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.
- 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
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.
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…