Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Runequest Spirit: The Spirit of Lost in the Dark.

Lost in the Dark

In the most recent game session of Runequest, my group of heroes was escorting an Issaries merchant whose life was under threat by a pack of Baboons (the 6ft tall ones that talk). They had decided that they were going to travel throughout the night to get to Clearwine as quickly as possible. I already knew, as the GM, that the Baboons were not going to attack them on this trip. The Baboons had no idea that they had left and were traveling to Clearwine and by the time they did realize, they would not be able to catch up to the group. To make this journey more interesting I crafted a Spirit Encounter for the group to experience during the night's trip. 

One of the great things about Glorantha is that most things in that world have a solid spiritual connection. Disease in Glorantha is not caused by microscopic lifeforms, they are often caused by Spirits. When the wind blows it's not because of gases moving from high-pressure areas to low-pressure areas. It's because there are Wind Spirits that move to their own rules and myths. So I thought to myself - what if the reason why people become lost in the dar was also because of a spirit who plays upon the mind of the traveler, making them confused and making it difficult to recognize where they are traveling through. In Glorantha there are elemental Darkness spirits and much like any of the other Elemental spirits, there are various kinds that exist. So following that line of thought I used the rules in the Runequest Bestiary to create an unintelligent Elemental spirit for my players to contest against them. This encounter is a Thinking Problem more so than a Fight it Problem. 

Spirit of Lost in the Dark / The Wandering Darkness / Wayward Darkness

Traveling at night is stressful and often dangerous. When night replaces the day, darkness covers the land and the known world changes. Some places that seem pleasant in the light, turn into scary and uncomfortable places in the dark. The natural world can take on a frightening appearance and many creatures, both alive, dead, and spiritual use the cover of night to stalk the land for prey. Campfires and lamp lights only providing a margin of protection and comfort against what awaits in the dark. Traveling at night should be avoided because of the dangers that the darkness represents and veils from sight. 

Only Darkness creatures, such as Trolls, are afforded any comfort in darkness' presence. Trolls know and find comfort in Darkness having been born from it. Their gods exist in that darkness and trolls know darkness for all its shades and depths. So when humans become lost in the dark, trolls know that it isn't just because humans can't see through all the shades of darkness that exist and are confused by the dark beauty that Xentha paints the world in. They know that a Darkness spirit wanders the night making those who cannot see in the dark lose their way.

The spirit of Lost in the Dark is a type of unintelligent elemental spirit of darkness believed to have first appeared during the Great Darkness when Yelm's light chased the darkness and their children to the surface. This darkness spirit will follow any group it finds traveling in the dark, hovering in the air above them. The first sign that this spirit is following any traveler is that the night appears more murky, even during a full moon, and light sources will dim or even extinguish under its chilling influence - a common effect of Darkness Spirits. While traveling with this spirit above them, the travelers will become confused and confounded, finding navigating the dark path more difficult. The spirit will even use its few Spirit Magic Spells to further the traveler's misdirection and confusion. Often this spirit will lead travelers on to a path that leads to danger. It is believed that these spirits feed upon the fear and confusion generated by creatures lost in the dark, but others suggest that they are disordered spirits of darkness whose only purpose is to add disorder to the dark.

Type: Darkness Elemental Spirit
POW: 3D6+6; CHA: 3D6
Spirit Combat: POW x5
Move: 12 (fly)
Spirit Powers:
- Elemental Form
- Affect Environment: Darkness Aura makes the dark seem murkier and confusing within its 12 matter diameter. -30% to any form of navigation or perception check while within the affected area.
- Spirit Magic Spells: Befuddle, Conceal Item, Forget. 
- Darkness Elemental: Any fire, heat, or light source taken within this spirit (and weaker than it) is extinguished by its Darkness. Troll Darksense is not affected by a darkness elemental.

Hope you find this spirit useful. I might put a two-page adventure up on the Jonstown Compendium for this Darkness Spirit if time allows. I'll even make some illustrations so you can see what this spirit looks like with second sight.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Runequest Adventure Review: The Smoking Ruins

 The Smoking Ruins

Artist Jon Hodgson


In Hiia's Valley, in the lands of the Pure Horse People and Beastmen, there is a plateau where smoke has blackened the skies and blocking Yelm's light for the last 400 years. Atop the plateau is ancient ruins of a citadel where troll corpses have been burning, unendingly, for hundreds of years. There are whispers about these ruins. Rumors that pass between travelers, stories told to warn those that can hear. They speak of angry, dark spirits haunt the smoke and flames—stories of would-be heroes who venture too close and never return.

The Smoking Ruins is the first of three adventures in the Smoking Ruins and Other Stories Runequest book by Chaosium. Along with these three adventures is information and story hooks for Beast Valley and the South Wilds, lands that lay west of the Colymar tribal lands and outside the Kingdom of Sartar.

The Smoking Ruins is more than a single adventure but a location for exploration and adventure. The information about the ruins is presented so that the GM can use it multiple times. With numerous trips, the heroes can discover more and more about the ruins and the magic that has left a permanent mark in this region. The adventure explores a few different themes such as Companionship, Love, Hate, Devotion, and Loyalty. At times the heroes might find their loyalties in conflict depending on what loyalties they have. Like my own group, some may not even realize a conflict between two or more loyalties exists until the heroes return from their adventure.

That being said, the adventure itself is pretty straightforward and will take several sessions to complete. I like this adventure and all the story elements that it contains. My players and I are looking forward to exploring further the mysteries of the ruins while putting an end to the evil that stains the ancient citadel's. When I ran this adventure, I changed very little from what was present in the book.

As much as I like this adventure, I found this one particularly difficult to run. I read the adventure more than I normally read through any adventure. At the most, I normally read through an adventure twice. I read through The Smoking Ruinsadventure four times and did some additional skimming before each game session to remind myself of key info for that week's session. I'm a minimalistic GM when it comes to prep, so it was very much outside my comfort zone to reread this adventure this many times. The truth be told, normally, I create content for the games I run, but when I started up the Runequest, I wanted to take a break from creating content and wanted to run official content only. I also thought this was a good way to learn how to design adventures for Runequest since the game is very different from what I am used to.

How the book organized the information for the adventure was why I found it difficult to run The Smoking Ruins. There are two sections where the organization and structure make running the adventure a challenge. Out of all of the Acts, these two acts make it difficult to find and match up bits of information - especially during the game itself. But I'll explain this in more detail as we walk through each Act of the adventure.

Trying to Not Spoil this Adventure will be difficult and as such, if you are a player, please stop reading from this point forward. The Surprises in this adventure are well worth discovering during play. If you are planning to run this adventure, please continue reading.

I break down each Act or arch of the adventure below and highlight a few items for a GM to think about while not giving too much away. Afterwhich, I'll list what I added or changed in the adventure that I think improved the adventure overall and helped me run it better. Also, this adventure says it has 5 acts, but I think it's worth breaking one of those acts into two. So below, you'll see 6 Acts; The Festival, The Secret Mission, The Journey, The Ruins, Dancing With Ghosts, and The Return.

Before Act 1, there is a section that gives the GM an overview of the adventure. This section is a barebones look at the various elements of the story. It sets the goals for the heroes. Notes on the pacing of the adventure slowly reveal the various story elements to the players in small chunks. This section gives the GM the history of the Smoking Ruins and some rumors that the heroes might hear about. Some of these rumors and stories are true. At the same time, others are tall tales designed to add confusion. It also covers the NPCs the players will or might interact with during play, some potentially important to the story overall. I only say potentially important because you may not encounter all of them when you run through the adventure. It all comes down to what decisions the players make. For instance, Sara Goodseller is one of the NPCs in the adventures, but her presence is minimal, and my players never encountered her. However, she might be someone who will approach them before their return to the ruins next time.

Artist Jon Hodgson

Act 1, The Festival, sets up the start of the adventure and, hopefully, an emotional hook that may or may not bear fruit for your group of Heroes. The story begins with the heroes at a celebration in Clearwire Fort put on by Queen Leika Black Spear. Here they will make a new friend who will give them their first hints to the adventure that awaits them. I have several things to say about this NPC below, mostly things that I added or handled differently regarding running the NPC. Once they befriend Treya, the Heroes will spend a good portion of the day enjoying her company at one of the local establishments drinking and telling stories. A lot of fun can be had in this first Act - especially once the group starts hitting the wine cups.

GMs should note that this is the first of two sections where the layout makes it a little difficult to run the adventure. Information is presented in an odd, disjointed fashion. For starters, GM only information, description of events, directions on NPC actions and dialogue, and other information are all presented together. One bleeding into the other. One moment you'll be reading the description of an NPC's performance when suddenly GM only information you shouldn't read out loud follows, without any clear break or distinction between the two. It is further complicated when it comes time to find some of those GM notes because you now have to comb through descriptive text and NPC responses to find what you need.

I wish they had broken these down into two sections. The first section tells the GM what the heroes see and hear; NPC dialogue, descriptions of events, etc. While the second section presents the GM notes on various NPC thoughts and feelings and other information that helps run the scene.

Act 2, The Secret Mission, through the NPC, Treya, the Heroes are lead to the Earth Temple and meet Daravala, a Rune Priestess of Ernalda. Daravala has heard from a few contacts about the Smoking Ruins and how there might be a lost shrine to Ernald there. If this is true, she wants to make this year's holy day for Ernalda, which is in two weeks, a special occasion, and wants to surprise the High Priestess with something potentially exciting. However, before she can send an expedition, she needs more info. So first, she hires the heroes to research whether there is any truth to the stories she has heard. Once Daravala has this evidence, she hires the lead an expedition out to the Smoking Ruins to find proof of this lost shrine to Ernalda and return in time for the Holy Day with this evidence. She also requires that the heroes keep this all secret, especially from the High Priestess and Queen Lieka.

Several side stories can be encountered and exposed during this part, which can change and expand the adventure in interesting ways. The heroes can encounter several NPCs as they both gather information and gear. And the GM may even want the heroes to test their loyalties against the secret that Daravala is asking them to keep.

Act 3, The Journey, starts with the heroes taking a slow, rainy boat trip down the river towards Duck Point. If the players are new to Glorantha, Duck Point will be their first experience with Ducks (as in walking talking Donald Duck-like ducks) outside of gooseberry Sprig in Apple Lane. At Duck Point, they discover three potential routes the heroes can take to get to the Smoking Ruins. It's up to the heroes to decide which route they want to take. If they are smart, they will ask around to discover how long each route will take because each route takes a different amount of time and can mean success or failure if the players want to return to Clearwine in time for Ernalda's holy day.

If the GM wishes, the heroes can journey to the ruins narratively with several encounters that the adventure includes or one the GM designed. Or the GM can handwave the whole journey and have them just arrive at the ruins. The adventure gives a few possible encountered to make the journey more interesting. They add interest to the story and the world that the heroes are in. It is better to have these encounters since the heroes can gain awards from their actions after the adventure.

Act 4, The Ruins. The heroes see the Smoking Ruins for the first time and ascend the plateau. At the top of the plateau, they can make several discoveries about the ruins and ancient history before entering the walled citadel.

Here is the second section where the book's layout makes the adventure a little difficult to run. Each area that the heroes can explore has its own section, which is great. However, info for each of those areas can not always be found in those sections. Other sections get into some of the mystery of the ruins, adding layers of info to the various areas as they are encountered. So it is very easy to miss important information or mix up information depending on what the heroes are doing.

An example of this is one of the ways that the heroes can enter the citadel. The first entrance listed is one of the furthest entrances from where the heroes climbed up to the top of the plateau. The other issue is how these are listed on the map. The map uses Numbers, whereas the subheader for these sections uses Letters. It took me a bit of time to work out that Location A was #8 on the map because it's only referenced in the map keys as location A, but while reading the adventure, I wasn't looking at the key but the numbers on the map instead. In any case, don't have two ways to list a location. Either use one or the other - not both. Some descriptive elements for that area are covered under another section and not the "Location A" (or whatever) section.

A good example of this is with "Location A." The first bit of info about Location A is on pg 76. This information includes possible encounters and such. The next set of info about Location A is on Page 83 - this is after several other sections which cover separate areas within the ruins. These descriptive bits can be important to running the game and should have been combined. And this isn't the only point where I had this issue.

Much like in the first Act, how descriptions and GM information flowed together adds difficulties to this section. I had many issues trying to track down info when I needed to answer questions the players had.

Act 5, Dancing with Ghost, sets up the meat of the story and the first big mystery for the adventure, such as why the Smoking Ruins has been burning for 400 years. This Act is broken down into three Parts. The first part is when the heroes first encounter One Eye, the Trollkin Ghost. The second part is when they discover the Mirror Fragment. And the third part is when they potentially get into a fight with some undead.

Part one; here, the heroes meet a Trollkin Ghost by the name of One Eye who needs their help in freeing her family from this curse. She will even lead the players to a place where they can discover what they are looking for if they help her. She is a source of information about the truth behind the ruins, and the adventure gives the GM a lot of information on what kind of questions she can and cannot answer. This ghost only really cares about her family, but to that end, she will help the heroes to the best of her ability if they help her.

Helping One Eye leads to a very contested element of this adventure that many GMs dislike - from what I have seen in the BRP Forums. The heroes learn from the Trollkin what is required to help her - which is performed as a ritual dance. One Eye has developed a ritual that combines Troll magic with what little she knows about the magic placed on the burning trolls in the citadel(Dragon Magic). With it and the heroes' help, One Eye will be able to release the 15 members of her family from the spell - sending them to their place in the underworld. The NPC, the heroes, met at the beginning of the adventure, Treya, discovers something about this ritual that she wants to make use of to make contact with her deceased Grandmother, potentially bringing her Grandmother back to life. The heroes, during the adventure, know how much Treya loves her Grandmother since she speaks of her often. So Treya's motivation should be clear as she tries to twist the Trollkin's blended magic to her own purpose against the One Eye's dire warnings. The Trollkin warns against Treya twisting the spell the way she plans because the ritual that Treya will perform doesn't do what she thinks it does. It is left up to the heroes to decide what they want to do in this situation, which brings us to the crux of the issue I saw online.

Many people online refer to this part of the adventure as being a possible Total Party Kill. They might be correct, but I disagree with them for two reasons.

The Trollkin warns the heroes that they shouldn't let Treya perform the ritual the way she is doing it. So as long as they understand the language the Trollkin is speaking, they are forewarned. Even if they don't understand her words, her body language should be clear IMHO.

The adventure leaves it open for the players to take one of three actions as Treya begins her version of the ritual. They can help Treya and join the ritual dance she is doing - it's similar to the one they were just taught by one eye and can follow her changes pretty readily. They can do nothing and just watch as Treya goes through the motions of the whole ritual. Or they can stop Treya. The adventure leaves it open to the GM if they want both Treya and One Eye's rituals to happen at the same time, as well.

The second reason is something I think some critics have overlooked. If they choose to help Treya and join her in the ritual, there will come to a moment in the ritual where the GM reads the following: "Treya reaches out again, and this time Thinala reaches out as well. They grasp hands. The adventurer should be allowed at this moment to take back their hand. If they choose not to, their ancestor reaches out to grasp the adventurer’s hand".

This moment during the spell is when the GM says, Are you sure you want to continue. If you are a player, you have encountered this often enough by now. GMs have said this type of thing before when the players are pursuing actions with unforeseen negative results. Sometimes they take the warning and change their minds, and other times they decide to continue along the path they have chosen for themselves. The adventure gives the heroes a clear way out in this situation if they want to take it. I will also say that in my games, player's actions can and will have consequences. So I like stuff like this.

Here, Treya will either be lost or kept safe, and it's all down to what the heroes' decide to do in the end. I feel that this is the true heart of this adventure. Treya's love has driven her all her life, and with love, she takes a daring risk to win back her Grandmother's life. Much like the Trollkin's love for her family has kept her ghost sane over the last hundreds of years as she worked to find a way to save them. Much like the artifact of love that the heroes might discover and return to Clearwine with.

Part two happens once the player has either helped One Eye or refused to help her and searched on their own. One area of the ruined citadel appears mostly untouched by the death and darkness that hangs over the whole ruins. Here, they discover, as if waiting for them to bring it forth, a fragment from the God Times, an artifact that was a gift to Ernalda. Up until this moment, the heroes were unsure what they would find in the ruined citadel, and they were unsure if they would return with any good news at all. The artifact they discover turns out to be of far greater importance than they could have hoped for. But now have to survive the ruins of the evil things that lay in wait within its walls.

Part three is the possible fight. The moment the heroes enter the citadel, they can feel a presence within the ruins, something evil and filled with hate that poisons the stone and air of the ruins. Each time the heroes enter a new area, the GM checks to see if Vagargic or its minions have noticed them by making a simple roll. Each time the heroes enter a new section of the ruins, they help the ghost, find the artifact, etc. The chance of discovery rises higher and higher. If they have already helped One Eye and Treya performed their ritual magic and obtain the relic, there is a 100% chance of discovery. At this point, the evil that resides in the ruined citadel knows they are here, and it has plans that it's been waiting to complete for the last 400 years. If it can get just one of the humans, then it has completed its evil plans. But if the heroes are smart, they'll flee the ruins the moment they get a chance.

Act 6, The Return. Once the Heroes have found the artifact that proves that the Smoking Ruins is a sacred site to Ernalda and worth exploring further, it's a race against time to get back to Clearwine. If the heroes are lucky, they will give the artifact to Daravala, who can surprise the High Priestess with their discovery. The adventure results have various effects on what happens when they return to Clearwine and the following holy day celebration. The journey back should be glossed over for the most part except one encounter, but only if the Centaurs were encountered on the way out, to begin with.
This section of the adventure is great because it walks the Players and GM through a holy day celebration. The description paints a beautiful and detailed image of the rituals of a hoy day for the Ernalda cults. Be warned - reading through this out loud is completely worth it and takes roughly about an hour to get through. Each hero will hopefully gain a place within the celebration so that they can feel involved. And if they come back with the artifact, it will make a spectacular showing in the climax of the ritual celebration.

What I would add or change to the Smoking Ruins adventure.

  • Treya of Ezel is a great NPC and she should be introduced to the players as soon as possible. Seasons before this adventure, if you are at all able to do so. I introduced her to my group after the events of The Dragon of the Thunder Hills. She came to them and wanted to write the song/saga of their adventures and their fight with the dragon. She is a huge nerd for all things the Storm Age and so her hearing about the reawakening of a Storm Age Goddess at the end of that adventure will make her want to know more about the heroes and the Queen's Tomb. 
  • Another thing I did with Treya leading into this adventure was to ask a friend to play her in the game, with full knowledge about what was going to happen to the character during the adventure. I know from a wealth of experience from both sides of the GM screen that players are more often saddened by the dramatic loss of a PC than they are by the loss of an NPC, no matter how much they like the NPC, it will never hit them as hard as losing a PC. So I really wanted this experience to be heartbreaking for them and had a friend play the NPC as a player character under the guise of "Trying out the game with an interest in joining" and me lending them an NPC known to the group whose skills could be useful.
    This 100% worked for my group, by the by. They never suspected a thing and were super depressed by the loss of Treya. They were also completely shocked when I revealed what my friend and I had done. It's going to be a while before I can trick again, but so satisfying. On the bonus side though, that friend will be joining us for real since she really enjoyed Runequest and playing with the group.
  • Make Scratches' Map is pretty annoying since the adventures make it sound as if there are many things on that map that the Handout in the adventure does actually have on them. There isn't a great workaround for this and I hope someday We'll get a better version.
  • The boat trip downriver to Duck Point can take between one to two days and since the adventure is all about the heroes being under the pressure for time, I had one of my players make a Luck check by rolling their POW. If it failed then the boat trip took two days, if they succeeded, then the boat trip only took one day. If they had fumbled, then it would have taken three days. maybe some accident happened along the way, like getting stuck on a sandbar, angered a river god, or were attacked by a rogue Broo. 
  • In Duck Point, my players were smart and hired a guide to lead them to The Smoking Ruins. This cost them some money but since they planned for this beforehand, the cost for the guide was included in the funds for the expedition that Daravala gave them.
  • There is a lot of advice to be found online about how to run this adventure. A few posts on the Runequest section of the official Chaosium BRP Forums for instance. One particularly good source I the Jonstown Compendium adventure on Drivethrurpg, "The Duel at Dangerford" by Nick Brooke, has some notes and suggestions that are worth giving a look through.
  • It was only while running Vamargic that I ran into some issues with how the character is presented in the adventure. There are a few facts that are explained about how to run Vamargic. 1) Vamargic is a Spirit that is trapped inside his Burning corpse. 2) Vamargic has the Eye Necklace which imprisons several spirits who can cast Spirit Magic spells for Vamargic. Vamargic can also cast his own Spirit Magic spells by using the MP of the spirits in the necklace. 3)Vamagic has no POW stat. 
    Now here is a question for you. How does Vamargic cast his own Spirit Magic Spells if he has no POW stat? Normally, you would roll your POW stat to cast spirit magic, but without it you don't have anything to base this off of. Also, how does he resist magic as well? Does every spell cast at Vamargic auto succeed? 
    I asked these questions online in a few places and got back some very similar responses. Vamargic is run like a Vamipre, or Undead creatures don't have POW and can't cast Spirit Magic, and several other responses that are of a similar vein. For me, none of these answers work for me and that mainly has to do with the fact that they all ignore many of the aspects that the adventure tells you about how to run the Vamargic NPC. Mainly that he is a ghost trapped in a burning corpse - so not a normal Undead creature, and that he can Cast his "Own" spirit magic spells by using the MP of the spirits in the necklace. The simple answer to the issue isn't to gut parts of the NPC but to assume that the NPC has a typo that left him without a POW stat. Adding a POW stat is the easy fix. Breaking the threat of the NPC by removing half of his power isn't a fix IMHO. Spirits have POW - Ghosts have POW. 
    My solution is to just give Vamargic a POW equal to what is expected of a Rune Lord of his reputation. So at a minimum, he should have a POW of 18.
  • Can the heroes defeat Vamargic and end his continued existence in the ruins? There are people of two minds on this subject and it's really up to the GM how they want to handle this. One group thinks that One Eye's ritual has left a hole in the Dragon magic that keeps the troll spirits from moving on. They suggest that this causes Vamargic to pass on to the underworld once he is defeated in battle. So for these people fighting and defeating Vamargic is how you end the curse. This doesn't work for me though since, in my opinion, the magic One-Eye used was only targeted at her family and not Vamargic's forces. Also, once the spell is completed, I believe the way that she opened is now closed again and not just left open forever. So if and when the heroes encounter Vamargic, if they defeat him - he'll just respawn at some point since he and his forces are still bound by the dragon magic. What I plan to do is have the heroes find another way to end the curse. This will give them a lot more to do in the long run.
  • Another thing that a GM will have to prepare beforehand is the stats for each of the Spirits bound to the Eye Necklace. The adventure gives you what Spirit Magic Spells they know but not what their stats are. If you have the Bestiary, then just follow the rules for creating spirits on pg 164.
  • There are a few points where the GM has to make up some of the stories that Treya tells about her grandmother and herself. There is not much information given about these stories other than that they involve Tusk Riders. So I wrote up a few for myself. I'll include these below. They are told in the first person as if Treya was speaking. These stories are rough but you can use them if you want in your game.
  • Here are some of Thinala Tindal's history that I patched together from the little information presented about her as well as some that I just made up. Thinala was born in Esrolia in 1562. She fought in the battle of Grizzly Peak and Alda- Chur in 1582. in 1579 she won her right to have a child by undergoing a deadly Ba Beester Gor ritual. In 1600, she was a bodyguard for the Feather Horse Queen's brother, The Sartar Prince Teasarin, and died when a moonbeam caused a stampede of Dinosaurs. Rumors that Queen Lieka has heard suggest that Thinala was somehow responsible for the prince's death. 

Stories of Thinala Tindal of Ezel, The Queen's Defender

  • How an Axe Medien of Babeester Gor won the right to bear a child.
Thinala was with child, this is taboo among the Axe Maidens of the Babeester Gor cult and normally they are put through rites that cleanse their bodies of the child sooner after its discovery. However, Thinala Tindal of Ezel refused the rite, not wanting to lose the last gift from the one she had loved – now gone to the halls of the palace of the dead. She entered the Ax Hall seeking to pass through trails only rumored over and impossible to survive to win her right to bear this child and become a mother. Here she passed the first trial and gained the Blunted Ax. From here she was to follow the hallow halls of death and dark caverns, to find her way in the dark to Babston, a holy place for all Babeester Gor cultists, especially the Ax Maidens. When she emerged from the earth like Babeester Gor did from Ernalda's corpse, she fought her sisters to gain their acknowledgment of her prowess and right to live. Then proved herself again when she sated her thirst with the blood split during the battle – each drop tasting of the sweetest beer to her lips. Her third test was secreted, kept even from me but when she passed through the final test, Babeester Gor appeared before Thinala giving her the Mother's Ax, a mark of the goddess' blessing for my Grandmother to give birth to my mother, Pala of the Orlmarth Clan.

  • Thinala battle's the Tusk Riders.
There she was, Thinala, The Feathered Horse Queen's strongest Defender, separated from her companions and trapped. To her back was a steep drop off down to the Broken River, in front of her was a pack of truth-less Tuskers seeking her blood. They had been raiding the homesteads and towns of Vendref and so Thinala and her companions were sent out from Muse Roost to run these filthy beasts down and place the heads on spikes as a warning to their honorless kin. However, during a night raid, Thinala became separated from her group and lost. The next day, however, the Tuskers from the night before, those who survived, picked up her trail and were running down. Thinalal, wasn't a hot-headed fool and sought out a battleground that gave her the advantage. Unfortunately, the sheep of luck was not with her this day and she found herself in a parlous position. With not but her Goddess blessed ax in hand, she waited to the best possible moment before using the tusker's deadly steeds against them. The foul-smelling beasts didn't know what was happening until the first giant bore dropped, toppled by my grandmother's quick ax strokes to the beasts' legs as she darted under the Tusker's javelins and taunts. When the first Tusker's beast fell, rolling as its legs could no longer hold itself up, confusion rushed through its companions. Once a few of the beasts fell to her attacks, Thinala was able to make bloody work of the Tuskers that fell from their beasts, catching those witless dung eaters flatfooted – removing their heads from shoulders before they knew what danger they had fooled with. If they had known the morning that they were to encounter the Queen's Defender, the Babeester Gor Ax maiden, Thinala Tindal of Ezel, they would have turned a run like the cowards they were. Instead, My grandmother fertilized the soil and feed the river them the gore that she left of their corpses during the short fight. When her companions found Thinala, she sleep among the bodies of the raiders, with a smile on her face from the pleasure of the slaughter. It was said of those who found her that they hesitated to approach because the glow of Babeester Gor was still upon her – the God of Vengeance was surely pleased with the deeds of her beloved Ax Maiden.

Final thoughts

Well, that is everything I have for this one. It was a large adventure and took a lot of time to try and gather up all my thoughts on it in one place. I think it took y group about 6 or 7 sessions to get through the whole, playing about 3 - 4 hours per session. I'm really looking forward to when they return to the ruins and have a few ideas about what they will be doing while there. The group lost one hero to the ritual that Treya performed. They all helped Treya but all but one of them took the hint to stop themselves. For a moment it looked very much like everyone was going to have to make the grandmothers of each of their characters so that they can continue to play. Instead, we had to introduce a grazer to the party while they were still in the ruins. Now the party is planning their first heroquest, seeking to reclaim their lost companions from the underworld.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Runequest Adventure Review: The Dragon of The Thunder Hills

The Dragon of the Thunder Hills


The Dragon of the Thunder Hills is the last of the three main adventures in the GM's Adventure Book that comes with the GM Screen set for Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. This adventure picks up during Fertility Week of Storm Season, which is a season after the adventure; Cattle Raid. Each adventure in the GM's Adventure Book raises the stakes set by the previous adventure and expands upon what game elements and game mechanics are introduced to new players and GMs. This time, one of the players' family members (distant or close) is directly affected by the event that leads into the adventure. It's the inciting incident, as it were, to give the adventure a bit of an emotional connection for the players. 

This gets into one of the themes for Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha; the Hero's connections within the world and the people around them. As is said in the Core book, "Gloranthain myth and history are full of intense emotion, which can lead to heights of heroism and depths of tragedy. Love, Hate, Fear, Devotion, and Loyalty are often placed in terrible conflict with one another, as well as challenging personal codes of honor." Every character has a set of passions that shape who they are, what actions they will take, and what challenges they might face. Heroes can push against these or use them to further their own causes throughout the game. The GM can use them to help craft adventures to further those impassioned connections or create conflict and drama; giving players the stakes that make them feel more involved and help drive their character's decisions for good or ill. 

I really love how Passions work and think that even if you don't play Runequest, you should try to bring them into your game. I plan to go more in-depth at a later time about how Passions work and why they make for a better Alignment system for any game. But for now back to the adventure.

There are several tie-ins to this adventure with a few of the rumors and side quests that are in the GM's Adventure Book. A few of these can be introduced prior to the start of the adventure; for instance, the introduction of one hero's family members.

This adventure consists of 5 Acts; the Inciting Incident, Know thy Enemy, the Big Fight, and the Wrap-up. I break down each act below while trying to not give too much away as I highlight a few items for a GM to think about. Afterwhich, I'll list what I added or changed about this adventure that I think improved the adventure overall and helped me run it better.

Act 1 sets up the inciting incident and consists of three key scenes. Scene one starts with the Heroes traveling to Clearwine Fort for an Enarlda Holy Day. it is suggested that each player come up with a reason for why they are going to Clearwine, but the holy days can give reason enough. The scene starts with the Heroes traveling through the Nymie Vale from Apple Lane on their way to Clearwine Fort - which takes a day to travel from one to the other. While in route, the party suddenly spots or hears a Dream Dragon flying overhead, traveling from west to east. There is a series of listening and scan rolls for this and it is possible for some or all of the heroes to fail these rolls. They don't completely miss out on the existence of the dragon if they fail these rolls but are instead taken by surprise as it flies past them overhead. Its at this point the GM informs one of the players that a family member of their hero lives not far from here from the direction that the dragon came from. Fearing the worst, either through anxiety or the hands of fate, the Heroes need to check on the family member's safety, which leads into scene two. In scene two, the heroes come upon a quiet homestead where the family member of the one hero lives in the Nymie Vale. At first, there is no indication that anything has taken place until they investigate the building. Here the heroes encounter survivors of the recent dragon attack and hear their fearful story. Searching will also reveal the bodies of those who were not as fortunate. This is the moment that sets the mood and motivation for the Heroes that will help see them through to the end. The survivors help the GM set the theme of a "familiar environment that has been invaded by an outsider and the safety and peace that environments represent has been shattered". The theme of family, protection, and revenge is a strong emotional stake. A number of characters have been killed in the attack and the reason behind the attack is unclear. The survivors ask that the Heroes to send word to the Queen of what has happened and to take the children to Clearwine Fort, so that they can be kept safe. Scene three has the Heroes continue to Clearwine and inform Queen Lieka of the Colymar tribe and her council of the Dragon's attack in the Nymie Vale. the Queen's council openly speaks in front of the heroes as Queen Leika seeks their guidance. Here they'll ask the Heroes questions to help get a clear picture of the events, all while giving bits of information on what they each know about Dream Dragons to the queen. Though none of them are experts on dragons, they especially don't know much about this one in particular. It is during this that one of the Side Quests is brought up which gives the players some possible direction to go after they gather more information. This side quest involves arms and armor that could be a boon to them in the coming fight.
After speaking for a time with the Heroes and Her Council, Queen Leika sends the Heroes to Tarndisi's Grove to speak with the Dryad - to see if the dryad has any information on this dream dragon and its motives for attacking the Colymar Tribe. She believes being better informed will help them track down the dream dragon and put an end to its attacks. She also asks them to search for signs of this dragon in the Thunder Hills east of the grove, since they will be in that region anyway.
Act 2 is composed of four to five key scenes, the first scene has the heroes gather information about the Dream Dragon at the behest of Queen Lieka by seeking out Tarndisi the Dryad. Tarndisi's grove is in the forest north of Clearwine and is the home of the local elves; the Adryami. This will be the first time for new players to encounter Gloranthain Elves - which are very different from the typical Tolkien-styled elves they are used to seeing in other games/settings. The Heroes will be found and watched by the elves before being approached. Once the elves have followed and watched the heroes for a time they approach and ask them directly why they enter the elven forest. The Elves will lead the heroes to the grove to see the dryad, however, due to her history with humans, she wishes them to perform a task for her first. If they are able to hunt down Redeye the boar and bring back one of his tusks, then she will answer their questions to the best of her ability.

Scene two has a set of named elves lead the Heroes to where Redeye the boar's lair can be found. They will wait a safe distance away, leaving the rest to the Heroes. they will not offer any help or guidance but will wait to either lead them back to the grove or inform Tarndisi of their failure. From here the heroes can approach the challenge in whatever possible way they want.

Scene three has the Heroes, if they are successful, return to the grove where Tarndisi will answer whatever questions they have pertaining to the Dream Dragon in question. If the Heroes ask the right questions they will learn the name of this Dream Dragon and a possible location that they can search. From here the Heroes are lead out of the forest again, in whatever direction they wish to leave. They can search the Thunder Hills, they can return to Clearwine, or they could follow other clues and paths.

Scene four has the Heroes traveling through the Thunder Hills scanning the mountain range for signs of the Dream Dragon just like Queen Leika has asked them to do. Maybe they might even be heading to the place told to them by Tarndisi the Dryad. It's during their hunt in the Thunder Hills that another possible Sidequest found in the GM's Adventure Book is encountered. If the Heroes have not already encountered the band of Dragonewts before now, the heroes do now. The Dragonewts are seeking Heroes to perform a sacred task for them that involves the Dream Dragon in question. It's left up to the players to take the Dragonewts up on their offer. How they answer the Dragonewts can give the heroes an advantage in the coming fight.

They can also use the time between scene 3 and scene five to seek out the arms and armor that the Queen's council spoke of, which lays further north of Tarndisi's Grove.

Scene five is when the players sight the familiar shape of a dream dragon in flight in the distance. The dragon flies around for a moment before landing and the heroes can head in that direction hoping to find the Dream Dragon's Lair at or near this location. This will lead them to The Queen's Tomb and Act 3.

Act 3 is the climax of the adventure. The Heroes Encounter the Dream Dragon, Yerezum Storn. She will first try and charm the Heroes, and ask for offerings. She is very much regal in mind and body and expects to be treated like the Goddess she believes she is. Yes, this Dragon is delusional. Here is where we get into the motivation in the attacks. Yerezum Storn was awakened by the Dragonrise after being asleep for a long time (several hundred years). She found herself in the Queen's Tomb, where in the past the locals worshipped her and come to find that none have come to worship her in centuries. If the players agree to worship her and spread the news of her return, then the attacks will stop. More attacks will happen if she is not worshipped by the tribe and nearby clans in particular.

The players are offered two options here. They can either take up the worship of Yerezum Storn, reviving her ancient EWF (Empire of Wyrm Friends) cult, or they can attack her. Each has its own set of consequences that have long-running ramifications in-game.

However, if they do decide to fight Yerezum Storn and win, they break an ancient magic seal that has imprisoned the original Goddess that Yerezum Storn had believed herself to be. Which again, allows the Heroes to possibly start or reestablish a cult of their own. When the Goddess was released and appeared before the heroes, it was probably one of my group's favorite moments and really hit home the Mythic Age themes of the game. Most adventures don't give you the opportunity to start a religion.
Act 4 is the adventure wrap-up. The players return to Clearwine, if they survived, as Heroes. How the Heroes are received depends on the results, however. Obviously, it will all hinge on how they deal with Yerezu Storn. And much like the previous adventure the type of rewards they gain at the end of the adventure greatly depend on what action the players took and how they resolved the issue of the Dragon.

What I would add or change to The Dragon of The Thunder Hills adventure.

  • Pre-establish the family member beforehand so that the player can establish some connection to this named NPC prior to their death. A good roleplayer can roll with a family member being dropped into play like how the adventure has it happen, but I think it will make it even more impactful for the player if they got to know this NPC before they die.
  • I didn't do this with my adventure but to make it even more evident that the Heroes should check in on the homestead of the one family member, you could have them either Just left the headstead after a short visit only an hour beforehand. Or have the heroes planning to stop at the homestead on the way for a noon-day meal. 
  • I had my players encounter both the Dragonewts and the Tomb of King Berevenenos a season before this adventure. Both are a great way to foreshadow the event of the Dragon of the thunder Hills, especially the Dragonewts. 
  • Keep in mind when running the Dragonewts; They don't follow the same kind of logic that any of the other races follow. The way they both perceive the world and how they think are completely alien. When my players were speaking to Tarndisi, they had asked her about the Dragonewts and their reasons for seeking out human Heroes to perform the task of Liberating a Dream. She told them she didn't know because the only ones who understand why Dragonewts do anything are Dragonewts and Dragons. Even though she has been around since the Dawn she still does not understand their reasoning or actions.
  • The adventure assumes that the heroes are traveling from Apple Lane. However, if this is not the case then it would be fairly;y easy to change the direction they travel and some of the elements around to fi your location. All in all the events do change much if the location of the Dragon's attack changes. 
  • Remember what season it is and describe it appropriately. Storm season is snow and rain in a highland valley. I noted that none of the descriptions in the adventure really described how wet, frozen, or snow-covered anything was. As such when the heroes go to the Homestead in Act one, once they were looking around the exterior of the farm, I had them notice that the patches of snow on the ground were disturbed by a large creature of some sort. They didn't notice this from the front of the building, however, only behind the homestead and the farmland behind it. 
    Doing it this way allowed the opening scene to feel disquiet at first, with no direct sign of trouble as they approached the homestead. It was only when they began searching around the other side of the building that revealed the danger that they just missed.
  • Be sure to not forget about the two children that accompany the Heroes to Clearwine Fort. The end of Act one doesn't include any directions for this, but I assumed the Queen would find a place for the children for the night in the palace until they can be placed with Kin in the city the following day. 
  • There is not any clear direction on what to do while the Heroes are traveling in the forest. It's left up to the GM to decided what to do here with a few somewhat helpful hints. Personally, I had the players encounter a wild animal native to the area and the elves used this to test to see what kind of people had entered their forest. Respectful humans would know better than to hunt a creature under the canopy of the elven forest.
  • When Tardisis sends the heroes to hunt Redeye, I changed up the wording a little bit for my game and had her just ask them to bring her one of Redeye's tusks. She, in no way, directly asked them to fight Redeye. I did this for a few reasons; this left the task open to interpretation but also it allowed one of the Heroes in my game who had almost beaten the giant boar and lost an arm in the fight another chance in the future to try and kill the boar themselves once their arm has fully regrown. This also makes it an interesting test of personality and cleverness if the heroes can find a way to fulfill the task while not directly getting into a fight with the semi divine Beast.
  • When the heroes were taken to Redey's lair, I rolled a die to see if the Boar was awake or asleep. I also randomly rolled to determine if the players were downwind or upwind from the boar as well, giving Redeye the appropriate bonus or penalties to smell their scent.
  • While the Heroes are traveling through the forest and surrounding areas, I try to make them a little more interesting to help foster role-played moments between the players, as well as add more interest to the game. So when the players had left Tarndisi's Grove and were heading out of the forest into the hills, I had a few random noncombat-specific encounters prepared for them. Noncombat-specific encounters are just encounters where the players didn't need to enter combat if they didn't want to. I also used these to help keep the tension on since they didn't know where the dragon was. So every time I had the players make listen check, they almost always were unsure if they were checking to see if it was the dragon or something else. When I use encounters like this I always stick to three or less so that it doesn't become too boring, but also to help keep the players guessing. The adventure calls for a Listen/Scan check to spot the dragon flying nearby, but I think it helps play up the tension if you make the players go through a few False alarms first before they get to this point.
  • When the Heroes are searching the Thunder Hills, as they get closer to the Queen's Tomb, I had my players encounter the burned corpse of a shepherd. The goats or sheep they were herding are gone with little sign of where they went other than scorch marks, a little blood, and the vanishing cloven footprints in the snow and mud. Again, keeping the tension up, but also brought the themes of family and community back to bare. What do you do with the body of someone's kinsmen? Do you leave them or do you try to return them home. My players came back for the corpse after their battle with Yerezum Storn and sought to return the poor herdsmen back to their kin. We got some good RP out of it and it helped establish more of the setting. I also gave extra Rep for this and the person's kin did reward them with a percentage of the Herdsmen's ransom for bringing the corpse back.
  • If you are new to Glorantha, reading up on the Empire of the Wyrm Friends is a great help during this adventure. Even if it's just snippets of information. The EWF comes up often and Yerezum Storn and the Queen's Tomb have ancient connections to them. The more you know the more likely you can give the players answers to some of the questions they might ask.
  • The map of the Queen's Tomb has one mistake that I notice during the game. There is a set of Orlanth and Ernalda Pillars described for room five that are actually supposed to be in room 6. The Map has them depicted in room 6 (so in the correct room). Just keep an eye out for that and adjust appropriately.
  • When I ran this for my players they easily took Yerezum Storn down. She never had a chance. If I was to run this again, I would give her Dispell 2 or even use Dragon Magic to dispel magical effects. My Players locked Yerezum Storn down within two rounds of combat. Starting off by hitting her with both a Demoralize and a Slow spells all while using an illusion to keep her preoccupied with the inability to use her breath weapon. 

We finished up with the main adventures in the GM's Adventure book and have just started the Smoking Ruins, so its going to be a bit of time before the next Adventure review. Already I have a long list of items I want to talk about when it comes to the Smoking Ruins adventure, so I'm looking forward to getting into that one.

Monday, May 17, 2021

Runequest Adventure Review: Cattle Raid

Cattle Raid

Art by Simon Roy


This is the second adventure offered in the Gamemaster’s Adventure book that comes with the Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha GM screen set. The adventure happens a season after the previous adventure, Defending Apple Lane, during Dark Season. Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha isn’t like D&D where the heroes are adventuring every day as a career. Instead, usually, the heroes have about one adventure once a season. The rest of the time the characters are home taking care of their day-to-day responsibilities to the families, clan, and their occupations. Which is one of the great highlights of Runequest is how the game tries to give the players a sense of being connected to a community within the game instead of the typical freeboot experience you get in other fantasy games. Adventurer isn’t an occupation it’s just something you end up doing once in a while to help your clan and tribe. 

In my game, one of my players wanted their group to break away from the herd and try and track the Sakars. I had NPCs dissuade the heroes from following this course of action. The GM can have the NPCs can tell them that it’s been a few days since the last time the herd was attacked, there is no clear pattern to how frequently they attack, and there doesn’t seem to be a single region of the Gejay Hills that the Sakars seem to keep to, as far as they have been able to discover. Also, have them point out that the Herdsmen would rather have them protect the Cattle as they move the herd than for them to wander into the hills hoping to come across tracks that may or may not lead them to the Sakar’s den. To the Herdsmen’, the plan to wander the hills in the hope of discovering the Sakars seems like a flawed plan and that the heroes would be better served by following the target of the beasts’ attack; the Cattle.
A GM can also have the players make Battle Check if need be to see if their plan is a good one.
This could also be a good point to call for A Loyalty (tribe or Queen Leika) or Devotion (Orlanth) check to follow any plan that left the tribe’s sacred cattle in possible danger.
This might feel like railroading, but I’m not saying that the players can’t follow this course of action, but the GM knows what will happen the next day whether the PCs are there or not. In my opinion, this will result in the worst outcome if the PCs wander off into the hills to track down the Sakars on their own.

No matter the outcome of the previous adventure, the heroes can be called before Queen of the Colymar Tribe, Queen Leika Black Spear, and be given the simple task of helping a few herdsmen who are protecting some of the tribe’s sacred cattle. This is a good opportunity for the player characters to first meet and interact with many of the major figures within the tribe. These NPCs are all covered in the GM’s Adventure book with full stats and minor detail for each character’s background so the GM can run these NPCs to the best of their ability with little work on their own part. 

This adventure is another great start to help introduce the setting and gameplay to new players and involves a staple of the Gloranthan adventuring: Cattle. From what I have been told, the Cattle Raid is to Runequest what Dungeons are to D&D. Though this adventure is not a cattle raid, per se. Passions also play an important part within this adventure, particularly with one of the main NPCs that the heroes meet and who acts as their guide. This NPC’s passions can force the players’ hand at a pinnacle point where the players need to decide the best way to handle a potentially volatile situation. If they don’t recognize the hazard this character represents or even share those same passions, the results can raise the stakes for everyone and have dire consequences. 

This adventure breaks down into three acts and can take a single session to get through - two if you stretch the roleplaying out a little. The adventure takes place during Dark Season but could be inserted between any two adventures that a GM has planned. I believe the reason for the adventure to happen during Dark Season is due to the sacred cattle being moved into lower pastures in preparation for Storm Season, but this could be easily adjusted for any other time of year, imho. 

Art by Kalin Kadiev

Act 1 starts with Queen Leika inviting the heroes to Clearwine Fort to dine with her. Here the PCs will be able to meet the Queen and her council, as well as any of the other local important figures in the tribe. During the meal, Queen Leika will ask/command the heroes to accompany a Varmandi Herder back to the Gejay Hills to meet up with the rest of the Herdsmen. Recently, the tribe’s cattle, sacred to Orlanth, have been attacked by Sakars - which are Sabertooth Cats. The young herder who was sent to the Queen with the request for help from his clan will have answers to some of the players’ questions. But the players will be able to get more information on the situation once they reach the other Herdsmen. The heroes’ task is simple. Follow the Herdsmen, and if and when the Sakar attack, defend the herd, and kill the monsters that have been menacing the cattle for last season or so. 

Act 2 picks up the next morning, after their feast with Queen Leika, it will take about a day - day and a half for the Heroes to travel from Clearwine to get to where the Herd is currently grazing in the Gejay Hills of the Varmandi Clan lands. During this time the heroes interact with the NPC herdsmen, Heortarl, who is acting as their guiding. This character is in love with the idea of being a warrior and going on adventures and gaining renown from being victorious in battle. Any warrior within the party will find a new friend/follower in this Herdsmen, whether they want it or not. They will also discover through Heortarl’s own expressed passion about the Orleving Clan of the Malani Tribe, which expands the player’s knowledge about the world and how the various clans and tribes work together; and how they don’t work together. Heortarl has a short write-up that gives the GM a window into who this NPC is and how best to run them; which I really appreciate. Overall, though, the players will probably feel that their guide is annoying and will be happy to meet up with the other herdsmen so that they can get this job done and not have to be around this youth for too much longer. 

After traveling for a day - day and a half, the players meet up with the herdsmen in the Gejay Hills. There are short write-ups and stats for each herdsman, as well as what answers they might have for the heroes’ questions about the herd, the Sakars, and the Orleving. Once the group links up with the other Varmandi, the heroes will follow the group as they herd the cattle into lower pastures. It is during this time that the Sakar attack and the players get to do their job. However, this causes the herd to panic and stampede in several directions. Once the combat with the Sakar is done the players will help a group of herdsmen to round up some of the cattle.

Art by Simon Roy

Act 3, the players help track down a group of 50 cattle that got away from the herd during the Sakar attack. This leads the group into direct confrontation with the Orleving Clan, who try to take the lost cattle as their own, with a lot of posturing and threats. This scene is left mostly open so the players can choose how best to handle the situation. The adventure gives the GM advice and suggestions on the various avenues that the players might try to use to resolve the conflict. The adventure has short write-ups for the main members of the Orleving Clan members they confront and what their motivations and current plans are for dealing with the Herdsmen and heroes. Much like the other adventures, how the players handle the situation and resolve it will have different effects on the rewards and consequences they will receive at the end of the adventure. Many of which, can lead to more adventures and role-playing opportunities down the road. However, the various passions can force the situation into one avenue or another, depending on how the dice roll.

Once this situation is resolved, hopefully, the Sakars are dead, otherwise, the players will have to remain out in the Gejay Hills until they find the beasts again and deal with them. From here the heroes will return to the Varmandi Clan seat, Oakton, and speak with the Clan Chief to inform him about what happened with the Sakars and the events involving the Orleving. The adventure gives the GM guidance on what kind of reception the heroes receive from the Clan Chief depending on what happened during the adventure. With luck, they might be greatly rewarded and gain a new friend and ally. At worst, they will gain enemies. 

This adventure is very straightforward, much like the previous adventure, and is a great guide to how Runequest differs from other fantasy games. There are two divine laws that the Orlanthi follow, handed down by Orlanth and Ernalda (god/goddess). The First is, “Violence is always an option” and the second is, “There is always another way”. This adventure places the heroes into a situation where these two laws are presented as tangible options for the players to play with. I only wish the adventure presented these laws within the text of the adventure. There wasn’t a lot that I changed or added to this scenario, but below I will offer the little advice and suggestions I have on running this adventure. The adventure does a great job of providing a lot of GM advice and suggestions already, so there is very little that I can add to it.

What I would add or change to the Cattle Raid adventure.

  • When the heroes go before the Queen of the Colymar tribe, I gave the players time to interact with all the main NPCs. I used the Random Rumors table in the back of the GM’s Adventure book to spark conversation between the NPCs and PCs. However, for as many NPCs can be in this scene, The GM doesn’t need all of them fully conversing with the Heroes. Nameless will probably say very little as an example. Don’t feel the need to play every character in this scene.
  • The Adventure has Heortarl brought out towards the end of the diner with Queen Leika. When I ran this, I didn’t see any reason for him to be excluded from the diner and just had Heortarl sitting quietly near the end of the long table, trying not to embarrass himself. He’ll stand out amongst this group of important people due to his mannerisms and cloth, but I didn’t see why he wouldn’t have been asked to join them as well. I just kept him quiet until the Queen motions towards him.
  • The GM can use the NPCs during the diner scene or before you transition to Act 2, to introduce or remind the PCs about the two laws handed down by Orlanth and Ernalda; “Violence is always an option” and, “There is always another way”. Just a bit of foreshadowing and a way to plant that seed into the player’s mind before they encounter the Orleving.
  • My players were able to stop over in Apple Lane as their halfway point and spend the night there before continuing on into the Gejay Hills. They were using Apple Lane as their home base because of the resolution of the previous adventure. This allowed them to gather their supplies on the way and not have to spend the night outside before getting to the Gejay Hills.
  • When the players meet up with the Herdsmen, I gave them time to role play with the Varmandi clan members. I had it late in the second day when they linked up with the herd and the herdsmen were setting up camp for the night. This will also give the players the time to ask the NPCs more questions about the situations and possibly plan.
  • One or two of the herdsmen will get hurt in the stampede. The players might want to stop and help with healing but one of the Herdsmen will already be there casting healing spirit magic on their companions and would rather have the heroes help the other herdsmen gather the cattle that fled in the hills. I had two players stay behind even after this and so maybe plan accordingly.
  • It would be a good idea to remind the PCs that it’s better to get a ransom for defeated enemies than to kill them when the Orleving encounter happens. Ransom is particularly unique to Runequest, whereas in many other games you generally just kill anyone you end up fighting.
  • One of the things I would add to this the next time I run this adventure would be to include one or two short local Varmandi stories that the herdsmen can tell around the campfire at night. This would give the player more in-game knowledge about the world they are playing in and possibly act as a springboard for further adventures. I didn’t do this the first time because, much like my players, I’m new to the setting. But after the session was over, I felt that this would be a worthwhile pursuit. 

The Wrap-up.

Next time I will hold off on the review of the third and final adventure in the GM’s Adventure book. Instead, I’ll want to talk about in-between adventures and how tI have been running them, and how Runequest does this differently than other games. This will also include the side quests and some of the seeds I planted that foreshadowed the events of the next Adventure: The Dragon of the Thunder Hills. My hope is to have the next post up within the next two weeks.

Side Note:

I had Heortarl show up about a season later seeking to apprentice with our one Warrior - having received permission to so from his Clan Chief after annoying Korol Serpent-tooth about it ever since the players completed their task. My player did decide to train the NPC. I think they decided this because they knew deep down that at some point the NPC was going to start a fight he couldn’t finish or survive and felt the need to at least prepare him for the trouble the kid wants to brew between himself and a rival clan.

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Runequest Adventure Review: Defending Apple Lane

 Last year I made the long-awaited switch from playing D&D 5e for the last 3-4 years to the newest version of Runequest from Chaosium. Most of my game group haven't played anything other than 5e and for some of them, this was their first time playing a campaign in a non-D&D world. For me, D&D is one of the games I like the least, and have always found better games to play. I really enjoyed 5e when we first started to play it but after year 3 of playing I was burned out on this game system and all of its flaws. I should have ended the game before I did because now I hate everything about it. But let's not go down that road. Let's get into my new hotness; Runequest.

I have never played Runequest until now and only recently heard about the setting of Glorantha, but I have quickly fallen in love with this highly detailed mythic, bronze age world of heroes. I have to say I'm loving Runequest; Skill-based game systems are my favorite and Runequest meets the level of game design I enjoy without being too crunchy in my opinion. When I first started to hear about this game I picked up the free pdf of the quickstarter, which can be found on Chaosium's site. The quickstarter is a good look at the rules of the game and what you can expect from a game of Runequest. The Adventure isn't too bad either but I haven't run it yet. Once I got into it and was preparing to change my game over to Runequest once we finished our D&D campaign, I used some birthday money and bought the full Slipcase set for Runequest that comes with the Core book, Bestiary, and the GM screen - this set is not required to play the game but was something that I just wanted since I already was going to buy all of those books and the GM screen anyway. Plus the slipcase is pretty cool.

The GM Screen Pack is 100% worth getting. Maps, character sheets, calendar, pre-gen Characters, and best of all The GM Adventure Book. This book is what I think is currently the best way to start a new campaign of Runequest. Gives you a detailed starting setting with the Colymar tribal lands and brings back a classic starting town (or Hamlet in this case) with an updated Apple Lane. The book comes with 3 adventures, a dozen explorable locations that can turn into their own adventures by themselves, dozens of NPCs with full stats,100 random rumors (some true, false, up to the Gm, and a little bit of both), and a few other worthwhile extras. Truly the best GM screen I have ever seen and/or bought.

Defending Apple Lane


Defending Apple Lane is the first adventure in the GM adventure book. It takes place right after the major event that kicks off this edition's timeline (yep, there is an active storyline for the setting). This adventure takes place a few weeks after the Dragonrise and the PC are traveling through the area when the people who live in the hamlet of Apple Lane ask for their assistance. Apple Lane is on major trade routes and it is not uncommon for travelers heading home from one of the numerous battles that took place recently to pass through the hamlet. A man who survived a brutal raid has found his way to the hamlet and remained conscious enough to warn Apple Lane that a raiding party of Tusk Riders is preparing to attack the hamlet. Apple Lane currently has no defenders to protect them, so when the PCs appear they are asked to help defend the hamlet from the Tusk Riders - and the villagers will reward them for their help.

This adventure is a good start to any campaign and for any group learning Runequest. The adventure primarily combat scenes with some roleplaying moments that bookend the adventure, where the PCs interact with the NPCs, particularly when they are planning the defense of the hamlet.

Overall this adventure can be broken down into 3-4 acts. Act 1, which I described above, where the PCs arrive and are asked to help defend the hamlet from monstrous raiders. This gives the players a lot of power in how to defend the Hamlet, with the NPCs taking a backseat and assisting the players where they can since all but two of the NPCs have any kind of combat training. The adventure offers a series of answers to possible questions the players may ask the NPCs and this information can help the players during their planning. The adventure leaves up how much time the players have to plan and prepare before the Tusk Riders arrive. 

Act 2 starts when the Tusk Riders attack. The adventure gives you a lot of suggestions on what kind of tactics the Tusk Riders will use to attack the hamlet. They are mostly seasoned warriors who have a lot of experience attacking similar settlements. The adventure gives you some short workable background and context for each Tusk Rider so that the GM can make the best decisions as the encounter progresses. There is a clear and defined hierarchy within the raiding party's group, which can easily fracture into 2-3 factions depending on what happens as they encounter the PCs. The adventure reinforces that none of the characters want to die in this fight. So play them smart. If they are losing, they should flee to the best of their ability. The Tusk Riders have a big advantage in this fight since they are all riding Tuskers, which are giant battle-trained boars. The boars have their own attacks and give the Tusk Riders a greater range of movement. 

The number of Tusk Riders is adjustable based on the number of players and the adventure gives the GM a clear idea of how many enemies the players should encounter for this adventure. When I ran this adventure, I used nearly all of them. Each tusk Rider has a name and a level of power, none of them are what I would call minions/ redshirts/clones to be used as cannon fodder like you see in many other adventure games. When comparing the number of players to the number of Tusk Riders they should encounter in combat, the adventure tells you which ones to include in the raid based on the PC's party size. 

How this combat session resolves and what situation the Tusk Riders encounter when they attack really depends on the PCs earlier planning. The Tin Inn is the only location in the hamlet that is easy to defend. The inn has an inner courtyard surrounded by a wall with a gate. There are also two temples in the Hamlet, but they only have stout doors that can be barred shut but offer no other way for defenders to respond to any attacks.

Act 3, in my game, a number of the tusk riders were killed in the fight before the others fled. One PC was nearly killed, but in the middle of battle, the healer was able to rush over and save them while the Heavy Infantry Warrior defended them from being attacked again. So my act 3 was the players healing themselves and checking on the villagers while searching the fallen Tusk Riders. The group's Assistant Shaman and his Master detected something odd about the one Tusk Riders necklace of Human Hands, and with second sight saw that there were two human spirits enslaved and bound to the necklace. This gave the Assistant shaman a moment in the spotlight and allowed him to learn about his occupation in the game. With some guidance, he was able to free the enslaved spirits and set them to rest. 

Once they were all done and ready, they set out to hunt down the rest of the Tusk Riders who fleed. This required them to go into the Colymar Wilds but is not a difficult task for anyone with the tracking skill to do. the Giant boars they ride make an easy path to follow, destroying vegetation as they rampage through the hills and forests. 

The Colymar Wilds can be a dangerous place. In these mountains are two known monsters or beasts that most people try to avoid if at all possible. Both are detailed more elsewhere in the GM's Adventure book, but the players can possibly encounter one of these while tracking the Tusk Riders back to their camp. Redeye the Boar is a semi Divine Beast that leaves a path of destruction where ever it goes and is a creature of rage and hate. This is suggested as a possible encounter in this adventure, but if the PCs beat the Tusk Riders fairly easily and the number of Tusk Riders left is too few for a good fight, then bring this guy into play. This creature is stated elsewhere in the adventure book and is one of the many possible side adventures that the players can investigate and encounter at any time. So don't feel the need to include him in this adventure. He can show up at any time and one of the other adventures in the GM's Adventure book will give you another opportunity to have the PCs encounter Redeye.

Once the players have this final encounter with these Tusk Riders, they can then return to Apple Lane as heroes.

Act 4 (or Act 3 is all the Tusk Riders are killed in act 2), the PCs are rewarded by the villager elders, Depending on what the PCs did during the adventure and how impressed the villagers are by the PCs' ability to defend the hamlet, the PCs can gain additional rewards that are more significant than just gold and silver. These kinds of rewards create a link to the community and help launch further adventures. This is one of the many aspects that I really enjoy about Runequest, each adventure has its standard rewards as well as potentially more rewards depending on PCs actions, Player Decisions, who lives or survives, and How the PCs go about resolving the objective(s) of the adventure. It's very much a decision tree done as a reward structure; much of which is not monetary based. Also every adventure you go on, the higher your reputation becomes, making you someone that others can seek out based on what stories they heard about you. Your reputation can affect social encounters, changing how an NPC interacts with you depending on the kind of reputation you have; if they have heard of you.

In an effort to not spoil too much, I'll say that due to my player's actions one of them, for his bravery and Honorable actions, was given the title of Thane of Apple Lane. Because of this, the character was able to hire his friends as retainers and cemented the group's roles in the community. Some players might see gaining responsibility as a somewhat undesirable reward, but in Runequest - Community and the PCs duty to their community and family is one of the many aspects of play. Runequest isn't D&D and this is one of the ways that the game reflects the differences between the two. It's not about Dungeon Crawls and fighting monsters, win treasure, and wandering the lands doing whatever. Don't get me wrong, if this is what you want to do for your game then it is still very much possible. However, in Runequest, your aspiring heroes go on adventures maybe once a season, and the rest of the time they are handling the responsibilities and duties that come with their chosen occupation; local healer, local Priestess, warrior working as village protector, assistant Shaman, etc. 

This adventure is simple and straightforward. Perfect for easing into a new campaign and easing into the Runequest Rules for the first time. Plus, it allows these players to save the starter town that they can then become fixtures in and around this quaint little hamlet. If nothing else, it introduces the players to the Temple of Uleria, the Goddess of Love, whose temple is a local hot spring and bathhouse enjoyed by travelers looking for a good place to rest for a night.

What I would add or change to Defend Apple Lane adventure.

  • Set a timer: The PCs and the villagers don't know when the Tusk Riders will appear. When I ran this session, I rolled a D10 to see how many hours they had to prepare for the attack. Make it very clear to the players, when they are planning their defense, that they don't know when the attack is coming. I use the NPCs to poke at the plans the players were coming up with and several of their plans never took into account the amount of time they probably didn't have. 
    For instance, the players were talking about chopping down trees to block the roads. But they didn't really have the time to do this and it probably wouldn't have done much to stop the Raiders (especially since in my game, the Tusk Riders weren't using the roads). The NPCs didn't like the idea of the Players destroying parts of the groves in an effort that may not have born any fruit.
  • I would have the PCs present when Saraskos, the man who survived the Tusk Rider's raid on his home, arrives to give the warning. This allows the PCs the chance to be present went the warning is given. The original adventure has everything begin a time after Saraskos has already given his warning.
  • Have it so that Saraskos had a family who the Tusk Riders killed during the raid of his homestead. This adds some weight to the raid. 
  • The biggest potential downside to this adventure is the number of NPCs the GM has to manage. When the players are interacting with the Apple Lane residences, the GM should just have Brightflower and Aleenia be the only ones speaking to the players, even though the Apple Lane gives you stats for all the main personalities in the hamlet.
  • There is a lot of repetition to the names - especially the names of the various woman in town. So you are not constantly going back and forth, write down all the main names and a note for each and maybe even prescribe a well-known actor or actress that you can easily picture as a quick character description. This will help break up all those similar names in the player's mind.
  • Have some of the PCs help bring the locals to the Tin Inn or the Temple. There are 13 characters listed in the village under the detailing of Apple Lane; 14, if you count the one child that is mentioned here. There are something like 25 hides of land around Apple Lane, which are managed by tenet farmers, however, there are only 5 (14 people) sets of tenet farmers listed at the end of the adventure. I assumed that there are more Tenet families in the surrounding area and would say that there is a family or 3 or more per Hide of land. So I would say there are at least 20 other families (not listed in the book) out there that the players can help gather for their safety. 
  • Come up with a plan of attack for the Tusk Riders. The adventure book as suggestions that can help in this but I used the map and decided early on what direction the attackers were all coming from. I did this before the players started planning their defense. 
  • Make it clear that the main objective here is to protect the people in the hamlet, not property or other items in the hamlet. I feel like this was something that wasn't as clearly stated in the adventure and the impression my players had was that they needed to protect the recent surplus from the harvest. This forced the players to try and spread themselves out in order to protect more of the hamlet. 
  • Have Hendroste the Horsemaster protect the stables. This just seems logical to me that the Horsemaster would be the type to want to protect his horses, his livelihood. He does have a family and I had them at the Inn since it was the best defendable location, but then had Hendroste on the roof of the stables ready to shot any Raider that came within a reasonable range of his bow. This also allows him to act as a lookout to the south side of the hamlet.
  • When the Tusk Riders flee; it possible the players will try to call this task complete. Have the NPCs say that they will not pay the PCs until they feel the task is complete since with a number of Tusk Riders still out there, they could return at a later day. The task the player took up was to protect the hamlet from These Tusk Riders and as such, they will not feel safe until they can be reassured that the Tusk Riders will not return. Generally, you want them to hunt the Tusk Riders down and either finish them or run them off - make them think twice before trying this again. I used my one player's Honor against him since he had an Honor of 90%. But you could have other players make similar dice rolls, such as opposed rolls Between Loyalty Clan or Tribe and one other Passion. or just a Loyalty roll if they want to call the task complete. 
  • As the Player travel into the Colymar wilds, have the players come across an area that was recently (within a day or two) destroyed by Redeye in its wandering. Trees uprooted, knocked down, tufts of fur, gouged earth, crushed rocks, and a few dead animals should give them a good idea that might be out there.
  • The adventure does have all the answers. This is pretty normal, but when reading through the adventure, I would suggest thinking about any of the questions you would ask as a player and come up with possible answers. 
My plan is to write up a similar overview and notable changes or possible changes for each of the Adventures in the GM Adventure book. So Keep an eye out for that.