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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The New Glorantha Landscape

As  I mentioned, the players have made drastic changes to the face of our Glorantha. In our first session they created a road to the west from the Spike, which they have dubbed “The Lightbringers Road”. Last session, they created a Great Forest Wall and a chain of islands to stop the great flood. I’ve updated the drawn map and am including the new key.

God Age Glorantha Map ver1.png

The Key:

  1. Basmoli. Tribe of sorcerers who can shape-change into lions, worshipers of Basmol, the Lion God.
  2. Deadwoods. Southern section of the Distant Western Forest, home to specters and spirits of the dead.
  3. Dini. Home to the Storm Gods and the Storm Tribe.
  4. Distant Eastern Forest.
  5. Distant Western Forest. Home to the Hankarantalings, a Darkness Tribe led by Shankgaro, Uzlord of the West.
  6. Envorela. Home to the Durevings Tribe. The leader, Durev is carved out of wood. His father, Orstan the Elder is one of the trees growing in the White Forest.
  7. Genert’s Garden. Fertile land ruled by the giant Genert. The Genert Tribe don’t trust the Durevings and the Vingkotlings and forbid them entry into the Garden.
  8. Great Forest Wall. Built by the Hankarantalings, a large palisade that separates the Deadwoods from the Mavorela plains.
  9. Kerofinela. Also called Dragon Pass, the lands around Kero Finn Mountain. Home to the Vingkotlings Tribe.
  10. Kethaela. Home to the Earth Tribe and home of the Earth Goddess.
  11. Lightbringers Road. The path the Lightbringers took on their way to the Gates of the West.
  12. Luathela. Land of blue-skinned demigods, location of the Gates of the West.
  13. Mavorela. Great grazing lands.
  14. Solar Empire. Territory surrounding Yelm’s Palace, seat of the Sun God’s country.
  15. Sorcerers Town. Rock citadel of mortal magicians, witches, and warlocks.
  16. Umath’s Crater. Area where Umath fell, after his battle with Jagrekriand, the War God and the Sun God’s son. Umath is the father of Orlanth, the current Storm God.
  17. Uz Queendom. Troll territory.
  18. Valind’s Glacier.
  19. White Sea. The sea surrounding Umath’ Crater.
  20. Yellow Isles. String of forested islands connecting the Spike’s Yellow Forest to the Distant Eastern Forest.
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Petty Gods on the Make: Looking for Love Glorantha Style

Dinner and a movie? Dinner and an RPG! Gretchen’s Casserole and Petty Gods in Glorantha!

I was looking forward to it all day. Dan and Nat and one-and-a-half-year-old Elizabeth joining us for dinner, then Jesse and Finn dashing from their house 1/2 a block away for more Petty Gods of Glorantha. First things first: finish the adventure (I didn’t, but knew I had enough penciled in for the game), take the dog to the dog park to wear her out, bath her (first time, she didn’t like it much), clean up the pee after we’d dried her off (I didn’t like that much), quick grocery shop and trip to the beverage store. Dinner was a delight, the dog behaved better meeting strangers, dishes were cleared and we sat down to rattle the d20s.

Last time I introduced the Glorantha setting and the HeroQuest system to the players, and they gobbled it up like hungry Jack O’Bears. Then, at the request of the Storm God, they entered the Underworld to bring back the slain Sun God. Now, the same patron asks them to visit the Imperial Solar Court and introduce him to the Earth Goddess, who he has fallen in love with and who serves the Imperial Empress at court. Gloranthan mythology had a long tale about the Storm God, Orlanth, wooing the Earth Goddess, Ernalda, and our game might or might not mimic that. We’ll see, but with my players I doubt it.

To begin, I asked the players to make more characters. Nervously they asked if this meant we were abandoning the characters they made last session, and I assured them that we weren’t. Rather, these new characters were minor characters in the campaign, Petty Goddesses that their Petty God characters may or may not meet and interact with. Character generation was simpler, four abilities instead of fourteen, and fewer build points to spread around, and within half an hour the Gloranthan pantheon was blessed with five new Petty Goddesses: Lunestra the Petty Goddess of Skinny Dipping, Pansy the Petty Goddess of Camouflage, Elenephra the Petty Goddess of Running Races, Buttercup the Petty Goddess of Chimeras, and Ragnat the Petty Goddess of Rabies and Madness.

At a feast in their honor, thrown by the Storm God and his tribe in their mountain home on the Spike, the characters met Gogopa, the Lesser God of Bound Secrets, who told them how to advance their stations in the divine hierarchy of Demigod, Petty God, Lesser God, Young God, Old God, and Elder God. Besides the necessary mechanical advances, additional masteries in key abilities for those who know HeroQuest, there are story requirements. A Lesser God, for example, needs worshipers, needs to create something, and have a consort. Aha, the players eyes lit up, the five Petty Goddesses are consorts for their five Petty God characters. Potential consorts, I said, not wanting to force the idea on anyone, nor force a particular consort on any specific Petty God. I didn’t have to work hard to sell the idea. The players accepted the Storm Gods request, to visit the Solar Court in the far north and tell the Earth Goddess about the Storm God, and along the way meet the various Petty Goddesses and see if any romantic sparks are ignited.

I drew a map for the game and highlighted various points of interest. The map is based on several maps from the Gloranthan canon. The Players started at Dini,  location #2, and pointed their sights at the Solar Court, location #9.mythic glorantha ver4.png

Down the mountain they went, Hi Ho Hi Ho, and didn’t stop until they hit a large patch of burned woods in the middle of the Yellow Forest. As they inspected the charred landscape and determined that it wasn’t a meteor strike or large area spell but purposeful slash and burn deforestation, a group of elves accidentally led a string of bound human prisoners through the area. (Does anything happen “accidentally” in RPGs?) Dan told the group that Gloranthan elves are actually plants. KC asked what they look like, and Jesse asked, “Do they look like vegepygmies?”, and since I have a copy of Expedition to the Barrier Peaks I said, “Yes, yes they do,” and hustled into my study to find my copy and show the players the picture of vegepygmies.

The elves were taking the humans to the Sacred Stump to sacrifice them, because they are obviously responsible for the burned forest. The humans claimed that trolls were responsible, and that a group of trolls tunneled up from the ground into their village and started burning and destroying everything. It didn’t take much to convince the elves to look for a troll hole, and when it was found convince them to release the humans. They did, but a marginal victory on the die roll meant they would only release them if the Petty Gods took them into the troll hole and out of the elves’ sight. Agreed,and  although the humans balked at their new saviors’ plan, the group entered the troll hole. The humans explained that their goddess, Pansy the Petty Goddess of Camouflage, was leading the tribe’s warriors after the retreating trolls. Well, not those dozen warriors that are laying on the side of the tunnel dead alongside an equal number of dead trolls.

Pansy and her warriors were hard pressed, now that the trolls had ceased retreating and turned to fight the humans. The Petty Gods intervene and enjoyed a rousing victory over the trolls, killing them all except for their leader, Bedar Zo, the troll God of Fiery Combat (didn’t make that up, found it in a list in Arcane Lore). I sometimes wonder if I’m doing something wrong; the Petty Gods succeed often, and in group contests, even with increased resistances, they more often than not succeed gloriously. Not that winning all the time is disappointing at the the table. But defeats are rather rare. Pansy was appreciative and, having a choice of suitors, selected Gordi the Petty God of Spinning and Weaving as a consort.

Interestingly, KC made both Gordi and Pansy. The two characters had a little overlap in abilities, but as a companion Pansy nicely complemented Gordi. Was it a problem that the same player who made the NPC paired her up with the PC? I decided it wasn’t, which was a good thing because it happened later when Jesse’s PC, Orgo the Petty God of Shadowy Corners, chose Lunestra the Petty God of Skinny Dipping as his consort. Lunestra isn’t as useful mechanically as Pansy, reading both NPCs as mere ability lists, but Jesse still liked the character enough to pair her with Orgo.

How did the pairing take place? Glad you asked. After the Troll Hole the group headed across the Great Grassy Plains (location #8) and spent the night on Quiet Lake, in a large hut suspended on stilts in the middle of the lake. They met Lunestra and her tribe, and in the middle of the night were awoken when the lake decided to up and leave, rolling itself out of its basin and headed southeast. When asked, the lake said that Worcha the Destroying Sea was summoning all the bodies of water to gather at the Sshorg Sea, after which he would launch a watery invasion and drown the earth. By this time several of the players had gathered a few hundred worshipers – they need worshipers to advance to Lesser Gods – and didn’t want them drowned, which would look bad on a divine resume. They formed a plan, after much discussion, to stop the flood.

We’d been dallying with changing the canonical Gloranthan myths, substituting member of the Lightbrings quest for example, but at this point our Glorantha really took a turn away from the published material. According to the sources, Worcha invades and floods much of Glorantha. Our Petty Gods, however, stopped it. The Frog of Issaries went to the Storm God and sought his aid, Orgo gambled with several of the water god generals and convinced them to abandon the fight, General Kilmeister led the Darkness Tribe and built a high wooden wall around the Distant Western Forest (location #3), Dandelion the Petty God of Compost (not “Grotto” as I reported last week) convinced the giant Genert (location #5) to change the landscape of the world, adding a slope from the base of the Spike to the base of Kero Fin, so that if the waters came they wouldn’t come that far north, and Gordi, perhaps in the most mythic event of the bunch, wove the trees from the Yellow Forest across the Blue Dragon River and with the trees from the Distant Eastern Forest (bottom of the map). And despite a very high resistance, succeeded. They all succeeded, and in our Glorantha, the great flood was diverted.

Lunestra’s tribe was saved and she eagerly married Orgo, once of the tribe’s saviors. Lunestra’s Flaw is “easily influenced”, and we all groaned as Dandelion started flirting with Lunestra immediately after her nuptial feast. And there is the story of how Lunestra met and wed Orgo.

We stopped there, three hours after we started, and ran down the tally of achievements. Two Petty Gods created something, a Great Wooden Wall and a new Forest across the Blue Dragon, three Petty Gods had gained or increased their number of worshipers, and two Petty Gods had consorts, all qualities that the characters need to advance to the rank of Lesser God. When we continue, we’ll pick it up from there and see what more adventures await. Dan asked if the Storm God would be mad if the Frog eloped with the Earth Goddess. I thought so, yes. Everyone demanded that I redraw the map to reflect the changes their god made to the landscape. I’ve had players complain before that nothing their characters do really effects the overall campaign, and while they might stop a band of orcs here and there, the villain’s plot still seems to proceed uninhibited. I’m not going to get that complaint in this campaign. They have literally changed the geography of the world.

Finally, a quick thank you to the Glorantha community on Google + and the authors and contributors at Moon Design Publishing. Everyone has been very supporting of my outlandish efforts. I realize that I’m taking their toys and playing with them however I want – however we want – but no one has been critical or dismissive of my game. And a huge thanks to KC, August, Jesse, Finn, and Dan for another great session of Petty Gods of Glorantha!

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Reorganizing the Library

I spent part of Saturday moving books around on the shelves in my study. Now that I’m focusing on Glorantha and HeroQuest material, I’ve shifted those books to the center shelf. I moved all the Ars Magica books down to the bottom and near bottom. I don’t play the game anymore, I don’t write for the game anymore, and although I love the 5th Edition books I don’t reference them anymore either. I did take a moment to look at all of them, including the dozen or so I’d contributed to.

A week ago I sent in my last piece of freelance work for Ars Magica 5th Edition, which also made me wax nostalgic on the 10+ years I spent working on Ars material. And that made me think of the postcard I recently received from David Chart, the line editor. It was very nice working with him and very nice to receive the card, which reads, “Thank you for all your work on Ars Magica, over the full life of the edition. It’s been great working with you. David.”

Thank you David, and Eric and Mark and Mark and Niall and Neil and Sheila and David and CJ and Timothy and Ben and Andrew and Richard and John and Cam and the many, many fans who hold the game dear. Take a look at the card; it’s quite a collection of awesome role-playing game material.chart new year 2016

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Petty Gods in Glorantha Session One

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.

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The Way Back Machine Part II; Diceless Everway

Wednesday was Game Night at Casa Ryan, a practice that we’ve let lag over the last couple years. To amend our faulty ways, we’ve re-instituted Game Night, and Wednesday last Aug, KC, and I sat down for our second session of Everway. We’d made characters two weeks ago and set down to play the in-box demo adventure, “The Journey to Stonedeep.”

I asked both players to introduce the character each had made, their spherewalker hero. I’ll paraphrase the responses.

KC: “Mitzi Moth has a background in retail. She is a 600-year-old midget with wooden hair and a pet cat named ‘Biddy’. Her shop is in a realm that received several spherewalkers, and one day she realized she had the power to spherewalk as well. Bitten by wanderlust, Mitzi left her shop to travel the realms, always looking for a bargain. She has a magic valise that she can reach into and retrieve small items from her shop, no matter how far distant she is from it.”

Aug: “Curse comes from a realm controlled by an evil, powerful wizard. Much of the wizard’s power comes from his magic scepter. Curse and his best friend sneaked into the wizard’s tower to steal the scepter, and were caught. The wizard cursed Curse’s friend with an advancement of aging, and the friend withered and collapsed into a pile of bones before Curse’s eyes. The wizard turned Curse into a humanoid pigman and ejected him from the tower. A favorite spell, the wizard then cast it on Curse’s tribe, turning them all into pigmen. They revolted and Curse was swept up in the battle. They failed to penetrate the wizard’s tower and lost, Curse was swept from a bridge and fell to the swamps below. He was captured by a tribe of fishmen – another tribe suffering from one of the wizard’s curses – and enslaved. As a slave Curse clandestinely learned the secrets of spherewalking, and left at his first opportunity. In another realm he changed back into a man, but when enraged or wounded he turns back into a pigman. He calls this his Pig Rage and has learned to use it effectively. He wanders the spheres trying to gain enough power to return to his home and defeat the wizard.”

Well done, right? Two different approaches to the characters’ background, to different types of information, and two awesome heroes. So in we went, walking from the realm of Sweetwater to Stonedeep to investigate the realm that no one has visited in 300 years. The realm has changed, and instead of an Egyptian-based culture of stonemasons and farmers the heroes find a realm ruled by the Ghoul Queen and her army of undead, that is soon to be visited by the Awakener, a supernatural entity looking for a bride and bringing death as a wedding gift. Naturally, the players get stuck in the middle.

Writing adventures for characters that you can’t see is hard. I know, and Tweet has years more experience doing it than me. This generic pinch between a rock and a hard place isn’t that bad overall. The heroes show up and immediately rescue Rarity, a bride-to-be pursued by a couple ghouls. The Ghoul Queen is rounding up prospective brides that she hopes to give to the Awakener, who will then reward her with a boon, some new magic power or such. The characters are meant to save Rarity and then go to her village to meet Greatheart, a priest of Osiris who will fill the heroes in on the backstory and overall plot. KC and Aug did as anticipated, saved Rarity and went to meet Greatheard. Tweet includes suggestions for players who don’t decide to save Rarity, which is helpful and essential information. Brought up to speed about the plot (Ghoul Queen collecting brides, Awakener due to come, arrival marked for 4 days at a place called Stoneflat), the players get to decide what to do.

Tweet offers four options, which I didn’t read to the players but are designed to cover the four probable decisions they make: talk to the Awakener, rescue the other Ghoul Queen captives, lead rebels against the Ghoul Queen, or fight the Awakener. He then writes how only the first choice is a good choice and the other three are bad choices, and that the adventure doesn’t have the space to detail how to handle the bad choices. What? He’s an experienced game designer, and even though he wrote this 25 years ago he was still an expert in the field. To make it worse, he writes how the GM (or whatever it’s called in Everway) can encourage or discourage each of the four options to players. That’s great advice, so it really came as a surprise that only one of the options was actually supported by the rest of the adventure. I didn’t encourage or discourage any choices. I handed out all the information and let Aug and KC decide what the wanted Curse and Mitzi to do.

And naturally, it wasn’t “let’s go have a discussion with the Awakener.” It didn’t help that we watched Bruce Campbell vs. the Army of Darkness the night before. (That’s the full title according to the film’s title sequence. Much better than simply Army of Darkness.)

“We roust up the citizens in Underwood, Greatheart’s village, and lead a revolt against the Ghoul Queen. We’ll start here then travel south, taking the villages along the way, and stop at Stoneflat on the fourth day, when the Awakener is due to arrive.”

Got it. I informed them that the citizens were farmers, not soldiers, but with Mitzi’s high Air score, which covers things like presence and communication, they will follower her. I told them that the ghouls were more powerful and that each was the equal of two or three farmers, but that the farmers were passionate and committed to the cause. They took a second village, bypassed a third, and arrived at Stoneflat on the third day.

A few words about conflict resolution. Everway uses three methods to determine who winds in a conflict, Karma, Drama, and Fortune. Karma is essentially scores and abilities, and the higher score wins. For example, the Fire score covers athletic ability and combat prowess. Curse has a 6 Fire score and a ghoul has a 4 Fire score. In hand-to-hand combat, the rule of Karma says that Curse wins the fight. Drama concerns the story, and the rule of Drama says that conflict resolves according to the needs of the story. If the ghoul needs to escape the fight because it needs to appear in a later scene, the law of Drama says that while Curse might win the fight, the ghoul escapes. Fortune means that the player draws from the Fortune deck, a tarot-like deck of cards that guides the results of the conflict. The law of Fortune throws some randomness into the game, and the interpretation of the random card is a lot of fun. Surprisingly, the players were a lot more willing to accept setbacks and negative results if they could participate in determining how negative they were.

For example, arriving at Stoneflat with 100 farmers, the heroes found that the Envoy, a ghoul captain, had already arrived with a force of 30 ghouls. They held the hill and were waiting for the Awakener to arrive. After some discussion, Curse took a force of 10 men through the woods to create a diversion by lighting the Envoy’s tent on fire, at which point Mitzi would lead the rest of the army in a charge up the hill. Curse could easily defeat a ghoul or two and was a master at stealth, but he wasn’t a great leader. He lead his men into the Envoy’s camp and I asked him to draw a Fortune card. It was the Cockatrice, a bad card that means Corruption. Not a good card. I said that I interpreted it to mean that the mission was spoiled, the attack team discovered and battle occurred. Aug agreed, but thought that the tent was lit because of Curse’s great athletic and stealth skills. Okay. Mitzi saw the smoke and led her forces up the hill. I asked KC to draw a card to determine the outcome of the battle. She drew the Satyr, which means Indulgence. Urged on by Mitzi’s communication skills and Curse’s prowess, the rebel army through itself full tilt against the ghouls. I suggested that Curse used his Pig Rage power, not holding back at all, and won the day, but at a Pyrrhic cost. To my surprise, KC and Aug agreed. Their army suffered heavy casualties but took the hill. Thinking that I might be able to use the Envoy latter in the game, I suggested that he survived and limped back to the Ghoul Queen’s palace. The element of surprise was gone and both players agreed.

I was surprised at how much we got done in a two hour session, and how smoothly the conflict resolution mechanic worked. Determining the results of a fight, even a large battle, with a single card speed up the game and added to the entertainment. I don’t know if this simple mechanic will work for the Glorantha games I plan to run – HeroQuest already has a pretty simple mechanic – but I might try it just to get the players used to the setting.

Ed. Note: no time for a proper edit before posting, I’ll look at this again later!

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My Glorantha Will Vary: Discovering 3rd Edition RuneQuest

Backstory: (P.S. I hate backstories) I wrote for Ars Magica 5th Edition. Ars Magica 5th Edition is ending; one more supplement in the product line and then fini. I started looking for other cool games, primarily with the intention to write for the game. I needed something with depth, something with staying power, and something cool. I discovered Glorantha.

Long-time gamers know, Glorantha is Greg Stafford’s fantasy world that served as the setting for RuneQuest, a couple boardgames, and lately HeroQuest. It’s a huge, couple of continents with a vast mythology and vast fictional history. The mythology is IMG_1110fictional as well. It’s not based on anything, but draws heavily from bronze age mythology and sagas, and the crux, often, is the warring factions of Sartar (very similar to Anglo-Saxon or Celtic-Gualish B.C. tribesmen) vs. the Lunar Empire (very similar to Alexander’s Greek empire or the early Republic of Rome). I started buying the current line of produc
ts, published by Moon Design, reading them and also reading about the older line of products, most falling under one edition or another of the RuneQuest game. I bought things here and there, and then I bought this:

Published in 1987, Apple Lane is a beginning adventure and is wonderful. Equivalent to AD&D’s Village of Hommlet (TSR Games, 1979), Apple Lane is a starting location for a newby band of adventurers. Their first assignment is to protect a pawn shop from a gang of vengeful baboons. It’s very straight forward, comes with a card stock pullout map of the pawnshop for the players to use, and is just grand. It captured my imagination and took flight. I instantly wanted to use it for the family’s Everway game, but I was also curious about the RuneQuest system itself. What did the game that Apple Lane was designed for look like?

I did some exploring. At that point, Avalon Hill Games owned RuneQuest and was publishing it in its third edition. Barkings around the Internet lead be to believe that 3rd Ed. is not the fans’ favorite. But what the hell, I’m not living my life to please the fans! A few dollars later and I’d ordered the RuneQuest Deluxe Edition (1983) and the RuneQuest Deluxe Gamemaster’s Box (1984). Friday last they arrived:

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The box was still shrink-wrapped from 1984. That’s 31 years ago, sports fans.  I couldn’t believe it, and part of me wanted to keep it shrink-wrapped, but I got over that quickly.

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SO much goodness inside. There three manuals were expected, “books” 3, 4, and 5 describing the game, its creatures, and its Glorantha setting. There was also a large fantasy map, which is a nice if not detailed drawing of the European landmass. But the coolness continued. There was a catalog of Avalon Hill’s 1984 game offerings. I’ve got Avalon Hill games from days gone by!

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I played the hell out of Starship Troopers back in the late 70’s. I don’t know how the copy of the game stayed with me over the years. I’ve had Wizard’s Quest since childhood as well, and used to play it with my brothers. The Birth of Britain and Stalingrad are more recent acquisitions.

Anyway, the boxed set of RuneQuest was incredible cool and me think happy thoughts, remember some of the other boxed sets I’d bought over the decades of gaming and how awesome the contents of each were. Books and maps and counters and gewgaws and doodads. I’ve very eager to start digging in earnest through the contents.

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