn't have records from a humble orphanage..." The wheels of Marcus's mind turn. "These people aren't just random orphans! They must be important people!" Artax nods and Marcus realizes he's on the verge of figuring out what Artax is trying to teach him and heads over to the shelf with the rest of the genealogies. "You are looking in the right place," Artax says. "Let me tell you a story." He begins a tale of an ancient royal family, filling it with so many obscure details that Marcus risks nodding off from boredom. Having worked with him for so long, Marcus knows that even though his master's memory for detail is strong he is easily distracted. He "accidentally" knocks over a teacup, hoping Artax will lose his place in the story and can be convinced to cut to the end. Unfortunately, it does little more than annoy Artax who demands that Marcus clean up the mess while he continues his rambling tale.

    Chapter 13

    Marcus, listening to his master drone on and on, struggles to pay attention. At the conclusion, he's puzzled as to what the point could have been. After pondering for a bit, Marcus realizes that sometimes the genealogies are written in a more archaic form of the language that doesn't exactly correspond to how it's commonly spoken. He consults the translations to see if he can correlate them. He does, figuring out exactly how Artax's tale fits into his earlier research. The only missing piece is the one illegible name that would explain Marcus's parentage. Marcus realizes that, with the story to work with, he can cross-reference the histories as well as the genealogies to find the information he's seeking. He turns a page and runs his finger down, stopping on the key name: Aurelius, the current king. Marcus is stunned. If Aurelius is his father, that makes him a prince!

    Chapter 14

    Having learned all he can at the scholar's house, Marcus says his goodbyes to Artax and sets off on the next stage of his adventure. Following a map given him to Artax, Marcus begins traveling to the nearby village of Whitehollow where he is supposed to find a man named Astrin. Eager to get started, Marcus hurries down the road. He arrives at the village without incident, his enthusiasm only slightly mellowed by the journey, and begins hunting for Astrin. He quickly discovers that the village is deserted and many of the buildings are in ruins. In the center of the village he sees a figure standing among the wreckage, Robur the knight who took Artax away from the house! "So, the scholar figured a way around his curse," says the burly knight. "But I can't permit you to go further than this." Not wanting this new adventure to be over before it begins, Marcus runs to one of the abandoned buildings where the cramped spaces will make it harder for Robur to fight with his sword. Marcus positions himself in a low-ceilinged corner of one of the burned-out buildings.

    Undeterred, the mighty knight runs in after him, swinging his sword in fury. Thinking quickly, Marcus realizes that the half-collapsed building could readily become a fully-collapsed one. He hurls his weight against one of the partially burned beams, hoping to collapse the roof. It breaks, but Robur is so burly that he is barely staggered when the building comes down around him. He continues his furious assault. Seeing a man acting like an enraged beast, the idea dawns on Marcus to try to connect with whatever spark of nobility might still be in the man's heart, saying, "Is this all you wanted from your life? To be an assassin? Don't you want something better?" Robur hesitates, but only for a moment. "I do what my king requires!" he shouts. Marcus, trying to edge backwards, stumbles to the ground and Robur brings his sword to the boy's throat. Terrified, Marcus's life begins flashing before his eyes, but so much of his life was spent listening to Artax tell him stories of adventure that these are the details that stick out most, and he especially recalls one tale in which the hero triumphed over a foe by throwing ashes in his eyes. He realizes that his hand is in a pile of ashes right now, so he hurls them at Robur. Robur flinches reflexively, the blade of his sword slashing Marcus's neck as the ashes fly into his eyes. Marcus collapses to the ground with his blood flowing freely, and Robur rubs the ashes from his eyes. With his vision impaired, he thinks the deed is done, and leaves Marcus for dead on the floor of the ruined building.

    Chapter 15

    In the burned-out ruins of Whitehollow, Marcus feels himself growing weaker as the blood flows from his wounded neck. Although Marcus's education was eclectic it did include medicine so he knows it's important to stop the bleeding instead of giving in to unconsciousness. He quickly tears a strip of cloth from his own shirt to serve as a bandage. The bleeding slows and Marcus is thankful that the blade didn't strike any major vessels. Marcus emerges from the ruined building and a wind kicks up, blowing ash around the village, seemingly directly into Marcus's lungs. He quickly tears another strip of cloth from his shirt, fashioning a crude mask. The mask does its job, keeping the worst of the ash out as Marcus explores the village looking for clues as to what happened here. Night begins to fall, making visibility poor. Marcus, however, has often studied late into the night, and his eyes are well practiced in making out details in even poor lighting. He rushes around the village, hoping he can make sense of some clue he passes by. He notices a soot-blackened doorframe with a name carved over it: Astrin. He approaches the house, knowing that this is the home of the man he was supposed to find here.

    Chapter 16

    At the farmstead, Pyrotenax is buried under earth and glass. The imprisoned god stretches out his will, sending a message to the minds of all the workers: "The master has deceived you. You should not have buried me. He fears having me uncovered. You should dig me up and free me from my prison." Many of the workers, not especially sharp-minded men, believe Pyrotenax's words and begin digging for him. Marius, brandishing a whip, rushes at the men, demanding that they stop if they value their livelihoods. Pyrotenax calls out to them, "Do not let him deceive you again! Destroy him if you must, but you must free me from this prison!" The men haven't learned to fear Pyrotenax yet, but they do know to fear Marius when he is enraged, so they return to their normal duties. Marius realizes that it is dangerous to have so many weak-minded people near Pyrotenax, so he orders them all away from the farm. Pyrotenax whispers into Marius's mind, "Marius, you are mistaken. You were told my power is dangerous, but it could be useful to you." Marius becomes intrigued, realizing that he could wield considerable power if he allied himself with Pyrotenax. However, he's a shrewd man, so he demands assurances of his own safety before he commits. "Once you have freed me," Pyrotenax whispers, "you will have enough power that you won't need to worry about such things." "I know the physical world," Marius replies, "but all I know of magic is that it's dangerous. Why should I trust you?" "You don't need to trust me," Pyrotenax says. "Trust yourself. When you free me the power will be yours." "My gut tells me to leave you alone," Marius says as he turns to stomp away and tend to his own concerns. "Look inside yourself," Pyrotenax calls after him, "can you honestly say that you do not desire more power?" Marius is silent as he departs.

    The story continues in the next session. Hopefully I'll be able to post that soon. As I mentioned before, I'd appreciate it if people who were interested in the game could check out my other thread where I'm asking people to playtest the game.
  • Here's some more "fiction-only" AP posting. If you want the audio of the session, get episode 16 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast and if you want to see the mechanics and how they relate to the fiction check out the full AP report for this session on my blog.

    Chapter 17

    Marcus peers through the doorway of Astrin's house. The debris and swirling ash that fill the house make it difficult to find anything inside. Having studied such things, Marcus knows that these are mere annoyances, not actual dangers. The residual heat from the fire makes it oppressive inside the house, and the swirling ash gets into Marcus's eyes, making his search all but impossible. From under the rubble, the lizardlike form of a dog-sized fire drake emerges, a gout of flame streaming from its maw! Rather than fear, Marcus is thrilled that he has come face to face with a dragon! However, he's no fool, and knows that the most dangerous place is in front of its mouth. He reasons, therefore, that the safest place would be on its back. As he tries to move around it, it seems to thrash around as if defending something, shooting flame indiscriminately, and Marcus is forced backward. Marcus deduces from its behavior that the drake isn't acting like a mindless animal. He calls out to it, "Please, mighty dragon, I am a prince of this realm and seek an alliance with you." The drake gives no sign of comprehending Marcus, but also no sign of allowing him to enter the house.

    Chapter 18

    Marcus looks on apprehensively as the drake chuffs smoke and generally makes it clear that he has no intention of being dislodged from the house any time soon. Marcus recalls from his studies that, while dragons are very territorial, they always emerge from their lairs to hunt for food. He hunts around the village and finds a partially intact smokehouse and takes a generous cut of meat which he can use to lure the drake out into the open. The drake moves forward, his hide scraping on the door frame as he approaches. He snorts some flame at Marcus who panics and drops the meat, only to have it snatched from the air by the drake who withdraws back into the house. He seems to have a particularly smug look on his face as he eats the meat. Knowing he'll have to get past this standoff if he ever wants to get on with his adventure, Marcus recalls from his reading that dragons will often sleep after a big meal, so he settles in to wait until that happens so that he can sneak past. Marcus waits. And waits. And waits. And eventually concludes that the meal wasn't large enough to trigger the sleep response, as the dragon simply sits there watching, occasionally chuffing smoke and scraping its scales against the floor in a dominance display. Racalling that Artax would always be thirsty after a meal, Marcus hopes the drake will have a similar tendency. He goes to the village well and raises up a bucket of water, hoping to tempt it out that way. The drake is tempted, and Marcus perches the bucket on the edge of the small stone wall surrounding the well. As the drake climbs up to drink the wall crumbles beneath him, causing him to tumble into the well. Marcus dashes back toward the house. The drake uses his talons to grab onto the walls of the well and scamper back up to the surface. Based on his studies of the effects of light and darkness, Marcus suspects that the beast will be disoriented for a moment when he emerges. He figures that this might be his one opportunity to get on its back, since he would certainly like to experience what it's like to actually ride a dragon. Marcus is able to get on top of him, but is quickly reminded of the old adage about being careful what you wish for, as the agitated dragon races around town trying to buck the boy from his back. The frantic dragon tries everything, even occasionally rolling to toss Marcus off. With the initial shock fading into thrill, Marcus recalls from his study of horses that if you ride it out the animal will eventually accept your dominance, and he hopes dragons are the same.

    Chapter 19

    At the abandoned farmstead, Pyrotenax realizes that the earth he previously heated to liquid has cooled and hardened around him, encasing him in rock. He focuses his fiery energies on the earth, returning it to liquid, and changes his own density so that he can float to the surface. The ring surfaces and the ground hardens underneath it, with the ring slightly indented into the liquid-smooth surface. Robur, intent on carrying out his mysterious task from the king, crosses paths with Marius and the farm workers, who warn him away from a fiery evil at the farm. Pyrotenax detects the strong-willed Robur approaching, his mind focused on getting on with his task as quickly as possible. Pyrotenax heats the air around himself, creating an eye-catching heat haze, and wills the sunlight into him, making the ring shine temptingly. Robur is unable to resist the dreamlike image and approaches curiously. He uses his dagger to pry the gold ring free and holds it up to examine it. Even though he's distracted for a moment, Robur's mind is never away from his task for very long, so he pockets the ring and resumes his journey. Pyrotenax heats the air around him, hoping the haze will distract and disorient the knight while he hammers away at his mind. Robur succumbs, believing himself too tired to continue with his journey, and makes camp. He idly reaches into his pocket and brings the ring back out, growing increasingly fascinated with it.

    Chapter 20

    Robur breaks camp and marches stolidly toward the capital, with Pyrotenax safely in his pocket. Marius, savvy enough to know that there's something unusual going on, has followed Robur. "That ring is evil and must be destroyed, or at least cast off!" Marius shouts. Robur turns and sees that the farmer is at the head of an unruly mob of peasants bearing farm implements. Pyrotenax reaches out to Robur's mind and warns him that these peasants are trying to steal his ring, boosting his motivation to protect Pyrotenax. Robur draws his sword and charges, and the peasant rabble scatters, unwilling to face the wrath of a trained knight. Marius, more clever than most, slyly suggests, "If the ring is not evil, then you should have no problem praying to the water goddess while wearing it!" "Ignore this nonsense," Pyrotenax whispers, "you have more important things to do." "I'm on important business!" Robur growls. "Don't trouble me with any more of your religious foolishness," Robur calls behind him as he stomps onward, "I'm on an important mission for the king." "Well you certainly don't want to go that way!" Marius says. "The bridge is washed out in that direction," he adds, hoping he can use his superior knowledge of local geography to get Robur and Pyrotenax lost and confused. "That's what the king wants us to investigate," Pyrotenax whispers to Robur, and Robur marches onward with determination. The seed of the idea planted by Marius grows under Pyrotenax's exhortation, causing Robur to fixate on the idea of a bridge as he makes his way toward the river.

    Chapter 21

    In Astrin's house in the burned-out village, Marcus sees that everything in the house is covered by ash and debris, not to mention the cast off bones from the drake's feeding. Marcus quickly realizes that the principle of searching the house for information should be no different from searching the library, a task with which he's intimately familiar. Marcus begins shifting the rubble, hoping to start on some system of organization, and gets a glimmer of hope when he begins to notice books and papers mixed in with everything else. They are, however, so dirty and grimy that it will be difficult to make anything out. Marcus knows he'll never be able to move on until he figures this out, so he concentrates harder than he ever has before. He finds a journal which indicates that there is a prophet who is supposed to live in a nearby cave, so he sets off in that direction.

    A thunderstorm brews up quickly. As Marcus rushes toward the apparent safety of the caves, two dragons who were battling each other nearby and focus their attention on Marcus. With multiple threats to deal with, Marcus racks his brain trying to remember everything he can about caves in order to find some safety. Marcus finds a suitable candidate to give him shelter from the storm, but it isn't long before he discovers that the cave is inhabited -- by dragons! Not wasting a second, Marcus dashes from the cave the moment he sees the dragon, hoping it will chase him, because he knows that dragons are particularly vulnerable to lightning. The beast chases Marcus, and as it raises its head up to strike, its sinuous body acts as a lightning rod, and its corpse is left charred and crackling. As Marcus stares in disbelief that his longshot plan worked, he is buffeted by the flapping of enormous golden wings as a mighty dragon lands before him. She explains that she is the prophet that Marcus has been seeking, and that she has waiting a long time for him to come. The dragon prophet explains that she has been working with a secret cabal of scholars so that someone trustworthy like Marcus will be able to take the throne, keeping it from the grasp of Pyrotenax who will tear the mortal realm asunder. She dispatches her youngest offspring, the young drake that Marcus met in the village who has been surreptitiously following him, to assist Marcus in his quest.
  • Chapter 22

    Pyrotenax and Robur arrive at a bridge across the river. Pyrotenax has been hammering Robur's mind so heavily that he has become confused and lost, and Pyrotenax himself has been buried for so long that he has no better idea where they are. They are lost. In addition to the river, rain begins to fall from the sky, and Pyrotenax finds the proximity of so much water to be oppressive and uncomfortable. Pyrotenax creates a shell of heat around them, causing the rain drops to sizzle away into steam as they hit it, and exerts will upon Robur, letting him feel an ounce of his immortal calm, hoping it will help him get his bearings. He promises that the sooner they can finish the task, the sooner Robur will be free of his burdens. In the center of the bubble of warmth, Robur finds his center, and accepts his role in finding a suitable host for Pyrotenax. However, none of that gives them any better idea where they are, and the rain begins to pick up, with a few drops even managing to make it all the way through the shield. Pyrotenax intensifies his shield to drive away the rain, and begins communing with the world to find the direction and the distance to the place where he'll be able to connect with his true host. Robur confidently strides forth in the direction Pyrotenax decrees, and the rain tapers off with help from Pyrotenax's not-so-gentle touch.

    Chapter 23

    On the road to the capital, still some distance away, Marcus spies someone ahead of him on the path. As Marcus gets closer he sees that it's a radiant woman in a dress like seafoam. "I am looking for the true prince that will lead the people," she says. "He is supposed to come this way, and I feel he must be near," she adds, as if expecting Marcus to give her directions. From his studies, Marcus recognizes the signs of Marian's divine heritage and addresses her by the proper title. He explains, "I am the prince. There's this prophecy you see, and I need to take the throne or it will be very bad for everybody." Marian is quite impressed that Marcus knows her title, even pronouncing it correctly, and listens to his story and accepts him as the prince.

    Chapter 24

    Pyrotenax urges Robur forward over a bridge on the river, toward the direction where he will identify his true host. The river is swollen and racing, covering the bridge. Pyrotenax exerts his will to increase the pull of gravity, keeping Robur solidly grounded as he moves stolidly across. Robur marches across, nearly to the far side, when the bridge finally gives way under the force of the river, plunging Robur and Pyrotenax into the water. Furthermore, the rush of the current past the ruined pilings creates a terrible suction, pulling Robur back to the center of the river. Pyrotenax focuses his attention on the water, making it frothy and foamy so that Robur will have an easier time moving through it. It isn't enough. The big man is swept downriver, barely maintaining his hold on Pyrotenax.

    Chapter 25

    Immersed in water, Pyrotenax feels his power almost smothered as he and Robur are swept down the raging river. Pyrotenax reaches out to the fiery molten core of the world to strengthen his power against the river and heats the water to create a counter-current to assist Robur as he swims to shore. Despite their best efforts, Robur is swept further downriver. The water presses in on Pyrotenax as the current tries to pull them under. Pyrotenax and Robur redouble their efforts. Robur makes it to the riverbank, the water virtually steaming off of him as he pulls himself ashore.

    Chapter 26

    Still on the road to the capital, Marcus is surprised when a swarm of orc and ogre bandits spring out of concealed positions at the side of the road. "Quick, boy!" Marcus calls to the drake, "give them a good roasting!" The ogres turn out to have far tougher hides than Marcus and the drake suspected, as they merely shrug off the flames while they pummel the young drake. They move in around Marcus and he realizes he's completely surrounded by bandits. "Oh, you've got me!" Marcus cries melodramatically. "I'm sure that once you take me to the capital, my father the king will pay a princely ransom for me!" The bandits seem to take little notice of his words, merely bundling him off to a makeshift cell in their bandit encampment.

    I'll have the conclusion of the story in my next update. If people are interested in the game, I encourage you to consider playtesting it or reading the rules and giving me feedback.
  • Here's some more "fiction-only" AP posting. If you want the audio of the session, get episode 17 of the Designer vs. Reality podcast and if you want to see the mechanics and how they relate to the fiction check out the full AP report for this session on my blog.


    Chapter 27

    Pyrotenax and Robur are swept down the river. The cold water weighs heavily on Robur's body and Pyrotenax's spirit as the river's current makes it difficult to get to the bank. Pyrotenax heats the water around them and begins exerting his will upon the currents, urging them to push himself and Robur to the shore. Pyrotenax keeps the chill from setting into Robur's body as he swims, and the current begins to slow, but they aren't safe yet. The cold chill of the mountains still runs through the river, making movement difficult, and the current still pushes them toward the sea. Pyrotenax unleashes more of his power, heating large swaths of the river and concentrating his divine will to persuade the currents to push them to the bank. The currents shift and Robur is able to gain purchase on the bank, pulling both of them to dry land. As Robur emerges from the river, he and Pyrotenax realize that they aren't far from the capital. Pyrotenax considers that Robur has been carrying him loyally and tirelessly for some time, and has been a good and faithful servant. He decides that he is content to let Robur carry him to the throne as his true host.

    Chapter 28

    Locked up in the camp of the mountrous bandits, Marcus finds himself trapped in a cell made of wooden branches and tree trunks. As soon as he can, Marcus studies the branches to identify the ones that come from the weakest types of trees and begins working on escape. He selects one branch which would appear strong to the untrained eye, but that he knows is weak if bent and twisted in the proper manner, and begins working it back and forth. A pair of ogres comes over and sits down next to the cage that Marcus is still locked inside. Knowing that they'll be able to hear him, Marcus begins remarking on the weather, rattling off several indications that a storm must be coming, so that when the branch he's been working on finally snaps he claims the noise is thunder from a nearby lightning. The ogres do fall for the trick, but it only succeeds in getting the ogres riled up, not dashing off to investigate the lightning strike as Marcus had hoped. With no further signs of the storm materializing, the ogres look skeptically through the bars of the cage at Marcus. While few people know much about ogres, Artax was something of an expert, so Marcus knows that they aren't the smartest creatures. Marcus figures they're sure to fall for the old throw-a-stick-to-create-a-distraction trick. The ogres turn out to not be quite as dense as Marcus expected. He creates his distraction and tries to wriggle through the gap in the bars, only to hear a deep, "Back in the cage!" as he is walloped back into his cell. The ogres scowl at Marcus through the bars of his cell. Marcus rubs his head where the ogre smacked him. "Fine," Marcus says, scowling. "But if you just keep me locked in here until someone pays the ransom, you can be sure you won't be getting a fair share. Smart ogres would get me out of here so they could get all the money for themselves." "Ransom?" one ogre says to the other. "Nobody said anything to us about ransoms." "Yeah, and nobody said anything about shares, neither!" They pull Marcus out of the cage, looking surreptitiously over their shoulders at the other bandits, and carry him away from the camp and start marching toward the capital. The ogres have Marcus securely tied and one of the ogres carries him under an arm. "You know they won't want to see you treating me like this," Marcus pleads. "In order to get top price for a prince they'll need to see that you've been treating me well!" An ogre growls in reply, "If they know what's good for 'em, they'll be happy just to see you alive!" as they continue their journey.

    Chapter 29

    Pyrotenax and Robur move confidently toward the capital city, and the sight of it ahead reminds Pyrotenax how tantalizingly close he is to achieving his goal. Ahead, on the road that leads to the city gates, Robur sees some ogres carrying something. The bundle under one of the ogre's arms calls out, "Hey, look behind you! There's a knight! You could capture him and hold him for ransom as well!" Robur draws his sword and charges at the brutes as Pyrotenax whispers into their minds, "If you value your lives you will kneel and surrender to this knight". The ogres are somewhat confused, which lets Robur get into a dominant position for his assault. "Be careful!" Marcus calls to Robur. "This fellows are quite strong, you wouldn't want to get too close!" This, of course, is merely a distraction, so that the fire drake that has been following Marcus at a distance can charge in and breathe fire at Robur and the ogres. "I am your master now!" Pyrotenax whispers into the ogres' minds. "Protect this knight!" Robur circles around, positioning himself behind the ogres to avoid the worst of the drake's attack. Pyrotenax's insidious will worms its way into the ogre's minds, and they do a good job of shielding Robur from the worst of the flames. The drake, seeing that Marcus is still in the clutches of an ogre, concentrates his fire on the least ogre-like target he sees: Robur. Pyrotenax urges the ogre that has its hands free to rush to Robur's aid and Robur hopes his armor will protect him from the flames. The ogre gets there in time to take the brunt of the attack, and Robur's armor protects him from the little that gets past. Robur sets off toward the city at a run, not wanting these distractions to delay Pyrotenax's path to the throne any longer.

    Chapter 30

    Inside the capital city, Pyrotenax and Robur make their way toward the palace. A throng of people clog the streets, making it hard to move. Almost instinctively, the demigodess Marian detects the divine presence of Pyrotenax, and the mystical force of her presence makes it even more difficult for Pyrotenax and Robur to move toward the palace. Pyrotenax pushes back against Marian and Robur uses his position of authority in the court to bypass as much of the crowd as he can. Shrugging off Marian's interference, Robur makes his way steadily toward the palace. However, the crowd is even denser close to the palace, making it difficult to move at all, let alone quickly. As Pyrotenax draws closer, Marian finds it easier to focus on him, and tries with all of her divine might to hold him back. Pyrotenax, not wishing to waste his time with a direct confrontation yet, exerts his will to disguise his divine aura, making it harder for Marian to pinpoint him. Robur, meanwhile, loudly demands that the people make way for him. Robur arrives at the palace, requests an audience with the king, as is quickly ushered off in that direction.

    Chapter 31

    Trying to recover from the chaos of Robur's passing, Marcus and the ogres see the moisture in the air coalesce into a painfully beautiful being. Her awesome presence is too much for the ogres, who run off, and threatens to shatter Marcus's mind. However, one lesson that Artax drilled into Marcus from his youth was the proper prayer to offer to Hydrallia upon her return. He covers his eyes and begins reciting the prayer. Like her daughter, Hydrallia is quite pleased when mortals know the proper greeting. In a blur of color and motion, Marcus finds himself teleported by Hydrallia's power inside the palace, a decidedly unpleasant and sickening experience. Artax was also sure to teach Marcus how to treat nausea and dizziness, which Marcus had always assumed was in case his elderly mentor had needed help. He crouches down and tries to recover his composure. He stands up and sees that the fire drake was teleported along with him, and is pleased to be so close to his destination.
  • Chapter 32

    In the palace throne room, Pyrotenax and Robur barely notice the mourning displays as they approach the empty throne. The air begins to shimmer as the moisture coalesces into the form of Hydrallia. She cries out, "I shall never allow filth like you to sit upon this throne!" Pyrotenax puts forth his divine power and Robur's hands seem to burst into flame. A deep, booming voice comes from Robur's mouth. "The throne shall be mine. I am as ancient a spirit as you, and I won't let you stop me this time." He raises his hands and balls of fire shoot from them toward the goddess. Hydrallia laughs as the fire slams into her and dissipates harmlessly. "Fool! Do you think you are more powerful than I am, here in the center of all my worshipers?" Pyrotenax realizes for the first time how many of the courtiers in the throne room are displaying Hydrallia medallions, and that many of them have dropped to their knees in prayer for Hydrallia. Pyrotenax feels water beginning to condense all around him, sizzling away to steam at first, but knowing that there is more to come.

    Chapter 33

    From the room where Hydrallia teleported him, Marcus swiftly makes his way to the throne room. As the two divine entities battle each other, Pyrotenax's mind-warping power affects Marcus's perceptions. Instead of the reality of the situation, Marcus sees the reverse: a fiery manifestation of Pyrotenax defending the throne, with Hydrallia on the attack. Regardless of the fight, Marcus decides he should trust that Artax and the dragon prophet have a good plan, and that it should be his top priority to get to the throne. He tries to skulk around the side of the throne room, staying out of the crossfire. He makes progress toward the throne, but the awesome presence of two gods is nearly impossible to ignore, and Marcus is nearly transfixed by the vision of them. He is sorely tempted to just wait and observe, perhaps even take some notes on this miraculous event, but he knows that getting to the throne is important, and wonders if people might start following his orders for a change if he does. He manages to take a few shuffling steps toward the throne, but is unable to rip his eyes away from the gods. In the illusion that Pyrotenax is projecting, the image of Hydrallia is nearly overcome by the image of Pyrotenax, and she cuts such a pathetic figure that Marcus feels an overwhelming need to rush to her aid, an impulse that seems almost alien in its insistence. "You've got to help her!" Marcus calls out as the fire drake finally manages to make it to the throne room through the passages that weren't designed for easy travel by dragons. The drake, however, is unaffected by the illusion that was meant for human minds (perhaps the reason that the dragon prophet sent him along to help). He attacks the actual Pyrotenax, disrupting his mental control enough for Marcus to make more progress toward the throne, but it isn't enough to completely shake off the illusion.

    Chapter 34

    Pyrotenax pours his will into the illusion of the two battling gods, and Marcus's desire to rush to Hydrallia's defense is greater than ever. In its befuddled state, Marcus's mind goes back to the very first lesson that Artax ever taught him, a nonsense rhyme that never made any sense. As he runs through it over and over in his mind the fog over his thoughts begins to lift. Although he has an instant of clarity, Pyrotenax detects a mind seeing through his illusion so he focuses his power on Marcus. The image of Hydrallia, in all her simulated godlike glory, calls out to Marcus to help her. Marcus, however, remembers from all of the stories he's read that Hydrallia is quite proud and would never beg for aid from a mortal. The realization that the image he's seeing isn't the true Hydrallia helps Marcus break through Pyrotenax's illusion. He rushes to the throne and takes the crown of the recently deceased king. He places it on his head and proclaims himself the rightful king of the realm. As he sits on the throne a wave of mystical power emanates from it, breaking Pyrotenax's hold on the assembled courtiers. Pyrotenax shrieks in fury when he realizes his opportunity to claim the throne has passed, and Hydrallia discorporates into mist form only to rematerialize inside the ring where she can keep Pyrotenax locked in constant struggle for all eternity.

    Epilogue

    As had long been arranged, Marian and Marcus agree to wed, with Marian planning to use her position as queen to be a champion of the downtrodden. Marcus goes to his mentor's house to invite him to the wedding and ask him to be a royal advisor only to find that the old man has died while Marcus was away on his adventure. Saddened by the loss of his friend and mentor, Marcus returns to the capital with a heavy heart, knowing that he now only has the lessons Artax taught him rather than the wisdom of the man himself to guide him as king, but glad that he has the compassionate heart of Marian at his side.

    That's the end of the story arc! If you're at all interested in the game, please consider playtesting or giving me feedback about the rules.
Sign In or Register to comment.