sábado, 20 de mayo de 2023

The White Upon the Hills: a scenario for RuneQuest

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The Jonstown Compendium at DrivethruRPG is the place for fans of RuneQuest to sell their creations, be it scenarios, maps, cults, magic items, and others. However, the most useful for GMs are always scenarios, particularly the short ones you can insert in your campaign or maybe even just run at a convention. Below I am reviewing one of these, The White Upon the Hills, written for RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha. This was produced as part of the RPG Writer Workshop RuneQuest in November 2022, together with three other scenarios. The authors sent me a copy so I could review it, but I have tried my best to be absolutely objective. Please leave a comment if you think otherwise. BTW, this review includes SPOILERS.

The White Upon the Hills is a 22-page-long scenario you can play in two sessions of 3-4 hours for low to moderately experienced adventurers. I have not run it yet, and this is not said in the scenario itself, but you can read that on the DrivethruRPG page. Neither there is any indication for how many player characters the scenario is, what kind of characters it is best suited for, nor how to adapt it to other locations and timeframes.

The setting is the Stael's Hills in Sartar during the Great Hunt in Storm Season 1626, and the adventurers are supposed to be from the Blue Fox clan of the Malani tribe, but the authors also suggest other ways to start the adventure. You can easily set the scenario in other locations, as long as there are wooded hills where hunters go to find prey. If you set in as intended on the Stael's Hills, the adventurers can easily come from other clans in the area or an Ernalda priestess could have a vision from her goddess warning her about the curse, for example. You can also easily change the time the scenario is set in, as other earthquakes previous to the Dragonrise could have sparked the curse.

The adventure starts at a hunting camp on the Stael's Hills during the annual Great Hunt

That curse, the White Blight, is what the player characters need to stop. It is killing the vegetation and making the animals of the hills flee, so if the adventurers fail to put an end to it, it can cause famine and more predators, and less prey for the surrounding clans. An old local hunting song contains the clues to resolving the curse, and this is cool because it tells of a myth, or actually the background for the curse. The adventurers will need to do some research in order to find out what is exactly they need to do and how. 

However, there is an added challenge, because two warriors have orders from the Malani queen to burn the whole hills (they have interpreted that will heal the land!). That is cool because suddenly there is more at stake, time is limited, and the adventurers must either convince people out of this misunderstanding or hurry to resolve the curse correctly. But wait a minute, what is actually the right course of action?

I love that the authors outline several ways the scenario can end, with different consequences. The best possible path to finish the curse is to unravel the riddle of the song. To do so, the adventurers have to realize they need three items to perform a binding ritual. Some parts of the riddle are easier to guess than others, and there is a range of possible solutions. This is great because riddles are too often a block in other scenarios where there is only one possible answer. I am glad this is not the case here!

The chorus of an old hunting song is a key part of the scenario

However, the scenario does not clearly define the way in which the adventurers can determine the best possible items and how to acquire them. Some options are only vaguely described, leaving the GM to determine how to do that. For example, instead of saying something like "if the adventurers manage to convince the hunters to collaborate with a successful Oratory and Loyalty Clan Passion roll", the text just suggests: "The headcount to craft a net at this scale is a challenge without the whole camp's support. How do they organize the whole camp?". This can be frustrating for those GMs who buy the scenario expecting to have all the work done for them. Others, however, may welcome this vagueness so they can run it however they see fit. In my case, I tend to prefer having all the details laid out and then maybe change all I want to. Aside from that, the scenario does not explain either why one of the items (the stone) is next to the furious nymph's lair, but that is a minor detail.

Still, there is a possibility that the adventurers do not even hear about the song and the clues. The adventure starts proper when the player characters come across a group of dead hunters. A monster has killed them and left only one survivor. If the PCs manage to track the monster to its lair, and they can use an earth elemental, they could potentially get to the final confrontation sidestepping the rest of the scenario. If that happens in your game, your players will surely feel great, as in my experience players love it when you later tell them their decisions have managed to avoid half of the scenario! The flipside is, this way earns them only a bittersweet end.

Sometimes AI produces intriguing depictions

Despite that, it seems the scenario will most often end up with a climactic confrontation against the source of the curse. It is also possible for the adventurers to avoid that combat. If they are good at bargaining, they can finish the scenario without even playing a single combat turn. I love that. Also at this point, the adventurers can find the third item they need, but they will need to figure out quickly how to use it. 

As for the look of the scenario, it uses Chaosium's template for RuneQuest fan publications, and it contains a fair amount of art of fairly good quality, which I guess was made using art-generating AI services. Nowadays Chaosium has banned its use in its fan-product platforms and their own books, but the scenario was published before they made that decision. It also includes a small map of the region, done with some mapping software. The cover art depicts some of the blighted hills mentioned in the title and is also quite good. It is not particularly interesting, but it immediately feels very Gloranthan thanks to the red moon in the sky. You can show it to your players or use it as an inspiration for your descriptions.

The scenario includes stats of all relevant NPCs

Summing up, The White Upon the Hills looks like a fun adventure to run. I love the fact that there are a range of possible ends and consequences, with the best and worse options as the least likely, and several bittersweet endings as the most likely. The inclusion of the myth, the curse, and the riddle make it interesting and give the scenario that particular Gloranthan feel. The whole Great Hunt adds a thick layer of Gloranthaness as well. On top of that, it has a bit for every kind of player: challenging combat, a good deal of social interaction, a good deal of thinking, and lots of magic. As for the cons, it may not be that good for beginning GMs as some details are left vague. But all in all, I am looking forward to running this scenario.

The best

  • It feels very Gloranthan thanks to the presence of a curse, a myth, a ritual, and the presence of different clans.
  • It can be easily set in a variety of locations.
  • The song or riddle the adventurers need to unravel to end the curse is a colorful detail.
  • There are several ways to finish the scenario, with a range of different consequences.

The worst

  • It lacks guidance on the number of adventurers this scenario is good for and how to adapt it to other locations and times.
  • Some GMs may not enjoy the vague indications on how to play out several possible scenes.

The scenario The White Upon the Hills is available from DrivethruRPG so far only in PDF for less than 3$. You can also buy it in bundle with 3 other scenarios by other authors for just 6$, which is a total bargain. Well, I hope you enjoyed reading my review. You can leave a comment below, or perhaps you may want to read other reviews of RuneQuest scenarios, like Jorthan's Rescue Redux, Yozarian's Bandit Ducks, Pirates of the East Isles, or Fires of Mingai.

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