Actual Play – What do you mean, the sword was picked up already? (8/13/2014)

War-of-Ashes-Front-Cover-Mockup (1)GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Karen Twelves and the Mornigstar boys (Scott, Ira, and Jason)
System: War of Ashes

It seemed like due diligence as Creative Director on the War of Ashes to you know, run it at some point at a con.  I added it to my Games on Demand menu at Gen Con and pitched it when Jason and his brother Scott asked what we should play on Wednesday before Gen Con started in full force.

Prep for the game

To get ready I figured I needed a few things.

  • An adventure seed that would compel characters to action and clearly be wide open to opportunities.
  • Characters designed around that seed but still left flexible enough to be tailored.
  • Some minis, because, of course! And fate dice to match!
  • A hand drawn map because maps are awesome.
  • All the normal game props (index cards, a battle map (because WoA), pencils, etc)
  • A printed copy of the game, complete with my normal post it note tags to quick reference needed sections.

It seems like a long list, but it went quick. I think I got all of this ready on Monday and Tuesday before the con. Here’s what it looked like.

Adventure Hooks

Sophie had done a fantastic job creating awesome adventure hooks by building them into the setting materials as “what could go wrong / be interesting /happen to the characters”. I really love the Vidaar, so I elected to flip through their chapter and pull out a few hooks and then mash them together. What I started with was:

The King’s Feast! A huge banquet is being prepared in the Hall of the Warrior King—perhaps for a holy day, a victory, a wedding, or the anniversary of the King’s Naming Day—and the castle is all abuzz. The kitchens are a battlefield and the chamberlain is desperately trying to organize seating so that fights won’t break out too early in the event—there is a time and place for this, after all. Any Fyrdee and Bondee worth his moss is trying to get on duty because that’s where the action will be.

What Do You Mean, It Was Picked Up Already? A Styrsik or Dowodik’s weapon—a family heirloom—was being repaired at the forge; when someone came to take delivery this morning, one of the blacksmith’s assistants packed the weapon and cheerfully sent it home to its owner. Alas, the real courier is here now, asking where the weapon is…

You take a problem like a missing heirloom sword and you compound with an imminent parade where said sword will be featured, and I figure you’ve got no end of excitement to get into. One of my first decisions was that I didn’t want an investigation. Not in this pulp action kind of game, and not in a two hour slot. So we start with a simple premise. The sword was taken by the Styrsik’s son, who everybody knows wants to overthrow his father. He’s taken it and plans to use it to rally the troops against his father. Simple but with plenty of room for nuance (why does he hate his father? is he a better leader afterall?) should the game go in that direction.


Froland the Yellow – Strysik (Commander) Vulgg’s cousin, your Resplendent Golden Fur earned you the prestigious title of Totember, standard bearer of the Strysik. Glorious only if your head stays on! A Totember (standard bearer) for his Uncle and Commander, Froland was called yellow because of his golden fur, surely not because of his cowardliness. Surely.

Sea Legs Sverra – More at home on the sea looking for the fabled isle of Garigla than on land, you’ve been forced to take whatever work you could get ever since your ship, the Reef Crasher, well, crashed into those reefs. Welcome to the exciting life of holiday event planning! Sverra is going to make sure this celebration happens!

Tahyrnn Udvlag – Nothing bristles your fur like putrescent Ylark Cheese. In it lies proof of the one true god Akka-Maas, and through it he speaks, or rather emanates to you. Starting with a horrible premonition that the celebration would gain the attention of Akka-Maas, Tahyrnn was determined to stop it!

Vaad the Kogger – Lazy and as averse to cold as you are to facing your enemies’ blades, the forge is the perfect place for you to drink Kogg, boast of your deeds, and oh yeah, every so often fix a sword or three for the Strysik (Commander). The poor smith that gave up Vulgg’s sword to his son. The start of the problem!

Vadd the Doomed – Your blue fur marked you at birth as the chosen of Akka-Maas. When you opted for a blade rather than prayer, High Priest Ragnhild prophesied your doom. Life has Been rocky every since. The Vidaar that dared to defy the gods, someone had to make sure that Froland was watched over and if anyone could divert the god’s wrath away from Froland, it was Vadd!

Minis and Fate Dice, oh my!

The lovely folks at Zombiesmith loaned me a few miniatures to use in the game. Aren’t they pretty!

War of Ashes Minatures
Left to right: Tahyrnn Udvlag, Vaad the Kogger, Froland the Yellow, Vaad the Doomed, Sea Legs Sverra. Mahrn in the back!

 The map I started doodling

It’s a capture Elvorix seaside port with a temple to Gailus up at the top (that building with horns), a Ylark farm across the main path, a Kogg house in the southeast corner, an arena recently erected by the Vidaar near that, and some (now) ramshackle houses. Way to the north, just outside the town are the docks.

Vulgg recently captured the little port town and renamed it Vulggberth after himself. Nobody paid mind to the temple of Gailus because of course there is only one god ALL PRAISE AKKA-MAAS, and besides it is just full of tightly bound toilet paper that scratches (ancient scrolls).

How does the God of Wilderness feel about the Vidaar occupying the town and his temple? What about them using his holy texts as kindling? Just a question to ask if things get dull during the game.

Normal Props

My bag of Fate stuff includes a few treasured items:

  • Pencils, Sharpies, Dry Erase Markers
  • Index Cards
  • A Noteboard fold-able dry erase board
  • Several sets of Fate Dice
  • Poker chips to use as Fate tokens, which will soon be replaced by Fate Campaign Coins
  • Moleskine large notebook. I love these things.

War of Ashes Beta – Printed

It’s so worth it ofr me to print out a copy of the game, take it to Kinkos to have them spiral bind it and then mark up the hell out of it.

Isn’t it pretty?

I also pulled out some good Vidaar names to assign to random NPCs as needed. Since lots of Vidaar use descriptors in their name (the drunk, the great, etc) so all you really need are some good first names. I jotted down Offrus, Kraka, Gubba, Krula, Volo, and Kobar.  I only needed about half of them, but it was handy indeed.

The Play is the thing

The game broke down into a handful of scenes:

  • Introducing the problems and the character simultaneously.
  • A internal dispute at the Kogg house.
  • Vadd the doomed learning how inept his leader was.
  • Froland the Yellow loosing banner and having to fend for himself
  • A magic ritual to summon a great wind to catch up with the ship that had the sword
  • A great fight on board the Blaggard to defeat Kraka and reclaim the sword.

I was delighted all those scenes fit in two hours!

Highlights of the Game

Froland calling his banner only to attract the attention of bondee’s looking to prove their toughness. Getting kicked around in the mud by a brute named Volo tested Froland’s mettle. He was surrounded, couldn’t run or talk his way out of it so he got crazy. Froland slammed into Volo, knocking them both into the beast pits below and opened up a cage full of hungry Kanid’s to leap on him. It was glorious!

Vaad the Doomed and Tahyrnn Udvlag summoning the might of Akka-Maas to give them wind in their sails. Vaad ate the cheese to show his defiance of of the gods. Tahyrnn know that their god was angry but summoned him anyway, creating a strong wind for them which quickly turned into a storm that nearly destroyed their ship.

Vaad the Kogger abandoning all other concerns to get himself some Kogg, and having to fight off Tahyrnn to do it!

The final battle on a burning ship in a storm, when Vaad was surprised to find a Nildhe Troll burst out of the cargo deck and give him a thrashing. Vaad tacked the boat and sent the boom crashing into him!

Thoughts on the game

Most our playtester say that Divine Interest operates too slowly. I wanted it to be faster! Jason’s character Vulg the the Doomed was constantly tempting Akka-Maas to do his worst. and besides a lot of cosmetic fanfare (thunder, lighting and a ship being stuck in a storm at sea), it didn’t get to the Divine Consequence state which was a bit disappointing. I wanted something to come up from under that Sea! (There can be leviathans in Agaptus, right?)

My playtest feedback of the game:

  1. We’ve gotta work on the organization of data some more, flipping back and forth between character creation and faction/equipment stunts was a giant pain.
  2. Zone aspects are easy to understand and hella fun. Weight is easy to understand but not all that fun. What it does just isn’t very “jazzy”. I’d like to work on making it more exciting to play with.
  3. I think the failing an attack and taking stress just feels cumbersome and easy to forget. We should look back on that for something more enticing.
  4. I forgot to even mention froth. I think we should reconsider making it easier to use.
  5. Adventures that have a +5 approach mean that if a GM spends a fate point, there is a 50/50 chance that players will HAVE to gain divine interest (by getting a +7) to tie or succeed on a roll. I think we need to work on that.
  6. Magic is great but I want to give the players a little more bang for their buck (considering they get DI for casting spells). Wanna work on that.
  7. Forced movement is great.
  8. The cheese, man. Tyromancy is an instant path to gonzo!
  9. You’ll never have enough miniatures or the right ones. I did LOTS of substitutions with the bad guys (they all looked like Kuld).
  10. Trolls hiding in cargo bays are fucking awesome.
  11. Contrary to other playtesters I didn’t have Divine Interest do enough. People took a few boxes of stress but that was is. We only played a 2 hour game, but I think I’d like to see DI be more immediate and less permanent. Example, you get DI, a lightning bolt hits your ship and catches it on fire. DI is over, now just just has a burning ship to take care of. I think this would make it more satisfying for con games (DI does something) and less punitive for campaign play (you’re not constantly in the gods’ cross hairs after 3 sessions).

2 thoughts on “Actual Play – What do you mean, the sword was picked up already? (8/13/2014)”

    1. It’s a feature of the WoA setting that when Sentians (your furry oddballs) focus themselves they can perform incredible feats, at the expense of blocking out all other opportunities.

      The classic example is a ranging Vidaar warrior charging at her enemies full of bloodlust. But the savvy Elvorix performing slight illusions that appears just enough like magic to convince the audience, but not enough to draw the attention of the gods, is also part of it.

      I didn’t use the mechanic in the game, which is a good indicator (to me) that either it wasn’t necessary or that it was too complicated.

      Since it’s a requirement of the IP to include it, we’ve got to address those issues. Yay, playtesting!

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