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 Cattle Raid 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.

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