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4 More Sessions of Runequest!

My duet buddy and I played a climactic, explosive 14th session of Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha over the weekend, and I just had to share. I’m going to keep this as brief as possible (ha, I know, I know), but to get you to the scene I want to talk about you’re going to need some context about where the characters are since we left them last:

BACKGROUND

One-Ear: After 14 sessions of missed Spirit Lore rolls, Bastak finally got a chance to talk to people in direct contact with One-Ear. He learned that the spirit wants to neutralize the Twinned Magic of Wilms and Enothea, both because it is a source of instability and also because it threatens the borders between the Praxian and Sartarite “herds.” Bastak’s determination to help the Twins may have prompted One-Ear to seek a different, more pliant agent on the Stead.

Oh yeah, and there are these weird orange mushrooms popping up along the Bitch’s Path that seem to bring people a step closer to the Spirit World and open them up to influence from One-Ear.

Olav Wood-Glory, after taking off into the wilderness, has become an instrument of One-Ear. With the aid of One-Ear’s spirit ally the Bitch-in-Heat, he’s been racing Bastak and his companions to Enothea’s hiding place, with the aim of neutralizing her Twinned Magic.

Jareen and Yebedai: Both of them also took off into the wilderness following the Bitch’s Path at different points. They’ve since joined forces with Olav, Jareen out of love for the boy, Yebedai because his own experience of Twinhood has convinced him the Twinned Magics can only bring suffering.

Bastak, Astra, Wilms and Knuckle-Gums: The three of them (along with Yebedai) departed from the Wood-Glory Stead. They followed the king’s road through Boldhome and Wilmskirk, aiming for the foothills west of Pimper’s Block where Enothea was stranded. Before departing, Bastak led a worship service at the stead; this let him replenish his Rune Points and also imbue his Blue-Spirit Rattle with 4 Magic Points from donated communal POW.

The journey was a struggle with the elements, and Knuckle-Gums died of Creeping Chills on the road. The old warrior had wanted one more journey before death.

Yebedai fed his kinsmen the weird orange mushrooms in a misguided attempt to save him. It touched off some weird spirit effects I don’t yet understand (another failed Spirit Lore roll!). It also prompted Bastak to lash out at Yebedai physically for potentially stealing his kinsman’s last moments of dignity. This precipitated Yebedai’s departure from the company the next day.

In Boldhome, Bastak, Astra and Wilms actually met Enothea’s uncle Eromea. Enothea’s family, it turns out, are Sartarite potion-merchants. Eromea and a group of kinsman-warriors raced with Bastak and Astra on the last stage of the journey.

Unfortunately, Eromea and co. decided to drink some ‘experimental’ potions that included the weird orange mushrooms when they stopped to camp. They became intoxicated and (I think) susceptible to One-Ear’s influence.

Bastak, Astra and Wilms left the reveling Sartarites and found Enothea with the help of some Daka Fal Divination (Bastak “plugged in” to Enothea’s ancestral spirits to show him the way). They also learned that Yebedai had poisoned Farangara’s guardian Shadowcat (which may have for-real killed Farangara as well…things were moving too fast for me to justify making a Spirit Lore roll). If Bastak had gotten Yebedai alone after learning this, he probably would have run him through.

As the Twins touched, their long-delayed contact set off an inferno of unstable Twinned Magic, knocking everyone in the area into the Spirit World.

CRISIS

So everyone was present for this climactic scene.

The Twins manifested in the Spirit World as a shining, two-trunked tree of magical energy that pierced the very sky, tossed and buffeted by a storm of spiritual force.

Olav, Jareen, Yebedai and the Bitch-in-Heat were nearby, hurrying toward the Twins with the goal of neutralizing their magic.

Astra’s spirit was still holding the Twins. Bastak was just outside the magical centrifuge, trying to reach Eromea and his kinsmen through the confusion and mushroom-haze and convince Eromea to recite a Sartarite blessing over the Twins. 

My theory was that, because the Twinned Magics stretched across Sartar and Prax, it would require d a Praxian birth-blessing (from Astra) and a Sartarite birth-blessing (from Eromea) to stabilize them.

Unfortunately, some Passion rolls on my duet buddy’s part meant that the mushroom’s influence prevailed and Bastak found himself in Spirit Combat with a bunch of confused Sartarite specters. However, Bastak was full up on Rune Points and, after months of confusion, finally in his element. With Rune and Magic Points to spare, 95% in the Spirit Combat skill, and 12 Strike Ranks to play with before Spirit Combat resolution, I removed half my foes from the equation by casting four instances of Demoralize with Multispell, then tore into the remainder, protected by 2 points of Spirit Block.

The combat took us into the inferno, where my buddy described Bastak experiencing an extreme form of ego-death and becoming part of a vast multi-mind made up of his, Astra’s and the Twins’ mingled, cosmically heightened consciousness. 

The presence of Eromea and his kinsmen were like wounds or intrusive thoughts to this spiritual unity, and my buddy told me that successful hits in Spirit Combat would “knock them out” of the Twinstorm for a round. We both chose targets for our attacks randomly, judging that buffeted by this new heightened awareness, it would be nigh-impossible to distinguish oneself or others as individuals.

Bastak, with the aid of Wilms and Enothea’s instinctive lashing-out, did manage to expel the last of the Sartarites (at the cost of piling two randomized Spirit Combat attacks on Eromea, reducing his Magic Points to 0 and erasing his spirit from existence). 

I had 12 Strike Ranks without spiritual incursions to work with, but things were looking dire—I was down to 0 Rune Points, and 4 measly Magic Points were all that separated me from spiritual erasure myself. Astra’s holding of the Twins wasn’t enough to stabilize their magic. And next round, the remaining Sartarites, Olav, Jareen, Yebedai and the Bitch-in-Heat were going to pile into the maelstrom-melee, probably killing multiple people and spoiling any chance we had of completing the Twins’ birth-blessings.

This was it. Bastak would have to do the Sartarite side of the ritual. I narrated Bastak taking Astra’s place and encircling the Twins with his spirit. I gathered all of my memories with the Wood-Glories and Sartar—mucking out the stables with Jareen, communing with the spirit of Farangara, leading the worship-service, sitting beside Knuckle-Gums as he went to the next world, interfacing with Enothea’s Sartarite ancestor spirits during Divination—and channeled them into a last-ditch magical blessing: Cult Lore (Daka Fal). 30%.

I augmented the roll with my Stasis Rune: A success that raised Cult Lore (Daka Fal) to 50%. I rolled and got…not a Success (11%-50%), not a Special Success (4%-10%), but 3%, a fucking crit. 

Bastak had successfully stabilized Wilms and Enothea’s Twinned Magics, creating a shockwave of mystical force that cast almost everyone outside the centrifuge out of the Spirit World and back into their bodies and generated huge impacts across the entire landscape of Twinned Magic.

Bastak, however, still had to leave the eye of the storm, and doing so would trigger lashings-out from the Twins, who in spite of everything were still just frightened infants. My buddy made his Spirit Combat rolls: One hit (from Wilms no less!). If he rolled a 6, Bastak’s soul would be destroyed. 

The result was a 5. The love of the Wood-Glories, expressed as their donated POW in the Blue-Spirit Rattle, had literally kept Bastak alive. I survived with a single Magic Point, and the Twins and I returned safely to our bodies.

At this moment, I may have stood up from my chair, raised my arms and face to the sky and shouted, “I am a goddamned hero!”

SOME THOUGHTS

This is a session I’ll remember for a long time. A couple of years ago, I would have described it as a moment where “the stars aligned” and the mechanics and the fiction fell into place to create a perfect narrative.

However, the community here at Adept Play has shown me how wrongheaded that is. This session would have been just as memorable and compelling if the pivotal rolls had resulted in Bastak failing to stabilize the Twins, or succeeding but dying, or failing and then dying—those failures would have had the same amount of creative investment and creative energy that their successful “twins” did. 

This session was a good reminder that, as much as I love discussing the value of failure, I don’t play for success or failure on their own…I play for outcomes, for the new now.

And Sam’s comment here made me realize one other layer to this. Before my buddy and I saw those outcomes actually emerge from the system, they didn’t exist. I can talk about “the potential consequences of a roll,” or speculate how things might have gone differently had the dice struck the table at a slightly different angle, but that’s just a ghost story, or a myth, like the multiverse in bad sci-fi. 

When I’m playing well, I think I am entirely focused on the now: now on the scene, now on the mounting uncertainty leading up to a roll, now on the roll itself, now on the changes that that roll’s outcome creates. And I think the same thing goes for my duet buddy. It took him a full 3-5 minutes of narration, full of pauses and internal debate and revision, to actualize every outward-circling consequence of my critical success, something he would have been literally unable to do by “forecasting” potential consequences before the roll.

MISCELLANEOUS NOTES

Because I may not post about RQG again for a bit, I wanted to note two design-at-the-table things that we’ve brought to the game. They might be of interest to other folks playing it.

Abstract Passions: After playing The Pool with Sam and me, my duet buddy was inspired to give a few NPCs “abstract” Passions. So Yebedai has Fear (Twinhood) and Jareen has Fear (Herdlessness). This is a departure from the book, where Passions are always directed at individuals—like Fear (Hastur) or Love (Astra)—or groups of individuals—like Hate (Beastmen) or Loyalty (The Lunar Empire).

I don’t think these types of Passions should be the norm. However, my buddy assigned them for specific reasons and they worked really well in those contexts, primarily because my buddy knows these characters well enough that the Passions aren’t vague: he knows exactly what Herdlessness means to Jareen. 

At the end of the day, I feel like RQG takes a bunch of Passions and kinda dumps them in your lap like a box of LEGOs. I suspect there are “best practices” for how to mix Passions toward individuals, Passions towards groups and more abstract Passions to create a dynamic ecosystem within the character, but I am a long way from knowing how to do that effectively.

Reputation: Like Steel in Burning Wheel, Reputation took me by surprise as one of my favorite things in the game. Like adding 15 words to your Story in The Pool, RQG’s Reputation track is an incredibly fun way to watch your character becoming heavier with history. 

In fact, the entire RQG character sheet is a pretty compelling record of change. Across 10 sessions of play, Bastak saw 52 new percentage points pour across his character sheet, with lots more to come when we next make Advancement rolls.

This last session rocketed Bastak from Reputation 20% to Reputation 38%. I thought it would be fun to conclude with Bastak’s Reputation track so far. You can see how we’ve left the “canonical” Glorantha from character creation pretty far behind us:

  1. Free 5%
  2. Participated in Liberation of Pavis 5%
  3. Community (Tavas Green-Spears) 5%
  4. Saved Soulbound Children 2%
  5. Harvested blue dye from a spirit-portal 4%
  6. Represented Farangara in a ritual 2%
  7. Defied the spirit One-Ear 3%
  8. Erased Eromea’s spirit from existence 5%
  9. Stabilized the Twinned Magics of Enothea and Wilms 10%
Department: 
Actual Play
Tags: 
twosies

Comments

Ron Edwards's picture

... what happened to Yebedai?

He seemed to have tried hard and tried well, and if I'm correct, stayed one step ahead until that last tangle of points and dice outcomes.

Which is fair, certainly, that's what dice are for after all. But where is he now? As far as I can tell, he survived the big confrontation and ended up back in his body. He's aware that these wretched suffering-spreading Twins are now all godhood'd out and branching all over the place, right? That's not a happy thought, we're talking blood-enemy nemesis at-any-cost, maybe. Or maybe I just like that sort of thing.

Anyway, before all that, I'm trying to understand more from your content, too. I'm not sure who was with whom, when, and why. You describe Bastak arguing/fighting with Yebedai after the latter fed the dying guy orange mushrooms, and Yebedai leaving "the company," before anyone gets to Boldhome. But what was this company? Bastak's trying to activate the Twins, right? Why was Yebedai with him? Is the falling-out why Yebedai started traveling with Olav instead? Or did they even travel together, is that what "joining forces" means?

See, I'm totally confused. Yebedai seems to be in three places: with Bastak, with Olav, or heading out separately on the Bitch's Path. What's the fictional sequence and location for these?

As you can see, we all pick our favorite guy out of any given mess of people running around grappling with their Runes and Passions.

noah's picture

No problem at all. In order to keep this post from growing to the monstrous proportions of the last one, I elided a couple of moves/scenes. Also, I am not an impartial observer, so hearing that someone actually LIKES Yebedai helps me get out of Bastak’s brain. 

Outline of his movements:

Yebedai depart from the Stead with Astra, Wilms, Bastak and Knuckle-Gums, ostensibly to help them on their quest but maybe to find a purpose after being shaken out of lifelong solitude.

Knuckle-Gums dies and Yebedai’s reckless, mushroom healing attempt causes a violent falling-out between him and Bastak.

The company’s path crosses the Bitch’s Path on the king’s road. Yebedai leaves to gather mushrooms along it and doesn’t come back.

Yebedai meets Olav, Jareen and the Bitch-in-Heat; they unite in purpose to neutralize Enothea and Wilm’s Twindom. Neutralization is not violent, or if it is I am sure Yebedai doesn’t know that -- he wants to help these kids. It’s probably a ritual that cancels the magic entirely.

Yebedai & co. find Enothea just ahead of Bastak and Astra. Farangara’s Shadowcat impedes them (I’m guessing there were some spirit-world machinations she was doing to aid Bastak). Yebedai feeds the Shadowcat the mushroom believing it will just incapacitate it, but unintentionally poisons it. They take Enothea, probably to begin the neutralization counter-ritual.

Astra & Bastak interrupt Yebedai & co. They take Enothea and spear- and Spirit Magic-point. Yebedai & co. don’t offer violent resistance 

(Uh oh, Bastak doesn’t look so good in this light! Yebedai & co. may have been right that the more prudent path was to neutralize the magic. My buddy told me that stabilizing the Twins was nigh-impossible, enabled only by that crit).

As they head back to camp, the Twinned Magic is set off. Chaos ensues. On reflection, Yebedai & co. hurry back…quite possibly to witness the event and mitigate its potential disasters.

One other effect of the crit: Remember that Yebedai is himself a Sartarite Twin. Turns out his Praxian Twin is Astra’s grandfather, whose mysterious affliction sent her into Bastak’s path in the first place. This knowledge is imparted to Bastak through the heightened Wilms-Enothea overmind. So I think Yebedai saw himself as more of the Twins’ protector/savior, rather than a mortal enemy.

Ron Edwards's picture

Oh agreed, not the Twins. I definitely had someone else in mind in terms of a possible mortal enemy for Yebedai, whose initials are "Bastak."

I'm harping on this, I realize, due to what I see as the limitations of two-person play for this game. It's obviously possible, but it reminds me of why I recommend Trollbabe as including at least two players. Briefly, I don't think - for this game - that one-player-one-GM generates a productive constraint, i.e., there are no distinct properties and indeed it loses something important.

The important thing is best visualized for two players and the GM, as a triangle of persons whose angles keep changing size: as long as there are two or more independent actors, the GM is constantly presented with a shifting comparison between them. It may be active (they are doing different things, maybe with different goals, maybe with conflicting goals) or it may be passive (just because they are different people, with nothing specific or direct), but it's unavoidably the case.

So, to pick two easy examples: if the GM widens or narrows their angle, then how each player changes their own angle becomes up for grabs; if the players change their respective angle, then the GM must change in a rather direct and often "squeezed" fashion (in a good way). You can think of the triangular constraint of 180 degrees as symbolic of the situational components in play.

But if it's just one player and one GM, as I say, it's functional but this particular feature is lost. You know, this strikes me as a good example: sure, you and I could have played our game with just Theoxxa as player-character, but it's not the same - and not in any distinctively good way.

I think well-designed twosie games have their own ways of doing things, i.e., producing distinct properties out of two-person interaction, which are definitely not the case for RuneQuest in any version.

noah's picture

I want to wait a bit before I proceed down this line of inquiry in relation to this particular game, Ron, just because we’re still doing it. Best not change our motorcycle’s tire while going 80 mph and firing small arms.

However! I do find the concept helpful. I have a small but successful corpus of past one-GM, two-player play: Trollbabe (6 sessions), Burning Wheel as GM and player, and of course Whimsical Ways (5 sessions) alongside Helma’s unfazable Thirteen.

As is my way, I have a clarifying question first to understand the concept better: Does that “squeeze” you’re talking about require the two PCs to be present in the same situation? 

Our Trollbabes weren’t in the same place until the final session. Our PCs were never in the same place for one of my GM runs on Burning Wheel. In BW, we playfully speculated outside the game that Sam’s PC was going to stumble across a shrine to Seth’s long-sanctified (and long-dead) PC. Or that Seth’s PC would wander into the ruins of Sam’s PC’s forgotten kingdom.

However, I’m not sure that these experiences qualify as “triangular” in quite the way you’re describing?

Ron Edwards's picture

Does that “squeeze” you’re talking about require the two PCs to be present in the same situation? 

[examples of two PCs in separate locations]

However, I’m not sure that these experiences qualify as “triangular” in quite the way you’re describing?

They absolutely qualify. My point/presentation applies no matter what relation to the two player-characters may have: where they are, when they are, effects upon one another, knowledge of one another. Any of these could be null or or up to 11 or anything in-between.

noah's picture

OK, whoa. This is making me aware of a whole new dimension of the notion of “constraint.” I’m going to stick to using the “triangle” terminology for ease of use, but with the assumption that this constraint is created by games with more than three participants.

I am going to talk through the places this makes my mind go. Please don’t feel obligated to machete your way through this thought-jungle, but if you see places where I’m obviously right or wrong I’d of course appreciate some direction.

First, it occurs to me that those shifting angles (though not necessarily the squeeze put on the GM by a sudden widening of one or both of the players’ angles) are a very productive constraint on all three participants.

The instances that come easiest to my mind are sessions where I was a non-GM player and my angle was much ‘wider’ or ‘narrower’ than the other player’s. What’s really cool to realize is how aware the two of us were of the contrast, in a totally organic and non-analytical way, and how the possibility of widening or narrowing the contrast created new options for us in play.

Second, I can think of isolated moments in playing Bastak in which the memory of Narmeed served as a third point, and a triangle flickered into existence. But the very fact it’s “flickering” is a good indication that it’s not serving as a genuine constraint.

Third, this notion of constraint is definitely outside my comfort zone for talking about play, where I prefer to stick close to “fictional causality,” an easy thing for me to see and feel. But now that you’ve pointed it out, there’s an obviousness to the notion when held up to actual play. 

And this discussion is starting to move toward “resonance” or “meaning,” right? You’re saying that even if the two PCs don’t have any relation of fictional causality, the mere fact that there’s another person present at the table and another agent active in the fiction, results in an enrichment of the verbal space of play.

Ron Edwards's picture

I found the comment where my notions of constraint are reasonably well-articulated, from last June.

For anyone who reviews it, please consider the point that this concept is rooted in a specific intellectual and scientific discourse. It does not specifically indicate reduced options or range of action. It's called constraint because any given moment of [options+range] is non-infinite, or rather, so non-infinite that it can be identified as a "shape" or "profile" of current conditions.

Therefore, saying "the constraint" indicates the current options and range of action, as opposed to whatever was previously the case, and as opposed to whatever may be the case later. This current profile may be either less limited or more limited than one of these. The point is that it is identifiable as a specific case and demands incorporation as such, in how you play.

noah's picture

This next random thought I’m going to put out cautiously, because I don’t want to confuse the process of making fiction with the product of that process. I know we’re talking exclusively about process here. 
But this discussion did make me start thinking about books, and wondering if any recent reading would show useful examples of 'triangularity.' 

I settled on The Fellowship of the Ring, which I read for the first time last month. Particularly the Moria sequence, which is a standout, definitely the caliber of fiction I’d like to produce in roleplaying. In that 80-page stretch, Gandalf continues to steal the show, but Gimli becomes a living protagonist (I could almost feel John Ronald Reuel sit bolt upright as Gimli leaps off the page and starts declaiming haunting poetry.) 

To restate your point about Theoxxa and Thirteen, Ron, and to think about how 'triangularity' doesn't require a relationship of causality, you could, conceivably, have a version of the Moria sequence with just Gandalf and no Gimli. The Balrog would still pursue the Fellowship, the bridge of Khazad-Dum would still get smote. But damn would you lose a lot of meaning and resonance by not having the triangle formed by Gandalf, Gimli, and the Mine itself.

Ron Edwards's picture

Maybe? Or yes, with the addition that this example seems obvious to me. Almost misleadingly so, because the characters are in the same scenes and responding to the same immediate concerns and spectacles.

Consider an example from the same story, referring to the literature not the films:

  • Individual decisions by Eowyn, Faramir, and Denethor pertaining to the battle at the Pelennor Fields, which, heroic as some of them are, cannot prevent Aragorn's battle force from being unquestionably outmatched later, at the Morannon.
  • Individual decisions by Frodo and Gollum which result in the Ring's destruction, which is desired by neither.

These decisions are made with incomplete information on all parts, on desperate hope at best, and in some cases, nihilistic despair (Frodo, Eowyn, Denethor). I.e., not tactical savvy and cross-location teamwork. Without each one, the Ring would not have been exposed to Sauron, the Nazgul would not have left the battle, and, in fact, disastrously, the Ring would have a new master rather than having been destroyed.

The characters are separated, not in communication, unable to make a known "best" decision, and subject to personal passions which are in many cases not particularly virtuous and certainly not in line with the original Fellowship's goals. The result is extremely coincidental, rather than planned or even conceivable by anyone involved.

Consider another example from the same story: the contrast between [Pippin's + Merry's trail of actions and decisions] throughout the story vs. [Frodo's], throughout the entire three/six books. The former is an ascent into nobility of spirit; the latter a descent into despair and - although this may hurt - the opposite of the Jesus-y heroic li'l hobbit image that Frodo seems to have gained in pop culture.

These occur in fully separated parallel with one another and don't intersect in the direct, higher-scale, coincidental fashion as the first example. They definitely do not form an explicit fictional event in dialogue and within-scene contrast like the Gimli and Gandalf example. But they comprise the single most powerful lens of characterization in the story, from my point of view as reader which is, of course, not in the story.

All three match the point you're making, I think. Does that make any sense?

noah's picture

Ron, I hope you don't take my delay in replying for inattention. I really appreciate the depth of detail in your reply (and it makes me hugely excited to read the next two LotR installments).

I take your point about the almost misleading obviousness of this. While this notion of constraint is extremely obvious to me in the context of written fiction produced by a single author, it was not so obvious to me in the context of fiction produced by multiple participants in roleplaying. I find the idea that, even without a chain of fictional causality, my non-infinite moment of [options+range] is different because of the presence and contributions of others at the table very compelling. Maybe just because it was something I knew but hadn't articulated before. At any rate, I am on the lookout for this constraint now.

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