Casting Runes 6: A Season for All Things – Session 11 Recap

This post continues the exploration and implementation of RuneQuest 6th Edition in a sword and sorcery campaign setting. In this session the characters, growing more into their strange new role as “Chosen of the Gods” became more and more frustrated with all the secret political maneuvering behind the scenes, and sought out an old ally to help them cut through it all.

For numerous reasons beyond our control, such as perfidy from Internet Service Providers, a near-fatal canine emergency, health, and family issues we have been unable to get together for two weeks. Our return to the game was then cruelly cut short by further technical difficulties causing the loss of a player from the Hangout. We did what we could to wrap up, and then decided to continue next week.

Check the list of links below for the recaps of the previous sessions, and other related articles on this campaign.

 

Session 11 was focused on meeting with the Patriarch and other high-ranking priests. Although most that they meet are deferential to them there is an undercurrent of awareness that things in the Temple of Ascension are not devoid of mortal politics and maneuverings. Worse, each choice of a course of action laid before them appears to be indistinguishable from the others.

Problems  & Solutions:

Although this Hangout was sabotaged by a technical difficulty, this was related to hardware, not the systems we were using. Further, this was another session of roleplay among allies and each other, so no game mechanics needed to be invoked. As such, there are no problems or pithy solutions to report.

One great bit of timing came in the form of the excellent new supplement for RuneQuest 6, Ships & Shield Walls. This product, which was released a week before this session, made it much easier and more satisfying for me to answer Wakefield’s nautical questions than it would have been if I had had to use the material I had cribbed from Stormbringer for that eventuality. Everything I need for this sort of voyage and then some is between one slim set of covers.

Thoughts on Running the Game:

I am fond of Troupe Style play, but I have learned over the years that many people prefer to grow attached to a single character in play. With so many choices before them, I reiterated my basic gaming philosophy and made it clear again that they are truly free to choose. At that point, Turged’s player suggested splitting the party, and I was quick to offer thoughts on how that could work to everyone’s benefit. Gorwyn’s player, who has played with me for many years, was supportive of the idea and as we ended the session, it seemed like both of them were keen to create additional roles to recruit to the cause, and play through it through multiple sets of eyes.

I heartily approve. Not only will this let us do more in the campaign world, it will let them explore more of the system and its many options without losing the thread and progress of all their invested time so far.

Session Eleven: Leaps of Faith

This session was run as is now usual on a Saturday afternoon, with all three players present. We started with our traditional informal recap before play, then opened with some brief exposition about the shifting mood in the temple, and the nature of sea-going vessels in the setting. With this in mind, we cut to the chase and launched the session In-Character. 

The session opened with Gorwyn, Wakefield and Turged being escorted by Myn and a small squad of Temple Guards to the deep cavern holding the underground sea they had learned about from the Patriarch.

Session Recap:

  • Their guide and translator, Myn, took them without delay from the chamber of the Patriarch back to their chambers, but they did not stay there long. Learning from Myn that the Sunken Sea, which he revealed is also referred to by many villagers as the Undersea, was only discovered within the past year. It had taken time to open up a useful and safe passage down into its depths, and more time to outfit a small shipyard, pier, and dry-dock for the construction of an expeditionary fleet. That fleet was only now nearing completion. Two ships were several weeks from launch, but one had been floated and was now being worked on round the clock. Rather than waste any further time, they decided to inspect the ship they had been offered and see what further planning or outfitting would need to be done.
  • The entrance to the Sunken Sea is a few kilometers away on the other side of the village from the Temple. Passing through the temple grounds and through the town, they noted no change in the alert footing of the soldiers and the work schedule of the villagers. New construction had begun, however, on raised wooden watch towers with large bronze shields polished to a mirrored surface. Although still tired and off-balance from their ordeals in the Desert of Screams, and the never ending, cold dawn light of the frozen sun, they made the journey on foot with Myn as their guide. At the Patriarch’s arrangement, a detachment of guards accompanied them at a discreet distance. In a large excavation used primarily as a quarry, a massive gash had been hewn down deep into the rock and into the warm, wet darkness beneath the surface. [GM note: the warmth of the Firmament comes from the land, not the sun. The deeper you go under the surface, the warmer things are.] A massive stone and wood stair case had been fashioned for workers and eventual crews to descend the 40-50m required to reach the thickly-slimed, stone shore of the subterranean sea. A gantry for building materials was also in place. Below them as they descended they could see the stone dock lit by large, raised braziers and smaller portable lanterns. On the shore rested two hulls lacking fittings, while riding proudly in the gently rippling waters of the sea was one ship that to all all eyes seemed complete and ready to depart.
  • The ship, a war galley redesigned for the rigors of exploring this uncharted and perilous expanse of water, had no sail. Outfitted for 60 rowers and a small complement of 15 soldiers or scouts, the ship featured a mount for a ballista fore and aft, but was lacking the ram traditionally employed by such ships of war. In the prow were braces for large lanterns and a raised observation structure. As the group approached the Overseer of the project, they noted that the ship was being loaded with some basic supplies, and that rowers were warming up before boarding. According to the Overseer a captain and full crew had already been selected, but were awaiting word from the Chosen on any changes that might be required. It was expected that Wakefield would take command, and that some changes to the ship’s fighting complement would be made.
  • Wakefield began to question the Overseer about the project and as he toured the ship soon noticed that it was of Fidran design and crafted mainly by magical, not mundane means. Like so many of the truly important items they had seen in their time at the temple, the hull was without seam or join, as if it were composed of a single piece of material, shaped to its purpose by the priests. The Overseer had nothing to say on that score as he did not witness it, but did confirm that the Fidrans were responsible for the design, and that their craftsman were working on all three vessels. When the tour ended, Turged and Gorwyn pressed the man for details about just how uncharted this uncharted sea was, and what sort of perils had been encountered so far. He confirmed that some minor exploration had been done in row boats, but that only two had made it back. He expected their vessel would pass beyond what had been explored before the end of the first day, but he warned them to be cautious. Witnesses in the last row boat of five reported a massive serpentine shape had claimed the lives of the others in that small flotilla. Their reports could not agree on its exact appearance, but they agreed it had teeth the length of a man’s arm. Some claim it had clawed limbs, but some claimed it was without.
  • According to the Overseer, the only other survivor of exploration was among some adventurous fishermen who had taken an improvised raft out onto the darkness of the Sunken Sea. The man claimed they had been set upon from above by large vampire bats, pale and eyeless creatures that sought them unerringly in the darkness. He only survived by swimming long stretches underwater. While his description of the creatures does not really remind anyone of bats, he has no other word for them and will not, in his shock, discuss them at length. He was reportedly staying with family in the village to recover from his wounds – deep cuts on his back as the talons of a bird of prey might deliver.
  • A final round of questioning from Wakefield about the readiness of the vessel determined that the Overseer could get her loaded and ready to launch within 12-24 hours, but would prefer to make it 48 hours. As this greatly increased the likelihood that Ystral would return before they left, they gave orders for the vessel to be ready to depart no later than 2 days hence. Manifest in hand, they returned to their quarters.
  • Upon returning to their rooms they sent Myn out to begin preparations for the journey. While Wakefield and Gorwyn rested, Turged penned several letters to send to Granoth Deep to warn his people of what was happening. One he sent directly to his father, one to the council of elders, and a final one to his former guard unit insisting they increase patrols. Would they heed his words?
  • Later, with everyone awake and after a brief discussion of the manifest and the potential dangers ahead of them, their acolyte reported to them that evening prayers were about to begin, but that if they would look out their window there was a chance to see a rare sight. Myn, who had returned just minutes before, checked first and agreed, beckoning them to hurry. From their window, it was just possible to see the stone top of the tall, broad tower which makes up some part of the defensive structure in which the Order of the Horizon barracks its troops assigned to the temple. Sitting atop the temple was a huge black bird easily large enough to carry two full-grown men astride its back. “Ystral, or a man of his rank, will have returned.” Myn informed them. “I can take you to him, if you’d like.” The group very much wished to reconnect with the sorcerer, if nothing else to try to convince him to journey with them. Of course, after months of travel together and survival in the face of shared horrors, there was also a glimmer of friendship to be seen in their haste to visit him.
  • Making their way with Myn and their quiet contingent of guards through the well-maintained garden paths which lead to the green stretch of carefully-nurtured hardwood trees which separate the temple compound from the Order’s compound did not take too much time. As they came out before the walls of the Order’s small keep, Myn pointed out the attention to detail in all the minutiae of defense the keep represented. The young man it seems, in addition to a facility for languages, also had a love of castles. The stretch of uneven, earth between the treeline and the fortifications suggested nothing so much as a killing zone, and it struck them that whatever enemy made it so far into the lands held by the temple as to penetrate to the Temple itself, would likely die here under these austere walls. The keep consisted of a high stone wall that proceeded in a waved shape from a thick tower at each of its six corners. Inside the wall they could see the tall tower on which the giant bird had been sitting earlier, and the plumes of smoke from several chimneys. From earlier glances out windows higher in the Temple, the group knew that two, 2-storey barracks and 1 similarly appointed stable were within the wall, as well as a large staging area, and several smaller buildings likely for specific functions, such as a smithy. The main entry passed below the wall, dug into the rock and rising again into the courtyard. Guards were posted at each of several gates arranged within this murderous passage and each made sure to recognize and announce the group as they made their way within. Wakefield, ever a man among working men, made it his business to greet each guard and pump him for gossip and information at each checkpoint. He did not uncover much, but did learn the purpose of the new watch towers being built around the temple and village: they were some form of defense against aerial attack. When asked what might attack them from above, the guards did not have a shortage of responses, but most cited the Chaos Dragon as the first, and worst eventuality. What Myn softly pointed out was that no one really knew why the Patriarch had called for these new defenses. Until know, he believed no one knew what their purpose was, either. That the Order knew was a bit of a relief he had to admit. The temple had been standing for millennia and in all that time had only planned for and only needed ground-based defense. Something had changed, but he did not know what.
  • Once they identified who they were there to see to the guards, they were escorted into the mess hall. Ystral, a new scar on his face and adorned in heavier armor than he’d worn on the pilgrimage, augmented with thick straps and iron rings, entered with a pleased look on his long face. Gorwyn inquired about his success in locating Merk, and the group was saddened to learn the young man had not made it out of the desert. He’d died at the hands of crazed, chaos-worshipping, desert-dwellers, within sight of the foothills. Turged expressed hope the man had taken a good number of them with him, and Ystral’s grim smile confirmed that that was so, but no details were given. [GM Note: In Session 4, Merk had been sent to report on the cataclysmic events which had shattered the pilgrim caravan and unleashed Chaos on the Firmament. Upon their arrival at the Temple, they had learned he had never reached his destination.] Ystral turned the conversation to discussing their plans, and soon learned about their intentions of exploring the Sunken Sea in hope of bypassing the Chaos Army and reaching the nomads of the plateau. Ystral grew even more serious and bade them follow him, if they would, to his quarters for a more private discussion. The group agreed, and they made their way to the third floor of the tower; one of only two with signs of any recent occupation.
  • Ystral’s floor of the tower was as utilitarian and focused on duty as the man himself. A small cot occupied a spot between an old writing desk and a scarred shelf full of maps, charts, and scrolls. A large sand-table occupied the center of the room with the terrain around the chaos army’s location carefully sculpted and scaled. Alone, Ystral repeated his report on the nomads to them, and told them first-hand the tale of how he and the nomad Allym had been separated from the caravan after the cataclysm. The man had broken into open praise of the Chaos Dragon and began to rejoice at his pending return. Unable to talk any sense into him and deeply disturbed at having had no clue to the man’s true allegiances, Ystral had felt he had to kill him. Having all known and liked the young guide as much as they knew and liked Vyck, the group could empathize with the Captain’s reaction…. and better understand the strain which the recovering Vyck might be enduring as he contemplates the turn that the future might hold for his people. Ystral asked them to reconsider their quest to meet the nomad army, and instead consider journeying to what he sees as the source of the trouble with the nomads, their mysterious tower beyond the edge of the known world. If the rite of passage the nomads make to the tower was turning them to the side of Chaos, a decision no sane mortal could embrace, then dealing with it seemed a fitting task for “Chosen Ones.”  If they agreed, he would arrange to have them taken to Pumoth Deep far across the Desert and as far from the lands of the people of the Firmament anyone had ever settled. He explained that the priests here were politicians first and priests a distant second. He explained that he feared for the safety and secrecy of their mission, but more importantly, he felt that due to the machinations of the High Priests, their course might be perverted to serve short-sighted personal goals of the ambitious members of the Patriarch’s council rather than the cause of Law. He praised Gorwyn’s insight for feeling that some among those who serve in the Temple must serve Chaos in their hearts, and did not disagree with Turged and Wakefield’s assertion that the leadership of the Kingdom of Aelroth might also be in its thrall. “Chaos is the dissolution of sense and safety, and all that we know is made possible by the primacy of Law. Aelran expansion into the territories of its neighbors serves only to turn like against like, to shatter peace under the guise of growing order, and ensure that war will come.”
  • For their part, the group filled Ystral in on what they revealed to be murders of High Priests over the past few weeks. Their revelation further bolstered his insistence that they forego the Sunken Sea and make for the tower instead. They also spoke of the secret interrogations of the lizard people they had captured. For days the priests had been sequestered in meetings and councils. Now that they were released to return to their normal duties they were instead gathering together in groups to form allegiances and trade favors. No one was sharing information gleaned from the captive assassins of this long-forgotten species, but rather using what they knew to force their way into the Patriarch’s war councils. Something in the way he spoke reminded Turged of what the Librarian had said about annotations on the map pertaining to what Gorwyn had taken to calling ‘The Forbidden Tower’ and he asked Ystral if he would see them safely transported to cut off the exiled Aelran ambassador before he could turn his stolen maps over to his handlers. Ystral, visibly torn by the seriousness of each choice facing them, agreed to help them with whatever quest they chose. Gorwyn and Wakefield, still thinking of the Lizard People asked the sorcerer where he thought the pair could have come from. His response made their decision harder still. “I have travelled all over the known lands and into some of those unknown. There is no place on the surface, nor in the oceans, nor in the deeps of the Plenthans where the Lizards dwell… but never until recently had anyone known of a sea beneath the surface of the Firmament. A sea we have cracked open like an egg to steam under the sky for the first time since the dawn of time… If they came from anywhere in the Firmament, I think they came from there; a spot all too unguarded for its depth inside our fortifications.”
  • Taking time to discuss things among themselves, the group took their leave of Ystral so that he could free himself of his heavy garb and get some much needed rest. Turged felt that heading to the Tower made the most sense, despite the risks, and the curious report that each year the Nomads must travel farther and farther to find it. He warned that he is unlikely to be welcomed in Pumoth Deep for they are zealots to Plenth like no others in his society and he is still branded a heretic and outcast. Gorwyn, as much as he wanted to return to the familiarity of the city, and to confirm his deep suspicions that the Stone of Form lay within the High Temple with clues to the others, had begun to agree with him. They reviewed the possible gain from reconsidering Wakefield’s proposed mission to Helon’s Hold, but found it too dependent on variables they had no control over. Travel time, allies, equipment, information…. where could they get it all, and who could they trust? Can they rely on the plans of the Patriarch to send them across the Sunken Sea and secure the allegiance of the Nomads? Can they rely on the plans of Ystral and his certainty the war must be taken to Chaos on a spiritual level?
  • In these days of Chaos, can they rely on anything or anyone at all?
Session Twelve:

The twelfth session recap will ostensibly appear next week, and should see the group set out on one or more quests~

 

Stay tuned~

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