Actual Play – Island of Astra (3/5/2010)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Travis, Eric, Alec and Shaun
System: Agon

For Glory! I don’t think I’ve ever pulled conventional GM/Player RPG out of my ass this quick. I read the book and got very excited about the game. Then Travis read it and got REALLY excited. Between the two of us we were just bouncing off the walls trying to play this game. Luckily we have awesome gamers in the area who were quick to rise to the challenge.

I spent my lunch hour rolling up the Island they would visit based on the charts in the back and got this:

Island of Astra

The Island of Astra is cursed by the gods, nothing may be born and nothing will ever die. There are two communities, a close-knit village of farmers (Amara), who celebrate a harvest festival in hopes of appeasing the gods but never yielding fruit. The other is the great cultured city-state Dysis who mourn the death of their King, the great Evandros.

The Island itself is inhospitable covered with burning sands and red stone canyons, home to the serpent men who worship their nameless serpent god, who use chakram (javelins) in the shape of a serpent eating its tail.

Hera is infuriated because the women of Amara cannot conceive (they become pregnant and go into labor, but the children are stillborn). She wants the heroes to destroy the obsidian scorpion because its poison prevents the woman from carrying child to term.

Hades is pissed because the great king Evandros won’t die, or rather he dies but his spirit won’t leave, thanks to the sacred garments he wears. Hades wants the sacred garments for himself so Evandros’s spirit will be free.

Poisoden hates the serpent men because they slaughter his chosen beast (the horse) and eat its meat. He shakes the earth and roils the sea but cannot drive them out. He wants to scatter them to the four winds but they have a great ruler, the Living Statue of Phalces. He is indestructible save for the poison of the obsidian scorpion and his fists strike might blows save for the wearer of the sacred garments.

It’s pretty good I think. The god’s desires are all loosely tied together once the quests are complete but when presented sound independent.


Glory to the Hero

When the players came over they started burning up some characters while I made the serpent men, the Obsidian scorpion, the statue of Phalces and the dead king. Spending strife to make NPCs is pretty easy. I made them all in about 10-15 minutes, which made me happy. The trick was just figuring out what things I wanted and how to reinterpret powers and weapons to suit the beasts and monsters (a pincer = a spear, etc).

The players made some awesome heroes:

Great-Spirited Apollonias, son of Orpheus and patron of Aphrodite.
Strong-Limbed Xanthipus, son of Lysikles and patron of Poseidon.
Latinucus the wise-eyed, son of Hades.
Far-seeing Anarcharsis, son of Ennaeus and patron of Artimis

After the heroes were created, we played out achievements, set in their tie together during the war created some oaths. Because I like players framing scenes as much as possible, instead of just having them pick a hero to compete with and an ability, I had them frame their own scenes aiding (or being aided by) the other. Some cool things came out of it, including Xanthipus’ licentious ways and respect for the name Latinucus, for his name, gifted by the god Hades himself, carried him victoriously through many a fight.


Quest from the Gods

Play proper began as their ship sailed to the forsaken island and they immediately witnessed Poseidon’s wrath. The earth shook and the ocean roiled violently against the shores. We got our first run of the conflict system with a Name + Grace roll to keep their balance on the ship as it rocked furiously. Succeeding the heroes impressed Poseidon and the horse god appeared and gave the heroes their first quest, to scatter the Serpent Men to the four winds. This started my uncertainly regarding the challenge system. The book posits that in each challenge the heroes should have something to gain if they succeed and lose if they fail. In this case I started up with a straight up “your ship will be broken upon the red stone rocks” but didn’t know where to go with if they succeeded. We ended up going with gaining Poseidon’s favor, but in game that actually meant little (he was going to appear and give them a quest no matter what).

Once on shore they were visited in turn but both Hera and Hades who gave them their other two quests, all three gods insisting that their quest was of the most importance. Deciding that the quest for Hera would let them get right to the killing (destroy the Obsidian scorpion) the followed tracks in the sand to the farming village Amara and were greeted during the harvest festival.

I depicted a festival that seemed joyus and hopeful on the outside but was filled with desperation once they arrived. A circle of midwives surrounded a woman giving birth, praying to Hera to deliver a child. Latinucus stepped forward and decreed that he would deliver the child, succeeding in the conflict of Oratory he was given the privledge but despite his skill the babe was sill born, just as all of the children had been over the last few years. Soon they noticed that there were no children in the village and heard that the scorpion had been poisoning the men, weakening their seed. Thus the quest in proper began.

Instead of leading the heroes to the objectives, my play style is more conducive to letting them tell me how they would complete the quest and I would throw up obstacles along the way. The decided the three objectives were to, find the scorpion’s lair, defeat it in battle, and create a cure made from its poison. Those all sounded like strong objectives so I gave them the go ahead and started throwing obstacles at them: quicksand, the scorpion’s brood, injured men in need of aid, collapsing tunnels and a palace guard were all fun times.

The heroes were victorious but wounded and exhausted after the quest was complete, thus calling for an interlude to bolster their spirits before perusing the next quest of the gods. In one of the final rolls, one of the heroes proclaimed that in finding the cure, they would name the village after him. Amara is now Anacarsa. Rock.

What rocked

The inherent competitive mechanic is cool. I announce a challenge and sometimes everyone jumps on it. Other times heroes sit out, not wanting to risk impairment for glory, it’s pretty wicked cool. Glory bounties are an awesome reward.

The oaths were awesome, trading them, gaining them, spending them. All very cool. It was a great way to tie the characters together. “Remember the time I seduced the nymph in the woods with my music so you could take her as a lover?” Heck yeah, that’s worth a helping die!

I was a little dubious about the battle system (because I’m always dubious about combat systems) but I was pleasantly surprised. It ran pretty quick and had as rich of dynamics between the players as the simple contests did. Trading in oaths to control someone’s positioning was great.

The question was asked, can you be defeated in a single blow… not long after my scorpion rolled a 10 on his d10 stinger. I spent a divine favor and rolled another 10, then a 6, versus a 0 defense. Six victories in one shot, the hero however was miraculously (okay, 50-50 chance) saved by his helmet. Awesome!

What could have been improved.

There were a number of things I just couldn’t find while we were playing, so some of the “hmm, this doesn’t work right” moments just needed rules clarifications.

  • What happens when a d4 is impaired? This came up a lot. It becomes a d0 and can no longer be rolled. Simple enough (page 17) but came up several times in the game, leading me to rule that you can’t impair a d4 and have to pick another trait. Glad I read this.
  • What happens when two people tie for positioning rolls? I thought I was lost on this, then thought I figured it out (page 51), then realized I still didn’t have it. So, if the heroes tie on positioning roles, that’s easy to solve, one can offer the other an oath. But if the heroes tie with their adversary it’s tricky. I made up something on the fly but wasn’t very satisfied with it.
  • Poison. I was probably too generous when heroes were poisoned. If a hero had a spear and shield and was using his spear die, I let him impair his shield die because the weapon was equipped. I should have made it be either his spear or athletics (for positioning).
  • Then there were some other bits that I just had trouble with, independent of the rules.

My descriptions fell really flat. This happens when my mind is wound up thinking about game mechanics or plot structure. I meant to have the God’s quest delivery be pretty grand, but I felt my description of the gods was mediocre. By the time they fought the Obsidian Scorpion that too felt pretty weak. I know it’s the first thing to go when other things are on my mind, it just annoys me that I don’t notice these things till after the fact.

Remembering names. I kept forgetting the heroes’ names. When you have a game where your name is one of the most important traits, forgetting a name isn’t just an annoyance, it’s a slight against them. At one point I almost said “I can’t remember your name, say it loud so the god in Olympus can hear” but my wife was sleeping and I didn’t want to wake her up.

Stick it to them harder. I ended the quest with buckets of strife. Too much strife I think. I’m going to house rule that I only gain strife off simple challenges where none of the heroes are victorious. Also, I’m going to spend more of on regular challenges.

I brought up early on that the heroes can have different goals on a contest. That was a mistake. It came from his answer in the FAQ

Q. Can I interfere with another hero during a contest roll?
A. Sort of. You can “interfere” by joining the contest roll with a slightly different goal, and then beating the other hero. For example, you might want to join the Hunt contest to ambush an enemy so you can “Make Tereus look like a moron.” Then if you win, not only do you master the ambush, but you get to say how Tereus looks foolish.

Having stated this it got to the point where everyone was jumping into conflicts to get different things. Thus if the conflict is to kill the palace guards, and someone wants to make off with the high priestess, that should be making that as a separate roll. In general, the reward for willing will be narration of your success, rather than separate stakes.

This trouble also may have come from my discomfort with the challenges, I kept feeling like I was at a loss for one of the sides to get, usually the defender. So, when I had rocks falling down against then, my side was going to trap them inside the scorpion’s lair, but I really didn’t have a great idea as to what they got if they won? Escaping the lair? Is it that simple? It feels too binary, but maybe I’m just over thinking it.

One thought on “Actual Play – Island of Astra (3/5/2010)”

  1. Hi Sean! Thanks for sharing this AP. Sounds like you’re off to a good start.

    You asked about tied position rolls. There’s nothing in the book about that, unfortunately. Here’s what I do: Break the tie by comparing Grace. If still tied, compare Fate. If they’re STILL tied, then dice for it (re-roll position between the tied characters). If you don’t remember that in the moment, just dice for it.

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