A couple Saturdays ago, we played our first session of my “Petty Gods of Glorantha” game, using the HeroQuest role-playing system. Let me back up a bit. Our first foray into Glorantha was just the three of us, my sweetheart, son, and I. Based on Moon Design’s Glorantha Classic “Griffin Mountain”, I wrote a scenario called “Into Icky Griffin,” in which the players’ two Everway characters spherewalk to Glorantha, specifically Balazar, the setting for Griffin Mountain. It’s called Icky Griffin because the first copy that was shipped to me was damaged and literally smelled bad. Icky. Once informed, Moon Designed immediately shipped me a replacement copy (Thank you!). I still had the damaged copy, and I thought, “Hell, I can’t make it any worse” and started mucking about with it. I drew Arzach hats on the pictures of the Balazarings, I replaced some of the bad art with better art, cutting and pasting it into the book (scissor and glue). Since I wasn’t going to run it as a RuneQuest game, I didn’t need all the stat blocks for the NPCs and monsters, so I started writing over them. I cobbled and cut and sliced and changed it around and came up with a nice introductory scenario for my family’s already-created Everway characters. It was a bunch of fun and will be more in the future.
And it increased my desire to run a proper HeroQuest Glorantha adventure for my family and friends.
But, I can’t run it straight out of the jar, and even though I have introductory adventures and help guides to create Glorantha characters, I wanted to give it a personal spin. As I’ve been reading Glorantha material, I’ve also been skimming the OSR book Petty Gods: Revised & Expanded Edition, which lists many lesser gods and godlings. Some are better than others, naturally, as it is a collaborative effort of many artists and writers, but the idea of a plethora of minor gods appeals to me. Glorantha hosts hundreds of gods, so I thought that rather than use the standard offerings, I’d let the players make gods as their characters. I wrote “The Lightbringers Quest”, an introductory adventure based on one of the more popular Gloranthan myths. According to the mythology, the Storm God duel with the Sun God and slew him, sending the solar deity to the underworld. The Storm God and a group of companion gods adventured to the underworld to free the Sun God, returning him to his proper place in the sky and forever hence known as the Lightbringers. In my adventure the Storm God asks the player characters to undertake this mission.
Besides introducing the players to Glorantha, the adventure introduces them to the HeroQuest system, including character generation. I sat down with KC (fiancée), August (son), Jesse and Finn (neighbor father and son), and Dan (friend) and explained that each of them should pick a word to describe their god’s domain (a keyword for those who know the rules), and that their domain plus a connection to one of the primary Runes of Glorantha were the abilities they would use for their god’s supernatural effects.
“You are the god of what?” I asked.
KC already knew. Sleeping with the Dungeon Master is a good way to get insider rpg information. (HeroQuest calls the person running the game the “narrator”, but I often to default to using “Dungeon Master” or “DM”.) She created Gordi, the Petty God of Spinning and Weaving, and linked him to the Moon Rune. August created Grotto, the Petty God of Landscaping and Compost and linked him to the Plant Rune. Makes sense. Jesse created Orgo the God of Shadowy Corners, associated with the Darkness Rune, and his son Finn made General Kilmister, God of Forest Warriors, and linked him to the Man Rune. Finally Dan, who had played King of Dragon Pass and knew something about the actual gods of Glorantha (he knows more about them than I do), created The Frog of Issaries, Petty Gods of Side-Roads, and linked him to the Communication Rune. With our Petty Pantheon in place, we took a quick break to walk the dog before starting the adventure.
Oh, and when I say the players are playing petty gods, I don’t mean squabbling, jealous, or spiteful gods, although they can play their characters that way, but secondary, lesser, or insignificant gods. They are lesser, lesser gods. Tougher than heroes and superheroes, maybe, but maybe not.
The Storm God called them to his feast on Victory Hill, after the final battle against was won and the surviving gods needed to celebrate their good fortune. Stormy admitted that he shouldn’t have killed the Sun God and asked for volunteers from the assembled gods. The players literally shot their arms up in the air to volunteer. I knew I had them hooked. They each presented their case for being accepted as a Lightbringer, and those that did exceedingly well were rewarded with a Gift. The Frog of Issaries, who we started calling Froggy, was given Speak and Spoke, the Chariot of the Gods. Stormy gave Gordi the Ring of Ancient Spirit Armies. He then told them to go west to the edge of the world and find the Trickster God, who would lead them to the Gates of the West and the underworld. He pointed to the road west.
And the players gook another path. Of course they did. Dan likes to step outside the bounds of the written adventure, and it’s my job to accommodate him. Okay, they don’t want to follow the road but make a new road, sounds fine. The same kind of stuff happened; they got lost, they got ambushed, they met a tribe of humans who needed help against an army of lesser demons, all the typical fantasy fare that happens when d20s clatter against the polished cherry tabletop. The HeroQuest system is extremely loosey-goosey and provides all kinds of flexibility. We enjoyed the creative applications of this, using the characters’ abilities in unique and inventive ways to overcome obstacles. We all need a little more direction on not being so repetitive – Froggi used his Communication Rune the same way many times over, and Grotto often augmented his Stone Fist Ability with his Plant Rune by growing thorns that wrapped around his granite knuckles – but more time at the table should help solve that.
One of the central pieces was meeting the Trickster. They were told to meet him in Sorcerers Town, and they did find him there, standing atop a makeshift gallows with a noose around his neck, seconds from being hanged. The group decided that Orgo would dart from shadow to shadow until he passed through the crowd and got to the gallows, where he would snatch the Trickster and secret him out of town. Each Petty God did something to distract the crowd each round while Orgo moved toward the gallows. Froggi used his Communication Rune to plead for the Trickster’s life. Grotto used his Smooth Talker Ability – each player got to give his character five to ten other abilities, anything really that could be used to overcome an obstacle – do convince the crowd to go easy on the capricious god. Each turn Orgo moved closer, and a spectacular success roll put him on the gallows. Using the illusionary power of the Moon Rune, Gordi conjured a false image of the Trickster while Orgo swept him out the back exit. Reunited outside the walls, the Trickster agreed to take the Petty Gods over the sea and to the Gates of the West.
My ulterior goal is to run this adventure at conventions, so I hustled the group forward in hopes of rescuing the Sun God within 4 hours of real time. The Goddess of the West held the door to Hell open for the characters, and below surface each character meet and dealt with a specific encounter. Others could help, but I told each player that his character needed to create a story that would later be told as a myth about the god. So Orgo gambled with the Boatman to lead them over the River of Swords, Gordi played chess with the Ancient Old One to free the group from his Castle of Solitude, and General Kilmister fought the multiple-headed ogre that guarded the Sun God’s palace. Inside, Froggy bartered promises with the Sun God to convince him to return, and succeeded. The gang marched east and the sun rose over Glorantha, ending the Great Darkness.
We had a great time and I wish I had taken pictures. The dining room table was stacked with snacks and paper and dice and player handouts and glasses of empty beer and soda. Everyone agreed that they wanted to keep playing, with these characters, so I’m fixing to tell a bunch of tales about the new Lightbringers in the God Age of Glorantha. Step aside Orlanth, here comes Froggy! In our next session, scheduled for Feb. 6, I’ll lay out the criteria for a Petty God to improve to a Lesser God, and the steps that then lead further up the ranks of the gods.