Hard to believe my duet buddy and I are 10 sessions into our next arc of Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha!
This is his first time GMing a long-form game, and he brings a humor, a whimsy and a humanism to our play that has consistently surprised and delighted me. It’s the longest game I’ve been a non-GM player in. And it’s happened in the context of rich conversations about constraints and situations here at Adept Play.
The situation is thus: My PC Bastak is a member of the Tavas Green-Spears, a clan of the Prax Pol-Joni. For much of the Lunar occupation of Sartar, he was a fairly ordinary Praxian herder-warrior. His family played both sides of the rebellion, fighting for the rebels and the Lunars depending who made the better offer, while carrying on internal feuds with other Praxian tribes, particularly the High Llama people.
However, at the Siege of Nochet, where Bastak fought for the Empire, he was hit by “friendly fire” Lunar magic, and was temporarily driven insane. At least, that’s what his companions believed. To Bastak, the experience was a spiritual crucible.
When he came to his senses, he had a deep hatred for the Lunars and Sartarites who waged this terrible war, and a new sense of purpose: to delve the secrets of the unseen world. He joined the One-Ear Spirit Society as an assistant to Kost, a Shaman of the Tavas Green-Spears.
Bastak came to the path of shamanhood later in life, and I was curious to play a character more deeply embedded in his cult than our last protagonist, so after getting the go-ahead from my fellow player I added 10 years to his age. This gave me a few skill bonuses, but most importantly it granted 3 additional Rune Points, meaning Bastak can call upon the shamanic powers of Daka Fal more often.
The “Shamans” chapter of the core book suggests detailing the “calling” an assistant shaman has experienced. Before commencing play, my duet buddy and I had floated the idea of having my character show up at the post-Narmeed Wood-Glory stead, because we felt there was a lot of juice left in that situation.
I combined these two possibilities by writing the vision that had brought Bastak to the Wood-Glory Stead, and provided it to my fellow player: Bastak came here pursued by hostile High Llama magics, guided by a dream that his mentor believed would provide the key to his initiation as a full shaman. (The vision write-up I provided before play is in the file attached to this post).
While reviewing RQG posts, I came across this conversation where Ron asked: “How bad is it / are things?”
And, in a later comment:
I know that I like to think of the Hero Wars and their preceding events as littered with failures, tragedies, and catastrophes, and I don’t favor the idea that one’s own game, “our heroes,” happen to be blessed with the status of threading their way successfully through these threatened-but-fake outcomes which only happen to someone else.
… or rather, that’s what I think and would like to do now. Whether I represented this point of view when I actually played Gloranthan material isn’t possible to assess in retrospect.
I think I can answer more clearly now than I could then: We are looking at a group of people who have lost their spiritual and communal anchors, exemplified by the loss of their elders to Chaos disease and their younger generation (Vernharl, Narmeed and Darrald) to weregild. I don’t think they can answer the question Why do you live with this people in this place, anymore.
I don’t know if this is explicit in my buddy’s prep, but based on what I’ve observed, I imagine the stead growing smaller and smaller as time goes on, as young people depart for marriages into other clans and the elders pass into the next world.
In twenty years, unless something hugely consequential occurs to reverse it, the Wood-Glory stead will lie in ruins, done in not by the comet-flash of direct violence but by its slow, cold tail.
Major Characters & Events So Far
Farangara. The shaman-Rune Lord of the Wood-Glory stead died while neutralizing the Chaotic plague that Narmeed brought back from the Broo in the mountains. She held the Disease Spirits in her own body, dragged them into the woods, and banished them with an earth-shaking sneeze that flattened the trees into a ring and burst her body into pieces. The clearing of blasted trees is a sacred space to the family now, and Bastak arrived on the stead during the family’s one-year observance of Farangara’s passing.
Ordag. Once a mighty Pol-Joni shaman, and ancestor of Bastak. Bastak has consulted him for knowledge through the Summon Specific Ancestor Rune Spell, but his lore is limited this far from home.
Astra. One of the High Llama people, an Initiate of Chalana Arroy, and a bad-ass—certainly a protagonist in her own right.
She followed Bastak to Sartar from Prax, riding her High Llama Spear-Rack. She came not to murder him over their tribes’ feud (as he believed at first), but to help her grandfather Obel (himself an initiate of the One-Ear Spirit Society).
The life events system turned up that Bastak had participated in a raid on the High Llama People. My buddy picked that up and said that the raid left Obel catatonic, possibly by magic (it also, incidentally, led to Bastak being granted a hide of land from his people). In his strange state, the only word Astra’s grandfather can utter is “Bastak.” Astra sought out her familial foe in Sartar, hoping that he could help her restore Obel’s mind.
Astra also arrived in Sartar far along in a pregnancy. When Bastak confronted her at the Chalana Arroy temple in the Maul-Mouth temple complex, he found her with her newborn son Wilms in her arms. She feared for Wilms because one of his eyes was fused shut, and her strongest healing magics were of no avail in opening it. She believed this the evidence of the same curse afflicting her grandfather. Bastak agreed to help her find a wiseman or -woman to pronounce the Praxian birth-blessings over him.
Note on prep: Something I wondered about when I first read the game in 2020, and that Greg and I talked about recently, is how exactly to use all of the backstory material generated by RQG’s life events system. I think my duet buddy and I unintentionally discovered one solution—I shaped the raw stuff up a bit into narrative (which sides Bastak fought on, how events related to his choice of profession and cult, how they brought him to the first site-of-play), then my buddy took that rough sketch and freely populated it with characters and splashed it with colorful events, using any and all spaces I had left open.
It was still pretty involved, but I think my initial shaping gave him the constraints he needed, and he did a much better job with Bastak’s backstory material than I did with Narmeed’s.
Yebedai. An old Wood-Glory who lives alone in a cave north of the stead farming mushrooms. He’s knowledgeable enough of Praxian ritual to pronounce the birth-blessings.
However, during the blessing ceremony, Bastak’s ancestor Ordag intervened, revealing that Wilms is a Soulbound Twin. Soulbound Twins are the products of a powerful “twinned magic” between the peoples of Prax and Sartar (possibly the Pol-Joni, who belong to both cultures).
One Soulbound Twin is born in Prax, another is born simultaneously in Sartar, and any blessing upon one becomes a curse upon the other. My buddy provided a write-up he did of Twinned Magic that helped me keep all this straight: “their fates are inversely linked. One’s curse is the other’s blessing; one’s fortune is the other’s scarcity; one’s healing is the other’s harm, and vice versa.”…unless the spiritual circuit is closed by a ritual of “radical communion.”
Ordag’s intervention prompted Bastak and Astra to force Yebedai to reveal his secret—he himself was a Soulbound Twin, but he never met his Praxian alter ego, and their Twinned Magic was never equalized. From the write-up:
Yebedai, being aware of the Twin Magics, but never having met his Soul-bound Twin, manifested this burden as profound isolation—his earnest attempt to protect himself and his unknown kin from harm.
The ritual he intended to perform with Wilms was not directly related to the Twin Magics—instead, it was an adaptation of the High Llama clan birth rite, requested by Astra (think: herbal baptism). Yebedai aimed to complete this ritual blessing anyway—even if it meant accelerating the demise of Wilms’ Soul-bound Twin—because he wanted Wilms to be free of the burden of Twinhood.
Wilms/Enothea. Farangara revealed that Wilms’s Soulbound Twin is Enothea, a Sartarite born in Prax as the Praxian baby was born in Sartar. Enothea’s parents have perished and left her alone in the waste. Farangara is exerting power in the Spirit World to keep her safe, though how long she can do so is uncertain.
Bastak wants to find Enothea and equalize the Soulbound Magic. As an ambitious spiritualist, he is also determined to delve these secrets, which his own magical traditions make no mention of. He wonders what powers might be available to those present for the Blessing.
Old Knuckle-Gums. An aging Wood-Glory warrior. Local legend has it that he gnawed through Lunar chains at the cost of his teeth (a detail I think we came up with all the way back in session 1). He bounces around the Maul-Mouth steads, and may be in occasional contact with Farangara.
One-Ear. Given a one-paragraph description in Cults of Prax, Storm-Bull’s Spirit of Reprisal has loomed larger and larger in our play since his first appearance to Narmeed eight months ago. Now, he has his very own Spirit Society, the lineaments of a Rune Spell, and four named followers (Bastak, Obel, Kost, and—just wait for this!—Olav Wood-Glory). I sketched my sense of the spirit in the write-up I provided at the start of play (in the PDF attached to this post).
Olav. Remember Olav, the kind-hearted lad with just-begging-to-be-ruffled hair? He has struggled to keep his head above water since losing his brother Vernharl and one-time mentor Narmeed to the Praxian wastes.
The appearance of Bastak roiled up those dark emotions, and the last ten sessions have seen Olav desperately adrift. Jareen, with the best of intentions, encouraged Bastak to build a relationship with the boy. However, the tenuous sense of belonging Olav had found with Jareen and the Erithea Cult was already stretched to snapping, and being drawn into shamanic activities by Bastak weathered his foundations.
It seems too that Olav has been in secret contact with One-Ear, something Bastak only became aware of in session 9 (damn you, missed Listen and Spirit Lore rolls!). It appears that, under the influence of the spirit, Olav cut the throat of Astra’s beloved High Llama, Spear-Rack, and set out into the wastes on some kind of twisted initiation ritual.
If it seems like Bastak is hopelessly, haplessly enmeshed in tangled spirit-plots and mysterious magical predicaments, that’s because he is. I only realized how much was occurring off-screen in this session, and I’m not yet writing off the possibility of malign human influence somewhere in this—there are those hostile High Llama shamans back in Prax, after all.
I feel a lot of regret over Bastak’s inability to reach Olav. Bastak stretched himself emotionally, even went so far as to make promises to the boy he wasn’t sure he could keep, which was (to me) a radical shift for the character, but Olav’s hurt runs deep, and it just wasn’t enough.
Jareen. The stead’s herder has offered hospitality to Bastak, who used his Praxian herding skills to assist with the animals. She’s been a source of stability to him and Olav, as she was to Narmeed. However, Passion rolls in the climactic session 9 determined that her fierce, protective love for Olav was greater than her role in the Wood-Glory family.
After finding Spear-Rack murdered and Olav gone, Bastak searched the mountains for him, accompanied by Jareen. They found a curious trail that led them to the place of power of a mountain-spirit named the Bitch-in-Heat, an ally of One-Ear and very concerned with the safety of children. (Cue wonderfully shiversome imagery of a hare being caught and dismembered in mid-air by unseen, phantasmal jaws.)
For once, the dice favored Bastak, and he addressed the entity in Spirit Speech, learning that, at One-Ear’s request, she had sheltered the “pup” Olav the night before. At first, she refused to provide further information, and the situation could well have broken out into our first Spirit Combat. But Bastak convinced the spirit to relent by confronting her with Jareen’s grief at losing Olav—it wasn’t enough to convince her that Jareen was a “true” mother, but the Bitch-in-Heat said she would keep the path clear, so they could follow the boy.
An opposed Passion Roll by my duet buddy set Jareen off into the mountains, unprovisioned and unprepared. She shouted over her shoulder that she would follow Olav or die trying, whether Bastak accompanied her or not.
I had been so focused on navigating this perilous spiritual interaction that I wasn’t really ready when an irrevocable choice broke from under the surface of the events of play: Olav was going into the wilderness in Darkness Season, in desperate need of Bastak’s high Survival skill. On the other hand, Enothea had already been in Prax for days, alone except for spirits. I could not rescue both of them.
I suppose I made this decision the way most people make an impossible choice – by clenching my eyes shut to the larger implications and jumping the way that seemed right in the moment.
From above her on the slope, Bastak cast Mobility on Jareen’s steed, watched her fade down the Bitch-in-Heat’s path, then turned back to the stead to prepare for the journey to find Enothea and correct the twinned magics that bound her to Wilms.
I told myself that Olav was watched over by One-Ear, and that Jareen might be protected by the Bitch-in-Heat.
Enothea was far more helpless than Olav, and needed me more.
But retelling it now, I also see how letting a critical member of the Wood-Glories take off alone was, in a way, a decision to pursue Bastak’s individual shamanic development instead of the communal health of the stead. I had written another chapter in the Wood-Glories’ history of disintegration.