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Sunday 13 February 2022

Jonstown Jottings #54: Black Spear

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 Glorantha13th Age 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?
Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is a campaign for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

It is a one-hundred-and-seventy-two page, full colour hardback.

It needs a slight edit in places.

Maps and illustrations are done in full, glorious technicolour.

Where is it set?
Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest begins in Apple Lane (as written), but is primarily set along the length of the Zola Fel River in the Valley of Cradles, as well as beyond.

Who do you play?
Player Characters of all types could play this scenario as it involves a mix of social interaction, investigation, and action. Ideally (as written), they should have played through the scenarios in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack and thus hold a position of power and trust. Player Characters who worship Orlanth or Yelm will find parts of the campaign entertaining, whilst Helerings will have a high old time of it.

Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is set in 1627 ST after the death of Kallyr Starbrow.

What do you need?
Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary, and the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack.

Access to the campaigns and supplements, Borderlands, Pavis, Sun County, River of Cradles, and/or Pavis: Gateway to Adventure may also be useful, but are not necessary to run Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest.

What do you get?
Imagine if you will that upon his retirement, Professor JRR Tolkien was chosen to adapt and direct Heart of Darkness rather than Francis Ford Coppola, but do so as a Bronze Age myth and do it for the small screen as a Saturday morning cartoon—a Saturday morning cartoon with all of the mythology and the naughty bits left in. If you can imagine that, then you have a pretty good idea quite what Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is like. Black Spear is a truly epic campaign which connects the Dragonrise and the Hero Wars, and does so in two ways. Materially, it will see the Player Characters sent to Pavis to inform Argrath White Bull that now is the right time to return to Sartar. Mystically, it will see the Player Characters involved in the reverberating consequences of the Dragonrise, the ongoing confrontation between Orlanth and Yelm, chart Argrath’s ascent to power and prominence, and rescue him from Darkness—and more. Along the way, the Player Characters will have the wildest ride of their lives, get insulted by Baboons, go to the weirdest and wettest disco they could ever imagine, get involved in Sun Dome politics and heresies, confront themselves, attack and protect a dragon… and much, much more.

Which is not to say that the author of Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is Tolkien in this analogy. Definitely not. Most obviously because in no way is his ego in need of such polishing, but also if we have to have a Tolkien figure, it would be Greg Stafford. Which would probably make the author of Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest here Christopher Tolkien. Which is enough of an ego buff. Anyway, let us put an end to this Tolkien talk.

As written, Black Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is initially tied into the storyline established in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, in which the Player Characters defend Apple Lane and one of their number becomes its Thane. As trusted subjects with a reputation for being able to get things done, Queen Leika, leader of the Colymar Tribe, requests that they travel as quickly as they can to the far city of Pavis, and there call its King, Argrath White Bull, back to Sartar. So begins a rip-roaring ride that will take them by air, by river, and ultimately, by means mystical upon their very own journey into Darkness, as well as that of Argrath White Bull himself. In the process, the Player Characters—the majority of them likely to be loyal Sartarites—will be pulled far out of their comfort zone and up the Zola Fel river, as well as deep into the myths of Glorantha. Make no mistake, this is a deep dive into the mysticism of Glorantha.

Throughout, Black Spear is heavily annotated by the author. Here he adds both side notes and asides, references much of his personal library devoted to Glorantha (thankfully the Game Master does not need access to this to run the campaign), gives staging advice for particular scenes, tells you how his players tackled this situation and that, provides references to appropriate illustrations, and occasionally admonishes bad and/or reluctant players. The latter can come across as patronising, but this is a campaign which needs fully embracing by both Game Master and players if they are going to get the most of it and its weirdness. Accompanying this are pieces of poetry, sermons, music suggestions to be played at the appropriate time—everything from O Fortuna! from Carmin Burana and Sunrise from Also Sprach Zarathustra to Relax by Frankie Goes to Hollywood to Football Fight by Queen from the film, Flash Gordon, and more. There is even alternative staging advice for each of the campaign’s seven acts if the Game Master prefers not to use some or all of the author’s version of its events.

For the most part, Black Spear is relatively light in terms of stat blocks. They are there as is necessary, but in the main, the mechanics emphasise the Player Characters’ Runes and Passions and how they influence and interact with the story told through the campaign. In fact, Black Spear is fairly light in terms of combat too, mainly keeping it for the big set scenes. (If the players relish their combat, a corollary comes with the PDF version of the campaign, ‘Violence is Always an Option!’, which suggests possible combat encounters in each of its seven acts.)

After all that, if Black Spear is lacking anything, it is advice as to what to reward the Player Characters with. They have just gone on an epic journey, if only inadvertently, and if Queen Leika has no reason to reward them for actually completing a simple task that went awry, arguably, Argrath White Bull does because the Player Characters do much more than simply deliver a message. Another issue with Black Spear is the sheer amount of information and myth which the author splurges on the Game Master. In the author’s defence, he does his very best to make it accessible and entertaining. So whilst there are innumerable references to out-of-print books, these are asides and he always sticks to core sources that are in print or readily available. Further, when the inevitable wodges of exposition need to be delivered in order to impart the degree of detail and depth behind the events in Black Spear from the Game Master to her players, the author provides both staging advice and the means to break it up and make the delivery that much more palatable. 

Mention should also be made of the fantastic artwork in Black Spear. It matches and enhances the cartoonishly epic nature of the campaign, giving it much of its character.

Is it worth your time?
YesBlack Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is an unforgettably epic fabulation of  Gloranthan myth which takes a RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha campaign into the Heart of Darkness prior to the Hero Wars. 
NoBlack Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest is too fantastic a campaign, too much a case of ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’, and perhaps too much information for some, and not every campaign will be running a campaign which runs up to the Hero Wars.
MaybeBlack Spear: A Hero Wars Saga for RuneQuest contains much that is ‘Your Glorantha May Vary’ and whilst the Game Master may not want to run it as a whole or a campaign set in Sartar, there are scenes and ideas here which can be explored or adapted as is her wont.

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