"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, October 18, 2019


Chapter Eight:

for Greg Stafford (1948-2018)

“If you are going to have a story, have a big story, or none at all.” (Joseph Campbell)


PART TWO OF “The Cradle” demonstrates the essential beauty of the RPG.  To quote the great Robert Burns, “the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”  With some extraordinary dice luck in the climax of the first half, the cradle was never taken by the Lunars and therefore allowed to continue its journey.  History was therefore altered a shade in the campaign, and this version of the “The Cradle” parted company with Stafford’s classic.

Fortunately I had a week between sessions to adapt and plan.  I am reminded of Peter Jackson, who described the filming of The Lord of the Rings as laying tracks in front of a moving train, referencing of course all the script changes and adjustments he needed to keep the juggernaut moving.  This is an infinitely smaller scale, but did press me to change course.

And as is so often the case with RPGs, the dice are wiser than our instincts.  This is why we play them; the uncertainty principle.  Because with the cradle free to sail down the river I needed to find dramatic conflict elsewhere, and thus the midpoint crisis of this version appeared.  For HeroQuest it felt right to make the impersonal deeply personal.  Thus the version you see here.

More in the “After Play” report.


Wild Day, Harmony Week, Sea Season 1621 

Beginning: WE BEGIN IN the heat of battle.  The protagonists have managed to shatter the trap the forces of the Lunar Empire laid for the cradle, but doing so leaves them on the battlefield outside the walls of Pavis while the cradle continues its journey downriver.  To continue their defense of the vessel, they must re-board.

Obstacle:  As the cradle passes within the walls of Old Pavis into the Rubble, the player characters must somehow bypass the wall and catch up with it to get aboard.  The walls of Old Pavis are not just “tall” however (though they stand at least 17 warriors high); they were fashioned with ancient magics and impregnated with the power of the Faceless Statue.  Scaling them, or attempting to use magic to fly or teleport over them, faces a difficulty of Very High (Base + Mastery).

The easiest way to get into the the Rubble then is by the river.  Characters may attempt to simply swim their way in (not easy given the armor and weapons they are carrying) or to scale a very narrow ledge running along where the wall meets the river.  Either way involves evading enemies on the battlefield and faces a High difficulty of Base + 6.

Second Thoughts: Inside the wall, they realize that the battle continues even inside the walls.  Trolls and more of Garrath’s defending forces are facing off against Lunar troops, some which have now managed to board the cradle themselves.  Both soldiers and magicians are here; these must be gotten around to catch up with and board.  

The protagonists must either fight past the enemy or try to use magic.  These are the forces of the Marble Phalanx, with heavy shields, spears, bronze cuirasses, helms, and greaves.  They are formidable.  So too is the Lunar magic, for this is Wild Day and the moon is full.  Assume a Simple Contest then, but against a difficulty of Base + 6.  This gets them past the Phalanx and within boarding distance of the cradle.  Getting aboard is another Simple Contest against the same difficulty.

Climax of Act One: On the deck of the cradle a battle is raging.  There is no sign of Garrath Sharpsword, but some of his men remain, fighting alongside those eerie wooden statues against a number of Lunar troops.  These are themselves led by Avardi Caelitinus, a Rune Lord of Yanafal Ta’arnils.  He is heavily armored in bronze and silver, and swings an enchanted silver khopesh that burns with crimson radiance.  The Runes of Death, Truth, and Moon are inlaid into his breastplate in silver.

Taking he and his men on is NOT going to be easy.  This is an Extended Contest against a difficulty of Base + Mastery.  


Obstacle: AS THE CRADLE Approaches Ogre Island in the Rubble it begins to lurch and slow.  Those sensitive to magic will detect a powerful current of Lunar magic flowing against the cradle, pushing back against it.  This is being directed from a second team of magicians on the opposite wall, over the gate that leads to New Pavis.  This is not their most pressing problem; Lunar forces have gotten below decks and threaten the baby.

Breaking the Lunar spell is nearly impossible alone (Base + Mastery 2).  Their best hope is to somehow get a message out to Garrath and their allies telling them about the magicians on the wall (Leika could use her connection to the White Bull spirit to do this, or Beralor or Kalliva could use Wind Words).

Below decks, the Lunar troops can be fought with a Simple Contest Base + 6.  Any number of these can be fought, depending on how the player characters are faring and how much tension the story requires, but the climax of the battle should come in the chamber with the infant itself, where the sow has gone missing, the floor is littered with shattered wooden statues, and Lunar troops are stabbing at the baby with their spears as the terrified child tries to swat them.

Obstacle 2: This is a simple one.  Assuming the baby is saved, the sow must be found so the child can be fed.  This requires hunting thought the tunnels bored into the hull of the ship.  Tracking or hunting skills come into play here.  The creature has become trapped inside the archives, a room filled with mysterious papyri and tapestries telling stories in obscure pictures and unknown languages.  The wall of the passage has been smashed in here, blocking the door and preventing the animal’s passage.  Shifting the wreckage is a Moderate difficult Simple Contest.

Obstacle 3: Nemolayope appears at this stage to thank them.  She has healed the baby and will offer magical healing to any of the protagonists who need it.  But the battle is not over yet.  They must go aft, to where the vessel’s Troll defenders are engaged with a final continent of Lunars.  Here they meet the formidable Troll warrior Javis Gan, and the equally terrifying Gorakiki witch Mar Gar Pah.  They are fighting alongside the animated wooden statues against the last of the Lunars.  Joining this battle is a Simple Contest, Base + 6.

With the conclusion of this obstacle, the cradle is free of Lunars.

Midpoint (the Big Twist): THIS ASSUMES the protagonists managed to get a message to Sharpsword.  If they haven’t, assume he and his forces discovered the Lunar interference with the cradle and neutralized it anyway.  In either case the force acting against the cradle subsides and it starts to move freely again, carried rapidly by the Zola Fel towards the city of New Pavis.  

On deck, Garrath has returned.  The sky has darkened and a storm rolled in.  Lighting arcs blue and purple across the sky.  Things are going their way and there is a feeling of growing confidence, but Garrath is worried about one thing.  Outside New Pavis the Lunars have erected a stone bridge.  He thinks the cradle is large enough to smash through it, but it would be the perfect place for a last ditch effort to seize the cradle.  They need to rest and prepare.

This, however, is not going to happen.

The Jakaleel witch Ashaghara speaks to Beralor in his mind, using spells she wove when he was her prisoner a year ago.  With her divinatory Runes she has discovered the spy Affar in the governor’s household, and the Lunars are now holding Beralor’s father.  Her instructions are simple; Garrath Sharpsword has been revealed as a serious threat to the Empire.  Kill him, or they kill Beralor’s father.

Even Garrath Sharpsword can be stabbed in the back, and he expects it least from his adoptive kin and of late protege Beralor.  If the group goes this route, Garrath will fall to his knees and vanish (in RuneQuest a Divine Intervention).  Then Ashaghara will kill Affar anyway and the Lunars will try to seize the cradle at the bridge.

If the player characters tell Garrath, he will grow grim.  Affar is, after all, his own kin, and when he was a child Affar was an older brother he looked up to.  He cannot, however, break the vow he made to Gon Orta.  He must stay aboard the cradle and see it to the sea.

He releases the player characters from their oaths, however, and will help them however he can.  Finding Affar is a matter of Divination, with either the characters calling upon their gods or Leika calling upon her spirits.  This is a Simple Contest, Moderate difficulty.  He is being held in a hut near the Lunar bridge.  Garrath will be happy to teleport them there…

Obstacle: …they appear in Affar’s hut.  He has been beaten and tortured, not so much he will not survive but it is serious.  The storm outside is now raging, with lashing wind and rains.  This works in their favor.  Getting past the guards outside the door is tricky (Simple Contest, Base + 6), but once they do they find themselves on the southern end of the Lunar bridge.  A number of troops are standing on it, included magicians, the witch Ashaghara, and none other than Governor Sor Eel.  Forces are massed on the banks for a last ditch effort to stop it.

Disaster: (NOTE: The following is not at all how things went down in play, due to something the player characters did; see the After Play report below).  Free of the cell, Affar suddenly wrenches free of his son’s grip and stumbles towards the bridge crying out.  “Mistress!  Mistress!  They are here!”  He has been bewitched by the Jakaleeli’s foul sorceries.  

Crisis: Catching and subduing Affar (via magic or other means) is a Simple Contest, Base + Mastery.  Failure means he returns to the witch’s clutches.  But even if they succeed, the troops have now spotted them, leading to the next scene…

Climax of Act Two: As the cradle comes within sight, in the strobe-light flashes of lightning Garrath can be seen mounted on the dragon prow, hands raised into the sky.  He starts raining lighting on the Lunar troops indiscriminately.  Bolts of it shower down from the heavens, smashing the bridge, blasting craters in the earth, tossing bodies hither and fro with the stink of ozone in the air.  He doesn’t seem to care that the player characters or Affar are there among the others.

This is the climactic battle.  To get free of the Lunar troops, AND avoid getting killed by friendly fire, this is an Extended Contest at a difficulty of Base + 6.

At the climax of this the cradle smashes into the abandoned bridge and shatters it.  The best hope the player characters have to escape the area is aboard it.


MANY THINGS can happen here.  The player characters might confront Garrath on his willingness to kill them (“In battle, men die” he answers).  This is a roleplaying chance to show that Argrath is not their “buddy.”  He has a destiny and will use anyone to achieve it.  They might also have to deal with breaking the spell holding Affair’s mind.  Either way, the cradle sails south into Sun County, and here Orin becomes a valuable asset to them.

It is unlikely they will remain aboard.  They will probably wish to send Affar back to Harvarr in Sartar, and then resume their mission to liberate their other kinsmen from bondage.  This means disembarking in Sun County (which should happen before the attack at Harpoon).

Climax of Act Three:  This should be the confrontation with Garrath, or the breaking of the spell on Affar.  In either case it ends with them on the banks of the river in Sun County, where they seek lodging and food.

Obstacle:  To return Affar to Sartar, they need to ride to the trading post at Garhound.  Some sort of message must be sent out to the White Bull or other allies to arrange this.  A less attractive option is to negotiate with traders in Garhound.  Either way, assume a Simple Contest of Moderate difficulty.

Denouement: What should follow is a chance to introduce the players to yet another culture…the Sun Domers.  More on this will follow in the next chapter, but for now be sure to make some of the distinctions clear.  The Sun Domers are practically Puritans, with religious faith up front, strict separation of the sexes, etc.  Use Orin as a lens and a translator.


WELL…THAT WAS a surprise.

Two major deviations occurred in play here.  The first happened shortly after the rescue of Affar at the bridge.  Before I could roll out the Stockholm Syndrome subplot, the player characters decided to entrust Affar for whatever reason with the enchanted silver khopesh they had looted from the body of Avardi Caelitinus, the Rune Lord.  Affar—a gentle and maternal Nandan and nothing like a fighter—wasn’t expected to wield it.  I assume he was considered a safe bearer because he had no magic (and the enchanted silver, like iron, negatively affects magic unless you are attuned to it).  On the spur of the moment however, I took that opportunity to have the allied spirit inside the blade teleport Affar and it to Ashaghara’s side, making it a case of the allied spirit re-abducting Affar to help the Lunars, rather than brainwashing.  This meant getting him back.

The second major deviation fell at the end.  After a far more extensive introduction of Sun County than I had planned, in Will’s tavern in Garhound (after sending Affar on his way) Kalf confronted Beralor on the continuing unhealthy influence of his true father, the Eurmali Trickster Kheladon Blue-Eye.  I saw this as a chance to showcase the Dara Happan/Solar devotion to fathers (a central theme in my upcoming Jonstown Compendium offering, Rites of Passage, which (shameless plug) offers eight different adulthood initiation rites in various cultures, ahem), so Orin defends Beralor as just being “the acorn that fell from the tree.”  Kalf backhands Orin across the face for this, which ends with a furious Orin leaving the party without their guide and translator in Sun County…

Which sets up next week’s Chapter.  This will be the third and last #WeAreAllUs scenario, as I adapt another classic, the Trevor Ackerly and Michael O’Brien thriller “The Old Sun Dome” for my group’s annual halloween session.  Look for it under the title, “Sundown.”  

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