Friday, November 7, 2014

Unplanned Griffin Mountain: The Sacred Time

Remember from last time that I am brand spankin' new to Glorantha and only passingly familiar with RuneQuest. In all my RQ/Glorantha reading, I think that what has driven my interest is the gravity of the interplay between the stetting and the rules and back to the setting. And so, from moment one, I've wanted to make sure that the RQ6 game that I'm running feels like RuneQuest feels to me when I read it. Cults, seasons, magic. All of this should together to make the game play experience an worthy synthesis of how the game should play and how the campaign should feel. And so, I'm left standing in the position of wanting to be true to the traditional feel of RQ, but having no experience in running it and being blessed/cursed with players who have the same limit of experience. 

How do I do this, then?

When I read Griffin Mountain, I was really happy to discover that there is a chapter on running "coming of age" quests. Running a group of adolescents who are learning just as much as the players are always feels like a good way to introduce players to a new rule system for me and jibes with the whole "zero to hero" thing that I dig. The players knew they were making teenagers (or nearly-teenagers), so going into it, they knew their characters wouldn't be full-fledged badasses (are RQ starting characters ever full-fledged badasses?), but that they'd have plenty of room to grow. 

We rolled for stats, and everybody had the "Primitive" background, and then distributed their first 100 skill points into their background skills. That's where we left skills. Careers will develop, but we're not there yet (see below); these guys are kids, not seasoned vets. I did allow the players to put skill ranks into Folk Magic out of the gate, counting that as a sort of bonus skill for the neophytes. I let the gents pick their starting Folk Magic spells, and I think that only one of them ended up with more than one spell. 

In order to reinforce the nature of the game -- i.e., that the players are playing neolithic hunters going through their coming of age rite -- and the setting, I decided to base the game around the seasons of the Gloranthan calendar. Each season was to have a scenario attached to it, a particular challenge that the players have to address as part of their rites of passage. Further, there are a series of questions that the players have to answer -- sometimes as a group, sometimes individually -- that discuss events that happen during the season, what particular NPCs are like, how a particular event went down, etc., which will often have consequences for the successive seasons and the tribe. Of course. Because otherwise they'd be pointless. In effect, I'm trying to increase player buy in by having my players tell me what their world of pre-Bronze Age nomadic hunters is like. 

And so, the three players who showed up created a cadre of would-be hunters and full members of the tribe and each player helped create context for that cadre. Who is each member? How do they fit into the tribe? What about their families? But first, let's look at Sacred Time.

Sacred Time

The Sacred Time season is the two-week festival that marks the end of one year and the beginning of the next, when sacrifices are made to the gods and their rites are celebrated. The Storm season, Yura the Clam, the old high priestess of the Hearthmother, sacrificed herself to drive off a blizzard that had battered the tribe for days on end. With Yura's death, the tribe had no high priestess going into the Sacred Time, and so were unsure of how best to thank the Hearthmother for her servant's ultimate sacrifice that had saved the tribe. The tribe decided to sacrifice the remains of their food stores to the Hearthmother in thanks, so as the Sea season arrives, the tribe finds itself in dire need of replenishing those stores, making the hunters' tasks literally vitally important. The tribe sacrificed Yura's fetishes, raiment and tokens of office to Votanki, the hero god ancestor spirit, that he might provide the tribe with the wisdom necessary to choose a new high priestess that would satisfy his mother, the Hearthmother, and have the wisdom and skill to fill the void left by Yura the Calm. One last sacrifice was made: as it does every year, the tribe sacrificed a one of its number, a young virgin (named Quiet Fawn), by burning that she may join the Found Child in the Godsplane (I've been calling it "Godtime" to make it fit my tastes better). In return for this sacrifice, the Found Child, god of the hunt, allows a secret copse of yew trees, known only to members of the tribe's Found Child cult, to grow and flourish. At the end of the Earth season, the tribe's Found Child cultists take their pick of the limbs of these trees, and throughout the Dark and Storm seasons use them to make the tribe's famous bows. At the end of the Sacred Time, the tribe announced the candidates who would be undergoing the rites of passage this year: Sick Ape, Little Fox and Little Bull.

[Absolutely all of this is the result of questions I asked my players. "Who died last year?" "What was sacrificed to the Hearthmother and why?" Things like that. The result was, as you can see, a pretty neat web of stuff that gives lots of gamable opportunities. As the PCs took shape, as you'll see below, their place in the tribe made even more gamable moments.]

Sick Ape is the oldest of the candidates to join the ranks of the hunters and, at sixteen years old, this year is his last chance to pass the rites, lest he become a bondsman, a slave to the hunter class. He's already failed the rites several times, but the quick-thinking Ape knows more about the rites than his rite-brothers. Always smaller than the other boys of the tribe, Sick Ape was unhealthy and weak throughout his childhood, but has grown into a lithe and agile, if small and weak, young man. Sick Ape blames the tribe's chieftan, Yuarvag the Fang, for the loss of Yura the Calm; had Yuarvag foreseen the possibility of such bad weather, the tribe might have wintered in a safer place, one less affected by harsh weather. Slowly, surely, Sick Ape has made up his mind that, if he passes his rite this year, one day he will be chieftan. 

Little Fox+PJ Muszkiewicz 
It has been a year of harsh realities for Little Fox. Last year's Earth season saw the death of his parents at the jaws of a legendary beast known only as the "Dark Howler;" none has seen the beast for a generation, but its bleak call is known to all members of the tribe, a hideous clarion that gives pause to even the bravest hunters. In the intervening weeks, he has found himself part of his uncle's household --  a place where he is not exactly welcome. Should he fail his rites and become a thrall to his uncle's house, Little Fox doubts that Uncle Sergh will hesitate to sell him into slavery with passing merchants or at one of the citadels. Knowing his likely fate should he fail, Little Fox has joined this year's rite-brothers in an attempt to free himself from Uncle Sergh's house and seeks every advantage to do so. Currently, he compensates for his deficiency in the art of magic by learning as much lore about the spirits of the land and the Godtime that he can. 

Little Bull+Craig Brasco 
Each of this year's rite-brothers has much riding on his completion of the rites, and Little Bull is no exception. Though the youngest of the rite-brothers, Little Bull is nonetheless the largest. A burly youth of a mere twelve years, Little Bull has joined the rites in hopes that should he be accepted to the tribe as a hunter, his family's position within it will be secured. This past Fire season, his family was taken in by the tribe, one of the few surviving families of another tribe, now extinct. Little Bull's parents, however, are notorious for their skill with animals, and have taken up the mantles of the tribe's dog handlers. As dog handlers, they're not quite on par with the tribe's hunters, but higher than the tribe's thralls; Little Bull hopes that, if he becomes a hunter of the tribe, his family's place within it will be secured. Although the largest and strongest of the rite-brothers, he is by far the least experienced in this tribe's customs and power structure. Little Bull was horrified by the sacrificial death of Quiet Fawn during the Sacred Time rituals

[Almost all of this information comes from questions that I asked the players, often about the other players' characters. For example, I asked Phil "Why does the tribe not trust Little Bull's family?" and asked Craig "How did Little Fox's parents die?" At the same time, questions were asked about their own PCs' feelings on matters such as asking Gabriel "Who does Sick Ape blame for the sacrifice of all the food stores and why?" and Craig "What does Little Bull think of the virgin sacrifice?" Here's a neat fact: it was Craig whose idea the virgin sacrifice was in the first place.]

Seasonal Play

Here's the plan: each session will present the PCs with at least one season (more than one if time permits). Each season will have an associated scenario, a challenge for the rite-brothers to overcome, part of their rite. The idea for me is to give the players a glimpse into the normal life of their tribe and to help teach them the myths that will guide them as hunters and tribe members. After the scenario (or perhaps before, depending on what I need/want to know), I'll also have some questions similar to those that guided us through the Sacred Time to flesh out the tribe, their surroundings and the course of the year. At the end of each season, no matter how it ends, surviving PCs will gain 20 skill points to spend on Career skills (which means that, as of the end of Sea season, they'll have to pick a Career). 

My goal is for the player, after a year's worth of seasons, to have a solid grasp of who their characters are, understand their tribe and its myths, know more about the wider world around them (even if that's just Balazar) and have fully finished character creation. By the next Sacred Time, we'll know how many of the rite-brothers become hunters and how many fail and become thralls. Should be a neat journey.