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"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."


THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Friday, November 16, 2018

CAMARILLA: THE 5TH EDITION GUIDEBOOK



IN THE INITIAL DRAFT of this review, I had written an entirely different introduction to it.  I had talked about storytelling, and how being a storytelling game had always distinguished Vampire: The Masquerade from roleplaying games.  I had written about how the new edition seemed committed to refocusing on the game's storytelling roots, and how the Camarilla sourcebook was a clear indication of that.  That was what I had planned to lead with.

Prior to revising the first draft, however, I read a message from publisher White Wolf.  An entire chapter of the book--in the wake of an online petition and some pushback from the community--was being removed from it.  And in one stroke, the aspect I thought had been the defining characteristic of the product changed.  The headline of Camarilla is no longer storytelling.  It is censorship.  

We tend to think of censorship as Big Brother, as government stepping in and policing speech.  Yet the dictionary tells us it is;

...the suppression of speech, public communication, or other information, on the basis that such material is considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or "inconvenient" as determined by a government or private institution...

This book contained a chapter that was offensive to people, and so it was removed.  In the same way that cartoons or slurs against the Prophet Mohammad are removed in Saudi Arabia or Pakistan, in the same way that the Texas school board is currently trying to remove mentions of Hillary Clinton or slavery from history textbooks.  There is no real difference here.  The decision to remove the chapter rests in the naked fact that some people didn't like it, and therefore decided the rest of us should not be able to read it.

The chapter in question set up the premise that the horrors in Chechnya are the byproduct of vampiric control of that state.  

You might want to read that last sentence again.

Because in a horror storytelling game, in a game that by design sets out to challenge and discomfort you, in a game in which the entire premise is and always has been that vampires are pulling the strings behind the scenes, in a game in which you are playing the part of a serial-killing cannibalistic corpse...this chapter was too offensive to people.  This is the chapter that had to go.

On the back of the new rulebook is calls Vampire a game of "personal and political horror."  Perhaps as White Wolf goes forward, they should change that as well.  A game of "personal and politically correct horror" is more appropriate.  In the end, Vampire hasn't changed in 27 years, we have.  

We don't have the stomachs for Vampire anymore. 

NOW, THE REVIEW

Camarilla (released alongside its sister book, Anarchs) is hardly a perfect book.  Then again, it doesn't set out to be.  The original Vampire: The Masquerade was revolutionary not just in its subject matter, but in its conscious emphasis on style over substance.  At a time when most games were scrabbling to become the most realistic simulation possible, Vampire went the opposite direction.  It was a game about characters and stories, a point it drove home by exchanging the term roleplaying for storytelling.  Conflict, theme, and mood were the essentials, not combat rules or battle grids.  It was atmospheric and at times pretentiously artistic.  The new V5 line, of which this is the second release, shows a commitment to the exact same principles.  You see it on every page of Camarilla.

Hell, you see it on the cover.

We are not supposed to judge books by their covers, but in this case we can make a safe exception.  What ridiculous nonsense is this?  Why is this vampire obscuring her vision with roses on her head?  How on earth does she keep her lipstick so perfect?  What toothpaste is she using (because those are some splendidly white teeth)?  None of this matters, of course, because we are not looking at reality here, we are looking at an image.  And image, ladies and gentlemen, is the heart of the game.

This cover exemplifies the criticism that the new V5 line looks like a fashion magazine.  But of course it does.  This is not Vampire: The Requiem, the subtitle is Masquerade.  The core conceit of the game is a false front, an image, a fake face you present to the world.  Fashion magazines typify that.  Looking at the cover of Camarilla tells me what the organization this book describes is all about.  The Camarilla is dedicated to the Masquerade.  It is all about protecting the image.

Once inside the cover (which I contend is a stroke of genius), things get a bit dodgier.  The organization of this book is mad.  It begins sensibly with an Introduction to what the Camarilla is and how it has changed, followed by a look at the top of its power structure...all quite logical.  But what might logically follow that--the organization's Mission Statement, its local structure in individual cities, the Clans that comprise it...well, that is all scattered haphazardly throughout the book.  Instead it drops in entire chapters detailing religious beliefs (including a Latin ceremony that generously borrows from The Satanic Bible), the Gehenna War, and the Second Inquisition in the midst of these topics.  There is no real flow here, no rhyme or reason for why chapters are where they are.

Again, I think this was intentional.  Camarilla is not so much a game book as it is a conversation between a Sire (the wickedly charming Victoria Ash) and her Childe.  Chapters begin with letters from Victoria, and the book is meant to be a collection of articles and snippets she has sent her Childe to illuminate and explain aspects of the Camarilla.  No one is going to have Camarilla at their elbow at the game table, flipping through it looking for rules.  No, this is a book you pour a glass of wine for and flip through to absorb the atmosphere.

There are players for whom this approach is uncomfortable, to say the least.  They want straightforward details and statistics.  But Camarilla is not explaining so much as hinting.  The is a World of Darkness, of shadows and mirrors where nothing is ever clear and no question can ever really be answered.  A lot of this book is meant to inspire, to help players get character ideas and storytellers to map out their own version of the Gehenna War.  You will not be getting concrete here, but rather ephemera.

What exactly is in the book?

There is of course a description of the structure and mission of the Camarilla in the 21st century.  Long time players will recognize most of this but there are dramatic changes.  The Camarilla before was inclusive, it saw itself as the governing body for all the Kindred.  No longer.  It is now an elite social club, more like the Mafia than anything else.  You don't get automatic membership.  You need to prove yourself to be let in.  The reason for this is predictably brutal.  With the Second Inquisition in full swing, the Camarilla has circled its wagons.  Let the Anarchs and neonates fend for themselves and give the Inquisition something to shoot at.  The Camarilla now exists to protect its own.

As one aspect of the story the new line is telling, there is an entire chapter dedicated to the Second Inquisition, including discussions of the organizations that comprise it, how it operates, and how to fight back.

Naturally, the book also discusses the Clans that make up the backbone of the Camarilla.  The Ventrue, Toreador, Tremere, Nosferatu, and Malkavians are all familiar to us from the core rulebook.  This book adds a full description of the Banu Haqim, the faction of Assamites that have come over to join the Camarilla.  This is part of the story that Camarilla and V5 want to tell; the Sabbat has abandoned their cities to head to the Middle East, hunting for the Antediluvians to stop them from waking.  The Camarilla Elders, meanwhile, have been compelled by some supernatural call to go fight them.  There is a 20 page chapter in the book discussing this conflict, and hinting that the Gehenna War is not going so well for the Camarilla.

The Sabbat gets a short overview as well, but this is more atmospheric than explanatory (the way, incidentally the first and second editions of Vampire handled the Sabbat in 1991 and 1992).  There is also a discussion of the Anarchs, Caitiff, and Thin-Blooded from the Camarilla perspective, and a look at the Clans Brujah and Gangrel.

The "crunchy bits," aside from some new mechanics for the Banu Haqim, are seven new Camarilla-specific "loresheets," including one for Victoria Ash and the Cult of Mithras.  Introduced in V5, these are an interesting way to tie characters to the developing mythology of the world. The other crunchy bit are rules for Institutional Conflict, giving statistics to corporations, factions, or agencies so that you can play out them fighting each other on a larger, impersonal scale.  Institutions have attributes like Force, Prestige, and Depth, and can take damage just like PCs or SPCs. These are light mechanics, but useful if, for example, you have vampires subvert one government agency to attack and damage another participating in the Second Inquisition, or you wish to pit two corporations at each other's throats.

So, do you need Camarilla to play a V5 chronicle?  No.  Do you need it to run one?  No.  This is not the kind of splat book that White Wolf became infamous for in the late 90s.  I started with the cover, and I end with the cover, because it tells you all you need to know about this book.  Camarilla is all about surfaces and suggestions.  Image.  It teases and hints and tantalizes, but in the end it is all just foreplay.  Personally I like this approach; as a game master I don't want to have choices made for me.  Throw me a few hints and I will decide what they mean in my chronicle.  But if you are looking for concrete details, specifics, or "What Is Really Going On" you will not find it here.  Camarilla is a smooth, sexy, at times deeply disturbing read that fills your head with possibilities.  And if you are like me, that is how you like your Vampire.       

 

  



Thursday, November 15, 2018

CHELSEA QUINN YARBRO & LE COMTE DE SAINT GERMAIN

AROUND THE SAME TIME Fred Saberhagen was rewriting Count Dracula as a good guy, and Anne Rice was interviewing Louis de Pointe du Lac, American writer Chelsea Quinn Yarbro began what has to be one of the most remarkable projects in the field of vampire fiction.  

Emerging first in London, circa 1745, the man now known as the Comte de Saint Germain remains one of histories more entertaining enigmas.  No one really knows, with any degree of certainty, who he was, where he came from, when he was born, or how he died (if he died, I should say).  The first we hear of him, he is writing operas.  Next, he is charged with espionage. Horace Walpole (who would later write the very first "gothic" novel) wrote of him;

He has been here (London) these two years, and will not tell who he is, or whence, but professes [two wonderful things, the first] that he does not go by his right name; and the second that he never had any dealings with any woman – nay, nor with any succedaneum. He sings, plays on the violin wonderfully, composes, is mad, and not very sensible. He is called an Italian, a Spaniard, a Pole; a somebody that married a great fortune in Mexico, and ran away with her jewels to Constantinople; a priest, a fiddler, a vast nobleman. The Prince of Wales has had unsatiated curiosity about him, but in vain. 

Other contemporaries describe him as being "everything with everybody."  He discussed philosophy with philosophers, music with musicians, science with scientists, politics with politicians.  He was described as strikingly pale, with very black hair and eyes.  He never wore anything but black, and was always richly attired and bejeweled.

But it is when he reappears three years later in the court of Louis XV--who inexplicably used the man for diplomatic missions and gave him a suite at the Chateau of Chambord--that Saint Germain becomes really remarkable.  Saint Germain charmed everyone around him, including the king and Madame de Pompadour.  He was invited to the best salons and dinners but no one ever saw him eat.  He claimed to be thousands of years old and to subsist on the Elixir of Life.  He spoke dozens of languages fluently and was an alchemist who could create diamonds or repair flaws in jewels.  Casanova, who didn't care for the man at all, said that as a conversationalist Saint Germain was without equal.  He claimed to be Transylvanian and had a ridiculously long list of aliases; Marquis de Montferrat, Comte Bellamarre, Chevalier Schoening, Count Weldon, Comte Soltikoff, Graf Tzarogy, and Prinz Ragoczy.  

Post-Paris Saint Germain seemed to tour the capitals of Europe, until finally in 1779 he is said to have died.  I say "said" because people kept reported seeing him for decades after his death.  Helena Blavatsky, though not the most credible source, claimed to have met him a century later.

Now all of this is the historical record, but Yarbro went even further when she decided to take the Count at his word.  Given a pale, raven-haired Transylvanian immortal who never dined in public, Yarbro drew the only logical conclusion.  The man was a vampire.  Yet given his extraordinary list of talents, he was without a doubt a very urbane vampire, a gentleman.  And since history does not associate him with a string of corpses, he was a vampire that did not kill.  

Beginning with Hotel Transylvania in 1978, Yarbro embarked on a (to date) twenty-nine novel chronicle of Saint Germain's long life.  While the first installment is about his time in Paris under Louis XV, subsequent titles would explore his existence from ancient Egypt to modern day America.  None of these are "horror" novels, and it would be a stretch to even call them "vampire" tales.  Yarbro writes meticulously researched historicals; having a protagonist who happens to be an immortal vampire simply gives her the perfect device to explore times and places of her choosing.

Yarbro's Saint Germain begins life as the son of a tribal chieftain or king in very ancient Transylvania.  Initiated into the cult of the local god--a vampire--Germain is infected himself with vampirism.  In Yarbro's take on the undead, a vampire can only feed on a single person a limited number of times before infecting them.  After that, the infected can go on to live a normal life...but after death will rise again, presumably around the age they were infected.  Germain's life is cut brutally short when captured by an opposing tribe and executed by disembowelment.  He rises, but still with vicious scars of his death on his belly.

For an unspecified amount of time, Germain is a monster, a blood-drinking beast.  Yarbro's vampires need emotion as much as blood, and for his first few centuries or so he feeds on suffering and terror.  But the monster is captured and eventually dragged to Egypt, given to the Temple of Imhotep, a cult of physicians and healers.  In his many centuries there, Germain transforms.  He rediscovers his lost humanity, learns to feed without killing, without causing suffering.  He masters formidable healing powers himself, including the ability to raise the recently dead as ghouls (Yarbro's ghouls seem human in most respects, but must eat freshly killed raw meat and are as long-lived as her vampires).  Germain spends more than a millennium in the "House of Life" before moving on, and when he does leave it is as a wise and deeply compassionate being.

The plot of a Saint Germain novel then goes something like this;

We find Saint Germain settled into a time and place laying low, keeping to himself, not causing any trouble.  He will have a stable of women he visits in their sleep to feed on, but never enough to turn them.  When he feeds he gives them pleasant (erotic) dreams.  Invariably he will meet a woman who becomes a love interest, someone he can reveal himself to.  Then all hell breaks loose.  Usually this comes in the form of a sadistic, thoroughly unlikeable human being who delights in cruelty.  Saint Germain will have to rescue his love interest from this menace, or escape from danger himself.  

Stand-outs to my mind include Hotel Transylvania, where Saint Germain is pitted against a cult of devil-worshippers in 18th century France, Blood Games, where he tangles with a completely despicable Roman senator and ends up fighting for his unlife in the Circus Maximus, and Tempting Fate, in which Saint Germain rescues a Russian war orphan and raises her in Germany...until (now as a young woman) she is raped by a gang of Brownshirts and Germain demonstrates why it is a very bad idea to hurt someone he loves.  Also notable is the short story, Cabin 33, which finds Germain in America running a mountain resort.  When a young woman staying there starts wasting inexplicably away, Germain realizes another vampire is present and sets out to stop him from killing her.  Come Twilight is likewise another change of pace, when Germain turns a young woman in Dark Ages Spain into one of his kind but she refuses his teachings.  For the next five centuries she builds a clan of horrific vampires who terrorize the countryside, forcing Germain to intervene.

You don't read the Saint Germain stories for the vampirism, though.  It is implied the Count has fangs but we never see them.  He feeds off camera.  Crosses and garlic mean nothing to him, and while the sun weakens him terribly he can lessen its effects by wearing boots in which the soles are packed with his native soil.  You read these books for the history, for the way Yarbro takes a time period and brilliantly animates it.  Making the past come to life is really the heart of Yarbro's gift and the reason people are still reading her 29 novels in.  While comparisons could be drawn to Ann Rice, the two authors could not be further apart in terms of tone or style.  Yarbro's tales are incredibly "down to earth."  You might forget for a hundred pages there is a vampire in the book.  Similarly, you could draw parallels between Saint Germain and Saberhagen's Dracula, but of the two of them Saint Germain is probably the one you would feel safest in the company of.  If there were vampires like him in the world, that wouldn't be all that bad.  


    







Monday, October 22, 2018

SIX SEASONS IN SARTAR 2: THE SONS OF ORLANTH

NOTE: This is the first adventure of Six Seasons in Sartar.  See the intro here.  The scenario is presented in full, with an "play report" at the end. GMs who use the scenario in other systems (RQG or 13G) will need to do some adapting.  Guidelines are presented for creating characters for those systems however. 
  

Chapter One
THE SONS OF ORLANTH


“Reflect carefully on this, for it is so important that I can hardly lay too much stress on it. Fix your eyes on the Crucified and nothing else will be of much importance to you.” 
― Saint Teresa of Avila 




The Player Characters

When Six Seasons in Sartar begins the characters are all children, ages 14 to 17.  They have not yet passed through the Adulthood rites.  In HeroQuest, they all have the Heortling cultural keyword, and should select an occupational keyword based on their father’s profession.  Runes may be selected, but they are incapable of magic until the Adulting.  Any additional keywords and abilities should be selected “as you go.”

RQG characters follow all the character creation procedures outlined on p. 23 of the core rulebook, but omit steps 3 and 6.  Again Runes may be chosen, but will not be awakened yet and the young characters will have no magic. 

13G requires more work. This starts with the characters themselves. 13G characters are FAR too powerful to be boys undergoing the rites of manhood. I would recommend then using the idea of “Zero Level Characters” that use the following guidelines;

The characters do not begin play with character classes yet. All characters are Gloranthan Humans with the Heortling Cultural Trait (“Quick to Fight,” 13G p. 42). Ignore the human bonus feat for now. Generate your character’s abilities. Use the following to determine starting values;

Initiative: DEX mod

Armor: None (yet)

Weapons: Spear (1d8), Shortsword (1d6); possibly Bow (1d6, Atk -2)

Physical Defense: 10 + middle mod of STR/CON/DEX

Mental Defense: 10 + middle mod of INT/WIS/CHA

Hit Points: (5 + CON modifier) x 2

Recovery Dice: 1d4 + CON modifier

Recoveries: 3

Characters get 4 Background points. At least 1 must be spent in “Black Stag Clansman” and the rest in the father’s occupation. They do not yet have any Runes, feats, or talents. They worship the Storm Tribe but don’t have a single god yet. If they have a One Unique Thing in mind, it can be selected now. Otherwise, it can be discovered later. 
The Focus Character…

In the style of ensemble dramas, Six Seasons in Sartar employs “focus characters” each chapter.  Obviously this is a role-playing game, and all characters are free to make their own decisions and step into the spotlight at any time, but each chapter will make one of them the engine driving the plot.

The focus character (hereafter just “Focus”) this week should be the son (or daughter) of a Warrior, one of the clan chieftain’s housecarls.  When you pick who will be the Focus, it should be someone who selected the Warrior occupation keyword.  If two or more characters qualify, the Focus is chosen at the GM’s discretion.  If none qualify, any character will do, though it may take explaining why the character is a Herder or Merchant if his or her father is a Warrior.

…and the Subplot Character

A second character should be chosen for a longer range subplot.  You can either do this ahead of time, before play (the character is destined) or at random when the party reaches the Dragon Temple (the character is selected by chance).  In either case, at the temple the character is marked with the Dragonewt Rune (see below), and the consequences of this will not become clear until episode 5, “Starbrow.” 

Plot Plan: click to enlarge

glw1619 ST (Windsday, Harmony Week, Sea Season)

1. The Night Before

On the eve of Plow Blessing Day, a small band of six arrives in Black Stag Vale.  They are Sartarite rebels, part of an organized resistance called “The Sons of Orlanth.”  These rebels encamp in the mountains and hills, always on the move, keeping out of the reach of the Lunar occupying forces.  With winter over, they have come down into the Vale seeking food and supplies.

One of them, Korolmath, is the Focus character’s uncle.  He spends the night in the character’s stead.  As the Focus falls asleep, his or her father and uncle stay up drinking and talking quietly;

The Lunars wasted no time.  As soon as the passes opened they were pouring into Heortland.”

“Do you think the Volsaxi can hold out against them?”

“Well, Broyan is King, and he bears the Sword and Helm of Vingkot.”

“And if they fall?”

“If they fall it is over.  Look at bloody Sheplekirt.  She has grown bloated and swollen year by year and the winds grow calmed.  This last Storm Season was the mildest we’ve seen.  If Whitewall falls?  I fear Orlanth shall as well. We will all be the Red Bitch’s chattel.”

There is grim silence for awhile.  Then;

Are you still encamped at Grothrang’s Well?”

“Til the end of the Season.  Then we must move on to avoid scouts.  The Lunars have started employing those traitorous...”

A woman clears her throat, and it is enough to silence all the men.  It is old Daressa, the Mistress of the Hearth.  She glowers at the men. “Young pigs have long ears,” she says.  “No more talk in front of the children.”

2. The Bull Sacrifice & the Blessing of the Seeds

It is the first truly warm day of the year.  The sky is filled with haze and the earth thaws and releases the last of winter’s frozen waters.  The sun’s light is hotter, almost peach, pouring down thick and slow like molasses through the haze.  It is Plow Blessing Day, the High Holy Day of Barntar Orlanthsson.  The day begins with the Bull Sacrifice and the Blessing of the Seeds.

Men and boys proceed to Stag Hill, led by the clan chieftain, Gordangar Kenstrelsson, and his brother, Savan Kentrelsson, the chief priest.  They are leading Long Bellow, a prize winning bull selected in a competition during Sacred Time.  All the males in the clan follow behind, many beating sheepskin drums or playing bagpipes.  They climb the slopes of the Hill, with the chieftain and the priests leading the bull inside the circle of seven sarsen stones.  Each is carved with a sing Rune; Storm, Truth, Communication, Harmony, Man, Disorder, and Fate.  They represent the Lightbringers who rescued the world.

The rest of the men gather around the circle.  Fathers hold younger sons on their shoulders so they can witness the rite.  As the priests chant prayers to Orlanth and Barntar, a wind rises.  Scattered clouds pass over the face of the sun.  The bull becomes docile, as if lulled into sleep, and the chieftain slits its throat.  The blood, as it pours out, is collected in water-proofed sheepskin sacks, one for each stead.  These will be taken to consecrate the fields.

“Cattle are the life of the clan,” the Focus’s father whispers as they watch.  “And a strong bull is most valuable of all.  We are sacrificing all the cow bellies he could fill with his seed in exchange for all the fields his blood will awaken.  It is a great sacrifice.  A clan without cattle is no clan.”

Meanwhile the woman and girls march in absolute silence to the mouth of the Riddle.  One of the girls has been selected by the drawing of lots to play the role of Voria, the Spring Maiden (if some of the the player characters are girls, select one of them, EVEN if her intention is to take the male Adulting rites and become a Vingan).  She is led up beside the chief priestess, the blind Morganeth Jarlarant, who stands amongst dozens of sacks of seed.  The assistant priestess place a crown of flowers on the girl’s head, and as Morganeth chants the the Seed Blessing in Earthtongue, the girl is required to lay her hands on each of the sacks and whisper “wake.”

Now the entire clan gathers near the Village at First Field. men and woman converging together.  A plow is waiting and a team of oxen.  As the crowd watches, the priestesses start spreading the blessed seeds.  The plow is anointed with bull’s blood and Gordangar begins to plow the entire patch of field himself.  By the time he is finished he is soaked with sweat.  The Rite is completed, and the Games begin.

3. The Games  

The rest of the day is for feasting and for games.  The men will hold bull taming and wrestling competitions.  For children there are the foot races around the fields.  For the unmarried men, unmarried women from the neighboring Antorling and Enjossi clans are visiting, seeking husbands.  

The main characters are all friends or perhaps even related (in the very least they all know each other; there are currently only about 30 children in the Vale in the 14 to 17 age group).  They gather together in the midst of all the celebrations. Take whatever role-play opportunities your gaming table needs here, to introduce characters and establish relationships.  This should be set against the backdrops of the games themselves.  The characters should all be participating in the footraces.  Have them run in pairs against each other (or an NPC if there is an odd number), with the winners running against each other.  This is a simple contest, meant to introduce a bit of the system.

That evening there is more feasting, and the chieftain’s own skald, Keladon Blue-Eye, tells a story beside a bonfire of the Black Stag and how he claimed this valley by challenging the Seven-Tailed Wolf, defeated his pack and driving them out of the Vale and into the mountains.

Another Possible Subplot…

This one is optional.  If it fits your group’s play style, one of the older male characters (16 or 17) ends up talking with Esrala Kulvilsdotr.  She is a year younger than the character, but already an initiated woman.  Though the player character is not yet officially an adult, and therefore not eligible for marriage, there is chemistry between them.  You can complicate this by having their conversation rudely interrupted by Darestan Varankosson of Cliff Shield stead.  This young man is four years older than the player character and an initiated adult.  He clearly has designs on Esrala himself and warns “the little boy” to go play with “the other children” where he belongs.  If you do engage this subplot, it will pick up again later in episode 3, “Harvest.”

4. A Goodbye     

At the end of the evening, the Focus character is met by his uncle, and they walk together back to the family home. Korolmath and the other Sons of Orlanth are leaving in the morning.  It is too dangerous for the clan if they are caught there (the Lunars do not look favorably upon giving aid and comfort to wanted “terrorists”).  

As they walk, Korolmath asks if the character remembers the time if he (or she) remembers the time they went salmon fishing up at Deer Falls.  Encourage the player to improvise some light-hearted story of what happened there that day. Korolmath smiles as they approach the house.  “Those were good days.”  Then he seems to remember something.  “Oh yes.  I have something for you.”  He removes a leather thong from around his neck, and something like a long fang seems to be hanging from it.

“We found this last Storm Season up on old Kagradus.  I thought you might like to have it.  It’s a Dragonewt tooth.”  He puts it around the character’s neck and tousles his or her hair.  “There, now you look like Orlanth Arokaslayer.”

He laughs and they retire for the evening.

?sw1619 ST (Wildday, Movement Week, Sea Season)

5. Death and Taxes

FOUR WEEKS have passed since the festival, and they have been filled with days of backbreaking labor.  The youths have been helping the adults with the plowing, removing stones from the fields, planting seeds, watering the animals.  Repairs have needed doing to fences and buildings from the ravages of Dark and Storm Season.  As Fire Season approaches, the days lengthen and grow hotter.  Working under the hot sun, the characters have all turned quite brown.

It is in the middle of a particularly humid morning when the alarm goes up throughout the Vale.  Horns are being sounded in a chain from the palisade to the chieftain’s hall.

The characters will spot, from their various vantage points, a line of men marching up the trail from the Vale’s entrance towards the Village and the Hall.  A dozen of them are Lunar soldiers from their scarlet cloaks.  They follow a woman, a Tarshite from her auburn hair and clan markings.  She is dressed like a simple soldier, in leather armor and a crimson cloak, but something in her bearing says otherwise. Traveling alongside her are three Sartarites; two are Sambari by the looks of them, but the third is Ernaldori.  Five servants make up the rear.  

After the player characters watch them, they are gruffly ordered back to work.

An Act of Violence; an Optional Scene

Why is this scene optional?

To be blunt, it’s “railroady.”  It doesn’t involve the player characters and is meant purely as exposition, setting up the rest of the adventure.  On the other hand it is a chance for the players—not their characters—to feel more involved in the chain of events leading to the adventure.  You know your group; some will enjoy the chance to role-play this and some will resent being forced into an uncomfortable corner.  Go with your gut on whether to run it or skip it.   

If you run it, the players will each assume the role (for the duration of this scene) of the clan chieftain and members of his Ring. Let the players chose which member of the Ring they wish to portray.  For ease, assume values of 1W2 in Heortling, their Occupations, and their Runes.

Then begin the scene:    

Inside the chieftain’s hall, the Ring hastily assembles.  The visitor salutes the chieftain in Lunar fashion.  “Voice of the Haraborn, I salute you.  I am Prefect Yolanva Saedrius of the Provincial Legions.  On behalf of the Governor General and his majesty, Temertain of Boldhome, I am honored to be received in the hall of your people.”

She introduces the man accompanying her.  He is Andrin Kulsson of Clearwine, representative of Colymar King Kangharl Kargradusson.  She does not introduce the soldiers standing in the back of the room (at least two would have accompanied her inside as a honor guard) or the two Sambari there.  

They have come on what she calls a “troubling matter.”  It has come to the attention of the Provincial Office of Tribute and Taxation that a “discrepancy” has been noted.  According to the last Imperial census of the Haraborn, the clan consists of 300 members, with 180 free adults  That would require, under the Lunar Peace of 1613 ST, a tribute of 90 cattle each year from the Haraborn.  

She praises the chieftain and the Ring for paying this tribute the last six years in a “timely” fashion.  However, the Lunar census office has been informed by “reliable sources” that the census is, in fact, off by a third…that the Haraborn number at least 450, rather than 300, and that the tribute was off by at least 35 cattle per year.  At least 210 cattle are therefore owed.

She adds that the Provincial Government is not without mercy, and looks with fondness upon the client peoples of Sartar.  Because of this, they will settle for 150 cattle and consider the matter dismissed. She will point out that they have “graciously waited” until the end of Sea Season to give the bulls “ample opportunity” to sire a new generation of calves before coming to take them, but her orders are to leave the Vale with the cattle by the end of the week.

Still, this is a devastating and humiliating blow.  It is, on the other hand, all true.  An isolated mountain tribe, it has always been easy for the Haraborn to conceal their true numbers by fading into the hills when the census takers come.  The clan has been cheating the Lunars for six years, but only someone who truly knows their ways would see through this.  Thus the presence of the Sambari will probably be clear; they lost cattle to the Haraborn in a raid last year and this is pay back.  The Sambari must have gone to the Lunars and reported the fraud.  Andrin Kulsson is therefore here because King Kanghral is a Lunar bootlicker, but as King of the Colymar the Haraborn are expected to obey him.  By siding with the Lunars, he leaves the Haraborn little choice but to surrender the cattle.

Roleplay this as long as you like.  The Ring can debate it in private, but it should be clear there is no real way out of this.  It is possible, if the GM and players agree, to negotiate.  Assume the Ring—all very experience people—face a base value of 21, and convincing Saedrius to compromise has a High Difficulty, thus 27 or 7W1.  With a failure or worse the tribute will not be altered.  With a Success, the tribute is lowered to 125.  With a Critical, it is lowered to 100.

As the debate and negotiations come to an end, and Saedrius summoned back to the Hall (if she ever left), tensions in the room are running high.  One of the housecarls in the back of the room starts shouting at the Sambari.  “You did this!  You did this to us you honorless dog!”  He moves in as if to attack and a nearby Lunar soldier draws his weapon.  A second housecarl springs into action, attacking that soldier with a well placed knife in the side of his leather armor.  The soldier slumps to the ground…

This is disastrous.  A fight breaking out will end badly for the clan, and is not what Saedrius wants either.  She immediately starts shouting at her men to stand down.  Does the chieftain do the same?

There may be a temptation to just kill the visitors and be done with it.  Remind the players that this will pit them against a neighboring Tribe (the Sambari), the Lunar Provincial Army, and their own Tribal King.  That’s an impossible situation for the clan.

With the noise and the clamor more soldiers pour in from outside the room.  Assuming the chieftain orders his men to stand down, Saedrius will herself go to the fallen Lunar soldier to examine him.  She stands and looks at the housecarl who killed him.  “He had a wife.  She is with child.”  Then she turns back to the chieftain.

“Honorable Voice of the Haraborn, this man has committed a serious offense.”  She points at the housecarl without looking at him.  “An attack against one Imperial citizen is an attack against us all.  I must ask that you surrender him to me at once.”

Again, the Lunars hold all the cards here.  The choice is surrendering one man to them or putting the entire clan into danger.  The terms of the Lunar Peace making harming any Lunar citizen a capital crime, and the Ring is fairly certain King Kanghral will side with the Lunars on this.  The Lysang, Zethnoring, and Namolding are all neighboring examples of clans that went extinct facing Lunar wrath.  The housecarl has to be surrendered.

The man in question is the Focus character’s father.

6. The Crucifixion

THE NEWS SPREADS like wildfire up and down the Vale.  The Lunars have come to collect their tribute in cattle and one of the housecarls has been surrendered to them for murder.  It is a black day for the clan.

And blacker still for the Focus character.  

Depending on the character’s relationship with his or her father, this could be intensely emotional or just a blow to familial honor and pride.  Still, it is nearly unbearable.  The other player characters will immediately be concerned for their friend.  Play this out however you like.

By afternoon, though, cattle have been surrendered from each of the steads and led down towards the mouth of the Vale in the south.  It is there that Saedrius and the Lunars take their prisoner.

She is very official about this, impartial.  She stands in front of the crowd assembled there (this includes the chieftain and his Ring, as well as the Focus character’s entire stead and the other PCs) as the cross (erected in the shape of the Death Rune) is prepared.  As she reads her sentence, her eyes fall on the Focus character’s face almost with a sadness in them.  She will make it clear that the law is clear; for his murder of a Lunar citizen the housecarl must die.

“He shall hang upon his cross until his spirit has fled his body.  None shall provide him food, water, or comfort.  Those who render him aid or assistance, or who take him down from his cross still living, will themselves be branded enemies of the Empire and face the same fate.”

How the player characters react is entirely up to them.  They may attempt to persuade the chieftain to intercede and save him.  This is a very difficult task (assume Base + W or 14W.  If the characters succeed, it will not change the chieftain’s mind, but the Benefits of Victory bonus will apply to later attempts to saw the chieftain or members of the clan (the characters were persuasive enough to make the listeners sympathetic, even if they were in fact powerless to change the sentence).  Likewise the players might appeal to Saedrius.  Again, she will be sympathetic, but already she is facing a clan that has willfully cheated the Empire of their tribute.  She feels she has been immensely generous already.  The sentence will stand.

Let the characters do what they like.  They may all remain as the Lunars lead their tribute out of the Vale and the crowds break up.  They may linger at the cross.  They might try to speak with the father.  

But as they struggle with what to do, a figure comes up behind them.  It is Keladon Blue-Eye, the chieftain’s skald and a member of the Ring.  He is also a known Eurmali.  

“A bitter fate for a warrior,” he says to no one in particular.  “But the rules are the rules, aren’t they?  And no one expects the game to be fair.”

He turns and looks at the Focus character and his friends.  “No one will take him down while he lives.  After all, to take him down is to share his sentence and become outlaws.”  

He hums a bit of an old tune.  “Unless of course, they were already outlaws.”  saying nothing else he simply walks away.  But his meaning should be clear; Korolmath, the Focus character’s uncle and the condemned man’s brother.  If he and the other Sons of Orlanth could be found…

Are you still encamped at Grothrang’s Well?”

“Til the end of the Season.  Then we must move on to avoid scouts.  The Lunars have started employing those traitorous...”

They are still at Grothrang’s Well.  If they could be found, and quickly…they might be able to liberate the condemned before his body surrenders.  

7. Preparing and Setting Out

FIRST, they need to find someone who knows what the Well is and where they can find it.  

There are any number of people they could ask, but they need to exercise caution not to rouse suspicion in the wrong people.  One option is to ask Blue-Eye himself.  This is the easiest option (he encouraged them to seek it in the first place) and could be done even before the end of the last scene.  Asking him is an automatic success.

The next logical choice would be one of the clan hunters, the Cottars living on the fringes of the Vale.  If the player character’s Occupation is Hunter, he or she could ask their own father.  Otherwise, introduce the idea of asking Beroth Borgorsson, an Odayla huntsman living on the northwest edge of the Vale between Glass Cave and High Water steads.  He is known to be the best hunter in the Vale.  No one knows the surrounding mountains better.  

Unfortunately when they arrive he is already gone, out in the wilds on the hunt.  His son (or possibly daughter, see below) Ashart (or if a daughter, Ashala) is there at the cottage, however.  Ashart is 14, roughly in the same age group as the characters.  If one of the characters is also a Cottar, they might be friendly.  

Ashart knows where the Well is, but wants to know why the characters are asking.  A quiet and often lonely boy, he sees as this a chance to connect with his peers.  Convincing him to help is Low Difficult (8).  On a success or better, he tells them Grothrang’s Well is in Ormsrest Gorge, high up the north slopes of Kagradus. It is in sight of High Wyrm, the Dragonewt city.  The Gorge itself was the resting place of a dragon before the Dragonkill War, and the Well is a pool of water said to have been bored into the earth by its venom.

The larger problem with Ashart is that he doesn’t want to volunteer the way to the Well, he wants to lead them there himself.  Convincing him to just tell them is far more difficult (Base +6 or 20).  If they confide in them their plan he will insist he wants to help.  If they don’t, he will insist that if they don’t tell him why they are going he will just have to lead them.  His agenda is not malicious…he just wants friends.

If they accept him, he becomes a temporary Companion to one of the characters.

Another Optional Subplot…

An alternative is that Ashart or Ashala actually has a crush on one of the characters and wants to accompany them for that reason.  The player may decide if this is requited or unrequited and go from there.

After learning the directions to the Well (or gaining a guide), the characters will need food and supplies and probably weapons.  This will all have to be stolen (especially the weapons, until initiation they are not technically allowed to have them outside of training).  Let the players plan how to obtain what they need and play it out with simple contests.  They should be able to get food with little difficulty (Low or even Very Low Difficulty).  Weapons are harder, but not impossible.  They should be able to get their hands on spears, axes, and round shields (typical fyrd armaments) from their fathers belongings at home.  Sneaking them out of the cottages and steads unseen and getting them to the edge of the Vale is tricky though (a High difficulty).  Failure can generate interesting complications (can they fast talk their way out of the situation?).  

Assuming they get what they need, they meet on the edge of the Vale after midday and cross the threshold, leaving the comparative safety of the Vale for the mountain wilds enclosing it.

8. The Ascent

CLIMBING THE SLOPES of Kagradus is challenging under normal circumstances.  In general, the slopes on the west side of the Vale are steeper and feature more cliffs and sheer drops than the eastern side.  There path takes them up alongside a small rushing stream that feeds into Deer Run in the Vale (see map).  The stream contains a series of waterfalls to be navigated.  The characters will be scrabbling over carpets of slippery pine needles, across loose shelves of shale, up wet and mossy banks of the stream, etc.  To do it safely requires practice, patience, and time.

None of which the player characters can afford.

There is no way of knowing how long a man can survive on the cross.  The strongest can last a few days.  But it takes at least half a day to reach Grothrang’s Well, so to get there and back before the condemned dies means the characters must hurry.



It is probably best to condense the first hurried stage of the ascent into a Simple Contest, saving the Extending Contest for the Climax.  For drama, space these out.  For example, one character has to roll as they scurry up the steep pine-needled slopes at the base of the mountain, the next a little higher as they all crawl across exposed rock face, the next navigating loose and crumbling shale, scrabbling over protruding boulders, or even simple exhaustion.  Use your dramatic instincts.  Failure will mean physical injury,  strain, or fatigue, and that could possibly slow the group down.  Basically it comes down to each player character having to pass one ascent simple contest, at a Moderate Difficulty (unless using Pass/Fail).  When all have made their rolls, the first stage of the climb is finished.      

However, just before the last character is about to make their roll, tell them they have arrived at the cloud line.  This makes everything wet, damp, and cold around them.  Visibility is limited in the cloud bank.  As the character prepares to roll, tell the players they hear the howling of a wolf somewhere behind them…and it is answered by another call ahead of them…

9. The Dragon Temple

High above the tree line, amongst the mountain peaks, the Dragonewt settlement of High Wyrm rests.  1500 Dragonewts are said to lair here, and before Temertain, the Princes of Sartar traded with them.

The journey to Grothrang’s Well takes the characters well below High Wyrm, but the entire area is still sacred to that Elder Race.  Perhaps the characters are lost in the cloud bank, perhaps they have drifted too far up the slopes, or perhaps it was simply hidden before…but as they race for the Gorge they stumble across something unexpected.  It is a ruin of the Empire of the Wyrm’s Friends.  A temple of some sort.  If Ashart is with them he will be stunned.  He has been this far out with his father before and never saw this place.  His father has never described anything like it either.  

In the face of a sheer cliff, the shadowed entrance of the temple burrows into the rock face, five men high and three men wide.  A columned portico juts out of the cliff over the door, carven with entwining dragons and the Dragonewt Rune.

It is entirely possible that the characters will want to push on, conscious of how precious time is.  The Dragon Temple triggers the Subplot Character’s story, however, marking him or her for an epic destiny (this will become more clear in episode 5, “Starbrow”).  It is not 100% necessary, so if you can’t get the characters to enter the temple, don’t force them!  The Temple can simply be revisited in episode 5.

Do try to encourage the player characters into the Temple, if you can!  It might be a good place to rest and eat and tend to the injured, or perhaps the howling of wolves is drawing nearer and the players hope to find safety there.  Even simple curiosity will work.  If you have chosen to go with the idea of the Subplot Character being destined for this, something about the Temple stirs something like deja vu in them and they feel almost drawn to it.  Just remember, don’t force it.  If they don’t want to go in, just continue with the next scene.  

Inside the temple it is warmer than expected, chasing the chill of the mountain air from their bones.  The walls of the entranceway are intricately carved with the same motif of intertwined dragons (most resembling dragon imagery from China or Persia in our world).  There are dragons under the sea, dragons beneath the mountains, dragons amongst the clouds, and even dragons wending their way between the stars.  

The entrance passage is high but not deep, extending straight forward for about five meters before opening into a vast, cathedral-like room.  Four great pillars, each with a stone dragon coiling all the way up around it, hold up the ceiling.  There is a massive bronze sheathed door set in the wall opposite the entrance, also dragon carved (nothing they do can open this).  In the four corners of the room, vents in the floor hiss steam…there must be natural hot springs beneath this place.

In the very center of the room is an altar carved from a massive piece of milky green stone—the Sartarites have not seen jade before, but you can tell the players what stone it is—with coiled dragons on its four faces.  At its corners are bronze statues of robed men kneeling in meditation or prayer.  Hovering over the altar, two feet above its smooth, glassy surface, is a ball just large enough to fit in the palm of the hand.  It seems to be made of gold.  On each of the front and back hemispheres, there is a raised Dragonewt Rune.

The object here is to have a player character grasp this golden ball.  If the Subplot Character was chosen by destiny, have them feel compelled to seize it.  If you prefer to leave the choice random, whatever character grasps it becomes the Subplot Character.  And again, if no one wants to touch the thing…that’s fine.  It will be here waiting for them in episode 5.    

The instant the ball is grasped there will be a flash of green fire, the stench of seared flesh, and a bolt of burning plain in the character’s hand.  The ball will disappear.  Instead, a Dragonewt Rune is now burned into that character’s palm.  It heals before their eyes, painlessly, leaving only a scar…a Dragonewt Rune scar.

The scar will not come into play until episode five, “Starbrow.”  It is harmless to the character, but will be critical to that story. If the character wants, they can even cement the Rune as one of their Abilities and work out suitable powers conferred by it…  

Once the scar is received, or when it is clear no player will grab for it, the entire temple begins to shake.  Dust, and chunks of rock fall from the ceiling.  It is time to flee!

10. Prey

BEYOND THE TEMPLE they know they are growing close to Ormsrest Gorge.  They can here the rushing waters of the stream running through it echoing ahead.  But night is closing in, and the fog around them (the clouds) is thick.  Meanwhile, the howling is getting closer…

Reaching the Gorge, there is a narrow path running down the side of the canyon wall descending into it.  They should be nearing the Well.  It the bottom of the Gorge they can just make out flashes of white from the water rushing over the stones in the stream bed.  Following this, they reach the Well.

Grothrang’s Well is a bowl shaped pool.  In the middle of the pool is a sort of secondary pool, a hole bored deep into the stone.  The Gorge encloses it like a kind of amphitheater.  Looking around, even in the darkness they can see signs of recent encampment here…but the fires have all gone cold.  The Gorge is empty.  The Sons of Orlanth have already moved on!

Night has fallen and the entire journey, it seems, was for nothing.  But there is no time to think about this.  The wolves that have been tracking them now emerge from the shadows of the Gorge.  There are several of them, equal to the number of player characters plus two.  There eyes seem to glow in the dim light, and the characters can make out their snapping jaws and barred teeth…

This is the climax and should be an Extended Group Contest.  The Difficulty should be no more than Moderate (14).  Ashart can assist as a Companion, evening the odds just slightly.  At the GMs discretion is doesn’t need to be a fight to the death.  If half the wolves are killed or defeated the other half might break off in search of easier prey.

Defeating the wolves means more than just survival.  These are the mythic rivals of the Black Stag, and the Benefits of Victory bonus should be recorded on the character sheet for future interactions with the Royal or in certain clan activities and circles (the players have a reputation as wolf-killers, all the more impressive as they are still just children).  The bonus earned here can also be used during the sixth episode, “Rites of Passage,” as being able to fight is part of Orlanthi adulthood rites.


When the battle is over, ask the players to reflect on the moment.  This is probably the first time they have really fought—or killed—in their young lives outside of slaughtering livestock or perhaps hunting.  How has this changed them?   

11. Homecoming

It would be reckless and dangerous to attempt the descent in the middle of the night, though the players may still wish to attempt it.  The more reasonable choice would be to camp here.  

Either way, the clouds break and the vault of the sky opens to them.  Shepelkirt, just past full, stares down at them gloating, bathing the landscape in red.  The characters must now decide what to do.  Do they simply return to the Vale and face the consequences of their actions?  Do they go to the cross and try to free him themselves, bringing the wrath of the Lunars down on the entire clan?  These are the decisions they now face.

It is probably best to let the return journey be uneventful.  Likely they have suffered enough.

When they return to the Vale, they find it in an uproar.  Even before they enter the valley proper, they are discovered by a patrol of armed militia.  Their disappearance seems to have caused a panic, and everyone is out looking for them.  They are disarmed and to their surprise, taken into custody, straight to the chieftain’s hall.  They men guarding them don’t seem relieved…they seem angry and concerned.

The youths are brought into the Hall where the Ring assembles.  Their parents, and/or the heads of their home steads have been summoned as well.  Red-faced with fury, the chieftain is the very last to arrive.

Like a raging storm he descends on the largest or oldest player character.  His shadowcat—housing his allied spirit—follows menacingly behind, staring at each of the characters in turn. Gordangar seizes the character by his collar and lifts him into the air.  “How dare you defy me!  Do you understand what it is you have done?!”

If Ashart was with them, Beroth will be there as well, two housecarls physically holding him back from the characters if Ashart did not happen to make it back.  If Ashart died or was injured during the episode, they will have the hunter’s enmity for some time to come.

The chieftain drops the player character and stares furiously at the others.  There is something else in his eyes other than angry.  There is fear.

Let the scene play out, but it soon becomes clear why the chieftain is so angry.  Sometime in the night, while the characters were up the slopes of Kagradus, the condemned man was freed from his cross.  The clan logically concluded that the player characters—also missing—liberated him against the chieftain’s orders and helped him escape.

Roleplay the scene out however you like.  It offers a chance for the players to interact with the Clan Ring NPCs.  

When dramatically appropriate—especially if the Ring is not convinced the characters are telling the truth—the doors of the Hall swing open and Korolmath strides in, still armed and armored, his face and bare arms painted with woad.  “The youths are not to blame.  The Sons of Orlanth liberated my brother in the night.”

He strides to where the players stand and puts his hand on his nephew or niece’s shoulder.  “What you did was brave, and pig-headed.”  There is a hint of pride in his features as he looks at the character’s faces.  Then he looks at the chieftain.  “They have done no wrong.  They acted as proper sons of Orlanth should act.  As we all should act.  Inaction is why Shepelkirt looms.”

“There will be consequences.  You know the law.  They will come and perform their divinations and when they do the clan will suffer.”  Gordangar replies.

Give the players a chance to counter this if they like.  If not, Korolmath answers.  “Let them divine answers from their filthy gods.  When I became outlaw I was severed from my clan.  Your own Sword did that.”  He points to the Humakti on the Ring, Jorgunath Bladesong.  “So no member of this clan can be said to have broken Lunar law.  The Haraborn are blameless.”

“Besides, Gordangar, it was a member of your own Ring who sent the message to us what had befallen my brother.”  He looks at Keladon Blue-Eye.

This should come as some surprise to the characters, because it means he prodded them to go looking for the rebels even though he had contacted them himself.  Why did the Eurmali urge them to go then?


The sense of tension in the room slowly dissipates, and the characters are given over to their families to be reprimanded and punished.  If everyone—including Ashart—came back alive, the punishment will not be so severe.  If anyone was killed or severely injured, the consequences could last a much longer time.


AND NOW, THE "AFTER PLAY" REPORT...

The campaign kicked off with four characters;

Beralor "Three-Father" Harvarrson (Keith)
With his real father killed in the struggle against the Lunar Occupation. Beralor has been raised by the redsmith Harvarr Horviksson and his husband, the Nandan Affar Dronnsson.  Beralor is now sixteen, and has the Heortling, Crafter (Smith), and Black Stag Community keywords.  His Runes are Air, Motion, and Mastery.

Kalf "Lightfoot" Brogansson (David)
The son of a cottar sheepman (killed in Kallyr's rebellion), Kalf lives alone with his mother in a cottage on the edge of the Vale.  He is the oldest in the group, 17, having just missed the last Adult Initiation ceremony four years ago by having been just a bit too young.  He has the Heortling, Black Stag Community, and Herdsman keywords.  His Runes are Air, Stasis, and Beast.

Leika "the White" Faransdotr (Vicky)
The albino daughter of a cottar spirit-talker, Leika's condition renders her sensitive to sunlight and slightly ostracized by some of her peers.  She overcompensates with a forceful, "bossy" personality.  Leika is 14, and has the Heortling, Black Stag Community, and Spirit-Talker keywords.  Her Runes are Air, Motion, and Spirit.

Kalliva Kallessasdotr of Twin Stone (Ira)
The daughter of an Ernaldan carl in the prominent Twin Stone stead, the identity of her father has never been divulged by her mother.  Kalliva is torn between what her mother wants for her (marriage, family) and following the path of her Vingan aunt (currently a rebel living in the hills and mountains striking at the Lunars).  She has a close relationship with her uncle Garnath, who is one of the chieftain's housecarls.  Kalliva has the Heortling, Black Stag Community, and Warrior keywords.  Her Runes are Air, Truth, and Mastery.

As the only Warrior in the party, Kalliva became this episode's Focus Character...with some minor changes to the plot.  Instead of her father being crucified, it was her uncle Garnath, and the "Korolmath" character became her Vingan aunt, "Korolmara."

No Subplot Character was chosen.  I decided on the spot to let Fate decide when they got the the Dragon Temple.

The story went largely according to plan.  Kalliva's aunt returns to the Vale with the other Sons of Orlanth for supplies, re-awakening tension between Korolmara and her sister Kallessa, who is determined her daughter not take the Vingan's path.  

The Plow Blessing Day arrives and games are participated in.  Kalf met and formed a bit of a connection with Esrala, who despite being a year younger than him is an initiated woman while he is still technically underage.  He got an assist from his wing-man Beralor, who used his "Honey Tongued" distinguishing characteristic to help Kalf make an impression.  The conflict with Darestan came close to blows, setting things up nicely for episode three down the road.

By happy coincidence, Kalliva receiving the Dragonewt tooth from her aunt became a kind of foreshadowing, as later she would end up being the character bearing the Dragonewt mark.

The group played through the optional "An Act of Violence" scene.  Keith later commented that he found Lunar Prefect Yolanda Saedrius surprisingly likable.  That was intentional; if you've played HeroQuest or RuneQuest long enough you've all seen mustache-twirling Lunar bad guys aplenty.  I've always preferred the more epic Achilles/Hector or Yudhishthira/Duryodhana type conflicts, where both sides are gifted and flawed.  We'll see if he still likes her later in the campaign...

Also interesting was the way Ashart fit into the game.  Rather than making him a love interest, he became Kalf's companion.  Both cottars, their family cottages are near each other and the younger Ashart--an only child--looks up to Kalf as a sort of big brother figure.  The boy, who was 12 here, follows Kalf around like a cheerful puppy, chatting a mile a minute.  I was pleased that during the wolf fight the team--especially Kalf--became very protective of the boy.

It was surprisingly easy to get my players into the Dragon Temple ("What?  Ominous dragon temple appears out of nowhere?  Let's go in!").  I was a bit surprised that Kalliva was the one to grab the golden dragon orb and receive the mark.  Writing the scenario, I hadn't wanted the Focus and Subplot character to be the same, but in the end I think it might even have worked out better.  It suggests that Keladon Blue-Eye, who embodies Eurmal in his Guide aspect, suggested the player characters go up the mountain expressly so Kalliva could receive the mark and begin her destiny.  

Everyone survived the climactic fight, though two characters were Hurt.  Everyone was able to stumble back down into the Vale, where they were apprehended and brought straight to the chieftain's hall, the clan believing they had been responsible for liberating Garnath.  Korolmara returns to the hall and explains the Sons of Orlanth saved Garnath, thus sparing any blame falling on the clan.  She tells her niece what she did was "foolish, pig-headed, and..." looking accusingly at the seated Ring "...exactly what a true Son or Orlanth should do."  

The youths had "borrowed" weapons from their fathers' weapon chests before climbing the mountain.  Kalliva has taken, appropriately, Garth's weapons including his sword.  Korolmara tells her niece the sword is hers now, something her mother was not terribly pleased with.