Storium Starters: Village Assault

This post originally appeared on Gaming Creatively on December 22nd, 2016.

For today’s article, I’d like to try something a little different. Rather than my thoughts on Storium concepts or general roleplaying or narration, I’d like to give a bit of a gift (’tis the season, after all): a starting scene for a game, with challenges and outcomes, and with thoughts on where the story could go from there. Hopefully, this might be something you could find useful in narrating for Storium – either as something to use directly, or just as a means of seeing how you might start thinking about the game’s direction from the get-go.

I’m going to call this (and any future articles of this type) a Storium Starter. As a formal statement:

Storium Starters are starting scene ideas for the generic Storium worlds available to everyone. They contain introductory narration, challenge text, outcomes, and some location or world information that may be necessary to understand the first scene, though I attempt to keep them generic enough that they can easily be slotted in regardless of other world details you might have designed. Along with the initial scene idea, they will also contain ideas for where the story could go from the starting point. Storium Starters are released to public domain and may be used without attribution for your own games.

This Storium Starter is meant for the Fantasy Classic world. It is possible you may find uses for Storium Starters outside of their intended world, but your mileage may vary on usability.

This Storium Starter is based on my opening scene for my Beginner game, “Defenders of Akakios.” I have removed some world information related to a struggle for succession to better enable it to be used with varying world settings.

Scene:

The village of Akakios was small, a place barely known to most. An unimportant village on the kingdom border, largely ignored by the king’s army, it was home to woodcutters and a small few craftsmen—simple, charming folk who prided themselves on supplying the kingdom with wood and a few pretty crafts. Bandits were a source of trouble for merchants traveling through the region, and so the village was never particularly well supplied. The bandits had mostly left the village itself alone, however – Akakios’ small village militia was not strong, but it had been enough to handle scattered groups of bandits.

Now, however…things were different. Rumors had passed through the village in recent days – rumors of bandits gathering together, working together as a large force – a force that could surely crush Akakios, if it chose. Messengers had been sent, but though threats to Akakios had increased, its importance to the crown had not.

Akakios was forgotten by nobles, by knights, and by armies…but not by bandits.

And, hopefully, not by heroes either.

Each had come to Akakios for different reasons. Some had lived there long, others were passing through. Whatever their stories might be, fate had brought them to this place on this day.

The sun rose…and with it came a shout of alarm. A bell rang, rousing villagers and wanderers alike from slumber wherever they had found it. Villagers grabbed farming tools and old, rusted weapons, running in disorder as they readied to defend against a threat far larger than any the village had ever faced.

But before anyone was prepared, the bandits were upon them. Some came on foot, others on horseback. They were of all kinds—big orcs with wicked axes, deserters with still-gleaming armor and bright swords, desperate poor men with knives and ragged armor…the bandits accepted all who were willing.

Willing to kill to get what they wanted.

It was a larger force of bandits than any had ever seen—an army, it could be called. A horde.

And it was already at the village outskirts. Some of the villagers, caught unaware in the early morning light, were caught among the bandit forces, surrounded by laughing horsemen who threw flaming torches into their homes and sheds, lighting them ablaze.

Without help, all of Akakios would fall. The people needed heroes to lead them…heroes to rescue those who were trapped.

And heroes would rise.

Challenges:

This scene is meant for use with these two challenges – set both of these on the scene at the beginning:
  • Drive Back the Assault!
    • Description: The bandit army has come pouring out of the woods! Can you repel this first assault, or will they gain a foothold in town?
    • Points: This is the major challenge for the scene, and I suggest starting it with points equal to the number of players that you have.
    • Strong Outcome: You and the other defenders solidly repel the enemy army, driving them away from the town with a minimum of damage or casualties. The battle isn’t over and the bandit lord still lives, but the town has some breathing room.
    • Weak Outcome: You drive back the bulk of the army to give the village some breathing room, though the bandit lord still lives. However, several of the bandits break through the defenses and make it into the village proper. There, they light several more fires and snatch whatever limited wealth the villagers have.
    • Uncertain Outcome idea: The bandits retreat, but one or two don’t hear the signal in time. Panicking, they grab a civilian as he goes to inspect his house and try to use the man’s safety to bargain for their escape. (I advise not using the mayor as the hostage, as his fate needs to be clearly determined by “Rescue the Civilians!” instead.)
  • Rescue the Civilians!
    • Description: Caught off guard by the bandit army’s assault, some of the town’s citizens are trapped in the midst of the fighting or amongst burning buildings. Can you get them to safety?
    • Points: This is a secondary challenge for the scene. Start it with about half the points that you set on the “Drive Back the Assault!” challenge.
    • Strong Outcome: You manage to get most civilians – including the mayor – further into the village, to relative safety, without any of them getting notably hurt.
    • Weak Outcome: You get most of the civilians to safety, but a few – including the mayor – are killed either by the bandits or by being trapped among fires started in the midst of the battle.
    • Uncertain Outcome idea: The heroes manage to get most of the civilians to safety, but some (perhaps village children) are taken captive by the bandits and are being taken back to the bandit fortress. You might set up a challenge to immediately give chase, or rescuing them might be part of the later challenges in the game.

Emphasize to your players that the “Rescue the Civilians!” challenge is not just about saving civilians from bandits directly – civilians may also be trapped in burning buildings or in danger of being crushed by debris. The more freedom you give players to make and resolve problems for that challenge, the better it seems to run and the more variety it will add to your scene.

It may help to advise players not to spend all three of their card plays for the scene (if you are using the default settings) on these challenges, as I find it is a good idea to follow these up with another set focusing on trying to set up a safe area in the center of the village (if the battle went poorly) or on building defenses around the village and improving morale (if the battle went well). These short challenges build right on from the narrative of the first set, and work well as part of the same scene.

Setting Information:

There is little that needs to be known about the setting as a whole, and for the most part, this can easily be slotted in to most fantasy world setups without much trouble. However, here is some background information that may help decide where the story goes from here:

Akakios: Akakios is a small village on the border of the kingdom (which kingdom exactly is up to you!). It is the sort of village that is too small and unimportant to even reliably be on maps. It has enough natural resources to sustain itself well, however – ample wood from the forest, good water from wells and a nearby river, and reasonable amounts of farmland. The kingdom’s army mostly ignores its existence, so it has never had reliable protection, but it also never had enough wealth to be worth a major bandit assault and it could resist scattered attacks well enough that it just wasn’t worth the trouble. Now, though, a large bandit horde has gathered. Akakios is not well fortified at all – it has barely any real defenses, and only a small militia that is few in number, poorly equipped, and low in skill. Without help, it will easily be swamped by the bandit army. It should be very clear that the heroes have a much larger impact on the bandit army than Akakios’ militia. Akakios cannot save itself.

The Bandits: The bandits have never been unified in the past, and the current situation is new and very, very dangerous. They have been unified by a bandit lord, a powerful and charismatic figure that has managed to convince notoriously selfish and unreliable bandits to join together into a single fighting force. They are not disciplined or necessarily brave, but they have numbers. Akakios is only the beginning. They have a hideout somewhere in the region (I suggest caves) which is nicely fortified but poorly positioned for taking advantage of the region’s resources…which is why their lord wants Akakios.

Bandit Lord: By default, I use the name “Lycus” and describe the bandit lord as a one-eyed, tough-looking human male with several battle scars and a fierce aura about him. He is charismatic and impressive. Perhaps he is formerly a military man, or perhaps he has other secrets. Regardless, he controls the bandits through force of will and the beginnings of a cult of personality. He is not interested in Akakios’ meager wealth…but its location is quite useful. He intends to take over the village and build, gaining a foothold where the kingdom’s military is weakest. There, he believes he can slowly turn himself from a bandit lord to…simply a lord.

Moving Forward:

From here, where does the story go? That depends on how the first scene goes, of course, but here are some options:

Village Defense: The story might focus on defending Akakios directly – building defenses for the village and standing up against increasingly dangerous bandit assaults and plots. Perhaps the messengers to the crown do return with a response, and let the heroes know that help is coming for Akakios…but the village must hold out for three more days for the army to be close enough to help. This story will need to be carefully managed to avoid becoming repetitive – think of varied and interesting plots for the bandits to use against the village, so it isn’t a brute force frontal assault every time. Perhaps the bandits also have a mage of some kind who sends nightmares to prevent the defenders from getting rest. Perhaps bandits emerge from tunnels beneath the city. Perhaps traitors within try to sneak out information on the heroes’ plans for the defense.

Counterattack: This is the model I have used myself in my “Defenders of Akakios” games. The heroes spend a brief time helping the village set up some defenses and getting its militia and other villagers prepared, but it is clear the village can’t hope to hold out for much longer even with their help. Instead, the heroes are sent out to find the bandit lord and slay him, in the hopes that without his force of personality, the bandits will separate once more and fight amongst themselves. This version of the story becomes more like an introductory roleplaying game scenario, with the players progressing into the forest, then into the bandit hideout (likely the region’s caves). It is easy to come up with varied challenges for this – not only the bandits, but perhaps other natural or unnatural dangers (I am fond of parts of the caves being haunted, or ancient traps and creations remaining from prior civilizations). When the bandit lord is slain, the heroes can bring signs of it back to Akakios, and disperse the bandit army as the different bandit groups all seek to take the bandit lord’s place and fight amongst themselves instead.

Evacuation: Another possible angle to take is the evacuation of Akakios – recognizing that the village cannot be saved, perhaps the mayor or other authority begs the heroes to help guide them to a new, safer location, free from the bandit army. This story could be about escorting civilians through a dangerous, natural environment, crossing natural obstacles like chasms or rivers, scouting for food, and of course fighting off bandits who would rather not leave their victims alive to come back for revenge. The villagers’ destination is likely someplace further into the kingdom, where the army can better provide protection.

I hope that you find this Storium Starter useful for your games!

As we are in the midst of the holiday season, there will be no Storium Theory articles here next week. If you are celebrating during this time, I hope that you have a very good time with friends and family and make some good, lasting memories. Bless you all and see you in the new year.

2 Comments

  1. Webb
    Dec 27, 2016

    Hi!
    I just came over from the Storium site after starting one of your beginner games and peeking at your (?) bio page.
    Gosh, I didn’t realize storium had such a dedicated following as you have here. You seem to discuss a lot of topics based on storium here, through posts and podcast it seems.

    I’m also interested in the potential in Storium, though, my focus is more on the gaming aspect than on the writing, which, you all seem to be masters of.

    There seems to be a lot of content here, I’ll be sure to keep this place on my watch list! Keep up the good work everyone!

  2. Pious Agnostic
    Dec 28, 2016

    This is very nice! I look forward to future articles in this mode. It’s instructive to see how you choose to set up your challenges.