Actual Play – Vacancy in the Underworld (4/4/2010)

GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Morgan, Martin, Jeff and Gil
System: Agon

This game was killer and reinforced how easy it is to have fun with Agon. I barely did any prep for this game. Essentially, I just one of the quests I had run for my local crew, tweaked it a bit and boom! I had an adventure.

Prove the Glory of your Name

The heroes, Helle (an Amazonian archer), Pelonus (the son of Apollo), Euroches (son of a barbarian warlord and master of the spear) and Miltiades (the god-blood spiller), were all pretty epic as soon as they were created and even more so by the time the game was over.

The plot is simple: Hades wants his cloak back. What the heroes did with that however was pretty killer. The final showdown with Evandros was held in their glorious amphitheatre for all to see. And everything leading to that point was brutal as well.

Some great conflicts:

Scaring the shades of Evandros away with music so the woman in the city could tell them her story.
Duping the priests of Hermes into leading them out of the city.
Fighting the giant statue of the snake god to steal its spear.
Sacrificing the serpent men to Ares to sake his bloodlust.

Props

Props for this game were pretty impromptu. I realized I needed tokens for glory and strife and even though there were lots of cool options out there I ended up going with clay poker chips because a) I had lots of them and b) they stacked.

Character tents though, here pretty cool. I made four hoplite and four Amazon character tents (it’s so much easier to find Greek women with an assortment of weapons than it is to find men). Each one had a picture and a big space to write in name, parent’s name, and the heroic trait. To go along with that I had printed out labels (using Token Tool) that were cut out and stuck to poker chips. This gave each hero a name tent and a token to match (for use in Battle or when I needed to randomly pick on a hero to smite)

What rocked

Communal character creation was fast and fun. Before giving character sheets I just handed the players their character tents where they only had three things to fill in: name, parents name and heroic trait. I meant to give them a list of the heroic traits from the book (you know strong-limbed, etc) but the players just jumped on the idea and we got “Gods-blood spiller, Scorpion and Eye Catcher”. Luckily it was REALLY easy to just convert those to existing traits: Man Killer, Wise Eyed and Far Seeing. The great thing about this was that the personas were already forming before we even touched character sheets.

All of my players embraced the competitive/collaborative nature of the game. They all work toward the same goal but each wanted to be the most glorious doing it. Perfect.

When character or player disputes did come up they are resolved immediately. We probably had about five or six times when at least two players had different ideas about how to proceed and each time we had a quick Name + Orate roll that got the heroes moving again.

The exchange of oaths was awesome. At first, as usual, people are a little leery of spending them but the players quickly figured out they could get oaths anytime they wanted them by helping each other (even if they weren’t that helpful). Pretty soon oaths were flying all over the table. Made me really wish I had made “oath tokens”.

My players were cool. As part of an introduction to the Agon island creation I hinted at the two other quests on the island and indicated that they were part of other stories. I could tell they had a slight inkling to just “do it all” but stayed focused on the quest given to them for this game. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have introduced the elements as they could have been a much bigger distraction but I was really happy the players rolled with it.

The story of Evandros keeps growing. The first time I ran the game he was just the Undying King. By the end of that game he had stolen the cloak of Charon and upset the natural order by refusing to die. By the end of the con game he had killed his wife in a rage because she could not produce an heir and then in regret traveling to Hades to get her back. He came up short however and returned with the cloak of Charon, giving him the power to create an underworld of his own inside his kingdom. With each incarnation I gave the players more and more reason to just hate this guy, which is exactly what I wanted.

What could have improved

I really wish I had more times to make better props. I felt like this game was thrown together at the last minute (which it was). Next time: Oath Tokens for each hero to give to each other. Maybe I can do that by leaving the labels un-attached and stick them onto different color tokens (I have red, black, green, blue and white) which then become the token that represents the hero. Have work on this some more.

I could see some frustration in the game when some of the heroes were really worn down (wounded and impaired) and others were still doing fine. Some of them needed an interlude while the others wanted to keep going. On the other hand, the same heroes that were worn down and beat up at the end were the ones with the most glory (and therefore the winner). I’ll try in future games if I see a player hanging back from conflicts to start getting them envious of their fellow hero’s glory. Envy is a great motivator; it works on Greeks as well.

7 thoughts on “Actual Play – Vacancy in the Underworld (4/4/2010)”

  1. Oath chips

    Thanks for the writeup, that sounds great! Of course having murdered his wife, Evandros dare not die, to face judgement in the afterlife. Now if only one of the PCs turned out to be his illegitimate son. Or even the son his wife sent away and never told Evandros about, because of the dire prophecy that one would slay the other. That may be laying it on TOO thick, though.

    I use white chips for strife/glory, red chips for 10 glory (an advance), and 4 colors for oaths. If you don’t mind huge stacks of chips you could use just white for glory and red for oaths too. No need to glue hero’s label to every oath token if you use the same color for oaths and their labeled battle map marker, and edge their Name Card in the same color.

    I have everyone roll 2d6 take the higher at the beginning to determine order of selecting chip color, but if you associate colors with name cards you could skip that step.

    I don’t know if it still does, but Endgame sells some oddly colored poker chips in its card section. That’s where I picked up gray, and pink.

    1. That may be laying it on TOO thick, though.

      Yeah, the more the players can get intertwined the better. In this case though they did find the “hidden” son who fled the city after his mother died. The unknown prince promised them to name the city after them if they could kill his father. There’s just nothing better that patricide in the morning.

      As far as oath chips, so long as I get plenty of extra colors, that should work just fine. Personally I like BIG stacks so I never have the heroes turn Glory in for advances. They just make stacks of ten if they want an easier time counting them.

  2. Useful interlude tips
    The worn down heroes should have called for a Name+Orate to call an interlude, or call in oaths to get the slacker heroes to go along. Heroes not needing refreshing could still take advantage of the interlude to sacrifice for divine favor, hoping to score that d12 god favor die.

    Also, the 4 strife the GM gets for an interlude is just glory waiting to be won! What kind of a hero turns down the chance to increase the odds against him so that his glory can be even greater? Were they Athenians or something?

    1. Name + Orate came up several times, including creating interludes. Usually though the beat up player just couldn’t get the rolls he needed to make it happen. I suggested throwing an oath someone’s way to switch the Name + Orate to be something he was stronger at, like Name + Might, which eventually worked, it just took some wearing folks down to make it happen.

      And yes, I definitely wave strife around not as opposition but as a prize to be taken. I in fact call the Glory reward for highest roll the “strife bounty” to encourage players to jump on opportunities for greater glory. As a whole, this worked well. The very hero that was the most beat up was also the “winner” at the end, with 48 glory and the city renamed from Dysis to Miltiades.

  3. Wow, what a great session! I haven’t played Agon in a while and this AP makes me jealous :).

    Whenever I need to motivate the heroes who have lesser glory, I have one of the gods show up. They either chastise the heroes that are doing poorly or (usually better) shower praises on the most glorious heroes and ignore the others. Sacrifice scenes are good for this. The god gives them the favor die according the outcome of their roll, but the god’s attitude toward them should be set by the hero’s glory.

    1. Awesome John, glad you got excited hearing about the game.

      Whenever I need to motivate the heroes who have lesser glory, I have one of the gods show up.

      Oh, that is good! Ares showed up but did very little in the game, next time the god in question will make some grand gesture to the most glorious hero proclaiming him the mightiest of mortals or some such.

  4. Hi Sean,

    Thanks for your epic Agon game at the Endgame Minicon a few weeks ago. (I played the son of Apollo.)

    For what it’s worth, my belated and unsolicited feedback is below.

    6 memorable bits:

    You did a great job bringing us into the gameworld — setting the atmosphere for Greek myths. And drawing us out into the bragging, trash-talking, competitive atmosphere. Your enthusiasm was infectious.

    The props were good (as always). Particularly the combat counters.

    Character creation was fun and easy, and the basic mechanics were very clear. Because you led with the table tent, I felt like we got PCs with real personality and a strong character concept.

    The storyline was epic. No visible rails. You always found a way to say yes to the players. Seamless GM improv: I wasn’t sure what you’d prepared and what you hadn’t. (Kudos) Either way, you ended up delivering a tight epic that made sense, and rose to an awesome climax.

    I particularly liked the roleplay scenes with the sand lizard-people immediately after we landed, and the priests of Hermes.

    Loved the player narration stuff. It’s challenging for me, but we only get better via practice, and it was fun.

    3 downsides:

    I coincidentally acquired a grim headache for the second half of the game. I ended up dropping from my next game as a result (Delta Green with Paul T — a game I was super-excited for). I never entertained the idea of dropping from Agon though — it was too fun.

    There were a couple of minor Agon mechanics that didn’t seem to work so well in a 1-shot from my perception (though remember I’m an Agon newb so fair chance they’re my misunderstanding):
    — d8 name die vs. d6 name die seemed to be a huge advantage. The balancing disadvantage was a pool of fate points (?) that seemed more relevant to campaign play — I think only one of the PCs tapped into these? Early on, I felt I was winning a lot of contests as a result so I started backing off.
    — The +2 bonus on 2 traits also seemed unbalancingly powerful. I could bring them into any challenge (at the cost of reducing the trait by one die size) and it seemed abusive by the end.
    — I never figured out quite what to do with oaths. Extracting them was super-fun. But I never found much reason to spend them. (I’m rolling a d10 and d8, and I can make you give me a d4?)

    I got a little too carried away with the competitive nature of the game, particularly toward the end. It spilled over into my focussing more on ‘winning’ and abusing mechanics, and less on playing my character, and sharing the spotlight nicely with other players (the statue-god shooting should have been Helle the amazon’s scene and I trampled all over it). I think that’s my competitive nature so I just may not be the right fit to play Agon.

    With thanks again for an awesome game.

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