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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