Soul's Calling Internal Playtest III

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Soul's Calling Internal Playtest III

Postby Omnifray » 1:47am on 02 Oct 11

Drake is a thuggish-looking mercenary captain, well known among military fellows in northern Olbia. He has demonic ancestry and magical powers of setting fire upon his weapons, or attuning them to the spectral realm, or letting venom drip from them. He can strike ghosts, strike through mundane weapons and armour, heal himself and rust small metal objects away. His greatest talent though is his mastery of his favoured weapon, the battle axe. He has excellent night-vision by human standards. Of course, his magic must remain a secret from ordinary humans, for the sake of the Shrouding, and Drake himself does not fully understand his lineage. He wears full plate armour and as well as his battle axe he carries an enormous windlass arbalest.

Mary is a very slight girl, one of the unbidden (her soul being alien to the world). She is alert and observant and has a considerable talent for thieving and sneaking. She is gifted with strange mystical powers of healing, curing, celeritous movement and strange insight; she may also be able to strike ghosts and perhaps one day venture into their realm. She is Drake's second cousin and has served under his command as a mercenary. She carries a heavy mallet of arms and a gaffle-span crossbow and wears a cuir bouilli cuirass.

Olaf, a Northman, is a silver-tongued priest of certain lands in Northholme where [in those particular lands, unlike in the rest of mainly pagan Northholme] a very dark religion is followed, the worship of a demoness of lust and a demon of fire. His dark masters have gifted him with magic of death, of burning, of cursing, of flight and of terror. He wears cuir bouilli and carries a quarterstaff.

Olaf has long been plagued with dreams and visions, and connected them with rumours of cultists near the fringes of the Winterlands. In his dreams and visions he sees a beheaded ox, a lamb whose leg is cleft in twain, and honey. Where they meet he sees a great warrior, someone sacred to his religion, who joins with him to fight these cultists. He believes the cultists to be servants of the Apocalyptic Spirits, dark and terrible pagan godlings whose memory is almost lost among men, but who hunt demons, and are hunted by them. He makes the long journey to northern Olbia abord a Northholmer raiding vessel bound for the Northern Wilds (which border Olbia), arranging return passage with them on a chosen day.

[Seven days before he is due to meet his ship home], in Dar'holme Olaf notices a tavern by the name of the Beheaded Ox, and enters. There --- as the town crier's voice in the background intones news of the marriage of the Grand Duke's daughter and of a hire of mercenaries to track down felons who committed sacrilege near to the temple where she wed --- Olaf sees a serving wench delivering a leg of lamb and some mead (which smells strongly of honey) to a man in plate armour (for it is Drake), seated with a diminutive girl (Mary). The tavern wench is apologising for the fact that the butcher's hatchet made such a mess of the leg, for it has been split in two...

Olaf introduces himself as a priest of the religion of his people, and Mary hushes him - not so loud, in a public place in Olbia! Only the Talean Faith is legal here. If this strange foreigner wishes to speak of such matters, they should speak in private. When they are done with food (and Drake has interrupted a would-be thief who had wished to purloin a purse from a drunken merchant), the three move upstairs and Olaf begins to talk of a mission for which he wishes to hire Drake (and where Drake goes, Mary goes). He explains where they will be meeting a ship for passage to Northholme, and when. Hire is agreed, though not all the details - there is room for argument in future!

Then a scream cuts through the air! Rushing to the corridor the adventurers see an open door, where a distraught woman, clasping her head in her hands, stands before the hanged figure of her dead husband. There is much to-ing and fro-ing, but in summary the adventurers discover red marks on his wrists, and notice that his pouch and keys are gone. At one point they permit the landlord to search them, to reassure the woman that it is not they who have taken the missing items. The widow mentions that her husband was due to set sail for Holy Zhoran with some holy artifacts to trade. The town guard arrive and take charge of the body.

Several days later the adventurers are in Drake's room at the inn again, when a horrible apparition manifests before them - the ghost of the hanged man. All freeze in terror, Olaf and Mary so terrified that they comply without thought, Drake frozen for a good while but eventually regaining his wits. The ghost looks them up and down, speaking threateningly. He wishes them to help avenge his death; he was slain by members of the Ebirean Congregatio, a kind of inquisition. He offers a reward if they will do this. Olaf and Mary can only nod dumbly; Drake eventually accepts. So scared was Olaf that he in fact had to acquire a new pair of trousers directly after this incident, which, it being late at night, turned out to be quite involved.

Of course, the adventurers could simply flee Dar'holme and hope to never see this spectre again (for presumably he haunts the inn which was the place of his death?), but instead they begin to plot the vicious murder of the three holy inquisitors (who presumably assassinated this man for his act of sacrilege in stealing holy artifacts for sale? or for other foul acts?). Mary goes to the main church, ostensibly for religious purposes, and sees three olive-skinned priests in black robes. She sneaks into the vestry and hides behind a large wardrobe set against an unused alcove. There she stays hidden (overhearing voices speaking the Quotidian language of Ebirea in the vestry) until it is dark and the church is quiet. She goes to the main door and unbolts it from the inside, letting in Drake and Olaf who are loitering inside. She sneaks ahead into the priests' quarters beneath the temple, picking locks and going softly, through the kitchen and small library, and identifies the priests' cells.

Drake (who has left his plate armour at the inn) and Olaf follow not far behind, and they softly open a cell door. Inside a pale, fat priest sleeps (in the dimmest light, only Drake can make out the pallor of his skin, and then only barely). They close the door. OIaf opens the next door, and sees a priest who Drake, whispering, identifies as olive-skinned. Olaf sneaks up on the sleeping priest and with a hand over his mouth slits his throat. There is blood everywhere. As Olaf tries to open the next door quietly, he makes just that bit too much noise, and the sleeping inquisitor within awakens, and seeing a fully armed figure at the doorway yells aloud, and reaches for the weapons in his leather inquisitor's bag (which contains many dubious articles).

Now all three priests are awake, and the fight is on; Olaf for some reason attempts to cast magic of death on one of the priests, which fails, and Mary, failing to hold the fat priest's cell door shut, has to hold him at bay with a knife, as Drake chops all three remaining priests to death, each with a single blow, in swift motions of his axe. The casting of the death magic, of course, makes for an unholy show, with translucent skulls flying about and moaning, so the cat is rather out of the bag on Olaf's magical abilities.

Our righteous and virtuous adventurers add to their moral rectitude by washing off the blood with the holy water from the font, while Olaf openly prays to his demoness of lust and demon of fire. The adventurers are barely out of the church (and cannot bolt it behind them) when two members of the town guard round the corner, wondering why they are so drenched and what they are doing out so late at night (and fully armed, two of them even wearing cuir bouilli). Olaf plays drunk, and makes as if he has been playing drunkenly with a waterpump [let us forgive there being such a thing in this medieval world; I said no to a fountain first...], and so persuasive is he that he distracts the town guard utterly from the slightly creaking, two-inch-open main door of the church with such verve that he gets himself hauled off to the cells to sober up... and is fortunately released around dawn the next day, before anyone has discovered the massacre!

But meanwhile Mary and Drake are visited again by the ghost, which, satisfied from the {spiritual} feel of Drake's axe that they have done the deed, leads them through the town (dodging into walls, so as not to be seen, whenever anyone comes close) to a cemetary, which of course the ghost does not enter (it being holy ground); the ghost then points to a grave, and Mary and Drake, once he has gone, having clearly no scruples whatsoever, dig it up, finding an amulet and a ring within the coffin (as well as a skeleton, in which they have no interest). They leave their inn early, leaving word for Olaf that they have will meet him at the place he had previously told them of.

The adventurers meet up again, and Drake and Mary breathe no word of the amulet, the ring or the ghost's second visit. The raiding vessel arrives, and Mary tries to make herself appear as unfeminine as possible as she boards! But the six-week passage, apart from random beatings meted out to semi-naked thralls newly captured in the Northern Wilds, is uneventful, and the adventurers are dropped off on a beach in Northholme, where they proceed to argue over remuneration.

And that is where we shall meet them next time...

So the first two sessions of Internal Playtest III convened, me as ref, Kev as Drake, Rachel as Mary and Simon as Olaf.

Session 1 was CharGen only, and it was quite long as CharGen goes because Rachel was genning up characters for herself, Kev and Muse all at the same time. (Kev was there at the time, but rules and CharGen are not really his thing, whereas CharGen is one of Rachel's favourite parts of any RPG.)

We started Session 2 with the abbreviated Ref's Patter, which seems to have gone down well; the players would have liked to spend longer on each aspect of it, so I am wondering about implementing signals when everyone is ready to move on (raised hands or whatever); we shall see. I think they enjoyed the game (they certainly said they did). The PCs are obviously quite nasty pieces of work, and OIaf went from a Vice score of 1 to a Vice score of 3 in the course of a single session, which is quite a remarkable thing to do, but I felt that murdering a priest in a church, casting demonic magic of death there, washing off the blood with the holy water from the font and praying to demons in the church possibly just about merited it. The higher your Vice score, the harder it is to raise it further, and getting to Vice 4 will require something quite striking. Mary's ungrumbling participation was a bit of a shocker, but she was acting out of cowardice, one of her tendencies. Session 2 lasted about 3 hours.

It's not a normal part of the mechanics that a character needs to get a new set of trousers after a scary incident, but it was Rachel's suggestion when Simon decided that the exact moment of the ghost's appearance was the right time to need the toilet in real life! So, Rachel got bonus advancement points, and Simon gets to go down in roleplaying history as playing the first PC ever to wet himself in an official game of Soul's Calling. Rachel also got bonus advancement points for the effort of genning up other people's characters. (These bonus points come under one of the five basic heads of advancement points awards, namely "exceptional enthusiasm".)

After the game we spent a couple of hours chatting, partly feedback about Soul's Calling, and partly a more general discussion about social mechanics, intelligence stats etc. in roleplaying games, comparing how they work in Soul's Calling to how they work in a LARP we all play. Kev, in particular, who is a bit more of a newbie roleplayer than the others, appreciated the way that the stats on the character sheet actually affect play in a way that in some other games they don't, which leads on to the whole debate about breadth versus depth in roleplaying games. (Social stats and mental stats, if they have a mechanical impact, can let you play a greater range of characters --- more breadth of play --- but rules which give them too much importance can impact adversely on immersion - depth of play; Soul's Calling tries to give social stats a real but subtle impact, and it is the subtlety which is key, in terms of maintaining immersion.) Kev also liked being able to chop people in half in one blow...

All in all, it was a good first session [session 1 doesn't really count as it was just CharGen, so I'm talking about session 2 really], though perhaps not quite as exciting as I might aim for. More evidence, though, of having to reconsider carefully the difficulty of casting certain spells, as magic the players have chosen at CharGen may well be too powerful for them to cast, realistically, until the characters are very powerful and experienced. It may need some rebalancing in that respect.
Looking for playtesters for the Implodarc Tabletop RPG. If you'd like to playtest it and post public feedback or an AP thread, ask me for the private link to download it, or I can e-mail it to you. At least compared to my usual stuff, it's meant to be simple and quick to play with quick CharGen.
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Re: Soul's Calling Internal Playtest III

Postby Omnifray » 2:47pm on 20 Oct 11

So, the brave adventurers have landed in Northholme. After staying the night with some fisherfolk they head towards a nearby steading. There Olaf manages to insult four fully armed Northholmers whose three wives are standing nearby with huge axes chopping down trees. Olaf is about to kick off when Drake grabs Olaf and picks him up to stop the trouble, but one of the Northholmers then stabs Olaf viciously in the bum.

The adventurers leave with their tails between their legs but find a friendlier steading (Sjurge's Steading) where Olaf is eventually able to recover from his injuries.

The adventurers learn of the Children of Gyoerlen, a band of escaped thralls living out in the woods, in hiding. Out walking one night they see one murdering and robbing a travelling skald. Drake chases down the murderer, who kills himself rather than be caught. They take the body back to Sjurge's Steading, which wins them much favour.

Eventually the adventurers are ready to leave and continue their quest but they are followed by three of the Children of Gyoerlen who attempt to ambush Olaf when he goes to relieve himself. He spots them in time, spins round, yells and knocks one out with a lucky shot with his sling-stone. Olaf's assailants reach him and begin stabbing him up. Mary shoots one through the throat with her crossbow, and Drake reaches the remaining one just in time and kills him before he can kill Olaf.

The adventurers return to Sjurge's Steading for Olaf to recover from his injuries, but his wounds become infected - Purple Rot!

However Olaf is visited in his dreams by the shadow-demon Ghroe'gh, who proposes a deal - she will end his crippling infection if he will ensure that Mary (who unlike Olaf and Drake is not yet Damned) will perform a human sacrifice to her (to Ghroe'gh) and then go to a special place which will be revealed to Olaf.

Olaf purchases a thrall from Chief Sjurge and leads the other adventurers into the depths of the woods supposedly in a continuation of their quest, but in fact getting as lost as humanly possible. He then claims that they are lost and that the only way they can find the way is a human sacrifice which must be performed by a woman's hand. Mary for some reason buys into this (!) and sacrifices the thrall in the name of Ghroe'gh. Olaf then enters a trance and has a vision of a cave four hours' walk away.

The adventurers reach the cave, which is an approximately 70'-diameter cave lined with sparkling crystalline material and stalagmites and stalactites. In the centre of the cave is a 20'-diameter area where the stalagmites and stalactites have been cleared away. In that area there are eight large black candles arranged in a circle, and just beyond it is a throne of bones, in which sits Ghroe'gh, a black-skinned demon with four horns. The adventurers hesitate out of fear, but Ghroe'gh invites them to be seated, and invites Mary into the centre of the circle.

Ghroe'gh prompts Olaf to explain the nature of his quest, and when he mentions cultists of the Apocalyptic Spirits, Ghroe'gh explains that the Apocalyptic Spirits are basically pagan spirits dedicated to the ruination of the known world and the subjugation of all, including demon-kind, hence her own dislike for them. She offers Mary her help, and to teach her dark magic, if Mary will simply grasp the black orb at the centre of the ritual circle with both hands and say that she embraces the darkness within her. Mary hesitates, but when Ghroe'gh offers her 30 gold coins, she complies.

And so Mary is now Damned, and has lost her mystical powers! --- but can instead learn dark wizardry from Ghroe'gh.

So, Internal Playtest III convened for a second session, me reffing, Rachel as Mary, Simon as Olaf and Kev as Drake.

Personally I thought the whole session went a bit slow until Mary for some baffling reason bought into Olaf's spiel and even more bafflingly went through with the final part of the dark ritual and effectively lost her soul... first time I've ever seen a character change their Soul's Calling! But Rachel thought it was "awesome", and Simon seemed to concur, so I guess that was a positive. Not quite sure how much Kev enjoyed it - he's not as dedicated a roleplayer as the other two - but I think he was reasonably happy with the game; maybe it was a bit slow for him too (as it was for me).

One thing of note is that we did the Ref's Patter thing with a little addition whereby the players signalled when they were done with each aspect of it. That seemed to work fine, though I need to work on the precise form the signal takes (raised hands make for tired arms).

I did also conclude I may have to tweak the rules on infected wounds to make for fewer dice-rolls when adventurers are resting up for long periods of time.
Looking for playtesters for the Implodarc Tabletop RPG. If you'd like to playtest it and post public feedback or an AP thread, ask me for the private link to download it, or I can e-mail it to you. At least compared to my usual stuff, it's meant to be simple and quick to play with quick CharGen.
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Thanks: 182 given/235 received

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