Runequest Thursday #184 - A Pilgrim's Progress!

Clint Staples

Last week i explored the notion of pilgrimage in a Gloranthan context, from why this might occur to how it could drive a story and how to get your players involved. Today, I would like to generate a "sample" pilgrimage, which is to say, an Adventure on the Pilgrimage trail.

Assuming that we have a group of characters who are committed to pilgrimage, though their reasons for going may vary from piety to companionship, even simply for the monetary reward of acting as military escort, what sorts of encounters could make this adventure. Let's continue with the pilgrimage we created last week - To the Shrine of the Celestial Horse, Pegasus, in the depths of the Wasteland east of the River of Cradles. Let's look at some things to enliven the journey.

One way we can come up with some ideas for encounters on the trail is to use the growing list of Oddities for a Pilgrimage Trail. Currently the list includes almost one hundred entries (as with all of the oddities line of published products), so lets roll some dice and start our adventure. Of course, you could also just read the list and cherry pick the ones you like, or that you think your players will bite on.

I will roll  d100 three times, allowing myself to choose a result if I roll high enough that there is not entry on the list (96-00). Here goes:

02 - A petty merchant, his pack mule sitting nearby, has set up a small concession stand in an isolated area, where he is selling fruit, bread, beer, wine, and other items for 2d4+2 times the normal rates. Anyone who avails themselves of something to eat or drink here will receive +1 on their Exhaustion check for the day.

55 - A trio of cartographers stand at a crossroads heatedly arguing about the proper course of the pilgrimage trail. Each cartographer brandishes an incomplete map that is roughly 50% accurate.

16 - In the verge to one side of the Via stands a dapper fellow with too-bright eyes, an engaging manner and a smooth smile as dark as a sinner's soul. On no account will he step onto the pilgrimage way, but he will happily speak at length to those who walk it, using every contrivance of civility and comportment to lure others from their travels.


I could rearrange the order of the above, but they work pretty well as is.

Here is the general layout of the Adventure of the Pilgrim's Trail:

Encounter 1:

After some time on the trail, the pilgrims encounter a merchant, and may choose to purchase refreshment from him. This encounter may also be a good one for canny travelers to gain information. Perhaps the merchant knows something of recent events that could imperil the pilgrims. Or he might be traveling as well, or worried about his safety. If the pilgrims seem honorable and sufficiently strong, he might beg them to allow him to travel with them, providing the benefits of his refreshments each day.

Since the description says "petty" merchant, let's assume he is an ambitious Issaries initiate, perhaps engaged in his own pilgrimage of a sort more pleasing to the God of Trade.

 Frithlof The Peaceful, out of Blyford, just east of Pavis, has brought a small mule train into the Wastelands, hoping to capitalize on the lucrative trade going up and down the Pilgrim's Trail to Pegasus Rock. A long time initiate of Issaries, Frithjof sees this as something of his last chance at making his step to rune level. As such, he has perhaps gotten too enthusiastic in his trade, and asks exorbitant prices for his "Delicacies of Pavis". Standing between two hired toughs that flank ihis flimsy traveling concession stand. A cook-fire, just off the trail, wafts the scent of freshly grilled steaks. Issaries appears to have blessed the enterprise, granting those who buy Frithjof's food a 10% bonus to the Endurance rolls for the rest of the day. Fritthjof had 6 casks of food, two for each mule. plus mules for himself and his guards. He cannot cast a Market spell, so is sure to remain on the trial, hoping to gain some of its protection for his stand. He has sold well and has emptied nearly 3 casks, earning 158 Lunars thus far. At the GM's discretion, he might also have some other items for sale.

Delicacies of Pavis:

Ragout of Root vegetables with Spicegrass, thickened with Arrowstalk mash 1 Lunar

Corned Zebra with root vegetables: 3 Lunars

Fresh-grilled strips of Beefsteak on a stick - with a choice of two sauces: 5 Lunars


Encounter 2:

The second encounter could derail, or simply delay, the pilgrimage. The three cartographers each provide conflicting route information, some of which is accurate, the rest not. If the pilgrims follow the course set out by the wrong "expert" they could have an interesting and potentially dangerous diversion. Let's assume they do. The cartographer the pilgrims choose directs them down the wrong path. Is this fellow simply mistaken? A charlatan who directs they pilgrims along the wrong path because he believes that he was "sent" to test pilgrims in their devotion? Or is he malicious, possibly the agent for a band of brigands that are fearful of the regular patrols by the Order of the Bright Wing, so they chose to waylay only those who have left the pilgrim trail. In this case, a combat encounter is probably in the offing - a band of brigands, perhaps marauding ogres (one of which IS the false cartographer), or scorpionfolk using one of their most human cultists to lure prey.

It is also possible that the cartographer works for the glib fellow in the next rolled encounter. If this smooth-talker is as suspicious, and as otherworldly, as intimated, the cartographer getting the pilgrims off the sacred path could make them much more susceptible to his power. Perhaps he a Riddlemaster of Gbaji/ Nysalor to quiz the travelers, opening their minds to the subtleties of chaos as they stray from the path of the pilgrim. Or something entire non-human, a demon who cannot set foot on a righteous path, but is determined to tempt those walking it away from their devotion. What sort of offers might such a creature make to pilgrims? Or would he be more direct and deadly that subtle, especially if the demon is no longer hampered by the holiness of the path.

These three cartographers can be treated as a group, and should be especially so if one of them is the shill for the next encounter. They have each arrived separately at this crossroads, and are each convinced that their particular choice of route is the one, sometimes directly in the face of refutation from another cartographer who has come from that direction. They argue as much about reputation and sales of their "map" or Book of Charts" as they do the actual direction to take, and are seconds from coming to blows. If one of the trio is working with the dapper "gentleman" in the next encounter, he will be doing everything possible to cause an actual melee, egging on one, then the other, mapmaker by turns. He will also smoothly excuse himself from the squabble when the next batch of pilgrims (the PCs) approach - attempting to explain the fracas in his own slanted way. And, if he is working with the Dapper fellow, he is an ogre.


Encounter 3:

The third encounter is predicated on the second, so if you choose not to have the cartographer and the Dapper gentleman working together, you will need to adjust things slightly. You can also decide how oily you want the dapper gentleman to be, the better to set of, or allay, the suspicions of your pilgrims. 

This fellow, though an ogre, has a chaotic feature granting him 22 Charisma. Along with this natural charm and rugged good looks, he has a good score in Influence (88%), as well as in Fast Talk (74%, if he gets caught in a lie). His job is to direct pilgrims off the trail - onto a side trail  to their doom at the hands and tusks of his fellow Cacodaemon cultists. Having heard that ne'er-do-wells are sometimes cursed for touching the Holy Via, he is fearful of the pilgrim path itself and will not set foot on it, but is careful to camoflage his hesitation by changing the subject. If he must fight, he will flee, leading pursuers back to his compatriots if possible.


What is this holy path nonsense? We have not dwelled on it before, but the notion that the route of the pilgrimage is sacred is common. That the traveling of the route is a sacred act makes perfect sense for Glorantha, but also for many other worlds, as the heroes enact something that works a bit like a Heroquest to access a portion of the Heroic Plane via the ritual travel to the Sacred Place. In such instances, an enemy of the heroes or their deities, could well take opportunity to weaken the competing cause through the corruption of its heroes. But an enemy like this, especially a supernatural one like a demon, might not be able to set foot on the trail itself without imperiling itself or its mission.

With this set of encounters, you have a good evening of action and roleplaying, in which you can stress the sacred aspects of the adventure accordingly. Of course, if the pilgrims leave the trail, they run the risk of further misadventures that might make a simple fight with brigands or ogres pale by comparison. And if they get into too much trouble, an appearance by a patrol of the Order of the Bright Wing can lend them aid, or guide them back to the trail. And since you are probably going to have a fight on your hands with the Ogres, here is a pack of ogre brigands, led by a Lord of Cacodaemon, to finish up the package. And since he has a sorcerer friend, I have also attached my Sorcery System.


Next week, assuming our Pilgrims make it to the Shrine of Celestial Horse, we will take a look at the benefits of completing a Pilgrimage, and expand on the Order of the Bright Wing.