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Sunday 31 May 2020

Jonstown Jottings #19: Six Seasons in Sartar

Much like the Miskatonic Repository for Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition, the  Jonstown Compendium is a curated platform for user-made content, but for material set in Greg Stafford's mythic universe of Glorantha. It enables creators to sell their own original content for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and HeroQuest Glorantha (Questworlds). This can include original scenarios, background material, cults, mythology, details of NPCs and monsters, and so on, but none of this content should be considered to be ‘canon’, but rather fall under ‘Your Glorantha Will Vary’. This means that there is still scope for the authors to create interesting and useful content that others can bring to their Glorantha-set campaigns.

What is it?
Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a short campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. It is based on a campaign presented on the author’s blog.

Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a commentary upon Six Seasons in Sartar, an epic poem by Usuphus of Jonstown, which tells of the tragic fall of the Haraborn, the Clan of the Black Stag, the 13th Colymar clan.

It is a one-hundred-and-forty-four 
page, full colour, 79.61 MB PDF.

Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is well presented, decently written, though it needs an edit in places, and includes a decent range of artwork. The front cover is good.

Where is it set?

Dragon Pass in Glorantha, specifically in ‘Black Stage Vale’, a narrow, vee-shaped valley high in the mountains between Mounts Quivin and Kagradus in the lands of the Colymar tribe, specifically between Earth Season 1619 ST and Darkness Season 1620 ST. 

Who do you play?

Members of the Haraborn, the Clan of the Black Stag, the 13th Colymar clan, not yet initiated, typically Orlanth and Ernalda worshippers.

What do you need?

RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest – Glorantha Bestiary.

What do you get?

Six Seasons in Sartar is not just one thing. Well, actually it is just one thing—a campaign, but it also is more than the sum of its parts, for each and every one of those parts stands out on its own. Not necessarily because they are gameable, but together they contribute to the campaign as a very satisfactory whole.

First—and most obviously, Six Seasons in Sartar is a campaign. Much like the vale in which the Haraborn make their home and the events of the campaign play, its focus is very narrow, taking the Player Characters through the travails and tribulations of the last year of the Haraborn, the Clan of the Black Stag, the 13th Colymar clan. It begins with their initiation and takes them season by season through 1619 ST and into 1620 ST. These individual adventures will involve the Player Characters in a mystery concerning the sudden appearance of a ghost, the activities of the rebels holding out against the Lunar Empire’s occupation of Sartar, and the abduction of a guest. Ultimately, the campaign will reveal secrets about the history of the vale which bring it to the attention of Kallyr Starbrow and following a confrontation with an agent of the Lunar Empire, lead to a sundering of the clan at the hands of the empire’s indigent servants. 

In between the six parts which make up the campaign, the Game Master can weave various secondary plots and events—here called ‘episodes’—such as a birth or funeral, a romance or a cattle raid, and so on. Many of these episodes are optional, and whilst including them does lengthen the play of the campaign, they also add depth to its play and serve to involve the players and their characters in the community that is the Haraborn clan. Although their use is given as optional, the campaign will be all the better not just because of the extra added depth, but also because their use gives scope for the Game Master to focus on each of the characters in play, to give them time in the spotlight. 

Second, Six Seasons in Sartar is a description of a complete clan, the Haraborn. This includes the complete history and mythology of the clan, as well as its wyter, the chieftain and his Ring—the clan council, plus the geography of the vale that is the clan’s home. It explains who they are and what their outlook is—that of deeply conservative mountain folk who value tradition, have limited contact with the outside world, and are devoted to the Storm Tribe. It explains their Runic ties, predominately Air/Storm and Earth, though some may be ‘Troll-touched’ and tied to the Darkness Rune. Members of the Haraborn clan are also members of the White Hart ‘spirit cult’, and expected to be useful to the clan—that is, to not go off seeking adventure. This cult is entirely local and provides interesting cervine spells such as Stag’s Crown which enables the user to sprout a twelve-point rack of antlers or Deerbrother which creates a Mind Link with the nearest deer and allow the caster to see and hear what the deer sees and hears, as well as cast spells through the deer.

This description and background support both the campaign and explains the constraints placed on character generation. This is as per the normal process, but the characters have to be of the Haraborn clan, have either the Air, Earth, or Darkness Rune, and instead of having an Occupation, have what is really their parents' Occupation. Occupations such as Bandit, Chariot Driver, Fisher, Philosopher, or Thief are all unlikely, but this still offers plenty of choice. As to cult, no starting characters for the campaign yet belongs to a cult, for their choice of, and their joining a cult will come about through play. All characters are Lay members of Ernalda if female, Orlanth if male. Lastly, each character’s family history will end with their parents in 1618 and none of them will receive the standard skill bonuses. The end result is a youth between fifteen and sixteen years of age, ready to be initiated.

Third, Six Seasons in Sartar is an initiation into the mysteries of Glorantha. This can be seen in various elements of the campaign. Most obviously in two ways. The first of these is the essay on the nature of heroquests, supported by the rules for them later in the book. This includes the three types of heroquest—‘This World Heroquest’, the ritual re-enactment of Myth; the ‘Hero Planes Heroquest’, in which the heroquesters temporarily become gods to gain a boon or blessing, in particular for their community; and the ‘Otherworld Heroquest’, in which the heroquesters travel deeper into the God Plane to create a new of their own! It also suggests rewards for each and the means to begin them. The other form of initiation is the actual complete presentation of two initiation rites, one for Orlanth lay worshippers and one for Ernalda lay worshippers. They each form the two starting parts of the campaign, one for male characters, one for female characters. Mechanically, the process serves as part of the characters’ personal history, but they also work to point each character towards the cult they will ultimately become initiates of. For example, a Lay member of the Ernalda cult might lean towards Babestor Gor as a cult if she favours the Death Rune over the Fertility Rune during her initiation. Playing out the initiation also gets the player and his character involved from the start, forcing him to make choices in play rather than at the start and so make those choices significant.

Later events in the scenario might also be said to further initiate the Game Master into the greater mysteries of Glorantha, notably an encounter with Kallyr Starbrow. Pleasingly, despite her role in the forthcoming hero wars and past events, she never overshadows the efforts of the player characters and interestingly, she never quite comes across as wholly heroic. As to the initiations, these are absolutely fantastic tools for the Game Master to enforce Glorantha’s mysteries from the start, and it would be absolutely fantastic to see further initiations similar to this but for other cults on the Jonstown Compendium.

Fourth, Six Seasons in Sartar is a toolkit. Take the various bits of the campaign and what you have is a set of tools and elements which the Game Master can obviously use as part of running Six Seasons in Sartar, but can also take them and use them in her own campaign. So this is not just the advice and discussion as to the nature of heroquests and how to run them, as well as the initiation scenarios, but also the rules for creating and running streamlined NPCs, the streamlined rules for handling battles, cattle raids, and heroquests, events such as funerals and births, romance, and more. All of these can be separated from Six Seasons in Sartar and the Game Master bring them into her own game.

Fifth, Six Seasons in Sartar is a conceit. Throughout the campaign, commentary is provided by a number of notable Gloranthan scholars and experts in Third Age literature, not necessarily upon the campaign itself, but upon Usuphus of Jonstown’s epic, Six Seasons in Sartar. These often offer contradictory opinions and so mirror that of Gloranthaphiles about various topics on Glorantha. They include excerpts from works such as ‘Usuphus: A Feminist Perspective’ by Adhira Chatterjee and Noah Webber’s lecture, ‘The Symbolism of the Star Heart and Predark in Six Seasons in Sartar.’, and what they do is enables the author himself to step out of the campaign itself and add further commentary, not just from his own point of view, but from opposing views. Beyond that, the conceit pushes Six Seasons in Sartar as a campaign from being a mere campaign into being an epic, because essentially, it is what a heroic poem does.

Of course, Six Seasons in Sartar comes to an end. The climax manages to be both sad and satisfying, but it leaves the Game Master wanting more, the players and the characters wondering what comes next. Possibilities are discussed and suggested, most obviously about reuniting the scattered Haraborn, the aim being for the Game Master to write the next episodes of the campaign (and thus the poem, or perhaps a new one). Nevertheless, it would be interesting to see an official sequel, both in terms of the campaign and the clan, plus of course, to the epic poem, Six Seasons in Sartar. This could easily fit in the period between the end of the Six Seasons in Sartar campaign 1620 ST and the jumping off point for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha in 1625 ST.

Is it worth your time?
Yes. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is a superb treatment of community, myth, and tragedy in Glorantha, grounding the players and their characters in the community, pulling them into the myth, and having them play out the tragedy. Whilst the tools and the discussion are undeniably useful, as a campaign starter it has no equal—it should be one of the first titles a prospective Game Master of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha should purchase from the Jonstown Compendium.
No. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha presents an alternative campaign set-up, one which takes place prior to the default starting date for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, and you may already have begun your campaign. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha also places limits upon character choice and your players may want to play characters who do not fit within its remit.
Maybe. Six Seasons in Sartar: A Campaign for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha includes content which is useful beyond the limits of its campaign—the initiation rites, the notes on heroquests, rules for streamlined NPCs, quick resolution rules for battles, and more. All useful in an ongoing campaign. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for a very thorough review of this campaign! I am now much more intrigued and inclined to buying it. In my style of play as a GM I love the kind of background history material there is in Runequest in general and within this campaign in particular. Then again, will the palyer feel like that? I am not so sure. It will take some thought after all if this campaign suits my players and their own styles, and that must be the deciding thing.