Beowulf! A story as old as literature itself! Monsters! A hoard of dragon-guarded gold! Ancient magic swords! The very roots of fantasy adventure!
Beowulf! A lone hero leads their band to do battle against an ancient evil. In the game Beowulf: Age of Heroes YOU are the hero.
In this series of articles we’re taking a look at how we’ve adapted Beowulf to a 5e adventure setting with unique new rules, classes, and backgrounds. In this article we check out “The Portent”.
In the poem, before Beowulf goes to face Grendel, he asks permission of his own king Hygelac and seeks out omens of the road ahead before setting sail for Denmark. This leave-taking process is represented in the game by the portent system and sets the stage for the voyage and the entire adventure.
To generate a portent, you first roll to determine its structure. All portents resemble a fragment of Anglo Saxon poetry, and we have different variations in order to keep things fresh. You then dice for each of the components, producing something like:
grim spell, red-gold death-monger
But this is more than just a piece of forbidding verse. Each of the 4 components (‘grim’, ‘spell’, ‘red-gold’, ‘deathmonger’) also provides a token in one of three inspiration pools, as well as a possible challenge to be faced during the voyage (more on that below). These tokens go into one of three different categories: Hero, Followers and Monsters and then can be used to refresh inspiration for a member of that category.
And, yes, that means that even the Monster can be inspired and gain new strength when facing down your Hero. The portent may therefore favour the hero – with a joyous portent providing three easy chances of inspiration. Or it may favour the Monsters, with no tokens in Player-friendly pools at all, and 3 in the Monster pool!
You will need four tokens to populate the pool (and one for regular inspiration) – coins or buttons work well if you can’t get your hands on some of our amazing BEOWULF metal coins (included in the upcoming Kickstarter campaign!). We also provide ‘print and stick’ tokens that you can apply to a card circle or metal washer.
Whenever you or the GM draw from the inspiration pool, it should be tied to the portent. In our above example, the Hero might learn of the sorcerous protection surrounding the Monster and tie that into ‘grim spell’ and receive inspiration. Whereas, after the Monster has slain one of the Followers, the GM can invoke ‘death-monger’, and grab a token for it.
The regular 5e rules for inspiration still apply, you can either be inspired or not, and you can’t stack inspiration ‘points’. The Hero can still become inspired by using their background and personality traits. But having the tokens in the pool allows you another source for inspiration and encourages you to integrate the portent into the story, in order to make use of the tokens. In this way, the prophecy of the portent becomes almost self-fulfilling, as you find some connection between the ancient words and the current situation.
As mentioned above, the Hero will face one or more challenges on their voyage to face the Monster, depending on how far they are travelling. Each time you roll to produce a component of the portent, you also produce two numbers. These numbers correspond to a specific challenge, which the GM will present during the voyage. We’ll talk more about voyages and challenges in a future article.
BEOWULF: Age of Heroes is coming soon to Kickstarter. You can check out the system by downloading our free preview, the Hermit’s Sanctuary at drivethrurpg.com