October 10th marks the first anniversary of Greg Stafford’s passing. To both commemorate that date and celebrate Greg’s contribution to the roleplaying hobby, Chaosium, Inc. is publishing not just one free scenario, but five. One for each of the major roleplaying games published by Chaosium, Inc. Either designed or influenced by Greg, they include RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, King Arthur Pendragon, HeroQuest in Glorantha, Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, and 7th Sea. The aim of these releases is twofold. One is to showcase each of these worlds and roleplaying games, typically with a scenario that can be brought to the table with relative ease, whether that is your own or at a convention, but primarily the purpose is to get everyone sat round the table and playing since we are all roleplayers. In Greg’s words, that #WeAreAllUs.
The Quest of the Red Blade is an unpublished scenario by Greg Stafford, written for King Arthur Pendragon and set during the reign of King Arthur, at any time after the founding of the Round Table, though most probably during the Romance or Tournament Periods. This makes it easy to set during the events of The Great Pendragon Campaign. A Game Master does not need access to The Great Pendragon Campaign in order to run The Quest of the Red Blade, but may find access to the classic King Arthur Pendragon supplement, Savage Mountains useful depending upon how the adventure plays out… The Quest of the Red Blade is set in the wilds of Cambria—or Wales—and involves a classic quest in the romantic tradition.
The scenario opens with the player characters as guests of Sir Gregor de Stafford, an aging Round Table knight, at Castle Terrabel. When discussing the nature of adventures and quests, he tells them of the Quest of the Red Blade. In the wilds of Cambria, beyond the brooding kingdom of Powys lies the cursed kingdom of Meirionydd, home to King Cadwalader, said to use evil magic to maintain his youth. He is also said to possess a great sword known as the Red Death Blade, and according to Sir Gregor de Stafford, “Whoever gets the sword would benefit greatly, and the world would be a better place without this vile king.”
Sir Gregor urges the knights to swear to undertake a quest to journey to the Castle of the Kite, home to King Cadwalader, and there bring an end to his evil reign and then take the Red Death Blade. Should they do so, unlike an adventure upon which Glory comes as it may, success ensures that the knights gain extra Glory once the quest is completed. This is because they swore to it beforehand and they are expected to succeed. Of course, failure comes with a potential loss of honour and Glory…
To undertake ‘The Quest of the Red Blade’, the knights must ride south to Shrewsbury and from there west into the wilds of Cambria, where knights of Logres—that is, the player characters—are not always welcome. There are opportunities to enjoy the hospitality of another local king and learn more information about what lies ahead. With his aid, the knights will finally reach the kingdom of Meirionydd, which they find to be at war with a rival kingdom, and then the Castle of the Kite. King Cadwalader proves to be old and stout, ill-tempered and suspicious, who offers the knights his hospitality—as is custom—with some churlishness.
With the knights at the Castle of the Kite for at least one night, they are free to proceed as they want in obtaining the Red Death Blade. This may involve a classic heist, a direct confrontation with King Cadwalader, entering his service in his war against a rival kingdom, and so on. Numerous options are detailed, including the confrontation, fleeing the kingdom—a challenge in itself as both terrain and rival kingdoms are hostile, and discovering the vile secret of Cadwalader’s longevity, a young man known as Pig Boy. There is even a lovely moment when it discusses the option of the knights getting the local serfs to rebel and points out how anachronistic that is! Throughout, there are numerous opportunities for the players to test their knight’s Traits, particularly as the actions necessary to complete the quest may not always be honourable and certainly push at the limits of the custom of hospitality. All with the intention of doing the right thing.
The Quest of the Red Blade comes with six ready to play pre-generated knights. They include a Valorous if Selfish Roman Christian knight, a Trusting Irish Christian knight, and a Prudent Aquitainian Arian Christian knight, as well as a Forgiving and Valorous Cymric Christian Dame and a Valorous if Vengeful Cymric Pagan knight, and a Valorous and Honest Saracen knight. This is a good mix, providing a range of backgrounds and genders, though in keeping with the scenario, this very much reflects the background of The Great Pendragon Campaign rather than that given in King Arthur Pendragon 5.2.
Physically, The Quest of the Red Blade comes as sixteen-page, 8.91 MB full-colour PDF. Although a little tight in places, it has a handsome layout which includes a lovely portrait of Sir Gregor de Stafford and two good maps. One is of the route to the Castle of the Kite, the other is of Castle of the Kite itself. The Quest of the Red Blade does require an edit in places though and perhaps one or two portraits of the NPCs could have been included.
The Quest of the Red Blade is essentially Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness for King Arthur Pendragon, a journey into dangerous and contested territory, at the end of which is confrontation with an evil personified. What this means is that there is an obvious solution to the scenario, especially when its core secret is revealed, but this being a scenario for King Arthur Pendragon, the knights may well find their good intentions waylaid as their players either succeed or fail at various Trait checks and so influence their behaviours. There is no little shame and dishonour in failing ‘The Quest of the Red Blade’, but this being a quest, there is no reason why the knights cannot attempt it again. Indeed, the shame and loss of honour may well drive the knights to repeat the quest again in order to assuage both. Unfortunately, there is no advice to that end, but repeating the quest is likely to be more difficult if the knights confronted King Cadwalader on the first attempt. That may not happen though, as there are situations where the knights may leave the quest early.
As a scenario to run using the set-up in King Arthur Pendragon 5.2—the latest edition of the roleplaying game—The Quest of the Red Blade takes place several decades after said set-up. It is thus suited to a campaign set later, either using The Great Pendragon Campaign or not. The Quest of the Red Blade might be a bit long to run as a demonstration scenario in a four-hour slot, so the Game Master might want to cut short the journey and get the knights to the Castle of the Kite. As a demonstration scenario, or a one-off, The Quest of the Red Blade presents a challenging quest which effectively showcases how knightly virtues can clash with knightly customs and the moral choice. It is great to see this unpublished delight from the pen of Gregg Stafford.