Casting Runes 6: A Season for All Things – Session 16/17 Recap

This post continues the exploration and implementation of RuneQuest 6th Edition in a sword and sorcery campaign setting. This recap comprises two short sessions, focused on seeking out a physical location which may give clues or aid to resist the coming war with the returning agents of Chaos.

Check the list of links below for the recaps of the previous sessions, and other related articles on this campaign. Less-detailed video recaps are also available on my YouTube Channel.

Session 16 and 17 are the beginning of the characters’ journey into the unknown. They are travelling off their maps of the Firmament and into territory they suspect holds challenges and threats beyond imagination. Although there was much discussion about seeking information from the leaders or the aid of the warriors at a fundamentalist and extreme Plenthan Deep several days travel away, Turged ultimately made the decision that no good could come from that. Being an outcast and heretic from his own Deep, he felt it likely that their quest would end in the dark halls of his distant kin.

Problems  & Solutions:

Our only gameplay issue this time was that Gorwyn’s player had to be late arriving to Session 17. We have been using DiceStream in our hangouts and while it is not without its flaws, it works often enough to be useful. Session 16 was extremely short, but set the stage for what is to come. Session 17 was longer, and has opened up more understanding of the potential threats which lie ahead.

I encountered what I thought was a minor mechanical issue during combat in session 16. I ended up having a large quadruped surrounded by 5 warriors in rough terrain which limited movement. While I would normally have the hit locations determine the general spatial relationships between the combatants and use it as narrative fuel in our abstracted combat, I found it too disorienting in this particular engagement to imagine the combatants ranging all over during their attacks and being as likely to hit the creature from the front as from the flank or rear. On the fly, I adjusted the hit roles for the NPC characters to be half their value. As they were at the rear of the creature that worked perfectly as it only gave them access to rearward and flank locations; all within the realm of logical possibility for a coiling, snapping lizard. I let the PCs have their normal hit location rolls and we went with it as best we could. What that meant was that I found a way to describe the attacking movements of the lizard as being like my sleekest and longest-limbed dog, Tim. He contorts himself in all manner of amazing ways when play fighting, and to be able to use those memories to give a little added life to the lizard was fun. After the session, I looked specifically for anything about fighting quadrupeds and saw that had I noted the boxed rule earlier, I could have saved myself some concern. I had approached it within their recommendations (limiting the range of hit location results), and now forewarned will be forearmed. I guess it goes to show that not all details, no matter how obvious they might be in hindsight, can escape our notice in some circumstances.

Thoughts on Running the Game:

This pair of sessions comprised a lot of investigation, some deduction, and new environmental challenges. Both sessions ended up in combat with what now appears to be a creature common to the area, a form of giant lizard. This brought out the usefulness of the creature section in RuneQuest in general, and the quadruped combat notes [RQ6 p325] in particular. Going over this section as I contemplated how these lizards would move, hunt, and approach combat, how to picture their size and strength in relation to the characters, and what oddities I could include in these aspects in order to give some subtle clues about what lies ahead, was extremely useful. It has been a long time since I read such a section on running creatures and it gave me a lot to think about. The first encounter went smoothly enough, although I did have one problem, as described above. The second went very well with a good sense of challenge, fear, and clear imagery.

In addition to the local fauna, the group also decided to investigate a ruin which led them deep underground. A 5-part video series by Lindybeige on torches I had seen some time last year suddenly became useful for more than just academic interest. This gave us two good scenes, one for Turged learning how to make torches as his culture uses different and dimmer means for illuminating their Deeps, and one for the organizing the actual descent into a tunnel in the mountainside.

The last thing about these sessions was that it saw us transition from the simplified difficulty grades chart [RQ6, p57] to the standard method of modifying a skill by a fraction of its value. While a little more mathematical in nature, it offered the same quality of boost to easy actions, while penalizing without preventing difficult actions. Perhaps only from the player’s perspective, a flat penalty of 20% on a skill of 30% can seem like a signal to not try, while a reduction of that 30% by 1/3 can make it seem ‘hard’ but something still worthy of consideration. I had chosen the simplified version initially for reasons of speed and ease, but now that we are comfortable with the game and the characters, it is time to step closer to its core.

Session Sixteen: Ascent into the Unknown

This session was run on a Saturday afternoon, with two players present. We played for a little less than 2 hours as my work life got in the way of my personal life.

Session Seventeen: Descent into Darkness

This session was run on a Saturday afternoon, with first one, then two players, then one player present. We played for our usual 3+ hours, and called the game at an important decision point.

The recap for both sessions will be merged together from here on.

The Session

The session began right where we left off in the previous session with just the briefest recap.

We resumed in a wide, dry gulch of a dead riverbed, littered with withered scrub brush and dried leaves. The group watched the dark shapes of the avian mounts of the Order of the Horizon dwindle in the cold sky under the crystal canopy of Heaven before turning into the low-hanging orb of the Frozen Sun and heading upward, deeper into the mountains.  The area was warm enough, but dry, and lacking the signs of life the hunters among them expected…

Session Recap:

  • Gorwyn moved ahead of the group and urged them all to make good time. After a brief period of suspicious readiness, the group put their weapons away and settled into a more appropriate formation and rhythm for a continuous rising grade with uneven terrain. Whatever mountain pass they had been expecting to find based on the ancient maps they had recovered, was long since gone – washed away in some sort of cataclysm which left only this dry riverbed in its place. Before long, Gorwyn noted the hoofprints of horses of some kind, joining the trail cut by the river. The mountain lords conferred over the tracks and determined a group of perhaps 10 men and more steeds, probably mountain ponies, were a day or two ahead of them. They decided to pick up the pace and follow the trail. They were pretty confident that the trail was that of a group of young nomads seeking the Tower for their rite of passage into adulthood. On their way to this place, they had overflown similar groups of similar size. It could take those groups months to make their way to this place. Obviously, it must be several times a year that these pilgrims set out.
  • The group made camp in a stone shelter carved into the stone bank of the dead river. It was clear that the pilgrims ahead of them had done the same, and checking the tracks, the mountain lords felt more confident in their estimate of the numbers. They also concluded that the nomads were far better equipped for this terrain than they were. While they talked, and looked for signs, Turged set up camp, and Gorwyn scouted on ahead. There was no night to fall, so eventually they settled down to eat, rest, and think. Sleep came slowly, but other than their own breathing and the sound of the wind in the scrub, all was still and peaceful. Once rested, and for the mountain lords this was hard to determine as in their lofty dwellings the thick clouds give them much-needed respites from the constant glare of the Frozen Sun, the group packed up and headed on up the gulch.
  • With Gorwyn quite far ahead scouting, the first instance of real danger fell. The shadow of an immense bird of prey flashed past them once, and they sought cover, but it did not return. By turns nervous and confident, they made their way up the rocky incline. Weighed down by less gear and restrictive clothing, Gorwyn roved back and forth across the river bed, far out ahead of the others,  looking for… anything out of the ordinary. Due in part to good timing, good luck, and attentiveness, Gorwyn managed to spot a giant lizard sunning itself farther up the incline. He ducked for cover behind a boulder and signalled the others to take cover as well. As they scrambled across the rocks to get to the shadows and shade along the edge of the gulch, the lizard heard them and rose up on a rock nearby to flare its impressive and colorful neck wattles and hiss at them threateningly. It is uncertain what would have happened had the group all been together, but Gorwyn by himself did not seem like a threat; more of an appetizer. It leapt to his position and mounted the rock he was hiding behind, looking as large as a bull, but much greater in length. The truth was something else. Gorwyn, trained to harness his internal energy as a bodyguard  needing no weapons, did not flinch. He rushed in to close the range and turn the beast around so that the others, who were strung out down the slope, could close on its flanks. Augmenting himself as best he could under the deluge of attacks by the giant lizard [AP 3, RQ6 p. 370], Gorwyn applied his ‘formidable natural weapons’ [RQ6, p226] and his unarmed combat style trait of ‘Unarmed Prowess’ [RQ6, p135] to good advantage. This was the first time the player had had to reckon with a penalty to his Strike Rank for wearing armour, and that was interesting to note. He was glad of the armour protection more than once, but would have been happier holding initiative over the fast and aggressive creature. The two went at each other ferociously. The creature clawing and biting, seeking to rend flesh [Bleed] or sink its talons in for a good hold [Grip], but being foiled repeatedly by Gorwyn’s strong defenses. As the others closed from behind the creature, he struck a ferocious blow that both hurt and startled it [choose location, bypass armour]. At this point it wanted to flee, but the group had its blood up and blocked it. The mountain lords in particular viewed it as travel rations on legs waiting to be packed. The three lords formed a support group for Turged as he tried to cut into its flanks. Two hung back to use their hurlbats, while the Duke hoped to pin the lizard’s tail. They did not reckon with the strength of its scales, nor its ferocity. Turged and the Duke both managed to wound the creature, but the two lords found they had to close and use their axes in close combat. [Missed rolls, or damage below the Armour value were narrated as failing to penetrate the scales of the lizard]. Working together, the group terrified the lizard, and its deadly coordinated attacks on a single target became scattered attacks and flailings at the things which were hurting it. Gorwyn’s repeated ability to hit it in the head, and Turged’s steady pressure on its flank, brought about its horrified demise on the blood-spattered rocks under the Frozen Sun, not far from its lair.
  • The Duke’s people wanted to butcher the lizard for its meat and hide, but Turged pressed on them the need to catch up with the nomads before they reached the Tower. That argument fell to naught, however, when the group stumbled across a crumbled ruin of an entrance in the side of the mountain they were slowly ascending. It seemed a mistake to ignore it, and so they prepared themselves to investigate. If nothing else, they hoped to glean some clues about this region, and perhaps the Tower. [end of session 16]
  • Turged and the Duke decided to take no chances. While Turged would be able to see in the dark [Dark Sight, RQ6 p226], the others would not. They had not expected to go delving into the ground, and so, due to the weight restrictions placed on them to travel here by bird, were not prepared with portable light sources of any kind. The lords settled down to prepare some torches and intrigued, Turged sat with them to learn this useful survival skill [Training, RQ6, p111]. Impatient, Gorwyn announced he would scout ahead and entered the tunnel on his own. After about an hour, the three lords and Turged had managed to produce 6 torches of fair quality and noted that Gorwyn had still not returned. No cries for help had been heard, but it did not seem likely that he would have gone so deep into the hill without returning for the rest of them. Concerned, they had Turged go ahead with sword and shield [Dark Sight] and then a short distance behind, the Duke with sword and shield, and two of his lords followed with their hurlbats and shields in hand. The third lord brought up the rear with torch and shield. The light level was very low, but it kept the smoke out of their eyes, and made them less of a target…they hoped. The floor of the tunnel was clean of dust and grit near the entrance. Unlike any normal underground structure it was not warmer than the outside air, but rather far cooler, and ever so slightly damp…almost musty. The deeper one goes, the warmer one should get, but such did not seem to be the case here. Despite the impression of mustiness and dampness, the tunnel was very clean and tightly constructed of stone slabs of a neutral sand color with glints of tiny crystals within. Two floor slabs to a wall slab, two wall slabs to a ceiling slab. The wall slabs were ever so slightly concave, and from the second section were finely coated with a damp, earthy grit in which fungal growths were thriving. On closer inspection, it suddenly hit Turged that the growths were actually art, and that the fungus was presenting murals and representations of daily life, work, war, and worship for a culture of reptilian people…perhaps the same such race as was revealed to them at the High Temple. While the fungus had not been tended recently [Customs, formidable] he felt that there were strong similarities to the codes and creeds of his own people. Looking more closely at the growth [Perception, hard] he determined that although this place looked abandoned, the ‘fungal art’ had been trimmed as recently as a month ago. The implications of that timing were not discussed with the mountain lords, and Turged pressed on into the tunnel, noting as he went, a tiny channel cut into the wall slabs to provide a tiny amount of water to the fungal murals. One such channel was cracked, as if from the settling of the mountain, and a trickle of clear water gurgled its way down the surface of the slab and seeped into the mortar where it meets the floor. Not spending too much time on that, he pressed on and a few sections later came to a circular staircase as broad and high as the tunnel which descended down into an echoing blackness. A quick survey showed him that steps were missing and in the gaps they made was nothing but a long drop into darkness and the sound of a rushing river. A wind could be felt, even at this height over the river and its speed was gauged to be tremendous, and perhaps the reason for the unnatural coolness.
  • Turged and the lords paused for a bit to rig up ropes between each of them, strung carefully to prevent injury should anyone fall, and dug out their climbing hammers and pitons. For most of the trip down it was possible to carefully leap the gap, but at some points, it was necessary to strip down to inner clothes, give a jumper a lot of slack, and have them hurl themselves into space to cling to the next section of unbroken stair. Once secure, they would rig up rope and pitons to allow the others to cross more safely, albeit without the aid of a safety line [Jumping, RQ6, p58; Climbing p 57]. This was a dangerous and difficult challenge, but the urge to find Gorwyn, and the desire to find something useful spurred them on. The first few jumps were near disasters as the best leaper, nearly fell to his death more than once, but eventually they settled into a rhythm. Sadly, they lost one of the Duke’s lords in the last part of the descent, and his screams as he fell echoed beneath them for a very long time until cut by a choked splash. To their horror, his yelling resumed, to be cut off again and again, as they imagined him trying to keep his head above the surface of the raging current while he was dragged away from them. In his attempt to cross the large gap via their secured rope, the added weight of his own and the jumper’s gear, not to mention the strain of the others’ passage, caused the piton to come loose [fumble]. He clung to the rope, but took a nasty hit against the wall as he dangled below the stair [success]. Trying to pull himself up [fail] he found that he lacked the strength. When the group tried to pull him up [fumble], he lost his grip on the rope.
  • As fast as they could they rushed to the bottom of the stair case to seek him out. Was it possible that he got free of the river? Once down in this lower level, they were momentarily disoriented and baffled as it seemed to go on forever in all directions. Their light level was pathetically low, but even Turged’s Dark Sight could note only the floor, the 10-meter wide channel containing the steel black rush of frigid water, and the staircase. No sign of walls or anything else in the distance… except the sound of scale on stone. Winded [skill penalties] but undaunted, they continued to search, and found themselves first hunted, then ambushed by a more ferocious lizard like the one they had fought just hours before. What could have made it attack in this way? It wasted no time and scattered the mountain lords with its first rush, scoring the flesh of the Duke deeply with a rake of its talons. Turged closed and found the scales to be too much for his strike, then found himself cut deeply in the exchange [Bleed Special effect beaten by Turged’s Endurance]. With the lords quickly regrouping, and the Duke and Turged shifting their ground to attack the creature from opposite sides each moment, the beast shifted its tactics from a balance of attacks and defensive positioning to primarily offensive. It had begun by circling around and pushing them back with forelegs and tail, while taking advantage of chances to bite, but shifted to clawing or biting at anything that closed on it as it sought its prey. This was Turged. Turged landed a deeply impaling blow into the side of its face which turned the tide of this battle from being on the defensive to being on the offensive. The thrashing of the beast caused him to lose his grip on his blade [Impale, RQ6, p146/7], leaving it in the wound [Brawn roll to remove the blade, fail].  Hampered by this, the creature found it harder and harder to catch the humanoids in its jaws, or move fast enough to snatch them with its claws. Enraged by something, the lizard kept coming after Turged, despite the other attacks falling on its flanks and hindquarters. The darkness was near complete as the torch was on the stones several feet away, only Turged could see clearly. Turged and the reptile. Bashing at the lords with its hindquarters, the lizard tore at Turged, stripping him of his shield when he tried to close in with a shield bash [fail] to get close to his blade again. It scattered off meters away in the gloom. It rushed him, causing him to throw himself to the ground to avoid its attack [evade, fail], but being caught before he could do so. Rising, he was knocked away and spun to the ground again (evade, fail). He could not get to the shield, nor could he get a grip on his impaling sword. What could he do? He could feel the blood coursing down his leg [Bleed], and as he rose again he found himself gripped tightly in the creature’s claws…[Grip]
  • Across the channel of frigid water, a lost and wandering Gorwyn, who had reached this level via a faster and more devious secret route he has no idea how to trigger, was led to the edge of the canal by the sound of the fight and the flickering torchlight. He arrived in time to see Turged fall for the second time, the great reptile poised to pin him in place, and rend him with its maw. At that moment, the Duke, also bloody [Bleed] and staggering, managed to drive a foot of steel deep between the scales at the base of the creature’s tail, twisting it as he withdrew and yelling at the lizard like a fury! [Bypass Armour] The lizard, surprised and in pain, pivoted up and around to snap at its aggressor and found the bloody blade of the mountain lord ramming itself up through the roof of its mouth and deep into its brain. [Choose location, maximize damage]. It crumpled in a heap, still holding tightly to Turged. As they took in its limp form, they suddenly realized the thing was wearing a sort of saddle. The implications of that again went unexpressed.
  • As Turged got to his feet and recovered his weapons, he spotted the frantic Gorwyn across the canal and all work stopped while they figured out how to help him cross. It was too far to jump, too swift and too cold to swim, and for too far in both directions there was no sign of a bridge or other crossing. Lighting their fourth torch and tossing Gorwyn the rope they prepared to have him jump as far as possible then pull him from the water as he was pulled toward their bank by the action of the water and the restriction of the rope. Augmenting himself to take every advantage of opportunity [Enhance Action Points, RQ6, p227], Gorwyn screwed his courage down tight and leapt into the dark water. His youthful and healty physique was prepared [Endurance] to deal with the shock of the cold water, but the speed of the water and the suddenness of the rope going taught and launching him toward the opposite bank almost caught him off guard. He hit with more force than he could resist, and was driven deep beneath the surface, confused about which way was up [Athletics, fail]. When he felt the rope jerking him as his compatriots rushed to pull him out, he latched onto it, found the edge of the canal, and neatly rolled out using the speed of the current, and his natural buoyancy to his advantage [Athletics, critical]. Although in need of recovery time, he recognized the needs of the injured and tended to Turged and the Duke [Folk Magic, Heal, RQ6 p191]. Once their bleeding was stopped and they were more comfortable, Gorwyn sought a way to restore lost body heat to himself. This time the lords would hear none of the arguments about leaving the lizard meat. “It’s a sign!” they cried. The lizard was cleaned and cut into portable portions, and Turged scouted up and down the canal as far as seemed safe. There was nothing but the staircase and the canal in any direction. It seemed impossible, but that was the reality they were facing. In the gloom of the single, flickering torch, Gorwyn and Turged looked at each other, while the Duke looked at both of them. “What should we do?” they asked each other. Only silence answered.
Session Eighteen:

The Eighteenth session recap will deal with the characters’ further exploration of the reptilian culture’s complex, or withdrawal to return to the search for the Tower of the Dawn.

Stay tuned~

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