This is the third part of the Project Arise playtest story. You can find the first part here and the previous part here.

The party’s stats can be found here.

From here, we’ll be using the Arise Alpha Release v0.1-1.

Roland and Gem took a turtle-raft from the mainland, across a great lake on which is built an enormous city. Now they stand on the docks of a little village, built onto an island directly adjacent to that city. In the distance, they can see a small bridge that connects the island to a city gate.

Between them and the bridge are numerous houses, shacks, and other buildings. Most of them are made from wood, or a combination of wood and the gray brick also used to make the city’s forbidding walls.

Roland gets the feel of the place soon. Although it’s not his home, it’s built the way his village was constructed. People are doing the things his people did - making things, moving things, talking to each other as they do. It brings a smile to his face, drawn from a relief that things make sense after the dangers and mysteries of the past week.

He feels his stomach rumble, and reminds himself that he’s not among his people. The two of them will have to find food. Although Gem doesn’t seem to know who she is, she still knows how the world works. He trusts her to realize they both need to find food and shelter here, but isn’t sure if she knows how any more than he does.

Let’s start by filling out some personal and party EXP Triggers, which is how characters advance. The concept was introduced in the previous draft doc, but now we have examples to work from!

The party as a whole has the following triggers:

  • Minor: Lean something about an Enemy or Villain
  • Major: Travel to a new region

Roland has the following EXP Triggers, all drawn from the doc:

  • Minor: Defeat 3 grunts or 2 elites
  • Major: Reduce an enemy’s HP on every single one of your turns

Gem likewise has the following triggers:

  • Minor: End a battle with half or less of your maximum MP
  • Major: Perform 3 Camp or Downtime actions

As of on cue, he hears Gem speak. “I was wondering about myself,” she says as she walks. “Did I belong in that castle? Or was I an intruder? Were the men chasing me working there, or were they the intruders? I think if I knew that, I’d know more about what to do. So I’ve been asking myself questions about castle life. And I’m sorry to say that I don’t have a clear idea about it at all.”

Roland smiles and makes what he hopes is a comforting, cheerful shrug. “Don’t worry, I have a plan. We just need to find the right place…”

He doesn’t have a plan.

“What kind of place are we looking for?” Gem asks nervously.

“I’ll know it when I see it,” Roland says.

If these people are like his villagers, there’ll be something here, sooner or later, that he’ll recognize. Right?

The pair have explored maybe a quarta of the lake village. They’re taking a rest in the shade of a one-story building when they hear a voice from overhead. It’s a low, dusky drawl.

“Howdy, strangers. Let me guess. New to town, and not sure what to do?”

Roland and Gem look upward.

The speaker is a woman, sitting cross-legged atop the building in whose shadow they rest. Her hands and torso are shaped more like folk Roland knows, but her legs have the distinct digitigrade layout of a cat’s and likewise end in broad, furry paws. Her face is partially like his in arrangement, but has a cat’s distinctly colored nose, and her oversized ears are likewise catlike and extend from the sides and top of her head.

“Who are you, please?” Gem asks politely.

“Alabastet, if you please,” the woman replies.

She lazily rises to her feet, then with acrobatic grace flips forward off the building, and lands on her feet between the pair. At her full height, she’s a head taller than Roland himself. He doesn’t recognize fashion beyond the villagers’ notions of everyday dress, and the occasional glimpses of aristocratic finery or military precision, but the leather and cloth pieces she’s wearing looks to him to be practical and comfortable. Like Roland, she carries a traveler’s sack, with straps that can adjust to shoulder or back wear.

“What do you do here?” Roland asks. He wasn’t sure how to ask people questions earlier - not without giving away his increasing embarrassment at his own ignorance - but now it’s okay. This woman spoke first.

Alabastet taps her chin with a finger and looks up and away, as though deep in thought. “Why, I do all kinds of things here,” she grins at last, exposing sharp canine teeth. “You could say I discover and develop opportunities.”

“We need to find a way into the City, and find someone who can answer questions,” Gem says earnestly, leaning forward.

Alabastet winces. “Difficult, my dears, difficult indeed. That will cost you money.” She holds up her hands quickly, gesturing the responsibility of this away from herself. “Everything around here costs money, including getting inside the walls. It’s not my doing.”

Roland steps forward, clutching a fist in determination. “We can work! I’m strong. I can fight, and lift, and carry. I saw plenty of people here. I’m just looking for someone loading wagons or hay bales.”

“I can sing, and heal,” Gem says. “I speak other languages. I don’t know what else I can offer.”

“Fight, and heal, eh?” A gleam of avarice lights in the tall cat-woman’s eyes. “Have either of you ever faced… a monster?”

Roland and Gem look at each other, and back to Alabastet, and shake their head. “I’ve never seen a monster,” Roland admits.

Alabastet’s teeth gleam as she grins. “I’m so glad to explain it to you! You see, you can help me. Lately, more and more of them have been attacking merchants on the road. You saw all those people at the Stone Gate? They’re rushing into Turandis for safety.”

“Turandis?” Roland asks in confusion.

Alabastet blinks in surprise. “That’s the name of the city! How far did you two travel?”

“My village is five days away,” Roland admits.

“I see I’ll have much to teach you,” Alabastet says, with a sly grin on her face. “Well, my darling newborn chicks, this is the city of Turandis, you’re in a little nameless village outside of it, and this is the one safe place from those monsters. They’re attacking anyone on the road and stealing the cargo. The merchants are willing to write off the cargo, but want the monsters dispatched. So the deal is, if you kill the monsters, you get to keep whatever they looted.”

She clasps her hands together in excitement. “And you two can help me hunt monsters! You’ll be helping the people of Turandis, and they’ll be grateful. And you’ll be making money, which from the look of you two you’re in dire need of.”

“I’m not sure about killing…” Roland begins, remembering his feelings about the soldiers in the forest.

Alabastet laughs. “Oh, squeamish, huh? Well, you don’t kill monsters. When they’ve been damaged enough, they evaporate - poof!” She makes a blowing-up gesture with her hands. “Just like smoke. Nobody knows why.”

Roland and Gem look at each other, and back to Alabastet. “Very well. We accept,” Gem says, and Roland nods in agreement.

We add a new Regional Reputation, “Turandis”, to the party sheet. The party can now accept quests to clean up nests of monsters in the area.

In addition, we do some worldbuilding behind the scenes. Although the PCs don’t know it, what Alabastet calls “monsters” are called “Figments” - figments of a great nightmare - rather than real physical beings. Like all nightmares, they can be dispelled, but until then they look and act like someone’s dreamed idea of a real being. This is our group’s way of handling the majority of fights in the game without invoking the morality of killing thinking beings.

Finally, we have a new party member! Alabastet’s concept is “greedy thief with a hidden past”. Her aspect is Aero. Her background is “Outlaw”. Her Cath is “Greimali” and her Discipline is “Raider”. She’s a classic JRPG thief character who wields twin daggers, steals from enemies in combat, with the Steal and Dual Wielder abilities from Raider.

Her EXP Triggers are “Make it through a battle without being bloodied even once” and “Gain or lose +/− 10 Reputation”.

She contributes 60 gold to the party inventory.

“Good, good,” Alabastet grins, rubbing her hands together eagerly. “Until then, you’ll want to rest and eat, I imagine? I’ll show you places to get food around here - and you can thank me for the help by buying me dinner. I’ve got a place to sleep, and you two are welcome to get cozy there too.”

The three buy food from street vendors, and follow Alabastet’s lead to her abode. The hovel is built in the fire-charred wreck of a home. There’s little more than a fire pit, a cookpot and assorted utensils and cooking supplies, buckets half-filled with captured rain water, and a big pile of furs meant for bedding. But it’s warm enough to keep them comfortable against the chill of the night wind coming off the lake.

A sudden awareness of their own weariness sweeps over both Roland and Gem, and they see in each other the shared feeling. The three therefore arrange their sleeping furs, say good night, and fall immediately to sleep.

The PCs could spend time on the island village, but the party wants to head out to fight monsters and make money. We’ll spend one day of Downtime here.

We didn’t have an opportunity to use the proper Expedition or Camp rules before, so we’re just going to declare that everyone’s HP and MP are full.

The party pays 6 gold, enough for Meager living in town. This grants everyone 1 downtime action. In addition, Gem and Alabastet both have traits that apply here. Downtime action DC is 12, since the area is “average and accepting”: dark clouds are on the horizon, but nobody’s suffering right now.

Roland’s muscles are stiff from travel and the poor sleeping conditions. It’s time to get himself back into working order.

He starts with a bath in the lake. Alabastet instructs both Gem and him in the village habit, which is to venture close to the lake’s edge, find a rocky outcropping to obscure vision, and place some of your own clothing under a rock heavy enough to secure them against the wind.

He still lacks confidence enough to ask people about the strange soldiers that came for his village. But he knows he’s akin to these people, and he wants to do some honest work here.

While this isn’t the usual “party and gamble” that Carouse suggests, Roland is trying to pass time and make friends, and that’s what the Carouse action does. He rolls his Force of +6 and gets 4, 5, and 5, for a total of 20. He’ll gain a contact (though we don’t know what that means right now) and the party gains a point of Drive.

At first, Roland gets stares from people as he offers to help, but gradually he finds a few folk who warm up to him. His first job is to lug sacks of grain from a warehouse to the bridge to the gate into Turandis, which he learns is called the Wave Gate.

The sacks are reassuringly heavy. Roland can’t really make out the writing on their sides - it’s clearly writing, but it seems like some kind of foreign language. Maybe Gem could read it, he muses.

He forgot to ask for money from the warehouse manager, and the old man doesn’t offer any, but does tell him, “come back tomorrow, or any time you want,” and Roland feels like he’s gained something he was looking for regardless.

Gem, on the other hand, wants to Ask Around Town about her pendant, and about the soldiers at Roland’s village. She rolls her Talk of +4 and gets 3, 6, 4 for a total of 17. The Boon is good for a +1 to the party’s reputation, and her check succeeds.

Gem, meanwhile, spends her time singing on the street. A pittance of bronze coins fall at her feet from passers-by, along with flowers and other cheap but tangible acknowledgements. Every so often someone stops to listen, and between songs she asks the meager crowd about the soldiers and attacks of late. Few people stick around for this part, but one lanky merchant has news for her.

“I don’t know about that ruby,” he says. “I’d suggest you have it appraised. But those soldiers made their camp in the village of Ammien, up north of the Cossway. They left, but maybe they left behind something useful?”

The advice from the book is:

GMs are encouraged to structure this in the form of an understanding of where to go or whom to talk to to actually answer your question, rather than outright answering the question. This allows you to spin the Downtime Action into an Adventure scene where you go and talk to the other party or investigate the secondary location.

Framing the answer this way lets us do exactly that.

This isn’t enough to mark the party’s EXP Trigger of “learn something about an enemy”, but visiting Ammien will do that.

When Roland and Gem return, Alabastet is already there, her arms full of stoppered potion bottles and other supplies. “Battle equipment!” she exclaims. “I went to an alchemist I know and told her we’re going monster hunting. I got a good deal on the unsold inventory. We’ll find out what’s useful and what’s not.”

“Hopefully not during battle,” Roland says worriedly.

Alabastet just laughs, but doesn’t answer his question, worrying him still further.

Alabastet spends her Downtime Buying & Selling, rolling her Bargaining of +3 and getting 4, 5, and 4 for a total of 16. She’s traded 40 gold for 4 IP, bringing the party’s total to 8, and spent another 21 gold for expedition supplies for a week.

Another night in Alabastet’s hovel, and another dawn.

Like before, Roland and Gem separate to take their baths. Alabastet has procured eggs, tomatoes, and seasoning to make a spicy morning dish, and the two return to the scent of it simmering over her fire-pit.

Alabastet supplies Gem with her own traveler’s bag, carefully packed with vials and potions wrapped in padding. She shares a few more with Roland, and distributes other goods such that none of the trio are solely in possession of anything the group will need.

At the dock, she likewise takes charge by hailing Paterschildt, the raft-turtle. “I’m on business today, Paterschildt!” she calls out.

“You’ve secured help at last. Good, good.” The turtle rumbles approvingly. “I remember you two. The girl who sang, and the boy who was short of coin. You both should know that as long as you are on city business, the fare is paid for.”

Roland nods, and looks to Alabastet for confirmation. “Well, we’re hunting monsters, and I was told that is city business…”

“It is, it is,” the turtle answers. “Alo matero. Keep us safe.”

The three discuss their plan on the ride to the mainland. Gem has heard the name “Ammien”, a village north of the Cossway, and Alabastet knows of it. They will proceed north along the road, fighting any monsters they come across.

They step off the turtle’s back and onto the dock, and walk up the gentle slope back to the Cossway. Roland and Gem have seen this sight before, but now they look with new eyes at the Stone Gate, and back down to the Cossway where the castle and Roland’s village can be found.

As they walk, Gem leans close to Roland and whispers, “I’m scared”. Her eyes are tight, and her voice is tense.

Roland smiles, both in reassurance of his comrade, and in the relief that he’s not alone in his fear. “Me too,” he whispers back, and reaches for her hand.

Gem takes the hand in her own, and squeezes it in gratitude.

Alabastet smiles at the pair from where she walks, but says nothing.

We’ll explore the revamped combat system next time, and hopefully mark some experience points and level our characters up!