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Monday 4 September 2023

Jonstown Jottings #82: Caravanserai

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, 13th 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?
Caravanserai is a mini-campaign and supplement
for use with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha in which the Player Characters establish operate a Caravanserai, a combined inn and rest stop on a trade route, the likes of which they will have probably stayed at during their adventures.

It is a sixty-one page, full colour 3.50 MB PDF.

The layout is mostly tidy and the artwork excellent.

Where is it set?
Caravanserai is set at Two Top village, home to the Red Hand clan in southern Sartar, just south of Wilmskirk near the Heortland road. However, notes and suggestions are given if the Game Master wants to set it elsewhere.

It is set after the events of the Dragonrise.

Who do you play?
Caravanserai is designed for a group of adventurers looking to settle down, or at least establish a base of operations. Ideally, one of the Player Characters should be an Issaries merchant, who should possess or have access to 2,500 Lunars.

What do you need?
Caravanserai requires RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the Glorantha Bestiary, and The Book of Red Magic. RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment is a necessity. Plunder may also be useful as will Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers and Cults of RuneQuest: The Earth Goddesses.

What do you get?
Caravanserai begins with the Player Characters on the road, stopping for the night at a caravanserai, that one of their number, ideally an Issaries merchant, has fond memories of as a busy, but pleasant place to stay. Unfortunately, in the wake of the Dragonrise, the fleeing Lunars burned the place to the ground and killed its owner, Korister. When Korister’s ghost comes the Issaries merchant in a dream, begging him to rebuild it, the Player Character should have an inkling of what a money-making opportunity he is being given should he and his companions decide to agree to the ghost’s demands. This sets up a mundane, but nevertheless interesting campaign framework as the Player Characters negotiate with the local clan for permission, arrange for the building of the new caravanserai, hire staff—old and new, furnish the caravanserai, and more. The fun bit of the more is deciding what to do with the ghost of Korister. One option would be to exorcise the ghost, but the fun option would be to bind Korister as the caravanserai’s wyter, keeping him as a permanent, but incorporeal presence at the inn. Essentially, what this sets up is the Gloranthan equivalent of the BBC and CBS television series, Ghosts. It also shifts the way in which the Player Characters can become involved in adventures. They will come to the Player Characters rather than the Player Characters going out to find them, the equivalent of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine versus Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The first part of Caravanserai guides the Game Master through the set-up process of the Player Characters having to make decisions of getting the buildings designed and built, who to hire, and what to outfit the place with. There are consequences if the Player Characters get it wrong, but in the long term these are minor and being located near a major trade route helps. This also requires some accounting, and Caravanserai actually comes with its own Excel sheet to help the Game Master and players alike track their characters’ monies. Fortunately, double-entry bookkeeping is not required, but the third end of the supplement consists of a guide to building and outfitting the caravanserai, what it consists of, how to make a profit and where that profit comes from, along with a guide to using the included ‘Caravanserai Annual Profit Worksheet’. The fact that it includes the latter may be more than enough for some players to want to avoid this supplement, but the degree of detail enforces the aim of Caravanserai in wanting to give the Player Characters the opportunity to have real lives and closer ties to Gloranthan society and economy.

In between the set-up and the guide are two scenarios. The first, ‘Epidemic’ deals with an outbreak of wasting disease which threatens both the Red Hand clan and the operation of the caravanserai. As the outbreak threatens the caravanserai’s staff, the Player Characters are pulled into clan affairs in a desperate attempt to stop both the disease and word of it from spreading, locate its source, and thus preventing the closure of the caravanserai. Like the set-up, this will require some decent roleplaying upon the part of the players if their characters are to solve the mystery and resolve the situation. The second scenario is ‘The Bad Guest’. It is a classic set-up for an inn. A guest dies at the inn, but lacks sufficient funds to pay for his stay. He did behind, though, a treasure map! If it is accurate, its contents could pay for the man’s stay and probably have funds leftover. Since this adventure is inspired by Treasure Island, it involves pirates—in this case Wolf Pirates—and betrayal, but the treasure is worth it.

Although ‘The Bad Guest’ is a decent scenario, it does take the Player Characters away from their newly built base of operations, which partly undermines the point of the scenario. It would have been nice to have been given further scenarios, or at least adventures hooks, which take place in the environments of the inn and Red Hand Clan land, or come to the inn, thus pulling the Player Characters further into the community. Similarly, whilst a lot of the NPCs are given stats for and if not, at least a good thumbnail description, there are not many in the way of stats or details of visiting customers. Also lacking are any floorplans for the caravanserai. The supplement does suggest allowing the players to draw what they want as long as it is too not unreasonable and allow that, but some sample floorplans would have been useful. As would some sample visitors and patrons. In the long term, some more adventures would also help to keep the adventurers at their inn. Another issue not fully explored is what roles the Player Characters might take at the inn when not adventuring.

Is it worth your time?
YesCaravanserai is an interesting supplement which showcases another side of Glorantha and makes it both playable and interesting—especially for an Issaries merchant.
NoCaravanserai is just too mundane, plus it involves accounting, and who needs that when we are wanderers and adventurers?
MaybeCaravanserai is perhaps a bit too ordinary an idea for some players and their characters, but the adventures can easily be repurposed and the Player Characters could be working for a money man, instead of one of their number being the money man.

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