Thinking about what-next per session is pretty hard for this sort of naturalistic play, especially when circumstances don’t lend themselves to substantial cuts. I’d have to think for a while to understand why that’s not a problem in playing Sorcerer, for example. (It doesn’t have explicit scene-type mechanics either.)
In this case, I put some work into the back-story for the characters’ village, expanding the geography of “the world we’ve seen” a little bit, and looting a few of the wonderful RuneQuest materials I have. I could be using any game which offered relevant, adaptable stuff, but I always got a nice little charge from using RQ material when I was playing Hero Wars set in Glorantha, and I find it’s just as nice to do so now, while not in Glorantha but using what I think of as “my” edition of RuneQuest. But the trouble is, this is not the sort of material which lends itself to such prep. Play is not really about encountering, uh, encounters.
This applies especially to NPCs with some weight and heft. In this game, characters are so shaped by use that making a logical NPC, or rather in the same “language” as the way a player-character would develop through time, is tough without the play-experience to back it up. When making up a character like Vakia, or worse, Karva, the priestess who appeared briefly at the start of the first session, I’m guessing most of the time.
Anyway, I prepared a fairly thorough modification of a certain famous scary-ass cave system, reimagining it as tangled thickets, substantial mounds, and bogs rather than caves. Its textual contents were pretty well-suited to what I had in mind, but I did have to go through it and re-interpret and sometimes replace things.
Of course, play never got there, and as it happened, one of the other maps I’d reserved turned out to be just what I needed instead. And I’m OK with the work done, including conceptual back-story as well as bogs and thickets, because it fully informed how four or five NPCs dealt with the events during play. You’ll see that our play became very … well, I hope it’s not boring, but the final third is definitely slower-paced, thought-heavy, almost deliberate character interactions rather than action.
Now I want to talk about RuneQuest character development and (yay!) a rules diagram, for this edition.
Take a look at that cycle at the top left, with the blue arrows: it is, pretty much, the bulk of the rules, defining the situation and activities for beginning characters and a fair piece of following play. Briefly: by using skills and attributes, you increase them. You also increase them through scrolls you may find. Otherwise, you pay for training in them too with the money and treasure you get, presumably at the same time you are using (and increasing) the skills and attributes.
The rules are super-explicit that this is the point. Characters even start in hock to various guilds and cults, so they pretty much have to run off and find loot somewhere. And once embarked, the cycle is self-reinforcing and satisfying (if you don’t get eaten or lose a limb).
And then there comes this other thing, indicated by the red arrows: first encountering, then beginning, and with any luck, achieving a fully different plateau of play. Once fully there, your magic is based mainly on maintaining a high Power, but regularly sacrificing some to entities such that you are yourself a semi-divine and/or spirit being.
The mechanical link is real; participating in rune-level magic requires various attributes and skills to be high (hence the red plusses), and often has percentages for being accepted which imply you ought not to try until you’re bulked up some. But it also has social context which necessarily comes straight from play history: do you even know a shaman? Do you want to apprentice yourself to him or her? Why? Want to get initiated into a cult? Which one? Why? All of these people (shamans, priests) are fully integrated into the setting, especially the immediate geography with its history, opportunities, threats, and social problems, especially wars. Getting involved in such things means you must definitely stop being “a wandering adventurer, living by my wits and my sword,” and start being someone who cares about this exact spot at this exact moment.
In our game, I’m deliberately removing the debt-and-money arrows from the initial cycle, and using the training and scroll rules as pretty-much ongoing processes in the lives of these young adults. I guess it’s not too surprising, given my relentless focus on the pantheon and its social expression, that the characters are coming up on their comprehension of the next step pretty fast. For my part, it seems sudden; I’m still working out what the textual standards for initiation mean for this setting, both in literal requirements and in relation to other skills and general competence. So I guess we’re getting to that stuff soon.
One character, Alkerton, provides a relatively easy procedural case, as he began apprenticed to a shaman and events of play have very logically carried him to the point of going for the “become a real shaman” step. He succeeded in acquiring a fetch, and that’s that. This is perfectly excellent because now we can have events and information in terms of the spirit plane.
The others are a little trickier. Their sense of “next step” is more tightly intertwined with the opportunities and compelling circumstances that are wholly on me to present, and I want to avoid simply scripting “well, now Binry gets initiated to Nea,” for example. Characters of this experience level are very often observed to accompany more powerful characters into danger, and it would have been entirely in the spirit and practice of the historical game for them to go with Vakia to confront Karva at Green Rock. You can see me struggle a little bit – in-character, as it happens – when Vakia decided to have them stay behind while she went to find Karva alone, knowing that she was basically writing a death-sentence on herself. I mean, if they want to run after her anyway, they can, but I didn’t want to direct them in the fashion that such NPCs’ presence and priorities typically imply.