Arms of the Chosen Playtest #7

ronald_reagan_riding_a_velociraptor_by_sharpwriter-d55rsh7In our most recent playtest—split up over two sessions—we followed the Night Caste bounty hunter named, um, Hunter, and his Eclipse Caste younger brother Scep on their caravan trip into the jungles southeast of the Scavenger Lands. There, instead of encountering the tyrant lizards they’d been hired to hunt down, the caravan was ambushed by a pack of claw striders. And as Scep’s player had to leave early, we swapped in Shane’s Eclipse Caste, Icas, from the previous Arms playtests.

The encounter was quick and brutal, as a single battle group of claw striders was no match for a combat-heavy Solar (plus limited backup from a combat-light Solar). Within moments, half the striders were torn to ribbons and Hunter was chasing them down through the jungle while whooping cheerily, drenched from head to toe in dinosaur blood.

At this point, the Storyteller, having been somewhat confused by the language in the relatively early claw strider draft, concluded that claw striders were meant to appear as individual opponents rather than in a battle group. So we decided that the first pack of striders were young and unpracticed, and that later in the day a foursome of full-grown striders would come after us. This proved to be a much fiercer battle.

Jiao_Long__Velociraptor_by_Tsabo6Bursting from the undergrowth, the claw striders caught Icas by surprise and pinned him to the ground, ripping and tearing at him with their needle-sharp teeth before the Solars could react. Hunter counterattacked, freeing Icas from the grapple and giving him a bit of breathing room, but the Eclipse was too badly shredded at this point to contribute effectively to the rest of the fight.

At this point, Hunter counterattacked, aided by the brief appearance—and then disappearance—of a Batman-like Zenith Caste named Cloaked Lantern. (We had another playtester show up for the session, but unfortunately he arrived late and had to leave early, so he didn’t get much of an opportunity to contribute to the battle.) After a bit of back-and-forth as he struggled for combat advantage, the Night Caste poisoned and shredded two of the striders with a barrage of Charm- and Evocation-backed attacks, and the other two fled back into the jungle.

Overall, it was a dynamic fight that seamlessly incorporated surprise and grappling. Numbers continue to tell, and a Solar with minimal combat competence is genuinely vulnerable to mundane threats without having to worry about being instantly turned into a red paste.


Arms-ish Playtest #6

My NYC playtest group managed another session a couple of weeks ago, but as that was just before I disappeared into the final stages of manuscript revision, I lacked the time and energy to post. Time to correct that! Unfortunately, I was dog-tired at the time and spent most of the session half-asleep. In addition, we didn’t actually do any weapons testing, so its value as an Arms of the Chosen playtest was questionable at best. Still, a playtest is a playtest…

We only had two players that night—myself and Chris, who had some roleplaying experience and, despite being unfamiliar with Exalted, was ready to jump in feet-first. Pat provided us with a pair of pregenerated Solar siblings. I got the older brother, Hunter, a Night Caste tracker with an inclination for violence. Chris played the younger brother, Scep, an Eclipse Caste and the face of our little two-Solar bounty hunting operation. Having just returned to Nexus after a job, Scep quickly got us another assignment: Procure tyrant lizard fangs for an ivory dealer in exchange for a sizable fee. After arranging for transit with a caravan heading southeast in ten days, we looked for ways to pass the time until then.

While Hunter spent his share of the proceeds of the pair’s latest venture on alcoholic beverage and persons of the evening, Scep decided to mix business with pleasure by seducing a wealthy older gentleman in order to loot the fellow’s home once the man passed out from an excess of drink. After pawning the man’s jewelry, he decided to make a profit on the fellow’s rich-but-archaic garments by fabricating the persona of couture prodigy Klaus Beaverhausen, and passing off the forgotten old styles as the cutting edge in Nexus fashion.

kanaya_sewing_by_sugarkins-d4gvjz6The project proved dramatically effective. Scep’s Charm-enhanced social maneuvering soon had many of the city’s movers and shakers figuratively eating out of his hand. One minor misstep involved offending a sought-after model, but after a heated lunch meeting, she set aside her animus in exchange for a role in an upcoming—and, indeed, pulled from thin air on the spur of the moment—Beaverhausen fashion show, to be held after his triumphant return to the city from his upcoming journey to the southeast. By the time the PCs departed the city, Scep had even taken on a couple of apprentice tailors as interns, arranging for them to spend the next month or two performing unpaid labor on his new fashion line to get a leg up in Nexus’ booming fashion industry.

(No, you won’t find anything about fashion shows in the 3e corebook. This was simply an instance of the Storyteller building on a player’s interest at the table.)

It was fun to watch Chris, an Exalted newbie, interact with the 3e social influence system, in which a moderately-experienced Storyteller was able to keep track of all of the rules without the player needing to know the specifics of various social actions. Chris definitely found it engaging enough that he came back for this past Thursday’s playtest, though he had to leave early and thus missed out on actual play, which covered a couple of vicious encounters with claw striders. Stay tuned for more playtest reports!

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #5

We got together a few days back to do more systems testing. This time, we had a go at mass combat. We’d already done a bit of mass combat in the third playtest session, but this time we’d have battle groups on both sides.

spartaUnfortunately, we got off to a late start. Not having enough time for an elaborate large-scale battle, we went with a relatively simple scenario. 300 elite soldiers from Scavenger Land Sparta had assembled to hold off a far larger force of mediocre-quality River Province Persians in a mountain pass. (We put 300: Rise of an Empire on the TV for background, largely because 300 itself wasn’t available on Netflix.). However, to spice things up—and to test out the command rules—we added my melee Twilight, Prince Clovis of Ysyr, to the Spartans’ side.

The engagement was short and brutal, largely due to the Solar’s involvement. As the Persians moved toward melee range, Clovis ordered them to unleash a barrage of thrown spears, which left the enemy vanguard in tatters. Clovis and the Spartans then surged forward from the mouth of the pass to take advantage of the enemy’s momentary disarray. The Solar’s blade carved a bloody swath through the enemy, leaving them ripe for the Spartan charge. Hundreds of Persians broke and fled the field, but while the overall formation wavered, the Persian officers pulled them back into line.

Clovis and the Spartans weathered the Persians’ blows with negligible casualties. They then pressed their advantage, slaughtering dozens more of the foe. The lines surged back and forth, with the Persian front unable to deal any meaningful damage to their Spartan foes. Despite their superior numbers, the Persian line wavered a third time, and this time it crumbled, the rank and file routing and scattering back the way they came.

The results of the battle paralleled those of our previous mass combat test, demonstrating that a combat-oriented Solar can quickly tear through large bodies of poorly- to moderately-trained troops, but only at a significant cost in Essence. If Clovis had merely restricted himself to his personal mote pool, the battle wouldn’t have been nearly so one-sided. In retrospect, I wish we’d played out the scenario using only the mortal contingents, as it would have allowed me to focus more on the battle group mechanics themselves. But there’s always next time!

Arms-ish Playtest #4

2012-9.25.10The latest playtest was with my ongoing Arms of the Chosen testing group, but this time we put the artifact weapons away to focus on some of the combat subsystems. This will come in handy later, insofar as various combat techniques might be used with (or against!) an artifact’s wielder.

For the first test, Pat proposed another sparring session in Scavenger Lands Sparta. This time, three heroic mortals would step into the ring, each equipped with a staff. The requirement for victory was to disarm both opponents and pick up both their staves, thus holding all three at once. Physically harming one’s opponents was forbidden.

This… well, it went poorly. The third edition combat system can do all sorts of interesting things, but this scenario isn’t among them. It was clear from the get-go that whichever fighter was ahead would get double-teamed, and without the ability to inflict permanent harm, we’d go around in circles forever.

Dropping down to two competitors didn’t improve matters much, as whoever got disarmed was able, in each instance, to retrieve the lost weapon first. While success was theoretically possible, I didn’t want to waste our limited testing time to see how long it would take. I am, however, pretty sure that the main problem was the equal mortal skill of the competitors. An Exalt should be able to accomplish this, as might a mortal hero facing a far less able fighter. And an ally would make the exercise trivial. In any case, the disarm mechanic itself is straightforward, and quite usable under less contrived circumstances.

With disarms set aside, we moved on to grappling. Again, two heroic pseudo-Spartans dueled on the field of honor. This time, my fighter fought unarmed (with improved dodging ability to make up for his lack of a parrying weapon), while Shane’s wielded spear and shield. My unarmed strikes were distinctly weaker than his sword attacks, but I caught him in a momentary grapple early on and injured him slightly. Between his wound penalty and some lucky dice rolling on my part—not to mention spending Willpower at opportune moments—I avoided taking any serious injuries for several exchanges of blows. Eventually I built up enough combat momentum to seize him in a more solid hold, which I took advantage of by raising him overhead and smashing him down through a broken pillar, fatally impaling him on the jagged stone.

Grappling turned out to be straightforward, integrating easily into the cut and thrust of melee. I can absolutely see myself resorting to grappling on occasion with a character who’s in no way dedicated to a grappling build.

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #3

We got the gang together again at Travis’ apartment. He’s a professional cook, and despite his awful hangover he whipped up some really amazing okayu for us. When we eventually got started, we picked up at the end of the previous session, with the farms behind the shrine under attack by unknown enemies.

While Icas and Ro were doing helpful things like warning the locals of the attack and trying to organize a fire brigade, Clovis went back to his room and donned his armor, because damned if he was going to charge in unarmored and get killed just to rescue a few additional farms and/or farmers. I mean, these things happen, right? By the Storyteller’s whim, all three of us managed to get organized for battle at the same time. I gave Ro a hand up so she could sit behind me on my horse, while Icas rode alongside on his magic deer.

As we descended the slope, we saw a pale, spear-wielding rider clad in furs emerge from the night and smoke, leading a horde of crudely armed and accoutered reavers. He directed his forces with orders barked in an unfamiliar tongue, punctuated by drubbings administered to those insufficiently vigorous in their pursuit of battle. At his instruction, half of his force drew swords and advanced, while the other half readied bows and sent volleys of arrows raining down on us as we approached.

From "Elric: The Balance Lost #3"

“Blood and souls! Blood and souls for my lady Mara!”

The initial charge went poorly for us. The arrow storm drained our combat momentum, as did our initial collision with the melee battle group. Spurred on by the enemy commander—who killed one of his own men to clarify the depth of his intent—the archers targeted us with another volley. Though the enemy swordsmen were caught by the barrage, wounding many, we’d lost nearly all of our combat momentum. Ro in particular had been left sufficiently vulnerable that the next volley would turn her into a pincushion.

Then Clovis unleashed his combat prowess. His sword sang as he slaughtered two dozen men in a span of seconds. Already reeling from their compatriots’ arrows, the enemy swordsmen broke before his assault and began to flee the field.

At this point, Ro unlocked one of the powers of her blade, calling forth a cloud of mist that engulfed the battle around us. Icas pulled her from Clovis’ horse onto the back of his own deer, and the two rode off into the fog to harass the archers with little fear of a concerted counteroffensive. Meanwhile, Clovis turned his horse to where he’d last seen the enemy commander, and fought his way through the archers until he reached his foe.

The end of the battle was quick and brutal. As Icas and Ro dispersed the remaining archers, Clovis laid into the enemy leader with a barrage of Charm-enhanced attacks. The effort exhausted him, however, leaving him with little willpower and absolutely no Essence.

At the end of the session, Clovis hung back at the edge of the mist while Icas escorted Ro to the battle-lines of the shrine’s priests—who had organized too late to participate in the battle—to speak to her father, who was none too pleased to discover that his daughter was Anathema. There was quite a bit of social influence bouncing around the table at that point, but I had to head home at that point and missed out on the conclusion.

The new mechanics for Clovis’ sword Evocations ran smoothly. They felt like Evocations rather than Charms, and they were cost-efficient, appealing options to spend motes on in play without stepping on the toes of the Solar Melee charmset. Only one of the low-level Evocations still needed revision, and I look forward to testing it out at our next game.

Arms of the Chosen Playtest #2

My new playtest group got together last Thursday to playtest one of the weapons I’ve written up for Arms of the Chosen. For the test, I ran my Elric knock-off, Prince Clovis of Ysyr, who I’d used in our previous Arms playtest. Clovis’ Charms are split evenly between Occult and Sorcery on the one hand, and Melee and sword Evocations on the other. His Dexterity and Melee are strong but not maxed-out. All in all, I’d say he’s about equal in combat ability to an underpowered starting Dawn.

We played out two fights between Clovis and a heroic mortal warrior armed with spear and shield, fluffed as a 300-style Spartan. (What Sparta was doing in the Scavenger Lands was never satisfactorily addressed.) In the first, a fight to the death, things played out much as one might expect in such a matchup. Clovis acted first, dumped a bunch of motes into gaining combat momentum, and soon thereafter landed a near-lethal wound that left the Spartan laden with major penalties. The mortal managed to maneuver out of close combat distance to wing Clovis with a thrown spear—protip: Athletics is important!—and was generally able to prolong the battle with several lucky rolls and lots of Willpower expenditures, but the final outcome was never in doubt.

For the second fight, Clovis faced another Spartan hero in a training exercise amid a ruined temple complex. By the terms of the fight, they fought with sheathed or blunted weapons, with the goal of “tagging” each of their opponent’s limbs. Getting tagged meant not using that limb for the rest of the fight, holding an arm behind one’s back or hopping on one leg as appropriate. While there are no explicit mechanics for such an unusual exercise in the Exalted Third Edition ruleset, the system is flexible enough that the Storyteller was able to quickly and easily generate mechanics for such hits on the fly.

This time around, despite Clovis spending a good chunk of motes to try to get an advantage at the start of the fight, the Spartan tagged his sword-arm right away with an uncannily good roll, leaving the Solar at a penalty for the rest of the encounter. The mortal then dodged away between the pillars to pelt him with spears, all while he was bleeding motes to make up for his ongoing penalties. Things would have gone poorly had the Spartan not made a tactical error; he pulled farther back from the fight because he expected Clovis to try and close to melee. Meanwhile, the Solar was also withdrawing in order to catch his breath and regain motes. By the time they were back in combat range, Clovis had refilled his mote pool and was able to tag all of the Spartan’s limbs in quick succession with a barrage of Charm- and Evocation-laden attacks.

Most of Clovis’ motes were spent on Melee Charms, as I quickly discovered that while my weapon’s mechanics were engaging in the way that I’d hoped, the low-level Evocations I’d bought for Clovis were slightly overcosted, and based too heavily on interactions with high-level Evocations rather than on their own merits. I rewrote them from the ground up for the next playtest, which I’ll discuss in another post.

All in all, this worked out both as I’d expected and hoped. Skilled mortals can challenge the Exalted, but they require some combination of cleverness, luck, and/or situational advantages to win. Meanwhile, the Exalt’s odds vary heavily based on how much of his personal resources he’s willing to commit to the fight. My chances of achieving a quick, clean victory would have improved if I’d spent more motes and Willpower, but in treating these tests as actual encounters rather than white-room simulations, I deemed it important to withhold some of my resources in case the Storyteller had additional threats waiting in the wings.

(Almost) Playtesting Arms of the Chosen

As noted in a recent post, my friend Pat—one of the Marst Chronicle players—has volunteered to act as Storyteller so I can get some playtesting in from the players’ side of the screen. He’s decided to run an actual ongoing game; this limits the amount of straight-up playtesting involved, but it also means I get to try things out in the context of actual play, which has its own benefits.

We started off the first session by finishing up character creation. Travis played Sinkakusha Ro, a Twilight shrine maiden based on Sailor Mars; I played Prince Clovis of Ysyr, a Twilight sorcerer-swordsman based loosely on Elric of Melniboné, and Shane played Icas, a waifish, deer-riding Eclipse who was apparently the same character he’d been playing in an Exalted Second Edition / Dungeons & Dragons Fourth Edition crossover set in the 4e default setting. (Don’t ask.)

After riding away from a lynch mob of enraged villagers (“I am a doomed prince, no one understands me”), I encountered Icas in the woods, with whom I chatted and traded social influence attempts. We then rode together toward a nearby source of weirdly comforting emanations, which turned out to be Ro’s family shrine. I spent a lot of time watching the other two PCs flirt with each other over dinner (and swapped Attribute points to raise Appearance to 4 so I wouldn’t be left out), then snuck into Ro’s room to verify that her weird giant umbrella had actually concealed a daiklave. The session ended with the farming village behind the shrine under attack by bandits. Next session: the stabbity!

For your entertainment, here’s a photo from the session:

Arms of the Chosen playtest photo

That’s Pat on the left and Travis on the right. Shane was sitting to my immediate left; he’s not visible here, but you can see his character sheet. The sheets aren’t official; they were put together by a playtester from another group. They look nice, though!

I Came, I Saw, I Crafted

"Golem Forge," by Victor A. MinguezIn the past year of intermittently playtesting Exalted Third Edition, I’ve gone through most of the systems and subsystems for combat and social actions, but I didn’t get a chance to try out the crafting rules until last weekend. While those rules aren’t directly related to the design work I’ve been doing on Arms of the Chosen, it still seemed like a good idea to get a feel for what it’s like to build such items as a player.

My friend Pat, who plays Mato Leaf-Dancer in the Marst Chronicle playtests, ran me through a full evening of crafting scenarios, ranging from mending a horseshoe to fabricating one of the artifact daiklaves that’s written up in the corebook. The system definitely feels like nothing I’ve ever used before. Instead of being fully self-contained, it has multiple points of engagement with actual play, so your crafter can’t simply sit alone in a room and churn out enchanted devices.

Solar Craft Charms add another layer to the system. They interlock in a variety of interesting emergent ways that feel like you’re building something. It has a bit of a Puzzle Quest-ish vibe. I only used a handful of Charms during the playtest, and I’m looking forward to trying out other Charms in future games.

Next on the schedule is another playtest to put various artifact weapons and armor to use along with their Evocations. As in this post, my ability to report on that playtest may be impaired due to NDA restrictions. But I’ll do what I can to share the adventures of Clovis, the Doomed Prince of Ysyr, as he pits the power of his living blade against who knows what perils!

Marst Chronicle: Session #5

At last, a new playtest report from the Allentown group! The summary writer had this to say: “Sorry for this one taking so long, but the busy time should be over and we all look forward to getting back to more regular gaming and updates.”

When last we left our players, they had just fended off a bandit attack and discovered that something had been taken from the caravan during the fighting. Oberon Telev, in a panic, hired the PCs to find these thieves and to bring back the item that had been taken. However, he refused to part with any information regarding what that item was. So off into the woods trekked Karis, White Ink, and Bending Sky, to once more risk life and limb for the good of the caravan—or at least that is what Bending Sky claims… some of the time.

Karis took point here and began to lead the PCs through the wending woods, following the tracks left by their quarry. Using keen eyes and a skill at survival she never knew she really had, she kept the group on the tail of the thieves for many days. She found them water and shelter, and only one or twice had to double back a significant distance. In fact, only by dint of her skills did the group make it through the forest without great incident. The only notable exception was when Bending Sky turned to excitedly point out that he had found a scenic ravine, and promptly walked right off the side of it, which is hardly an incident that can be blamed on Karis’ survival skills. (As a note, I love the new falling damage rules.)

1) Social Influence – With Karis finally feeling like some ground was truly being made, our heroes came across a large clearing with a massive hole dug down into the center of it. The footprints of the thieves seemed to head into the clearing, toward the two guards standing watch near the hole.

Not wanting to alert anyone to their arrival, the group began to lay out a plan. Karis and White Ink seemed to be on the same page and began to talk about the best way to render the guards unconscious from a distance. Bending Sky had his own idea, however, and proposed that they take a little time to loosely disguise Karis and send her forward, pretending to be a wood nymph. From there, she would seduce the two guards to come closer and then the group would subdue them in a quick and up-close fashion.

White Ink saw the merits of this proposal and agreed it would make for a fine course of action. Karis, however, was having none of it and stubbornly refused to be part of this plan despite the inspiring argument made by Bending Sky. (Ah, Willpower, how you aid us all.) Not one to be deterred from what he considers a good idea, Bending Sky took a few moments to disguise himself before sauntering out into the clearing, guitar playing an enchanting tune, and attempting to convince the guards that HE was a wood nymph.

This attempt was met with only partial success, but between their confusion, curiosity, and the guards being close by, he was able to close most of the gap before they realized something was terribly wrong. (I actually forgot to use the disguise rules, but given the player of Bending Sky’s Larceny skills and the penalties he was going to accrue for this, I think it worked out just fine without it. I also view this as a positive, since a good game needs to be able to run smoothly both when mechanics are used and when they are not.)

2) Combat – This first fight with the guards was a great example of the tactical nature of the new combat engine. One side had the obvious element of surprise, exploited it well, and worked as a team to quickly accomplish their goal. (This last part may have been an accident, but it appeared to occur nonetheless.) Bending Sky went first, and with the expertise of a man trained in Tiger Style, knocked down the guard nearest to him. White Ink ran from the nearby bushes to grab the second in an iron grip, and Karis fired a bludgeoning arrow upon the now-grappled man, taking the wind out of him.

On the next turn, Bending Sky ripped the throat from the downed man and Karis rendered her opponent unconscious. (Two rounds, and combat was over. Goes to show just how important numbers, surprise, and going first are. I have a feeling that if the tables were turned and the PCs were the ones being surprised, the same thing could have happened to them, which I like.)

Karis and Bending Sky then argued about whether or not to kill the unconscious bandit. Bending Sky finally relented and said the man could live, and the three companions headed toward the large hole in the clearing. Right before arriving there, though, Bending Sky whipped the bow off his back and launched an arrow into the sleeping bandit’s throat, much to Karis’ dismay and White Ink’s disapproval. Bending Sky simply smiled and pointed out that to leave him alive would have been to invite his vengeance at some point in the future, and he for one liked to sleep soundly at night without having to worry about silly things like being murdered.

White Ink cast a long look back before frowning once, shrugging, and following Bending Sky down the sloped entrance. Karis, for her part, did not take things as well. She stayed as far from Bending Sky as she could, all the while staring daggers into his back.

At the bottom of the excavated hole was what appeared to be a massive building, tipped slightly back and away from them. It had a huge stone door that had been pushed inward, in the center of which was a large golden disk embossed with odd pictographs. After some investigating, the PCs discovered that the disk could be removed from the door and seemed to act as a key of sorts. Once removed, Bending Sky took it into his care for safekeeping. Karis discovered an opened wooden box filled with straw, which appeared to have held something heavy and circular.

Deducing that the disk was the item they had come for, the PCs decided to push on into the ancient building to see what else could be found and if anyone else was exploring it. Being the stealthiest by far, Karis carefully crept inward, making sure to always stay close to the walls and to have both handholds and footholds, since the now-tilted building sloped away from her and the middle of the stone floor offered little purchase.

She discovered a massive building with several doors going this way and that, but it was at the end of the main hallway that she found answers to her questions. What she discovered was a large room lit by only a few torches, held by three men: two guards and a robed man who was studying something on the walls and referencing a book he held in one hand. She instantly recognized the robed man as the merchant Jarrick Rill, the same one who had funded the caravan she traveled on and whose house she had recently robbed.

Her feeling of surprise, however, was quickly replaced with one of dread. As one of the men turned his torch to examine a new area, the light revealed a massive figure easily nine feet tall. Its front limbs were as round as tree trunks and long enough that it used them to walk. Spikes and spines protruded from its red-tinged hide, which was more like wire brush then fur, and a set of wicked teeth filled a mouth far larger then should have belonged on a creature even that size. As soon as she noticed it, she also smelled it. It smelled of an uncleaned butchering-room floor and appeared to still have bits from its last meal stuck in its teeth.

With great haste, Karis returned to the group to explain what she had seen, still not quite believing it herself. Much discussion was had about how to proceed, and in the end all were of like mind. This demon needed to be felled, and whatever this Jarrick Rill was up to needed to be discovered—and most likely stopped.

This plan began much like the last—sans Bending Sky trying to cross-dress—as the two with bows crept forward to gain surprise on the beast. White Ink moved forward as well, albeit slowly, as his massive armor took away what little agility he possessed. His part in this would be to defend the archers for as long as possible, while also engaging the beast directly.

When the large room and the demon within were in sight, Bending Sky and Karis fired upon it, their arrows streaking toward their foe with unerring accuracy. The beast’s hide proved thick, though, and only one arrow seemed to bother it at all; the other shattered to pieces against its unnaturally thick fur. The fighting began in earnest then, for with a stone-rattling bellow the demon began to charge up the hallway at Bending Sky, murder in its eyes and a faint red glow around its massive claws. (A [REDACTED] action victory for the Blood Ape spells bad things in Bending Sky’s future!)

Seeing the creature begin its run, White Ink charged out in front of his companions, a baritone battle cry emanating from his lips. With worried looks on their faces, both archers began to backpedal, but valor did not totally flee them as they still launched arrow after arrow after arrow at the ape as it rampaged down the hall. Some of these arrows did their work well and slowed the beast some, but more fell away off its hide like water breaking on a rock. Soon the demon was in melee range, slowed but not defeated, and the true struggle began.

The beast roared. White Ink’s greatsword flashed in the flickering torchlight. Bending Sky dropped his bow and hurled himself at the creature. Karis continued to shoot, but now it was not at the beast, but at the two guards with bows who had joined the fray at the other end of the hall. Armor and flesh were rent, blood was spilt, and the fight’s momentum went back and forth half a dozen times at least. In the end, though, the great beast fell, and when it did a slight pause filled the chamber as all around stood in awe at what had just been done. A mighty demon of Malfeas lay dead at the hands of three mortals, truly a miraculous victory if ever there was one.

In this pause the three bloodied companions looked at each other and silently nodded. At this, White Ink roared challenge once more and tore off down the hall toward the archers, his sword weeping demonic ichor as he ran. So terrifying was his visage that one archer dropped his bow entirely and stood rooted to the spot in fear (Threaten actions are awesome!). It was at this man that Karis unleashed a seemingly endless volley of arrows, and as testament to her skill, not one missed its mark.

Bending Sky, having regained his bow, traded shot for shot with the other archer—who had wisely kept his cool and his cover—before finally pausing in the middle of the hallway and slowly breathing out. As he looked back up, he stared into the other man’s very soul and uttered these words: “It is to your credit that I now must reveal who I really am. I am Hagakami, Archer Lord of the northern steppes, and member of the Red Leaf Tribe. I have never missed while donning my true name. Now, like the leaves my Tribe is named for… FALL!” An arrow then leaped from his bow, and true to his word, he did not miss and the guard did fall.

(WOW! What a fun and awesome fight. Momentum was traded back and forth numerous times, and the PCs finally got a taste of all the bad that can occur when they are in [REDACTED] and their enemies are not. It was great watching them stunt and scrape and fight for every piece of momentum they could have when they were losing. It really gave the fight an amazing, amazing feel. The defend other action also was used for the first time, and it worked well and really helped Bending Sky out. The [REDACTED] action also saw repeated use, and let me tell you, there is perhaps nothing greater then the look on a player’s face when an enemy defeats him in a [REDACTED] and he knows his only option is to kill his opponent before it gets to him, because it is the only way to stop him. All in all, simply fantastic, and I know the players were really pleased with it.)

Limping, tired and coated in blood—both others’ and their own—our heroes slowly entered the room where only Jarrick Rill now stood. Something was different now, though. The room was better-lit then they had first thought, and what was this feeling of renewed energy coursing through their limbs? That is when it took them. That was the moment when our heroes took their second breath: one from the beginning of the day, one from its absence, and one from what occurs when both day and night are present.

Zhaojun Chronicle: Session #3.1

With a week before he needed to report aboard the Pearl of Danaa’d, Zhao Suria Lautan decided to visit his family, who lived in a manor overlooking Jantan’s Hook, a giant-frog ranching village two days’ travel from Goldenseal. Lautan and his valet, Bozhao Three Gills, traveled there in a jouncing carriage along with Lautan’s aunt—Zhao Yujen Sutera, an elderly widow with a passion for gambling—and her middle-aged maid.

Aside from the aches and pains accompanying a carriage ride along rutted country roads, they encountered nothing noteworthy until they reached Jantan’s Hook. In the village’s dim, noisy teahouse—where they lost Sutera to a game involving a rooster pecking at dice—they spoke to Three Gills’ ne’er-do-well brother Six Fingers, who shared tales of the weird hybrid creatures that had been seen near the village in recent weeks. These ranged from a flightless feathered badger, currently on display in the family manor after being stuffed by Lautan’s father, to a full-sized chimera of giant frog and grizzly bear. Tracks suggested that some of these creatures had come from the steep, overgrown hills to the southeast—an area uninhabited in living memory.

Returning to his ancestral manor, Lautan raised the matter at dinner with his family. His mother Duandai, the head of the household, agreed with his assessment that a giant frog-bear could be a threat to the village, while his father Zhiye suggested that the creature’s size was probably exaggerated. “Frog-wife’s tales,” Zhiye scoffed. “You know how people can be.” He added that Lautan should take his seventeen-year-old brother Tanlo along to track the beast, saying the boy could use some seasoning.

Tanlo himself wandered in out of the rain at this time. After he and Lautan sniped at one another for a bit, conversation meandered to Lautan’s work, his friendship with his cousin Merak—of whom his father disapproved—and the crippling tribute paid to the Blessed Isle. Lautan complained about the Realm’s interference in Zhaojun, which caused his grandmother Laolei to ramble on for a time about how things were better in the old days before Zhaojun bowed its head to the Realm. His parents argued that the Realm was there to stay. “The only power to resist the Realm is on the far side of the world,” said Duandai

Amid the debris of the last course, Zhiye pressed his elder son about the possibility of a daughter-in-law. Lautan attempted to deflect the issue to his younger brother—“Tanlo’s a looker,” he protested—but he eventually agreed to see the village astrologer the next day about when the time would be right to marry. He then returned to his room—which his family had left unchanged even after he left to pursue his naval career—to rest.

The next day, Lautan led a force gathered by Three Gills to track down the frog-bear. This included a couple of local hunters and a dozen youths armed with spears and hooked frog-nets. They found later that morning in a wooded area, sunning itself in the river. Intending to capture the creature alive, Lautan positioned the group in the lower boughs with nets. Failing to persuade any of the youths to act as bait and lure it into the trap, he and Three Gills stood beneath the nets and fired blunt arrows to sting the frog-bear into action.

The first part of the plan worked perfectly. The beast—large and hirsute as a bear, with greasy froglike limbs and a frog’s head—lumbered forward into the trees. Unfortunately, the nets did not snare it effectively, and it tore them away with vicious ursine claws. At Lautan’s order, the hunters and youths leapt down with their spears, only for one lad to have his head bitten clean off! As spearpoints failed to do more than scratch the frog-bear, it smacked Three Gills away from it, the boy trailing blood as he rolled downslope toward the river.

By the time Lautan himself drew his sword and engaged the beast, it had slain both trackers and half the youths, sending the rest fleeing. But his first stroke drew blood, shearing through fur and cutting deeply into its side. It snapped and kicked at him, but he dodged its strokes and slashed it across the nose. Shocked by the sudden pain, it fled to the river. Lautan pursued, only to have it turn on him at the river’s edge. Both struck simultaneously; his blade stabbed into its open mouth, piercing its brain, and it sagged and died.

After hacking the thing’s head off—as a trophy, or perhaps simply to satisfy himself that it was really dead—Lautan returned to where the survivors groaned. Three Gills’ arm had been mangled, while the side of Tanlo’s once-handsome face had been torn open, destroying an eye. Lautan shook his head. “Mom’s gonna kill me,” he said.