Last night, I ran Epyllion, a powered-by-the-apocalypse game in which you play a juvenile dragon adventuring in Dragonia, to find and stop the Darkness. I played with a married couple of friends of mine (long-time D&D players), and their 8 year old daughter (this is her first RPG). In real life, their daughter is a dragon currently polymorphed into a little girl, so this was a perfect way for her to revisit her natural form for a while.
(What?!? I’m not going to tell her otherwise, people! You try telling a dragon she’s not a dragon and see where it gets you! No thanks– I am soft and go well with ketchup!)
It’s a fairly simple premise with some interesting rules mechanics that really support cooperative play. It’s currently in its “drake edition” (beta playtesting), so the book isn’t really complete yet.
This is my writeup of our adventures, plus some playtester and “meta” notes, which I’ll demarcate in purple italic text. I’m going to call the players Mom, Dad, and Kiddo here, to protect their privacy. Character names will remain the same.
I gave a brief overview of the mechanics, but didn’t really get too deep into the moves and descriptions of the moves. Mostly, I didn’t want to put a lot of reading and overhead into the game– we had limited time, because Kiddo’s bedtime was 8:30 and it was already after 6.
We began with playbooks and character creation. We let Kiddo pick first. She wanted to be the Seer because the drawing on the playbook has horns. She named her dragon Samera. Dad picked the Academic and named his dragon Trogdor the Learninator. Mom picked the Warrior, named Lydia.
This was a little messy, since the character sheets/playbooks aren’t as print-and-play ready as the ones for Dungeon World. For example, each playbook has a choice of houses and virtues, and since these matter in the play, they really should have been checkboxes on the character sheet, much as moves are.
Because we were a bit confused by the character creation, I let them freeform their looks and virtues and pick their own houses. Samera (black and purple scales with spiked horns) and Trogdor (black with red flames) were from Myndoth, the house of secrets. Lydia (green and lithe) was from Kebros, the house that was trying to redeem itself. Samera’s virtue was “love,” Trogdor’s was “loyalty,” and Lydia’s was “bravery.”
When I realized my character creation error, I did not force a correction. We ran with it. It was fine.
When she drew Samera, Kiddo added something in her dragon’s claws. She declared “I have a bomb!”
I quietly made a mental note that Samera’s bomb would be important to the story.
Next, we did character bonds, which are called Fellowship in Epyllion. Each character has a set of colored stoned that represent their dragon’s friendship. When another dragon demonstrates your virtue, you give them a stone. Dragons can spend their friendship stones to bolster themselves against the darkness (removing shadow points), or to cast moon magic.
During the fellowship creation, you give and take a few stones, which gives everyone something to start with. With only 3 players, I required each of them to make a fellowship connection with both other players.
Lydia decided that she was helping to teach Samera how to fight the darkness. Samera, for her part, had been saved by Lydia during a fight. In their past adventures, Trogdor had stood up to a demon, which impressed Lydia.
“Tell me about this demon….”
It’s from the Hell Chasm, which they marked on the map for me. It’s especially susceptible to kindness and virtues– when someone exemplifies a virtue near it (earning a friendship stone), it takes actual hit point damage!
It has huge ears, like wings! And it’s a dark green, like pond scum. But it smells like chocolate, to lure its victims close.
“And it’s wearing a necklace with a dark stone in it!” shouts Kiddo.
Aha! I pull out a gaudy plastic gem from my gaming kit and hand it to Kiddo. “Like this, you see. But it’s not just any gem stone. This is the bomb your dragon is carrying!” She grins at me, and I continue. “If it goes off, it will blow up in your face!”
She eeks happily and throws the bomb across the table to Mom! But then she reclaims it, because being a bombadier dragon is just too cool to pass up!
Trogdor the Learninator sagely advises that he has learned the bomb will go off if they take it back to the capitol city, Draconia, killing all the dragons. That’s not fun, so we need to destroy it!
Fortunately, Samera the Seer knows how to do so! You have to freeze it in liquid light! There’s a pool of light on one of the islands surrounding Dragonia, so we’re going to take the gem there to defuse it.
I’ve decided to use the 5-room dungeon structure, since I don’t have a lot of time. The dragons have already encountered a type of puzzle– how to disarm this bomb.
I draw some mountains on the map north of the Hell Chasm. Since Samera is carrying the gem, I describe to her how heavy it is! It weighs her down, like a big rock. Her wings are heavy. She’s getting tired from the weight! She resists using Heart, but it’s tough and they’re moving slowly as a result.
Lydia offers to carry it, but it’s just as heavy for her. They suggest carrying it together, and Trogdor points out that engineering a rig to carry a gemstone like that is just going to be overly complicated. They decide to take turns so the burden isn’t as bad.
Tired, the dragons decided to make a camp on the beach before heading across the water to the island with the pool of light. In the morning, they are about to set off when an old, gold dragon roars from the cliffside and glides down to them.
It is at this point I decide that the party needs an obstacle, in the form of a guardian, blocking entry to the dungeon, per the 5-room dungeon structure.
“What are you up to, little drakes?” the dragon says. “I am Eldathar. Why are you here?” He does not sound nice when he speaks– he sounds like a cranky old coot!
Samera bravely says they’re going to take the gem to be destroyed because it’s from the Darkness. Eldathar doesn’t believe her– everyone knows the Darkness was defeated in the First War.
Trogdor steps up and spouts some great lore about the Darkness and this gemstone and the fate of Dragonia (roll+Cunning). He’s 100% correct, of course, but Eldathar doesn’t care. He’s not impressed by facts!
“I fought in the First War against the Darkness! This is ridiculous– are you saying we failed in our task?”
Finally, Lydia steps up and courageously (roll+Courage) roars “LET US PASS!” Eldathar blinks at her, then chuckles. He tells Lydia that she may pass, if she’s on her way to fetch him a flask of water from the pool of light.
She agrees to do so, and they set off.
But the necklace is so heavy! I suggest they might want to detour to a nearby island, so they won’t be so tired when they arrive.
5-Room Dungeon: Red Herring.
“Forget that! I’m going to summon some stones with my moon magic!” Samera claims. She pays two friendship stones and rolls really well. She wants her stones to be a bridge– a stone bridge between the mainland and Avonlea, the island that contains the pool of light. This bridge heals itself, and has a life stone in the middle of the bridge that will cure someone of the Shadow.
I make notes. Dad asks why I’m writing this down. I shrug. “Because it’s a permanent change to the world.”
They cross the bridge easily and arrive on Avonlea.
“Are there any dangers here on Avonlea, Trogdor?”
“Well, for story reasons, I kind of want to say yes, but… no. The Darkness stays as far from the pool of light as it can! This is a resort island!”
Ahhh… yes. “Excellent. And what do you do when you’re on vacation, my little drakes?”
Samera goes off into the woods to meet a bunch of animals and play! Trogdor borrows one of the many books from the resort library and reads on the beach while sipping a drink from a coconut with an umbrella in it. Lydia loves to swim! She dives into a bay that’s well-protected from the darkness!
“I kind of feel like we’re forgetting something, guys….” says Trogdor.
Nah! Swim! Hike! Fun! Well… maybe. Okay. Let’s break the spell that has us all so… happy! And forgetful. Here we are in the land of the lotus eaters. Lydia decides to try and break the spell. She rolls+Charm and misses.
I decide that she breaks the charm (the beauty of this system is that you can succeed on a miss, if the GM wants that to happen), but does so by introducing a very big danger to the resort! Suddenly, kraken tentacles rise out of the water, entangling Lydia and pulling her down into the waters!
5-Room Dungeon: Big Climactic Scene
Oh, no! On land, Trogdor and Samera need to act quickly to save their friend! Samera suggests they combine their flames to summon a phoenix. Trogdor scientifically suggests they evaporate the water in the bay so Lydia will be saved. Lydia gurgles from beneath the waves as the kraken continues its attack.
They agree to try the scientific method first, and combine their efforts. Samera tries to assist, rolling a 4 (oops!) I can’t remember what the consequence was for this– it was minor. They combine fire, with Trogdor’s flames being bright and strong. Steam billows up from the bay, leaving a steam-bathed Lydia and some boiled calamari behind! As the waves lap back in, she launches herself up.
But now, Lydia has a problem. The bay is no longer protected, and that means the other dragons at the resort are in danger. She uses her own moon magic to cast a protective barrier and a wall of water rises up around the bay. Then she uses a second spell to keep their minds free of the vacation-brain, so they can finish their task. She gets two coconut cups to collect water from the pool of light for Eldathar.
With no further obstacles in the way, the young drakes continue on their way to the pool of light! Samera douses the gem, and blue-purple cloudy water creeps up her claws and arms, coating her in the pool of light’s waters as it defuses the gemstone. When it clears, the gemstone has transformed from dark red to a milky blue (I swap out the gaudy gem for a blue smashed marble).
Lydia collects some of the water for Eldathar, and Trogdor takes a specimen in a test tube he happens to have. As they are about to set off for home, Trogdor stops.
At this point, Dad wants to introduce a new complication to the story, because he wants to test out the Shadow mechanics a bit more. He decides that somewhere along the way, he’s taken some Shadow points, and is now apathetic towards returning to Eldathar and keeping Lydia’s promise.
“Hey, you know what? Eldathar didn’t even help us. We don’t need to go back to him. Let’s just take the gem and our water and go home.”
5-Room Dungeon: Plot Twist/Reversal
The rest of the dragons look at him like he’s lost his mind. Samera even says “You’re just not yourself, Trogdor!” He shakes his head. “I’ve never felt better!”
They play out their conflict, with Samera and Lydia finally convincing him (through charm and some DM pushing/suggesting) to at least take the bridge across the water so they can head home.
In the middle of the bridge, Samera tears into the stone bridge with her claws and horns. Trogdor and Lydia think she’s lost her mind, but then she comes up with a glowing blue stone– a life stone! She tries to hand it to Trogdor, who is shadowy and now suspicious.
“Why? Why should I take that from you? I don’t want it!”
Finally she convinces him through attrition (Kiddo, at age 8, isn’t really sneaky enough to suggest it’s inherently valuable treasure that he might want), and he takes the stone. The shadow instantly clears from his mind, but (Kiddo rolled a 6), the life stone turns to powder! The bridge heals itself, but there is a hole left behind where the life stone should be.
I point out that Samera has a stone of light that used to be the gem, if she wants to use it to complete the bridge? She does, and they continue on, leaving the completed bridge behind them.
They meet back up with gold-scaled Eldathar, who again roars and rumbles and calls them “little drakes.” Lydia tries to hide the second coconut before handing one over, but she has spilled the liquid on her way over (6-), which I decide to make note of for the future. What will happen when a kraken is affected by waters from the pool of light? I suppose we’ll find out in the next adventure!
Notes from my players about the playtest:
Kiddo says “Fun!” The adults found the game to be unstructured and they felt they needed a lot of prompting from the GM. The PvP scene between Trogdor and Samera was difficult, because they didn’t know how to push another PC to act a certain way (because, really, you shouldn’t be able to do that). Mom loves that the spell system was flexible and could do literally anything, as long as you rolled well. That same lack of structure, however, they felt was great for releasing creativity.
Additional DM Note: I gave XP whenever they rolled a 6 or less, even though it’s not explicitly stated in the rules to do so. This meant everyone leveled up at the end of the first session, and it made rolling poorly more bearable. However, Dad was flummoxed by the fact that “failure” got rewarded in this system. But I did him a disservice at one point in the adventure, when his excellent lore check failed to impress or convince Eldathar.
And here is the map we created during the game. I’m personally interested to see if Goblotainia is a good place to run Goblin Quest….