In which, Andrew Jones, runs his scenario a second time.
Continuum in Leicester is a convention known for its strong Chaosium focus; Dragonmeet, on the other hand, is a mix of a local gaming convention for London; and a trade show where gaming companies meet with their freelancers and would be freelancers, and plot and scheme for the next year ahead. Friendly, slightly chaotic, its not known for its Gloranthan gaming and yet my game sold out within the first afternoon of online booking. (I pleased to say there was other Heroquest sessions offered by The Coming Storm author Ian Cooper). The run up to the convention was a little chaotic- two of the players had to pull out thanks to real life issues but they were good enough to let me know in advance. Like half of the UK, I was nursing a cold that just wouldnâ€™t go away. So the first 20 minutes of the session was spent rounding up willing volunteers for the game and (temporarily) losing a player thanks to my forgetfulness.
â€œThe start was slowâ€¦.â€
Feedback from the players, reflected my own view, the start was slow- in large part because I had assumed the players would be familiar with the character generation as you go model, and as such I failed to explain the character generation properly. They felt confused and that they were missing the point. And then one player started to argue with the maths I was using to calculate the outcomes. Luckily another player, gently but firmly argued that you need to trust the GM in the session. Much of this was avoidable if I had brought greater clarity to the gaming table from the very beginning.
(I took few notes during the game, so details such as player character names are missing)
Andrew Smith played the trickster
Keary Birch played an Orlanth horse whisperer (strong in the beast rune)
Michael Cole played the Lhankor Mhy
Julian Hayley played the Orlanth everyman
The group decided they wanted their clan to be the archetypical Orlanthi cattle raiding clan- the one which believes all the cattle belong to them. On the grounds that no-ones chooses to become a trickster, I asked Andrew what his family was expecting him to become- he replied his Dad was a Humakti. I suggested that Dad was indeed a Humakti who had broken his geas of celibacy. With the Lhankor Mhy player, I suggested this was unusual for a cattle raiding clan, but not unheard of, and suggested his Dad was a Storm Bull who expected, nay demanded, his son follow in his footsteps. The Orlanth horse whisperer was following in the family line of horse breeding and our Orlanth everyman had to deal with over-protective parents after the loss of two older brothers.
It is 1625 and the group has been sent by the clan ring to a ridge where 3 dragonewts have been spotted. Their mission- to find out more. They find dragonnewts dancing around stones indicating its a dragonnewt road- long thought to have been broken in this area of Dragon Pass. The dragonnewts are acting strange even by their standards and the group start to experience dragonnewt conception of time and they start to experience:
1621- their initiation. The Lunar occupation had disputed the clanâ€™s initiationâ€™s ceremonies for some years, but the clanâ€™s ring was convinced that the day was of magical significance to Orlanth and Ernalda, so a multi year, multi god cohort of teenagers found themselves emerging from the clanâ€™s sweat lodge to have the runes their family wish them to acquire- such as truth and death for the son of the Humakti. Rituals are performed around the clan whyter, juices are spat upon them and the cohort is sent to look for the clanâ€™s symbol of power- a brand. At some point the group realise that something has gone wrong- strange? Theyâ€™ve lost sight of the other initiates, everything looks familiar and un-familiar at the same time; and colours are hyper real. They gradually realise they have crossed the threshold and are in the otherworld.
There is some discussion over whether they have horses- using his beast rune Kearyâ€™s character summons 3 fine horses and a donkey (for our emergent trickster). Our emergent trickster spots a circle of Humakti swords- marking where they had fallen. Deciding to violate the taboo against disturbing graves and removes the sword for himself. The spirit of the Humakti warrior is disturbed and challenges the lad, who successfully talks his way out of violent retribution and into keeping the sword. The Orlanthi both decide they too require weapons, the horse whisperer manages to take hold of a Humakti sword, but it is clear that he can use it but once.
Meanwhile our Lhankor Mhy PC is beginning to have doubts about the would be Sword of Humakt- how can anybody who steals a sword have a truth rune? He finds that the ladâ€™s runes are smudged and are starting to change. Suddenly the wind picks up and all around paper and scrolls are blowing past him. He manages to get his hands on two grimoires- one on Draconic nature and one on the Otherworld. In the corner of his eye, he sees a scroll on Trickster lore go past, out of his grasp, but its caught by the trickster (his player rolled successfully) who passes the scroll over willingly. Only the scroll disintegrates on touch, and the writing crawls over his hands and up his arms and then fades. The stuff of tricksters.
Meanwhile our other Orlanthi is increasingly aware heâ€™s a long way from home and he really, really, wants an axe to defend himself. Only he canâ€™t find one- until he comes across the piteous sight of man- clearly unquiet dead- carrying an axe. (At this point Julian asked the name of the dead man- only having coming up with the idea a few seconds before hand, I had no idea- which explains why he ended up called Tarsh). Tarsh had been killed by a dragonewt- overcome with fear he had fled but had been viciously killed anyway. He gives the axe on the promise that the young Orlanthi tracks down the dragonnewt and brings him peace.
They ride further on- lost. They spot in the valley below a group of men from a rival clan, heroquesting to damage our youthâ€™s clan by stealing 20 horses and the clanâ€™s brand. The horsewhisper successfully summons the horses to him, trampling two of the rival clan to death. The other two surrender and are branded as slaves, along with the horses.
They see the ridge with the shadows of the dragonnewts dancing- they get closer and see that the dragonnewt road is broken in 1621 and they begin to mend the stones. Before they finish, they discuss whether they are doing the right thing and then the world goes dark , all of them are overcome with dread and then the world is covered with the glow line. Something very serious and draft has happened. They look down from the ridge and briefly instead of the valley below they see the underworld opening up, scores of Lunar devils and Orlanth and Ernalda falling into a Lunar hell.
And then they see a valley below. There is discussion about taking the battle to the Dragonnewts and the Lhankor Mhy decides to make a feat to learn a new fact. He succeeds in tapping into his godâ€™s magic and wisdom and finds out 3 new facts:
- The last time the Dragonnewts were see dancing in such a way was the morning of Dragonkill 300 years earlier- this causes fear in him;
2, The new Lunar temple is due to be completed that very day in 1625; and
- Orlanthi hero questers have been working to raise a dragon to consume the temple.
Armed with his knowledge, the group resolve not to attack the dragonnewts and to find the final missing piece of the Dragonnewt road marker. At which point, the trickster announces that he has had it in his pouch all along (success from his player confirms this). THe road is complete and again and they find themselves in 1625 with dancing, confused, angry dragonnewts. They negotiate, pointing out that they repaired the road and a debt was owed. But that they would forgive the debt if the dragonnewt that had slain Tarsh would be brought to justice. The dragonnewts consider, then swiftly and violently kill one of their number- Tarshâ€™s killer- and continue on the dance and then disappear on the dragonnewt road.
In 1621, the group return from the otherworld- a few days have past and has the Storm Bull father been crying? Nobody is prepared to sayâ€¦ There is a mixture of emotions from the clan- they are glad that the young men have returned. The horse whisperâ€™s return is simplest to celebrate- he has brought back the clanâ€™s sacred brand, 20 magical horses and 2 slaves from a rival clan. Truly something to celebrate.
The other Orlanthi has come back with an axe which continually drips blood- a sign that he will be/ is a mighty warrior in a time when its clear that the gods are no longer with the clan.
The Lhankar Mhy lad has come back with a full beard, some scrolls and the ability to fluently read all three magical scripts. After some discussion it is agreed to sponsor the lad at the Jonstown library, on the condition that he regularly returns to the clan to share knowledge. Its an unusual arrangement, but having a Storm Bull negotiator helps with the Jonstown library.
The Trickster causes the most issues- a vicious brutal death would normally be most appropriate- but he came back with a Humakti sword and found the Dragonnewt runestone. The Clan Ring resolves the issue by bringing him onto the Clan Ring- being both the safest option and highly risky.
And all of the group have their runes burned into their skinâ€¦
In 1625, the group returns to the clan lands- a huge dragon has filled the sky and all are full of fear, but the clan survives to face the uncertain times ahead.
So just how improvised was it?
Having run the scenario before, I had some additional story beats I wanted to achieve. The cyclical nature of the Dragonnewt road had been purely improvised in Leicester; in London it was a preferred ending. The theme of parents being disappointed in their childrenâ€™s rune calling was something I wanted to explore with the more unusual choices. So, while I had no idea that Michale Cole would want to play a Lhankor Mhy, I knew if I did have such a character than Dad would be a Storm Bull. But most was improvised
For running the heroquest and crossing the threshold, a big influence was the King of Dragon Pass game by David Dunham and Robin Laws for that almost like home, but not quite feel I was aiming for. Another influence on the parental relationships and boons was the 13th Age concept of â€œOne Unique Thingâ€- the aspect of a player character which makes them stand out. I actually met and chatted with Rob Heinsoo co-designer of 13th Age after the session and forgot to mention this to him. Oh well.
A final influence was on the dragonnewt conception of time. Having read a lot of time travel science fiction in my youth and brought on Dr Who, a non linear approach to time was not novel to me. The work that had most influence on me was Alan Moore and David Gibbonâ€™s Watchmen and the character of Doc Manhattan who gradually loses his humanity the longer he experiences living his life all the time.
Players are lovely, you should trust them.