Whitecliff – Over the Hill (Session 2)

I’ve decided to start doing write-ups of the various RPGs I’m running / playing in at the moment. To start with, the second session of Whitecliff was last night. But I’ll start this write-up as if the first and second sessions were a single session.

Many years ago, each of the characters was about to die when a little-known deity, Cob, gave them a choice. They could meet their fate and go to whatever follows death or he could teleport them to a divine garden where they’d spend a few generations until they were sent back into the world on a divine mission.
Time passed without meaning or notice in the garden and suddenly Cob was before them again saying their time had come. They would be sent back to a world where gods no longer roamed and their mission was to prepare for the arrival of many more, to found a village.

The first three to be sent back appeared together on the banks of a large river. Across the river are 50+ metre tall white cliffs. On the banks this side is a temple to the All-Mother and the patron gods. The three characters are below the fold.

Like this, but shorter and less ocean, more river. Photo: Tobias von der Haar (CC BY 2.0)

Sabenne – A dowry of horses[1] would have trampled this young bride to death on her wedding day had she not taken up Cob’s offer. She appeared wearing her wedding dress.
Ashmaran – A 15 year old farmboy whose family died or was scattered after their crops failed. He lived off the land for years before succumbing to a cold winter. Cob made his offer as Ashmaran lay partly buried by snow and circled by wolves. He appeared in his worn-out clothes with an old knife on his belt.
Artimenes – A builder and artificer who recently ascended to mastery of his trade. He accepted Cob’s offer as he was falling from the scaffolding around a temple he had designed. He appeared with a mason’s tool kit strapped to his belt, in the dusty but otherwise clean garb of a master tradesman.

After introductions, the trio investigated the temple. Inside they found an antechamber containing six cots, a cooking stand, a shallow pool of water with a font in its centre, an alcove shrine to Cob, a series of tapestries depicting the end of the first age, and a small collection of basic tools[2]. The main chamber contained 10 statues. The 8 patron gods at slightly-larger-than-human scale, the All-Father bigger again, and the All-Mother dwarfing them all.

Ashmaran found a pair of fishing spears in the pile of tools and set about fishing in the river. He soon had more than enough to feed the trio for the next week. Sabenne foraged for some seasonings and then demonstrated her cooking skills preparing dinner and smoking the remaining fish to preserve it. The trio had a brief look around, noting a hill to the south-west and a forest to the south-east. The river runs from west to east, with the cliffs on its northern banks. After much discussion, they decided they would head to the hill in the morning.

The next day they awoke to discover a fourth person snoring on the grass in front of the temple. Wearing a thick leather apron and carrying a blacksmith’s hammer, Wayne revealed Cob had made the offer when his forge exploded. The group decided they’d still head out to the hill. Sabenne stayed behind and the three men set off with a day’s worth of food each. Artimenes grabbed an axe from the tool pile and chatted merrily about how he was going to build a tower the entire walk to the rise.

As they neared the rise, Artimenes spotted a pack of wild dogs[3] and Ashmaran decided to feed them[4]. They remained quite standoffish, but were somewhat less hesitant half-an-hour later. From the top of the rise, they discovered an old, overgrown road further to the south west along with a pair of ruins. The more distant one seemed, to Ashmaran, to be laid out like a wealthy farmstead. The closer one – another hours walk away and at a corner in the road, seemed to be a temple.

African Wild Dog
Photo by Jeff Kubina: https://www.flickr.com/photos/kubina/2902762246 (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The trio debated their next action. Artimenes was keen to head home via a copse of trees so that he could chop one down and get started on his tower. The other two voted to investigate the ruins and so that’s where all three headed. As they got closer, Ashmaran and Artimenes noticed that some boars had made it their lair and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Wayne was heard to mutter something about country-bumpkins always been able to spot a pig from a mile away.

The walk home was uneventful, but on returning they discovered three new arrivals – Nisid the potter, Eshnud the physician, and Aeris the haymaker. The seven exchanged stories and bemoaned the lack of a seventh bed.

The next day they hiked to the closest copse of trees and returned with enough materials to create a seventh bed. They then settled into a routine of fishing and collecting wood whilst Artimenes started building a raft bridge across the river and dubbed it Founder’s Bridge. Once completed, Ashmaran – being the lightest and the best swimmer – crossed it. He found it to be impressively sturdy. Better yet, he discovered a small stream of earth essence emanating from a crack in the cliff face.

The group discussed their next actions only briefly – getting to the top of the cliff is the first goal. Longer term plans include carving rooms out of the cliff face itself. And that’s where the session ended.
It was a fantastic playtest that I thoroughly enjoyed and that I’m confident the players had fun with too. It was also successful as a playtest – in that I learnt a lot about the weaknesses of the system as it stands and have already made a number of notable improvements as a result. Far and away the most successful playtest session I’ve run, and I’m really looking forward to see both the story and the system continue to grow.



My footnotes are never essential reading. It’s where I put the tedium (or the occasional attempt at humour) that I’m loathe to cut but that most people aren’t interested in. Read at your own peril.

1: One of the things we’re trying in this game is letting players introduce facts about the world – so long as they fit the theme and atmosphere and don’t contradict already established facts. This was an example of that – until Sabenne’s player wanted her character’s dowry (and death) to be a herd of horses. With that simple statement she established that horses existed, had been domesticated, and were considered to be of some value.

2: This was another example of player-driven world-building/narrative. Artimenes’ player simply declared that he saw dogs on the hillside. We had a discussion about it and what sort of dogs they were and the rest just played out from there. It added an awesome bit of flavour to an otherwise fairly exposition-heavy section. I’m really excited to see what else starts happening using this mechanic.

3: The system uses a lot of work-it-out-as-you-need-it, so rather than listing the tools that the gods have provided, we instead agreed that the have a collection of basic tools. Mechanically, this is represented as a Descriptor, which is basically just a tag applied to a location or organisation. Descriptors can be just descriptive or they can have some other rules applied to them that can be activated by tapping the descriptor. In this case the “Tools from the Gods” descriptor can be tapped to automatically get one basic tool or toolkit. This descriptor can only be tapped 12 times and then it gets removed. Other descriptors might not run out, but might only be able to be tapped once per season. Sometimes they might require work or other resources to provide their benefit. For example, Whitecliff has a second descriptor “River Full of Fish”, which can be tapped several times a season to allow a character to spend half their labour for the season to gain enough fish to feed 12 people for that season. The number of times it can be tapped each season may depend on which season we’re in (the players have yet to discover whether or not that’s the case).

4: Of course he did, because what player has ever been able to resist trying to tame a wild animal…

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