Background and setting notes
The Suitor's Challenge
The Suitor's Challenge or the Houndsgor Contests began as a simple peasant affair, enacting the legend of the wooing of the Butterfly Girl, where sons of the local villagers strove amongst themselves for the fair prize, has evolved into a tournament that now attracts warriors from throughout the County and sometimes from even further afield. Although the contest has the atmosphere of a local fair, the contest has a serious meaning as well &endash; the outcome of the contest affects the next year's harvest. Local lads still compete, but are rarely a match for the more experienced hopefuls who ride or sail in from the surrounding countryside to contend as suitors for the Harvest Bride. The contests are not advertised, but known only by reputation. The Houndsgorders rely on the gods to provide sufficient contestants of quality, and they have never been disappointed. The Challenge consists of seven events, each held on the successive days before the Harvest Festival. The town is thronged by farmfolk from across the County, and many spectators even come down from nearby cities.
Note: This adventure is adapted from Ian Thompson's revision of a two part piece in Sun County: RuneQuest Adventures in the Land of the Sun (Avalon Hill 1992): "The Garhound Contests" by Michael O'Brien, Philip Anderson, and John Hughes, and "Melisande's Hand" by Michael O'Brien. (Original version first published in Tales of the Reaching Moon #4, 1990 by Michael O'Brien & Phillip Anderson ("The Garhound Contest") and Michael O'Brien ("Melisande's Hand"). In shifting it out of Glorantha it has mutated a fair bit, but it's still mostly the same adventure.
The contest is open to all unmarried male initiates of the Twelve, but members of the cults of the Horned God and the Smiling Man are most favored. Each applicant must also meet the criteria of being a 'young warrior'. The upper age limit is around 26, but this is not fixed rigidly. Most competitors are from Ostragya of course, but the priestesses can accept initiates of the Twelve from other countries as well. It is up to the local Priestesses to speak the final yea or nay to each applicant, though they must have a very good reason for refusing anyone who is apparently eligible. Members of the Houndsgor clan may take part in the contest for free. Even so, before the event the local lads fight it out amongst themselves to see who will take part, and only the very best come forward on the day. Ostragyan competitors must offer the priestesses a valuable gift of at least 200 sp value; others must pay a gift worth 400. It is permissible to enter the contest any number of years whilst one remains eligible, but a contestant may only be appointed Champion once.
Events and Scoring
Seven events make up the Suitor's Challenge. Generally first place receives three points, second place earns two, and third place earns one point. In cases of ties, the judges may award places by special judgments, or may devise a play-off. The contestant with the highest point tally at the end of the seven events is the winner of the Suitor's Challenge. If in the end two contestants have the same number of points, a duel to first blood is fought to determine the overall winner. This duel must be fought with ritual swords provided by the temple.
The priestesses serve as judges and referees. Some use their magic occasionally to watch for infringements against the 'no magic' rule, but typically rely on the 'Verify' spell after the event. If any contestant or judge protests of suspected irregularities, most of the priestesses, and even the head of the town guard have this spell. Priestesses prompt contestants with specific questions if they feel the truth is being evaded by sophistry. The priestesses speak briefly before each event, explaining the its ritual significance to contestants and spectators. (See "What the Priestesses Say" at the beginning of each day's events.) They also collectively perform various rituals before and after each event, to dedicate the contest to the Butterfly Girl and her suitors. The contestants are expected to join in these brief services, each demonstrating his piety and virtue by consecrating his performance to the Butterfly Girl and his patron deity, and petitioning the deities for signs of their favor.
Getting the Players involved
This campaign is intended for new players with characters who are not too experienced - it is suitable for characters in the 100-150 point range and also serves as a good introduction if you have players who are not familiar with Hero system, letting them test their characters' limits in a relatively non-lethal setting.
There are a variety of possibilities for getting the players involved:
- Characters could be adventuresome youths drawn to the festival by the chance to win, by the crowds and spectacle, a possibility to make money. In this case it can be assumed they know each other or form a friendship on the road.
- A wealthy Shiplord offers to pay the entrance fees for a favored group of servitors. (The Characters are newly created Armigers, or Characters known to the shiplord from earlier adventures)
- Krogar Wolfhelm, habitue of the Hunchback's tavern in Kasshert, swordmaster, Horned Man cultist, and suspected sympathizer with the rebels of Sillith, privately contacts certain Characters and offers to pay their entrance fees if they will swear to defend the honor of the Butterfly Girl against challengers from Heretic-ridden Samadria. He will be looking to recruit suitable challengers right up to the start of the competitions. (The Characters are cultists of the Twelve with anti-Samadrian sympathies.)
- Lord Raus generously offers to pay the entrance fees of any of his Armigers who wish to travel with him to Houndsgor and enter the Suitor's Challenge. (The Characters are Armigers in Raus' service, or are offered the entrance fees as a recruitment bonus, contingent upon contracting to Lord Raus' service.)
Whatever reason is used, it might seem rather odd that a group of related characters suddenly appear and make up the bulk of the contestants. However, although many travel from around the County to watch the events, of those that could afford it, few consider the large fee for an attempt to be Champion of Houndsgor worth the risk. The locals take it seriously, but they traditionally, field only 1-3 (depending on GM's needs) of their own candidates &endash; the risk of injury and the caliber of the external candidates means only the best try their luck. Normally 6-8 other competitors arrive and most of these report that they were suddenly inspired to attend. (Such is not remarkable in relation to traditional festivals strongly linked to myths.) To balance these contests in another way simply alter Carylon's details slightly, to produce as many extra local champions as required. This last option may prove unwieldy in running the individual contests however, due to high numbers of participants. In this case be prepared to drop some extraneous contestants due to serious injuries.
The Festival is intended be used as a background to a specific GM-devised plot, but not all characters need to participate in the contest. A player whose Character character does not participate in a given event may be involved in one of the side plots. Examples of plots using this approach include:
Describe each NPC's demeanor during the ritual services before and after each contest. Make NPC 'Oratory' or other communication ability tests if you like, or roleplay their actions. Then encourage the players to roleplay their Character's behaviors. Hint broadly that appeals meeting the approval of the gods may influence a character's fortunes on the field. And if you like, make it so. The easiest way to do this without massively unbalancing the contests would be to add +1 to rolls wherever appropriate. Make Carylon your model of an earnest hometown boy with pure motives and a bright spirit, and make sure he gets lots of breaks when the going is tough. For example, when you've decided that the Laughing God wishes to show his favor, reduce difficulty as suggested above, and simply explain to any overly inquisitive players that more goes on than mortals can ever know. Make Daro the opposite model, a character who does not gain favor in the eyes of the gods, the Butterfly Girl in particular. Perhaps at a critical moment he finds that the Earth itself is his enemy (qurrock stumbles), or that the Wind is against him (a breeze blows a stormapple out of his reach). Do not overplay this, Daro should be an interesting NPC, not a caricature. Simply decreasing each die roll he makes by 1 would do the job, presenting more opportunities for failures and fumbles.
Ideally the cheating contestants, as well as a significant number of red herrings amongst the innocent bystanders, should be used by the GM to spice things up. This gives plenty of unknown subjects for the suspicions of player-run Characters, and allows the GM complete control of most of the cheating. In most cases it is not normally a good plan to have the GM rolling dice for several NPCs in extended contests or each series of simple contests. However, in this scenario, such activities may add to the feelings of suspense and tension as races are run and fights observed. It can be part of the fun as the players watch the GM anxiously, to see how fast Jarst is running, how far Myrrhyn gets along the wall, and so on. Naturally, contests between NPCs with no direct Character involvement, should be simply described wherever possible.
The Eve of the Contests
The group of Characters should ideally arrive in the evening of the day before registration. If they are local, they might find bare accommodation in the crowded stable temporarily converted for visitors to bunk down. Otherwise they will need to camp in the fields, or pay through the nose to share what is little more than a cupboard at one of the other establishments. The town is filled to bursting with keen spectators. Shortly after they have settled in, Radak the Iron Knight leads a half cohort of Armigers from Kasshert into town. They make some effort to appear to be 'securing the area' before setting up camp next to the Parade Ground, but all they do is annoy people with their fancy ways and superior attitudes.
This spell allows the caster to detect lies. The caster must engage the target in conversation for a full minute. The caster can then tell whether the target has been lying during the course of the conversation.
Power: 6d6 Telepathy
Specific Modifiers: Invisible Power Effects (+1/2) Only for Detecting Lies (-1), Target must engage in conversation (-1/2), Extra Time: 1 minute (-1 1/2).
Active Cost = 45 points; END Cost: 4; Magic Roll: -4; Casting Time: 1 minute