Whew! Another 3 sessions of the Runequest, Roleplaying in Glorantha duet under our belts. Though we’ve had some delays between sessions, we’ve internalized enough of the systems and setting that we’re able to get right to it when we start playing. In that spirit, I’m going to dive into this report. Some seriously consequential events occurred in session 12, and I am quite excited to relate them later this week.
Session 10: Arriving at the Dragonrise
Session 10 saw our rag-tag Hero Band contending with dwindling supplies and unfamiliar terrain as they climbed up into the mountains toward the Dragonrise. Even mundane events (a CON vs POT roll to see if a character resisted the cold) were given dramatic urgency because every day that passed meant the Chaos-disease further ravaging the Wood-Glories back on the Stead.
My buddy remarked that he enjoyed zooming out and having each day of travel covered by a Survival roll, with Augments and (on failures) follow-up rolls providing more details. We both enjoyed experiencing the environment as Narmeed and company neared the Dragonrise. I described the mountain as shattered into unnatural microclimates, sometimes brutally cold, sometimes volcanically hot, always unpredictable.
After a few gruelling days’ travel, they reached the Temple of the Dragonrise after dark. Cult status immediately played into their reception, with Darrald being ushered away to be wined-and-dined by the Orlanthi cult that runs the temple, and Narmeed, Vernharl and Willandring being relegated to the edge of the camp and the uncertain hospitality of a visiting Storm Khan.
Exhausted by the journey, the three fell asleep in the doorway of the Storm Khan’s dark tent. Narmeed woke a few hours later to the Storm Khan, Marlesta Broo-Splitter, a naked tits-and-bush-out badass, holding a spear to his throat. On discovering Narmeed was a fellow Storm-Bull, Marlesta warmed up quickly, welcoming the travelers with wine and meat.
Marlesta’s band live life to the fullest. When any moment can bring news of dangerous Chaos monsters and sudden, violent death, they fill their off-time with drinking, feasting and marathon pansexual orgies that Narmeed was quickly invited to and happily joined.
After the Broo encounter, the family trial, the outbreak, the long journey, the next couple of days at the Dragonrise Temple felt like a welcome respite as Narmeed and his companions waited for the ceremony that would symbolically cleanse Willandring and drive the Chaos from the stead.
(As background, here is my description of the Temple of the Dragonrise and its cult. I wanted to stretch my muscles and try to get cosmic. There is probably Gloranthan canon I am trampling all over here like Storm-Bull in a glass-blowing shop. Words cannot express how little I care.
The Temple of the Dragonrise is the sacred site of a new cult founded by Lismelder Trueline, one of the Heroquesters who raised the dragon beneath the Temple of the Reaching Moon and ended (well, ate, really) the Lunar occupation.
Lismelder is the object of loyalty for the Hammer-and-Bellows Men, Orlanthi initiates and Wind-Lords drawn to her vision of a Sartar united under Kallyr Starbrow. They are distinguished by their unswerving hatred of Lunars, their loyalty to Starbrow, and their gray hands: the mark of forge-ashes they rub on each morning. Although their numbers are relatively few, membership in the cult cuts across familial and societal lines, making them a powerful political force when they act in concert.
At the secret heart of the cult is a syncretic vision that unites worship of Orlanth and a new connection to the old draconic powers.
You see, when Lismelder and her companions raised the dragon from its millenia-long slumber, she established a psychic link with it, even learned its name: M-Gurud. She was touched by M-Gurud’s apocalyptic vision of a cosmos in flames, and became convinced that she could use that power to forge a new Sartar under Starbrow, a united nation that need never fear the Lunar Empire again. This is the secret meaning of their ritual chant:
Wind of Orlanth
Breath of the Dragon
We Put the Sword in Starbrow’s Hand
The cult has some particularly nasty asepcts. Religiously, it's not quite monotheistic, but it's getting there. Given a few generations their Dragon-Orlanth could become an omnipotent figure. Politically, after they finish 'cleansing' the land of Chaos (read: Lunars), they may well target other groups. Right now they're focused on recruiting, always on the lookout for "true Sartarites" on the make, like Darrald.
Lismelder’s first step toward this vision was the forging of the Dragonbreath Rune, a new symbol that combines the Dragonewt and Wind Runes into a new magical element, barely held in existence by the strength of her body, the iron of her will. Whether the dragon has its own agenda, or is simply muscling up out of its long slumber and reaching out to any receptive beings is unclear.
Like all the best fictional fanatics, the Hammer-and-Bellows Men have become a funhouse mirror of what they hate: they dream of a United Sartar to match the Lunar Empire and unintentionally reenact the formation of an imperial nation-state; they want to match Lunar magic with dragonfire, and end up courting Chaos through the fusing of Runes.
Lismelder’s second act was establishing the Temple of the Dragonrise, a source of income and a place to explore draconic lore. It’s currently just a foundation next to the miles-long crater. Lismelder’s forge is there and, concealed under cloth, the temple’s holy of holies, with the Dragonbreath Rune pulsing away on an altar.)
In Session 11, Narmeed and Vernharl kicked around the camp, taking in the sight of travelers from all over Gernetela come to see the Dragonrise. Vernharl started a summer romance (i.e., made his CHAx5 roll) with a Lhankor Mhy initiate named Soran. We had lots of fun describing the contrast between the uneducated Vernharl and the sophisticated Soran, and seeing the ‘meet-cute’ of these two young men.
Narmeed started learning new Spirit Magic (including Multimissile) from a Shaman, and we laughed a lot while roleplaying the eccentric and irascible spiritualist and describing the intense mental and physical exercises he imposed to bend Narmeed’s perceptions into new shape.
Narmeed also recharged his Rune Points with a worship session led by Marlesta, then immediately expended them on a Divination ceremony. Where I expected my fellow player to use his three Rune Points to inquire about what was going on at the Stead, or around him at the Temple, he actually used them to demand meaning from his deity. Thanks to two out of three failed rolls, the answers he received were cryptic and misinterpreted.
Narmeed is torn over whether he can fight Chaos and have a ‘normal’ life on the stead. He feels to blame for bringing the Chaos disease back to the Wood-Glories, and questions what his work in the cult means. There’s a real possibility of Narmeed leaving the Wood-Glories to join Marlesta on the ragged edge of civilization, and this became clearer in his post-Divination talk with her, where she discussed her philosophy that Storm-Bulls live alone and die unremembered so that other people don’t have to.
I’ve been inspired by Sam articulating his understanding of good play in comments like this one. The Divination scene was instructional for me, because it’s a great example of one of my own ideals: each player fucking bringing it.
My duet buddy had been working through this struggle for 6+ sessions, but I hadn’t realized the character’s doubts ran this deep—to the point of abandoning the Wood-Glories and changing the entire status quo of our game!—until this scene.
My duet buddy didn’t ‘check in’ to see if this thematic territory fit in with my vision of the game. He didn’t ask permission to have a nigh-on Biblical argument with a god or to overturn my expectations of his character’s long-term goals. He played Narmeed to the hilt and, by unapologetically using the authorities granted him by the game, made fiction that he wanted to see (and that blew me away).
No storyboarding, no hivemind, no writers’ room—and neither of us in control of what happened next.
This impacted other aspects of Narmeed’s life when he casually let slip to Vernharl that they might part ways. A Passion check of Vernharl’s Loyalty (Narmeed) Passion (representing Narmeed’s emotionally intelligent influence) against Vernharl’s Loyalty (Hastur) Passion (representing his more toxic ideals) resulted in a win for Hastur, exploding into a nasty quarrel and taking Narmeed multiple scenes to resolve.
It was a nice reminder that, among the myriad joys of this game, the beating heart really is the Passion system, which ensures characters are tempestuous as any Homeric hero. There is no lukewarm Passion, and no abstract targets, like “Peace” or “Violence.” In RQG, there are only people: the people you hate, the people you love, the people you’ll die at the hands or instead or on behalf of.
After Narmeed patched things up with Vernharl (and suffered through a spectacular and increasingly hilarious run of failed social skill checks), Vernharl made an Opposed Passion check between his Love for his little brother Olav and his Loyalty for Narmeed, with his Loyalty winning out. For better or worse, he has decided his fate lies with Narmeed, not necessarily back on the stead with his other kin. I only hope he lives to see his brother again.
Session 11 ended with the long-awaited ceremony, with Narmeed and Vernharl given seats of honor in the front row next to Darrald. The congregation faced the Dragonrise, and the cultists performed their rituals at the edge of the crater. (This scene was me fucking bringing it in a big way.)
Members of Starbrow’s personal guard, many of them marked with the gray hands of the Hammer-and-Bellows Men, arrived with 10 Lunar prisoners sentenced to death for crimes during the Lunar colonization of Sartar.
To the wild beating of drums and the strange, shrill music of Orlanthi pipes, Lismelder fired up her forge and brought the worshippers into a mystical space lit by cataclysm. Her breath in the bellows made the forge flare and the fires of the Dragonrise itself pulse in unison. Throughout the ceremony, Lismelder toiled at the forge. Taking in a great gulp of air, she released it as a gout of dragonfire (3d10 damage ignoring armor, as per the entries for Dragonewt magic in the RQ: Glorantha Bestiary) that burnt the Lunar prisoners to ash and brought cries of wonder and vengeful joy from the congregation.
The earth shook as Lismelder’s magic brought M-Gurud’s consciousness closer to waking and the dragon stirred in its crater. Breathing in the smoke of the Dragonrise, Lismelder pushed it out onto the supplicants (including Willandring) who had come to be purified of Chaos. Narmeed, fearful lest being “purified” meant being roasted like the Lunars, tried to interrupt the ceremony, but his CHA vs CHA Resistance Roll failed and his cries were lost in thunder. This ritual did indeed symbolically cleanse Willandring and accomplish the Heroquest—Narmeed and Darrald felt their tongues tingle as the blessing of Eurmal from their clan wyter melted away.
In the culmination of the ceremony, Lismelder breathed the smoke of the Dragonrise out onto the congregation, inducing divine seizures, establishing temporary contact with the sleeping M-Gurud and granting fiery visions of the cosmos through the dragon’s eyes.
Narmeed had the presence of mind to avoid this by urging Darrald to call upon Wind Warp and bend the fumes around them. And this meant, while most of the congregation lost consciousness, he saw the runic amulet Lismelder was forging out of dead Lunars and dragonfire: the Dragonbreath Rune.
To his eyes, two Runes smashed together into a new shape could only mean one thing: Chaos, blasphemy against the order of things.
I hadn’t preprogrammed this piece of information into my prep. Narmeed had already missed a Scan check to see the amulet from a distance, and I assumed that he would depart the temple without discovering Chaotic influences. (Much like with Champions Now, having different worldviews provided from the cults and strong reasons to act in the Passions ensures any situation has the potential to explode. I’m learning to not seek conflict or throw it in the path of the characters, but just to notice when it’s upon us). However, the amulet was right there in front of Narmeed, and now we were in for it.
As the ceremony ended and the dazed worshippers stumbled back to their tents, Narmeed reported what he’d seen to Marlesta, who already suspected the temple of harboring Chaos. With his Heroquest over and the Wood-Glory Stead freed of Chaotic influence, Narmeed is free to follow his cult.
He returned to Marlesta’s tent to prepare a surprise attack against Lismelder Trueline, the mighty and beloved Heroquester who had ended a war and freed Sartar.