Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Sword Vale Death Quest

I’m writing up some examples of what 13th Age in Glorantha will feel like in play. Terms and mechanical elements are subject to change.
This first example has a key player character devoted to Humakt. Let’s name her Alana. Before we get into Alana’s One Unique Thing, a couple words about Humakt, the Sword God. Although he’s part of Orlanth’s ring, he is no longer Orlanth’s brother, having severed their kinship, probably as a consequence of Orlanth’s theft/misuse of Death in the Godtime.
But Alana is a female Sword of Humakt whose One Unique Thing is that alone of all Orlanthi, she is still kin to Humakt! What’s not clear yet in the campaign is whether Alana is technically Humakt’s impossible daughter/grand-daughter, or if she is somehow part of a Storm Clan that didn’t get severed from Humakt when he cut his kinship ties with the Storm Tribe in the Godtime. That’s the type of detail that’s better left to be determined by the events of the campaign. (Glorantha note: Alana’s player might have been inspired by rumors of Arkat being Humakt’s son, or she might have cut her way to this story as soon she learned that Humakt had cut himself away from kin.)

The setting, the enemy plot: In a valley named Sword Vale, sacred to Humakt, the Lunars are attempting to engineer a local heroquest that slays both Orlanth and Ernalda. The central myths, in which Orlanth and Ernalda quarrel with Humakt, are too minor to deal serious metaphysical damage to these supreme deities, but even a localized dead zone would be a terrible precedent. Perverse heroquesting of this sort might show the Lunars how to turn Humakt’s power against his allies.
The mechanics behind the story: The party’s Humakti, Alana, learns of the Lunar quest via rolling a 5 on her worship die this season. To be more precise, from the GM’s perspective, the Lunar quest wasn’t even happening until the Humakti rolled a 5 with a worship die. The worship die has generated an obligation and the GM invents the specific details of the Lunar plot to match Alana’s 5. 
Failure to act is failure indeed: The consequences of not even attempting to fulfill an obligation to your god are worse than failing when you try. If the PCs confront the enemy questers and fail, they may suffer damage and magical consequences, but they’ll have whittled down the rune-control consequences of the Lunar heroquest and the Lunars will be weaker than they would have been without the fight.
If Alana and the rest of the PCs simply ignore the Sword Vale problem, the Lunars will undertake the heroquest unopposed, allowing initiates of the Lunar war god Yanafal Tarnils (originally a perverted Humakti himself, according to some) to corrupt the Humakt myth into a Lunar tool. Alana will take a personal campaign loss, probably something that strikes at her core, given that her One Unique Thing is all about unexpected kinship with Humakt. In addition, Sword Vale becomes a new Lunar stronghold, a constant thorn that defies all of Orlanth’s, Ernalda’s, and Humakt’s powers and will have to be dealt with in the end by PCs who follow other gods.

The true action: So of course Alana and the PCs respond to Humakt’s warning. After fighting (or sneaking?) their way into Sword Vale, the PCs have to choose between
  • retaking the heavily guarded central Humakt shrine in order to charge directly into the Lunar heroquest (cue big fight scene), OR
  • performing a different Humakt quest in a different holy spot in the valley (that might or might not lead to direct confrontation, depending on their level of success it might get them into the Lunar myth or it might just partially re-establish Humakt’s control of the Death rune in the vicinity, but the Lunars might still gain more power than they had), OR
  • if the party’s Orlanth and Ernalda magic is much stronger this season than its Humakt magic, the PCs might perform one of the Ernalda and Orlanth wooing/wedding quests.
Note that these heroquests won’t be relevant to the Lunars’ plot within Sword Vale unless the quests are performed inside the valley. This adventure is set up with the notion that the Lunar heroquesters are already on the way to victory. Merely seizing the shrine back from the Lunars, and even managing to kill the Lunar questers *after* they emerge from the Godtime, will accomplish something. But if there’s no confrontation with the Lunar questers in the Godtime, even indirectly, the Lunar magic will probably win out, and Orlanth and Ernalda will be dead (or perhaps just dead to each other) in this valley.
Rewards: Each of the quests has its own odd complications and possible rewards. The biggest reward, since this is Humakt we’re talking about, comes to the war party that meets the Lunars head-on within the myth they’re trying to convert. The Lunars will surely face a battle against Humakti within the myth and if the PCs can have at least one Humakti with them (Alana!), the PCs can stand in for those Humakti. Killing Lunars dead within a Humakt myth? Priceless. Most likely, each PC that survives the battle would gain at least a temporary relationship with Humakt, or a temporary mastery of the Death rune, something that could be used to strong magical effect sometime in the next few sessions. As the central figure in the myth, Alana, along with one random PC (possibly even the party’s Ernaldan earth priestess!) will gain permanent blessings from Humakt, functioning exactly like a 13A magic item with a default bonus, power, and quirk, but connected to Humakt’s power.  
There might be other rewards possible, but in the case of this heroquest, I’d probably play that the other reward one or more PCs might gain would be part of the heroquest surprise, an unexpected scene/stage/battle/interaction in the Godtime that comes as a surprise appearing in the myth. In this myth, I’d probably determine the heroquest surprise partly using a rune relationship result a PC had floating at the start of the quest. If there were none, the heroquest surprise would come straight from a Lunar hell.
And speaking of Hells: You may have noticed that there’s a particular flavor of evil that is missing from this storyline: the Chaotic flavor. Yes, some Lunars are Chaotic. But in this instance, the truly Chaotic Lunars aren’t on-stage. These Lunars are operating far from the Crimson Bat and the other oogy elements of the Red Goddess’ pantheon, possibly because it would be just-stupid to bring obviously Chaotic beings into a Humakt heroquest you were hoping to subvert.
If you wanted to complicate the story above, the Lunars will get a lot more than they aimed at if they succeed with their quest. In fact, let’s set up Act Two no matter whether Alana succeeds or fails.
Act Two says that the Lunars’ attempt to slay Orlanth and Ernalda does not create an opening for the Red Goddess. Instead it creates an opening for a terrible mockery of the royal marriage, in which the king of the storm and the queen of the earth could be locally replaced by the Chaotic god of stolen knowledge (Thanatar) and the definitely-wronged/forever-vengeful Chaotic goddess of rape and monsters (Thed). Thanatar and Thed? Now that’s Oogy.

Maybe even so oogy that the PCs end up not-killing the Lunars as quickly as they would have normally since the Lunars are also trying to stop the Thanatari and the broos. But that’s a moral compass question for your campaign. 

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