Runequest Thursday #188 - The Cattle Raid of Koli - A Complete Gloranthan Adventure in the River of Cradles!

Clint Staples

This is the compete adventure I recently ran as an Introduction to Runequest and Glorantha on D-Infinity Plays! – Our Live podcast in which the D-Infinity Live Crew of Miscreants try out games new and old. It went pretty well, serving as an interesting adventure in a cool locale, and as an introduction to the wide, wonderful and (slightly) wacky world of Glorantha. Although I have played and GMed Runequest/ d100 in a number of settings (both my own and diverse published settings) none of my players had more than a passing familiarity with the system or the world.  

You can catch the Live Plays episode if you would like to see how they dealt with the session, which ran in about 2 hours from start to finish.

 

A Brief Introduction to Glorantha

Glorantha is a world of gods and demons, immortals and mortals. Gods play a major role in the life of the world, determining its future as they strive against their enemies, reward their servants and retain their places of mastery over the cosmos and the runes they championed.

Runes are cosmic principles as well as symbols, and may be represented but not contained in a physical form that mortals can scribe and comprehend only imperfectly. There are runes for Sun, Fire, Air, Darkness, Law, Chaos, Truth, Disorder and more, and gods that reflect some or all aspects of a number of them. Rune often exist as dualities or opposites – Law versus Chaos, Sun versus Darkness, and deities that have mastered opposed runes often are opposed as well.

The same opposition applies to the mortals who worship particular gods. Trolls, born in Darkness, will always be the foes of the followers of Yelm, Ascendant of Sun and Sky, just as Humakt worshippers will seek to end the abomination of undead whenever possible.  

Mortals interact with the supernatural world of gods (and often of spirits or other diverse powers) via cults. Cults are organizations that serve one or more gods and are central to life on Glorantha. Heroes are almost invariably members of a cult, and progress along the path of herodom set out by the cult and the god or gods worshipped. As they progress, heroes gain some of the powers associated with their god or goddess, and some aspire to mastery of runes themselves the better to serve their people, cult and god.

Cults act as social centers as much as religious ones, and allied cults almost always serve allied gods. There are pantheons of gods: Like the Storm Tribe with Father Orlanth, his allies – the other Lightbringers (who quested to return the sun to the sky after a much younger Orlanth used a new tool that he borrowed from Humakt and accidentally killed Yelm). Other alliances or families of gods, like the Lunar pantheon, or the Praxian pantheon, have their own adherants, and their own foes.

For the last couple of centuries, since her apotheosis, the Red Goddess, has led the Lunar pantheon on a seemingly predestined conquest of Glorantha. From their ancient homeland north of Dragon Pass, the Lunars have conquered, enslaved or assimilated people after people, and often god after god, bringing peace and untold wealth within the Empire, and misery and war beyond its borders.

With the invasion south of Dragon Pass, the Empire has become embroiled in war that is taxing their resources. The Storm Tribe, the Nomad Gods of Prax, as well as their worshippers, and many spirits and other powers, are slowly being conquered or forced south toward the sea. For Mortals, the choice is clear: Some fight every foot of the way, adhering to the gods of their people – Others have already given in and reap the rewards of citizenship.

For the gods, there is no choice but to resist with every iota of power - or conquer the rest of Glorantha in the name of the Red Goddess.

 

Current Setting and Situation:

It is Fire Season of 1616. In the region of the Great Marsh, over which Brightwater perches on a promontory of land that descends from the Plains of Prax to the west, it is hot and rather humid. The floods of Sea Season are weeks in the past, and much of the marsh is a series of islands, some seasonal, others permanent, separated by trickles, streams and occasional shallow meanders from the Zola Fel, the river from which the region gets its name. The Zola Fel itself is calm and muddy this time of year, the volume of water expecially low this year since many of the River Horse Spirits were drawn into the recent sack of the Lunar fortress at Moonbroth, an oasis in the north of Prax that apparently was reachable via subterannean rivers that flow beneath the plains. Moonbroth is also where the Brightwater Company (which comprises the player characters of the campaign, as well as a number of NPCs that have entered into its service) happens to be.

But life in Brightwater must go on even while the PCs are ignoring it to alter the course of events on a broader stage. The rush of Sea Season activities has slowed with the river - fishing the floodwaters that boil at the base of Brightwater's height, planting rice and other crops, and seeing to the birth of young to the cattle, sheep, and the other herd-beasts that the settlement now owns.

Fire Season has its own needs, and moving cattle over the rivulets and islets of the Great Marsh in summer is hard work, and constant.  On one such drive, a dozen beasts go missing on the trail. Dagaz, the Drive Lead, unable to follow fast enough with the rest of the herd, details a few of the younger drovers to find the errant beasts and get them back to the herd.

Zola Fel, the River of Cradles, in a dry year, at a comparatively narrow point in the rugged river valley.

The Scenario:

While the masters and mistresses of Brightwater are waging war in the plains of Prax, others must protect the settlement and keep the herds. When a dozen or more herd-beasts are driven off, something must be done to return them and the young herders and their friends decide to make the attempt before the knowledge becomes public – and they get a scolding from old Master Theudulf!

Join a group of young heroes as they adventure on their own for the first time in the Great Marsh of the River of Cradles during Fire Season! Returning the herd is the difference between good times and lean for Brightwater. But getting back alive is never assured in the lawless wasteland of the River of Cradles . . .

 

The PCs:

Skafloc Heart-Piercer - Skafloc is a young warrior following in the ways of the Praxian Culture Hero-God Waha – warrior, chieftain, raider, hunter and husband. He adventures to become a better initiate of Waha, but also to return to his tribe rich and skilled enough to become a warchief and Runelord. His nickname comes from an action at the First Battle of Moonbroth, wherein he removed a Lunar cavalry officer from his mount with his lance. His single use Runespell came from the tribal priest who saw him do it.

Corun du Lacan - Corun is a recent émigré from Esrolia, far to the east of River of Cradles, having followed the Humakti Swordmaster Calador du Morragonne on his pilgrimage to the lost Shrine of the Black Blade. Corun follows the family Sword Saint of the du Lacan: Eloise – who was renowned for her ability to detect betrayal and ambush. Though devoted to the death god, Corun is neither morose, nor taciturn, and sees death as a doorway to new adventure – albeit one that need not be rushed toward. 

Gawaena  - Gawaene is new to Brightwater, a recent immigrant from Esrolia new to journeymanship. She met Corun du Lacan and his Sword-Master aboard ship from Esrolia, and took to the younger Humakti immediately. Arriving in the River of Cradles, Gawaene was attracted to the opportunity to study Sorcery with the renowned Wyrmhere Blackhand, and to learn Storm Magic in the Cabal of Jagrun Khan. Now having met the Storm Tiger, the rather cautious young sorceress is unsure if she has the right attitude to remain. Seeking to be more atavistic, on hearing of the cattle theft, Gawaene offers to aid Corun when the Humakti volunteered.

 

Tracking the Herd:

From the place where they were rustled, the heroes are encouraged to scout around for tracks or other signs of what happened. A Tracking success turns up track almost immediately. A failure does not mean they find nothing however. Each 10% (or portion thereof) by which the Tracking check failed adds 10 minutes to the time required to find and interpret the tracks correctly. Characters without the Tracking can attempt Spot Hidden to find the signs, each success negating 10 minutes lost to a failed Tracking roll. If the Tracking roll is successful by more than 20%, human prints, some booted, others shod or bare, are found amid the tracks of zebra, sun elk, and aurochs.

The tracks show that the errant herd beasts are moving as a group, generally east and south, through the islets, marsh and frequent streams toward the main course of the Zola Fel, several miles downriver from Brightwater. Further tracking is likely to be required to stay on the trail, which frequently is lost as the herd moves through waterways, marsh, etc.  

 

Encounter 1: After a few hours on the trail of the missing herd-beasts, the heroes come upon a strange sight. Read or paraphrase the following:

To one side of the trail you follow, partially obscured by a stand of willow brush, you see a Praxian Rhino Rider, seemingly asleep, but still in the saddle of his (also sleeping) prostrate mount. A ragged banner wafts lazily in the warm air, fixed to a broken lance stuck in the earth nearby.

This is a dead rhino-rider propped into a sitting position atop his ritually slain mount, a broadsword in his hand, a fierce warmask covering his features. A Storm Rune banner "tasseled" with more than a dozen sable tails flutters nearby. A Praxian can make a Culture check to determine that this was a Stormkhan of Stormbull, the Berserker Chaos-killing cult of the plainsmen. An INTx2% success will divulge that this was the renowned Stormkhan Razig Taranau.

The spirit of the fierce warrior still lingers around his remains, awaiting the next storm to enter the Storm Realm. If his body or equipment is treated disrespectfully, he will rise to challenge those who disturb his remains in spirit combat. But if someone takes the sword with appropriate reverence, he will challenge only to see if they are worthy of his gift. If he is defeated in honorable spirit combat, he approves and relinquishes the sword as his envigorated spirit moves on to the Storm Realm (grant the successful challenger 1 Hero Point). If he defeats an honorable challenger, he will possess the transgressor, taking up his favored weapon in his new body, and seek to avenge himself on the Sable-riders who ambushed and slew him, only then freeing the unfortunate vessel of his retribution. If his remains are treating disrespectfully, he will enter spirit combat to possess, attacking any other transgressors, before seeking the slayers of his previous body. Whether he relinquishes control at any time is an open question.

INT 12, POW 15: Does 1d3 POW damage in Spirit Combat, on a successful POW vs. POW attack. When the POW of the target is at 5 or less, he will attempt to Possess with another POW vs. POW roll.

Wargear: Broadsword: a fine sword in the Orlanthi style, marked with runes of Air and Mastery, does 1d8+2 damage, Warmask of Farsight: Armor 6 to Head, +20% to Spot Hidden, and to Intimidate, Farsight Matrix.

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Continuing on the trail, the pursuers come upon a broad stretch of shallow water. Hours behind the herd, the slow-moving river shows no signs of passage, and the far bank is too distant to see if the herd exited anywhere nearby. The players can make a Tracking, or Luck (POW x1%) losing half an hour per 10% over the required roll, before picking up trail. As it turns out, the herd moved downriver half a mile before exiting the flow. If the Tracking check is successful, human prints, some booted, others shod or bare, are found amid the tracks of zebra, sun elk, and aurochs.

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Encounter 2: A strange caravan approaches in the twilight left as Yelm sinks below the distant  canyon wall of Vulture Country in the west. A successful Spot Hidden allows the heroes time to see this in time to avoid it or take other action. Read or paraphrase the following:

A spider larger than an aurochs, bearing a dark troll rider wearing a broad-brimmed leather hat and a dusty but garishly patterned poncho, smoking some sort of rolled-up pipeweed. Trailing behind him are a manacled baboon and a trollkin wielding a long-hafted goad, driving a stag beetle the size of a sun elk loaded down with bundles of trade goods.

The troll is Lead Belcher, but he also answers to “Stranger” as if it were a use-name. If threatened he brandishes a dwarven stoneprod in each hand. Although he appears threatening and deadly with the stoneprods, he is actually a devotee of the trollish god of merchants and travel, Argan Argar. He is willing to trade what he has if others can convince him they have things of worth. He will also trade information if the price is right (or he is convinced with an Influence success). Lead Biter is wary of chance meetings in the Great Marsh, but not too worried about treachery from so small a group.

On favorable Influence, or a bribe of 100 lunars or more in cash or goods.

"Why, Yes! I have seen a number of aurochs and sables being driven by a band of ne’er-do-wells. They looked me over like they were going to add him to the stew pot. Of course I know men are too squeamish to eat each other, but they DID look rather predatory. The drovers seemed to be heading into a box canyon a few miles back."

Development: It may be that a canny hero will think to ask Lead Biter what he meant about the humans looking like they might eat the troll or his chattels. Lead Biter suspects that the herd thieves were Ogres (manlike in form but chaotic and cannibalistic), but he does not want to admit this because he would think less of himself for ignoring the presence of chaos, which trolls hate as much or more than do many humans. He will not admit his suspicions, but if he has made a sale to the heroes, he might warn them to be especially careful of the "savage, sharp-toothed brutes".

 

The Box Canyon:

Whether following the tracks of the herd-beasts, or directed there by Lead Biter, the heroes eventually will come upon the Box Canyon lair of the cattle thieves. The opening to the canyon is little more than a narrow cleft, like many others that split the rough rock wall of the greater canyon that contains the River of Cradles. Most extend no more than a dozen feet into the limestone before petering out in nothing more than the occasional animal lair.

 

The Cleft:

This cleft seems much the same, narrow and dark from the overhanging rock walls, but extends deeper, winding 20 or so yards before opening into a roughly circular, steep-walled canyon approximately 100 yards across. The heroes have no way of knowing this without investigation. But the tracks of many animals, as well as half a dozen human (or ogres) lead into it.

For information on the Ogre cattle thieves, see their Stat sheets.

 

Head Posts at the Canyon Mouth:

To one side and before the cleft, the brigands have erected a series of head posts just north of the mouth of their canyon. At first they did this to warn off the baboons they felt were scouting and stealing from them. But they have since waylaid more than one curious investigator, so they leave them up, occasionally adding to the collection. If the heroes do not decide to investigate the Cleft, the Head Posts may function as a not so subtle clue that villains live nearby.

Head Posts – Arrayed on a hillock are a line of six wooden stakes, each topped with a head: [from oldest to freshest] Baboon, Baboon, Baboon, Man, Broo, Man. INT x3% to recognize the features of one of the men as someone who was reported as having run off from Brightwater several weeks ago. The heads are in various states of decay, and have been much worried at by local scavengers.

It is natural for the pursuers to suspect that a spirit might be attached to one or more of the heads, especially if the heroes encountered the spirit of the Stormkhan previously. But these spirits have all been sacrificed to Cacodaemon, the chaos patron of Ogrekind, and have been consumed. The heads themselves have nothing of value.

 

The Canyon itself:

If the heroes need a nudge to explore, a successful Spot or Tracking will turn up the fairly obvious tracks of a small herd of diverse ungulates leading into the otherwise innocuous cleft near the head posts.

 

Watch Post:

Koli, leader of the little band of Cacodaemon cultists, always insists that one of his group is on watch at the mouth of the valley – today that one is Hvit (see the Cattle Thieves file for details).

Atla, another of the ogres and a good climber, previously cut steps up the cliff side to a watch post with protection and camouflage.  The post is 40 feet overhead, and Spots to find it are at -20% unless someone specifically says that they are looking around here. This subtraction is also negated if the scout is shooting. It is also easy to gain cover from above, by hugging the walls of the passageway (-20% to Shooter’s chance to hit). If Hvit is not spotted, she can take a single shot at one target before the heroes have an opportunity to Evade. Once she has shot, describer her perch and the cover she has. If the heroes are already in the mouth of the passage, describe the somewhat lighted open area of the canyon beyond, and the shooter above. Ask each where they will be – in the passage, move forward, fall back.

Those who remain in the passage must Evade a Rock fall:

The position of the perch is such that shoving rocks down on those below is difficult, but Hvit will try it on round 2, if she has her targets pinned down. Any who have moved out of the passageway are not possible targets, but those within can make DEX x5% to avoid being hit by a rock for 1d10 damage to one location.

Hvit has hard cover for her legs while crouching to shoot or shpve, so ranged attacks to the legs do no damage, striking the rocks in front . There is room for a single scout. She can communicate with the rest of the band via the level 1 Air Elemental that Atla has bound into a complex tangle of copper wire worn as a bizarre necklace. Any of the thieves can call forth the elemental [name: Allutalu] and send it with a warning to the main group.

 

The Hangout: Set-up:

Within the box canyon, there are a pair of shallow caves, broad undercuts of the back canyon wall rather actual caves. The Hangout is simple enough that no map should be required to play this encounter. Here the band shelters and wiles away the time between acts of villainy.

The Hangout has a single low entrance about 10 feet across and 5 feet high. Within, it opens immediately onto a room to either direction. The two rooms are squalid and reek of rot. Crude pallets of scavenged hides, some uncured, are scattered throughout, one for each bandit. The ogres are careless housekeepers and their midden is a stinking pit just to the left of the left cave. Not far beyond, is a crude ditch latrine that smells even worse. To the left of the latrine, the herd-beasts have been carelessly picketed, using several lengths of mismatched rope.

Before the cave mouth, Koli has attempted a sort of fortification to break up a charge across the 90 yards of sparse grass between it and the inner mouth of the Cleft. A low wall of unmortared limestone blocks, connects to the canyon on one end and extends out it an arc to block direct access to the cave mouth, stopping several yards past it, allowing entry to the cave with a detour. Unless the heroes have taken out Hvit without her being able to send the air elemental off with a warning, the archers and Koli are rushing to this barrier and can shoot with hard cover for their legs and abdomen. The wall is not stable enough to be climbed, and if struck with great force (A charging herd-beast or similar crashing into it, or a STR vs 20 shove, will collapse [DEX x 5% to avoid being pinned, or to escape if you were].

In the open area between the wall and the cave mouth, the brigands also have driven a post into the earth, and pinned a pair of filty, rust encrusted manacles to it by a heavy iron staple. Currently, the manacles are empty, but the ground around the post shows signs of fairly constant use, as well as noxious , oily-looking stains.

 

The Fight:

Since the heroes are moving in as the cattle thieves are rushing to the wall, both sides can roll for Initiative normally.

The heroes have 90 yards to cover to get to the wall, and another 10 to get inside the “cave” where the only ogre is Atla the sorceress, who will fight from within, hurling Blast 2 whenever possible. Any ranged attacks against her are at -20% due to cover. If Hvit still lives and can move, she will hang back by the entrance to the canyon and shoot from behind.

 

Rewards:

Koli’s crew has collected a decent haul, some of which might be from Brightwater or its people.

Loot: 2.5 barrels of salted fish; 4 sacks of rice; fishing net; a plain but sweet-sounding lute; two 4 person Lunar tents; Imperial writing kit; Light two wheeled hand-cart (could be harnessed to a smallish draft animal); A beaded Praxian rhino goad [which doubles as a light mace, worth 325L]; half-full box of spoiling Imperial luxury foodstuffs; 4 bolts of once fine, but now somewhat soiled, silk; a dozen skeins of silk thread; a small green crystal that, when held near an open book, produces enough light to read by; 6 Wheels, 306L, 73c.

Herd: All the cattle stolen from Brightwater are here, as well as 2 rather underfed looking zebras, still wearing their saddles (saddle sores are obvious). Search SPOT – one of the zebra saddles has a removable horn on one corner of the saddle – within which is a small bag of gold dust (75 Lunars worth).

 

Aftermath:

On returning the missing animals to the herd, Dagaz praises the heroes and asks for the story. He will repeat it to the senior partner in the Brightwater Company currently in residence, Theudulf the Learned, who will offer allow them to keep any of the loot they took from the thieves, requesting that any they wish to sell, they retain until the seasonal market. He will also offer them longer term employment as guards and as something he calls “troubleshooters”.