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.

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