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This Is How We Hold a Funeral in Glorantha: RQG Sessions 8 & 9

This afternoon my duet buddy and I will be playing another session of Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, and before we do I wanted to update my actual play record with two of the three sessions we’ve played since I posted last.

Session 8: The Ambush

The first session was occupied with the Wasp-Riders’ ambush of our scrappy Hero Band as they hid out in a small cave awaiting nightfall. Three raiders dispatched from the Wasps-Nest caught Petrada Crag-Stamp outside the cave as she scanned the mountains for the next step on the journey. 

The Wasp-Riders’ first attack struck Petrada with a javelin and a sling-stone. By the time Narmeed rallied his companions and dragged her back into the cave, she was already a corpse.

Narmeed’s first move was to command his beloved steed Hearse to take off into the woods with Lune-Trampler. Then, he called upon Storm-Bull to go berserk and emerged from the cave, bow in hand. The horses were the most valuable assets possessed by the Hero Band (and, for the Wasp-Riders, quite desirable as living incubation chambers for the Wasps’ eggs). Two of the Wasp-Riders peeled off to pursue the horses. Narmeed hit one but failed to do injury because the Wasp-Rider wore a segment of Wasp carapace as armor. His second shot killed the other rider with a lethal head wound.

The third rider hurled her javelin and struck Narmeed in the abdomen. 

It was at this point that we discovered the value of armor, and the effect of differing access to magic and weapons technology. Narmeed’s profession is heavy cavalry, meaning he came equipped with high-quality armor, probably furnished by military armorers servicing professional warriors, not civilians or tribeless ruffians. The Wasp-Rider’s javelin left a nasty bruise, but didn’t even break skin. With no access to damage-boosting Spirit or Rune Magic, the Wasp-Rider stopped targeting Narmeed and attacked his companions instead After a few exchanges that saw the Wasp-Rider almost hit Vernharl, and Darrald inflict some serious pain with Disruption, the Wasp-Rider left to follow her fellows.

Still mad with the rage of the Bull, Narmeed took off after the Wasp-Riders. When his companions caught up to him, he was draped over the neck of Hearse in a forest clearing, entirely drained. The corpse of the dead Wasp-Rider lay where its Wasp  Lune-Trampler had been paralyzed and carried off by the Wasp-Riders to serve as host body for the Wasps’ spawn.

A couple of behind-the-scenes notes: 

Narmeed narrowly missed hitting a ‘trip-wire’ when he killed the Wasp-Rider. Two of the Wasp-Riders had Love Passions for one another. If one had been killed, there was a chance of the other being Inspired and forcing her Wasp into close combat for revenge. With their chitin armor and venom, the Wasps are far more dangerous than their riders, and if they had engaged it could well have resulted in more fatalities. Luckily, these two Wasp-Riders got away unscathed.

The Wasp-Riders would doubtlessly have preferred taking the larger Hearse. However, on consulting the Wasps’ STR and the horses’ SIZ scores, the raiders were a few STR points short of being able to lift Hearse. Lune-Trampler was the only horse they could take.

While combat wasn't quite as dangerous as I'd anticpated, Petrada's death is consequential for the characters and for their goal. The Crag-Stamps are key to the symbolism of the HeroQuest. Without them, it may not be possible to banish the Chaos-plague from the stead.

Finally, I love the extreme dilation of time that happens in RQG. We spent a couple of hours resolving a few desperate minutes of combat. Cutting the scene to Narmeed in the clearing after the intense focus of combat felt like a disorienting shift in pace. 

Session 9: The Burial

The second session found the grief-stricken Hero Band debating how to fulfill their ceremonial obligations to the dead Petrada, whether to flee Wasp-Rider territory, or if they should launch a desperate rescue mission for Lune-Trampler.

Narmeed was eager to attempt a rescue of Lune-Trampler. Both Darrald and Vernharl were doubtful of the plan, while Willandring was too in shock over Petrada’s death to be fully present.

This was a really instructive moment for me as a GM. I was tempted to warn my duet buddy off this idea. After all, launching an assault on a fortified position with only a few warriors was a suicide mission at best. 

However, it was clear that with the information Narmeed had access to, the attack seemed possible. And I recognized that forbidding this action, explicitly or through hints, would have taken away his creative agency over his character. I held my tongue, and we were rewarded with some of my favorite moments of the game so far.

Narmeed started by gathering information. He instructed Vernharl to use the totem of the Dagger-Skull Boys (a dinosaur skull with a Farsee matrix) to scan the Wasps-Nest. Vernharl failed his Scan (Visual) check and didn’t gather any useful tactical information, but did see the Wasps swarming around the mountain “like flies around a rotting apple.”

At this point, Narmeed recognized the risks of a direct assault, and tempered his plan. My duet buddy resonated with the Daka Fal funereal custom from Cults of Prax:

At the end of the ceremony the people place their hands over their faces so the spirit cannot recognize them, then turn their backs and run away from the funeral site, and must never look back under pain of death. 

Narmeed devised the plan of starting a forest fire to smoke the Wasps out of their lair. He and Willandring would bring Petrada’s body near the Wasp-Nest, where her ghost might haunt her murderers if she wasn’t ready to rejoin the Herd Mother in the afterlife. If possible, they would infiltrate the Nest and try to locate Lune-Trampler. Darrald and Vernharl would go ahead and wait for them at the edge of the Wasp-Riders’ domain. 

With Petrada gone, Vernharl was the character with the highest Survival score. It fell on him to start the forest fire. Narmeed spoke to inspire his protege, and my duet buddy rolled to augment Vernharl’s Survival skill with Narmeed’s Love (Wood-Glory Family) Passion, attaining a Special Success. Not only did Vernharl get a 30% bonus to his Survival score, I also ruled that Narmeed had awakened a Love (Wood-Glory) Passion in his kinsman as well.

It only dawned on me a few days after this session, but the change in Vernharl’s character is one of the most compelling aspects of our game so far. We’ve seen him go from a disaffected adolescent who idolized a cruel, implacable father-figure—to a young adult willing to forego rash action (like charging into battle to rescue his horse) in order to keep his loved ones safe. That Vernharl became this without preplanning, as a result of rolls, system properties and creative choices we can point to from start to finish, that he might well have happened differently (and still could!) makes it all the more compelling to see.

Vernharl’s Survival roll is a moment I want to focus on. It was the first time I’ve ruled that missing the roll would result in a complication, not straight-up failure. On a failure, Vernharl would succeed in kindling a blaze, but the fire would cut him off from his route back to the Hero Band, trapping him in enemy territory.

I’m conflicted. In the moment, I was looking at this young troublemaker, with his shit-eating grin and his eyes alight with mischief, and I just didn’t see an outcome where he failed to light the damn woods on fire. 

On the other hand, maybe this was a moment of failed discipline where I let my own desire for thematic coherence override the procedures of the game. I’m still turning this over, but I’m overall happy with how I handled this moment. I think “Failure = success with a complication” can be a valid tool of play when it arises naturally from circumstances and is the exception, not the rule.

With Narmeed’s augment, Vernharl succeeded on his Survival roll, and soon after nightfall the Hero Band saw flames licking at the valley. Wasps left their nests to scout the event (and pick off panicked forest animals). Under cover of the fire, Narmeed and Willandring crept, with Petrada’s body, closer to the Nest.

As they neared their enemies’ lair, it became clear to my duet buddy that any rescue attempt for Lune-Trampler was doomed. The Wasps hundreds of feet off the ground at the top of a sheer cliff, exploiting their power of flight to hold an unusually fortified position. There were also more Wasps than Narmeed had anticipated, with several hundred of the insects buzzing about the Nest, filling the air with their inhuman hum. (I’d determined in my prep that there were many Wasps and only a few dozen Wasp-Riders—humans held in parasitic thrall by the Wasp-god Apocrita’s Rune magic.) 

However, respecting my fellow player’s decisions allowed us to get closer to the Nest than I’d ever anticipated in my prep. It made me think of previous discussions of Lines & Veils here at Adept Play—how a Line can be something we play toward to discover the borders of ourselves and our imagined worlds, as well as something to steer away from lest we cause harm.

My duet buddy pushed us close to the line of the possible, and it was natural, inevitable even that Willandring and Narmeed should find a midden of bones buried in the shadow of the cliff—centuries of animals, travelers and heroes slain by the Wasps and their riders.

Willandring gently set her lifelong companion’s body on the ground. As she whispered the ancient Praxian funeral chants, the ghosts of the midden manifested and drew near, rippling animals and anonymous human figures in a shimmering, discorporate ring. We still do not know if Petrada and Willanrding were sisters or lovers.

The rites concluded, Willandring and Narmeed mounted Hearse and rode away as hard as they could, refusing to look back for grief, or fire, or pursuit.

Thus ended the physical existence of Petrada Crag-Stamp, companion of Willandring.

May her spirit baffle her murderers for a thousand years.

Department: 
Actual Play
Tags: 
twosies

Comments

Sean_RDP's picture

This is a great write-up. Things certainly do not seem to be going the protagonists way, yet the game continues on. And the intensity comes though. Success and failure do not have to be finite directions or decisions; they work best when located on a spectrum. I think RQ does this well, with its levels of success and failure. 

Poor Lune-Trampler. That's no way to die. 

noah_t's picture

I am glad to hear you enjoyed it, Sean! Agreed that "success and failure do not have to be finite directions," and that the levels of success add great texture to the system. I've been focusing on the binary aspect of success/failure because it's helped me unlearn some bad habits, especially defaulting to failure as 'success with a complication' every time. I'm trying to start by recognizing that the character succeeded or failed, full stop. However, how and why they succeeded/failed, what a successful/failed roll makes possible or impossible, and exactly how much a particular success gets you or a particular failure haunts you are all wide-open questions.

Speaking of haunting, yes, poor Lune-Trampler. There are some horrible ways to die in Glorantha.

Ron Edwards's picture

I don't follow your point regarding the degrees of success and failure in RuneQuest specifically. In the early game, criticals and fumbles only applied to Attack and Parry, and plain success or failure for either had no internal degrees. Everything else was even more straightforward, including only generic success or generic failure. Is RQG different in this regard?

I guess I'm the outlier about Lune-Trampler. Reading the summary of the session, I liked the wasp-rider characters a lot, and wasp babies gotta eat.

noah_t's picture

I believe Sean was referring to RQG's addition of 'qualities of success' on Opposed and unopposed Skill rolls. These plug into the Augment and Passion rules, as well as orthogonal Attack/Parry exchanges.

Fumble = anywhere from 96-100, minimum 100.

Failure = rolling over score.

Success = rolling under score.

Special Success = rolling 20% of score or lower.

Critical Success = rolling 5% of score or lower (minimum 1).

While the text does mention that, "As with other rolls, resistance rolls may result in critical successes, special successes, and fumbles" (p. 145), the specific instances that I can think of in the rules seem to assume that the Resistance Table will output a simple success and failure, with quality of success as an optional 'color' prompt.

Horrible as it is, I guess wasp babies do gotta eat! There's a pluckiness to the Wasp-Riders I like, though because of how things shook out, I haven't been able to move this from prep to play yet.

The loss of Lune-Trampler did had the effect of bringing Vernharl and Darrald closer. Lune-Trampler and Darrald's old horse Balk-Sky (now the animal of Vernharl's younger brother Olav) were twins, and they feel as tied as any "people" characters into the kinship networks on the Stead.

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