The Everway Quest 'Bright Fires' playtest report
[Rescued through www.archive.org from the website of Rich Carney]
The following is a playtest report that I had posted to the WotC/Everway playtest area of AOL in the fall, 1996. Everway was still a going concern at WotC at this time and nobody knew that it would be doomed in a few months. Jonathan Tweet liked some of the ideas in this report and had asked me to prepare a short synopsis of my alterations to be included in the published adventure. I was ready to email JoT the final draft when WotC announced the axe. Somewhere between the various changes of hands and internal politics at Rubicon, inclusion of my section was dropped. You can find the final draft as a link at the end of this section.
Players should not read this report. Please do not read this unless you are planning on running the game. You will spoil some good gaming fun. Everway, Stonedeep, Bright Fires, and just about everything else contained in this report are copyrights of Rubicon Games. The ideas contained here are only suggestions and should not be considered to bear the official sanction of Rubicon or Jonathan Tweet.
Just finished the playtest of "The Bright Fires" as quest #2, the first quest being "Journey to Stonedeep." This sequence will be important later. Following are some thoughts on the scenario & bits of story on how I ran the game.
Strengths of the scenario:
- solid background
- clear objective
- easy to run w/o reliance on the Fortune Deck.
- lack of dramatic conflict
- little decision making
- "programmed" pacing.
I pulled Vision Cards 6, 54, 56, 57, & 79 (the amerind cards) and placed them near the "gmís area."
This was supposed to work as a prompt to remind me of the culture I was running. Turns out, I never referred to them. I also have a list of the PCís & their element scores. I have prepared a "skill list" and the elements they cascade from (in most cases).
As I stated above, I felt a weakness to the scenario was a lack of dramatic conflict. Basically, thereís Thunderbird and nothing else unless the characters act stupid. I felt a need for something more, but wanted to steer clear of forcing a melee. Instead, I asked myself a couple of questions.
- What if Keeper did not confess his crime?
- What if Great Sun was too ill to accuse Keeper?
These questions set the stage for the conflict I created. The whole story took about 5 hours to run. Resolving the part I added took about 2 hours of that time. In a nutshell, these two questions lead to the following story.
The Keeper is a coward who has always resented Great Sunís power. There is an implication of a past relationship between the two. There have been many conflicts between Great Sun & Keeper since they rose to power. The wizards to the north have wanted to conquer the tribal lands for labor & food supply. The spiritual strength of the Mounders has prevented such conquest. A crafty wizard discovered the weakness of the Keeper. A glamour was placed upon Keeper that lulled him to sleep. This gave the wizards a chance to send an elemental and extinguish the Sacred Fire. Keeper, upon seeing the fire out, relit the blaze by normal means. The dousing of the spiritual fire also extinguished the "magical" protection of the Mounders. The wizards cast a plague upon the Mounders. Those with the strongest ties to the spiritual aspect of the town were the first to fall. Thus, Great Sun was the first to be afflicted. The next day, Keeper was going to confess his crime. He never had the opportunity. As the second highest-ranking religious official he was called upon to make decisions in place of Great Sun. Many people were dying and Great Sun was wasting away. That night the wizards seduced Keeper to aid them. They planted the idea in his head that only those who would blindly follow Great Sun would be affected by the plague. The survivors would be religiously ambivalent, concerned only with where the next meal was coming from. The Keeper chose to stay quiet about his sin and let the plague run its course.
Sees Far is Great Sunís apprentice and daughter. She petitioned Keeper and the Council of Elders to allow her to perform the Ritual of Calling to bring aid. Keeper and the Council rejected this plea. Religious doctrine states that only Great Sun may perform such magic. A young apprentice could not be allowed to do such a thing. That night, distraught over her dying mother, Sees Far performed the ritual in defiance of the Councilís ruling. She was convinced that the Calling did not work since the party did not appear in her magic circle. The party of PCís arrive through the Gate the next morning.
From this point on, I had several plot threads running. First was the townís hostility towards Sees Far and the PCís for the breech of religious doctrine (the pcís are able to pin Sees Far as the source of the calling). Second, Keeper is trying to prevent his treachery from being discovered. Also, Keeper is trying to use the party to bring a death sentence upon Sees Far. The wizards also convince Keeper that this is an opportunity to nail the Lost Ones. In private, Keeper told the PCís that the Lost Ones put a curse upon the city. Great Sunís poor leadership, he said, has made the town susceptible to the curse. He labeled the Lost Oneís as a tribe of malcontents who were banished by Grandmother Eagle. In exchange for a way home, the Keeper asked that the party travel to the Lost Ones and extinguish the fire being used to fuel the plague.
The way events worked, Sees Far admitted her crimes and was condemned to three weeks hard labor and then death. The PCís agreed to go to the Lost Ones and extinguish the fire. A seditious group of youths brought Sees Far out of jail while one PC was checking up on the Keeper. Sees Far explained the truth behind the Sacred Fire, and the PCís figured out that the Mound Fire is a phony. They agree to travel to the Lost Ones to bring back the Sacred Fire. Sees Far returned to her prison and other youths lead the PCís to the river.
Throughout the Mound portion of the scenario, I emphasized the rigid nature of the society. I also played up that the children seemed to be breaking away from this tradition, as shown by Sees Farís action.
I played up the Polers as more of an anarchist society that can never get anything of importance accomplished. Too many voices acting in self interest keeping decisions from being made. The youths of High Pole were played as rejecting this, too. I did this in order to give the players the idea that fundamental changes were taking place in both societies. The cause of the separation if the tribes was a growing rift in how to run the tribe. They chose separation over civil war. Tales of the actions of the children were supposed to be used by the players to convince Grandmother Eagle that it was time to return. I screwed up here because I didnít give enough clues as to who she was. I knew that if I emphasized her by giving a description the players would know she was important. So, I mentioned her in passing after the fish diner scene. I had Supple call her "Golden One" to act as a prompt for someone to notice that she was different from the others. They didnít pick up on this and I didnít push it further.
I skipped the scene with the crabs. I didnít see the need for a dungeon random encounter. They arrived in the forest and headed for the High Polers. After a brief interruption of a Great Hunt (a right of passage), they got to the town, heard the stories, got the Fire, and headed back. One problem with playing High Pole as an "Entmoot" was that the players got tired of waiting. "Letís just steal the damn fire and get out of here. Weíll be in the desert before anyone notices." I chose this time to have the HP kids act as a block and force a decision. I then went through the choosing the carrier bit and saddled the top fighter with it (single-mindedness of duty, perseverance, unfailing, etc).
The players picked up on the bad vibes re: Thunderbird & decided to skirt his house. This is where I had an itch to use dice. I decided to throw in a giant scorpion & see if I could wound a PC before the Tbird encounter. How to chose which player to strike? In a traditional game Iíd roll randomly & then check perception stats. My solution was to draw a Fortune card & determine the corresponding element. The player with the lowest score in that element would have the scorpion in its path. This player then got a chance at seeing the scorpion before stepping on it. As it turned out, a character w/ enhanced senses started talking to the target PC & I let her notice that the healer was about to get a nasty surprise.
I had Tbird let them get past his place and attack that night. He gathered as many lizards as possible and called a storm, stoking the critters w/ lightning. He then sent them to attack. Two players were knocked out before the fire mage exhausted himself making a sheet of glazed sand for a barrier. Tbird swooped and postured, trying to cow the group into giving up the Fire. Instead, the crafty were-leopard held up her crystal skull (a gift from the Awakener) and said "Hey, howíd you like this nice shiny thing instead. Big Magic!" (Imagine the yoyo scene from Red Dwarf for her tone.) Tbird was immediately entranced by the skull and demanded it. Not being a fool, he stayed back a ways. Kitty said, "Here you go, a nice juicy present from Death" and threw it at him. Tbird went to catch it, but the crystal passed between his spread fingers and struck him in the head. He fell to the ground, bleeding lightning. Soon, Tbird was a feeding frenzy for the lizards. When recovered, he threatened the group and flew away. I was personally unsure how the crystal would affect Tbird. It became moot since the players thought he was immortal. I let their feelings rule- though my inclination was that he was an avatar of some sort and unable to be spiritually killed by the skull.
The heroes made it back to the Mound, snuck into Great Sunís house and helped her recover. She then confronted Keeper and forced him to confess. End of story.
Player reactions to the story were mixed. They liked the mystery in the beginning and the confrontation with Tbird. They enjoyed the Salmon People ritual. The rest of the story didnít offer enough options for them. They felt that there would be no story if they chose not to do what the plot demanded once they got going. The cultures were clear cut and everyone understood what they were living in (even though my changes warped the traditional amerind cultures). I was able to run the whole scenario evenly while only consulting the Fortune Deck a couple of times. It wasnít too difficult to figure out what the main objective was- either bring back or put out the Sacred Fire. The return of Grandmother Eagle was too elusive, but that was my fault. It was kind of like riding a roller coaster. It was all coasting downhill after hitting the big peak. I think a second peak needs to be added before the confrontation with Tbird. Doing it again, I would probably throw in some sort of conflict with the Polers over the hunt. Something that puts one side reluctant to deal with the other.
So, how would I grade this scenario? Iíd give it a strong B for background and ease of use. The cultures are very easy to run and should pose no problems for beginning GMís or players. The plot gets a C. A tad too weak, at least for experienced gamers. I think it needs more tweaking to be satisfying for them. I donít know if the programmed plot would be a boon or a turn off to novice players & GMís. We did have fun with this, which is the key.
Link to the final draft of what was supposed to be included in the published Bright Fires. It would have been in a section on Gamemastering techniques and Everway - Tips on altering a published quest
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