Casting Runes 6: A Season for All Things – Session 1 Recap

This post continues the exploration and implementation of RuneQuest 6th Edition for the creation of a sword and sorcery campaign setting.

Phase one of implementing the campaign has gone far better than I hoped. I was able to connect with a few good gamers via the G+ Community: Tabletop Roleplaying – Asia-Pacific, and build a group within 1 time-zone of each other, with the same nights of the week free, who are also compatible as fellow players. What are the odds?

We have three players, representing two of the available types of sentient being (Human and Plenthan), and three different cultures.

  • Wakefield, a human sailor from a free port near the frontier of human expansion
  • Gorwyn, a human cultist/slave from the dominant human kingdom,  bound to the protection of a noble client (now horribly deceased)
  • Turged, a Plenthan Aristocrat in near-exile/on a pilgrimage to prove his heretical views are correct

Prior to play, we met three times online. First was to establish the group, look over the rules, and agree to or modify the premise. The second meeting was to go over character creation, and get people talking about ways they could link the personalities of their characters despite starting the game as strangers. The final meeting before play was to review the characters and the rules which related to their special characteristics and plan out the logistics of play.

Session One: Exposition Galore

The players had had the opportunity to acquaint themselves with broad strokes of the setting and the campaign’s launching point. While this helped shape characters and reduce the amount of blather from me needed in the first session to set things in motion, exposition was still very much with us.  Before we started, players were given their own maps of the known world, one with few labels, and one labelled from the point of view of a citizen of a major human kingdom. They were encouraged to communicate and pick out their home regions and add details such as small communities, add different names to other territories to reflect social and linguistic differences, and think about their home customs – such as greetings and body language.

The player of our Plenthan developed an aristocracy and a small, but growing heresy in the ranks of his people. The player of the slave created a form of bonded service tied to a mystery cult in the heart of the major human culture. The player of the sailor created island communities of smugglers, pirates, privateers, and entrepreneurs on the outskirts of civilization and colored it with a growing philosophical movement which at one extreme doubts the gods are real, and at another states humanity does not understand its relationship with supernatural forces.

Play began with the characters as part of a pilgrimage from the High Temple of All Faiths in the Holy City. This once-neutral city, dating back beyond human records, has fallen under the ‘protection’ of the expansionist Aelroth kingdom, whose leading families challenge their gods with their dreams of empire, and their encouragement of science. While the neutrality of the Holy City has been maintained, the influence of the King of Aelroth is growing and unmistakable. Perhaps one of the few traditions which remains untouched is that of the pilgrimage of which the characters are a part.

Players were aware that we would be starting the game with a climactic event in the Desert of Screams, but to warm everyone up and start establishing IC responses and thinking, we opened with a few short framing scenes to give a sense of scope, scale, and momentum to what would follow.

The long journey across most of the known lands of the Firmament known to most cultures simply as ‘the pilgrimage,’ begins in the great Arena beside the High Temple and travels through safe lands and treacherous to end at the Temple of Ascension in the glittering diamond sands of the Desert of Screams. Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, seek to be chosen to make this once-in-a-decade pilgrimage, but fewer than 100 will be called. Some are pulled from their daily lives while some compete for the honor by entering cruel and deadly tests of intellect, skill, or force in the Arena.

The candidates for the Arena are personally selected from the thousands of volunteers begging for the opportunity, or sometimes that often-fatal means of application is bypassed as candidates receive a call to take the journey by priests, seers, and other holy people.

In a span of ten years there will be a single journey, and not all of them return. The destination, the Temple of Ascension, changes those who visit it in profound ways. All true prophets in recorded history have made the journey, and returned as intermediaries between their people and the gods. More than a few of the great warlords in recorded history have similarly made the journey and upon their return unified warring tribes, fractured states, or fought off hordes of invading creatures of nightmare and chaos. Great artists, explorers, magi, and healers have made the journey and come back changed.

There are horror stories of pilgrimages which were set upon by inimical forces and wiped off the firmament. There are plays and rumors about politics and heresy wherein aging tyrants plot to kill young warriors along the pilgrim trail. Despite the low rate of return among those making the journey, there is no shortage of volunteers desperate to be among the greatest of their generation for being selected, and possibly joining the ranks of those who will change the world.

Recap:

  • The pilgrims walk with a few priests, bearers, and guides from the Holy City toward the plains city of Deren on the shifting border of the growing Aelroth kingdom. The Holy City is on a broad peninsula within a huge, sheltered harbor, linked to the mainland by a narrow isthmus. The pilgrimage truly begins when the pilgrims have left the isthmus by stepping through the ancient, ‘Gate of Knives’ and make their way out into the ancient farmlands of humanity; the cradle where their gods placed them to live in harmony forever…
  • Once in Deren, more than a week later, the pilgrims are met by the caravan which will support them on their way and send missives and artifacts to the priests in the Temple of Ascension. Guarding the caravan, and treating the safety of the pilgrims as a sacred duty, are mercenary-sorcerers from the Order of the Horizon. The course taken, and the safety of all who travel is in their hands. As such, they keep themselves separate from the pilgrims, but ever watchful.
  • From Deren the pilgrims were taken through the mountains via Aeden Pass. The group had hoped to cross via Lethan Pass as it would approach Turged’s homeland, Granoth Deep, and come out into the Desert under the watchful eyes of the enormous stone relic, Ael the Warrior. The relic, a towering statue some say was carved from a mountain to commemorate his great battles with Chaos, and others say is the warrior himself turned to patient and enduring stone, holds steadfast and eternal – gazing forever into the depths of the desert, weapon drawn. To their disappointment, the Order guided them through the less-used Aeden Pass, taking advantage of the large detachment of Aelroth troops in the area, who had recently put down an uprising of foul creatures from the cracks and dark spaces below the firmament.
  • The caravan traveled for just a few days in the desert, making for what their guides described simply as a ruined city. The Order increased the radius of its patrols and left the pilgrims to their walking and the intonations of the few priests elected to guide them spiritually as they journeyed. Without warning the ground shook, the crystal dome of the sky shook, and the sun stopped in its short arc and turned red. Losing their footing and all sense of direction, the pilgrims were thrown about in a horrible maelstrom of noise, confusion, and flying debris that pounded them for hours.
  • When the sky cleared and sense returned, the characters discovered themselves moved from where they were, deeper into the desert, and separated from much of the caravan. Beasts and fellow pilgrims alike were found scattered about them, some alive, some dead, many warped in impossible and cruel ways. Some were melted, others twisted, some merged with the stones and sands of the desert. All those so affected, and still with mouths, were screaming.
  • Acting swiftly, and with grim purpose, the survivors ended the suffering of those touched by Chaos. What began as small acts of mercy came to take on the sense of butchery by the end as another and another was found, and found needing release. When they were done, they built a pyre and took stock of their situation.
  • The dunes and rocks of the desert appeared to them to have been caught in a vortex not unlike a whirlpool and they could see no sign of the rest of the caravan. Among the survivors were Wakefield, Turged, Ferrin, and his indentured bodyguard, Gorwyn.
  • Relying on Wakefield’s skill of nautical navigation, but concerned that the sun seemed frozen and altered in the sky, the group assembled a wagon from the wreckage, loaded it with all it would bear, and leading the few surviving bison which pull the wagons, decided to head toward where they felt the ruined city to be. From there, they intended to regroup with the Order and their fellows, before continuing on to the Temple.
  • Unsure if time was really passing, but growing tired nonetheless, the group stopped after a few difficult hours of travel when they came upon more cruelly maimed survivors in a low bowl of diamond dust surrounded by glittering dunes. Again, they acted to end the suffering of the melted and tormented victims of the storm as they lay on the warm sands under the glittering white light of the cold sun in the crystal sky.
  • While rounding up a few more surviving bison, one of the troubled animals fell through the floor of the desert into a deep cavern below. Investigation revealed it to be an ancient storage room with walls of jade, filled with vases of spoiled grain. Using ropes expertly checked and knotted together by the sailor, Wakefield, the group decided to investigate the chamber. Gorwyn, undecided if all four of them should go, meditated on the question as Wakefield worked on the rope. His senses told him that something dangerous was lurking in the dunes, but his eyes could see nothing [Awareness, Mysticism, RQ6 page 226]. As they had journeyed into the desert, Ystral, one of the captains of the Order of the Horizon mercenaries guarding the caravan, had told them of a large, quick lizard that would strike from under a layer of diamond sand. Few who were surprised could survive this attack. With this in mind, the relatively safer depths of the chamber, out of the disorienting and cruel rays of the frozen sun and away from the dunes and things which might not really be dunes, seemed the safest bet. Descending into the room to put the wounded animal down and determine if the ruin could provide proper warmth, water, and shelter from the unsettling light of the stationary sun, Turged briefly explored before summoning the others to come down.
  • To his eyes, alone, the ruined store-room was of plain green jade with swirls of white imperfections in the stone. Two simple metal doors marked the exit from the room. Once the humans entered, he had to revise his opinion. The jade was not marred by white imperfections, but rather enhanced by draconic imagery in the milky white swirls in the rich green. The doors also were richly decorated with sigils and fine craftsmanship, each with an ornate handle in the shape of a dragon with an arched back.

Notes on the Characters
No stranger to illusion, and certain of his own mind, the Plenthan mystic-warrior did not miss the fact that the reality of the room before the humans entered was different than it was afterward. Having been sent out from his Deep for espousing heretical ideas of accessing potent internal strength through meditation and reflection, Turged was confident that his eyes did not betray him. Raised in a restrictive and pious warrior state, trained to use only strong steel and strong muscle against the forces of chaos and destruction seeking to claw their way through the firmament to the sunlit lands under the crystal sky, his insistence on finding and unleashing the strength within rather than relying on prayer and sacrifice had made him an exile. Already firm in his beliefs, his selection for the pilgrimage cemented them further.

Gorwyn, keeping a watchful eye on his young, indolent, and weak-spirited ‘master,’ was also no stranger to the power from within. Raised in a cult since childhood to devote himself to the protection of others, his obvious superiority over his charge did not trouble him, just the challenge of keeping one so helpless safe in such circumstances.

Wakefield pretty much just wanted to go back to the sea and forget all of this nonsense…and then remembered all of the reasons why that would not be possible, not the least of which was the slight problem of the sun frozen in its track in the sky.

  • With Wakefield and Ferrin dealing with the wreckage of the bison carcass, Gorwyn and Turged elected to scout through the huge double doors to see if there was a source of water. Their supplies had enough water to keep them alive, and finding water in the diamond desert above was not all that challenging, but finding water that does not taste like the leather of water sacks was desirable.
  • The pair had not gone far into the connecting hall beyond the doors when they were charged by what appeared to be a man-sized crab, using the corpse of a mummified priest as its shell. With its legs erupting through the flesh of its host in various places, and its gasping, grasping maw extending wetly from its abdomen, the horror scrabbled across the slick jade floor of the hall, while its host, dried and pale, screamed at them to run…
Session Two: Horrors in the Dark

The second session recap will reveal how our first RuneQuest combat went, who lived and who died, and what came after in the dark, jade halls below the Desert of Screams…

Stay tuned~

Weekly Recaps

Comments
5 Responses to “Casting Runes 6: A Season for All Things – Session 1 Recap”
  1. Lorne Oliver says:

    That is excellent. I wish I could have been a part of that story.

  2. Murderbunny says:

    Interesting setting. Is this your own custom creation, or from a sourcebook for RQ?

    • Runeslinger says:

      It’s mine, based on elements I have tended to avoid or did not use in the past. This series of posts details the design and player collaboration processes.

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