by Jakub Wisz
As the production of Aphelion Toolkit’s Core ruleset book is coming to an end, the testing is moving forward with increased intensity. We’re not only running a group test in a completely procedurally-generated fantasy world but also several solo test campaigns. Aphelion is meant to be equally playable traditionally with a game master as a solo game, so it’s important to thoroughly crash test it before release. Mixing strategy board game design with a tabletop RPG is tricky, and making it work with minimal prep and oversight is even trickier, after all.
In any case, below you can read the results of my solo playtest campaign, generated entirely using Aphelion’s algorithm except for world maps, names, character descriptions, and the like. For names and character descriptions, I used fantasynamegenerators.com, a versatile source of all sorts of details. For the world map I used the excellent donjon.bin.sh generator. All other events and turns of the plot are a result of Aphelion’s character and scenario generation rules. Only decisions I made during the test pertain to connecting the results into a cohesive narrative.
First, allow me to introduce you all to Folas Adzana, an elven Fighter made with Aphelion’s character creator using the generic fantasy toolkit, which will allow you to recreate your favorite worlds using Aphelion rules soon, quite a while before we release the first Aphelion setting.
Folas was born a commoner in the port city of Grand Vilrywell, a maritime city-state existing thanks to sea trade, exploration, and researching various arcane artifacts from all around the world of Edhel. It’s the same city and the world we generated for our group playtest, because why not?
Folas is a tough fellow with a propensity for stealth and magic as well as fighting. Early on in his childhood, he competed in a tournament organized by the most powerful guild ruling the city, the Oath of the Light Order, an organization of magicians seeking artifacts from all over Edhel.
The Order is always on the lookout for talented individuals from the lower echelons of the city’s social structures, knowing they can easily turn them into devoted mages or paladins to strengthen their ranks.
Folas imagined he’ll become a powerful paladin or wizard after winning the contest, sadly he was beaten by the local prodigy, an elf known as Elmon Dawnwhisper.
Here’s Elmon’s procedurally generated description, for a better picture:
“Pink, sleek hair gently hangs over a full, anguished face. Bloodshot red eyes, set dreadfully within their sockets, watch merrily over the sea they’ve sworn to protect for so long.
A mustache beautifully compliments his eyes and mouth and leaves a pleasant memory of his luck in love.
This is the face of Elmon Dawnwhisper, a true pioneer among elves. He stands common among others, despite his heavy frame.
There’s something curious about him, perhaps it’s his sympathy, or perhaps it’s simply his disposition. Nonetheless, people tend to worship him, while befriending his friends to get closer to him.”By www.fantasynamegenerators.com
Not Folas though – he never forgot the defeat at Elmon’s hands, and despite being accepted into the Order, he always resented his more talented peer. Even in the Order’s academy, Folas could never live down being in Elmon’s shadow, especially after his first training expedition.
Even though Folas performed admirably during the long weeks of sailing and cutting their way through distant jungles, it was Elmon who was lauded as the orchestrator of the success. Folas was deemed worthy of being a guard or a low-ranked researcher in the Order, deepening his growing anger at the guild.
An opportunity to gain power and outshine the rival happened when Folas’ friend, human magician Allyssa Geary, told him the rumors she heard from her lover about a mysterious Tome of Power held in the Order headquarters vaults.
Allyssa’s description was generated as follows:
“Chestnut, coiled hair tight in a bun reveals a craggy, wild face. Dead brown eyes, set tightly within their sockets, watch merrily over the mountains they’ve been isolated from for so long.
Several moles are spread charmingly around her nose and leave a tormenting memory of her unfortunate adventures.
This is the face of Allyssa Geary, a true winner among humans. She stands common among others, despite her brawny frame.
There’s something different about her, perhaps it’s her unusual alliances, or perhaps it’s simply her friendly demeanor. Nonetheless, people tend to brag about knowing her, while awkwardly avoiding talking about her past.”By www.fantasynamegenerators.com
Folas knew little about his colleague’s associates, as her past was shrouded, but he trusted her enough to delve into the Order’s vaults come midnight.
Whether by accident or betrayal, Folas and Allyssa’s stealthy venture was foiled by stumbling upon none other than Elmon Dawnwhisper, in civilian clothing but a sword and a bright torch in hand. Folas and Elmon clashed in a skirmish in the hallways – though he pushed Elmon and gained the upper hand, Folas lost sight of Allyssa. Was he betrayed by her, or was it an accident and she suspects him of similar treachery? Who knows?
Character generation ended right there, leaving Folas with wounded pride, a new goal to take down the Order who scorned him so, and a recent victory over the rival paladin. The character creation process is designed to launch you from character creation straight into an easy Scenario, as a way of teaching you the ropes and setting up future campaigns. I went on from where the character creation left off, hoping to see how difficult a Rating 1 Scenario is going to be on a solo player.
Folas came out of chargen with low ratings in his main Expertises, but a decent Attribute splay and a versatile skillset mixing magic and stealth with combat prowess. I first swapped the Fighter starting gear around to allow him to use the Cards he knew. Then I spent his initial resources to expand his starting gear of a sword, talisman, thieves’ tools, magical staff of electric jolts, a magic potion, a cuirass, and a backpack with an invisibility potion and a tabard of magic protection. I also upgraded the elven arming sword to allow for playing two Cards and made Folas’ custom fighting style Card – replacing the usual Toughness with Fitness in combat. Having two Cards with a similar effect but using different Attributes lets him be more versatile in a fight.
Besides fighting, Folas came out of character creation knowing how to create an Arcane Pool letting him cast spells, spells to cast magic jolts of electricity and become invisible for a Scene once a Scenario. He also knows how to sneak around, though he has no protective gear letting him stay hidden for long. Folas is also relatively athletic, strong-minded, and capable of intimidation. It’s not exactly where I imagined the character creation would go, but I’ll take what I can get and see where the newly fallen paladin trainee’s path will take him.
Armed with the character backstory, abilities, goals, and demeanor, I proceeded to generate the first Scenario!
The game decided its Focus is going to be Deceit – which made perfect sense. The Payout from it was supposed to be Wealth. I guess we’re stealing something, then. Exciting!
Rolling for Scenario Type, I found out we’re escaping from a module – this is going to be a tough one, but I figured a starting Scenario won’t be that hard. I should have known my luck with dice better than that. But I’m getting ahead of myself! I wrote up a quick narrative for the results, as playing solo involves some journaling for fun and keeping track of things.
Dawnwhisper separated Folas from Allyssa and cornered him into a hidden cell. Even though he was beaten, Elmon managed to coerce Folas onto a drop in the well. Now trapped in the sub-levels of the Halls, Folas must set himself free before Elmon comes through and leads the paladins to capture him.
Curious as to the reasons for stumbling onto Elmon Dawnwhisper, I rolled to find out who or what orchestrated such a turn of events.
Qui Bono? came the answer: “the responsible party is the one who has the most to gain from it.”
Or per our narrative:
Folas suspects the person who betrayed him is the same as the one who told him about the Tome – Allyssa. Folas doesn’t know what happened to her after being separated but is willing to bet she used him as a distraction to get the Tome for herself.
But what were Allyssa’s motives? Dice come to the rescue as well, indicating “Love” as the reason.
Allyssa must have had a reason to betray Folas – and he thinks it must have been the mysterious crush she had on someone. Folas doesn’t know who it is, but if he gets out of the dungeons, he’ll surely want to find out.
Setting Things Up
Having established what I’m doing and why I moved on to the details!
Folas’ stats suggested an appropriate Threat of 5 and Scenario Rating of 1 – perfect for a first dip in the game for a new character. All is good so far.
Then I rolled for a Complication and rolled a “crushing weight” – every time the Scenario would apply the pushback mechanic against me, it’d count as if the Scenario was a rating higher. Much less good, looks like I’ll be punching way above my weight! To run a Scenario Rating 2, Folas would have to be at the very least well prepared. So let’s prepare.
I started Legwork – a Scene in which the character scouts ahead, gathers information, and plans out a Scenario before jumping in. An opportunity to get access to bonuses needed to overcome the sudden complication and escape intact.
In the first Interval of the Legwork Scene, I played the default Deceit Card to gather marks and forge ahead to earn the basic preparedness bonus. With a Fitness of 5, I rolled 5d10 against Resistance of 7 thanks to my Thieves’ Tools and earned 3 automatic marks thanks to my Expertise in sneaking and gear. Four dice rolled 7 or more – result: 7 marks. That was a very good result, the Scenario would have to roll maximum to kick me out of legwork and deny me a bonus…
So guess what happened. Yup.
Before Folas has a moment to look around, he hears shouting and sees torch light casting shadows on the walls – damn it, they’re here already!
When It Rains, It Pours…
The Scenario Pushdown removed 8 out of my 7 marks and forced a start before I was ready. Not only that, but it started on Alert, meaning a Task would run in the background, scoring ticks each Interval, and when it ran out, the guards will enter the Scene to take me down. Lovely. Just lovely.
In addition to the Alert, I had to make a roll for the Scenarios ongoing Metascene – a theme with unique goals and obstacles modifying my simple escape into a Boss Battle. So I’m starting in the most difficult stage of the game, moving towards the exit, and I’m starting in a room with an angry Boss – this is fine. No problem at all.
Folas would recognize this voice everywhere, it’s the thrice-damned Dawnwhisper! He must have found a way down right behind Folas. The only question – fight or flight? Dawnwhisper seems well prepared for the search…
And off I went to start the game!
I created the Finale module from which I needed to escape, with difficult obstacles (hardest in the entire Scenario) AND facing off against Elmon. After rolling for what the obstacles are I realized the game really, really hates me, and not only made the Resistance needed to escape incredibly high, requiring all my skills to even try and score marks, but also boosted Elmon’s stats even further, to an equivalent of a Rating 5 Scenario enemy – one fitting for a moderately experienced group of 3-5 characters.
There was no sneaking past that.
There is no way in hell Folas can sneak past Dawnwhisper. His only chance is a quick attack before the paladin finds him, especially since Folas didn’t even have the time to hide. Folas draws his blade and lunges at the incoming shadow of his opponent.
I decided to improvise. Can’t sneak out of here, but perhaps I can stab my way out.
The timer started ticking, counting 1 out of 13 marks until reinforcements arrive and make my day even worse. I flipped the Script from Deceit (sneaking) to Warfare (stabing), spending 4 Stamina out of 8 to reduce Resistance to 2. Scored 4 marks – best possible result.
Scenario Pushdown (as SR 2) – 4 marks as well, Scenario Rating remains 1.
Flipping the Script didn’t improve my odds, but it also didn’t make them worse – and at least Elmon’s gear and skills are aimed at catching me when I’m sneaking, not fighting.
With my second action, I attacked Dawnwhisper using the remaining 4 Stamina and 2 more with the Fencing Card. I took 2 Stamina Drain reducing the max to 6 and adding 2 pressure dice to roll. Pressure dice allow me to reroll 10s up to a point in the current Scene, but they have a downside of exhausting me and causing 1s to take away my marks.
Dice away! 7 dice, 2 Exploding. My Close Quarters Expertise of 1 and the Arming Sword with Warfare Edge of 2 gave me three certain marks. Boss increased base Resistance to 11, minus 3 Clout from the Sword and 3 from additional Stamina spent. Resistance 11 – 6 = 5. Rolled 7 marks, + 2 10s to 9 marks total! Chaos! Flames! Destruction!
Close Quarters attack forced Dawnwhisper to commit one of his two Actions to defend, and he scored 4 marks. Still, 5 net for me, and 5 Stamina damage dealt!
With his second Action, Elmon had to play a Scenario Card, as a Boss of the Scenario. He pushed the Reinforcement Counter to 2/13. Plenty of time still!
Or so I thought.
Cornered and desperate, Folas launched a flurry of quick slashes at unprepared Elmon. The paladin wore no armor to their chance meeting, and so was forced to spend all his strength to desperately parry and dodge. “He’s over here, guards! Come here!” the paladin shouted and Folas knew he must end this quickly before he runs out of strength or gets overwhelmed.
Mistakes Were Made
Elmon had a ridiculous 12 Stamina to remove before I could escape, so I decided to fight. But I couldn’t even dream of keeping it up – I burnt all my Stamina in the first attack, and I’d just run myself into the ground if I wanted to keep up the onslaught on a much stronger foe. But Folas has tricks up his sleeve.
I saved my first Action to recover a point of Stamina and Morale (which was at maximum, so didn’t move. The important part is you have to know saving an Action restores both.) And with my second Action, I decided to play the Hide! Card, making it impossible for Elmon to attack me. He must spend one Card to find me easily, and the second to call Reinforcement.
Dice were rolled, and this is exactly what happened.
Action 1: nothing, recover Stamina.
Action 2: hide! Stance using Thieves’ Tools (1 Deceit Edge, 3 Clout, 1 Investigation Soak) – 6 marks, so 4 Concealment (max as Awareness)
Opposition cannot play Cards other than Investigation against you. You can’t use non-Deceit Cards while in this Stance.
Action 1: Perception, looking for Folas. 3 marks, reduced Folas’ Concealment to 1 (stamina 3/12)
Action 2: Scenario Card: Reinforcements again (stamina 2/12)
Folas quickly cast a spell, covering himself with a blanket of invisibility. His heavy breath gave Dawnwhisper an angle, but the paladin’s flailing torch failed to find its mark. Folas had a choice – keep the fight up, or take an opportunity to flee past the disoriented foe…
I could have used the miraculous opportunity of ending up with 1 Concealment point and tried to sneak out. I would have to contend with massive Resistance to get out, but by playing the Hide Card again I could have done it. Naturally, evil Elmo from hell would chase me and keep speeding up the Reinforcements, but I had a chance. I thought to myself though, that I don’t know what other nightmares the Scenario has in store for me, and that dealing with unknown obstacles with a boss four sizes too big for the playground was probably a bad idea. So I sneak-attacked.
Action 1: Hide again. 3rd point of pressure.7, Concealment back up to 4.
Action 2: Fencing Card, spending 4 Concealment for it to reduce Resistance by 3. Dawnwhisper can’t oppose because of the Forced Effect of only being able to play Investigation Cards while I’m in Hide Stance. 7 marks total, two 1s reduce the result to 5.
Dawnwhisper’s Stamina to 0, his max reduced to 9.
He’s forced to spend both Actions to recover 2 Stamina.
I have him in a stun-lock!)
Folas could have sneaked past. Could have. A fierce stab from the shadows shook the unexpecting paladin to the core, forcing him to drop to one knee. Folas could take him down right now… if only he had the strength to lift his blade.
At this point I should probably leg it, I did it – I brought down the giant. But I didn’t take him down, he’ll get up if I fail to deal him those two points of damage every turn, and there is only so much I can expend. I decided to finish him off with magic – my Stamina Pool was drained, but I had plenty Morale to go around. Reinforcements were at 5/13, so I figured I can take him out, and still make those remaining four modules to the Gateway before they appear.
Electric jolts from Folas’ staff took the air out of the paladin’s lungs as he struggled to get up. The guards will be here soon, but not just yet. Taking down Dawnwshisper is going to make the escape much easier.
It went on for a few Intervals, as I barely managed to keep Elmon down by expending everything I had and using pressure dice. I won’t paste all the dice rolls here, but suffice it to say the paladin managed to get up a few times, but once I had him down, he finally stayed down – when the Reinforcements were at 9/13.
Finally! The paladin so down, brought low with flickering jolts from Folas’ staff – even though it completely drained him from all strength. Folas ripped the bejeweled necklace from his foes’ neck. “I’ll keep that as a souvenir…” he started, but couldn’t finish as the weakness came over him and he leaned against the dungeon wall. Can he afford to catch a breath before the guards get here?
Escape from the Dungeons
I took an Interval to recover Stamina and Morale to 2 (cause I spent all Morale to gain arcane power to deal with Evil Elmo From Hell). Reinforcements were upon me in three Intervals and there was no chance of evading them anymore – the best I could do was get out of the Boss module so they don’t catch me with pants down, and get as close to exit (the outer edge of the narrative hex) as I could.
I generated the first module on my way out:
Module: Warfare/Research Congregation +4.
Scene: Generate a Rating 9 Extras (Crowd. Animal, Passive,) Challenge of 9 to move forward with extra 9 Resistance. Obstacles: Object R5: Vehicle Passive, Fueled, Resistance +3. Total Resistance 21, to be rolled on a d10. Nope.
The corridor out of the cell Folas took leads straight to an old, dank library. Swarms of strange bugs crawl over half-eaten tomes and an ancient, defunct librarian construct. Folas could try and set a trap for his opponents in here, but moving forth without potentially enraging the critters would be very risky – too risky to undertake. Folas feels he should take a different corridor.
I tried moving towards the +4 row into the Deceit section, but the obstacles were equally insurmountable.
Module: Control +4
Scene Complete a challenge of 12. Obstacles: Resistance +8, Timer of 2 Intervals. Way too little time to deal with, especially with Folas so exhausted and barely mustering the strength to move between rooms, and Reinforcements at 11/13.
Folas slowly backed away from the room and headed into the next dank corridor. The floor there was covered with a complex network of runes indicating magical traps – with good light he could have maybe figured it out. In this dark and dank corridor, the challenge seems impossible – perhaps it could have been lowered, but the reflexes of fire on the walls suggest the guards are too near to stop. Folas quietly sneaked away.
The blog comes close to 4000 words now, so I suppose I will have to split it into two parts – even after cutting away a lot of the mechanics. If you want to know how (and IF) Folas managed to flee the Oath of the Light Order’s dungeons and live to exact righteous vengeance, stay tuned for the next part, where I’ll cover the remainder of the Scenario!