You are here

Darkurthe Legends!

As the shadows of evil stretch across the land, calls come forth from the ancient kings of Darkurthe for champions.  Only a few brave souls dare to face the other-world horrors that were thought to exist only in legend.  Those who survive are changed forever, unable to return to the ordinary lives they have left behind.  They have learned that ...FROM TRIALS COME HEROES, FROM HEROES COME LEGENDS.

For those not familiar with Darkurthe Legends, it is a gritty fantasy heartbreaker from the 90s.  I haven't gm'd in many years, so this is my first post on Adept Play about my first gming experience in well over 20 years.  There are plenty of reviews of this game that go into the setting and system and do a fine job of it, so here I will just discuss our play sessions briefly and discuss any issues as they come up.

We didn't have an official session zero, but communicated frequently via discord messages regarding what we all were expecting out of this game and we all agreed upon a more casual aproach and I think that it worked out great.  Robbie referred to it as 'hard framing' the sessions.  We decided on a location and just jumped into play quickly without too much setup and not very many expectations.  As far as prep goes, I created several characters, detailed some locations, picked a few monsters and set up a few interpersonal relationships.  That may have been too much even.  I was really nervous about this, but it was a blast and will only get better.

Before we embark, Robbie's character, a Living God, attempted and failed to gain a channeling ability called 'Gate'.  My only issue is the difficulty for casting spells is so great, I feel that starting magic users should have some other bonus in order to be a magic user-but enough of that!

Ron rolled spectacularly well during this session, leading us to wonder if the dice will fail just as spectacularly during one of Darkurthe's gritty combat turns.  Travelling north with a caravan headed to Ithkmar, we split off into the Mehru Fen swamps in search of at least one of the seven cities of the necromancer kings.  In the swamp, we encountered a strange creature and fabulously avoided getting snatched up by it with a '19'.  Ron's character navigated us through the swamp with a few outdoor survival skill rolls and we managed to find a path to an NPC that can be of assistance.  Our session ended here.

I'll say that I love many of the systems that this game offers, so far it's just been the usual d20 rolling as far as the system goes.  As far as setting goes, Darkurthe really has a lot to offer.  Each place on the map has a firm foothold in the lore and there are monster entries that include possible NPCs and a lot more.  If I were to plan a campaign, I mean really plan one out, there's plenty of material for consideration.  As we progress further into the world, my posts will improve, I just had to get this out while it was fresh.  Stay tuned!


Actual Play


Ron Edwards's picture

My dice-rolling last night was apparently karmic reward for my wretched history of fumbles and monster-chow back in the 70s and early 80s.

I've been actively seeking to play this game for at least fifteen years. Other things keep jumping into line ahead of it, whether by player choice, momentum of another game, or projects at hand. For example, if Tim and Chris had chosen it instead of Legendary Lives back in 2006 or so, my whole trajectory of interest in the latter game would probably have not happened; or if I'd felt a bit more confident about the rules, I would have brought it to Spelens Hus late last year instead of RuneQuest.

So I am really happy that it apparently clawed its way to the top of someone else's list. Here's my character, Hannu of Ilraithe, observant follower of Mazerial. When I'm done editing the session I'll include the video with the main post. (I just realized that was an older scan; for play, I completed the sheet so that he's wearing battle leathers, which stop 5 hits, his casting for Ceremony is +6, and his skills are all 13+.)

Here are a couple of other details relevant to recent discussions here.

Although Scott reminded me of my long-ago stated interest in playing the game, and was effectively the organizer for this group, he did not anticipate being the GM ... and he ended up doing so because, well, figuratively, Robbie and I both stepped backward in comedic unison when the sergeant asked for a volunteer. Therefore the widely-observed association of "person who socially organizes playing this game" and "Game Master" does not apply here although it superficially looks like it did.

We all agreed, without controversy, that the mildly-implied "best for role-players" location in the setting, Paradise City, was the least interesting thing in the book, being nothing more than D&D-town whereas the rest of the setting was incredibly solid in location, culture, layered history, political struggle, and fantasy ethnicities. So we used the ideas in my "Setting and emergent stories" essay instead, and we're playing in or at the porous border of Ilraithe, the theocratic, currently most-powerful region.

That's why Robbie is playing a Living God and I'm playing a Faith-heavy fellow who knows the Ceremony spell as well as being a reasonably good outdoors/guide type. This is a deep dive into the religious magic of the game which - and these are strong words! - seems likely to be as good as RuneQuest's.

Ross's picture

So having watched this I'm a) facinated and confused by the religious goings on and looking forward to more, and b) picturing Scott hurriedly sketching out a lost necromantic city and fun things to have happen there. Assuming he does that I'm interested in the social level agreement you guys have (maybe unspoken). For example if, having had a good look at crumbling temples and sinister towers from a distance your characters decided it looked a bit dangerous and headed elsewhere, not that these characters of yours would do that I'm sure, would it be legitimate for him to give you a little shove back into it? Squelching monsters on the path back sort of thing! Or looking at it another way - having had quite a bit of leeway to decide what your starting position was and what you wanted to do, to what extent are you expected to stay with that and not say, "actually you know where sounds nice, Paradise City, that's where".

Ron Edwards's picture

Let's clarify that this is a GM-led prep endeavor. Scott isn't dashing one step ahead of whatever Robbie and I spitball at him. Furthermore, this session was played after a strong interaction about setup - we didn't just show up and start.

  1. Scott selected the general location of Ilraithe after a group agreement about locations in general, basically, to ignore Paradise City and to use the principles in my essay. Scott included it in a short list of his preferred locations, and Robbie and I jumped at it as a pre-existing fave, independently for both of us.
  2. Scott chose Cymril as the "base" city of play, where we'd start and where we'd probably set up permanent living or professional situations.
  3. Neither Robbie nor I had colluded in making our characters, so their extreme compatibility (goddess channeler, worshipper of that pantheon) wasn't planned. Upon seeing it, Robbie reasonably took the lead, as Living Gods do what they want, and suggested Pyxy had some interest in the nearby outlying scary areas. This is compatible with everything about the game, the setting, and the goddess in question, and isn't anything unexpected.
  4. The specific "interest" wasn't specified, so the venture into the Mehru Fen and the implications of the sunken cities there are all Scott's. I think you're getting the wrong idea that we threw it to him and he's adapting to it. He's throwing it to us.

Another point that I think I didn't clarify in my presentation is that all three of us have owned the game for many years and have read it many times, hoping to play one day. So we are all feeling our way through rules we know in text, but no one is taking point about teaching it to the others.

Ron Edwards's picture

Now for the tough part. I'm getting a weird impression from these and similar statements from other people about other games, at other posts:

... if, having had a good look at crumbling temples and sinister towers from a distance your characters decided it looked a bit dangerous and headed elsewhere, not that these characters of yours would do that I'm sure, would it be legitimate for him to give you a little shove back into it?

... having had quite a bit of leeway to decide what your starting position was and what you wanted to do, to what extent are you expected to stay with that and not say, "actually you know where sounds nice, Paradise City, that's where".

These puzzle the hell out of me. Is there a prevailing fear that the players will "go AWOL," either on your part specifically, or (speaking to anyone reading) as a general concern? To dig a little deeper, some kind of difficult ambiguity about "free to choose" vs. "fuckin' hell, I prepped this?"

Because in play I don't see it as a problem unless someone goes to some sabotage-style effort to make it one, and I see that as a fear rather than a demonstrated reality. As if the GM says "you're free to choose," but they're really not, and the GM fears someone will call them out on it one day. Is that what's going on here?

Ron Edwards's picture

Direct link into the playlist.

In which we venture into the fens. I'd like you to watch this one like an anthropologist. What are we doing? How are we relating to one another and the fictional material? When does "character play" appear, and how do we respond to it? I think we are easing into it, finding things out, and the unforced relationship between the two player-characters is the key. I don't want to push it or impose it or expect it, but something may happen between them - could be anything! - which their perceived roles as Living God and fervent worshipper may or may not be ready for.

Cool combat system, as we all hoped. Oh, and I screwed up the damage for my critical strike - kind of. I knew that you doubled one of the d8s and not the other. So I knew which one was to be doubled, I just called it the wrong one (Strength instead of weapon). It's not like I rolled both and chose to double the higher one.

Tsquaughpft's picture

I want to really delve into this magic system, I think it deserves that.  The combat system is really neat and quite deadly.  I look forward to being more comfortable with these systems instead of slightly intimidated by them, as they are unique.  I would like to really immerse myself in the lore.

As for the play style, I love this.  I enjoy character creation so much, it's great to create a bunch of these really basic character ideas (name, class, race, whatever) and throw them in the pot and see what happens.  It all seems to fall into place and I seem to very easily work my general ideas in when appropriate.  It feels natural and unforced.

Ron Edwards's picture

I'm glad to see you saying all these things!

I completely agree about the lore. The religious and cultural details of Illraithe are sketchy in the book, so there's plenty of potential for you to adopt them and effectively to invent your own richer version, created in easy details bit by bit as we play. The belt of ruined/lost Seven Cities is just begging for that treatment too, and again, not for a 1000 page sourcebook but merely cool things we encounter that you think fit, without trying to make them fit.

Later, we can discuss the pedigree of the combat sequencing/damage system, but for now, let's play the hell out of it.

Tsquaughpft's picture

The 7 cities is a piece of lore that I hadn't even thought of before we started, and I'm sure there's plenty other places of interest for other characters, other games. This is just a tiny corner in the world-but I love how this region's lore is part of this big epic story.

One thing I realized upon reviewing the combat rules is that initiative uses d10 not d20. I think we all used d20s (not sure). No harm since the snake totally feeb'd out in an attempt to get a bite to eat.

Helma's picture

sincerely hope you will have the possibility to continue playing, because I want to see more of it. I like the contrast between Pyxy’s “no nonsense” approach to whatever happens and Hannu’s “it’s all a sign of the god/gods”. Though what I’m most interested in is the uses of magic in this game. Do I understand it right that any magic that is been used can potentially benefit anybody in the vicinity, foes and friends alike? If that is true I hope to see more magic in the future and how that rule/mechanic (what is the right word?) plays out.

Ron Edwards's picture

We played another session today! (editing, editing)

Magic is resolved by rolling a d20 and applying bonuses and penalties. The results are checked on a specific table for each type of magic.

For Pyxy's type, which is called Channeling, it looks like this:

The Channeling magic is specific to the Living Gods (Pyxy is one of these); its unique feature is that you can cast any of the listed spell effects, so it is very flexible. In most of the other types of magic, you have to specify the effect more formally, i.e., you "know a spell" which does that effect alone.

Each effect has a built-in minus and a built-in Drain (to the Will characteristic).

So, Robbie might choose an effect with a listed -4, and let's say that Pyxy had successfully "recognized" it earlier in the day through meditation. To cast the effect, Robbie has to roll a d20, add 1 (which is Pyxy's Channeling ability), and subtract 4. Without other modifiers, the adjustment is -3 to whatever comes up on the die, and then he checks out the table.

You can see that Pyyxy isn't a very good Channeler - since any character needs an 18 or higher on the table to get the effect in the intended way, one really needs a solid bonus to the roll. So she really needs a higher value for the skill, and until she improves, Robbie is careful to use other means of getting bonuses, like the ritual feather Pyxy carries around, and doesn't risk trying "unrecognized" effects (without prior meditation).

Against the snake, she achieved a Reversal, which means the spell is cast, but some aspects of the effect are randomly determined, including its target and duration. So we had to roll to see whether her desired Haste spell affected Hannu (as intended), herself, or the snake.

Reversal is one of the big risks of Channeling in particular, which matches the notion that the Living God is not scholarly, but simply absorbing and releasing divine energy. A lot of the other magic tables don't even include it, e.g., Singing, Elven Archmagic, Alchemy, Healing, and Hannu's Ceremony. They all have other problematic things for low results, like Curse or Rebuke for Ceremony, but they can't result in Reversal. Reversal is possible but unlikely (the lowest possible result) for the two "classic fantasy magic" types in the game, called Runes and Wizardry.

Ron Edwards's picture

We spent a lot of time upgrading our characters, most of which I cut out. The improvement rules have a few clunky bits, not least that the GM has to assess the players' "quality" individually and apply a percent to determine how much you actually get ... anyway, though, some aspects of these rules are quite good, not least that you get lots of points every session. So we were able to beef up a necessary skill or two.

So you're not disappointed, the play-time for this session was mostly spent looking around in a buried tower or semi-ziggurat type building, and the upcoming fight is attended to in session 4. But I maintain that it is an interesting looking-around session, and I also call your attention to Scott becoming more confident as a GM with two admittedly intimidating players to cope with.

Here's the link!

Upon editing, I realized I accidentally cut a fun few seconds, when Scott tells us at the end, "Better roll some initiative!" and both Robbie and I provide truly disturbing grins of anticipation. I planned to leave that in but messed up the transition from one part to the next. Maybe I'll make a little clip of that bit for fun when and if I get the chance.

We also chatted a bit about the game afterwards, which is what part 5 is mostly about. Sort of a little seminar, I guess - but relevant becauset this was filmed last week, when a whole bunch of D&D this and OSR that was being thrown around in a bunch of conversations. So this fits pretty well with the post-Lamentations discussion and my conversation with Jon Hastings.

Ron Edwards's picture

Session 4 is now available!

I plead for some generosity as you view this. Our connection cut in and out, which led to a whole lot of "what?" and guessing, which then needed correcting. My edits tried to correct for it, but when I hit strobe levels of blinks, I realized I'd have to take a couple of sections out.

The rules took a little hit from this as well. At one point during edits I realized one of our NPC allies got skipped, for instance. Since this was also our first big combat with multiple foes on each side, and since various weapons and combat moves were involved, and since all three of us are learning the rules through use, rather than reading, for the first time, it's going to look really choppy.

Finally, Scott is new to GMing, so consider his position in working with an unfamiliar game and with assertive players such as Robbie and myself. He prepared carefully, with cards to use as table-tools for ordering, but he did set up six skeletons against two player-characters and four NPC allies, which is a lot to handle. Then, as it happened, two of the skeletons and three of the NPC allies ended up at the exact same initiative score, so that meant managing a five-person scrum all by himself as a subset of each round. The aforementioned connection hassles played havoc and we had to stop and recap who everyone was and where and against whom at least once.

You'll see me talking "like a GM" a lot, as I was the appointed lieutenant for maintaining the order of actions, and it might look like I'm bossing - but again, please be generous and understand that I'm restricting all that input to when things happen and not what characters do.

Here's a critical point about all of this, concerning my character, Hannu. Late in the fight, our most effective hireling, Palymuse, was free to turn his attention on any foe he wanted. It so happened that Hannu was the only person fighting alone, against the only skeleton who was yet undamaged ... and Palymuse just stood there, holding his action. You can see me narrow my eyes at that the first time; I'm thinking about how Hannu was prejudicially dismissive toward him back when Pyxy tried to align him and failed. Then, when his turn came around again and Scott again said he was holding his action, not doing anything, I determined that following the fight, if I lived, that Palymuse was about to get a summary and permanent firing from employment, including battlefield court-martial and execution, and I'd demand that all the other hirelings carry this out.

As this would be a very intense action, I wanted to be sure and was very careful to explain how Hannu was interacting with the other hirelings. It's good that I did, because as it turned out, Scott had misplaced "my" skeleton's card and didn't realize the situation - as soon as he did, he instantly announced that Palymuse was rushing to Hannu's aid. You can see in the video that I'm deliberately not telling or suggesting to Scott whether he should do that, or what to do at all, and that his decision about how to play Palymuse was entirely his own.

The cool thing is that I was now gifted with the opportunity for Hannu to assess his past action and to recognize that Palymuse had helped him even after Hannu had been kind of a dick. So I got to see for myself that my character has a good side, in choosing to apologize and to acknowledge Palymuse's worthiness to the imperial gods.

I wanted to mention one more thing about the improvement mechanics, which is that, by the text, the experience points are intended to arrive constantly and to be used dynamically, i.e., in play, rather than at any designated stop points in the fiction or between real-life sessions. We had forgotten to get our points for session 3, and it really hurt, in retrospect, as I would have been able to upgrade my Ancient Lore in training to a real skill ... and if I had, my rolled 13 would have been a success. So from now on, I'm going to be a little needy bunny about our points at the end of each session, so I can spend them in play for in-fiction upgrades.

Last thing! Since the "Fizzle" result specifically includes phantasmal but ineffective spell effects, Hannu is convinced that Pyxy successfully aided him with magic during the fight.

Tsquaughpft's picture

The book hints at there being people in the borderlands of Darkurthe, the Gothes, a kind race of humans that is reviled in the Darkurthe setting for bearing the mark of evil: gray skin.  They are commonly called Got which means "mangy dog" in Illraithe.  I took some liberties, since the book is vague, but my intention is to not play them as inherently evil.  I don't know if this is the best way, but I don't think I'm comfortable making them just basically monsters.  I'd like to think they are capable of being both good and evil, just like the Illraithe and any of the other cultures in the book.

Ron Edwards's picture

I completely support this approach. As people will see in Session 5, I'm feeling pretty comfortable in Hannu's "skin" now, and that includes a fairly unsympathetic view toward non-Illraithe, or rather, anyone who's not empire-approved.

My take on this is nuanced. First, that Hannu was badly injured in this-or-that military action in the Illraithe army, hence his trait "scarred," which implies more than merely physical marking. In my mind this is tied to his location of residence, Ithkmar, which is part of the empire but far away from its central government or strict customs - he hasn't gone "back home" from the war, but has become an outrider and traveling guide over here on the frontier.

Second, that his remarkable Faith trait is what got him through his ordeal and generally sustains him day to day; he's a bit of a fanatic, more observant and motivated than most people, which for Illraithe is saying something. In game terms, he's Aligned as part of that picture, and I even fancy that he reached this status while deeply concussed from a skull injury that cut to the bone. So this is a guy who's latched onto his imperial religion and its doctrinal morality as a lifeline ... but he's not a solid citizen in the heart of the imperial culture, either, he's a bit of a wounded leftover instead.

Third, that remarkably, more than he ever would have dared hope, he is now personally involved in the daily actions and desires of an actual Living God. He's practically giddy about it and interprets anything she does or says as divine will, or any actions' results as successful. For example, he thinks the failed spell cast upon him worked, which fortunately the game system totally supports with the Fizzle description.

So ... for that nuance, I am thinking that before the events of play, he was pretty tolerant and casual for an Illraithe citizen, living out there in Ithkmar and dealing with who-knows-who every day, and in the course of his job as trail guide/manager. Then, his intense religiosity was more like a quirk. But now, working with Pyxy is bringing out more conformist views, more doctrinal rigidity, more fanaticism and blind trust, than he's shown before.

That's why he's so ready to dismiss the Got as devil-worshipping perverts. It's what a comfortable, well-off priest of the Living Gods would say down south in the central imperial city, so he's taking on that view as part of working so closely with Pyxy. He's in danger of becoming a willfully-ignorant bigot, and fortunately his recent interaction with Palymuse shows that he's not entirely there yet.

I like him. There's a lot of ways this can go, not least because Pyxy is indeed a person and not just a channel for Amberious.

Ron Edwards's picture

As mentioned above! Here's the video, linked inside the playlist.

Tsquaughpft's picture

I deeply enjoy Darkurthe for many reasons. The book is full of details about the world scattered all through it in small city write-ups, monster descriptions, race details,  etc. So many that no one that has read the book probably knows them all. 

I love the loosey-goosey form of character creation as well and from what I gather, advancement isn't as slow as in d&d, although it does suffer from the whole level 1 super badass hero problem d&d has. (I don't have a problem with that anyway).

The rules are not complicated, they are just different and I had trouble not defaulting to d&d. They're are many things I love with the system, but a few things I would change, the thing is that this game is from a bygone era in gaming history and its a shame that it wasn't given its proper respect during its time. You might say it breaks my heart. 

Add new comment