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Regeneration at The Chimériades – a Game of HeroQuest Glorantha

Regeneration at The Chimériades – a Game of HeroQuest Glorantha

Last weekend, I attended the Chimériades for the 2nd time, a gaming holiday set in a Provençal castle at a two-and-a-half-hour drive from my place. An exceptional convention with a bit of an intimate touch, and always full of awesome guests of honour, like Jeff Richard and Ken Rolston this year.

The Chimériades are organized every other year, and two years ago, I discovered the world of Glorantha there. I won’t bore you with the details, but suffice to say that since then, I’ve tried to make my way into this world, managed to run some games, and even had a few people discover Glorantha as well.

So, for this 5th iteration of the Chimériades, I found it natural to give back what was given to me there, two years before, meaning I strongly felt like running a game of HeroQuest Glorantha. Besides, this convention was also going to celebrate Glorantha’s 50th anniversary. So I knew I had to be a part of this celebration somehow. What I didn’t expect though was to see five expert Gloranthans registering to my table (I had kind of actually expected them to run their own games). I have to admit that I got intimidated.

Then that daunting evening came, and due to logistical reasons, we had to start an hour later than scheduled. Everyone, myself included, was pretty tired, and we still had to create the players’ characters before our game. Let’s say that everything was there to start on the wrong foot.

But the contrary happened: I had the time of my life! Well, what I mean is that I tremendously enjoyed this game.

So, let me tell you a bit about what happened.

Our heroes:

—Sir Gareth, a jaded old knight, initiate of Humakt (played by Alex)

—Atouron, a drunken knife thrower, initiate of Eurmal (played by Eric)
—Lulu, a troll-loving farm girl, initiate of Ernalda (played by Emmanuel)
—Varanis Arandaughter, an avenging warrior, initiate of Babeester Gor (played by Grégory)
—Samara Ligne-Claire, an amazon astrologer, initiate of Yelorna (played by Jean-Paul)

Our spectator:

— Hervé, provider of learned advice to the GM

The premise of the adventure:

It’s the night of Winds Day, Death Week, Dark Season, 1621 ST at Whitewall. The Lunar troops, and more particularly the Lunar College of Magic, have launched a brand-new attack on the fortress, only to be thwarted again by the besieged, unknowing that behind those walls, there are only two dozen people remaining, while the rest have managed to sneak out

Actually, King Broyan and his own troops are hiding in a forest nearby, the Troll Woods, waiting for the Orlanth’s Ring to rise up again from the Underworld. At that moment, the Orlanthi’s magic would reach its apex, and the King’s plan to crush the enemy between the hammer and the anvil would undoubtedly succeed. What could go wrong when even the stars themselves are right?

The Adventure:

So, the characters, who belong to King Broyan’s troops, have been tasked to distract the Lunars while the rest is preparing their attack from the rear. And being in the Troll Woods, Lulu decides to call her trollinet friends to wreak havoc in the camp, but she only manages to reach a handful of them. However, this is enough to start a little commotion. Meanwhile, Atouron uses his Illusion Rune to amplify the sounds of the attacks on the fort, to focus the Lunars’ attention to what’s happening there. Varanis decides to slay the first Lunar she sees, an officer who just stepped out of his tent, and Sir Gareth takes put on the uniform from the dead body to give some random orders to the Lunars.

Samara, on her unicorn, Arthax, becomes increasingly worried as she notices that the Orlanth’s Ring should have already risen up in the sky. She closes her eyes and tries to look into the stars to see the future. She suddenly feels a dead wind, the earth decaying and falling down into darkness, chains of silver locked by the Moon rune, and all around, an ancient feeling of revenge on love spurned.

When Samara opens her eyes, she can feel that the wind has stopped. The planets from Orlanth’s Ring are nowhere in the sky. At the same time, the small clay amulet representing Ernalda that Lulu wears breaks from within and crumbles. Orlanth and Ernalda are dead indeed, and a grave danger threatens the Earth Goddess in the Underworld.

Our heroes then decide to undertake a heroquest to walk down into the Underworld, and to do that right away without reporting back to King Broyan. They go to the best place for that: a clearing in the forest with ring of statues depicting the Hendriking Kings, where they are buried. However, Lulu decides to use her Earth rune to find a hole between tree roots: without any effort, a huge tree replies to her by opening its roots like a woman opening her legs, and with a square as a gateway. In the meantime, Samara rides back to the Lunar camp, abducts a Lunar and slices his throat on the roots to pay for the crossing of the Styx with blood.

Descending a dark tunnel, they reach a crimson-purple-hued river, the Styx, with Jeset the Ferryman, a gaunt figure, waiting for them. The price for the crossing having already been paid ahead of time, they enjoy some quiet time basking in the darkness of the realm of the dead.

Sir Gareth prays Humakt, who gives him some insight on the presence of Nontraya, the Undead Emperor and his army of talokans, his demons.

Samara blindfolds herself and her unicorn, and reflects on the latest events.

Varanis dips her axe into the Styx and imbues it with the power of Death.

Lulu suddenly remembers, thanks to Sir Gareth’s insight, details of the Dead Point heroquest, and the necessity for Nontraya to believe Ernalda is dead, but also for her worshipper to her from Ty Kora Tek: ‘She sleeps, she is not dead.”

Atouron decides to catch some Stygian water in a little vial and suddenly, a scroll gets into it, like a message in a bottle. He takes it out and a huge ancient map with unreadable, watered down writing on it unfolds before them all. But none of them is able to decipher it.

Suddenly, they can hear a funeral at a distance, with cries, bells and chimes. There’s a procession slowly moving toward a huge gate, and all around, hills with figures on their top. Our heroes then land and getting closer, they can see an army of talokans, with, among them, ghosts and other dead creatures. Samara quickly understands that Ty Kora Tek has forged an alliance with Nontraya. Then a pale figure, Nontraya, mounted on a huge horned wolf gives his orders to his army, which rushes down the hill.

Varanis dashes to the nearest enemy, and Lulu calls on her Darkness rune to summon her troll friends. Suddenly, the sky in the Underworld breaks, rocks fall like the ceiling of a cave collapsing, and a horde of trolls fall down like rain. Before attacking Nontraya’s army, an Elder troll turns her head to Lulu and says: ‘you called us, there’s a price to pay’. Atouron decides to join the procession, when Samara reminds everybody of the heroquest: Nontraya and his talokans have to witness a dead Ernalda, which means they have to be kept alive.

That creates a huge internal conflict within Sir Gareth, an old warrior who has served Humakt all his life, who has seen everything and swore to Humakt to kill any undead he would encounter. But in order to achieve the heroquest, he decides to sacrifice his sense of community with the priesthood of Humakt. He thus manages to stand by the procession instead of taking the fight to the undead.

Stopping at the Gates of Death, Atouron can see Nontraya and his demons approaching. He decides to use his Illusion rune to enhance the appearance of death on Ernada, while seeing through it at the same time: a withered-leaved woman, chained with silver locked by the Moon rune, and with a pregnant womb, hidden by the Eurmali’s illusion though.

Nontraya asks his talokans to bear witness, and all agree that the Earth goddess is dead indeed before leaving. However, Ty Kora Tek still needs to say the words, and she will at one condition. Ernalda has kept escaping the clutches of death too many times, and one has to sacrifice themselves by passing the Gates of Death in order to save Ernalda.

Sir Gareth then steps in and passes the Gates of Death, which close behind him. Ty Kora Tek then whispers the words: ‘She sleeps, she is not dead.” At the same time, wails break the silence, and a flowery girl is born from Ernalda. This is Voria, the Goddess of Spring. Atouron leaves the map on the sleeping body of Ernalda, a map which is actually the Great Compromise and takes the baby girl with him back to the world of the living.

The Epilogues:

Back at the surface, each hero goes their own way.

Samara starts telling the legend of Sir Gareth to the rebel troops of King Broyan as an example of selflessness and bravery. And shrines in his honour start to be built along the roads.

Varanis adopts Voria and rears her with a vengeful spin to her education.

Lulu, holding on to her promise to the Elder troll, spends a few years among the trolls, eating like them, living like them, and the powers or her Earth rune and Darkness rune start to shift and replace each other.

Atouron gets back to King Broyan’s army and keeps getting drunk.

Sir Gareth, now dead, meets Humakt, who rejects him as his initiate broke his vows. The Death god tells him that from now on their links are broken and that Sir Gareth has to walk his own path. Our hero can then feel that above in the Dragon Pass, some people start to put their faith on him, and he turns into a minor god.

Conclusion of this whole post:

This is the 4th time I’ve run the Dead Point heroquest, with each time a new spin to the story, and I think that even though it’s far from being as satisfactory as I’d like this adventure to be, I lived an amazing gaming session, all that thanks to my fantastic players.

To be frank, I feel regenerated by this gaming session, by the smiles of my players, by the way, as the GM, I could dive into the adventure myself, immersing into the Underworld without drowning to death and getting back to the surface with a failed quest.

The Chimériades is a convention where good things happen and fantastic people meet to create amazing stories. And that was one of them, just one among many.

 
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Posted by on May 11, 2016 in Glorantha, GMing, RPG, RPGing

 

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GMing HeroQuest Glorantha – The Toena Clan, session 2

Gathering your group of players can sometimes prove a bit difficult, which explains the one-month gap between our first session and this one. And even when a date is set, no one can ever foresee any real life setbacks that would prevent one of them from playing. This is how we lost our sellsword for this session, as the Humakti mercenary got sent by King Ilgalad Trollfriend on a secret mission for the time being.

However, as we didn’t want to cancel this game, we decided to run a side quest aimed at strengthening the characters’ community, weakened by the fall of Whitewall but also by the death of Orlanth and Ernalda. Besides, the whole band of heroes would have had to wait for the Dark Season to undergo the Dead Point quest anyway.

As a side note, kudos to the player who helped me find the quest they would play. In a way, this means that the characters had quite a lot of agency in this session, a feature I actually enjoy in the games I usually run.

The cast

The heroes

  • Hegermast Sharp-Tongue, adventurous Orlanthi skald
  • Drake ap Quackford, haunted Humakti warrior, durulz
  • Therona, one-eyed Humakti huntress
  • Kestel the Frowning, cynical Humakti sellsword

The Toena Clan

  • Wealth                       18
  • Communication        09W
  • Morale                       12 (+6 at the end of the session)
  • War                           12W
  • Magic                         18

The story

1622 ST, Fire season. Drake, Hegermast and Therona are sitting by the fireplace, discussing how to best serve their community. The auguries have foretold a bad harvest this year, which will just provide enough food to sustain the clan. However, without the Storm god and the Earth goddess, the situation is unlikely to turn for the better soon. Therona has tried to hunt, but the game is scarce as well, and she barely manages to bring back enough food.

Saying that morale is low would be an understatement, and even though our heroes originally decided to undertake the Dead Point quest, King Ilgalad Trollfriend has sent Kestel the sellsword on a different mission while waiting for the Dark season, the appropriate time for this endeavor.

Without Orlanth and Ernalda to protect their clan and their tribe, Drake and Hegermast are discussing the possibility to undertake a heroquest that would lift up the morale of the Toena clan. Drake then suggests the barely known Humakt the Champion quest, which gives a new perspective on how Orlanth could eventually be given Death, Humakt’s sword, by showing respect to his brother.

The rationale behind this quest, as they manage to explain it to the clan’s Ring, is to form a bond with Humakt in the absence of other gods. The heroes’ goal is to turn the Toena clan into a stronger community, lift up the morale of its members, and ensure its survival. The Ring accepts this explanation, and will help them prepare the heroquest.

As they need to find a fertile place that saw a lot of death in the past, Therona secretly asks her ghosts to help her. They accept at the condition she helps them redeem their errors. The ghosts tell her that they are Sartarites who have been punished by joining the Lunars in slaughtering their kinsmen, and that they also felt the death of the gods. They want her to go to the Culbrea tribe and convince its king, Ranul Turn-Tail, to give up his alliance with the Lunars. Therona accepts the deal, and she returns to the others with the location they need.

Once there, with the Ring, some weapon thanes and carls, Drake puts his singing sword, symbol of his initiation to the Humakti mysteries, on the fertile ground, which symbolises Ernalda. Besides, Therona cannot see any ghost in this place, a sign that a clean death had been given here. As the clan’s wyter disappeared with Orlanth’s death, Hegermast calls his air spirit to represent Orlanth’s power. Stones are carefully placed on the field to represent graves, lines are traced to represent field plow lines, and everyone gathers at the center of the area to start the Humakt the Champion heroquest.

Roles are assigned: Therona puts on the mask of Humakt, Hegermast dons the mask of Orlanth, and Drake the durulz covers his face with the mask of human for all the casualties who will die during this quest. The landscape shifts and they find themselves on a mountain. The journey has started.

In the first step of the quest, Orlanth orders Humakt to give him his sword. His weapon thanes insist and throw in some comments to show that the Death God is no better than a thrall. Both gods battle for sixteen days and sixteen nights, the weapon thanes are killed, and Orlanth loses the contest.

In the second step of the quest, Orlanth comes back and demands Humakt’s sword again, this time by treating him like a cottar. The Storm god is also followed by cottars who are all killed by arrows, and interesting deviation from the original myth, which validates Therona’s use of her bow as an initiate of the Death god. Orlanth and Humakt fight for four days and four nights, and eventually the Storm god loses.

In the third step of the quest, Orlanth treats Humakt like a carl, and the death god still refuses his sword. Thanes and carls are killed, Orlanth is vanquished again, and a new enemy comes and attacked the Death god, a centaur duck – Drake using his Beast rune this time to represent a beastman. While the god and the beastman battle against each other, Orlanth, exhausted, can see from a distance that a wave of spirits of Darkness are lurking, waiting to attack them all, a part which clearly doesn’t belong to the myth.

Humakt beats the centaur duck and Orlanth admits the Death god is the greater warrior of the two. And then the threat of the Darkness spirit looms more closely. In a contest against the centaur duck, Orlanth manages to have the beastman swear an oath of loyalty to the Storm god, and the three of them rush to fight their new opponents. The centaur duck fights with his beak and hooves, Orlanth with the Voice of the Storm, and Humakt with his sword.

Finally, in the last sequence of the myth, Orlanth offers salt and water to Humakt, and offers him a seat in his Ring not as a brother, but as an equal, and as his Champion. The Death god can see the wisdom in this and accepts, ready to lend his sword. Then Orlanth asks to borrow Death, and Humakt accepts. For a very brief moment, the Death god can be seen in all his forms and glory at the same time, human, durulz, etc., as a sign that beasts and men stand equal in the eyes of Death. The rest of the ring cheers in celebration. Then the landscape starts to shift again.

Our heroes are back on the fertile land, and everybody can feel that Humakt has now joined them. An alliance has now been forged with the Death god, who offers protection as the clan’s champion. Hegermast wields Drake’s sword and he will keep it for their next quest as a sign of their new covenant.

Morale at Toena is on the rise again, and King Ilgalad Trollfriend orders the construction of a Humakti temple to celebrate this union. New initiates are to be formed there to prepare for the next war. (Morale as increases by 6 points as a direct effect of the quest)

Finally, Therona decides to overcome her fears and tell her friends about her ghost-sight. Drake and Hegermast consider her ability as a sign of a lack of clean death in the previous war, and not as curse. She tells them about her oath to the ghosts, and they all realize that if Orlanth and Humakt can change their mind, a king can also be convinced to change his friends. They clearly have a new mission now.

End of the session.

The game

Even though I’ve got mixed feelings about my GMing of this session as a whole, I must admit that in hindsight, I learned a lot about using the HeroQuest system, setting a game in Glorantha, and GMing in general. After all, I’d rather fail forward than keep a blind eye on my own failings.

The first point worth mentioning concerns semi-improv gaming in Glorantha. I know my players quite well. We’re used to playing other games together such as Hillfolk and Fiasco. Improvisation is one of our skills as players and GMs, and railroading isn’t usually something we’re concerned about. But despite all that, the beginning of our game was mostly dominated by the only player who knew enough of the setting to propose a course of action. My two other players were literally blocked.

Obviously, one could retort that being given enough info on the general situation in their clan, many things could have been done at a low level to help their community, instead of trying to undertake some heroic endeavor right on. And as soon as I started to say that to them, I bit my tongue and realized that I couldn’t expect any of my players to come up with any ideas when they felt so overwhelmed by such a gigantic setting.

Basically, the amount of background information on the setting is so impressive that the mere task of coming up with a decision can feel daunting. And without any clear landmark to anchor themselves to, they reached a point of player’s block. And the mistake is mine as I should have found a way to start our session on simpler premises instead of expecting my players to make their characters behave like heroes straight on.

Another point I learned with HeroQuest Glorantha is how to make railroading “unrailroady”. Running and playing a heroquest may represent a difficult task to gamers who are used to discovering the plot as it unfolds before their character’s eyes. Here, in this world, both the players and the characters are told the elements of the heroquest before undertaking it.

Technically speaking, in the specific framework of the heroquest, we all know, we the people around the table but also the heroes in our mind’s eye, what the steps are, and where it has to lead to. In a way, it might look like replaying a dungeoncrawl module to some. However, I was absolutely and positively surprised to see that the ritualistic aspect of the myths, plus the heroquesting rules in the HeroQuest system offered enough room for both the GM and the players to offer a refreshing narrative, joined with its own surprises.

To some of us, that was a whole new way to game, and extremely far from being unpleasant, as far as I’m concerned. We all knew the steps, but the goal and the roleplay definitely mattered in how the heroquest ran. Besides, this phase of our session showed me how decisively important bumping down a result with a mastery was.

Rulewise, this session also taught me the importance of the community creation rules as a compelling motivation that may drive the characters who can have an important impact on the transformation of their clan or tribe.

To conclude, running a session which was quite subpar in my opinion has allowed to me reflect on what I still had to learn on how to make my games more compelling and engaging, and not just with HeroQuest Glorantha. So even though I still have a lot to learn about running great heroquests, I’m really glad this experience taught me the basics of this peculiar way to game.

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2015 in Glorantha, GMing, RPG, RPGing

 

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GMing HeroQuest Glorantha – The Black Rock Clan, session 2

Two weeks after our first session, our group met again on Google Hangouts, except for one player who had to skip this session. This meant that Dubghall, the party’s trickster, was missing, probably called by Eurmal for some weirdly cryptic purposes. Besides, another player also couldn’t start on time either, and Flicker the huntress was scouting the area when the session started.

The cast

  • Tarak the Sly Skald, initiate of Issaries
  • Orlain the Novice Weaponthane, Initiate of Orlanth Adventurous
  • Flicker, the huntress, initiate of Vinga
  • Dubghall, the clan’s resident trickster, Initiate of Eurmal
  • Hindala, the compulsive shaman, Grazelander of the Golden Bow, initiate of Jardanroste Polestar

In the last session, our heroes had reached Alda-Chur and were getting ready to accomplish their mission.

The story

After discussing how to get into the city, the heroes decide to pass the main gate instead of sneaking in. There they are stopped at the gate by guards composed of Lunar spearmen and Sartarite soldiers who check the movements into and out of the city. Tarak the skald reveals they come from the Black Rock clan to show off his poetry talents. Hindala is declared as his muse and Orlain as his guard. The guards are suspicious as the Amad tribe is considered an enemy. But as they don’t really look threatening, they are let in.

When within the walls, they’re joined by Flicker the huntress who managed to sneak in unseen. They try to find a way to reach Brolankar. They know that he frequents a « library », but no one in the group knows what such a place is, as none of them has ever seen a scroll. After asking somebody in an inn and getting a answer, they decide to split up and explore the city.

Hindala walks to the Foreigners Quarter where she meets a childhood friend of hers, a woman called Braza, who is here to trade some wool and fabrics. However, she remains cold to the shaman as she doesn’t understand why she never came back to her people. Hindala understands that such things like friendship take time and hugs her before leaving.

Flicker walks around the Sun Quarter, with the Great Hall which is being rebuilt and made bigger to fit the ego of the city’s king, and the Bronze Palace quarter with temples to Yelmalio, the Red Goddess, the Seven Mothers, and also to the Lightbringers except Orlanth. Eventually, she manages to find the Lhankor Mhy temple, and also assess the security around all these buildings.

Tarak, followed by Orlain who guards him, goes to the Skald corner of the market place and recites a poem he’s just composed about his muse, Hindala the fair, and some trivialities on Alda-Chur. Orlain then spots some weaponthanes from Harvar’s inner circle who look at them, puzzled, and not really decided on what to do with them as the skald isn’t uttering any words of dissent.

The night is falling, the Red Moon shines in the sky and the heroes gather in the room of an inn. They all agree on having Hindala use her spirit magic again to see the whereabouts of Brolankar. She decides to invoke a spirit of Darkness. She dances in a spiral and the spirit appears. She bargains the sacrifice of insects with it, then chews and swallows some. The spirit leaves and at the very same time comes back through her mouth, letting her see what is happening now.

She can see the prince looked after by four Sartarite guards, in a library, reading scrolls. They signal him it is time to walk back to his quarters, which causes him to whine as he was reading an interesting treaty on the Lunar Empire. They get him to return to the Great Hall anyway.

Eager to take advantage of this opportunity, the heroes dash to intercept them, with Flicker taking another route to attack from the rear. They will fight them. As they arrive, Tarak’s alynx spirit shouts a deafening yowl that startles the guards, while Flicker shouts words about Moon spirits escaping from the temple, and madness flying in the air.

The Sartarites guards are shocked, surprised and at a loss. Suddenly, Orlain attacks, using his superlative agility. Brolankar crouches so as to avoid taking a blow. Hindala creates an air shield to protect Tarak, and in no time, three of the four guards are taken down.

Flicker tries to attack the last guard from behind but fails. Suddenly, Brolankar picks up a sword and slashes the guard’s back, taking care of him.

Now saved, the prince thanks them but tells them he cannot leave the city yet as Eulina, the daughter of the Tres tribe’s king, is still kept hostage and has recently been convinced to undergo the rites of the Red Goddess and become an initiate of her cult. Should the Lunars succeed, this would represent a huge blow to the girl’s tribe.

Hoping for the prompt return of their trickster who might come up with a crazy plan to save her, the session ends up in the street, with the bodies of four guards in the street, their mission partly achieved as they’ve found the prince but still need to bring him back to their tribe alive, and another urgent matter to take care of.

The game

With this second session, I managed to run the system a wee bit more smoothly than last time, although I still constantly need to check the tables in the HeroQuest Glorantha rulebook, and I still feel that my combats aren’t as engaging as they should be.

However, I am really glad to have the support of my players who can help me with optional rules I didn’t remembered, and relevant points that can improve our game. In a way, it feels like team work, and it is just the way I love my games to roll.

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2015 in Glorantha, GMing, RPG, RPGing

 

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GMing HeroQuest Glorantha – The Toena Clan, session 1

HeroQuest Glorantha - front cover. Copyright © 2015 Moon Design Publications - All Rights Reserved. Glorantha is a Trademark ® of Moon Design Publications

HeroQuest Glorantha – front cover.
Copyright © 2015 Moon Design Publications – All Rights Reserved.

It might have taken me several months to get to GM my first games of HeroQuest Glorantha, but I eventually managed to find two virtual tables on Google Hangouts. As a result, two campaigns have been started and set in 1621 ST, although both groups will play a different story. Out of convenience, I’ll call the first one the European group and the other one the North American group.

Yesterday’s game involved four players from the European group. Hopefully, our fifth will be able to join us for our next game.

The cast

  • Hegermast Sharp-Tongue, adventurous Orlanthi skald
  • Drake ap Quackford, haunted Humakti warrior, durulz
  • Therona, one-eyed Humakti huntress
  • Kestel the Frowning, cynical Humakti sellsword

The characters belong to the Toena clan from the Aranwyth tribe, which is openly rebellious to the Lunar Empire. Fort Toena, the tribe’s main stronghold, has been under siege for several weeks already, regularly attacked by regiments of Lunar soldiers and their allies, Sartarites from the Enstalos tribe.

The story

Today, however, the enemy is leading an all-out assault against the fort, and our heroes are on the battlefield when their story starts. Well-armored and well-armed, their opponents prove to be remarkable adversaries at the beginning of the battle. Drake the Duck runs straight to the captain of the Lunar regiment, as he wants to take him down and break the enemy’s morale. Hergermast, supported by his Air spirit ally, faces an antagonistic female Sartarite warrior, while Therona and Kestel oppose other Lunars.

At the beginning, only Drake and Therona prevail, whereas Hergermast and Kestel quickly realize that on such a battlefield, war isn’t always waged with pure strength, but with superior wits as well. However, Drake and Therona’s superlative show of mastery of the Death rune starts to make everyone feel that Humakt is on their side. Taking advantage of this situation, Kestel keeps taunting his opponent to distract him, while Hegermast, protected by his Air spirit, starts to chant songs praising Orlanth, the Lightbringers and Humakt.

The enemy’s morale is definitely on the wane, some of the Sartarite from the Enstalos tribe even surrender. However, the hardest blow comes when the Lunar captain’s soul is cleanly severed from his body by Drake, enveloped by the aura Humakt, with the form the durulz give him in their worship. The Toena clan is clearly victorious, when suddenly…

Silence deafens all the Sartarites on the battlefield. The sky goes dark, and the Red Moon glows darkly. The air is foul while the earth starts to die. Suddenly, a scream erupting from the fort breaks this moment of ghastly timelessness: “Orlanth is dead! Ernalda is dead! Whitewall has fallen!”

Tears start to flow on the face of the winners, while the vanquished enemy retreats victoriously, cheering. Using his Truth rune, Kestel understands that the world is dying around them, and something has to be done quickly if they want the clan, and the Kingdom of Sartar, to survive.

Therona, on her side, starts to see ghosts of fellow clan members recently killed on the battlefield, also mourning the passing of the gods. Then they look at her and warn her against the Foul Death that threatens the Earth Goddess’ journey to the Underworld. The huntress, who considers her ghost-seeing ability as a curse, doesn’t reveal what she’s just been told as she doesn’t want to be banished from the clan and lose the support of her fellow Humaktis.

They all walk back to the fort, where they are greeted by King Ilgalad Trollfriend himself. Their bravery is praised, even though joy is absent from his face. Understanding the importance of the situation, Drake the Duck swears an oath on the Truth rune that he shall undertake any quests necessary to find Orlanth and Ernalda in the Underworld to save the Toena Clan and the Kingdom of Sartar. The Truth, Death and Beast runes start to glow all around him, and impressed, King Ilgalad renews his oath of hospitality to the durulz.

Afterwards, Kestel the sellsword is given his compensation for his good services, but even though he doesn’t want to swear any oaths, he renews his contract with the clan to lend the King his sword again. Therona swears an oath as well, she won’t let the clan down.

Meanwhile, Hegermast the skald was trying to remember some myths revolving around heroic gods and the Underworld, and suddenly, words start to pour from his mouth as he goes on to recite the Dead Point myth. This is when they understand that Nontraya, the Undead Emperor, the Enemy of Life, is going to interfere with Ernalda’s journey to Hell.

At the same time, several priestesses of the Earth goddess enter the hall, devastated, with a broken statue of Ernalda, saying it broke itself from the inside, some dark energy oozing from the cracks. Our heroes understand the dire omen and decide to fix that situation by undertaking the Dead Point heroquest.

End of the first session.

The game

This first session started in media res during a final assault where the heroes were the defenders. And even though combat dominated two thirds of the game, such a long time devoted to physical conflicts helped everybody get the system correctly, and particularly to me, the GM. Fortunaly, one of the players who is familiar with the system brought in his invaluable help, which incredibly sped up the resolution of a lot of questions.

Being new to the HeroQuest system, I’ve still got to get all the ropes, which is never easy when you start a campaign with rules you don’t handle well. However, they sank in quickly, and I could also see that my players didn’t have a lot of difficulties with it. They quickly took advantage of the Hero Points, which turned the tide of the battle to their advantage.

Regarding the third part of the game, I felt it was important to show the players how tragic the fall of Whitewall was, but also its importance on all the Kingdom of Sartar. So even though they fought their own battle, far from the main event, that particular day had a dramatic impact on everybody.

Besides, knowing we would play with three Humaktis, plus an Orlanthi skald, I knew I had to find some Orphic myth in the Gloranthan lore to take advantage of this configuration. Without revealing too much, I’d say that the Dead Point myth is particularly appropriate here, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the path the characters will take.

All in all, it was a fantastic session that confirms what I thought from just reading the game: HeroQuest Glorantha is tremendously fun to run.

To be continued…

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Glorantha, GMing, RPG, RPGing

 

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Emotional engagement does matter – A review of Robin D. Laws’s Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha

Emotional engagement does matter – A review of Robin D. Laws’s Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha

Introduction

The object of this review, ‘Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha’ is a 34-page long chapbook written by Robin D. Laws as a fundraiser for the Kraken convention in Germany.

Developed from an idea originally pitched by Fabian Küchler, this very small and short supplement is actually meant to be guide to gamemastering in the world of Glorantha, and more particularly to the Heroquest Glorantha roleplaying game.

On a more personal note, I am fairly new to the world of Glorantha, and this is with very few expectations that I am going to approach this book. Basically, what I need for my future games can be summarized in two points: how to lay out a plot in Glorantha, and how to engage my players with this cyclopean setting.

 Plot structure

In this book, Robin D. Laws takes the screenplay approach and cuts a scenario in four distinct parts which will be made of obstacles:

  • The premise, or basically the problem that will get the characters to gather and to go adventuring together.
  • The point of no return, or the encounter that will definitely push the party forward.
  • The escalation, or an event that makes the party realize that things are much worse than they originally thought.
  • The resolution, or the final scene in which the heroes will have to shine and outdo themselves.

All these explanations are punctuated with many examples and also a couple of charts that greatly help picture the author’s point.

However, what I particularly enjoyed in his explanations is this push toward moderate improvisation, toward a better malleability in presenting the obstacles to the characters, but also toward more collaboration between the players and the GM, especially at the beginning of each session.

And this leads to the next part: players’ engagement in a game.

Emotional engagement

Many GMs can attest that there’s nothing worse than prepping up a game to finally have players who are not interested in what is going on in the session in the least. This is why all along this book, Robin D. Laws provides many pieces of advice regarding on how to hook up players in order to have them participate more pro-actively during each session.

And basically, it all revolves around the “emotional stakes” for each character, a central feature around which some of his other designs revolve around, like the Gumshoe system and the DramaSystem.

The bottom line is for the player to find a reason for her or his character to step forward and go on such or such quest, or adventure, instead of rejecting it. This would ultimately lead to having players be more pro-active during a session, and less submissive to events thrown at them by the GM.

But the author goes further in giving tips on how to modify already published scenarios by adding these emotional stakes into them in order to make them their own.

Conclusion

To conclude, Robin D. Laws’s Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha is a fantastic book that shines by its simplicity. Taking the screenplay approach of dramatic plot structure, this supplement is an amazing tool of new and veteran GMs to use in Greg Stafford’s world, but not only.

To be fair, in almost three decades as a RPGer, I’ve grown used to seeing and reading many of books on GMing advice, some which had been absolutely relevant to my needs and others which were definitely not what I needed.

But here, Robin D. Laws is offering us yet another proof of his talent. In 34 pages, he manages to harness and synthesize the few key elements a GM needs to keep in mind when running a game, mainly plot malleability and player engagement.

I thought I’d read a GM guide to HeroQuest Glorantha, but in fact I discovered what looks like an amazing digest version of Robin’s Laws of Good Gamesmastering, the 2014 reboot.

The points he develops in this chapbook are short, spot-on and clear. They manage to formulate the features I’ve way too often strived to put in my games in a very simple way.

I’ll finish with this: Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha is the GMing guide that all GMs need, for any kind of games, as beyond the plot construction structure advice it provides, this book focuses on and cares about the central element to any game, your players and everyone’s fun around the gaming table.

Visit The Kraken website to know more about this fundraiser: http://www.the-kraken.de/fundraiser.html

 
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Posted by on October 10, 2014 in Glorantha, GMing, RPG, RPGing

 

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Adventuring into the Guide to Glorantha – Review 01: Introduction

This blog post being the first in a series meant to review the Guide to Glorantha, I’m going to start with a bit of personal backstory. This might not be as interesting to you as it was to me to write. If so, please jump directly to the Guide to Glorantha – Introduction paragraph.

Besides, this series is based on reading the pdf files, which means I won’t discuss the physical aspect of the printed books.

Some completely unrelated backstory

It would have taken me 26 years in the RPG hobby to eventually discover what Glorantha was actually about. I was just a young French middle-schooler when I started roleplaying games, and around me, games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st ed), the Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Star Wars and James Bond were all the rage. But I could aften see intriguing covers labelled RuneQuest in RPG magazines. They looked glorious, and above all, they looked ancient.

Long story short, no one around me seemed interested, and as usual with social hobbies, I would go with the flow and play what was trendy at the time. I’ll spare you another fit of name-dropping, but let me just say that even though I had a real load of fun in all those years, I still missed the mythical aspect of heroism, and to me, they would all lack this very basic dimension that makes the “stuff of legend” be relevant.

Please, bear with me, I’ll get to the point real soon.

Fast forwarding: I was a college student in English language, literature and civilisation. I studied in France and abroad, my prospects suddenly broadening. I got introduced to ancient (Greek & Latin) works, to medieval and Renaissance works, to philosophy, psychology, anthropology, ethnology and criticism. Obviously, I did try to implement what I had learnt into my games. I utterly failed. Attempting to reproduce such structures in the established settings and games my groups and I would play at the time couldn’t just fit.

Then a couple of years passed, I lost my gaming groups and since then, the bulk of my RPG activities has been done in clubs, conventions and with my beloved “RPG Geek” community via forums and video chat. From the failure I mentionned above, I went on to discover many new games, in which narratives mattered, in which collective authority could be as important a system as dice rolling and tables. I also learnt to love again crunchy systems and find some creative freedom within.

Fast forwarding to May 2014: the Chimériades convention. I got to meet some very interesting people like Robin D. Laws, Jeff Richard, Charlie Krank and Fabian Küchler. I attended some panels evoking this name I had heard a quarter of century before, Glorantha. This pitched me this setting so convincingly that I decided to give it a try afterwards. This is when, and where, I found the first nugget of a deep, profound and rich lode of gold.

Consequently, I’ve decided to invest in this world and discover its books like an adventurer would with a foreign land. Hence this series of blog posts. As I’ll read the two massive volumes of the Guide to Glorantha, I’ll do my utmost to log my reviews both as objectively and subjectively as possible.

Guide to Glorantha vol 1 Front Cover by Jon Hodgson, Copyright Moon Design, LLC

Guide to Glorantha vol 1 Front Cover by Jon Hodgson, Copyright Moon Design, LLC

The Guide to Glorantha: Introduction

For starters, let’s have an overview of the books themselves. The Guide to Glorantha comes in two volumes of 402 pages each, the second volume continued the page count where the first leaves off. The layout is really simple and not intrusive at all. Considering how dense the amount of content is, a more elaborate layout would have, in my humble opinion, really hindered readability. The usual format is three columns per page, with recurring marginalia and inserts, which makes it actually really convenient to read on tablets and smartphones.

Concerning the artwork , the two volumes contain a real wealth of coloured and black & white pictures and maps. The illustrations don’t leave this feeling of being a means to an end. On the contrary, they integrate seamlessly to the sections they adorn. And the variety of subjects and styles seem to follow a clear artistic direction. They look informative as well as evocative.

I’d also like to mention this very detailed index at the end of volume 2, 45 pages actually. Indexes have recently become a concern of mine in a time when reading RPG books cover-to-cover has become a luxury I can hardly afford. And when I need to get some information during a session, the more comprehensive the book, the harder it gets to find such or such bit of rule without a proper index.

Now, let’s start the book itself. After a beautiful cover, the book opens on a strikingly beautiful credit page with “The Kalikos Hero Quest”, a stunning illustration by Mike Perry that throws me up upfront in the realms of the gods and mythical adventures. Then, after three pages of Kickstarter backer thanks, a table of content lists up what will be found in the first volume: cultures and Elder races, pantheons and history, and then more than 230 pages on Genertela, a very detailed description that actually continues in volume 2.

After a very nice foreword by Greg Stafford, in which he outlines the timeline between Glorantha’s early inception and the Guide itself, making it some valuable design backstory for people who are new to this world, we can move on to the Introduction chapter itself.

Not quite so actually. First of all, we have a very short description of the “world structure”, nicely illustrated by a map of Glorantha itself. The point of this description is to tell the reader that this world is unlike ours, that we’re in a different reality. I honestly think this preliminary step is necessary to avoid being dragged into some unnecessary “Earth’s logic” that won’t apply here.

Now let’s finish this first review with the Introduction itself. In this section of the Guide, the reader is given a 10-page overview of this world’s social structures, in terms of political and economical organisations, how the Heortlings (the “humans”) live with and through magic, Gloranthan warfare as well, and then how to implement the Guide into roleplaying games. But what struck me was that , beyond being written in an academic style and being laid out like a history book, giving me a feel that is completely different from the tons of RPG supplements I’ve ever read and beyond being beautifully illustrated, this introduction already starts to tell stories. We are already in the mythological aspect of the setting, adventures that will generate legends around the gaming table.

So to conclude this first review, I’d like to say that reading the beginning of the Guide to Glorantha was such a pleasurable experience that I’ve actually become regretful not to have delved into this setting earlier. Beyond its richness, the overall tone is itself enough to show that within the boundaries of a game, we can have the freedom to seriously play the anthropological structures of imagination.

And in a gaming industry that is perhaps a bit too abundant, it is refreshing to see enduring worlds that are served such a refreshing book like the Guide to Glorantha which reaches out both to the established Gloranthan scholar and to new explorers.

Let me tell you then how much I’m looking forward to reading the next parts about the major cultures, the Elder races and the pantheons, and most of all to sharing my experience with you in an another review.

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in RPGing

 

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My love story with atmospheric RPGs

When I started this blog, I didn’t realise how true the adjective “slothful” would ring. Seven months elapsed between my very first and only entry and this one. Oh well! It’s never too late to get back on track, and as I was more feeling like writing a blog entry than actually saying anything relevant and mind-blowing, I’ll start from the base and talk about the games that have changed my perception of the roleplaying game hobby in its entirety, not just in terms of game design but also in terms of social dynamics.

However, I won’t dwell too much on systems although they’re an inherent part of what makes a game appealing to such or such players, or be a real turn off to a good chunk of other RPGers. So let’s start with a category of games that has taken a big importance in my life as an roleplayer: atmospheric RPGs, games that create an ambiance, an atmosphere to the point of falling in love with some of them, such as the three I’ll comment below.

Let’s then start with what I’d call atmospheric games, RPGs that create an ambiance which is as important as the game objectives themselves.

Les Chroniques des Féals: I must admit that for a long time I was kind of biased toward the French RPG industry. I didn’t feel like I was the good target audience for our national production. And I discovered Les Chroniques des Féals. Adapted from Mathieu Gaborit’s eponymous trilogy of novels, the world underwent a full development for the RPG and the dark atmosphere of impending doom from the novels was increased hundred-fold. The first time I played this game, as a player, I knew I had found a one-of-a-kind gem, the RPG I would eventually come back to for years. I truly fell in love then.

The characters are mimetics, people blessed by their gods, the Féals, formidable creatures inhabiting the W’Orld and who watch over the people they had chosen at the beginning of time. Pegasi, Phenices, Griffins, Dragons, etc. are neither myths nor beasts to be disposed of, but are subjects of worship and provide gifts to some they decide to bless. Mutations ensue, and although they become closer to their gods, and are revered for that, they also become outcasts. But the actual threats come from the Carrions, dead people fighting off death through the power of Bile, and the Nothing, the actual end of all things set to occur real soon, and the enemy that the characters will be pitched against, eventually.

What Les Chroniques des Féals taught me was to install an atmosphere of oppression around the table, and to drive my players to work together beyond their cultural and ideological differences. But most importantly, this game actually taught me that you could instill a real poetic dimension into your scenarios, an aspect that dramatically participates in bettering my narration and storytelling skills. It was indeed real love at first sight!

Monsterhearts: I’m not a bitlit fan, nor am I into teenager literature. I don’t think I’ll ever willingly watch one of those movies or TV series with sparkling vampires. However, I truly believe that Monsterhearts is the kind of narration-based RPGs that deserves some real praise for how it shifts game objectives.

In this game, you can play high-school teenagers who are actually monsters, and who hide for fear of being treated differently. Their urges are often what drive their actions, such as the need to belong somewhere, sexual desires, but also personal angst, and everything that most of us went through when we were kids.

So what Monsterhearts truly taught me was that looting treasures, unfolding thousand-year old conspiracies and heist might well be fun, but playing a “normal” teenager was as well. It created a real window to my past, but also to a world that surrounds me. We tend to forget that what mattered to us back when we were teenagers kind of determined and forged who we are now. Basically, Monsterhearts made me even more tolerant of difference than I assume I already was. In a way, it may well be the kind of game that could make people better.

Night’s Black Agents: To be honest, I came a bit late to the GUMSHOE games, but for a long time I had been looking for a game that could provide me with all those sensations I really enjoyed back when I was a kid playing the James Bond 007 RPG and discovering all the movies at the same time. Then thanks to a timely Bundle of Holding, I discovered THE game and THE system that would actually provide me with everything I needed to run spy stories with the supernatural twist of my choice.

Basically, Night’s Black Agents allows you to play “burnt” agents who are pitched against a “Conspiracy” orchestrated by vampires in the background. But there’s more than meets the eye here! This game is a real toolbox that enables the GM to create their own Conspiracies, their own vampiric societies, and more importantly, their own vampires with the origins they want. This game is basically hard-boiled investigation with bloodsuckers behind.

Like both games above, I really fell in love with Night’s Black Agents. It showed me how a point-spend system could drive narration and action both at the same time. But the unexpected quality I’ve found to this game is that it also drives me to search for geographical and historical details of the countries and regions the agents will be thrown into. And this combination of entertainment and education is what makes the difference to me. Knowledge through bad-ass action? Who knew?

As a last word, I’d like to say that there are many more games that would fit to the “atmospheric RPGs” category as I’ve tried to describe above, but the three games that made my shortlist were really the ones that changed my opinion on some aspect of our hobby, but which are making me a better GM and a better RPGer as well.

Our hobby is like any other one, there are strands within it and its users and consumers prefer one aspect over others. To me, narration but also providing an entertaining story to my players are primordial. I don’t expect any of my players to become storytellers though, I just want to offer them the means to experience exceptional games but also some tools to be pro-active parts of these stories, and these three games are just the perfect tools for that.

Next time, hopefully not in seven month, I’ll discuss another aspect of the RPG hobby that has also changed the way I GM and play: “improv games”.

Links to the RPG Geek database:

Les Chroniques des Féals
Monsterhearts
Night’s Black Agents

 
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Posted by on March 29, 2014 in RPGing

 

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