The Sword of Thanormyr

I’ve been playtesting Marc’s game Epitaph for years. It’s finally available on Kickstarter, which means soon you can play it too!

If you look at the Kickstarter page, you can see the story of “Cyrna of Thanormyr” is one of the graphics. That’s one of the games I was in, but trimmed down and simplified to make a good example. One of the big draws of Epitaph is that you can explore “ordinary” lives, or stories of normal human drama in ways that are really engaging. This was not that game. We were all about the swords and magic, honor and bad choices.

At the start of our game, a noble warrior dies fighting to win back her ancestral home and title. Boom, dead. But because this is Epitaph, her death is just the beginning of her story. We’re going to spend the whole game going back and exploring her life, figuring out what made her tick and what drove her to this end.

Fighting to win back your ancestral homeā€¦ very heroic stuff, right? But almost immediately we decide, no, she did not succeed. Cyrna of Thanormyr, died without winning Thanormyr back. And she died by the sword, fighting her rival in the very ancestral hall she wanted to take back.

Oooo, not a happy ending for our hero. That rival sounds like a jerk. But at least Cyrna died fighting for what she believed in, right? Right?!?!?!

And here we have one of the things I really enjoy about Epitaph. At this point in the game, I’m thinking to myself “that makes sense, I can see how she got from A to B.” BUT OF COURSE I’M TOTALLY WRONG. Because that’s the point of play. As each player takes their turns and adds more pieces to the puzzle, the story goes in unexpected directions and develops all sorts of interesting wrinkles. None of us quite know how the truth is going to unfold.

For example, it gets established very quickly that by the time Thanormyr was lost, it wasn’t hers to lose. Cyrna had already chosen to leave her family behind and live life as a mercenary soldier of fortune.

And no, Sule (the rival who ultimately kills her) was basically a pretty great friend who Cyrna could never quite open up to, so over the years they went their separate ways. Sule’s life went up, while Cyrna’s life went down down down.

How far down? Cyrna’s rockbottom moment of clarity comes many wars later, after she’s reduced to being little more than a brigand and outlaw leader, cutting down her own followers in cold blood to maintain her uneasy authority.

And how far up does Sule go? Well by the time Cyrna fights her in her old ancestral home, Sule has risen to be the champion, the sword of Thanormyr. That’s right: Sule is the chosen warrior-knight of the realm — Cyrna’s realm, and the position Cyrna would have had — while Cyrna is a paid assassin, a killer bought with a purse of gold to challenge Sule to a public duel and slay her to undermine the realm. Turns out that’s Cyrna’s version of winning back her rightful place. It is all kinds of bitter, messed up, frenemy vengeance.

None of us started the game thinking that’s how her story would unfold, but that’s exactly what’s cool about Epitaph: we know how the story ends, but we are still surprised and fascinated by what we create together.

I didn’t even mention the part where Cyrna had different animal companions reflecting different phases of her life (much respect, murderous mountain panther). Guess what animal was by her side at the end, when she takes the gold and challenges Sule?

None.

    Ben Robbins | September 17th, 2020 | , | leave a comment