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Sunday 18 April 2021

A Sartarite Starter Seven

The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories: Seven Ready-to-Play Adventures for RuneQuest is an anthology of scenarios designed for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Published by Chaosium, Inc., the septet is designed for use by a Game Master new to Glorantha and is set across the various lands of the Sartarite tribes in Dragon Pass. The scenarios will see the Player Characters attend a festival and compete in a great competition, rescue clan regalia, come to the aid of a distant village beset by a ghostly monster, help lift a curse from a village in danger of famine, search for missing children in woods infested with ghouls and a skulk, investigate a previously unknown ruin, and venture out onto the Plains of Prax to attend a wedding ceremony. In order to run any of the scenarios, the Game Master will need no more than the core rules for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the Glorantha Bestiary, although The Glorantha Sourcebook may prove useful for its further information. The scenarios in 
The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories do not constitute a campaign, but they can be worked into a campaign, especially one set in and around the hamlet of Apple Lane and the lands of the Colymar tribe, such as RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack and The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories.

The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories opens with the titular ‘The Pegasus Plateau’. It takes place before the Three Emeralds Temple, which is dedicated to the Ernalda and stands below the Pegasus Plateau, a few miles south of Clearwine. Pegasus Plateau is notable as having been the home to a flight of Hippogriffs, which serve as the spiritual liaison between Earth and Sky and guide the Three Winds into Dragon Pass. Recently, a flight has returned to the plateau and the priestesses of the Three Emeralds Temple have decided to reinstate the Three Winds Celebration, a three-day festival which ends in a race up the almost unclimbable plateau to locate and a chance to bond with a hippogriff and so make it a competitor’s mount. The Player Characters not only have the opportunity to participate in the Three Winds games—and very much should participate—they also have the chance to interact with a number of different NPCs. These include the priestesses at the temple, the various traders attending the festival, and their fellow competitors. This can lead the Player Characters becoming involved with local politics—the nearby Locaem tribe is currently in turmoil following the death of its leadership during the Dragonrise, as well as creating both rivalries and friendships with their fellow competitors.

Ultimately, the winners of the Three Winds games will have to ascend to the top of the plateau, locate the flight of Hippogriffs, and attempt a bonding. The ascent is difficult and involves several unexpected challenges, not least of which can come from the other competitors. Good roleplaying throughout the festival may grant the Player Characters both clues and advantages. ‘The Pegasus Plateau’ is a good scenario, one that gives the Player Characters the opportunity to shine and the chance to really begin building their reputations and legends. After all, how much greater a starting point is there than bonding with a Hippogriff? However, it is a busy scenario with lots going on and several things for the Game Master to keep track off. The Game Master will also need to work with her players to get their characters involved, as unlike the other scenarios in the anthology there is no standard reason for them to attend the festival. Consequently, it feels a little underwritten in places and too busy in others for a scenario designed for a beginning Game Master and whilst it is the anthology’s titular scenario, it does not feel quite right as the opening scenario for the anthology. However the Game Master decides to use ‘The Pegasus Plateau’, its outcome is likely to be memorable for the Player Characters and their players, there are both NPCs which can become recurring members of the campaign, and hooks the Game Master can develop into further adventures.

The second scenario, ‘The Grey Crane’, is perhaps the easiest of the entries in The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories to work into a campaign built around the content and scenarios contained in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack. It takes place in the lands of the Hiording Clan, part of the Colymar tribe which shares Apple Lane with the Varmandi Clan, although it could be moved to another clan altogether. Either way, the Player Characters are summoned to the clan hall of their affiliated clan along with the great and the good of the clan as the chieftain is about to receive a small delegation from Lunar Tarsh under a banner of peace. Not all of the tribe are happy to see the Lunars—and some of the Lunar delegation are unhappy to be there—but the leader of the delegation causes an uproar when he politely asks to see a set of relics, known as the ‘Grey Crane’, sacred to the clan and associated with a clan legend involving the death of an overly ambitious and misguided alchemist known as Miskander. This is a chance for the Player Characters to test out their feelings about the Lunar Empire versus the demands of Sartarite hospitality, persuading the current holder of the relics either way. Whatever the outcome, a week later, the relics are stolen, and the obvious culprits are the Lunar delegation which just visited. The chieftain charges the Player Characters with recovering it, which means travelling to the Lunar Tarshite’s camp and again testing out their feelings about the Lunar Empire, but with the situation reversed.

‘The Grey Crane’ is a much more straightforward scenario. It does the social nuances of both receiving and ‘probably’ acting as a delegation nicely, and whilst the final twist as to where the ‘Grey Crane’ actually is feels a bit like a deus ex machina, it actually works and is explained why. The scenario also does a good job of humanising the Lunar Tarshites and if used with the adventures in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack would serve to help pull the Player Characters into their local community.

Previously released to mark the anniversary of the passing of Greg Stafford, ‘The Rattling Wind’ takes the Player Characters east to the remote Antorling Clan hamlet of Farfield in the foothills of the Quivin Mountains near the Dog-Rat Valley. Of late, the village has been attacked by the ‘Rattling Wind’, a ‘monster in the night’ which has killed locals once a week for the last three weeks, its arrival heralded by a thunderous cadence and the shaking of shutters and windows as it passes, disappearing into the night after leaving its victims crushed. The desperate villagers cannot account for what caused this, only pointing to the arrival of a family of Ducks into the area as the only recent event of note.

‘The Rattling Wind’ is a classic action-horror-mystery which uses a well-worn plot, but uses it to good effect. It comes with secrets and consequences and a handful of not always likeable NPCs, including a grumpy Duck! It is more of an investigative scenario than the previous ones in the anthology, leading to a good mix of interaction and fantastic action scenes, as the Player Characters first poke around and then are confronted by the threat as it comes rattling out of the night to take its victims. The solutions to the situation are straightforward, enabling the adventurers to tackle with either brains or brawn. The former will be required early on in the scenario and perhaps later on if the clues are not necessarily found. There is no right way to address the situation in The Rattling Wind and the adventurers are pleasingly not penalised for choosing one means of resolution over another.

There is a degree of the Gothic to ‘Crimson Petals’, the fourth scenario, which takes place in the village of Greyrock, which has been forced to the edge of famine, forcing the inhabitants to wider hunting and even greater acts of raiding on nearby villages. The villagers are suspicious of outsiders and although in desperate need of help, not always welcoming of it, but astute investigation will reveal carefully hidden goat bones, a preponderance of red flowers, a blocked temple to Ernalda, and a sickness of red blotches found on men, women, and children alike. If they get nowhere, it is the children who will be able to supply the Player Characters with certain information, enabling them to investigate further. This is a lovely touch in an investigative scenario which will probably benefit from the inclusion of an Ernaldan priestess and a shaman—if not both.

‘Gloomwillow’s Hollow’ is set in the Woods of the Dead, the lands of Brangbane, the Ghoul King, between Herongreen and Alone, and includes a description of the Highwall Inn, previously detailed in Highwall Inn for HeroQuest and Questworlds to mark the first anniversary of Greg Stafford’s passing and The Coming Storm, a campaign sourcebook for HeroQuest Glorantha. The adventure, actually called ‘The Hollow’, begins with Player Characters in Alone, hired by the city’s desperate mayor to find the more than a dozen children who have disappeared into the nearby Woods of the Dead in the past few weeks—or to avenge their deaths. Harried by strange batrachian creatures, the Player Characters are drawn into the Woods of the Dead where they must explore a twisted, arboreal dungeon which almost seems to be alive as it thrashes about them. ‘The Hollow’ is a dark and twisted adventure which may well put off the Player Characters from entering another forest any time soon.

In some ways, ‘The Ruin on the Stream’ is the strangest adventure in the anthology. Whether due to rumours of strange lights, sounds, or sights or perhaps of indication of a ruin marked on ancient rather than modern maps, the Player Characters are drawn to a rich and verdant area where dinosaurs may be found as well as a set of ancient ruins. There they encounter a Dragonewt ready and willing to communicate and even teach them about the purpose of the ruins. He encourages their participation and if they do, the Player Characters are put through a series of tests, participating in his heroquest and in the process learning secrets of the past. This is a good scenario for any Lhankor Mhy Player Character, who might be nudged to investigate the site following the purchase of some maps available in the earlier ‘The Pegasus Plateau’. The Game Master will probably wants to conduct a little further information in The Glorantha Sourcebook, especially if she want to develop sequels to this scenario.

The last scenario in 
The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories is ‘The Pairing Stones’, which takes the Player Characters east out of Sartar and onto the Plains of Prax. They are employed as caravan guards by a Trader Prince of Issaries who is taking a pack train carrying various trade goods to sell at a wedding. This wedding will be held at the Pairing Stones, two natural pillars of differing colours leaning towards each other, where it has become common for those of different tribes and nations to marry. The marriage in question is to be between a prince and princess of the Impala and Bison tribes, the hope being that the union will help end the ongoing feuds between the tribes. Unfortunately, when the pack train arrives at the Pairing Stones, the place is in uproar—the bride-to-be, Delenda Bretta’s Daughter, has been  kidnapped by Rhino Riders! The Player Characters’ employer quickly negotiates their involvement in the search for the missing bride. The situation is, of course, no simple abduction, and the story behind ‘The Pairing Stones’ has a familiar feel, but the scenario is nicely set up, the NPCs’ motivations well described, and the potential outcomes of the scenario explored in some detail. Overall, it is well told and the scenario will introduce Sartarite Player Characters to Prax and Praxian customs.

The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories does not only include scenarios. In the case of ‘Gloomwillow’s Hollow’, there is extra information about the region in and around the Woods of the Dead and the dangers it contains, principally, of course, the Ghoul King and his ghoul horde. A quartet of adventure seeds provide further reasons for the Player Characters to revisit the area and perhaps put an end to the threats it is home to—though beginning Player Characters are likely to find these threats very challenging. Elsewhere, the anthology describes the Locaem, the tribe upon whose lands upon which the Three Emeralds Temple stands. The description includes its history right up to its difficult relation with the Lunar Empire, walking a fine line between deference and rebellion, until the last king and his family were killed in the Dragonrise. The tribe’s clans are also detailed as are the various places of interest on its territory. The last entry in the anthology is a write-up of ‘Renekot’s Hope’, a small village lying on the route between Tarsh and Dragon Pass. It is a community of refugees, ex-veterans, and exiles wanting to avoid the conflict between Sartar and the Lunar Empire, so is home—and a would-be home—for the disparate types which typically make up the Player Characters. Various NPCs are detailed, accompanied by some excellent illustrations, and along with the village major locations, a trio of potential threats are described, ready for the Game Master to develop. ‘Renekot’s Hope’ is designed as a starting location for the Player Characters and a campaign, though it is in a region which is not as well covered as Sartar and the area around the Colymar tribal lands currently is.

The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories is as solidly presented as you would expect for a title for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. The illustrations are excellent throughout, the index good, and sections of boxed text provide supplementary information, such as a guide to the Great Winter or where to look for information about the full Draconic Creation Myth, or advice for the Game Master, such as setting the ‘Goals for this Scene’. Both provide help for the Game Master, especially for the Game Master new to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Physically, there is an issue with the anthology, it is with the maps. A variety of styles is used, which gives the book a slightly inconsistent feel and the regional map, which shows the placement of the book’s content, is not necessarily an easy read. Certainly, some maps are easier to read than others.

None of the scenarios in 
The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories are very long, each one needing two or three sessions to play through. This makes them easy to work into a campaign, especially one set in and around Sartar, though in some cases, they do require a degree of preparation, in some cases more than might be necessary for the beginning Game Master. Some of the stories verge on the cliché, but where this is so, the stories are well-handled, and in all cases, the potential outcomes of each scenario is usefully explored. Overall, the seven scenarios in The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories: Seven Ready-to-Play Adventures for RuneQuest showcase the diversity of adventures and stories which can be told in Glorantha and a session or three.

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