On Friday night I ran the first episode of an AGON mini-series for a beta playtest of the second edition. I had three wonderful players: Misha Bushyager, Sandy Jacobs-Tolle, and Kimberley Lam.
Heroes are created by giving them an Epithet, which translates to particular ability in a Domain (Arts & Oration, Blood & Valor, Craft & Reason, or Resolve & Spirit) and a specific Strength (e.g, Authority, Ferocity, etc.); a deity, which lends them another specific Strength (or increases their Strength if it’s the same they get from their Epithet); and picking their lineage, description, and weapons.
We had discussed characters online and they had created the following characters:
Open-Hearted Antiochis (Kim), daughter of Helene and devotee of Aphrodite. She is large as a bear, with short, wild white hair and a playful quirk to her lips. She wears piecemeal armor and she prefers to wrestle rather than use weaponry. (d8 Resolve & Spirit, d8 Daring, d8 Beauty.)
Phaedra the Clever Eyed (Misha), daughter of Sophia, devotee of Athena, known at a glance by her panther-like stride, piercing amber eyes, dyed braids, shining dark armor, and paired khopesh. (d8 Craft & Reason, d8 Cunning, d8 Judgment.)
Dolia the Wayfinder (Sandy), daughter of Polytropos, devotee of Hera, never at a loss to man or spirit. Lean, rangy woman, tanned and tough from the hillside ranges and simply dressed, with an oak staff at the ready. (d8 Resolve & Spirit, d10 Cunning.)
In addition, I made a character as well in case we do get a chance to rotate who is the Strife Player (game-master.) The game does recommend this rotation, and we hope to get to it.
Monster-Slaying Panthera (Sophie), daughter of Ekliaea, devotee of Hera for who she destroys abominations. Lion-like gait and athletic build, fiery temper, dark eyes and dark braided hair, minimal armour painted in striking silver, black and white, wields an axe and small buckler. (d8 Blood & Valor, d8 Mystery, d8 Cunning.)
We started the session by going over the mechanics. The provided character sheet includes a summary of the rules but there are several resources to track: glory, pathos, oaths, hubris, divine favour, fate, etc..
Then we went over the final step of hero creation, the achievements that represent your heroes’ past deeds. Each hero player takes a turn at describing a past situation when the heroes competed, and we resolve the contest. These contests work exactly like normal regular ones in-game, they familiarize players with the mechanics, and they get the economy of resources rolling.
Anatomy of a Contest
Contests work thus: first, make sure it’s a worthy contest, otherwise it’s an automatic success (e.g., “the Hero slays the lion”) or an impossibility (e.g., “the Hero, in despair, tries to drink up the river but eventually passes out, bloated with water.”) Determine the contest’s domain; there are four possibilities:
- Arts & Oration includes all forms of affective expression including music, poetry, dance, and storytelling. Contests of culture, artistry, and persuasiveness are resolved by this Domain.
- Blood & Valor represents bold action including wrestling, running, skirmishing, and outright warfare. Contests of violence, bravado, and athletic prowess are resolved by this Domain.
- Craft & Reason concerns matters of the intellect, including academics, tactics, healing arts, intrigue, and trickery. Contests of scholarship, vocations, and subterfuge are resolved by this Domain.
- Resolve & Spirit represents the will and soul, including tenacity, inspiration, and mystic arts. Contests of perseverance, passion, and intuition are resolved by this Domain.
Everyone then assembles a dice pool (a bit like in Cortex Plus) and the high die in the roll is your result. The dice vary in size for the power or effectiveness of the characteristic it represents; you always roll at least one for the name (importance, fame, personal power) of the character(s), and one for their ability with the contest’s domain. They can add dice for an applicable Strength, an Advantage they have, etc.
When it comes to setting opposition for players’ actions, this game is the exact opposite of games powered by the Apocalypse: the Strife player always rolls for the opposition, which is always personified by giving it at least a name and a score for the domain.
Players who score a high die equal to or higher than the Strife player’s high roll succeed, and score one Glory point, except for the winner who has the best roll, who scores Glory equal to the Strife result, marks Hubris for one of the dice they used, and owe each other Hero an Oath. Hero players who rolled less than the Strife player suffer one Pathos.
If at least one of the heroes is a winner then the band is victorious and achieves their goal: overcoming the opposition, gaining an Advantage, or both.
First, Sandy described a past gathering with heroes from near and far, and the challenge to a footrace that was issued. The race was a sprint so we decided that the Domain was Blood & Valor.
I rolled for The Boon Companions (d6) and their Blood & Valor (d6). The Hero players rolled too, adding dice for their name and strengths. Dolia was best, nabbing 4 points of Glory, earning one point of Hubris, and owing an Oath to each other hero. Phaedra also won and got one point of Glory, and Antiochis lost, taking one point of Pathos. Sandy narrated how Dolia relied on her experience and took the inside track to win the race.
Kim wanted a scene from the War but was not certain how to frame it, so I set it as a desperate stand under stormy skies, just after sunset on a day-long battle, against the Hellhounds of Hades led by a Masked Minion of Hades. I wanted to show a more substantial struggle so I gave a d8 for name and the same for Blood & Valor (I could have gone for d10s). Dolia won again, earning another 5 points of Glory and checkmark for Hubris, and owing two more Oaths. If I recall correctly, Phaedra and Antiochis win one point of Glory each.
In the third scene, Misha declared a weaving contest in honour of her goddess, Athena. The contest was taking place during a lull in the action during the War, using hand looms. Phaedra was best hands down, I think earning as much as 7 Glory? Misha described the stunning chiton Phaedra had woven, depicting an owl in amazing detail. I told her she could use it as an Advantage at some point when narratively appropriate.
The Achievements phase was useful to get everyone familiar with the use of Divine Favour, Oaths, Pathos, and Hubris to modify contests. It established leadership: the Hero with the least Glory is in charge, because leaders tend to the band’s needs rather than worry about their own glory. The Achievements phase also creates a network of Oaths between Heroes, providing the mechanical way in which heroes can work together.
We took a break, then the Heroes visited their first island. The first job of the Strife player is to Reveal, there is no need for secrecy with the Hero players, although their Heroes can sometimes be in the dark. For each island there is a short introduction to share with the Hero players.
Kryos is a cold and rocky isle, fabled for its gold mines.
Legend says that the island is protected by a ring of everlasting storm-clouds which keep the land’s riches safe from marauders. However, as your ship draws near, you see no clouds in the sky. The mining settlement is in turmoil, with people rushing to-and-fro, wailing at the skies in panic. “It’s gone!” they cry. “The pirate queen has stolen the Pillar of Storms! We are defenseless!”
From a distance, you hear the blood-chilling screech of a harpy pierce the air. Then another, and another— drawing ever closer.
What curse has befallen this place?
The heroines went ashore and took stock of the situation and decided they must go after Thesekyra the Pirate Queen to recover the Pillar of Storms that had been stolen from the temple to Hera. Dolia devised a plan to trap a harpy and locate Thesekyra’s ship from the air.
They looked for a woman who might be cooler-headed and in charge (“Men don’t know s#/+!”); they found Meletia, the mining chief, and got a semblance of organization among some of the villagers. Dolia commanded them to get her a goat, which would be used as bait. Phaedra wove a net and with Dolia’s cunning, set it up.
The harpy, drawn by the freshly slaughtered goat, was caught in the net but struggled to get out. Antiochis heroically wrestled the harpy into submission. Dolia struck a deal with the harpy, where the harpy will lead the band of heroines to the pirate queen in return for a cow she could keep all to herself. The harpy was parlayed into agreement but asked the band not to bring the stolen Pillar of Storms back.
With the captive harpy to guide them, the heroines prepared to set sail again, leaving the settlement vulnerable to the rest of the harpies…
To be continued in two weeks!