"The legions of the Reaching Moon came a generation ago, desecrating our temples, destroying the Old Ways. In the lowlands and the towns, the hand of the Red Emperor is at the people's throats, but here in the highlands we still live free as the wind that roars over the mountain peaks. We are the Haraborn of Black Stag Vale, and our clan has outlived false gods, Western sorcerers, and the lies of dragons. The Red Moon now thinks she can break us, and bend us to her filthy foreign ways. I say Shepelkirt is wrong. When Argrath comes as prophesied, and tears the Red Moon from the sky, we will still be here, faithful to our gods, loyal to our ancestors, and mindful of the ancient ways..."

- Joddi White Hart, Haraborn Lawspeaker

Sunday, January 8, 2012


I wrote the following some time ago as part of a review of the Mongoose product, "Magic of Glorantha." Thinking on conversations with my players, I wanted to re-post it here;


The hallmark of all great fantasy is a strong, overriding world view. I was tempted to employ the more useful term “paradigm” in the heading, but to avoid Mage: The Ascension associations opted against it. But the fact remains that the truly enduring fantasy worlds all have a paradigm which informs them, a lens through which the setting understands itself. Perhaps it is because of our sympathy for certain paradigms over others that different people find themselves attracted to different settings; they show us the world the way we choose to believe it really is.

Consider Tolkien. Middle Earth is a world which has an absolute truth. Eru created the world, and those who live in accordance with the “mind of Eru” are good while those who go against it are bad. Goodness, truth, and righteousness are the rewards of those who side with Eru and the Valar. Those who defy Eru, from Melkor and Sauron right down to the Easterlings, fall into error and ultimately suffer. This is the kind of absolutism offered by Christianity, which is not surprising considering Tolkien's own devout Catholicism.

On the other hand, we have Howard. Howard's Hyborian Age has no absolutes, no good, no truth, and no real evil (its demons may be alien and inhuman, but don't qualify as evil the way Melkor does, because there is no absolute good to be the opposite of). The Hyborian Age is an almost Nietzschean paradigm where strength is the only real virtue.

Michael Moorcock offers a very different paradigm. His work seems to say that any absolute—in his case absolute Law or absolute Chaos—is intrinsically unbearable and that the only wholesome route lies through balance.

With this in mind, let's consider Glorantha. If Middle Earth embraces a single truth, Hyboria mocks truth, and Moorcock's Million Spheres seek a balance between truths, Glorantha says to us that truth is in the eye of the beholder. Truth exists, and can be obtained, but it is a cultural and—to an extent—personal truth not valid for everyone. Truth is a local, rather than a universal, phenomenon. For example, most cultures in Glorantha agree that there was a time when the sun disappeared from the sky. The Orlanthi say that the sun was a tyrannical emperor, and that mighty Orlanth slew him to liberate the cosmos. However, the sun-worshiping Dara Happans say Orlanth merely slew the solar emperor's son(the divine sun himself was far too great to slay), and that the solar emperor died of grief. Now, in any other world, we might just say that these too cultures have different beliefs and leave it at that. But in Glorantha, an objective third party—like, say, a God Learner—could go to Dara Happa, leave the mortal plane, and personally witness Orlanth slaying the solar emperor's son. The same God Learner could then go to an Orlanthi holy site, enter the Hero Plane, and personally witness Orlanth slaying the tyrannical solar emperor himself. In fact, he could get powers from participating in two contradictory myths!

Because of this, Glorantha embraces a pluralism unprecedented in other fantasy settings. Tolkien is culturally pluralistic, but his world operates around a single truth. Hyboria is also culturally pluralistic, but truth is ambiguous at best. And Moorcock may have a Million Spheres, but all are governed by the same struggle. Even Dungeons & Dragons, with its “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to setting design, still has the cosmic absolutes of law, chaos, good, and evil (lawful good is lawful good, from world to world and setting to setting). Glorantha is wholly relativistic.

This pluralism is not the result of a modern, politically correct, “accept all faiths” viewpoint, but rather indicative of the pagan attitude, which is wholly consistent with the mythic, bronze-age world Glorantha portrays. When we examine the religious attitudes of ancient Mediterranean and Near Eastern cultures, for example, we find that they are perfectly aware of foreign gods, and accept their existence, but view their own deities as being more central to their lives. A clear example can be found in the Ten Commandments of Hebrew scriptures, where Yahweh tells his people “I am your God, and you shall have no other gods before me.” Note he does not say, “I am the only true God, and all other gods are false.” This attitude did not appear until late antiquity, a period which falls long after Glorantha's scope.

From a Gloranthan viewpoint, therefore, the natural way of things is to stick with your own gods and truths, but be aware that other equally valid realities exist. Whenever, in Glorantha, a culture violates this rule, they are made to pay. This theme was certainly present in previous incarnations of the game—for indeed, the great crime of the Lunar Empire was to attempt to impose its own view of the world on all surrounding cultures—but it is far more clearly articulated here in the Second Age. Both the great empires of this age are guilty of trying to impose their beliefs upon others...and this will be the downfall of both.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

HEROQUEST EPISODES: "The Talking Animal"

These Episodes can be used as random encounters, plopped down on a map at a specific location for more "sandbox" type campaigns, or strung together to create longer stories. Each is adaptable to any level of play.


* Begin With: This event is usually triggered in a remote location, such as the mountains or wilderness, but could really be set anywhere (a classic RuneQuest scenario started in the city of Pavis with a talking fish speaking to the players from the Zola Fel River). Regardless, the players encounter and animal and it starts to speak...

* The Situation: The characters encounter a sentient, speaking animal with its own goals and agenda. The creature A) has something it wants and B) something to offer in exchange. For example, the players encounter a white stag in the woods that asks them to hunt down a local wolf pack that killed the doe he loved. In exchange he leads them to a magical spring with healing waters. Or, as in "The Treasure Hunt Rite," a sly fox offers to help the characters rescue Sartarite captives in exchange for a hunter swearing to give up hunting game. Talking creatures are obviously magical and otherworldly, and should not be bargained with lightly.

* Characters: The Talking Animal. Almost any type works fine. Narrators may chose to go with established stereotypes (the wise owl, the sly fox, the hungry wolf) or play against them (the cowardly lion). The animal should have a Keyword with appropriate abilities, and possibly the Beast or Spirit Runes. For example;

Latharn, the Fox
Fox 17 (Break-out abilities; Hide and Sneak 3w, Tracking 20, Bite 14, Sly 6w, Trickster 3w)
Beast Rune 14: Latharn is a follower of Hykim and Mikyh, the Father and Mother of Beasts, and can use his Rune to augment his other abilities (+2 bonus) by spending a minute concentrating and reciting an invocation to them in beast speech)

* Short Term Goal: 1) The Animal wants the PCs to spare it, and will perform a service for them in exchange. 2) The Animal needs a favor (a predator hunted down, a lost cub recovered).

* Long Term Goal: To survive, have offspring, and prosper.

* Scenes: The player characters encounter the beast, converse with it, and either accept or decline its offer. Then each side fulfills their end of the bargain.

* Conclusion: The players gain some magical benefit or the animal as an ally or follower (a Hero Point must be spent to cement this trait for more than one use). For example, after helping a falcon find its stolen eggs, the creature offers to aid the player characters anytime they call upon it...a Hero Point cements this as Falcon Ally 13, otherwise it will perform one favor and be gone. On the other hand, if the PCs break their end of the bargain, the creature may plan some form of revenge in the future...

EPISODE ONE: The Treasure Hunt Rite

* Episode Type: Quest.

* Begin With: The date is Windsday, Movement Week, Storm Season, 1617 ST. The characters are all boys who have turned fifteen the last year (all were born in 1602, the year Boldhome, the capital of Sartar, fell to the Lunars) and are now eligible to undergo the manhood rites. Their parents bring them from all across the tula (the lands belonging to the clan) to Black Stag Village, where all the boys will enter initiation together. Those who survive will be recognized as men, no longer boys, with all the rights of Heortling men.

* The Situation: This is the first scenario, and includes actual character creation. Before play begins, the players should all choose a first name, and receive the Clan Haraborn Keyword. As the story progresses, they will add an Occupation Keyword (choices are provided below), three Runes, and six additional Abilities of their own devising. The quest they undergo is simple; they are sent out into the world to bring back something for the benefit of all the clan. What they return with, how they get it, and what they experience along the way will begin to define the kind of men they will be.

* Characters/NPCs: The story is about five candidates for initiation. These are Varandath Vankoratson (Guillaume), Finistan Hantrakoson (Niall), Gronogar Ulugathson, Jornin Dondarson, and Irigan Farnagarson (three NPCs).

* Short Term Goal: To go out into the tula, or beyond, and find something of value to prove their worth as men.

* Long Term Goal: This will depend on the players, who decide what their characters want. Among the NPCs, Gronogar is a bit of a coward who conceals his fear with bravado and bullying. He wishes to prove himself brave. Jornin lost his father at the Battle of Grizzly Peak, and is a quiet and somewhat feminine boy who secretly longs for revenge against the Lunars. Irigan is a bright and curious lad whose main interests are in lore, tradition, and verse.

* Scenes:

1. Family: We are introduced to the two player characters, who now decide what family they belong to and thus receive their Occupational Keywords;

Farmer #1: You are a Koravaltson. Your father, Ostgar, is a prosperous carl with his own farmstead hidden in a small valley west of Black Stag Vale. He is the eldest son of Ithgar, and inherited the farm from him, though he now shares it with his four younger brothers and their families. With all your aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins, and cottars in service to your family, the farmstead is home to 46 people. You raise barely, cabbages, and root vegetables, and own pigs, chicken, sheep, and 32 cattle (a sign of prosperity and wealth).

Farmer #2: You are a Thorbadson. Your father Adrin is a cottar from Jarlarant farmstead right there in Black Stag Vale. The Jarlarant are one of the most powerful families in the clan, with large herds and wide fields and several members who are weaponthanes. Your father, like his father before them, works in their service helping them plough the fields. He hopes someday to have land of his own.

Herder: You are a Korvaltson, son of Finvin, a cousin of Ostgar who is a cottar on his farmstead (see Farmer #1). You and your father tend to the sheep and cattle of the family, often sleeping alone and outside under the stars as you watch over them. You are self-sufficient and independent, and enter play with a pet alynx (or shadowcat) that helps you herd the animals.

Hunter: You are a Hantrakosson, son of Lonvast, and you grew up hunting on the eastern fringes of the tula. You hold cottar status, but have a pet alynx (or shadowcat) that helps you track prey. You know the wilder parts of the tula exceptionally well and have skill with a bow and sling.

Redsmith: You are a Vankoratson, son of Hrothkin Redsmith. You grew up in the Village and your father is a retainer to the chieftain and weaponthanes, manufacturing and repairing arms and armor for them. He also supports the farmer's, shoeing horses and repairing bronze implements. You have worked the bellows with him and learned much of his craft. You hold carl status.

Thane: You are a Barnestonson, son of Ulfrin. Your father is a weaponthane and one of the Chieftain's bodyguards. You grew up in the Village, where you mother holds a small home. Alongside spear and shield combat (fyrd fighting), your father has taught you the sword and the bow. You hold carl status.

Finistan choses the be a Hunter, and we learn that his mother died in childbirth. He has a somewhat cool relationship with his aloof and distant father. Varandath is the only child of one of the village's Redsmiths, and like his father is a large, brawny, and jovial man.

(During this phase I also asked the players to roll a die to determine which one would receive a special offer. Varandath one the toss and accepted my offer...which for now remains secret. Stay tuned.)

2. The Rite Begins
All the boys of age a brought to the Village. On the morning of Windsday, they are presented in the square, where their mothers symbolically bring them to their fathers and then ritually turn their back on them, marking that they are no long children. The fathers then lead them up to the chieftain's hall, where they are presented to the assembled clan ring. There, they are given a mug of mead while the skald tells them the story of the Treasure Hunt Rite;

"... This is how Orlanth became a man.

When it was time to become men, the sons of Umath and the sons of Lord Light came before the Celestial Court, and it was judged that they should go out into the wide world on a hunt. Each would return with a prize, and honor would be given to he who had hunted the most impressive thing. Now, the sons of Umath were clothed only in their own strength, cunning, and skill, while the sons of Lord Light were clad in armor of gold, given chariots with shining wheels and fiery steeds, and shining bows that rained arrows of fire. For the Bright Emperor owned just about everything, and had much to give them.

And so the Fire Brothers rode off and the Thunder Brothers trailed behind, and both parties went into the wide world to find something grand and great


After some time Orlanth and his brothers came upon the Honey Woman, the keeper of the hives. She had many fields that needed ploughing, and no men to help her. So she offered them whatever they wished if they would harness the oxen and plough for her. Humakt refused, for he had little interest in farming. Orlanth agreed, but asked for nothing, because he knew it was right for men to plough just as it was right for women to attend to other chores. However Urox, the Storm Bull, had spied the sealed jars of honey mead the woman had brewed, and asked for these in payment. And when the work was done he drank and drank and drank some more, and was so drunk he lay with all the cows in the herd and gave them many many calves. These are the famous Black Bulls, such as Grim Bellow, the prize of our own herds.

So Orlanth and Humakt went on alone and had many adventures, too many to tell you all about here. But in time they came upon the Summer Sisters and their children. Their men, the Star Captains, had gone off to help the sons of Lord Light in their hunt, leaving them alone and defenseless when a company of Ice Demons came howling upon them. And they begged Orlanth and Humakt to help them. Humakt agreed, for he knew much honor could be won in proving himself against such terrible foes. Orlanth agreed also, because he knew it was the duty of men to protect the women and children. So they fought together and chased the Ice Demons back to the mountaintops. Humakt stayed in case they returned and Orlanth went on alone.

And so in time Orlanth came upon the camp of the sons of Lord Light and saw they had gathered many fine treasures. They had captured griffons with bronze wings and tin claws, they had caged a dragon with scales that rippled like burning coals. They had found the Seven Song Jewels and the Sweet Green Water. And they had taken captive a herd of creatures Orlanth had not seen before, like unto the gods in shape but smaller and more frail. And when the sons of Lord Light fell asleep, having drunk much plum wine in celebration, Orlanth snuck into the camp to speak with these strange creatures. They called themselves "men."

In lowered voices they spoke to Orlanth, and told him that the sons of Lord Light had come upon them and captured them in an unbreakable net, taking them away from their families. Orlanth listened, and judged these men to be noble creatures, and so he stole the keys from the sleeping Fire Brothers and set all the men free. For he knew that slavery was wrong, and that men must be as free as the wind that blows over the mountains.

And so the hunt ended, and Orlanth returned with the sons of Lord Light (who with all their treasures barely noticed the absence of their captives). They all came before the Celestial Court, and the Bright Emperor praised his sons for their magnificent prizes. But when it came to be Orlanth's turn, he appeared empty handed. "Not so," spoke the son of Umath. "I have come with the three gifts of manhood. I have ploughed the earth, I have fought to defend women and children, and I have brought Freedom. Surely these are better than pretty toys?"

And Umath was pleased with his son, and so too was Ernalda Earthdaughter who watched from afar. But the sons of Lord Light mocked him, and the Bright Emperor scorned his gifts. And this was a matter that would be settled another time..."

The boys are then brought to the top of Stag Hill. Along the way, many people line the path with torches and solemnly watch them pass. At the top of the hill they are stripped naked, and smeared with woad. Then they are given their first real shields and spears, new clothes, and sent out to find treasure for their clan. They have three days to scour the land, and what they come back with will tell what kind of men they will be.

Such is the effect of the rite that they are in fact partially HeroQuesting. Though they are here in the mortal world, their minds and spirits skip across the Hero Plane like stones skipping across a pond. Thus, for these three days, they will see visions and omens showing them what it means to be Heortling and teaching them who they are.

3. The Choice
The quest itself should be left open-ended. To that end I have prepared a dozen or so Episodes that I can use when needed throughout the campaign (I keep adding to the list, and most of them will eventually appear in print here). The two most likely choices were a cattle raid against the neighboring Enjossi (an allied Colymar Clan) or the Sambari, who have allied with the Lunars in exchange for being given the fertile lowland valley of Richberry Vale. The other option is to raid and rob some Lunars on the King's Road that runs through Richberry Vale from Boldhome to Wilm's Kirk. The players chose this option.

This involved a day's trek down out of the mountains into the Sambari lands of the Vale, with challenges like hunting and foraging for food (Base Resistance 14 vs. Hunter Keyword or Clan Haraborn Keyword at a -6 penalty), approaching the King's Road undiscovered and unseen (Low Resistance of 8, as these lands are broad, woody, and wild), and setting up watch over the road to find a good target.

The characters set up watch over the road for the day, keeping track of Lunar patrols, and avoiding the better armed caravans. Their chance came when then spotted a Lunar bounty hunter with four retainers, leading five Sartarite men in slave collars. These men were probably bound for the new Lunar manors on the western slopes of the Quinvins, which are manned chiefly by slave labor. The players decided to free them.

4. The Ambush
The players decided to set up ambush, and scouted the road for the best place to position themselves (Resistance 18, with the following results, Major Failure -6 to gaining surprise, Failure -3 to surprise, Victory +3 to surprise, Complete Victory +6 to surprise). Though they scored a victory, they had unfortunately waited too long, and the target party had already set up camp for the night half a kilometer from where they lay in wait.

5. The Fox
This was another Sub-Episode ("The Talking Animal," detailed in another post). While they wait in the dark, a voice calls out to them. It turns out to be a talking fox, who wonders why five human boys are hiding out in the cold. Of course he has already guessed, and informs the boys that the other party is already camped. He offers to assist them in exchange for a vow from Finistan to never hunt animals again. This is a weighty promise for a character whose father is a Hunter! But Finistan agrees (with consequences that will play out later). The fox leads them to their quarry and helps distract the men while Varandath sneaks into camp and sets the prisoners free.

6. The Rescue

There are four Mercenaries (Keyword 20 each) and a Lunar Bounty Hunter, Frithvold Jarantius, a Tarshite (3w1). He is a devotee of Yanafal Ta'arnils (20) and can use magic that augments his scimitar fighting for a bonus of +4. The others have common magic that does the same, but for a +3 bonus. There are five prisoners in slave collars, magical devices used by Lunars that sap the will to fight). Confronting them directly was very difficult, and there is a very real danger of Lunar patrols arriving to step in. The best chance was to employ cunning, and this is what the players did. Using the fox to lead the men away from the camp long enough to stage a rescue and flee into the woods.

* Consequences: The boys were lucky and did very well, escaping with the prisoners without a fight. But the consequences are many. First, Finistan has his promise to the fox to consider. Second, Varandath experienced a vision during the raid that hints at the strange ability he was offered at the start of the scenario. Third, who are these men and what consequences will their presence in the tula bring? And finally, Jarantius will be very interested in finding out what happened to his bounty and who robbed him of his prize...

EPISODES (An Overview)

The first session of "Three Seasons in Sartar" kicked off yesterday with "The Treasure Hunt Rite." While the next post will detail the scenario and how it went in play, a brief entry is needed to explain the format of these episodes and how challenges are designed.

* Episode Type: What is the overall gist of the Episode? Common Types include Assistance, Attack, Nuisance, Quest, and Test.

* Begin With: How does the Episode start? How are events triggered?

* The Situation: What is going on here? Is it more than meets the eye?

* Characters/NPCs: Who are the main characters and or or antagonists?

* Short Term Goal: What is the immediate objective of the players? What are the objectives of the NPCs?

* Long Term Goal: Are there any longer range objectives involved? Are there any future consequences?

* Scenes: “Begin With” is always the first scene, followed by two to four others depending on desired length.

* Conclusion: What are the rewards, results, and/or consequences of the Episode?

In addition to this framework, in any given scenario there will be a Main Episode and possibly one or more Sub-Episodes. Sub-Episodes are essentially "mini-adventures" that occur within the context of the larger tale.

Assigning Resistances

The second edition of HeroQuest uses a simple method of assigning Resistances based on the experience of the player characters and how much of a challenge the event should be. Narrators will have to adjust their Episodes accordingly. For example, if the episode involves conflict with Trolls, for beginning characters these should be minor trollkin with abilities in the 8 (low resistance) to 20 (high) or 3w (very high) range. For seasoned characters, who have played about 10 sessions, the antagonists would now have abilities ranging from 13 to 5w or 8w. These would probably be very skilled trollkin or lower powered dark trolls. Characters with a great deal of experience (say 20 sessions under their belts) would face resistances in the 18 to 10w or 13w range, and the antagonists would be more seasoned dark trolls, and so on.

The standard Resistances are;

Nearly Impossible: Base +W2

Very High: Base +9

High: Base +6

Moderate: Base

Low: Base -6

Very Low: Base - W or 6, whichever is lower

To determine Base Resistance, use a value of 14 and increase by +1 for every two complete sessions you have finished. For example, if you have played ten sessions, the Base is 19.