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Death and secrets in the dark

Here's our final session of RuneQuest ("RQ2," 1980) which presents and invents my sketchy setting-notions through play. It's also a personal experience for all of us in diving into the system and text of that time.

I'd love to keep developing this setting idea and enjoying the game. The coming-of-age, weird-grit fantasy has been remarkably powerful, and the rules have many more insights to reveal or quirky holes to discover. The characters are hovering on the edge of initiation, which is far from the end of the possible developments of a character. However, I need to set it aside for a bit and work up other projects.

One character stands out for me, maybe not one you'd expect: Onive. She was easy to play as a powerful village presence, with her words and deeds making perfect sense to me and needing little reflection or preparation. Surprisingly, she was just as accessible to me when the village power-network was broken and her whole carefully-maintained way of life came under threat. When she tried to talk to the avenging group of player-characters and NPCs, it wasn't merely a skin for a GM ploy; she meant what she said.

Even more so, when things turned violent - her arm was broken by a slingstone, and although she knew the terrain better and had the advantage of nightfall, she was rapidly being overtaken - and knew full well that Vakia had marked her for Néa's execution. I realized myself, only in that moment, what her on-sheet abilities (the rune spell Crack, not itself particularly scary compared to some) and the immediate terrain (and her familiarity) could do, and it was savagely effective. Then, given her manipulation of Karva to date, she did not dare reach directly to Oome as Vakia would later to  Néa; she was forced to flee into the root-and-boulder caverns and seek to invoke the judgment of Qar, who would at least be infuriated by the invaders' presence.

When the drowned spirit couldn't stop them due to Alkerton's Spirit Lore roll (at last!), she was forced to attempt the pit to get to the sacred places, rather than go around and be overtaken. Her agony and despair upon the final spells and strikes that killed her were quite poignant to me.

All this for one of the most directly evil characters I've played in a long time ... but she had a point of view and a history of decisions that felt real to me. Much stronger than a deserved Disney villain's comeuppance.

Actual Play


A great experience. Onive ... at least for me, it was clear that she meant what she said, that it all made sense to her. Binry could see it too, but I didn't quite figure out how to have him react with any sophistication - which is probably fine.

We talked a very little bit (last session?) about Yoreen - the players and PCs had little sympathy for her, and I was thinking some of that was because we just didn't see how manipulated by Onive she had been. I formed some vague thoughts about confronting Onive over Yoreen's fate, then maybe even wanted to bring Yoreen's doll (if it was there) into the cave - but I forgot/events moved too fast.

Binry ... I'm pretty sure after skewering Jodny, he never once stabbed with his spear. He used his shield-smash, only partly because it seemed appropriate to the foes. I'm not sure he'll fit with Nea. Maybe there's another godling of Light out there for him. Or ... I suspect/fear that he might be tempted to bring the Chieftan back to Green Rock Way, which would probably get him way-reaquainted with using a spear for skewering.

The rules have their rough edges, but I'm overall impressed with how this under-used (by me, anyway) early Runequest stuff can produce great play. Thinking back, I bet the use of Divine Intervention in some of my early D&D-connected play was probably more inspired by these Runequest rules than anything directly-D&D - and it worked better here (even if Vakia's roll had failed) than I remember happening in any of my in-the-day play.

Ron Edwards's picture

I think the reason I brought up my experiences of playingYoreen and Onive was we didn't have some fixed accord of how we were collectively supposed to regard them. I wanted to highlight my more sympathetic experience because it was an obvious contrast to the players', based on words and actions, and I think that's a good thing.

Yoreen was basically one-dimensional, and except for her very ending moments was not sympathetic (for me) - easy to depict, but not to play with much character agency. She was thus characterized in a negative way, "see what's missing here," as a good look at what kind of life a teen initiate to Oome would have. To the Oome cult, belonging laymen are to be preserved from harm (at the expense of anyone else, if necessary), but initiates are ruthlessly sacrificed as the higher-level initiates and priests see fit. Almost all her actions were directed or manipulated by Marrd or Onive.

Her death surprised me in leading me to suddenly grieve for the girl, or wide range of girls, she never had the chance to become. It was also really awful to me to contemplate: her body was not much more than a mass of stinking infections, still-animate ooze, and buboes of spirit possession, and she was very much still aware.

Onive was different from the start in being, without need to script it, fully capable of reactions and actions, and she definitely had her historical commitments and future plans. Obviously she had no intention of getting to rune priesthood herself, letting Karva take that weight and being content with the occasional grant of a rune spell.

In each case, I completely get that the players (interfaced as characters) would be extremely unsympathetic to both of them. So the point isn't to make the players feel as I do, but to get a considerable amount of data about how we each feel into the shared zone. I think we did that extremely well. I'm really interested in what a viewer will perceive and say about our game.

Fully agreed that the constrast is good. Thinking about your after-the-fact comment feeling sorry for Yoreen, I just realized I could see that range of girls she never had a chance to become, and I had the thought to rub that in Onive's face a bit. I'm not sure I developed Binry's angle on that enough to pull off something interesting with it, though, so - perhaps just as well.

I'd say that the confrontation with Karva was a bit swift, but truthfully - Jhynathon's decision (that is, Ian's decision for Jhynathon) brilliantly brought that to resolution.

Ross's picture


I really enjoyed following this series / campaign / game, and am barely suppressing my rage that Jynathan's fate has not been revealed, although I suppose that lets one pretend he isn't suffering too badly.

Things I particularly liked include:

The way all of you made your characters seem like teens, making typical stupid teen decisions and then being confronted with situations that made you step and grow up.

From outside it felt like Ron struck a good balance between providing opportunities for the players to make meaningful decisions for their characters while not stretching credulity given their place in the community - they had to grow into responsibility, or have it thrust upon them, when that made sense.

Relatedly the big NPC's were effective without overshadowing the player's characters.

Jun was great.

The metaphysics working at multiple levels, fights etc between god's, the local history linking to this and then the immediate ambitions and desires of the community now all interacting. This meant when the players (and Ron?) Pieced it altogether on the journey to green rock it wasn't just a big info dump but had real resonance to the specific events now.

I was surprised how much the hit locations / criticals made fights and injuries a driver of story, rather than just a capstone on top of a story unit. 

I'm sad Alketon never got to explore his lost family, although not ever letting it go felt very real and poignant.

The villains (although not sure that's the right word) really came alive.

So thanks all of you, I really enjoyed following along.

Ron Edwards's picture

Ross, thanks for watching. The necessary lag in response to the videos is tough to live with after the work of making them, so posts like this go a long way for me.

I haven't been surprised at people telling me they're following Barbaric Pyschedelic, as that game is full of gaudy action and seems likely to pay off for viewing. Whereas this game was moody and menacing, and I don't know if that's the cause for or effect of the way we seemed to talk in it ... full of ... Swamp Thing style ... pauses. I wasn't sure if it'd be any fun to watch, even as I pasted in little scene titles and pictures.

As for the back-story, I can't claim I was very far ahead of play in arriving at my thoughts about what was going on, but I wasn't improvising it during play either. It is always hard to identify what things were always going to be used, even long before the game began, vs. what seemed so obvious to use during play itself, vs. those things which get created with some effort between sessions. Setting and back-story seemed like they were springing into existence as a function of play, and then I look at my notes from over a year ago and at the handout I gave to the players at the start, and so much of what happened is clearly prefigured in those.

You will be pleased to know that Ian and I have already played the relevant interaction between Karva and Jynathon, and I'll be posting that soon.

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