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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.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

THE RIVER OF CRADLES, CHAPTER SEVEN: THE CRADLE (PART ONE)

Chapter Seven:
THE CRADLE, PART ONE

for Greg Stafford (1948-2018)

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

#WeAreAllUs


INTRODUCTION

GREG STAFFORD’S The Cradle arrived in 1983, part of the Pavis: Threshold to Danger boxed set.  By this time we had already seen the classics Snake Pipe Hollow, Apple Lane, Borderlands and Griffin Mountain, not to mention the legendary Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror, but still there was something groundbreaking about Pavis and its companion, Big Rubble, something I think The Cradle exemplifies. 

In The Cradle, a godlike race of giants is giving one of its infants to the sea.  In an ark-sized magical cradle the baby is sent sailing down the Zola Fel river, where eventually she will arrive at the ocean and then float towards Magasta’s Pool, a hole in the center of the world that will carry her beyond the mortal realm of Time.  We can only guess at the giants’ motivation, but the fact that the cradle is laden with magical treasures and secrets suggests that they are trying to preserve an ancient way of life that is fading.  Like Bithia did for Moses, or Kunti did for Karna, the giants are risking their precious child in a desperate attempt to save her.  Weighed against this is the Lunar Empire, and an ambitious governor who wants the secrets of the cradle for its glory (and his).  The player characters are hired or persuaded to join the defense of the cradle so that it can sail unmolested to its destination.

Now there are many terrific scenarios in Pavis, but The Cradle stands out for several reasons.  First of all the entire city of Pavis and the Big Rubble ruins exist because of this very practice; the ancient God Learners built the first settlement here, Robcradle, to do exactly what the name suggests.  Robcradle was destroyed by angry giants tired of their children being abducted and dissected, and Pavis eventually rose in its place.   Now for the first time in an Age it is happening again. Second, the mysterious figure orchestrating the cradle’s defense is none other than Argrath, the future King of Dragon Pass who will both save and destroy the world.  His presence in the story links the player characters to an even greater myth cycle, making them part of history.  But the thing that really makes The Cradle exemplary in my mind is that it could really only happen in Glorantha.  File the serial numbers off Snake Pipe Hollow or Apple Lane and you could pretty much transplant it to any fantasy setting; the plot I just described above?  Not so much.  By logical modern standards it is totally mad, but compared to some of the episodes in ancient mythologies fits right in.  You could easily imagine Heracles or Gilgamesh boarding a giant baby cradle to defend it.  I see The Cradle as a scenario that really ended up defining what Glorantha is and what makes it unique.

REWRITING THE CRADLE

THERE WAS NEVER any doubt in my mind that my player characters were going to end up participating in the cradle story, but it was happy coincidence that we were going to end up playing it during the Greg Stafford memorial event, #WeAreAllUs.  As a GM I cordially dislike running other people’s scenarios for the same reason players create their own characters.  But this was a classic, and it was Greg, so I was ready to break my personal rule for it.  

On the other hand, as written, The Cradle simply does not work for HeroQuest Glorantha.  This is a very tactical scenario, and the engine driving it is RuneQuest’s gritty combat system.  The drama arises from facing wave after wave of attackers, from the prolonged running battle.  How long can the players hold out?  Can they hold out?  Part of the genius of The Cradle is how Stafford makes superb use of a highly simulationalist game system to create dramatic tension.  For a narrative system, the drama would have to come from elsewhere.  This necessitated three new elements;

  • the player characters needed to have emotional stakes; the old plot hook of being hired at Gimpy’s simply wasn’t going to work.  They had to need something that only participating in this episode would provide them.
  • they needed an antagonist beyond merely the Lunars, something that cast doubt over the entire adventure.
  • there would have to be some crisis, some stakes-raising twist, to turn the climax from “yet another big battle” into something really compelling.     

With this in mind, I also knew it was going to have to be shorter.  My version was falling into an on-going campaign, and a long journey down the Zola Fel to the sea made little sense in the context of that.  I decided to make this the turning point in the current campaign arc; the climax had to mirror the battle at Pimper’s Block where they set fire to the settlement and drew the Lunars’ wrath.  This time, though, they would rain devastation on Pavis and anger even the governor.  So the Sun County, Grantlands, and Corflu half of the original scenario had to go.  The climax had to happen in Pavis.

What follows then is my take on The Cradle, along with an After Play report on how things went down in the game.  

THE CRADLE: PART ONE   

Setting: Pavis; both New Pavis and the area known as the Big Rubble.  The Zola Zel river north of Pavis. 

Theme:  Luck versus Fate.  As the player characters increasingly find their lives seemingly following prophecies, they question whether chance or destiny governs their lives.   

Stakes:  “Starbrow’s Children” have become entangled with both Argrath White Bull, the shaman-leader of the White Bull spirit society, and Garrath Sharpsword, an Orlanthi adventurer and rebel.  Paradoxically they are two masks worn by the same man, leaving the player characters uncertain who he really is and how far they can trust him.  And yet, access to the resources of the White Bull society and Garrath’s rebel underground are vital to the success of their own mission; freeing the enslaved women and children of their clan up and down the Zola Fel. So when Sharpsword asks them to help in the defense of a giant’s cradle coming down the Zola Fel, it is an offer they cannot refuse…especially since he indicates he might not be coming back from this adventure and wishes to entrust some of his considerable resources to them…         

Subplots:  Kalliva’s relationship with freed Dara Happan slave Orininus becomes increasingly more complicated; Garrath assumes a seemingly mentor-like position in Beralor’s life, leaving Beralor to wonder if this is because of his kinship with Beralor’s adoptive father Affar; Kalf is haunted by a growing shadow in his mind, a mixture of fear for Esrala and his child, worry over Ashart, and guilt over the Lunar he killed; Leika is drawn deeper into the White Bull society, and forced to question if her albinism was chance or destiny…  

Our Protagonists

Leika Faransdotr
The daughter of the Black Stag Clan’s chief spirit-talker and human leader of the local White Hart Spirit Society, Leika’s mother died in childbirth.  Raised alone by her father and somewhat spoiled by him, she was instructed from a very young age in the spirit world and its magic.  An albino, she was something of an outsider to her peers.  She is now a member of the Kolat Spirit Tradition.

Beralor Three Fathers
Raised by Harvarr—his clan’s Redsmith—and his Nandan partner Affar, Beralor is actually the son of Harvarr’s sister and the bonded Eurmali Trickster Kheladon Blue-Eye.  An enthusiastic Orlanth initiate, his path (and consequently that of his friends) has been manipulated by his Trickster sire for reasons he cannot guess.

Kalf Light Foot
A herdsman and shepherd raised by his widowed mother after his father died in Starbrow’s Rebellion, Kalf married his youth-time sweetheart Esrala and the couple are expecting a child.  Wanting only a quiet family life that his father’s death deprived him of, he nevertheless finds himself in the foreign lands of Prax trying to save his mother—and fellow kinsmen—from Lunar slavery.

Kalliva No One’s Daughter
The daughter of a Vingan and a Lunar commander, Kalliva was raised by an aunt who always resented and later rejected her.  Herself a Vingan initiate who wants only to protect and defend her kin, she is marked by powerful Dragon Magic that pulled her into the designs of Kallyr Starbrow and a destined role in events yet to come.   

Dramatis Personae

Argrath White Bull
  • Runes: Harmony, Beast, Spirit
  • Shaman and White Bull Spirit Tradition leader
  • Goals: To unite the Tribes of Prax against the occupying Lunar forces.
  • Notes:  Yes…that Argrath. Argrath White Bull is the cliche riddle wrapped in an enigma and packaged in mystery.  A Sartarite, he was found and taken captive alone on the plains of Prax by the Bison Tribe, who made him a slave.  At the time he was just fifteen.  Over the next five years of captivity, he stunned his captors by mastering their language, their customs, and more disturbingly, their magic…almost intuitively.  Tribal spirits swarmed to the young outsider, embracing him as their own.  When he heard the legend of the White Bull from the tribal elders, Argrath announced he would seek out the spirit and free it, much to the mocking amusement of the tribesmen.  Then he did exactly that…his body cold and dead for three days and three nights while his spirit went out to find and bring back the Bull.  When he returned with the spirit, much of the tribe fell on their knees to him.  He was quickly accepted and trained into a shaman, and founded the White Bull Spirit Society.  Argrath wandered Prax for two years after this, approaching other tribes and inviting him into his society, slowly building an underground army, a tribal confederation unlike anything seen in Prax in ages.  In 1618 he relocated to the Big Rubble in Pavis, from which he leads his society.  
  • Roleplay Notes: Think Gandhi.  Think Buddha.  Think “deep, mystical, shamanic wise man.”  For a young man of 24 years he seems ancient, with a gaze that seems to stare right through the Mundane World into the Spirit Plane.  He has the same annoying habit as Starbrow of speaking in pronouncements (“you will do this,” “you are going to do that”) but when he does it, it comes off prophetic instead of imperious.  In playing him, keep the Harmony Rune in the front of your mind.  He is a uniter, a peace-maker, a healer.  People come to him broken and he fixes them.  They come to him drifting, and he gives them purpose.  His society turns members of different tribes into the same tribe (their animals become albino as a sign of this shared unity).  Now, if it seems odd to you that a man of peace is building an army, buckle-up buttercup, because it all gets weirder with the next entry…       

Garrath Sharpsword
  • Runes: Air, Mastery, Motion
  • Sartarite Wind Lord, Weaponmaster, Teacher, and Adventurer
  • Goals: To personify Orlanth Adventurous, to be a thorn in the Lunars’ side.
  • Notes:  Sharpsword turned up in New Pavis two years ago, a Sartarite exile with a taste for adventure, ale, and attractive young people (of both genders).  Charismatic, ridiculously charming, and just a little bit wicked, he is almost too much of a swashbuckler to be in a Bronze Age heroic fantasy setting…yet there he is.  Sharpsword proved himself as a Rune Lord to the Wind Voices of the city, and to the adventurering regulars at Gimpy’s as a swordsman to be reckoned with.  His mastery of styles, especially Wind and Dragon, is deadly.  He regularly makes forays into the Big Rubble, sometimes alongside other adventurers like Krogar Wolfhelm, Wolfhead, and Griselda, sometimes alone.  He has also joined the White Bull Society.
  • Ropleplay Notes:  Garrath Sharpsword is an adventurer who gets off on the thrill of danger.  He is a risk taker.  He puts others in harm’s way.  He is a shameless flirt who sees lovemaking as a sport, and plays it with both attractive men and women.  However he is also loyal, dedicated to Orlanth, and a man of his word.  Like Batman and Bruce Wayne, you will never see Garrath and Argrath in the same room together (you do the math).  As the anagram indicates, there is more to Garrath than meets the eye.  In playing him play up the mischievous twinkle in his eye, the sly grin, the dashing charisma.        

Jarang Bladesong
  • Runes: Air, Mastery, Motion
  • Adari Wind Lord, Adventurer, Rebel
  • Goals: Vengeance against the Lunars for reasons he refuses to speak of.
  • Notes: Another Wind Lord associated with the Orlanth cult hiding in the Rubble.  
  • Roleplay Notes: As the original Cradle pointed out, Jarang will speak extensively about Orlanthi honor, catalogue the long list of crimes committed by the Lunar Empire, and talk about the rich plunder this adventure offers (he will not say that part in front of Garrath, who expressly forbids any plundering of the Cradle 

Javis Gan
  • Runes: Darkness, Death
  • Dark Troll Zorak Zorani Rune Lord, lover of Queen Rebecep of the Javis Clan
  • Goals: Kill.  Rend.  Maim.  Tear.  Fight Chaos.  Serve the Queens of the Javis Clan.
  • Roleplaying Notes: Being in the room with Javis Gan should feel like being a shark tank with a great white, or a cage with a tiger.  You can never be comfortable in his presence.  He is part of the Troll defense of the Cradle, however, and will channel his rage towards the Lunars.  

Nemolayope the Nymph
  • Runes: Fertility, Harmony, Magic
  • Nymph of Life, protectress of the Child and Cradle commander
  • Goals:  Defend the Child.
  • Roleplaying Notes: Inhumanly beautiful, slim, with pupil-less eyes and a melodic voice.  She does not walk, she floats, her hair billowing around her as if she were underwater.  The player characters will only encounter her if they go below decks on the Cradle.  She understands that they are there to defend the Child, and if asked why the giants send their infants to Magasta’s Pool, she will answer only “They seek to save the Future.”

Orvost Tintalker
  • Runes: Air, Motion, Mastery
  • Wind Voice, the Rebel High Priest of Orlanth Rex in Pavis
  • Goals: To restore the worship of Orlanth in the city
  • Notes:  Orvost is the grandson of Dorasar, the Sartarite founder of New Pavis (1550 ST).  When the Lunars took the city, the Orlanth temple was outlawed and the previous High Priest killed.  Orvost escaped with the sacred temple regalia into the Rubble, and has lived in hiding there since.  The Lunars have placed Faltikus the Good (a worshipper of Maru, a storm god in Talasar) in charge of the city’s “Air Temple,” as closing the temple entirely was not an option (it is responsible for bringing the life-giving rains to the city).  For the Sartarite true-believers, however, Orvost is the true spiritual heart of the community.  he carries with him the sacred Lightning Bands of Saronil and the Silver Mantle.      
  • Roleplay Notes: Orvost is, perhaps, a bit too obsessed with Faltikus and the Pavis Air Temple for his own good.  He speaks of the Lunar official priest as “the Imposter,” and even “Gbaji.”  In his own mind he sees himself as Arkat, meant to bring the false priest down.  Regardless, he is a good and true Voice of Orlanth and faithfully sees to the spiritual needs of those who come to him in the Rubble.  

“Orin” (Orininus (or-i-NIGH-nus) Prathvi Yuthaldrex)
  • Runes: Fire/Sky, Life, Truth
  • Slave
  • Goals: Teol has promised him the ability to but his freedom at some point in the future, an option he likely would not have under a Lunar master.  This makes him surprisingly loyal to Teol.
  • Notes: No more than seventeen, his pale skin tanned by the sun of Prax, his hair pale blonde and eyes sky blue…is from the Lunar Heartlands.  He is originally from a well-placed Dara Happan family that fell afoul of a Dart Competition.  The adults in his family were sentenced to death, the children to slavery.  Orin was sold to a wealthy Lunar magistrate soon after assigned to Pavis, and lost by his master in a dicing match.  That is where Teolrian bought him.  The boy is useful because he is fluent in Trade, New Peolrian, and now Praxian, knows arithmetic, and can read well.  While obviously a Lunar, he is by no means a Lunar.  He recognizes the Red Goddess and the Emperor as the supreme powers in the world, but culturally he is Dara Happan.  He sees the Red Goddess as something that happened to his people, not something they have become.  His father taught him that one day the Sun would vanquish the Moon…which is in part the kind of heresy that destroyed his family.     

Ashagara Bonewitch
  • Runes: Moon, Darkness, Spirit
  • Seven Mothers Jakaleel Devotee (“…the Mistress of Black Magic, Keeper of Secrets…(h)er sub cult explores the horrors and solaces contained in the secrets of the Dying Moon, and has some close associations with the Blue Moon”)
  • Goals: To redeem her failure by bringing “Starbrow’s Children” to justice.  
  • Notes: Ashagara never acts without consulting the Runes.  She keeps a set on her person at all times in a black pouch at her belt.  These are carved on the bones of her female ancestors.  No one knows what she looks like.  She is always covered from head to toe in black (robes, tattered cloak, deep hood), her face, hands, arms, etc are wrapped in black linen bandages.  She wears lead claws on her fingers (these are like thimbles with long razor-sharp nails).  

PROLOGUES

I. KALLIVA NO-MOTHER sits beneath the STARS with ORIN

They are looking up at the night sky.  As Storm Season draws to a close and Sacred Time nears, the nights become more clear.  “My family was from Yuthuppa,” Orin says to her, more introspective than usual tonight.  “It is famed throughout Peloria for its knowledge of the stars.  I learned all their names by the time I had five years.  My father insisted on it.”

He points.  “We divide the sky into regions.  The Celestial Desert, the Celestial City, the Celestial Fields, the Celestial Forest, the Celestial Marsh.  And of course the Celestial River.”  He leans closer to her and points to a bright yellow planet.   “And you see that one?  My people call it Antirius, or Lightfore.  I believe yours call it Yelmalio.”

Whether or not Kalliva corrects him she was always taught it was “Elmal.”

“Antirius is the Son of the Sun.  He follows his father unfailingly, as a son should.  The moment Yelm sets, Antirius rises and follows his path across the night sky. He moves, over the course of the year, through all the celestial regions.  It is how we track the seasons.”

He falls silent here.  Clearly something is bothering him.  If Kalliva asks he will answer.  Otherwise he will mention it himself.

“Kalliva.  There is a neighborhood here in Pavis.  In the new city.  It is called Suntown.  The people there are my people…or close to it.”  He pauses again, staring at Lightfore.  “This man, Garrath.  He introduced me to an associate of his.  A man named Runespear.  There is a temple in Suntown.  A “sun dome” they call it.  To Lightfore.  Son of Yelm.”

He grows very silent at this, his face flushing.  “I…Kalliva I am not…I mean that is to say…”  He falls silent again, then after an interior struggle forces himself to speak.  “I was sold as a slave before I could take the manhood rites.  I am still…a child.  This Runespear has offered me the adulthood rites of my people this Sacred Time at the Pavis Sun Dome.  I want…I want to be a man.  It didn’t matter to me when I was a slave.  I was nothing then.  I never dared imagine I might have a future or…a woman…”  He flushes again.  “You freed me.  You took the collar from my neck.  But I still want your permission to do this.  To go and become a man.  Then I will come back to you.”  He stammers.   “I mean, of course, all of you.”

II. LEIKA FARANSDOTR is in the Rubble with ARGRATH WHITEBULL.  He has asked to see her alone.  His people have escorted her to a location just outside of Manside, a ruined villa that once must have been a grand house.  He awaits her by an ancient fountain in a courtyard.  The water still flows as a trickle.

Whitebull has no time for pleasantries.  He gestures for her to sit beside him on the rim of the fountain.  “Nothing is more precious than water in a desert,” he tells her.  “It animates the dust much as spirit animates flesh.”

He sends the guards away so that they make speak privately.  “I am told you summoned the White Bull and it came to you.  It aided you.”  He waits for her to answer and listens (whether or not she points out that he was standing right there as Garrath Sharpsword when it happened.  If she does, he will just let the question pass unanswered).  “The White Hart of your clan, the White Bull of Prax.  Both so like unto you.  Both tied to you.  Does this make you the White Doe, I wonder?”

Draws a Rune in the dust.  It is the web of Arachne Solara.  Fate.  “Are you the kind of person who believes in Destiny?  I am. It is no coincidence that you are here now.  You are right where and when you are needed.”

He stands, turning his back to her.  “Prax needs the White Bull.  We have built an army against the Red Moon, a coalition that transcends tribal rivalries.  The White Bull itself is integral.  He is the heart of this magic.  I awoke him and have been his voice.”

He looks over his shoulder at her.  “Yet…things are transpiring that will remove me from the field.  Shortly, Leika, I will need to disappear.  I tell you this in confidence, but things are in motion that will take me away from Prax.  For years, perhaps.”

He turns to face her.  “I have khans who can oversee the military aspects of the alliance, but I need someone to keep the White Bull.  To *be* the White Bull.  I believe you have come here to do this.  I believe this is your destiny at this time.”

III. BERALOR TWO FATHERS has been training with Garrath Sharpsword in the Wind and Dragon techniques of the sword. 

“No, no, not like that,” he shakes his head, correcting Beralor’s form.  “You swing as if you want the sword to do all of the work.  Lightning is a manifestation of the storm.  The sword is a manifestation of you.  Lean into it.  Use your weight behind it.  A storm is not timid or cautious.  It rolls in unafraid of anything in its path.”

Beralor tries again, doing as instructed, and forces Garrath back.  “There?  See?”  He hold up his hand for the student to stop and pours then both a drink.  “There is no such thing as ‘destiny,’ Beralor.  Or ‘fate.’  These are justifications and excuses for death and failure.  You cannot go into battle questioning if this is the day you are ‘meant’ to die.  You go into battle to win, every time.  Death and failure are never things the Wind considers when it blows.  It blows, and it blows as it wills.”

He sits beside Beralor on a low stone bench, noticing Beralor eyeing his sword.  “Ah…have you never touched Iron before?”  He hands Beralor the blade.

It is longer and lighter than his own Bronze weapon, the edges far more keen.  The silver-gray metal seems to absorb the light.  Runes of Motion, Air, and Death adorn the blade near the bronze hilt, which is wrapped in cloth.  “The Mostali called this out of the earth, or conjured it.  Who can say?  The Elf-killer.  The Troll-bane.  But it is not something one can just wield, Beralor.  It is the Magic-bane as well.  It resists spells.  Your magic must be strong, and you must be one with the weapon, to make it work.”

After Beralor returns the sword, Garrath puts his hand on his shoulder.  “Sacred Time is coming and we are between the Years again.  It hasn’t been an easy one for you, has it?  You have been asked too quickly perhaps to be a man.  But this year, the new year to come, is when you have to answer a deeper question.  What kind of man will you be?”

He stands.  “Something is coming, Beralor.  I cannot tell you how I know this, only that I know it from a friend.  A very large friend.”  He grins at this private joke.  “When the storm comes I want you with me and my men.  All four of you.  You brought Kallyr of Kheldon luck and I will need some of that too.  I will see you next, I wager, at the sacrifice.  Towards the end of Sacred Time I will send for you again.”         

IV. KALF LIGHTFOOT dreams.

He is running through the woods, Nightclaw at his side.  These are the woods of home, the woods of the Vale.  Judging from the deep snow, and the flurries swirling around him, it is Dark Season…but the sky seems too bright, like spring or even summer.  Even through the falling snow the light above is dazzling.  It feels wrong.

Then there is the sound of a horn again, an alarm, a call for help.  He remembers why he has been running.

He pushes himself harder, faster, flying through the trees like a deer.  In the clearing ahead he stumbles across a young man, a hunter.  He looks like Ashart but is older.  In the snow at his feet lies a dead Lunar soldier, and his face is one that has been haunting Kalf.  A locket lies in the snow inches from his head.  The young man who looks like Ashart grabs his arm, breaking his train of thought. “Have you see it?  Have you seen the Bear?”   Before he can answer the horn sounds again, calling him.  She needs him.  His wife is in peril.

He runs.

He breaks through the treeline and can see the cottage ahead, half buried in snow.  Only Deer Run, the little river that cuts down the center of the Vale, breaks the fields of white.  It hasn’t frozen over yet, and the water rushes hard and black.

Esrala stands by the riverside, the white horn falling from her hands.  She is bundled in heavy sheepskins against the cold.  Turning a tear-stained face to him she points at the river.  

He sees. 

The rushing water carries a cradle upon it, and somehow he knows it contains his son.  It moves swiftly away from them.  “They will try to kill the baby, Kalf.  Promise me you will not let that happen.”

He wakes.

ACT ONE: UPRIVER

Beginning: Winds Day, Fate Week, Sacred Time (between 1620 and 1621).  Hidden in the ruins of an ancient amphitheater in Manside, the Big Rubble, the Orlanthi faithful gather to perform an illegal Sacred Time sacrifice to their god.  Seven have been chosen to perform the roles of the Lightbringers in this holy recreation of the Saving of the World;
  • Garrath Sharpsword, painted blue with sacred woad, is Orlanth
  • Savdor the Copyist, is Lhankor Mhy
  • Ystara the White-Handed is Chalana Arroy
  • Vorgar the Listener is Issaries
  • Three masked figures, whose identities remain unknown, play Ginna Jar, Flesh Man, and Eurmal

All celebrants have woad smeared on their throats (“With this we awaken the breath of Orlanth”), mouths (“With this we speak the words of Orlanth”), and brow (“With this we think the thoughts of Orlanth”).  The woad has a slightly hallucinogenic and dreamlike effect.  After a bull is sacrificed, the rite begins and the Lightbringers come face to face with the Devil…

On cue the Lunars descend.  A contingent of soldiers has been tipped off about the illegal rite and come to bust it up.  This would be disaster; the successful conclusion of the rite is required to read omens for the next year and to receive the god’s blessings.  The seven playing to Lightbringers, as well as Orvost Tintalker who is officiating, cannot fight and must be defended.  This leaves it to the player characters and Wind Lord Jarang Bladesong, as well as a handful of other men.

The 13th episode in the series, the base difficulty is 17.  The augment value is 15.  This confrontation should be an Extended Contest of Moderate difficulty.

Inciting Incident: Clay Day, Harmony Week, Sea Season 1621.  Garrath Sharpsword sends for the player characters.  He is holding a secret meeting.  About forty people are present, including Jarang and Orvost, several trolls, a few newtlings, and a large number of Sartar exiles and Pavisites.

For the first time in centuries, for this first time in the Third Age, a cradle has been spotted coming downriver.  Garrath admits to knowing it was coming from a meeting with the giant, Gon Orta.  He also knows that the governor, Sor Eel, wants the cradle for its own and plans to seize it like the God Learners did of old.  His information comes directly from a spy he has planted in the governor’s household…and at this point he introduces Beralor’s father, Affar.

Garrath has sworn to Gon Orta to protect the cradle, and towards this end will fight alongside the Zola Fel river cult and the Trolls of the Rubble.  He delivers the following speech on why he proposes to defend the cradle;     

“Many of you are asking ‘why?’  ‘Why are we doing this?’  Even if you don’t ask it with your mouths you ask it with your eyes.  There is no plunder here.  No treasures we dare take.  This is not a fight for clan, for tribe, for kin.  Why then do we risk our lives for this?  

I could answer you it is important to deny the Lunars.  That every magical secret and treasure we keep from their hands hurts them.  That if the Lunars want it, it is cause enough to deny them.

But that would be a false answer.  An incomplete answer.

No.  I say to you that the Giants are part of a dying world.  I say to you the way they have always existed has come to a close.  That all they know, their way of life, is fading and will soon be just a story in pages.  And we—every single one of us—knows what it means to live with the same fear.  We know what it is to wonder if our traditions, or peoples, or identity, will survive the next ten years, the next season, the next year.  We know this pain.  We know.

This is why we do it.  We do it to say “not yet.”  We do it to spit in the face of extinction.  We will tell the Lunars and the whole of the world that the Old Ways are not yet gone.  That we will fight to preserve them.  That so long as we breath…they cannot yet replace us.

We fight for this Giant child because it is OUR child.  Because he belongs to a world that we love and that we see dying.  We fight because we are all us.”

GIANTS?  WHAT GIANTS?

Players familiar with the “Giants” described either in HeroQuest Glorantha or the RuneQuest Glorantha Bestiary may be wondering why anyone might wish to mount a defense of them.  Suffice it to say, these are not those Giants!  The Giants behind the manufacture of the cradle are to lesser Giants as Mistress Race trolls are to Trollkin; they are primordial beings originating in the Gods Age, on the same scale as True Dragons and minor gods.  This will become obvious the moment the player characters lay eyes upon the cradle itself, a highly magical artifact whose design is beyond mortal capabilities.  This is, of course, why Sor Eel wants it, why the God Learners built an outpost here.  These Giants assisted the gods in the raising of mountains, and as with Dragons, it is said that some mountains are in fact Giants who are sleeping.  They were known to once work closely with Mostali in the Gods Age and First Age of the world, until a falling out over the dwarf-made “giants,” the Jolanti, occurred.  In fact, this entire business of putting an infant upon the waters is a sacred and spiritual act.  It is part of their mythic life cycle.  The child passes out of Time where it grows and is initiated into Giant ways and Giant secrets.  Those who return to the mortal world (and in the time of the Hero Wars, none seem to, leaving the world as if some disaster were coming) are not merely surly and distrustful brutes, but purveyors of great wisdom.  

Garrath knows all of these things, and will try to persuade the player characters of them if there are any lingering doubts. 

Second Thoughts: The meeting will conclude with the tearful reunion of Beralor and his father, Affar, who was sold into slavery following the events of The Turning (nearly a year ago, in Sea Season 1620).  As discovered in There is Always Another Way, Affar is kin to Garrath, and they grew up together.  As a small child, Garrath looked up to his older cousin until Affar was initiated into the Women’s Tribe.  When Affar was sent to the slave market’s at Pimper’s Block, Garrath pulled strings to have him bought and placed in the Governor’s household as a spy.

Roleplay out the reunion, but it needs to conclude with an important scene.  At some point Affar needs to pull Beralor aside and confide in him.  “Garrath has accomplished so much since he was the boy I knew…a Wind Lord, a champion.  But Beralor…he is not the same person I knew.  Something is different behind those eyes.  Promise me you will be careful around him.”  

Climax Act One: The PCs travel overnight roughly 35 km north of the city to intercept the cradle.  As dawn breaks they see several other parties gathered as well along the riverbank; many of the faces are familiar from Garrath’s meeting.  Jarang Bladesong is there but not Orvost.  Everyone waits as Zola Fel river priests stand waist deep in the waters, their hands and faces raised in a sing-song chant.  Half of the priests are river folk, the other half are Newtlings.  It is hard to concentrate on them, however, with the miracle floating downstream towards them.

The cradle is larger by far than any ship they have ever seen.  It looks to be carved of a single, massive piece of wood, its sides polished smooth and glowing with the sunlight.  The prow is carved into the head of a roaring dragon, and fire burns in its jaws.  The sides of the vessel are carved with immense faces, each with a menacing expression.  To their shock, the players realize these faces are animated and move.  Eyes watch them, mouths open and close.  The entire thing moves faster upon the water than it should, as if the river itself pushes it along.  This is in fact the case.  Zola Fel has an old bond with the giants, and both protects and speeds the cradle on its way.

Though the player characters will have no reason to do so, attacking the cradle has a difficulty of Nearly Impossible (!).  It will fight back belching fire from the dragon prow and shooting bolts of fire and lightning from the eyes of the wooden faces.

The river priests finish their chanting and the cradle suddenly slows.  The expressions on the great wooden faces—which were threatening before—now look peaceful.  Garrath gives the order to board.  It is safe now.  Once the defenders are on deck, the river priests will reactivate the cradle’s magical protections.

While the cradle is calmed, getting aboard the cradle has a Moderate difficulty.  Player characters can either climb the sides with grapples and ropes, or use magic.  Once everyone is aboard, the Trolls rush below decks and Garrath signals the priests to reawaken the cradle’s defenses.  This is done just in time.  A large number of mercenary Impala riders are approaching rapidly from the opposite bank.

The deck is massive.  Thirty-five men could lay down head to toe in a line from bow to stern, and fifteen could lay out from port to starboard.  Animated wooden statues move around it, apparently at random.  They seem to form a sort of crew.  In the center of the deck there is a great cloth.  Peeling this back reveals a window set into the deck, looking straight down at its precious cargo.

The giant baby is 10 meters long and female.  She is painfully beautiful to look upon, so much so that it takes effort to look away.  She looks like a child of ten months or so, and is currently asleep, sucking her thumb.  At her head is a titanic sow, whose full breasts provide the child with milk.

There is little time to stare in wonder, however.  With the Impala Rider mercenaries following the ship on one bank, a cry goes out from the look-out stationed on the bow.  Riding fast from the direction of Pavis are the Lunar Antelope Lancers, at least 300 strong.  

The cradle is now passing the small hamlet of Bullford, 25 km northwest of Pavis.  From the small cluster of buildings emerge even more mercenaries, mostly Pavisite.  With the blare of horns and a chorus of shouts and battle cries, all three enemy forces converge of the cradle and commence their attack.

  • Unless you are using the Pass/Fail system, the difficulty here should be High (Base +6).  This battle is an Extended Contest.
  • The cradle defends itself.  Once the assault begins the dragon prow breathes forth streams of flame.  The wooden faces howl obscenities and curses in the giant tongue, their eyes firing bolts of fire and doom on those who dare profane the cradle.  
  • The player characters first contend with arrows and javelins being hurled at them, then with opponents who manage to get aboard through luck or magic.  These boarders must be killed or driven off.  
  • This conflict is primarily a physical one; the Lunars are saving their magics for the second assault.                  

If the characters lose this battle, they have the option of abandoning the cradle or retreating below decks.  If the latter option is taken, see the story Beat at the beginning of Act Two below.

ACT TWO: THE SECOND ASSAULT

Beat:  In the wake of the battle, the player characters have the opportunity to go below decks if they wish.  They will find a warren of smooth tunnels bored through the walls of the cradle, roughly man-sized.  These allow the animated wooden statues who maintain the ship the ability to move around.  There are also treasure vaults; a room filled with maps and scrolls, another with magical crystals.  Again, Garrath was insistent none of this was to be touched.

The battle awoke the infant, and it is wailing.  In response, the wooden statues tear open mouths in their smooth, featureless faces and begin singing lullabies.  Many of the warriors aboard join in, compelled by some ancient magic.  The lullaby is potent…those who hear it—including the player characters—feel youth and vigor flow through them.  Battle fatigue is washed away and wounds are healed.  Some might even have spontaneous visions of the future…     

Midpoint/The Big Twist:  There is little time to bask in these miracles.  Within the hour horns and calls from the deck summon the defenders.  

The cradle is in sight of the Rubble’s great walls, but between it and the city at least 2000 Lunar troops have assembled.  Foot soldiers are lined up in neat ranks, archers ready behind them.  Worse…on both sides of the river elevated wooden platforms have been raised.  Standing atop both of these are red-robed Lunar magicians from the College of Magic.  Dozens have been assembled.  Hovering over their heads, one on each side of the river, is a great sphere of crimson light.  Great chains of magical force hang between these spheres, seemingly blocking passage further downriver.  In actuality, as the cradle passes between the spheres, the chains will pass harmlessly through the cradle…stripping it of all magical defenses.



  • This is the big, epic battle.  It is an Extended Contest.  Assume a Very High (Base + Mastery) difficulty.
  • This time there is a great deal more magic.  Lunes are summoned and unleashed, bolts of magical force fire from the spheres and smash against the walls of the cradle.  Arrows rain upon the deck.
  • The real purpose of the attack though is to distract the defenders from the real obstacle (see below) and to strip the vessel of its protections.
  • The player characters may decide to attack the platforms with the magicians.  If they can do this, it is possible to avert the disaster below…  

Obstacle/Disaster:  As the chains strip the vessel of its magic, the flames go out in the dragon’s jaws and the faces on the side of the cradle go lifeless and inert.  The baby starts howling in terror.  With a wrenching lurch, all forward motion will halt as the Lunars reveal their true plan.  Across the river they have erected a wall of stones, wagons, crates, and silt, a barricade to beach the cradle.  When this happens they will swarm aboard en masse, forcing the player characters to either abandon ship or flee below decks…

THIS IS THE END OF PART ONE.  IN LIEU OF A THIRD ACT THE STORY CONTINUES IN PART  2.

AFTER PLAY REPORT

IN RPGS things seldom go as planned, and history was rewritten a bit here.

The players were initially forced below decks during the final battle, but their the Nymph Nemolayope granted them a vision of the blockade and the true threat the chain posed.  They decided to take the battle to the magicians, using Motion magic to teleport from the ship behind enemy lines with several other defenders.  

Kalliva shows a contingent of Dragonewt mercenaries the mark on her hand, and these enigmatic creatures turn on the Lunars and fight with the defenders.  Meanwhile Leika’s spirit magics bring the platforms down and the Zola Fel priests cause the river to swell, smashing the blockade.  All of this was the result of clever tactics and good luck with the dice.  As a result, the cradle is not halted or stripped of its protections, and continues its journey downriver unmolested.  The episode ends, however, with the player characters on the riverbank fighting for their lives against the Lunar forces.

More disturbingly, however, Beralor’s true father, the Eurmali Kheladon Blue-Eye, appears to him in the heat of the battle and convinces him to try and sway the Broo forces to their side.  He pulls this off, accessing again the darker, Tricksters streak in his nature.  


The story continues in Episode Two, where as a consequence of the events here, we deviate quite a bit from the original.  Stay tuned.