Casting Runes 6: A Season for All Things – Session 7 Recap

This post continues the exploration and implementation of RuneQuest 6th Edition in a sword and sorcery campaign setting. This session was also short a player, so this recap still focuses on Turged and Gorwyn as they return from their search and rescue mission and the untamed brutality of the Desert of Screams.

The recap of session 1 can be found >HERE<

The recap of session 2 can be found >HERE<

The recap of session 3 can be found >HERE<

The recap of session 4 can be found >HERE<

The recap of session 5 can be found >HERE<

The recap of session 6 can be found >HERE<

The Video Recap of Sessions 1 to 4:

Had the player of the secretive Wakefield been able to play as expected, this session would have been full of rapid shifts of focus between the group of pilgrims with the wagons, and the expedition led by Gorwyn and Turged. Sadly, he was called away at the last minute and we went on as we had the week before.

Session 7 was focused on ensuring Vyck made it back to the wagons alive. This was harder than it seemed at first as the Desert is quite inimical to life when it finds that life roving about in small bands. The heavy construction of the wagons, the large beasts of burden used to pull them, and the tactics of the Order in defending the caravan, all fell into greater focus as the group made their slow passage back to reunite with their fellows.

Thoughts on a Ruling
In both Session 6 and 7 there was a lot of riding over long distances. With one decent rider in the group, and with a low-key sense of urgency about the ride (we have to find water or Vyck before 3 or 4 days pass), I felt it was not appropriate to make a Team Roll for Ride, but to utilize the Augmented Roll method instead – each member of the group helping the others to succeed. I felt a Team Roll would be more appropriate in a situation where the group were coordinating on a task they could all do reasonably well. With the low levels of Ride and the unfamiliar terrain, I wanted to do something more focused on teasing out the way the group worked together to find success or failure in their efforts, rather than the shortcut method for group skill use represented by the Team Roll method. I used a slight variation on the Augmented Roll rule [RQ6 page 76] wherein the highest rated skill holder would receive a bonus to their roll for each success of those working with him. Fumbles would negate Criticals, and Criticals could negate Failures. Failures and Successes would cancel each other out. It’s more complicated to explain than to do. If the group rolled and 1 Succeeded, 1 got a Critical and 1 got a Fumble then we would have a case for one rider experiencing something awful. If on the other hand, 1 succeeded and 1 Failed and 1 got a Critical, then the whole group would enjoy success. In effect, the players were rolling to see how their ride was going to go, and then the roll for Callum was made (with bonuses for each success from the players) to see if he could predict, prevent, or otherwise deal with whatever failures cropped up.

I made this ruling because, while riding a horse is pretty much a solo activity, there was coaching available, they controlled their own pace, and they could discover and practice the many subtleties of dealing with animals as the journey went on. To reflect this situation, each member of the group rolled and I compared the amount of successes and failures. Whichever outcome was in greater number would indicate the general experience which was developing ( establishment of rapport, good rate of speed, easy care, or unruly horses, lost time, accidents, and so on). On the outbound journey, things started out bad and had an opportunity to improve if the characters didn’t push the horses beyond their faith in their new riders. No ride rolls would be necessary on the first leg of the trip unless they were set upon by something, or they decided to go faster. They pushed their luck and were mainly successful, so by the time they reached Vyck the horses were unhappy, but no accidents had taken place. A further benefit was reaching Vyck before he succumbed to the centipede’s poison. [The players now call this a Megalopede, or sometimes the Ultrapede].

On the return journey, things were much more difficult and due to the circumstances of needing to ride with Vyck, rolls needed to be made for each stage of the trip. Failures could represent delays, encounters, equipment failures, equine temper tantrums, or worse.

Problems
Good strides were made in improving the flow of combat in this session, and the roleplay between characters and interplay between players is developing nicely. With less to focus on in this area, my attention returned to an older item – sharing the narrative. While it is perhaps not the standard approach to playing this type of game, there is nothing about the game itself which precludes it, so I want to be able to achieve it as a group – if the group is willing.

By ‘sharing the narration,’ I am referring to each player being responsible for describing how their character does things, rather than having me do it for them. While I may have to retain a certain level of control over some narrative elements due to the nature of a scene, spell, or opponent, in general, I do not think it is as enjoyable to have all dice rolls interpreted by me, then imagined by the players. I think it is more engaging to have the dice rolls inspire the players directly, and have their enthusiasm and vested interest in their imagined actions inspire the rest of us in turn.

Example:

Hit: Success    Hit Location: Left Arm    Potential Damage 3     Defense: Successful

GM Narration: Your blade chops toward his left arm and you hear him grunt in pain as he hurls himself backward and falls prone.

PC Thoughts: “Chops…? What am I a butcher? I deftly skewer things, not chop them!  Oh well, it’s not worth correcting him….”

vs

PC Narration: “Lunging with practiced control and grace, my blade deftly lances out toward him (the slightest pause to see if a Defense will be declared; GM has rolled, nods, and takes over)

GM Narration: “But with desperation in his eyes, he throws himself backward in a desperate attempt to evade, toppling onto his back and away from your point.”

Solutions:

I spoke to one of the players after the game about this and he seemed quite excited by the idea. He was initially concerned that taking on these narrative tasks might “take away from my role as the GM” but I assured him that it would allow me to focus much more of my attention on all the other things which need it. I can make things far more engaging if I can focus on describing them without also having to add life to the characters as well.

We’ll see how it goes. This approach was how I started off in gaming, and I have encountered it less and less as the years have gone by. Perhaps there are not enough people who want that from their games, perhaps older and different habits are hard to break, or perhaps it has languished for lack of being shared. With Indie games touting it like it was something new, I am glad it will not vanish completely, but I also would like to see it remain and grow in this sector of the hobby as well.

Session Seven: The Hunger of the Desert

This session was run on a Saturday afternoon, and had they not chosen to take Callum with them, might have proven to be their undoing. Although the young Order Member nearly exhausted himself Invoking and Shaping the Divine Force, the group continued their use of sound tactics, teamwork, and mutual protection. Without this outlook, the characters would have been dead long ago. 

The session opened with a devastating sight. In the distance, back along the route they had taken to get to this desolate watering hole, they caught sight of one of the glittering cloud cities of the air-dwelling Alira. As they watched it roll and roil into view far, far in the distance, it grew darker and darker.  Before they knew it, what looked at first to be the color of a thunderstorm took on the color of stone.

It was no mistaken idea: the cloud city  solidified, and plummeted from the sky. Its impact came to them in distant sound, and forceful tremors across the desert floor, shaking them where they stood. The home to hundreds of the winged warriors and artists was destroyed in an instant, with no sign at this distance of any survivors…

Session Recap:

  • In direct contradiction to its name, the Desert of Screams fell to silence as the group stood watching the city fall. The constant winds which often rise to a force capable of hurling the diamond sands of the desert at speeds sufficient to wear the rocks away so that only twisted, alien shapes remain, had been soft since the cataclysm of a few weeks before, but had never dropped to nothing like this. With the sun still hanging motionless in the sky, its harsh light searing down unceasingly, the group roused themselves to action and covered their reactions with banter about what to do with the remains of the monstrous centipede collapsed and lifeless on the lip of the massive rock on which they had found both Vyck, and water. Returning their attention to the wounded nomad they realized [Augmented skill, First Aid, RQ6 p76] that their journey would be especially hard for him due to his terrible abdominal wounds, and the lack of any materials suitable for making him more comfortable. He would have to ride with the aid of ropes tying him in place, and they would have to go slowly, with frequent rest stops. Callum and Vyck kept silent on the degree to which this would raise the threat of predators, but both began to offer more insight into the nature of the fauna of the Desert.
  • As they were preparing to go, Gorwyn decided to gather up the antennae he had torn from the centipede to support the tale of the group’s victory. While there, Vyck weakly requested they recover his ax. Fearing delerium, they first checked to see if he still had his. Their search revealed he had both of his throwing axes, but his battle ax was indeed missing. A more concerted search found the weapon buried deeply between the creature’s mandibles. Looking at the immense corpse again, Gorwyn noted that many of its legs along the middle flanks were ruined by deep cuts, such as that made by the ax. With new respect for the nomad, who had braved this terror alone, they started their return journey.  The group decided to ride at little more than a walk for as long as Vyck could stand it. The tough nomad vowed not to ask for rest as he felt guilty enough to be imperiling the rest with his injury. [Augmented Roll: Ride, RQ6, see above] With no way to track time other than their own internal sense of it, they pressed themselves hard, while trying to remain attentive both to their horses and their injured comrade. They called for a rest at a good camp site, took care of the horses needs, then split into shifts for rest and keeping watch.
  • Gorwyn was on watch first, and his fatigue plus the hypnotic shimmer of the desert under the unchanging light of the frozen sun lulled him into a sort of stupor. He did not notice or recognize the angry drone of the swarm of huge and territorial insects which arced into him from behind and began to sting. A good 20 to 30 cm long, with blackly iridescent wings, and hard, dull grey and shimmering dark blue mottled bodies, the attackers are known commonly as Darts. Well-known for stinging men and larger animals to death when roused to anger… which is pretty much all the time… the insects swarm in roiling clouds, crawl into clothing and sting repeatedly, injecting a painful venom, but also tearing the flesh around the wound in long gashes with a convulsive twitch of their abdomen.

GM Note: I ruled that this gives them the opportunity to roll for the Bleed Effect if the swarm’s attack would have earned a Special Effect, and if Bleed is already in Effect, allows them the opportunity to roll for the Press Advantage Effect instead

  • Screaming in terror, Gorwyn dove toward Turged in hopes of waking him. Unnerved by insects at the best of times, the Bodyguard could not handle the thought of these vicious flying blades on him, or stabbing him to death and cutting their way into his corpse.

GM Note: The player found the description of the attackers to be unsettling and told me, so we set a ‘safe word’ which he used a few minutes later, so we shifted to more of a mechanical focus for the rest of this scene.

  • With the sleepers out of their armor and much of their clothing, these flying terrors were very much a threat. Gorwyn, waving his arms like mad and racing around the camp was able to keep the bugs from attacking his upper body, but was dropped by cruel attacks to his still injured legs. What was worse was that once down, the Darts began sawing at him and reopened those old wounds, causing great Bleeding, leading to the eventual loss of consciousness [Serious Wounds and Endurance rolls, RQ6 p162].  Turged tried to get into his coat of armor, but found he had to repeatedly evade the swarm as it circled the camp, striking at targets seemingly at random then circling again. As he rolled in the dirt and tried to get close to the fire and its thin tendril of smoke, he could dimly make out Callum’s low voice chanting rapidly as the man lay very still on the ground…. Casting a Spell?
  • Evading as best he could [Evade, RQ6 p151], Turged grabbed bundles of dried grasses and forage that they had collected for the horses and tossed them from his grounded position into the flames, where they began to create lots of pungent smoke. Then he moved to Gorwyn to try in vain to protect him. The swarm descended on him en masse as he closed with the crippled Bodyguard but at that moment his flesh was suffused with a rising warmth and a pulsing sense of vitality [Spell: Damage Resistance, ‘Iron Flesh for Iron Minds,’ RQ6 p241]. He noted with relief that the Darts attacking him and Gorwyn could not penetrate their flesh any longer, but with concern that they were growing even more infuriated. They insects descended on them thickly and attacked wildly, stabbing, ripping and crawling. Callum, still lying low, began a new chant, with a sense of real urgency. The swarm continued to rage, but after a few moments, the smoke from the fire began to close around them like a mass of dough. Gorwyn and Turged found a fear of suffocation rising, but somehow, though the smoke choked them, they did not lose their breath. The Darts on the other hand, soon began to drop dead to the diamond dust beneath them until their contorted corpses were all about like a bizarre carpet from a forgotten nightmare. [Sorcery: Smother: “Deny the Breath of Life“, RQ6 p253]

GM Note: This version of the spell draws existing smoke to the target and chokes them with it until they pass out. If the target resists, damage will cease at this point. If they do not, they will suffer further wounds or outright death according to their status as full on opponents, as underlings, or as rabble.

  • Feeling immense relief at having been spared such an ignominious death on the heels of their great victory over the ‘megalopede’ the group cleaned themselves up, addressed Gorwyn’s new injuries with ancient Plenthan healing practices [Folk magic: Heal] and then resumed the ride. Gorwyn was in great discomfort and movement and riding were going to be a challenge, but gritting his teeth, and drawing upon his cruel upbringing as a slave to the teachings and training of the Lifesworn [Willpower, RQ6 p66, Serious Wound, RQ6, p162] he set his mind to endure it stoically. His will and his devotion to the looming war against Chaos kept him firmly on the course he set for himself [Passions, RQ6 p124].
  • The next leg of the journey did not flow as smoothly. Perhaps it was the wear and tear from days in unfamiliar saddles on unruly horses, the stress from the sun which would not set, or the constant alertness required to stay on the trail and ward for predators, but for whatever reason, attention waned and as the small train of horses slowed to navigate an area of soft terrain, a Lurker burst from hiding and slammed into Turged’s horse and brought the mount down with a savage lock of its huge maw under the right foreleg of the startled and screaming creature. Turged was thrown free [Falling on soft surfaces and Athletics, RQ6 p118] but rolled to his feet ready to draw his weapon. The Lurker, pinning the horse to the diamond sand, stiffened suddenly; the sign it had driven its lance-like tongue deep into the chest of the mount, delivering its deadly, necrotizing poison. The group knew from that moment their return to the wagons would be all the harder. There was no way to save this mount, and no way to replace it.
  • Turged drew his sword, as did the still-mounted Callum. Untended, Vyck’s horse continued on its way, with the vaguely conscious Nomad still firmly tied to it. Gorwyn dismounted, and with a focusing shout, charged toward the beast savaging Turged’s horse. With two of them wielding heavy blades, and Gorwyn’s formidable natural weapons, they made short work of the predator. Obsessed with its kill, the beast did not think to defend itself as the men rushed up, taking a powerful smash to the face, and cuts to its left foreleg and right rear leg in short order. As it ripped its bloody face away from the convulsing horse, Gorwyn got a grip on the fleshy nose ridge on the top of its eyeless, batrachian head [Special Effect: Blind, interpretation] and dealt it a stunning blow which set it up for the shattering of its left foreleg from Turged’s follow-up cut [Choose Location, Maximize Damage], and death as Callum opened up another serious wound in its left rear leg [Maximize Damage].
  • The men dragged the Lurker from the horse and began a discussion about what to do with it, and how to deal with their situation, when Turged noticed Vyck getting further away. Callum was sent after him, and Gorwyn and Turged came to the conclusion that Callum and Turged would have to trade turns walking and riding. There was no way that Gorwyn would be able to keep up under that amount of strenuous activity. The riding itself was already taxing him to his limits [Fatigue and Levels of Activity, RQ6 p119].
  • With one of their number needing to walk, several more stages were added to their journey as their pace slowed considerably. Especially threatening to them now was the risk of an attack by a pack of Lurkers. They put themselves on high alert when passing through dunes, and only took rest breaks on hard-packed or stony ground. In this way, they passed what they believe was a full day’s travel without undue incident. At their rest stop, Vyck was quite lucid and seemed able to handle light duties, such as cooking. As he surveyed the camp while being lifted from his horse, he spotted a small growth of short purplish leaves and excitedly directed the group to harvest them. As he boiled the leaves into a broth, he directed the others to peel the thick, fibrous root of each plant. He boiled these as well and was very pleased to serve the dark soup to the travellers. As each ate, they felt tired muscles loosen and the fog in their minds lift. A powerful restorative, the root – given some hard-to-remember polysyllabic name by Vyck’s people – is seen as a blessing from their interpretation of the All-Mother.

GM Note:Reduces 1 level of Fatigue or provides a 10% bonus to Endurance within 3 hours of eating, when boiled properly with the leaves, will restore 1 MP

  • What Vyck did not tell them until afterward was that those who take in the juices of the root and the leaves boiled together will experience visions of secret thoughts, fears, and problems buried deep within. What Vyck did not know was that these visions are not always limited to the internal life of the imbiber. What Vyck did not know was the with Chaos loosening its bonds, many of the things he felt were laws of the Firmament were shaking loose and changing shape. In their sleep, the entire group saw the end of Helon’s Hold – the undersea city state of the Fidrans. They watched the waters held eternally at bay flood down from above and all around to crush and drown the unsuspecting thousands going about their daily chores. They moved from street to street, from eye to eye, buoyed on scream after scream as the dark waters broke free of the command of the Fidran’s gods and erased them from the roster of the living. When they woke, as is their custom, they shared the horrors of their dreams… and found themselves sharing the same dream… if it was indeed a dream.
  • The next leg of the journey was interrupted by the group slowly realizing through their haze of fatigue that Vyck had been silent and motionless too long. Unable to check him while in motion, they slowed the horses and tried to rouse him from the ground. Failing that, they stopped, despite being in prime Lurker terrain, and took him down. An examination revealed that his wounds had reopened and he had been bleeding inside his heavy clothing for some time. Gorwyn delved deep inside himself and applied the teachings of the Lifesworn to stabilize the Nomad. They watched him carefully and fed him the last of the restorative broth, until his breathing deepened and became more regular. Too tired to mount up again, and too worried about Vyck’s injury needing time to properly clot again, they took the risk of camping in the open, surrounded by dunes. Callum and Turged agreed to stand two watches that Gorwyn could have a chance for more uninterrupted sleep.  They took every precaution they could think of, burning leaves to help cover their scent, proactively checking the dunes, and keeping each other focused. They even tried to utilize the sharp senses of the horses. When Gorwyn seemed rested enough, and when Vyck finally regained awareness, they decided to push on. No attack came. Their journey had taught them a lot.
  • They next leg of the trip took them past the ruined city again, so they hurried on by. They were finally getting close to the rest of their group. Their sense of time was distorted, so they rested when they were tired, and pressed on as soon as they could. The horses were finally starting to behave, and to a degree the riders seemed more capable as hazard after potential hazard was avoided or prevented. After what seemed like many, many days, they caught sight of the heavy wagons and bison in the distance, and hurried to close the gap. As they neared, they realized the wagons were camped, and that strange things were transpiring.
  • The first thing they noticed was that two people were missing, and in a flight of confusion mistook two crucified bodies next to the camp as their missing companions until they took a closer look. They were relieved to see Wakefield on the edge of the camp, preparing his calculations for navigation, and one by one began to recognize the faces or movements of the others as they got closer. The two on the makeshift crosses had been tortured and were incredibly old… and no one they knew. Their skin hung in loose, crumpled folds on their withered bodies, and their eyes were sunk deep in their wispy-haired skulls. Their skulls were distorted and only vaguely human. Ystral and the others also showed relief at their return and piled praises on them for the successful rescue of Vyck, but there was a pall over the camp. One of the young pilgrims and the old man had perished in a raid by a tribe of desert scavengers which normally would not have attacked the caravan. The pilgrims were unwilling or unable to look at Ystral, and so hung back out of the way, preparing a meal and staying quiet.
  • Trading stories would have been a quick and terse affair had Turged and Ystral had their way, but Gorwyn’s crowing embellishments, and Callum’s youthful questioning of his commander dragged things out. Once they had regaled the group with stories of the Ultrapede and the Lurker, they pulled out a report that to drive what he described as ‘chaos-twisted attackers’ away, Ystral had resorted to powerful magic which in his short description, ‘drained them of their vitality.’ Further investigation among the witnesses indicated that only young men had attacked, but Ystral’s sorcery had drained the life out of them and left them withered and aged. Despite Gorwyn’s enthusiasm, and some attempts to get conversation going, silence kept falling over the camp.
  • With the mood heavy, the group packed up and prepared to make the last push on to the Temple. With larger numbers, and greater experience in the Desert, the rest of the journey was without incident or loss. A little more than a week later, they drew in sight of the massive stone walls bordering the expansive stretch of Temple lands. Each wall glittered in the light of the frozen sun, and was topped by lush greenery and the mischievous calls of song birds and small animals. Correcting their course a bit, they backtracked down a section of wall until they came to the main gate, well-guarded by a mixed unit of Temple and Order guardsmen. They were allowed to enter without comment, and so ended their desert trials and began their sojourn under the protection of the Temple in an instant of passing under the shadow of the stone gate, from the harsh light of the Desert of Screams into the lush peace of the Garden of Ascension… a garden they would need to travel through for a day or more, until they reached the temple itself.

The session ended with curiosity peaking about what they would find within, and what was the fate of the Alirans and their fallen city. Answers, it is presumed, will follow with greater mysteries and threats in the next session.

 

Session Eight:

The eighth session recap will detail the arrival at the Temple of Ascension, and what is learned there.

Stay tuned~

Weekly Recaps

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