Saturday Schedule

I’ve finished reading “Reign of Terror,” Chaosium’s newest release, with the intention of writing a short review of it for Reckoning of the Dead.

I’m closing in on finishing the first draft of “The Founding,” the one-shot scenario Noah Lloyd and I ran (4 times) at NecronomiCon: Providence 2017.

Noah and his sweetheart Jenee just finished taking pictures of some of the older rpg titles in my library. He wants to use the images for the Reckoning of the Dead twitter account.

My sweetheart KC went on a bicycle ride so I was able to listen to the Butthole Surfers while I wrote. She doesn’t let me play them when she’s home.

Now we’re getting ready for an outdoor party.

How was your Saturday?

 

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Posted in Call of Cthulhu, Writing Practice | 2 Comments

Something’s Rotten on Plain St

I’ve got a cold, a gift from work I suspect, from the many people I interact with during a typical day. I was in a meeting Friday with a fellow who went home later because he didn’t feel well, and I think I’m experiencing the same symptoms. Ah well, it will pass, but today I feel rotten.

I’m writing the first draft of a scenario and I’m at the point where every other sentences sounds like shit but every fourth or fifth sentence sounds brilliant. Maybe not brilliant. Maybe descent, like “oh, that’s a descent sentence.” I know this is all part of the first-draft process, it is still difficult to continue through with. Editing is often more fun, but I’m not there yet. Rotten first-draft.

Finally, we had a stink in the house that we discovered Thursday. Some foul smell that permeated the entire first floor but was strongest in the kitchen and back hallway. Couldn’t find anything in the refrigerator and we’d taken the garbage out. Friday morning it was worse, although we didn’t notice it Friday night during our Scrabble game with Marcie and Rob. Saturday morning it was bad and we started to suspect the worst; something had gotten into the house and died. We removed everything from the back hallway but didn’t find a body. We opened the two crawl spaces and I went spelunking. No body. We have an unused chimney in the back of the house – it’s an old house, build in the 1890’s – and I popped open the ancient flue with a hammer. Bingo. Dead squirrel. We were relieved it wasn’t in the walls. The corpse, and the accompanying army of maggots, has been removed.

 

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Lost in Thought

Walking to the bus today I was thinking about a piece I’m writing, running sentences through my head as I walked the the same route I’ve walked everyday for the past three years. I stopped at a crosswalk – Court and Cayuga Streets – and realized that I had no idea where I was going. I stood there momentarily stunned, having absolutely no clue where I was headed.

This sudden memory lapse was slightly disturbing, and I thought about my father who experiences this on a regular basis. Frightening. How does one get used to that feeling?

The moment passed and I remembered where I was going.

I’d been thinking about the new blog we started, reckoningofthedead.com, where my co-author and I post one-page scenarios for Call of Cthulhu.

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What Started as a Game Session Report turned into a Review of “A Time to Harvest”

I’ve got my complaints with Chaosium’s A Time to Harvest, an adventure released in installments for organized play. According to plan, groups all across the country, perhaps world, received monthly installments and then run each episode for their gaming groups. It’s a swell idea, a free adventure released in parts, designed to interest gamers and boost sales of their latest edition of Call of Cthulhu. I hope they succeeded.

The adventure takes place primarily in Cobb’s Corners, a sleepy town in Vermont that is polluted with hidden, skulking aliens. Based on H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “A Whisperer in the Darkness”, A Time to Harvest picks up where that story left off, enfolding the player characters (referred to as the “investigators”) smack dab in the middle of an alien infestation, and further ices the horror cake with a monster-worshipping cult determined to summon an otherworldly deity. There is a lot going on and that is part of the difficulty.

Call of Cthulhu is a very traditional role-playing game. Designed in the late 70’s early 80’s, it still got that old school rpg flavor. The NPCs are stat heavy, and because the game mechanic often compares one character’s stat against another’s, the stats are important and hard to handwave if you don’t have them. I printed out the episodes and bound them in a three-ring notebook, and spend considerable time flipping back and forth among the pages looking for a specific NPC. Some of this searching is mitigated by re-listing all the antagonists at the end of the chapter, but with six chapters all bound together, I still flipped a lot of pages.

There are a lot – a lot – of NPCs. Chapter one has 12 townspeople, ranging from the sheriff and deputy to the school teacher and librarian, and 10 academics that the players need to know, 8 of which accompany them on the field trip to Cobb’s Corners. Chapter two introduces 8 new NPCs “disguised” as the 8 that went on the field trip. “Disguised” isn’t exactly right, but I don’t want to spoil it for those who haven’t played it yet. The Keeper has to remember who is “disguised” as whom, plus the 2 new academics introduced. All these academics are entangled in a complicated plot web, to keep the players guessing at what is really going on. Chapter three adds 7 oil and chemical company employees to the mix. In chapter four we go back to Cobb’s Corners, and while you might think we’ve detailed all the essential NPCs, we haven’t. Add 2 more. Chapter five only adds 1 NPC, one which we’ve seen before so it shouldn’t really count, and chapter six closes out the adventure by adding 2 more oil and chemical company employees. That’s 41 NPCs for those counting at home.

To increase the confusion, many of the NPCs have very similar names. I’m not sure if the author tried to keep the names sounding Lovecraftian, but many of the names are so similar it’s hard to remember who is who. We have a pair of professors named Learmonth and Wilmarth, a professor named Armitage and a business tycoon named Abelard. Of the academics, we have a Professor Harrold, a Harold Higgins, and a Gibbons. The oil company has a Drake and a Nekler (not too bad) and a Matherson and a Morrison (oh come on!). It gets ridiculous and often muddied the story-telling because we would mix up who was who. In Chaosium’s online forums, it was nice to read that other people also found this issue problematic, and unfortunate that the Chaosium representative who responded poo-pooed the comments away. “If the names are confusing change them.” Ah, sir, that’s your job.

It’s also, since I’m listing its negatives first, very combat orientated. It doesn’t start that way. The first couple chapters are a stand-up mystery, as the players try to figure out what is going on in Cobb’s Corners. Two parallel groups of bad guys keep the players guessing nicely. But once they’ve figured it out, and they are told by chapter three in case they haven’t got it on their own, it’s combat after combat: Deep Ones in Detroit, Dark Young in Vermont, and Shoggoths on the . . . well, I won’t say. Keep a little suspense to the few who read this.

Finally, A Time to Harvest is very linear. While the investigators do get to poke around some, and Cobb’s Corners allows for all sorts of investigation, the action unfolds in a very ordered sequence, and when the players deviate from the anticipated action – which they invariable do all the time – it’s difficult to get this sucker back on the tracks. I had to get very creative to let my players do what they wanted, while at the same time trying to keep to the printed agenda as best I could. Some things got out of control and I let them. One of the “disguised” NPCs returning from Vermont to Miskatonic University – did I mention that chapter 2 takes place at Miskatonic U.? – is supposed to be a super bad guy and intended to be a difficult antagonist for the players. My players killed him early with a lucky shot. I folded aspects of him back in, but they killed him again easily. During another derailment, I had to skip half of chapter four as the players rushed directly into chapter five, which they didn’t know they were doing, and then return to it after the greater conclusion of the latter chapter. A little anti-climactic.

Okay, so what’s good about it?

Well, it’s kind of awesome. When the players figured out what was pestering Cobb’s Corners it scared the Bejesus out of them. When they figured out how the returning students were disguised it compounded the horror. “They could be anywhere!” The blood bath in Detroit frightened the shite out of them, and the destruction of Cobb’s Corners and the summoning of an Elder God (Old One? Outer One? I can’t remember the parlance) freaked them right the frig out. We were playing in public at a comic book store and were totally animated and engrossed in the adventure. People would walk in and cast wary glances our way, as we sat in the back and yelled, “Run for your life!”

Sure it’s railroad-y and too full of NPCs with almost the same damn last name, but that’s my perspective. The author provides 40+ NPCs and probably 15-20 monster stats for the Keeper. That’s a lot of work. The page flipping will hopefully be better organized in the published version; one of the detractors of the episodic release was that each chapter was numbered starting at page 1. Hard to find a mentioned reference when there are 6 page 29s. The climactic sequences are out of order, but at the end of episode five the evil cultist summon a friggin’ Great Old One to Cobb’s Corners. That scene was simply fantastic, and you’ll be hard pressed to match it. Well, maybe not you, but I would be.

Is it worth the price? Hell yes, it was free. Thank you Chaosium! I imagine that the published version will run $50 or more, that seems the going rate for Chaosium’s high-budget, glossy-page releases these days. Will I purchase it? Probably.  I’ve got a meth-addict-response to new releases from game companies that I like. Chaosium is my current favorite, and I’m really excited about a potential episodic release for the new RuneQuest rules, although it’s going to be harder to fill those seats at the gaming table than a CoC game. But I’ll do what I can. Carry on!

 

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The Family plays Call of Cthulhu

I’ve been playing A Time to Harvest with some mates at the local comic book store, and it’s been great fun watching the players react to the horrors found at Cobb’s Corners, a small town in Vermont terrorized by Lovecraftian beasties. I made a deal with my family to play; if they let me run a game every Monday night at the store, afterwards we three would go out to eat. Since the game has been so much fun, it’s more often than not that evening’s dinner topic. Both son Aug and wife KC like hearing about the fate of the gang’s investigator characters.

It’s so much fun that I wanted to run a game for them.. Aug has been playing role-playing games for a long time – comes with the territory with a dad like me – and KC, while still a novice, has enjoyed several sessions of your standard sword & sorcery type game. Things like 13th Age, and maybe some OSR D&D stuff. And as my desire to run an adventure for the fam was bubbling like a cauldron of witch’s brew, Chaosium released Doors to Darkness; Five Scenarios for Beginning Keepers. Boom! “You got chocolate in my peanut butter! You got peanut butter on my chocolate!” One quick purchase later and the pdf. was slithering into my downloads folder like one of Great Cthulhu’s face tentacles.

Chapter One contains ideas for first-time keepers, those that run an adventure for a group of players and is more generally called the GM (Game Moderator) or DM (Dungeon Master). I’m sure I could have used the guidance, but skipped the chapter in my exuberance to get playing. As I’ve written before, I’m not an experienced Call of Cthulhu keeper, and while I sporadically bought CoC supplements during the ’80s and (less frequently) ’90s, my fondness for the line is fairly recent.

We used the Quick-Start Rules to make our investigators, the player characters, occasionally delving into the new Call of Cthulhu Keeper Rulebook (7th Ed.) for clarification and to generate authentic 1920s names for our two investigators. The Quick-Start rules are incredibly well done and clear, and within half-an-hour Aug and KC created Noble and Florence, a pair of budding investigators called to visit the mysterious happenings in Providence, Rhode Island, the setting for Doors to Darkness‘ chapter two, “The Darkness Beneath the Hill.”

Warning, I’m not going to dance around and try not to spoil the adventure for you. It’s fun overall, and if you want to play it stop reading now.

Now that the obligatory warning is out of the way, I’ll get into the nitty gritty details. Josh Winscott, our friendly in-need-of-assistance NPC, sends the investigators a telegram asking for help. He’s discovered an old tunnel in the basement of the family residence he recently inherited, and suspects it was once used as a secret highway to shuffle slaves around after slavery had become illegal. The adventure explains some of the grim history of Providence slave trading, including the Brown family and the wealth they received from importing slaves. The adventure’s foundation was nearly as interesting as the adventure itself, and I applaud the author for his research and creative setting.

Josh meets the investigators and explains that the tunnel is likely an old slave tunnel and he wants to explore it. They agree to meet tomorrow, giving the investigators time to explore the city and comb its two libraries looking for information about Providence’s past and the Winscott house. In true Call of Cthulhu fashion they find both, and although this isn’t much of a mystery, a couple clues foreshadow the horror to come.

Naturally, Josh couldn’t wait ’til tomorrow and went on ahead, leaving the investigators to follow in his footsteps. They do, and discover that the slave tunnel runs into a much older tunnel, and at some point along that they stumble over a pile of old human remains. An educated guess explains that they are the bones of both slaves and slavers, rent and gnawed some 100 years earlier. Found at an intersection in the old tunnels, they decide to split up – always a good idea in a horror game – with Noble descending along the side passage and Florence continuing on until she hits the river a couple miles later. Noble finds a larger underground complex with strange snake carvings adorning the walls and ceilings and immediately flees. Reconvening with Florence, the pair high tail it and go to the cops.

The adventure has some suggestions for why investigators should go get the fuzz, but I don’t like stopping my players from doing what they want to do. Noble and Florence filled out a missing person report with a sergeant who absolutely didn’t believe in slave tunnels and ancient snake carvings, and the next day found that Josh still absent from the mansion. Reluctantly, the investigators returned to the tunnels and the cave complex.

Aug and KC were scared, but I didn’t realize it at the time. The mere thought of going underground armed only with a pistol and a flashlight terrified them. They had heard all about the A Time to Harvest posse and the bad things that happened to them and didn’t want any part of temporary insanity and/or dismemberment. Aug complained about his bad dice rolls, regularly missing his Spot Hidden rolls. KC had Florence grip her pistol tightly. A few turns in the cave complex and they came across some degenerate ape-like creatures that scurried away from their torchlight. Following them, one suddenly turned and sprang at them, and I lurched forward in my chair, hands bent into claws and doing my best Planet of the Apes shriek. KC pointed her fingers in the shape of a gun in my face and screamed, “Blamb!” Florence immediately shot the critter and killed it dead.

And they both turned and fled again.

“What about Josh?” I asked. I had thought that their easy victory over the degenerate ape would bolster their confidence.

“Fuck Josh,” said Aug.

“We really weren’t that close,” said KC.

They raced out. I tried to make it difficult. At one point they had had to descend a narrow chimney. The rope they left for their return exit was mysteriously gone. Aug said that Noble tried to climb it anyway, and succeeded with a lucky die roll. He lowered the rope to help Florence up, and the pair ran back to the basement.

I had to break the story fiction and explained that if they left, the session was over and Josh was surely dead. I didn’t have a Providence sandbox for them to play in, where they could go investigate other stories or have other adventures. It was this or nothing. I hated to do it and it ultimately highlighted my weakness as a keeper, unable to control the game, but I didn’t know how to keep them in the damn cave complex. I guess I should have had the tunnel collapse, but that is as artificial as interrupting the game the way I did it. That’s when I realized how frightened they were, and how effective the simple adventure was.

My little talk succeeded and Noble and Florence went back into the dungeon. Nervous as two newborn colts, the pair entered a few rooms, poked around the weird contraptions they found, and slipped out as quickly as they had sneaked in. One room held a dozen large, oozing pods, suspended from the ceiling and dripping goo, each holding a sleeping snake person. One pod was empty, of course, the villain of the episode, but the rest swung vulnerable. With such easy targets, I was certain carnage would ensue.

“Oh, I don’t like this,” said KC, and the investigators run away immediately.

Eventually, they came to a room that was brightly lit, illumination spilling out into the dim corridor and hopefully indicating that something might be living in the room. Instead of sneaking in to take a look, Noble hesitantly shouted Josh’s name.

“Josh?”

The waiting snakeman reacted by leaving the workbench he had been snoozing at and listening at the door. I said that they heard a slight shuffle, like a chair being slide across the floor. Noble called out again, louder, “Josh!?!” Then they tip-toed into the room, just in time to see the snakeman ring a big bronze gong, whose booming echo reverberated around the investigators.

Almost as loudly as their gunfire, as they immediately emptied their guns into the snakeman. Nearly dead, they then tried to interrogate the vile creature, at which point he cast an entrancement spell on Florence and slowly crept forward to sink his poisoned fangs into her leg. Noble ended that ploy with two fateful shots of his revolver. They both looked up in time to see the ghast sneaking into the room, summoned by the gong and noisy pistol play. Being well versed in the automatic gunfire rule, I led KC through three successful shots in her first round of combat, nicely dropping this beasty as well. The pair were ecstatic. They had survived! Josh was rolled up in a catatonic ball in a makeshift cell and easily rescued, and within minutes they were all back in the Winscott family residence and bricking up the hole in the basement.

They loved it, and I had a good time running the simple but effectively scary dungeon crawl. On reflection, it is merely one step away from a low level dungeon filled with kobolds and containing a lurking lizardman and a helper ogre (ah, maybe bugbear). It was deadly but far from lethal, and a nice stepping off point for gamers familiar with dungeons and monsters and new to the Cthulhu Mythos and Call of Cthulhu. Well done, and we quickly scheduled another evening’s session. Chapter 3, “Genius Loci” awaits, and from my quick skim, it seems much more of a mystery in the traditional Call of Cthulhu sense.

 

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Beach Reading RuneQuest Classic

I’m not writing anything these days, and noticing that I’m not I thought I should start. If you stumble across this, read this as a practice essay, a work in progress. Perhaps a review in progress, but I don’t feel qualified calling it a proper review. The point of all this is that I need to practice writing, and here is that practice. You luck bastards get to read it. Or not.

I accidentally left the hardcover fiction I was reading on the bedside stand, which I discovered as I browsed through the books I’d packed for our family vacation. We regularly stop at Harding’s Books and each of us picks up a title or two on the way from the cabin to the beach, but since our house is overflowing with unread books, I decided to bring books instead of buy books. But as I said, I forgot to bring Llana of Gathol. So instead of continuing ERB’s serialized pulp, I opened the hardbound classic edition of RuneQuest and settled into my folding chair on the windswept beach of Kennebunkport.

RuneQuest has been around since the late 70’s, but didn’t fall under my radar in those hyacinth days of dice-rolling, long high school summers, and buckets of sugary Kool-Aid. I was totally absorbed with TSR’s publishing efforts and how I was going to afford Steading of the Hill Giant Chief on my meager, near nonexistent budget. I was so thrilled with AD&D that I tried to buy their entire catalog. I failed, but the habit continues, and when I come across a game that I like I buy most (all) of the supplemental material. There are a couple games right now that I’m gobbling up, and RuneQuest is one of them.

This isn’t a review, don’t get your heckles up. This is more my impression of reading the thin, 146-page-long core game cover to cover. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a role-playing game book this way, starting at the first word on the first page and reading it all the way through like a novel. Generally, I jump around. I’m so anxious to play the damn thing that I read the bare minimum to play, and then search for the various rules that we need as they come up in a game session. I’m running Chaosium’s A Time to Harvest at my local comic book storeA Time to Harvest is an adventure supplement for the 7th Edition of Call of Cthulhu, a long-standing, award-winning rpg classic. I own the rules, two beautiful, glossy-paged, hard cover volumes packaged in a nice looking slipcase, and haven’t read them. I’ve read the jump start guide, a handy free booklet explaining how to play, and usually just bring that to our game sessions. Another example: I read most of HeroQuest: Glorantha until I couldn’t take it anymore and wrote my own jump-start adventure, which once the stars alight will be available for purchase from d100 Games. There are still bits I don’t understand, but I don’t worry about it. If it comes up I’ll deal with the situation in-game and then read how I was supposed to handle it later.

(I’m not the best guy to lead a game if you are a rules lawyer and enjoy arguing the rules, because I haven’t read most of the rules. But I am the guy to go through the effort and work to get the game on the table and get your asses in the chair playing it and having the time of your life.)

So my ass was in a beach chair soaking up the sun and the salty air and reading RuneQuest from front to back. There were times when I wanted to dig into my backpack to find paper and pencil so I could use the rules, but I resisted that urge. What did reading the rule book tell me about the kind of game RuneQuest was? Much like other games of the late 70’s, its rules and charts heavy. There is a chart for this, a chart for that, rules for many different combat situations – I think all the rules cover combat situations – and many pools of points that you have to keep track off: POW (magical power), Hit Points (the amount damage a character can take), some ability scores, and many, many percentile-based skills. It’s not really that different from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, its direct competitor at the time. To put it in AD&D terms, a RuneQuest character is a first-level fighter for hit points, with combat and sneaking skills like a thief (percentile-based), with spells learned like a magic-user (so many memorized based on Intelligence) and spend by reducing POW. And spirit combat is kind of like psionic combat, for those who remember those few obscure pages from the Players Handbook and the Dungeon Masters Guide.

The difference is in how the character advances. No levels. With training, which the character pays for – hence the need to go rob monsters of their treasure – each skill ticks up a 5% notch. Characters still want to kill monsters and take their stuff, which is one of the most common criticisms of of AD&D, although since combat is so lethal, I guess characters really just want to take the monsters’ stuff and aren’t so concerned with slaying them. The big difference, really big, is the world. Where AD&D had the World of Greyhawk, RuneQuest has Glorantha, the huge artificial world with a cumbersome mythology and thousands upon thousands of pages of history. It can be boiled down to a few pages, and RuneQuest does this, or it can be expanded into two huge and heavy coffee table-sized volumes of Gloranthan lore that doesn’t contain a single sentence of game rules. There is Dragon Pass and Prax and all sorts of goodies that RuneQuest fans have memorized and drooled over for years. The love and attention that its creator(s) poured into the world is staggering and impressive, and if any fictitious place could seem real and not just imagined, Glorantha is that place. Where Greyhawk is generic medieval Europe mixed with Middle Earth, and Faerun is the same with sword-wielding superheroes that take center stage more often than the player characters, Glorantha is unique. Several bronze-age cultures mixed with some dark ages cultures mashed together in a unique vision of active god pantheons, struggling clans, and warring empires.

This classic RuneQuest reprint captures the individual feel of this massively fictitious world through the sample character of Rurik the Restless. He is a street-wise barbarian living in Prax, a plains city occupied by the conquering Lunar Empire and sitting next to the Big Rumble, a ruined city built by giants and now housing trolls, chaos monsters, and roving bands of criminals. In a sense Rurik seems like a criminal, and while early AD&D tries to capture a heroic feeling for the various created characters, RuneQuest feels more seedy, more gritty. Sometimes downright dirty. As the author guides us through the rules with his example characters, Rurik and his band of roving mercenaries wanders through the Big Rubble and tries to take money from other roving bands, more often than not trolls. In RuneQuest, trolls are not orcs, meaning that they are not the default evil minions that players can kill indiscriminately, but a much more detailed, comprehensive and motivationally complicated race. But essentially he’s stealing money from other people to pay for his training, all in the hopes that he will climb the ranks of the various religious/magical cults. He will eventually be noticed by his god and become a Rune-Lord, which gives him access to Rune Spells, more complicated magics than the regular Battle Spells that he already knows, but still essentially only cast in battle. And while he gets more dangerous, he doesn’t get any tougher; his attack skill with a spear climbs over 100%, but he still only has 7 hit points in his head and one good shot to the bean can kill him. In one example, when overwhelmed by more powerful troll opponents, Rurik screams out how high his ransom is if they capture him instead of kill him. It works and he survives to illustrate further examples of the rules.

In a way, RuneQuest reminds me of Melee, the basic combat fantasy rules written by Steve Jackson in 1977. Melee was all about combat and just about combat. Players made gladiator characters, which took five to ten minutes, then moved them around a hexagonal-patterned area and traded blows using a fairly simple six-sided dice mechanic. It was fun but didn’t have a lot of depth. RuneQuest seems to add the depth with Glorantha and religious cults and god magic and hero quests, but since I haven’t played it, I don’t know how well it works. I imagine it works really well, since the kickstarter to reprint the classic edition funded quickly and there is a thriving community snapping up RuneQuest products. Hell, I’m one of them. It’s popular enough that Chaosium is working on a new edition of the game, which I’m sure I’ll buy but don’t know if I’ll play.

Anyway, RuneQuest seems like a lot of complexity and bookkeeping for a fairly fragile character. Call of Cthulhu is the same thing, which isn’t surprising because both games use the same core mechanic, but the physical fragility of an investigator exploring the Cthulhu mythos fits that genre better than a RuneQuest adventurer traipsing around a sword and sorcery genre. Mostly. Maybe I’m thinking of a sword and sorcery setting based on Howard’s Conan stories. Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser were not as indestructible as the sullen-eyed barbarian, and I can more easily how RuneQuest fits the sword and sorcery genre by envisting Leiber’s pair of theives and their various antics.

Finishing the book, and by the way the sample character Rurik dies in the final pages, I’m glad I read the entire book. For many it was their first introduction to Glorantha, and I think its a good taste of the world to come. It certainly prompts me to read more RuneQuest supplements (don’t worry, I own many more) and perhaps even sit down and play the game with my group. It might be a little to rules dense for us, we’ll see. The Call of Cthulhu group is loving that game, which uses the same rules without the heavy emphasis on combat. Perhaps I’ll have more to report back in the months to come.

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The Wooing of Ernalda; Petty Gods part Three

When we initially convened,  the group thought we’d meet once a month to play Petty Gods of Glorantha, our HeroQuest game set in God Age Glorantha. Some would like to meet more, but the reality of our busy lives is that shooting for playing more than once a month will more likely lead to cancellations than commitments. Player less often would make us more eager to play when we did, which explains my disappointment when Dan texted half-an-hour before the game’s start saying that he was ill and couldn’t make it. I felt naturally felt bad for Dan and told him not to worry about missing the game and that I hope he feels better soon. I turned to the family; what do we do?

KC, my beloved, said that it would be hard to play with one of the main characters missing. August, my son, suggested playing something else when Finn and Jesse arrived. We have many board games and finding an evening’s entertainment from the collection wouldn’t be difficult. But I was keen on playing. I wondered if our sessions were loose enough to continue without one of the Petty Gods characters. Jesse and Finn arrived and we posed the question to them; should we continue without Dan and his character, The Frog of Issaries? We decided to blaze ahead and bring Dan up to speed later, when he returned.

So, when last we meet the petty gods had prevented the great flood by defeating Worcha and his allied water spirits and gods. They had changed the landscape of God Age Glorantha, and I printed out the updated map I’d drawn after our last session. I didn’t have any new maps or other handouts, two things I like to produce for each session, because my drawing time has been spend on freelance work. But the players didn’t need much prompting. Taking a look at last month’s map, they retold how their petty gods had contributed to the defeat of Worcha before rejoining and heading north to the Imperial Palace and the Solar Court of Yelm the Sun God. We’d worry why the Frog of Issaries didn’t join the group later. Without the Petty God of Muddy Roads, we had Dandelion the Petty God of Composting, Gordi the Petty God of Spinning and Weaving and his consort Pansy the Petty Goddess of Camouflage, Kilmister the Petty God of Forest Warriors, and Orgo the Petty God of Shadows and his consort Lunestra the Petty Goddess of Skinny Dipping.

While crossing the great grassy plains the gods meet Ragnat, the Petty Goddess of Rabies and Madness, leading a gang of 300 ranting, saber-rattling worshipers. One of the petty goddesses made last session, I introduced her early in case anyone wanted to petition her as a consort. To advance in godhood, from Petty to Lesser God, a petty god character needs a consort. Neither of the unattached petty gods – Dandelion and Kilmister – did, although the group did feel threatened by the size (and behavior) of Ragnat’s followers. Orgo asked if she would release her mob and talk with the petty goddess without her rabid followers. She agreed and released them onto the land, where they promptly trampled off and laid siege to one of the nearby cities. Don’t those city dwellers worship the Earth Goddess Ernalda, the very same goddess the petty gods are going to visit? Oh yes, they do. I’m sure that won’t affect future relationships.

Ragnat told the group that she was going north to join Barntar’s bear hunt. Barntar’s favorite bull was killed by a rampaging bear with fur made out of iron. The god summoned all nearby petty gods to help in the hunt. The characters had not received the summons, but didn’t hesitate to rush to join the fun. Not being selected as a consort didn’t deter Ragnat from joining the group. Entering the nearby forest, the characters saw a small pack of petty gods standing around Barntar, listening to the god’s woes. Would the assembled godlings help Barntar find the iron-furred bear? Of course they would, and the characters immediately entered the forest to search for the beast on their own, while Barntar and the other petty gods undertook a separate hunt.

A quick aside; those familiar with Glorantha know that Barntar is Ernalda’s and Orlanth’s son. Dan, I knew, would know this. So how do the player characters meet a god-son when god-father is asking them to introduce him to god-mother? Well, it’s because there is no time in the God Time, the era that we are playing, and all the myths co-exist at the same time. So the Storm god’s wedding myth, fathering myth, sun-slaying myth, and sun-saving myth can all happen again and again and again. According to the canon, when Orlanth rescued Yelm from the Underworld – the point of the Lightbringers’ Quest and the campaign’s first session – several gods created Time, the great compact the ended the era of Gods and started the era of History and man. So my thought is that I can plunder Glorantha mythology like a drunk pirate for story ideas and not have to worry about knitting them together in any semblance of linear order. In fact, I intend to end the campaign the same way we started it, with the Lightbringer’s Quest. Naturally the players will be much better informed, and also naturally the same events won’t happen during the quest, but this time it will end in the great compact of Time. My ultimate nerd-thrill would then be to start a new game (maybe using the newly minted RuneQuest rules) with the players playing human characters who worship the pantheon of their former god characters.

Back to the session; the group worked well together, augmenting each others’ abilities with related skills of their own. A small confession, I can’t remember what exactly abilities were used. I’m late in posting these session notes and am only now pressed to finish because we’re playing part four tomorrow and I need to get this information to Dan! Suffice to say that they found the bear hiding in a cave, licking his bloody chops after devouring god-favored Bessie, and promptly cut the bugger in half. The group pumped up Kilmister and the warrior-withour-peers cut the bear in half with one blow. He quickly removed the iron-hide and equally as quickly donned it, a suitable godly approach we all thought.

Barntar met the group outside the cave and congratulated them. And as he was doling out the accolades a winged gorilla with a dragon’s head swooped down from the sky and plucked him up, intent on jetting off for parts unknown. I told the group they had one attempt to stop the winged ape, who I informed them was the god Daga, another of the Sun god’s sons. Gordi leaped forward and quickly wove a web of string to stop the kidnapping, and failed. Utterly failed. A complete failure.

The group sat aghast around the table. This was the first time in three sessions that they had failed at doing something. They had very successfully been able to work together augmenting each other and spending Hero Points to have a victory over every obstacle and opponent up to this point. They had been so successful in fact, that I thought I was using the rules incorrectly. Not that that bothered them; they had liked winning every hand. I ensured them to embrace their failure and keep moving forward.

And then remembered that I had forgotten to include an NPC (non-player character, a character in the story that I controlled) in the bear hunt, one that I needed later in the game and wanted to connect to the players before they met him again. So, it suddenly started to rain. I thought they’d look for another cave, in which they would find this crucial NPC, but they didn’t. They are gods; the didn’t find a shelter, the create one. Dandelion used his Plant Rune magic to grow a hut out of living pickleberry bushes (or some such fantasy foliage) that they could gain relief from the storm. Sounds great, I said, but the hut is not empty, and inside they find an old man bound in chains.

The image is pulled from Chinese mythology. An old man sat in the corner, naked and dirty (the old man, not the corner), his hands tied behind his back with his own long hair, and his left ankle manacled to a chain bound to the floor. He introduced himself as Nontraya and asked the characters to release him. They wouldn’t. I mean, who would, right? If your GM puts a mysterious old man tied up in some weird way in front of you and then immediately asks for release you’d be foolish to release him. It’s an obvious plant. Story plant, foreshadowing or future plot point, not a regular plant like the pickleberry bush hut. So, I had to convince them, and I zipped to the player characters’ flaws. Orgo, the Petty God of Dark Corners, has a weakness for secrets. When asked why he was fettered, Nontraya said it was a secret. Jesse, being the great player that he is, pricked up his ears. Even though he knew it would lead to trouble, he offered to release the old crow if Nontraya would spill his secret. “Certainly,” said Nontraya, in my best Curly Stooge voice. Orgo slashed the chain and cut Nontraya’s hands free. Nontraya said that he’d been bound by the Sun God because he’d attempted to abduct Ernalda from the Imperial Court, and Yelm imprisoned him as punishment. He then scampered out the door and off into the storm. Perfect. Story seed planted.

The group left Kethaela and headed through Kerofinela, ever aimed at the Imperial Court. From my notes:

Eventually the PCs arrive at the Solar Court, a vast kingdom of symmetrical fields outlying a circular earth and rampart fort. Gleaming pillars of marble and ivory plinths border the roads that lead inwards to the palace, a vast complex of gleaming white stone. The Sun God’s son Shargash, Lord of War guards the entrance and stops the PCs from entering the palace unless they have a gift for the Sun God. He is unmoved when they tell him that they rescued Yelm from the Underworld, responding that everyone that enters the Solar Court and the Imperial Presence must present a gift. Getting by Shargash with a gift is an automatic success, and he will walk the PCs to the Imperial Presence of Yelm. Getting past him without a Gift is a contest with Very Hard resistance.

Game play went pretty much as I’d expected. Shargash didn’t flinch when the group said that they were the Lightbringers. The group retreated and decided to create a gift for the Sun God. Dandelion suggested a Cloak of Flies, a living cloak of a swarm of insects, which we all thought was a wonderful gift from the Petty God of Garbage. Or Rot, or whatever his Domain is. (Compost – I looked at my notes.) Dandelion created the flies and Gordi wove them together, at which point we encountered our second failure of the night. Both Aug and KC rolled deplorably, and instead of creating a billowing, buzzing Cloak of Flies they created a shabby Shawl of Mosquitoes. Shargashed tisked. “Hardly a fit gift for the luminous Sun God. The characters agreed and looked for a back entrance.

They found one, or course, and through a series of successful instances of cajoling lackies and sneaking by guards found the area where Ernalda was kept, the Sun God’s Harem. They couldn’t enter – they are all men – but luckily each player had a woman consort to play, so in went the Petty Goddesses to talk to Ernalda. Long story short, the Earth Goddess would leave with the Petty Gods if and only if they had the Sun God’s approval and if her sisters could come as well. The group needed to ask the Sun God for permission, and to talk to him they needed a suitable gift. Kilmister didn’t want to part with his iron-bear loin cloth and Dandelion had grown accustomed to his Shawl of Mosquitoes, so Orgo tried his hand at making a gift. Arranging the characters so that their shadows overlapped, he hunkered down to create a pair of dice out of ultimate darkness, using his Darkness Rune as a base for the construction. A Nearly Impossible Task, I said. The group pooled resources, augmented the heck out of each other (“augment” is a rules-term that lets one player benefit another by applying a portion of his skill in one area of expertise to the other player’s skill in another), spending almost all their Hero Points, and rolling well. Voila, Orgo created a tiny pair of six-sided dice made out of pure darkness.

The Sun God was pleased with the unique gift and allowed the petty gods an audience. Honestly, I can’t remember what happened, but they must had done well because I know we ended the session soon after, with the petty gods leaving the Imperial Court with Ernalda and her sisters (Peloria, Fronela, Ralia, Wenelia, Eronela, Esrola, and the snake-goddess Seshnela) in tow. I closed with the following: “Imagine a shot of the whole group of petty gods, their consorts, and the earth goddesses leaving the gates of the city. The shot zooms out and we see the fields surrounding the city and then the jagged hills that border the fields. We zoom past the shoulder of a warrior, sitting on a two-headed, horned wolf, an army of demons waiting at his back. We cut to a close up of his face. It is Nontraya, cleaned up and adorned for war. We watches the group and grins, then raises his arm and signals his army forward. Fade to black.”

We should have an exciting time tomorrow night.

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