Runequest Thursday #143 - Welcome to Kos, Runequest Style!

Clint Staples

Way back when, before Runequest Thursday was even a thing, I wrote about my nascent RQ campaign set in the River of Cradles, and my intent to insert the Island of Kos (by Skirmisher Publishing) as an independent trading nation in the South Rozgali Sea. Well, it has been close to three years since. Other than one player in an alternative group choosing Kos as his point of origin, nothing has come of it.

And all of that is my fault.

So last week I fixed the oversight by moving the action of my Clanking Ruin PCs to Kos for a bit. See, the Koan PC is a junior ship captain working for Avorax, the Ascendant Dragonewt master of the Rotunda in the Clanking Ruin (so a major player in local politics). Kyrikos (the ship captain PC) commands a hemiola, a small galley with a bank and a half of oars per side (as opposed, say, to a trireme, a larger, heavier ship with three banks per side).

Hemiolae made excellent pirate vessels in the ancient world, for many of the same reasons that Viking ships were so fear centuries later. They were relatively small, fast, maneuverable, had shallow enough draft that they could skate over reefs and shoals and go up-river – all useful traits for raiding, and for eluding pirate-hunters.

Unless the pirate-hunters also have a hemiola – Like Kyrikos.

Kyrikos divides his time aboard the Sea Witch between pirate-hunter, merchant ship escort, and occasional privateer, according to the dictates of Avorax or his administration. For this adventure, the Sea Witch is escorting a trio of merchant ships to the busy trading port of Kos City. On its own, the Sea Witch could make the trip in a few days. With the wallowing trade tubs, it takes closer to a week.

Since this is the first time the ship and its crew has actually appeared in a session, I wrote them up (see Attachment). The stats for the Sea Witch are from Chaosium’s Magic World, which has a simple, yet evocative ship and sailing system I want to try out. We spent a while giving Kyrikos and his player a feel for the ship, his crew, and the duties of captaincy, but I wanted to get to the adventure I had planned, so the voyage was slow but essentially uneventful.

Arriving at Kos, Kyrikos discharged himself of the merchantmen, saw to it that Sea Witch was berthed, and the first shore leave contingent arrayed. As tradition required (because I just made up the tradition), the captain must buy the crew their first meal in port. And since Kyrikos grew up in the slums of Kos City, he knew the best place for this: it could seat his crew, it was near the docks, and the food was cheap and plentiful: The Minihouse of Broyhoysel!

The Minihouse of Broyhoysel is written up in the Swords of Kos Fantasy Campaign Setting, and it is perfect for the job at hand. It also happens to be the starting point for an adventure currently in development by Skirmisher Publishing, intended as the introductory scenario for the setting, tentatively entitled “Welcome to Kos!”. This is the perfect adventure to begin Kyrikos’, Alayda’s and Cotann’s time in Kos City. I have played through the scenario twice before, once using 5th Edition D&D, with Michael O. Varhola DMing, and once using Brendan Cass’ awesome Swords of Infinity Engine, run by both Mike and Brendan.

The adventure begins with the PCs arriving in Kos City as dusk approaches, hungry and weary and looking for a place to eat and perhaps sleep. But the city is wide awake, its streets filled with raucous celebration and roaming bands of “Blues” and “Greens”, partisans of the main chariot-racing teams.

You see, the Heroes have arrived on Race Night, and the crowd outside the Hippodrome eagerly awaits the start of the spectacle, soothing their anticipation with drink and insults for those poor fools who follow a competing team.

Kyrikos, Alayda and Cotann lead their band of sailors and marines to the Minihouse. As a large party with ready cash in the hand of the captain, they are admitted promptly:

 Strategically located between the Grand Bazaar of and the Hippodrome, the Minihouse of Broyhoysel is set up in a sprawling, decrepit former palace, and is large enough to seat hundreds of diners in its large galleries and semiprivate chambers. It is a popular eatery in Kos for everyone from petty merchants, marketplace laborers, travelers, and shipboard mercenaries to crowds coming to and from the racetrack. Adventurers, pilgrims visiting various local temples, and many other sorts of groups also find it a convenient and economical place to feed (and local guides receive kickbacks in the form of free meals if they bring their clients to the establishment).

            Run by the hulking, swarthy, baldheaded Broyhoysel (who may be Aegyptian, Anatolian, or something else altogether) and staffed by a horde of Goblin servers and Hobgoblin cooks, the obscurely named Minihouse serves, according to its proponents, “all sorts of food,” with an emphasis on cold vegetable dishes, hot stewed meats in sauces, rice, flatbread, and a variety of deserts. Fare is laid out on self-service tables along the walls and beverages are brought directly to the tables by the white-aproned Goblin servers who, naturally, seem a bit sinister and taciturn but are nonetheless polite and deferential. For a mere three silver pieces each, patrons are entitled to eat their fill and drink a single glass of wine, beer, or hot tea; additional beverages can be purchased directly from one of the Goblin servers. Water is free but suspect.

            Furnishings at the Minihouse tend toward the austere — wooden benches and uncovered tables — although the rooms set aside for groups are somewhat more luxurious, with amenities that include table coverings and some individual chairs. The walls throughout the place are emblazoned with inexpensive, simple, and colorful paintings of local attractions, such as the port, racetrack, and grand bazaar.

Adapting the Minihouse to Glorantha was easily accomplished by changing the Hobgoblins and goblins to dark trolls and trollkin, and altering the background of Broyhoysel himself to something Holy Country-ish (if it ever arose as a subject). Door-Trolls with cudgels encouraged a few tables toward the understanding that their “All You Can Eat” had been eaten, and several tables, scattered across the expansive interior of the Minihouse, opened up just in time. Conveniently, at about the same time, a smaller table emptied in time to seat the three PCs as well.

Naturally, many of the patrons of Broyhoysels that night were race fans, sporting the colors of their teams. Drink was flowing, with many opting to pay for additional ale or wine to encourage their favorites, so insults and taunts were flowing as readily as the wine.

Now, before the PCs had stepped off the ship, I asked them what they were wearing for their excursion. Kyrikos decided he had always been a Blue, while the arms of Alayda’s knight (Syr Aelen du Morragonne) are green and gold. Cotann drily quipped that unless there was a red and black chariot faction, she would not be representing. Witches . . .

With two of the PCs in colors, the stage was set. Naturally, drink and partisan feeling each encouraged the other to excess, and soon there were signs of isolated scuffles that kept the door-trolls’ cudgels busy. But things began to get out of hand: first food, then plates and mugs were thrown; voices and fists raised.

About this time, the PCs noticed that a curtained alcove some distance away sheltered a number of odd folk, pallid and thin, ugly, with high cheekbones and prominent incisors, wearing black robes. Alayda, an initiate of Humakt, god of death and destroyer of undead, immediately became suspicious and rose for a closer look – in time to catch a bronze plate in the back of the head.

Stumbling, she turned, but could find no attacker. Conveniently, others arose to the task as a general brawl erupted. A burly Blue swung a meaty fist in her direction, even as a party of Greens made for Kyrikos. Chaos ensued for some few seconds, and when the pair gained a moment to look around, Cotann was missing, the sailors are mid-brawl, and the blackclad headed for the door. Kyrikos looked to his men, while Alayda strode towards the suspect figures, in time to see one touch the face of a brawler and appear to drain his life force on contact. Another figure, a woman with flashing eyes, entranced a nearby Green long enough to sink fangs into his arm. Alas, the Humakti is blocked by a swirl of the brawl, exchanging blows with a Green boxer. When she again turned toward the door, she saw the last of the blackclad group slip outside as the door-trolls began moving into the crowd again, cudgels rising and falling with brutal efficiency.

Kyrikos and his sub-captain extricated the crew and headed for the door en masse, where even the door-trolls made way for them. They emerged and fell instantly into the midst of a riotous clash between more Blues and Greens, shoved their way through the general melee with increasing levels of force, in time to discover Cotann bespelling an overly forward celebrant.

No, she had never seen a troupe of black clad skulkers. But she was intrigued to find out more about them. To the witch, they sounded like cultists of some sort, and with luck and charm, she hoped she might be able to bargain with their master or mistress for magical power. Barring that possibility, there was still the opportunity for adventure and coin, which Cotann enjoyed in equal measure. She suggested that such unusual folk might also have just arrived in port and been swept into the Minihouse to await the cooler evening. As this meshed with the captain’s intent to see his crew safely stowed aboard the Sea Witch once more, the trio led the way back to the docks. With their crew in good order and not adding to the brawl outside the eatery, they were troubled little when the town Watch appeared and began rounding up participants.

Sub-Captain Sarath was left in charge of the ship and crew, while Kyrikos, Alayda and Cotann asked around at the Port Authority and neighboring ships regarding the suspicious cultists. Indeed, a few berths over, a merchanter out of Nochet recalled the strange folk, who paid well and kept to themselves, insisting on maintaining their own guard over a collection of long wooden boxes stowed in the hold. The Boxes? They were collected by a carter, a local fellow from Greener Pastures, a stablery and wagonmaker just outside the west gate.

Thus, more or less fed, slightolly tussled, and fortified with a lead, the trio made their way uphill to the western gate, exiting the gate as three among the throng of racing fans heading for homes  beyond the bounds of the City itself: better turned out, less battered, and less inebriated than many.

Greener Pastures was only a short trek beyond the walls:

        Just outside the gates of the city of Kos, along the westward-heading road toward the village of Zipari, the Greener Pastures livery stable serves the transportation and mount livery needs of travelers leaving and entering the city. The main building is a long and narrow barn with a tall roof, and the smell of horses and fresh hay is pervasive in the area just outside of it. A set of large sliding double doors adorn the front of the building, with a smaller set of doors located beneath a cargo crane directly above. Annexed to the right side of the main structure is a smaller workshop, and a modest blacksmith’s chimney is clearly visible from its much-flatter roof. The workshop has a regular-sized door on the front of it, and during the day the sounds of carpentry and smithing can be clearly heard from inside. Just behind the main building is a large, fenced-in pasture where horses and other hooved mounts can be exercised by the stablehands.

A dozen stalls are located in the barn and used to house guests and a loft runs around the perimeter of the structure above them and holds neatly-stacked pallets of feed and bales of hay.

Another pair of large doors is located on the right side of the building and behind them is a workshop dedicated to repairing carriages and carts of all sorts. The far side of the room is subdivided by three bays, each containing winch-driven lifts used for lifting carriages up off of their wheels, and the workshop is outfitted with other wainwright’s tools and implements. A well-used and maintained carriage takes up one of the bays when not in use.

Greener Pastures is owned and operated by two retired members of the Green chariot racing team, Rufinus and Abbesselom.

The doors of the place were closed but a horse, a mule and a pair of donkeys were saddled and tied to the fence, doubtless awaiting riders exiting the City after the races. So the heroes strode confidently forward, Cotann batting her long eyelashes at the dark-haired, leather-aproned wainwright who came forward, an inquiring look on his expressive features.

It was not long before the heroes had agreed to buy a wagon they did not need from Abesselom, along with a horse to draw it, neither of which would fit in the Sea Witch for the trip back to the Clanking Ruin. When they thought to ask the talkative trader about the blackclad troupe, he admitted readily that he had been contracted to pick up their luggage, four heavy wooden crates, about as long as a man is tall, from the docks, and cart them here for pick up this evening. No, the wagon with the crates is gone, along with the strange folk themselves, who seemed anxious, almost threatening, to Abesselom when arrived some little time ago. But they paid well, and took themselves off just before the race crowd began to exit the gate. Yes, wasn’t the new Green driver wonderful! So bold in the curve!

When asked, Abesselom offered to buy back the wagon and horse the trio had just purchased at a full fifty percent of the selling price, less any wear-and-tear of course. And with that, Alayda drove the wagon off, accompanied by her companions. The trail was moonlit and much travelled by race fans, so the going was slow. This gave Kyrikos time to think about what lay out in this direction from the City. There were many farms and hamlets west of the City, and the traffic surrounding them dwindled as more and more followed narrow paths off the main road, or struck out over or around this or that rocky hill to their destination.

Finally, the heroes were alone on the road and several miles from Kos City. The wagon could pick up speed, though the horse seemed disinclined to do so. As a fork loomed just ahead of them, Kyrikos remembered what destination of significance awaited at its end. He called for Alayda to halt the wagon, and dismounted, scanning the ground at the junction. Even his unpracticed eye discerned the fresh tracks of a wagon taking the side road – to Elysion!

Centuries old, largely unused, and inconveniently far from the City, Elysion, or The Necropolis as it was usually called, had a nasty reputation. It was shunned by the fearful at any time, and even the bold stayed away after dark.

As we closed our session for the evening, the three heroes found themselves only a short wagon ride away in the middle of the night . . .


Next: The Road to Elysion!