Cleansed One heard the Voice of the River

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This page contains notes of a Heroquest I ran during the Troubled Waters campaign from the River of Cradles supplement for RuneQuest. I was running this game under a late playtest version of the Hero Wars. However, the version I had did not have any rules for Heroquesting in it, so I ran it in the same way as Stars-Not-Shine's quest: I did it diceless, nay mechanicless. Again, as this was an initiation-style quest, it was the decisions and attitudes of the characters that was important, not their competence.

Background

The Troubled Waters campaign is excellent for many reasons. The PCs were the 'Chosen Ones' of the Zola Fel cult, chosen to rid the river of all unpleasantness. I was running it for a group of three players, of different role-playing and Gloranthan experience.

However, the players were having difficulty getting into the 'We are the Heroes!' mindset required for the campaign to really take off. Instead, they were tending to reject some of the opportunities that were being presented to them. Being a good follower of Joseph Campbell, I decided to give them an explicit 'Call to Adventure' in the hope that this would convince the players and PCs that the PCs really were heroes. What better place to do this than when they arrived at the Shrine of Kinope? When they got there, I decided to ask them to voluntarily become initiates of the Cleansed One subcult of Zola Fel.

The Cleansed One Hears the Voice of the River
"His eyes opened through the arts of the Three-Bean Circus, the Cleansed One perceived the tragic perversion of his condition and he despaired and would have destroyed himself. He wandered disconsolate and unknowing and coming upon the river Zola Fel, he threw himself into the swift, deep waters that he might drown. He sank to the bottom and tumbled along the river bottom, buffeted by the current. But miraculously, surrounded by darkness and despair, at the brink of death, he discovered within himself a mysterious hope and desire for life. His spirit cried out and was answered by Zola Fel, for suddenly the Cleansed One could see through the dark river depths and breath the pure river waters.

"And he felt a hand grasp his right hand. The Cleansed One quailed, for he knew his nature was unclean and he sensed the hand on his was pure and he would withdraw in shame and fear, but the hand held tight and drew him to the banks of the river. And then it seemed to him that on that river bank he slept refreshing sleep of the pure and innocent, yet all that time his spirit was awake and speaking to a Voice. This Voice spoke to him of mysteries and quests, of tasks and trials, of duty and service, of paths that might be travelled to the Heart of the Sea and the secrets of purification that might be found in the deep waters.

"And when the Cleansed One awoke, he found he had new faith and purpose. And when he looked upon the palm of his right hand, he saw the marks of the river god's runes, and knew whose hand had taken his darkness, and knew what Voice had spoken to him in sleep. And with the river god's marks he also saw the Rune of Harmony, and knew that this mark was his own, the gift of the insights gathered from the Three-Bean Circus. And by those marks upon his hand he swore forever to be a friend to the river, and to serve it in gratitude for its gift of life and purpose.

"So you see how the Cleansed One swore to be a Voice of the River, to praise its gifts of life and purpose, and to preach to all of their duty to serve the river and keep it pure, to respect its gifts that they might not be lost to waste and corruption, and to admonish those who through weakness of wit or poverty of spirit were blind to the great debt owed to Zola Fel by those who shared its bounty."

(More details of the cult of Zola Fel are on Issaries Inc's website.)

There were three PCs in the campaign at this point. They were:

  • Ceoldore Strongfish, an Orlanthi huntsman-turned-mercenary from the Scritha River in Pavis County
  • Andra, a follower of Chalana Arroy from Pavis
  • Forazi Netminder, a Zola Fel fisherman from around Pavis

Before starting the quest, I asked each player to tell me their PC's greatest hope, greatest fear, and the moments of which they were most and least proud. Not all of these are relevant to the quest, and the specifics of the answers are used below.

Quest Structure

The myth of the Cleansed One is in the box to the right.

There were two parts of the story of the Cleansed One that I wanted to stress in this Heroquest. First was the idea of redemption through surrender: by giving up control of his fate, the Cleansed One became greater than he could ever have been otherwise. Second was how the Cleansed One solved problems by bringing together disparate people with different abilities. I was hoping that the players and PCs would learn these lessons and become more heroic in the game.

This meant that I had to confront the PCs with a problem that they could not solve for themselves. Instead, they had to realise that individually, they had limits. I could then bring the PCs together and allow them to solve each others' problems. I was also hoping that the act of successfully completing a heroquest for the Zola Fel cult would reinforce the message of heroism in the players and PCs.

The myth of the Cleansed One starts with the Cleansed One in the throes of despair, so I had to start with each PC in a position that would cause them to become despairing. This was based on the answers to the questions about what each PC feared the most. The idea was for each of these problems to be caused by another of the PCs, but the solution to cause a problem for another PC. In this way, each problem was insoluble by each PC acting alone. However, if they got together, they would realise that their problems could be solved by each other.

As in Stars-Not-Shine's quest, the important part of the quest was the choices the PCs made, so resolution of events in the quest was made without mechanics or dice. Also, events were described to the players in purely mundane terms, which allowed them to interpret things as they saw fit.

Learning from previous experience, I gave a copy of the myth to the players to refer to during the quest.

The Quest

This description is how I designed the quest. It covers the major 'stations' in the quest and what was supposed to happen at each. The events section below describes what happened when I ran the quest.

Introduction

The quest started with all the PCs gathering in the Pool at the Shrine of Kinope. Brighteye, the priest of the Cleansed One, met them and led them down into the darkening waters...

Growing Despair

In the first part of the quest, each PC was alone. This section was run separately for each PC, with the other players in another room.

The Problems
  • Ceoldore's problem: for some reason, all the village's crops were vanishing. The hunters had to find food for everyone, but the only food they could find was a slimy snake-like animal. But the more they hunted, the more the crops disappeared
  • Forazi's problem: something invisible was snatching the fish from the river: they just vanished. In desperation, the riverfolk tried to hide them by turning the river's headwaters into an overgrown swamp. But the more they dug, the more the fish vanished.
  • Andra's problem: the air was becoming foul, and making people ill. The healers at the temple gave out healing herbs to fend of the effects of the mal aria. But the more herbs they used, the worse the air became.

Each PC awoke in the home of his parents, exactly as if he had never left home. Fairly soon, he realised that this was a representation of his home in the Hero Plane, and nothing existed outside his own village (or the City of Pavis for Andra). The PC got up, did a normal day's work, went back to bed; no fuss or bother. The same happened the next day. And the next.

Then they noticed the problems starting. The problems were specific to each PC, and are listed in the box to the left. Things got worse from day to day, until eventually, in desperation, the community's leader asked for a volunteer to enter the surrounding trackless wastes to find a solution. Of course, the PCs should be those volunteers (this was the 'Call to Adventure' of Joseph Campbell's monomyth, and would hopefully instill the 'heroic' mindset in the PCs and players).

The Three-Bean Circus

Each PC wandered across the trackless waste for a while, until they eventually came across a brightly-coloured tent. This was the home of the Three-Bean Circus. The PC rested there awhile, watching the rehearsals and practice. After a short time, they were noticed and offered some of the Circus's famous salad. The PC, being hungry at this point, ate it. Then the problems started. The PC found themself paralysed, unable to move or speak. The circus performer that gave them the food then started to berate the PC about what a failure they were. This was where the earlier questionairre was useful, as this allowed me to tailor the haranguing to each character specifically. Each PC's fears and failings were used in an attempt to destroy their self-esteem. After a while, the PC was driven the point of despair, recovered the use of their body, and left the Circus. Indeed, each PC "perceived the tragic perversion of his condition and he despaired and would have destroyed himself." The opportunity was found when the PC wandered some more and found himself at the edge of a bottomless chasm that extended forever in all directions. Having failed in their quest to save their community, the PCs jumped to their deaths. As they fell, they fell into a formless void...

The Voice of the River

This was intended to be the easiest part of the quest for me to run. I brought all three players into the room, and then did nothing.

The point of this part of the quest was for the PCs to realise that the other PCs were the Voice of the River. By working together, they could realise that each other were the causes and solutions of their problems. The only thing I did was to describe the tugging on their right hands. Oh so gentle at first, it grew in strength as they came closer to a mutual solution. Eventually, when they solved the problem, they realised they were being carried along a rushing stream by the stigmata on their right hands.

The Return

Once the solution was found, they found themselves floating into Kinope's Pool, back where they started. They noticed that their stigmata were a deeper, richer blue, and now permanently damp. They also gained 'Initiate of the Cleansed One' abilities and increases in their 'Breathe Water' and 'See Through Water' abilities.

What happened

The sequence of events described above was followed, pretty much, by each player and PC. The events in the Three Bean Circus were effective, I think because the PC's paralysis added to the dispair the PC was feeling due to the verbal abuse they were getting from the Three Bean Circus performer. Ceoldore's greatest fear was that he was unable to protect and help his family and friends; Andra's fear was that she would fail her patients; and Forazi's fear concerned the feelings he had towards the Yelmalion Templars, with their blond hair, hard muscles, and upright, thrusting spears.

Here are some highlights from the quest:

  • Ceoldore's player was the first to play through the first part of the quest. At the end of the solo section, I described Ceoldore plummeting to his death then said to the player, "We'll leave it there. Send the next one in." The reaction was wonderful: she squealed, "But you can't stop there!", glowered at me, and stomped off into the kitchen to fetch Forazi's player.
  • Forazi's player didn't really get the idea that, during the Heroquest, Forazi was the Cleansed One. At one point, Forazi lay in the river, spread his arms and called on the Cleansed One for guidance. He took a bit of persuading that the only Cleansed One who could answer his call was himself.
  • Andra's player told me that Andra's greatest failing was hubris, and she was always portrayed as a headstrong, confident young woman. There was an excellent moment of roleplaying as Andra struggled with herself over jumping into the chasm. She knew it was the right thing to do, but she had great difficulty in admitting defeat and jumping. She eventually did, but only after a great deal of soul-searching.

Of the three PCs, Ceoldore got the greatest benefit and Forazi the least. This was based on how well they got 'stuck into' their parts during the solo portion of the quest.

Lessons Learnt

All the players seemed to enjoy the quest, even though it was a mammoth session that went on far too late. They had a real sense of satisfaction when they figured out how their problems were related and what the solutions were. There were comments asking if I'd any experience writing cryptic crosswords, so ingenious did they think the central conundrum.

It did achieve the end of increasing the heroic tendencies of the PCs: they were a bit more eager to get stuck in to things after this.

In terms of running the quest, I didn't learn much from this one that I hadn't learnt from Stars-Not-Shine's quest. These lessons are on the heroquest page. Having a handout of the relevant myth was definitely a good idea, as the players didn't have time to learn the myth, and would have considered it 'homework' in any case.

All in all, as successful quest, in all its myriad meanings.

Testemonials

After reading this page, Ceoldore's player wrote:

I do NOT squeal!!! Though, on reflection, I do remember something of the sort happening.... <gggg>

I'd forgotten quite how much fun that was - thank you for running it! It's very interesting to read about your motivation for doing as you did.