Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shadows and Choice : The 13th Age

11/09/2013
Shadows and Choice

The 13th AGE

Andruin, played by Karlo
Human Fighter, Loyal follower of the High Elf Artanis
Blacksmith, Solider of the Emperor, Slave Gladiator and Bodyguard.
One Unique Thing: He is the only human who understands the language of the Elves even if he was never taught it.

Artanis, played by Biyanka
Elven Cleric, Godsoldier of the Priestess
Goddess Initiate, Noble Diplomat, War Medic, Bearer of Secrets.
One Unique Thing: He is actually Artanelias, a female Elf, who hides her gender to retain respect from others, as well as to hide her relationship with Andruin.

Thorg, played by Kevin
Half-Orc Barbarian from the distant mountains
Clan Builder, Clan Champion, Clan Diplomat.
One Unique Thing: Thorg loves reading.  Surprisingly, Thorg is eloquent and well read in things.

Donal, played by Kevin
Half-Elf Ranger from the Undying Lands
Street Orphan, Hunter, Bounty Hunter.
One Unique Thing: Donal, for a half-elf, looks completely human.  He does not show any signs of being an Elf or of having any mixed heritage, save for when his eyes are struck by light in a specific way.

Odu Foxburr, played by Rocky
Halfling Rogue, who offers a whole new name to each new person that meets him.
Con Artist, Spy Master, Art Thief.
One Unique Thing: Odu is a smooth-talking bastard who loves violence, even more so than Thorg.

This was our first time EVER to play The 13th Age.  Rocky, Karlo and I have tried Dungeon World before and loved the system, so I felt this was nice step closer to the crunch of Pathfinder/d20 without losing the fun of Dungeon World's lighter feel.   Biyanca and the two Kevins had never played this yet, nor Dungeon World, so it was definitely going to be a dive into something new for us.

Given the Icon system, I opted for a different approach:  I had each player draw one of six Tarot cards I had prepared (with one of the cards being a blank card).  Whoever drew the blank card was currently in service of the Prince of Shadows (whether willingly or forced, I left the player the freedom to decide) while the other cards represented the different Icons that the heroes were affiliated with.  I also had each roll a six-sided die to represent the relationship they had with the card.  Ones were weak relations, while Sixes were very close relationships.  These two systems would later add so much more to the game.


The game was based in Waterdeep, or at least inspired by it.  I opened the scene with Artanis on her knees as she spoke with the Lords of Waterdeep.  The Temple of the Priestess wanted a Sealed Box to be brought to the further temple down south at Calimshan.  Concerned that the GodSoldier of the Priestess was travelling alone with only one warrior companion (Andruin), the Lords of Waterdeep insisted that they would gather a few more adventurers to accompany them.     One of the Lords inquired why Andruin had gained Artanis' faith.  Artanis explained the two had met during the War of the Orcs, and had grown to trust each other.  She did not admit that they had also fallen in love, given none knew it was a female elf beneath the blessed plate mail armor that she wore.

"Gather at the Gate by the morrow.  Your companions should be there."

Elsewhere, at a tavern called The Forgotten Realm, Thorg struggled to enjoy his book on "The Intriguing Ecology of the Manticore" as a bunch of drunk human thugs nagged him and bullied him into an arm wrestling match.  "Why do you seek danger, my friends?" he tried to ask them but instead had someone knock his book to the floor.  As he picked the book up, Thorg realized he had to teach these punks a lesson and agreed to the arm wrestling match.

Not too far, Odu watched and realized one of the annoying humans wore a cape of high quality.   Odu quickly concocted a means to take it from the man during the match.

At the bar, Donal walks up to the bar and ignores the screaming as the match begins.  A man in a grey robe also at the bar tells him the bartender is too busy betting to serve anyone.  Both serve themselves some ale.  As they watch, the man in the robe offers Donal a job, claiming to be in need of adventurers of particular skills.  Donal easily accepts the offer and is told to head to the Gate at the morrow.  The man in the robe watches as Odu intentionally sets a mug to spill by the man's boot, and during that brief distraction, helps the men clean their clothes (and the cape) of the stains by offering to handle it for them.  The man in the grey robe follows Odu outside and gives him the same offer.  Odu throws a hard bargain, and this is met.  He then realizes the man is a Lord of Waterdeep with enough resources to spare.  Odu agrees and hurries off to have the cape trimmed to fit him better.

Finally, the man invites Thorg to the journey, and Thog readily agrees, happy to get away from the noisy mess of people.

*

Dawn. The man in the robe finds Thorg already there, reading a book as he waits for the others.  As the group finally meets each other, the plans are shared.  Artanis and Andruin had chartered a ship to sail the Sea of Swords down to the City of Baldur's Gate.  And from there, the plan was to charter a caravan to the south.   Odu quickly befriends the Captain, gaining his confidence and favor with a bit of Smooth Talking.

The first few days of the journey is quiet, with Donal and Artanis both feeling sea-sick as they ride a ship for the first time.  Donal insists on sitting on the crow's nest, anxious to play scout as the journey travels, but his lack of sea-legs causes him to struggle to stay awake for the first leg of the trip.  Artanis locks herself in her room, with Andruin handling any affairs outside the chamber.

Most of the journey began smoothly.

*

The shadow whispered to Artanis, reminding her of its demand.  Stain the Sealed Box with the Blood of a Hero, and burn it as a dedication to the Shadows.  The Prince of Shadows reminded her of her family held in its power, and of their deaths if she were ever to betray him.

*

And from the water, orange eyes glowed and waited.  Ready to strike.

*

Nightfall came and the attack was both sudden and cruel.  Vicious water-borne monsters that seemed like ants yet were the size of horses shot out from the depths and began attacking the vessel.  As the crew hurried to light the deck and provide illumination for all, Odu, Donal and Thorg brought the battle to the beasts.  Neither Artanis nor Andruid were present as the party fought against the wicked things that seemed to have the ability to spit acid and call more of their kind.  Thorg found himself denied of his Cleaving blows when both Donal and Odu slew the beasts before his axe could land.   And by the time Artanis and Andruin join the battle, the monsters fall down dying and broken.

The heroes were not without their wounds, however, and this gives Artanis the opportunity to visit each other and offer to treat their wounds by taking some of their blood.  All save Donal and Odu agree.  But even as she stains the box with Thorg's blood, she eventually learns the Prince of Shadows has not come to make things easy for her.

*

Nightmares force Artanis up.  In her dreams, the Prince of Shadows questions the blood she had stained the box wtih.  "You are meant to sacrifice the Sun, my dear," the Prince teased and Artanis realized the Prince wanted Andruin's blood to be used.  As Andruid helps calm Artanis from the nightmare, Artanis slips as she explains, "He wants me to gather your blood Andruin.  The Goddess demands it must be yours."

"He?" Andruin contestsed and drew his sword fast enough to hold her at bay.  "Something is wrong here."

None on the crew would know the two would slip away upon a rowboat in hopes of pulling away from everyone else and drawing them into the tragedy that was to come.

*

Land.  Donal realizes he can see land.  Baldur's Gate is not that far away.
But neither is what looks like a rowboat at sea.  The deckhands quickly identify it as one of the ship's own.  And the group begins to realize that on that boat might be something or someone important...

... but the waters trash and bubble as something rises from the depths.

"Priestess," Artanis called out in prayer, "Help me."  But the Priestess remained distance, still angered that her loyal Cleric had replaced loyalty to her for the love of a human.  The Prince of Shadows laughed, knowing he had Artanis fully in his grasp.  "Do as I say or I shall summon the great beasts to slay your companions!"  When Artanis continued to refuse, the dark Icon fulfilled his threat, and the rowboat exploded into shards as the massive serpentine head rose from the depths.

"A Hydra!" Donal screamed, recognizing the beast.  He quickly told the others of the danger of this manner of beast, "While it's heads do not multiply when severed, these monsters give birth tremendously fast and spawn duplicates of itself when in battle.  However, during the birthing process, the beast exposes its beating heart, a vulnerability we can exploit!"  With the Hydra named as Donal's target, the Ranger begins unleashing arrow hell at the beast.  But the beast is not without its abilities, and through the Prince of Shadow's help, the monster's trashing begins to force the ship to spin in place as if upon a whirlpool, forcing everyone on board to divide their focus on both combat and keeping their balance.

More hydras erupt as the group take too long to slay the first one and its first duplicate.  Artanis and Andruin struggle to swim back on deck in the rough waters.  Artanis uses her elven teleportation to carry them both back to the deck.

Odu, Thorg and Donal begin coordinating their strikes, with Donal's arrows becoming makeshift stepping stones for the others to land deadly blows upon the creatures.  At one point, Odu leaps into a severed hydra head to crawl deeper down its throat to find more sensitive organs to tear apart.  Thorg fells a hydra and in glee, leaps across the water to another nearby hydra to pound his axe down upon its head.

But the four hydras, though dying, were still a challenge for the heroes to face.  And the waters began to boil as the Prince of Shadows summoned more to spite them.

"You must choose," the Priestess whispered to Artanis, as Odu leapt to the Cleric, took the box from her hand, and readied a blade over it.  "Do you love him or me?"  Artanis stared at Andruin as he fought against the Hydra, but knew she had to fulfill her duty.  As she reached for the box, Odu stabbed the blade into it, proclaiming, "I cleanse this in the name of the Priestess!"  Artanis never knew that the vile and wicked Odu was actually chosen by the Priestess herself to cleanse the evil she frowned upon.  And with the ritual of the box abruptly disrupted, the Prince of Shadows can only cry out in anger and promise to return in time.   Artanis screams as she feels the Prince attempt to take her with him, but the Priestess hold her tight and the two vanish in a brilliant display of light.

In the distance, a surge of sea creatures suddenly flowed through and snatched Donal from the group.  And just when the group thought they would have to face against the remaining hydras with their now limited numbers, powerful ballista tore at the monsters and punched through their armored hides.  The Emperor's Navy closed in and using their deadly ranged weapons, forced the hydras down back into the depths.

Odu drops the box to the ground, and as the Prince of Shadows snarls at him and promises vengeance, the halfling pisses onto the box as a message to the Icon that he's not afraid.

*

Thorg is approached by the captain of the Imperial Navy, and the soldiers escort him back to "his ship."  The group learns that Thorg has long been one of the Empire's best warriors, and they were more than happy to be of service to him again.

Donal awakes beneath the depths to learn that his birth parents were actually a mortal man and the High Druid herself.  Born of such prestige, Donal realizes that his role in the 13th Age was more than just that of an adventurer.  He was to be the bridge between man and Elvenkind.

Odu, now the Hand of the Priestess, continues to smite evil and cleanse the world of the taint that the Priestess desires removed.

Artanelias, now devoid of her armor and false seeming, remains steadfast in prayer and meditation somewhere in the mountains as she offers herself to the Priestess to atone for her selfishness.

And Andruin, standing at the road leading to Baldur's Gate, realizes while the rest have found new roads to take, he stands at the same old road as before.  He devotes himself to finding Artanelias and just as before hopes to prove to her that his love, no matter how the world demands things otherwise, will never ever fade.
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