Players: Eric Fattic, Adrienne Mueller, Karen Twelves, Sean Nittner
System: Fall of Magic
Magic is dying and the Magus is dying with it. We travel together to the realm of Umbra where magic was born.
What a delightful and beautiful game. We had Kingmaker scheduled for the 21st but made a backup plan this time that if the game was cancelled again, we’d play Fall of Magic together instead. I’m so glad we did!
First off, everyone says this, but it’s worth saying again. This game is beautiful. The scroll, the coins, the artwork, even the box is gorgeous (though a bit tricky to find a place for). If for no other reason I wanted to keep playing to see what happened as we kept unrolling the scroll! Luckily there were plenty of other reasons to keep playing. In fact, it took us about five hours, but we played all the way through!
Ellamura, the Hero of Barley Town (Eric). We later found out she was the hero for slaying a dragon, and even later we found out that dragon was dying already and begged to be put out of its misery.
Harp, the Ranger of Mistwood (Karen). Harps story was heartbreaking. He was traveling with the Magus to ensure that his husband Malcolm, who was also a wizard, and their daughter would be cared for. As we watched magic wane, so too did Malcolm’s health.
Caspian, the Swineherd of Barley Town (Adrienne). Young and innocent and full of hero worship of Ellamura, Caspian learned of both the joys and the horrors of the world, and the truth of Ellamura, which shook him to the core.
River, the Fugitive of Stormguard (Sean). River was persecuted for her faith in the forbidden gods. Older gods of an older nation, long ago conquered by Stormguard. Without her faith and prayers though, river knew the mortal world was unprotected from the demon born from shadow and avarice. River began her journey fleeing in terror from her captors, but the Magus traded the life of his familiar Eloise for hers.
At the Bridge, Harp’s fishing was disturbed by the panting of a woman who had run herself to exhaustion. As she heard him complain below, she looked down over the bridge, saw her mud covered face and tattered clothes in the reflection of the water and then was instantly startled as a spear, with a fish on it suddenly sprung up in front of her. Famished she grabbed the fish, tearing it in half off the spear and began devouring it raw. And that was how River and Harp met.
In Ravenhall we saw Harp arrange for payment from the Magus to go back to his family, regardless of their outcome. We also saw him take pity on River, a fugitive who had been on the run for days if not weeks. The Magus also took her in, seeing some potential in her.
We saw Ellamura being introduced the Magus, sent by the Barley Lord for her fierceness in battle (Ellamura gained the trait “Fierce”). Trailed in earnest by her de facto squire Caspian.
Before they left River and Caspian were sent to fetch the Magus’ familiar from the Menagerie and when they came upon an old oak with a single raven perched upon it, they bickered about how they would call the raven down. As River tried to climb the tree, every oak leaf exploded into a raven and as one giant flock they flew up and then scattered into the wind.
The Oak Hills
As the Magus entered the Oak Hills, the sun still beat down on us. Capsian tried to tend to Ellamura’s horse but she was fickle for everyone save her master and Capsian only ended up fumbling with her bit and bridle.
By the firelight River discovered a pendant that belonged to Ellamura in the shape of two hands pressed together at the palms, the sign of the forbidden gods. Her gods. She quickly hid the pendant and through the trees she saw Ellamura making ritual movements.
At Harper’s Road, much of the Magus’s retinue bade us farewell and sent us on our way. Capspian abandoned the sharpened stick he had found in Ravenhall and picked up a stout oak branch that would serve him well as a cudgel.
At dawn before any others woke Harp came down from the tree where he had rested through the night and surveyed the camp, looking for any signs of intrusion. He did find one set of footprints leading in to the camp, but realized they belonged to the Magus, who must have stirred in the night.
While making camp Ellamura and Caspian came upon a wounded robin. Caspian looked hopeful, and asked if he could keep it and tend it back to heath. Ellamura consented and Harp offered advice on binding the wound and the ingredients to form a poultice for it. Caspian named the bird Liz. (Caspian gained the trait “Kind”).
By firelight again Caspian unrolled his last bit of Barley rope, a sticky candy made of Barley that is supposed to be shared among friends. He had secretly been eating the whole thing by himself but when it got down to the last bit he, somewhat reluctantly, broke it in half and gave a piece to Harp, who pretended to eat but palmed it and stashed the overly sweet treat away. The ranger wouldn’t eat it, but he wouldn’t hurt the boy’s feelings either.
We flashed back to the the first arrival of the Magus in Barley Town, when a great parade celebrated the Magus and the town offered up their greatest hero Ellamura to escort him on his journey. From the sidelines, the swineherd Caspian looked on in awe.
While in the Oak Hills, Harp had given River some of his cured sinew to stitch together a crude cloak form one of the Magus’ bed sheets. Her fumbling hands made for poor stitches and she used all of it up. For this and other items Harp went to the Farmer’s Market. There he spotted a man ahead of him with long dark hair moving through the crowd. Struck with sudden urgency he chased after the man, but when he had caught him found that it wasn’t who he thought.
In the Old Abbey, Caspian sought out the chaplain but found the abbey empty. Outside she heard voices though and went to the yard in the back to hear what the commotion was. People were gathered there to hang a man. His crime was worship of the forbidden gods. He professed over and over that it was a lie, that he held the true faith, but in the very end, he spouted a curse, and the crowd could not pull the log from under his feet enough!
Caspian went back to Swine Hill and it all felt so pedestrian to him. He’d moved on past all of this now. He remembered the first time he saw Ellamura cresting that hill, carrying the head of a dragon, and he knew he would follow her forever.
Later, we flashed back even further and saw Ellamura and the dragon, a wheezing, coughing, dying old thing surrounded by the bones of its kin. The dragon begged Ellamura to put it out of its misery and the scene closed as her blade came down.
At Oak Island River found the Magus, as he was looking over the gravestone of Eloise, which had been placed there long ago. Though somber, the Magus touched the stone and we could see him remember his beloved. River approached and asked the Magus why he had brought her on the journey. He smiled faintly and told her that we all have a role to play and that he saw great potential in her, but most importantly that she chose her own future. She also asked him why her gods had been banished, why they were forbidden. There was something bittersweet in his eyes that she could not understand.
The terrible biting weather of Stormguard was visible even from the lowland hills below it. We all knew it would be dangerous to travel in these hills, even more so for River who was wanted in these lands.
At Stormqueen pass Harp spotted the clouds on the mountains moving towards us. A storm would be upon us soon. River told him she knew these lands and knew a secret pass they could take. Harp also knew of this pass and of the giants that sometimes stood above it and hurled mighty boulders down upon travelers, breaking their bones to make their soup. He would guide us true and stay on the open road.
Ellamura though was not certain of our safety. On her fickle steed, and with River shadowing close behind, she scouted to see what troubles might befall us. In the morning sun she made out the silhouettes of six riders, Storm Knights, who caught sight of her as well, and began riding hard to catch us. River, in a panic, fled and lost her footing. She slipped and went sliding down a ravine.
As they came through the mountain pass Ellamura’s horse went lame. Unknown to Ellamura Caspian stared transfixed, as she cut it down. Later Harp tried to offer sympathy to Ellamura, but it was unneeded. This was not the first time she had to do grim work.
Despite River’s fears, Ellamura found the people of Stormguard to be as pleasant and kindly as any would hope for. They greeted us at their gates, welcomed our party into their homes and shared meals by their warm hearths.
Outside, in the stockades, exposed to the elements of rain and cold, River sat on muddy ground cradling her knees against her chest shivering against the cold. She spoke with her fellow prisoners, apologized for punishments they must have received after she fled the first time and asked them to keep their faith. Her apology was met with a boot the face, and when she lay prone, many more blows from the inmates, still hateful of River for their own suffering and at themselves for once believing in her long dead faith.
In the Hall of Knights, Caspian heard boasts of heroes, the greatest of the land. The knights there, deep in their drinks, professed of heroes of old, and spoke only mildly of Ellamura, boasting that other heroes have been much greater, like the great wizard Malcolm who brought the first boughs of barley to Barley town. Caspian’s face soured and he protested, getting into a scuffle with another boy over who was the greatest hero. The young swineherd prevailed!
Later, Capsian apologized to Ellamura for not saddling her horse correctly. Though he didn’t say it, it was clear from his guilty expression, he blamed himself for her going lame.
Back at the stockades, through a small hole in the fence, Ellamura came to visit River and tell her that they had to go on without her. She was sorry, but there was nothing that could be done. For River, all hope of salvation lie in that tiny space, a pace there the knot of the wood had broken free and one could just peer to the world outside. Pressing her lips to the nook, she pleaded with Ellamura not to forget her and not to forget their faith. The brave hero was perplexed by these words. What faith? It was River’s time for astonishment “Do not claim ignorance or worse, apostasy. I saw your pendant and hid it for you so no others would. I saw you making the prayers of offering to the Father and the Mother in the Oak Hills.”
Ellamura was confused and aghast. “What that, that was just a charm my parents gave me for good luck. That wasn’t a prayer, just a ritual we always do before…” Though she did not want to believe it, slowly it dawned on her, that perhaps her lost parents did follow the forbidden gods, only made so because they were worshiped by a nation long since conquered and as the Stormguard conquered their people, so too did they conquer their gods.
In the Commoners Hall Harp drank a dark ale and admired the performers. When he didn’t think anyone was watching, he tapped his foot to the beat and enjoyed the music. One dancer had a fair face and reminded Harp of his lover Malcolm. They caught eyes and shared a smile. It was soured however, when the performer pushed forward his hat in an encouraging motion. Harp dropped in a coin, but then left the Inn. This was a charlatan, not his Malcolm.
As the Magus and his entourage left the castle Stormguard, in the Court of Swords River was brought out before the court and her head placed on the butcher’s block, hands manacled apart so that they could not be pressed together. She pleaded her case to the Stormqueen, but she did so all alone. “The forbidden gods are not demons, they are the ones who keep the demons at bay. Even now, as magic dies, so does their power, and if we don’t revere them, we will be helpless babes when the forces of darkness creep into our homes.” The queen was unmoved. Once again we saw the sword fall, but this time when we looked, it was a raven’s broken body and not River’s upon that block. Cutting back to the travelers now safely out of Stormguard, River climbed out of the cart she had been hiding in, still covered in mud from when she dug under the stockade to escape. While others smiled to see her the Magus seemed even more dour than before. “She was the last memory I had of Eloise”.
The Ice Rail
On the last peak of the Stormguard mountains rested a weary gondola, it’s roof laded with ice, the heavy metal chain that pulled it frozen by rust and time. Despite this, at the gentle touch of the Magus, the door to to the carriage opened and by powers unseen it began to slowly carry our travelers down the mountain and to the Ice Rail station.
Once aboard, in the dining car Harp shared a meal with Ellamura. It was clear Harp did not eat what we ate, but instead flavored the meats and soup provided with his own herbs and seasoning. As they spoke of their deeds casually Harp revealed that his husband Malcolm, a wizard himself, was dying and that if he perished there would be none to look after their daughter Isobelle. If we cold not help the Magus save magic, Malcolm would perish as well.
Down the long corridors River and Caspian walked together. River carrying a pouch of coins from the Magus to pay the conductor with. The initial rivalry between them had worn off and River offered Caspain the pouch so that he could be the one to pay the conductor. They spoke about what they hoped to see and why they were on this journey. Caspian, still full of hope, was driven by his loyalty to Ellamura, but River was unsure. The Magus said she had a choice, but she didn’t understand yet what that choice was.
When the opened the door to the engine room, they saw what powered the train. An ancient fire breathing Gorgon, harnessed to the train’s engine, and breathing fiery life into it. However the Gorgon, once mighty, was now old and frail. Its brown fur sagged on its old bones, and with coughing fits it breathed it’s flames. The flames were not enough either, to power the train, so strong men with shovels and heavy leather aprons had to work beside the Gorgon, shoveling coal into the engine and filling the car with a black smoke. Both of them were startled by the scene, and though intimidated by the sight of the giant beast, Caspian steeled himself to pass through the engine to pay the conductor his fee.
In the freight car we discovered what was precious. Ellamura had meticulously picked the seeds from her bread and now brought them to the robin, who convalesced in the cage that belonged to Eloise, the Magus’ familiar. The cage was far too large for the little bird, but it kept it safe, as the bird’s wing had still not healed enough to give it flight.
In the passenger car Harp looked out over the Sightless See with it’s endless blue and wondered if we would find the answers we were looking for there. He thought of his husband and daughter and how weary he was of being apart from them.
The splendid city of jewels and sorcery. All decadence and wealth, unaware or unbelieving their magic would soon be gone. No one came to greet the Magus at the gate except for a messenger with a letter full of excuses.
In the Gilded district, Caspain went from stall to stall finding the finest of things, none which he could afford. He found a great stallion to serve and Ellamura’s mount but the horse seller would not so much as respond when Capsian asked “how much?”. For River he sought a fine cloak to replace the crude sheet she wore, but again, the merchant would not even acknowledge him when he asked “how much?” Finally he happened upon a baker and the smells of cardamom and nutmeg filled his nostrils. He saw the sweet breads and levain rolls and knew these would finally be a treat Harp would enjoy. Again he asked how much, and of course didn’t have enough, but the baker had sympathy for him and made him a small parcel and then sent him on his way.
In the Badwater District Ellamura had to save River from drawing their ire! They sought a tome needed by the Magus, but their search did not go over well. All the magic shops were closed, so they had to go further and further out of their way until the ended up in Badwater, a place they were not welcome. Ellamura, seeing the danger encroaching, drew her blade to fend of the locals, and quickly escorted River from this place.
The two spoke of the forbidden gods and River confessed she was a priestess of them, however she was unsure if that mattered anymore, since magic was dying. Ellamura told her not to give up hope, we could not know what we would find in the Umbra. They traveled to Starfall Academy together. Though they could not obtain the tome for the Magus, there was still good they could do. There they looked for restoration and they were offered it…at a price.
Ellamura was told of a spell that would grant her knowledge of her family as though she was still with them now. But to cast the spell, she would have to grind up her pendant into powder and let the winds carry it away. Ellamura would not pay this price.
The also found a witch who would mend the robin’s wing so that it could fly again, good as new. But the witch’s daughter was without hair, while River’s was fine and lustrous and black. She gave her hair, all of it, and all that would ever grow again. When they returned to their companions, the robin’s song, high in the air, heralded their arrival.
The Sea Wing
All aboard the Sea Wing. As the Magus stepped onto the ship he looked more frail than ever. His palanquin has to be heaved up on the dock to get it high enough, and could not fit onto the ship. From here he was escorted into his own private chambers, which he rarely left. There was great reverence for the Magus but the rest of us either took to helping with some duty on the ship or were in the way.
On the ship…
Caspian, terrified of the storm, sought meager comfort from a dead-asleep Ellamura. He rested beside her and even asleep, she reassured him.
Harp was sick something fierce and had to go up into the crow’s nest so as to stop pestering the sailors.
River observed the strange instrumentation at the helm and offered what services she could, which turned out to be fishing.
Ellamura roused Harp from the crow’s nest, and together they spotted the Drowning Library in the distance.
Caspian, hero of the ship, went to the galley and fixed up the finest meal the sailors had ever feasted upon.
Nearly submerged, the Sea Wing had to anchor and send in small rowboats to approach the library. The Magus did not join us, but told us the knowledge we sought could be found, or lost in the library.
At the Shores of Remembrance Harp looked at the water lapping against the library, and saw his past with Malcolm and Isobelle. And when he left the shores, he left those memories as well. He was a happier man, unaware of his own sorrows.
It the Ammonite Stacks Ellamura and River found what they sought, a old tome of the forbidden gods. But every book they had pulled from the stacks thus far was waterlogged and ruined. Carefully, ever so carefully they loosened the text from the stacks, and with bated breath they opened the cover. Inside they found tattered pages of a once great text. Prayers and incantations to fend off the demons of lust and avarice were within, but so much was missing. Ellamura also found an intact book which recorded many journeys, including her own, including every detail about the encounter with the dragon, and many notes in the margins as to various commentators’ opinions on the event.
Caspian spied a prophesy scrawled in the stone, that one who traveled with the Magus would bring back magic, and one would destroy it. As he contemplated it Ellamura arrived and showed him the book that recounted her tales. She left it with him and said he should read it, and think on it. He read it over and over and then was so disappointed with Ellamura he would not speak to her again.
We all left in in a dour mood except Harp, who was telling us all stories again of his youth, only this time there was no mention of Malcolm.
Ruins of Crowhall
A dark reflection of Ravenhall, when the Magus arrived his pallor was so pale he had taken on the aspect of death himself. As he walked the grounds he touched the crumbling stone of a once great pillar and spoke one word “Eloise”. A smile cracked his unto now still face. We saw for a moment, through his eyes, all of the splendor of Ravenhall in its golden age, and his beautiful wife, coming down the steps of the keep to meet him.
In the scrying pool Harp watched uncomprehending as the image of an old man growing sicker and a young girl now tending to him appeared.
In the Menagerie, River tried to incant one of the rituals from the ancient tome. A spell that would banish the hatefulness in the heart of the Queen of Stormguard. Whether she failed or the haunted place just summoned an illusion to terrify her with, a demon was given life and River fled to her companions with hell chasing behind her.
On the Bridge, Caspian saw a fish in the river, and turned back to see River running toward him, just as she had run toward Harp in Ravenhall, though this time she truly did herald evil. They escaped but Caspian wondered if it was River that would be the end the prophesy foretold.
The Magus cast his final spell and we entered a place that was not of this world. A place where the first flowers of time were still blooming and the sun was perpetually rising on the horizon. With hardly any strength left Magus needed to be carried by Harp towards the glow.
Touching – Ellamura saw that ahead a great winged beast would burn our bones were it not fended off. Stout sword in hand she bid farewell to Capsian, who, since reading the book, had kept his distance. Now he watched as Ellamura became the hero he always believed she was.
Voices – Atop that hill River and Caspian stood together, each of them young and full of potential. As we looked at their faces in the sunlight they seemed only weather weary, but when we looked at their shadows, one of them was that of a person, the other, that of a bat winged demon. River looked in horror at Caspian, and then they both realized, his shadow was overcast by that shadow of his robin Liz, which was the demon bound to him but never suspected. Solemnly they parted ways, River, toward the glow, and Caspian to join battle with Ellamura and the dragon. As he crested the hill, in his shadow the oaken cudgel appeared a sword.
Almost – Finally at the source of the Glow the Magus looked on and and saw the Truth before him. River caught up to find him standing beside Harp, who looked on, knowing, with a face of both sadness and serenity.
Ellamura somehow returned to Barley Town, and on Oak Island, she planted Caspian’s oak skick as a tombstone that would grow into an oak tree. Inscribed on it was”Caspian, Hero of The Glow”.
River returned to the world, the Prophet of the Forbidden Gods, and renewed the faith in the Mother and the Father.
The last we saw of Harp was at the glow, standing beside the Magus.
We do not know if magic was reborn. That is another story.
Oh my, so, so much.
The map is just beautiful. The story prompts are perfect. The coins are heavy and hearty. The canvas bag is rough and rustic. The island cards (though we only used one instead of three) were exciting. The mirror of Ravenhall in Crowhall was wonderful. The names, the titles, the whole game was just a delight, even to pour over after we finished playing.
I loved all of the characters. Tragic Harp and his lost love. Ellamura losing Caspian (we imagined, after the game that perhaps he was fatally wounded and his actual death came as one more act of mercy from her). Caspian’s youthful energy and end of innocence. River holding onto something which, even to us, seemed like a doomed cause and finally prevailing despite her own fears of the terrible evils she might unlock.
The things we could reincorporate over and over into the story. Caspian’s stick. Ellamura’s horse. Harp’s family. Eloise, the lost love of the Magus. The robin. Acts of mercy. The price we’ll all pay.
I really loved this game. I tried to remember everything we did in every place but I know I missed some of the details. I hope my fellow players can correct mistakes I made and fill in the areas I have omitted.
What could have been improved
Very little. I have a bad back and can’t game comfortably around a table for as long as I used to be able to. It took us about five hours to complete the story but my back was done after about three. In another one-shot game I might look for a shorter path, or ask that we skip over some locations so we cold fit the game in two or four hours. Or perhaps we would leave it unfinished, but there was no way we would do that this first time. It was too good!
3 thoughts on “Actual Play – Fall of Magic (11/21/2015)”
I’m not certain about why the other prisoners were so angry with River. Adrienne wrote “I thought they were more pissed at River for saying the Gods didn’t matter? Was there an old follower of the faith who maybe spit on her or slapped her?”
Honestly, I’m not sure. As a player I know I was struggling at that point to figure out what the old faith meant and how to position it as something that was wrong for political reasons rather than because there was anything inherently evil about their practices.
Thanks so much for the wonderful write-up, Sean!
Personal Favourite Bits (my God, so many):
– Ellamura (aided by Harp) (witnessed by Caspian) putting down her horse.
– Ellamura’s *real* slaying of the dragon. (Told in a cool flashback scene!)
– Ellamura handing Caspian the book so he could judge her actions.
– Harp’s moment of “Maybe? Maybe not.” with the dancer.
– Harp’s loss of their memories of their family. (Particularly because the setup for this in previous scenes made it all the harder to watch.)
– Harp’s final scene and look of joy and sorrow as their loneliness disappeared.
– River and Ellamura trying, so carefully, to salvage the last book of their faith – and the pages scattering.
– That boot coming down on River in the Stockades. (Awful, but a wonderfully powerful image.)
– River’s interactions with the Magus. (Should have had a final one! My bad.)
– River and Caspian’s chat before, and then sudden encountering of, the ailing Gorgon Engine.
– Ellamura’s battle with the dragon (the clash of sword on scale!) and Caspian’s death and burial. (So good!!!)
– River taking up the mantle of a Prophet for her Gods!
– The incorporation and reincorporation and reincorporation of the robin. Man, everybody had their hands on it. It was so, so great.
Listing them as scenes, but really it’s how everybody had such wonderful characters with their own issues and struggles and we brought them all to a fantastic conclusion with many, many touching scenes along the way. We also reinforced the dying magic, and Magus, all the time.
– Kudos to my fellow players! Not only are they hugely sensitive and imaginative, but they’re also super embracing! Karen was setting up a relationship with a guy named Malcolm and I gave him a magic angle which probably wasn’t at all in line with what she was imagining – but she took it and ran with it! Similarly, Eric didn’t miss a beat when I gave his (not so heroic) Hero the tag “Fierce”, and never contradicted it. And then Sean also set me up with a ton of great moments. The Oak stick, the demon shadow, and especially the Ship’s Kitchen scene! I’d firmly established Caspian as young and eager, but also kind of useless and scared and I was just trying to think of a way to put him into a position where he could mature when Sean handed it to me on a plate! (*ahem*)
– We had some confusion about starting the game – whether to introduce the characters pre-play or in-play. The book doesn’t say anything about describing the characters before the first scenes, but then you have to worry someone might stomp on your vision before you get a chance to frame it. I thought our solution (short introductions) was great, but we might have been fine just hopping right into it too.
– Wish I’d developed more relationships between Caspian and Harp and Caspian and River … but I can’t begrudge a single scene between Caspian and Ellamura. That was such a wonderful and poignant thing.
– Speaking of Caspian and Ellamura, I think we got some good mileage out of both coming from Barley Town. It gave us some basis to work from when building our relationship. I’ve played FoM again since this session and intra-group interactions really seem like something you need to actively work at. Each scene is told from your own character’s perspective, so you need to balance exploration of your own character’s story with establishing relationships with others. I guess the system leaves you free to have as integrated or independent a set of stories as you like, but I don’t think it gives you much support if you’re looking for the former.
– I’ll repeat what Sean led with: The map, the coins, all of it, are absolutely gorgeous.