This article contains spoilers for the first adventure of the RuneQuest campaign Six Seasons in Sartar.
Editor Bill and I have been playing through Andrew Logan Montgomery’s acclaimed Six Seasons in Sartar (SSiS) to check for ourselves what all the hype is about. This campaign has been of some particular interest to me because I rate SSiS pretty highly on its “armchair” quality, but the readable, narrative style of the text has left me with some reservations about how it’ll feel actually playing RuneQuest out of the book.
I don’t know exactly how often I’ll post play reports from our game. Each time we finish an adventure—so a total of about six articles—but we’re going to play this at our pace, not at a “content generation” pace. I’m also not really interested in trying to evaluate SSiS here like I would in a review. Rather, I’ll just spend time talking about my experiences as the gamemaster, and add in cool anecdotes about what happened during play.
Our game takes place online with audio, but no video, once per week for about three hours. We ramble a lot, and enjoy that, so I’m not going to try specifying how long it takes us to get through particular chunks of content.
This is my second “duet” (one-on-one) campaign I’ve gamemastered. Bill’s running two adventurers. I find two adventurers works well for duet campaigns because it increases the variety of abilities and roleplay mindsets with which the player can interact with problems. It does usually require a player who is pretty comfortable with RuneQuest—I don’t know that I’d try two adventurers for someone’s first campaign.
Bill’s adventurers are:
- Andrasta, a somber shaman-in-training from a long bloodline of shamans who maintain the Haraborn Clan’s ancestor worship.
- Ruric, the son of Rurik, a young hunter who dreams of adventure and becoming a hero.
We began the campaign with the feast for Plow Blessing Day, followed by the first adventure “Rites of Passage.” While normally written for male adventurers only—females play through “The Riddle”—I opted to have both adventurers participate in a unisex adulthood initiation. That seemed more interesting to me, especially because there’s some foreshadowing of later themes in the campaign. I felt the story would be stronger if both adventurers were involved.
While playing the feast and the adventure, I tried to lean into Montgomery’s prose and rely on narration. This… sometimes worked. I do feel in places that I opted to narrate a bit too long, and it sometimes wasn’t clear to me where the signposts were to ask “so that’s what’s going on, what do your adventurers do?” The first chunk of the adventure did feel a bit like “here’s a description of everything which happens to the adventurers,” yet at the same time, SSiS is aimed at new players who likely will appreciate this context about religion in ancient life. For me the highlight of Plow Blessing Day was Ruric flirting with a girl from out-of-town, because it was fun establishing a character moment, and a potential rival.
My absolute favorite moment in this adventure, though, was right at the start of “Rites of Passage” proper. The adventurers get dragged out of bed, and pulled to a field with a bunch of holes by masked adults. So of course being an ornery teenager, Bill declares that Ruric tries to trip one of them into the pit!
The pit, by the way, which leads to the Otherworld, and starts the initiation quest.
My God, what was I supposed to do there? It was a brilliant moment, the sort that you just can’t account for when writing an adventure. As a split-second decision I opted that Ruric trips his own dad into the pit, because one reason why Ruric wants to be adventurous is because when rolling the Family History, daddy dearest didn’t really get up to anything super interesting. So now dad’s going on an adventure, too! Felt like appropriately ironic consequences.
The first station in the pits pretty much went as written. I edited the adventure from here on slightly, based on developer commentary, shared playtest notes, and Montgomery’s tweaked handling of heroquests in SSiS’s sequels, The Company of the Dragon and Seven Tailed Wolf. Basically, magic points matter rather than hit points, you’re using your spirit combat damage instead of weapons, and you’re rolling Rune affinities to do stuff rather than skills. I’ve enjoyed how that felt in a game I’m playing an adventurer in, so I figured it’d be fun to see how that works for SSiS.
Personally, I thought it ran fine. I used the same characteristics as in the book, but just didn’t use bites, weapons, etc.
After escaping the pits they met the Second Son. I chose to narrate a good chunk of this section’s text, because I really like how it frames mundane life among the Orlanthi as virtuous:
“Every broken fence you mend, you drive Chaos back. Every crop you plant and harvest to feed your kin, you spit in the Devil’s face. Every law you obey, you defy the Predark. Every Child you sire and raise, you save the world from ending. It isn’t just the gods, you see. It isn’t just the demigods and great heroes. It is every good man who shines like a light in the dark. Everyone saves the world.” (SSiS, page 57)
Despite how much I love that passage, as the adventurers travel to the I Fought, We Won battle it does begin to feel like the adventure is just narration after narration after narration, nearly three pages of it. There’s lots of good individual images and sections. But I ultimately tried to cut a chunk of it, to use the most evocative and jump to when the players can make choices rather than have the landscape described at them.
This is where I ended up placing Ruric’s father—but with the twist that he’s looking for Ruric, and doesn’t recognize his own son! This wasn’t quite as horrific a moment, I feel, as I’d been aiming for, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit as a plot twist. Andrasta helped to heal Ruric’s father, and it was a good moment for the two of them coming closer together. Together they fought against a giant scorpionman. Ruric was grievously injured (roll D20 for a nice fancy scar) and disappeared along with his father, but Andrasta managed to finish off the mightie beastie so she continued deeper into the quest seeking Ruric.
As Bill joked, in this case it was really “We Fought, We Won.”
I ruled that proceeding forward, Andrasta was still going to reach the Edge of the World, despite being fixated less on the confrontation with Chaos, and more on the fate of Ruric (plus some curiosity with the relationship demonstrated between Death and Fertility). It made sense to me that moving forward would remain the same because of the myth she was heroquesting, despite her internal motivations. That said, I can see a more experienced adventurer having greater lateral movement while in the Otherworld.
Plus, I didn’t know where to send her seeking Ruric; he’d just hit zero magic points, and fallen out of the quest.
Once again, I narrated some of the prose here, but not as much as is written in the adventure. I went with the Devil as a huge, naked woman with red eyes and eerily sharp teeth for reasons (I don’t want to potentially spoil further events in the campaign when I show this to Bill to check that he likes my version of the story, so y’all have to be kept in suspense too—or just buy Montgomery’s book!). Her eye swells until it’s the size of the Red Moon, consuming ALL!!
And it pokes Andrasta with the Madness spell. I do quite like this station; it’s elegantly simple. You need a special or critical to overcome Madness, otherwise you fall out of the quest. Madness absolutely makes sense for the scene, and for its Moon connections. While Montgomery’s prose setting out each situation might be a bit overwrought (count me guilty too), his handling of the conflicts is very straightforward. While playing through the adventure I didn’t have trouble actually running any stations. I just felt I needed to paraphrase or trim while reading aloud, pretty frequently.
So. Great big red eye, Red Moon, and Andrasta rolls a damn special, moving forward. I just laughed. Of course! Talk about a dice roll hero moment, eh? So she proceeded forward, to the crack in the world beyond the Devil, witnesses the Void (again, a bit of trimmed narration, but also quite good stuff to draw on for the narrating). She wins the Big Prize (yes, I am keeping it secret from you, gentle reader!), then returns to Orlanth’s hall, finds that Ruric is safe. The quest ends, of course, with a party.
And that’s the end of “Rites of Passage.” We had a lot of fun playing through it. I felt the adventure was a bit linear and heavy on narration… but it’s meant to introduce a lot of concepts to players new to Glorantha, so that makes a good bit of sense. I think I’d really be well off to try the campaign with some gamers new to Glorantha, to see how it hits for them, get a second take. I didn’t have as much trouble running the adventure as I suspected, and Bill did seem, to me, pretty invested throughout. So we’ll keep playing and see how it goes.
My last piece of advice to other gamemasters considering playing SSiS is don’t kill someone off—especially a new player—in “Rites of Passage.” The end of the adventure notes that’s possible, and I just feel that’s really not a good idea for this adventure. RuneQuest can be dangerous and ought to be dangerous, but considering a new adventurer takes an hour plus to generate when inexperienced I really feel that an Otherworld adventure is a good excuse to have a “loss with a consequence” rather than an outright death.
There will be plenty of chances for Death later in the campaign.