Stars-Not-Shine became a shaman

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This describes the Heroquest I ran for a player whose character wanted to become a shaman. However, readers should be aware of the meta-game context for this quest: the players and myself were all mid to late twenties, and some people had a rather ... direct approach to the less genteel aspects of life. The main player in this quest was seriously considering running Kult as the next game. I don't think he was so sure by the end of this.

The Game

This Heroquest came up as part of the Yellowtail campaign, a campaign based in and around the Yellowtail Clan of Praxian Sable Riders. The clan had just returned to Prax from the Wastes, ten years after being forced out for being on the losing side at the Battle of Moonbroth (the Yellowtails had fought against the rest of the Sable nation). On their return, the Yellowtails had been forced into a more anti-Chaos position, with Storm Bull becoming increasingly prominent within the clan.

Stars-Not-Shine was the assistant shaman and wanted to become a full shaman. I designed this quest to see if he had the self-discipline and ruthlessness necessary to leave the mundane world behind and live forever with the spirits.

Background

There were two major issues and ongoing plot threads in the campaign at this point that I wanted to include in the story.

The first was the movement of the clan towards Storm Bull. Stars-Not-Shine was part of this. While on an expedition to the Big Rubble some time before, Stars-Not-Shine, together with some of his clansmen, had been trapped by a group of Broo. Just when things were getting desperate, Stars-Not-Shine had called on Daka Fal for aid, and was answered when a Storm Khan ancestor of his appeared from the Spirit World and destroyed the Broo. This ancestor spirit, who remained nameless, also helped out Stars-Not-Shine of a number of subsequent occasions.

The second involved Milk-of-the-Earth, an upstanding woman in the Yellowtail clan. She had accompanied Stars-Not-Shine and some others from the clan in their search for the Macgu Finn, a powerful fertility spirit that had escaped from the Paps. Stars-Not-Shine and Milk-of-the-Earth successfully recaptured it, but Stars-Not-Shine was greatly affected by the close proximity of the Macgu Finn on the return journey. How greatly affected he was became apparent when they returned to the clan, where it was discovered that Milk-of-the-Earth was pregnant by Stars-Not-Shine. Her husband was not best pleased, and was only just prevented from killing Stars-Not-Shine. This quest took place around the time when Milk-of-the-Earth was due to give birth.

Quest Structure

This quest took place on three levels simultaneously. The deepest level was the standard shaman quest from the RuneQuest rule book: the questor had to find and awaken his fetch, defend himself against the Bad Man, and return to the Inner World. We'd decided that in the Praxian tradition, the shaman's fetch was a spirit ally, not some hidden part of the shaman himself.

At the most superficial level, the clan camp was being attacked by a group of Broo, the leader of which was on his own Heroquest. The Broo leader represented the Bad Man for Stars-Not-Shine, and could only be defeated by magical means: he was questing to prevent Stars-Not-Shine finding his fetch.

At the intermediate level, the story was one of re-enacting the life of a god. At this level, Stars-Not-Shine had a major choice, which would have ramifications for the remainder of his life. He could choose to follow the path of the Storm Bull, or to follow the path of Daka Fal.

Those events are set out below, but note they do not correspond to Heroquest 'stations'.

Daka Fal Storm Bull
  1. Be offered various powers and gifts, but refuse them.
  2. Regret these refusals
  3. Be offered Death, and accept it
  4. Notice great problems in the world
  5. Realise these problems are caused by the living and the dead not knowing their places
  6. Separate the living from the dead, placing each in their proper place
  7. Honour and worship the living and the dead, making the world anew
  1. Fight those you come across
  2. Attack Fear and Death when you find them
  3. Attack the Devil, despite your kin being killed
  4. Be defeated and maimed by the Devil
  5. Accept Eiritha's gift of Life (the fetch), even though it destroys her fertility
  6. Return and defeat the Devil, making the world anew


(Full details of the cult of Daka Fal and the cult of Storm Bull are on Issaries Inc's website.)

As this was an initiation quest, the major focus of the quest was on Stars-Not-Shine's internal dialogue as he overcame various obstacles in his path. Therefore, as mentioned on the How to run a heroquest page, I briefed the other players as to the plot, and they played out parts of Stars-Not-Shine's psyche.

I decided to present the quest by only describing the events on the mundane level, and allowing the player to interpret these events into whatever myths he wanted. That allowed me to give him the choice of which path to follow at the middle level, without me making it explicit to him.

The Quest

This description is how I designed the quest for Stars-Not-Shine. The what happened section below describes what happened when I ran the quest.

The Journey

The quest starts with the Stars-Not-Shine travelling to the Spirit Plane and seeking out his fetch. As he does so, he comes across some spirits offering him boons. The first is an old man that offers to teach Stars-Not-Shine wisdom if he stays. The second challenge is a nymph that tempts Stars-Not-Shine with pleasures of the flesh. If he succumbs to either of these temptations, he is dumped back in the Inner world, miles from the camp, and needing to purify himself before he can attempt the quest again.

Meeting the Bad Man

After these encounters, Stars-Not-Shine finds himself outside the Yellowtail clan's camp, where a broo war party has gathered. The leader of the broos is obviously Heroquesting as well, and is wielding a greatsword. The broo leader greets Stars-Not-Shine and offers to share his new power, Death, with Stars-Not-Shine.

How Stars-Not-Shine reacts at this point will have a major influence on how the remainder of the quest unfolds. It will guide him towards either the Daka Fal or Storm Bull route. This decision isn't final yet, but changing path is not easy.

If Stars-Not-Shine chooses to share the new power, he is leaning towards the Daka Fal route. The broo strikes him with the sword and Stars-Not-Shine dies. His body will die in the Inner World, and Stars-Not-Shine's spirit will be wandering without a body. However, this being a Heroquest, Stars-Not-Shine will be able to continue without a body.

On the other hand, if he refuses to accept Death, he is veering towards the Storm Bull route, where he fights directly against Chaos.

In either case, after the broo leader has spoken to Stars-Not-Shine, he spins away, laughing and dancing, and cuts down one of the Yellowtail braves with a single stroke. The broo will then dance through the camp, slicing open tipis and calling out "Where are you, my precious?" At each tipi, he will strike at the people he finds within, injuring or killing them. The clan's warriors will come out to meet him, but they are severely outclassed, and the best they can do is to reduce the damage the broo can cause.

Following the Storm Bull Path

If he is still alive, Stars-Not-Shine is about the only member of the clan that stand against the broo. While most warriors are incapacitated after a single blow from the broo, Stars-Not-Shine will remain standing, though wounded. This fight should be portrayed as rather desperate, with Stars-Not-Shine's friends and family being maimed or killed around him, with Stars-Not-Shine being attacked and wounded, but no-one being able to really touch the broo, let alone hurt him. Unless he is faced by Stars-Not-Shine, the broo will ignore the questor.

During the fight, Stars-Not-Shine should be wounded and knocked to the ground several times. This is another opportunity to play out Stars-Not-Shine's internal dialogue: will he stay to defend the clan, at a great risk to his own safety, or should he leave and ensure his own survival? Stars-Not-Shine should be allowed to struggle back to his feet, and back to the battle, a couple of times, but in a worse condition each time.

Eventually, Stars-Not-Shine should be so broken and battered that he cannot continue the fight. At this point, he will find himself outside the tipi where Milk-of-the-Earth is giving birth, but in great pain.

Following the Daka Fal Path

If Stars-Not-Shine accepted the broo's initial offer of Death, he will see the clan's camp in a different way from before. The spirits and the interplay between them will be much more apparent to him. What is obvious to him is a swirling mass of confused spirits swirling around Milk-of-the-Earth's tipi. Leaving his dead body behind, Stars-Not-Shine feels drawn towards this tent. As he does so, he sees the broo attacking the clan, but is powerless to do anything about it.

With Milk-of-the-Earth

Milk-of-the-Earth is in the middle of labour, but there is a problem: the child will not come out. The labour is going so badly that Milk-of-the-Earth is now on the verge of death. What no-one knows is that the child is now dead. If Stars-Not-Shine investigates the spirits that lie within Milk-of-the-Earth, he will discover that the spirit of the dead child is refusing to leave Milk-of-the-Earth's body, which is causing the problems of labour. As soon as Milk-of-the-Earth becomes aware of Stars-Not-Shine, she will cry out to him to take whatever action is necessary to save her and the clan.

The Choice

How Stars-Not-Shine handles this is the key decision in the quest, and defines who becomes Stars-Not-Shine's fetch.

If he is dead at this point, it is immediately obvious to Stars-Not-Shine what the problem is: the dead spirit is inside the living mother. If he declined the broo's offer of Death, he can still work this out if he specifically looks at the spirits in and around Milk-of-the-Earth. Once he knows what the problem is, he can talk to the spirit of the stillborn child and attempt to persuade it to leave the land of the living and travel to the land of the dead. After a short time, the spirit agrees to leave the body of the child. At this point, Milk-of-the-Earth's contractions suddenly start to have an effect, and the stillborn baby will be born. However, as the spirit is that of Stars-Not-Shine's child, it maintains a connection to the shaman, and becomes his fetch, embodied in the mummified afterbirth.

This is the Daka Fal choice: Stars-Not-Shine has identified the living and the dead and placed each in its proper place.

(If Stars-Not-Shine is without a body at this point, because the broo killed it earlier, he can move his spirit into the body of the baby. In this case, Milk-of-the-Earth will give birth to a healthy baby boy that is rather too aware when born and, instead of screaming, will speak to his lover...)

If Stars-Not-Shine is alive, he will have been badly beaten up by the broo heroquester. He could follow the Daka Fal route above, but it is more likely that he will follow the Storm Bull route.

As soon as Stars-Not-Shine enters Milk-of-the-Earth's tipi, a sensation of intense hunger will join his feelings of pain and fatigue. The scene in Milk-of-the-Earth's tipi is desperate, and Stars-Not-Shine, the only member of the clan who can stand up to the broo, has been defeated again. Milk-of-the-Earth begs him to save herself and the clan by doing whatever is necessary. A quick reminder of the major turning point in the Storm Bull myth, and of his hunger, should prompt Stars-Not-Shine to take the ... appropriate action.

After he has eaten his fill on the three kilos of meat, Stars-Not-Shine is newly invigorated and fully healed. He can then go outside and quickly defeat the broo, who will flee.

Milk-of-the-Earth is surrounded by enough healers that she won't die from the horrendous wounds inflicted on her by Stars-Not-Shine. However, she will have terrible scars for life on her abdomen, and can never have sex again, let alone another child. Stars-Not-Shine's guardian Storm Khan spirit will reside in a fetish made from the scraps of Milk-of-the-Earth's womb.

Aftermath

Stars-Not-Shine will then return to the mundane world, with his fetch. He will hopefully be seriously questioning whether the price of his shamanhood was too high or not. The rest of the clan may be thinking the same thing.

Depending on what fetch he acquired on this quest, Stars-Not-Shine's personality will change slightly; this change will grow as his power and experience develops. If he followed the Storm Bull path, he will become more violent and aggressive. If the followed the Daka Fal path, simply the fact of being a shaman in an infant's body will make him more reliant on others and his own magical abilities.

What happened

Stars-Not-Shine quite quickly dismissed the old man's offer of wisdom and moved on. His encounter with the nymph offering pleasures of the flesh was more fun to play. In this scene we managed to bring out Stars-Not-Shine's internal dialogue. I lovingly described the beautiful, soft, yielding flesh of the nymph, which got Stars-Not-Shine rather hot and bothered. I then went on to describe how she was smiling sweetly and alluringly at him, which got him even more worked up. At this point, one of the other players started muttering comments from Stars-Not-Shine's id into his ear. The scene went something like this...

GM: The nymph stares longingly into your eyes. 'Stay here with me,' she whispers, licking her full lips.
Stars-Not-Shine: No! I must continue my quest.
GM: You're captivated by her curvaceous form. Slowly, her hand draws back her dress to reveal --
Other Player: Phwoarr! Look at that! You're in there! She's begging for it!
GM: She smiles coquettishly and beckons you into her chamber.
Other Player: Go on! Get in there, my son. You know you want to!
Stars-Not-Shine: Oh, it's tempting! Perhaps if I stay for just a while...
Other Player: That's the spirit! She's desperate for it -- desperate for you!
Stars-Not-Shine: My quest is important! I can't stay here!

Things carried on like that for a while. Eventually, Stars-Not-Shine decided to leave the nymph behind, but it was only with a great deal of self-discipline and regret.

When he met the broos, Stars-Not-Shine decided to decline Death and run to the camp to warn the clan about the impending attack. It took him quite some time to realise that he was the only one who could be effective against the broo leader: he had spent most of his previous career avoiding combat.

Eventually, in sheer desperation, he attacked the broo and was defeated. He attacked again and again, and was defeated each time. Things at this point were getting quite desperate. Eventually he was drawn towards Milk-of-the-Earth's tipi.

Once there, Stars-Not-Shine didn't know what to do next. A little judicious prompting from me, and pointing out the relevant myths, and Stars-Not-Shine soon knew what he had to do. He also realised the full horror of the sacrifices he was making for his own gain in personal power.

When the quest was over, I asked Stars-Not-Shine's player whether it had all been worth it. After all, Stars-Not-Shine was now a shaman, the culmination of several months of play. The player replied, "I'm not sure." That was exactly the result I was hoping for.

Lessons Learnt

Most of the general lessons I learnt from running this quest are listed on the How to run a heroquest page.

The technique of making the internal dialogue external and explicit worked very well, and gave the player several more challenges than would otherwise have been present, particularly in the early stages of the quest.

A couple of things didn't go so well. The quest wasn't helped by the main player not reading the various myths before the quest started, as he said he was going to do. I also think that he didn't trust that he could be killed by the broo and still successfully complete the quest.

However, the quest did succeed in its main objectives. Stars-Not-Shine became a shaman, and the player realised just what a major change in the character's life this was. Everybody had a good time, much good role-playing had taken place, and there several plot lines had been introduced or developed. All in all, I think it was a success.