War of Ashes: Post-playtest

So normally, I do write ups for each game session, and I take notes during play so I can track it.

Unfortunately, I find it really hard to do that and GM at the same time.  So instead, I'll talk a bit about the setting of War of Ashes, the rules for the game, and our characters (and how the first two items affected them).

The setting of War of Ashes was, for me, the real gem of this playtest.  Probably not a shock to most who'll read this.  Evil Hat and Zombiesmith have been describing it as "grimsical," a portmanteau of grim and whimsical.  That's definitely a good fit as a descriptor.  The creatures of War of Ashes are cute.  Even the ravenous and terrifying Kuld are basically like hairless frog cousins of Stitch from Lilo and Stitch.  And yet they're out and about dismembering one another for food, a chance at survival, and in the name of their gods.  The contrast is a bit like the old Reese's "you got chocolate in my peanut butter!" commercials.

The setting info in the playtest was DENSE, but I think a lot of that comes from a lack of finished art and no real finalized layout work.  It took me a while to get through it, so I kept my scenario simple: the players were recruited by the Church of Agaptus to retrieve sacred Ghas (giant riding geese of my creation).  We all got to taste a bit of the world, but not so much our lack of knowledge distracted from play.  It was great, too, that War of Ashes encouraged the inclusion of new races, critters, and locations in the world, paving the way for the Ghas, which became a nice combination of comic relief and living macguffin.

By the time my regular GM took over in our second playtest, I felt I had enough of a grip on the world to play a priest of Atronia, who joined up with the other players to discover who was smuggling baby Kuld into Elvorix territory.  Playing was as much fun as GMing, which is a wonderful thing to be able to say.  The setting and tone were such a hit that we plan on being able to keep our War of Ashes campaing as our backup should our main campaigns need a week off.

There were some cool aspects to the War of Ashes rules, as well.  My favorite, especially as GM was "Divine Interest."  As players did really well or poorly, they attracted divine interest from the generally well-meaning but bungling (and slightly vengeful) gods of Agaptus.  It was great fun watching the dread of divine interest build in my players, making even simple pathfinding and animal wrangling almost as high tension as pitched combat.  It was just fantastic.

The system overall is built on the bones of Fate Accelerated Edition, which was easy to pick up for both our Fate vets (most of the group) and our one Fate newbie.  I'm convinced the barebones approach to Fate is not just a good in for younger roleplayers, but also for those used to the six-stat system of DnD/Pathfinder (and that seems to be the logic behind Fate: Freeport, which I recently picked up).  It was fast to get into and serves as a strong primer for the full version of Fate.

We also played with the Weight and Froth systems in War of Ashes.  Weight is something we're adapting over to our WoWFate sessions (as are lethal dice, which I'll get to momentarily); simply put, size matters and when a Ghas (weight 2) charged a weight 1 Evorix, the extra oomph added by that weight difference felt very substantial.  Froth represents a sort of battle rage, eventually leading to the use of lethal dice (also allowed by certain weapons).  Lethal dice cut straight to the consequences of an opponent, skipping stress, making them perfect indicators of when "shit just got real!"

All in all, this gave our somewhat narrowly scoped all-Evorix party a lot more room to play than one might suspect.  We had the previously divinely-touched soldier from the north, who wielded a sword of the gods.  His girlfriend, the dirksherd, who was always irritated that her mouse-like flock was thought of as a food source.  They were joined by the soldier's Beaker-inspired, meeping standard bearer.  They met a Kuld-researcher who just wanted to give peace a chance (and later got divinely swapped into a Kuld body).  There was also the retired soldier turned Ghas farmer who couldn't keep his critters under control; a bard who sang everything, sometimes violently, who just wanted into politics; and a beautiful, not-god-fearing Evorix who was handy with a knife.  When I joined, I played a conman priest who used moss in all his rituals, as well as his clothes.

Because the rules were simple and the setting encouraged us to get a little weird, we came up with a really entertaining bunch.  I could seriously see them as a cartoon that would be all-ages appropriate (which is not always a thing we're good at).  Everything seemed finely tuned towards directing us back to that grimsical tone, and our sessions were better for it.  I'd encourage everyone to look for this one when it comes out.