This tournament gives a brief look at life in the Lunar Army, the mightiest military force in Glorantha. The player-characters are inexperienced soldiers keeping the peace in the troubled puppet-kingdom of Sartar, a recent conquest of the Lunar Empire.
The Lunar Empire
The player characters serve the Lunar Empire, perhaps the greatest political entity on the face of Glorantha and certainly one of the most hated and feared by outsiders. The Empire is ruled by Moonson, the ever-reincarnating Red Emperor. His mother, the Red Goddess, watches over her dominions from the Red Moon, an enormous ruby orb hanging in the heavens. Within the borders of the Lunar Empire (known as the Glowline), the Red Moon is always full. Beyond the Glowline, the moon slowly turns from red to black and back again over a week-long period. Lunar magic is at its most powerful when the moon is full, and weakest when the moon is black.
Lunar religion is all-embracing and tolerant. This tolerance is perhaps the basis of the hatred many outsiders have of the Empire, because Lunar dogma even accepts chaos.
The freedom-loving Sartarites worship Orlanth the Wind God, implacable foe of the Red Goddess, and the Storm Bull, implacable foe of chaos. The Kingdom of Sartar fell to the Lunars about 20 years ago, although rebellion continues to smoulder among the tribesfolk. While Lunar control over the countryside is effective and harsh, resistance - ranging from simple mere abuse to bushwhacking patrols, right through to full-scale tribal uprisings - continue. A bloody general uprising was brutally crushed about seven years ago.
It is into this explosive situation the player-characters find themselves.
Okay, the Lunars are the Romans. The Sartarites are a bit like Vikings, a bit like the Gauls in the Asterix Books and a bit like the Judean People's Front in Monty Python's Life of Brian. They fight like Mel Gibson's chums in Braveheart (or Woad Warrior as I prefer it). In fact, they do paint themselves in woad.
The first activitiy is to create the characters: use the Rune Metal Jacket MGF Character Sheet. Characters can be any race, age or background.
Invent rationales for joining army - here are some suggestions:
The VIIth Cohort of the 4th Furthest Foot, some 300 soldiers, based at Fort Equinox, near the Sartar village of Roundstone (so-called for the ring of standing stones on the hillside).
The VIIth Cohort is the lowest ranking in the regiment, primarily made up of new ('unblooded') recruits with a smattering of veterans from the other cohorts, many of them hard cases or old grizzled campaigners with a few seasons to go before retirement. Unblooded soldiers such as the PCs wear white cloaks; the seasoned vets are "blooded" and wear red.
The local Sambari tribe are fairly quiet, but the outlawed Firebull
Clan who hide out in the nearby Storm Hills are said to be responsible
for much of the unrest and mayhem in the district. Barely a week
goes by without some act of violence against the Lunar occupiers or those
who collaborate with them.
There are no hard-and-fast rules. Things happen, spells work, weapons hit at the discretion of the GM using the MGF principle: Maximum Game Fun. In any situation, go with whatever you think will have the most MGF potential. If you want to randomize things, you could use some dice, though I have used the tops off beer bottles just as effectively in the past. The important thing is to have fun!
The action begins after dark. The PCs have been out on a bender, getting rid of their loose change at the soldiers' tavern in town, the Sword & Sickle (more commonly known as "Beer & Brawl").
Unfortunately, it's now dark and the curfew will soon be called (by a drummer on the tower). The gates to Fort Equinox have been closed for the night, and will only be opened if the correct watchword is given.
The PCs must get back into the fort. Breaking curfew and drunkenness are both flogging offenses.
Giving an incorrect watchword might provoke the jumpy watch into flinging some javelins or even the siege ballista!
One of the PCs is certain the watchword for tonight is "Victory" ; however, another is certain the watchword is "Knickers". Another swears it is "Drill Optio Dacretia is a po-faced ponce". Everyone else can't be sure.
Improvise all sorts of high jinks as the PCs attempt to get into the
fort. Pretending they're under attack by the rebels is a good ploy,
and the fort might send out "the tortoise" to rescue them! Eventually,
by some means or other they should get in.
The next morning the reveille is beaten, rousing the PCs from their beds (hangovers all round?)
The PCs head off to the mess tent for breakfast, the infamous Lunar Gruel. This gooey slop is said to have magical properties, and as gruel goes, it don't taste too bad when it's hot and you can dribble some honey on it. (Eaten regularly over a period of months, the gruel endows the consumer with additional powers of endurance, though eaters may develop insomnia).
A few seasoned vets (sly, cunning, plausible) join them at table, spooking the PCs with rumours about the Firebull rebels, eg, "they're cannibals, they is!" and "I've heard tell they're planning something big soon, I'd hate to be on patrol detail up in the Storm Hills this month!"
The vets also offer some honey to put on the gruel, "Eat up while it's hot, son!"
While talking, mime the vets stirring their gruel and not eating.
If you eat it straight away, Lunar Gruel sits like a hard knot in your
stomach all day, causing constipation and sluggishness. The trick
is to stir it until it cools.
After mess, the parade is called. Drill Optio Dacretia (sadistic, bullying, bastard) gives the inspection. The seasoned vets have a spare uniform that they wear specifically for this occasion.
Dacretia looks exactly like the spitting, furious Roman centurion whose always bawling out the Roman soldiers in those Asterix books. Underneath his permanent five o'clock shadow, Dacretia has very white, very long teeth. He is an ogre, and at least some of the disappearances of lone troopers can be pinned down to him - Dacretia occasionally gets the urge to feed.
Somehow, Dacretia knows the PCs had a late night last night, and he singles them out for some special skills training: "I'm only going to say this once: when I say 'jump', be sure you do it. Understood?"
After getting fervent nods of understanding, Dacretia then inspects each of the PCs, passing down each line and saying something derogatory to everyone. Be as abusive and offensive as possible. This guy has recruits for lunch (quite literally, as it seems). Finally, he turns on one of the player characters: "Alrright soldier, let's see if you've learned. You! mgufflw vommff!"
"I SAID 'CONTACT FRONT' YOU DUMB BASTARD! DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?"
Before the startled player character has a chance to answer, Dacretia bellows, "IT MEANS YOU JUMP!"
Unless the hapless victim jumps immediately , Dacretia seizes him by the collar, and with surprising ease, whirls him over his head and throws him to the ground. If the character is savvy enough to drop to the floor straightaway, Dacretia kicks him in the face. He wants to see blood. Once he has, it's back to his sweet-talking voice,"Right. Now, all of you: Contact Front!"
Ask the players what they do: if it's anything but "jump" they are in for a beating.
Just as Dacretia is finishing having his fun, the Centurion Civius (forthright, self-important, gullible) arrives to give her address. She first asks what Dacretia is doing ("just some impromptu drill, sir!"). She gives the PCs a chance to respond, but probably takes sides with Dacretia if there is a complaint.
Civius announces that the Fort is going to receive a special honour: the Lady Dushan, a Priestess of the Red Moon will be arriving this afternoon to give the Cohort a special blessing!
Civius then retires, and Dacretia gives out the various details, "Ist Maniple, on the watch tower, IInd maniple, patrol to the west... VIIth maniple, go to the quartermaster and trade your spears for spades, you're on latrine duty!" The PCs then spend the rest of the day digging a new latrine pit, about 2 meters away from the old one, which is almost overflowing. Yecch!
Dacretia puts one of the group in charge, and says he wants a pit 2
meters deep and 5 meters wide by dinner time, because its Teshnan Vindaloo
tonight! If they don't get it done, he says the new latrine pit will
come into use anyway, and they'll have to keep digging through the night.
Improvise the day's duty, and whether they get the job done or not!
(Note: the Vindaloo will dissolve the hard knot of Lunar Gruel inside the
gut of anyone who scoffed it hot).
The Standard Which We All Aspire To
Lady Dushan (zealous, fanatical, deranged) arrives - a great strapping bloke with a bushy black beard. As the military represents Moonson and the masculine aspect of the Empire, the priesthood represents the feminine side and the Goddess. Therefore, all military officers whether male or female are addressed as "Sir" and all priests are addressed as "Madam".
With Dushan comes a signifier, one of the standard bearers of the regiment. The banner around the standard is white, signifying that this, the lowly VIIth Cohort, is yet to be blooded. The signifier plants the standard into the ground in the centre of the parade ground.
As dusk falls, a parade is called and Dushan leads the Cohort in a religious
service. The Red Moon, almost full, glorious and triumphant in its
conquest of the heavens, rides above the fort as Lady Dushan chants (PCs
give the responses):
The cycles of the Moon are night the circles of our lives;
The Crimson Goddess holds her court amidst her Seven wives:
Priestess of the Black Moon, source of Lunar magic;
Teelo Norri: (TEELO NORRI!)
Young life of the Crescent, aid to need that's tragic;
Healer of the wounded, Empty Half that binds within;
The Goddess: (THE GODDESS!)
Mistress of the Heavens, to her glory softly sing;
Yanafarl Tarnils: (YANAFARL TARNILS!)
Full half wields the Sword that swiftly strikes the blow for honour;
Irripi Ontor: (IRRIPI ONTOR!)
Teacher of the Words ,with the Crescent comes the learned;
Danfive Xaron: (DANFIVE XARON!)
Keeper of the Gate, the Dying Moon that watches over;
Seven Gods for Seven Ways;
Hear the Voices, Feel the Power,
Lift your hearts and
Sing the Praise!
Lady Dushan then gives a fire-and brimstone harangue, spit flying from his mouth, about how it is the Lunar destiny to rule the world and how those who oppose her will be crushed under the mailed sandal of Moonson's mighty armies. Stirring stuff.
The fanatical priest then decides to have an impromptu chat with the assembled ranks, picking out random troopers (eg. the PCs) and asking them Dorothy Dixers with a rabid gleam in his eyes, eg, "You like to spit Sartarite babies on the end of your spear, don't you , son?" When the PCs respond, don't forget to call him "Madam".
The service finishes with Dushan announcing that Games will be held
tomorrow (hurrah! - no latrine duty). Dushan says that he is looking
for the 'Perfect Soldier', someone who could be the sort of standard all
others could aspire to.
Dushan is looking for someone to sacrifice into the regimental standard, but the PCs don't know that (or only suspect it). You see, Lunar regiments quite literally have an espirit d'corps. There are prizes for winning each of the contests, and Dushan hints at promotion, new postings, and good favour for volunteers. As it turns out, all or most of the PCs get "volunteered" by Dacretia to take part in the contests, even if some aren't willing. A number of the seasoned vets also get volunteered, and the PCs notice Dacretia winking at them.
The Veterans are looking for a likely candidate from amongst the PCs,
who they will try to let win most or all of the events. It would
be even more fun for them if two PCs win an equal number, and then have
to duke it out at the end to see who is pronounced the 'Perfect Soldier'.
Game of Shield Push
The PCs play the Veterans. Form a line of interlocking shields, try to either break through the other team's shield wall or push them back behind a line in the sand (sort of like a tug-of-war). The Vets give way at the last moment.
Prize: a cask of gin for the winning team to share.
One of the Vets is in the lead, but slips just at the finishing line allowing a PC to win.
Prize: a fine new pair of sandals.
Lifting a heavy barrel over one's head and holding it there for as long as possible. Just as one of the PCs is about to have their turn a Veteran claps him on the back and says, "Good luck, son!" He's actually cast a powerful Strength spell, and the PC is able to lift and hold the barrel easily!
Prize: the barrel, which is full of premium-grade mock salted mock-pork. The PCs can either retain it or flog it down at the village for great profit.
Lobbing javelins at a target, a straw dummy dressed up as a Sartarite rebel. Of course, the Vets javelines go all over the place!
Prize: a finely-crafted javlin that Dushan swears will "fly long and true, hitting its target fairly in the chops" (whatever that means).
Dushan crumbles a piece of moon rock, summoning a lune - a Lunar elemental. It then envelopes a target. Lunes provoke fear, madness, terror and panic, and it's probably not play-acting when the Vets run away screaming. Just before the contest, one of them gives a PC a chunk of moon rock, saying if you put it in your mouth, you gain courage against the lune. What it actually does is attract the lune, which will chase the PC all over the compound! This brings Dushan to pious tears: "the light of the Goddess obvious burns bright in his soul - look how the lune follows him around, wanting to pay him homage!"
Prize: a chunk of moon rock, that glows with the phases of the Red Moon.
Regardless of the outcomes of the contest, one of the PCs is somehow
chosen as the embodiment of the 'Perfect Soldier' and crowned with a circlet
of laurel leaves. He is then led away by Lady Dushan and is not seen
until the next evening.
Full Moon Rising
Being the Day of the Full Moon, today is a Holy Day and therefore one of light duties. If the PCs ask about their friend, they hear he is in the special care of the Lady Dushan. A couple of seasoned Vets give a nudge, nudge, wink, wink as a Uleria priestess and several of her attendants are brought into the fort by Dushan's acolytes. If the PCs are insistent and finally get into Dushan's tent, they find that the chosen PC has been blissfully drugged, and is being paired with specially chosen members of the opposite sex, under the auspices of Uleria priestess and her Reproduce spells. He has also been receiving special castings of such spells as Strength, Endurance, Vigor, Coordination etc, because the Lunars believe that the state of the father at conception affects the child (a sort of weird Lamarkian-style genetics that might probably be true in Glorantha!).
That evening, everyone must assemble in the parade ground in their full uniform.
With the full moon rising above him, Dushan and the officers of the fort lead out the chosen PC, who looks drugged and blissfully unaware of his surroundings. The priest's party stands before the standard, its white banner fluttering listlessly in the breeze.
In a hushed, reverential whisper, Dushan addresses the Cohort: "Here we have the winner of the Games, the Perfect Soldier. You see before you what the Goddess has wrought within him. He is as he is because of Her. He is as you would wish to be, a reflection of your selves, made up of you in part, making you in part. He is one, yet contain multitudes. Multitudes dedicated to the Goddess. He is legion, he is the standard to which you are all held. So I speak, so the Goddess affirms."
With this, a red glow emanates from the Lady Dushan, Civius and the other officers, the Winner, and the whole Cohort, including the PCs. This glow coalesces around the Winner, raises him up over the dias and the white training banner he stood in front of. With great care, almost tenderness, the glowing force impales the Winner on the standard.
With supernatural force, blood erupts from the Winner, showering the entire legion with red. The Winner's blood soaks the white banner, turning it a deep crimson.
Eerily, only a single drop strikes each legionnaire, just at the shoulder where their white cloak is pinned on. With eldrich speed, this single drop spreads across the cloak of each soldier, causing the cloaks to turn red as well.
The Cohort is now blooded.
The PC-spirit in the standard now gets to choose which of his comrades will have the honour of being his signifier. This is done by placing the PCs around the standard, and letting the PC-spirit make it fall towards his choice. The spirit and the signifier are now in telepathic contact, and so now read each others' 5 things no-one knows about you sections. Civius also asks Dacretia which of the remaining PCs would make the best choice as Leader of Seven (corporal) - he picks out the PC that has toadied him the most, regardless of merit.
The parade ends with everyone singing a lusty rendition of the New Lunar Anthem. The gin barrels are then rolled out, and the party begins. (Optional, the PCs catch Dacretia in the act of his 'feeding'; otherwise, the body of a young recruit, his throat horribly gashed, is found in the morning just outside the fort and blame is immediately pinned on the rebels).
As the celebrations continue, all of a sudden a black shape descends
from the night sky, screeching. It is a Wyvern and rider, bearing
dispatches and a shackled prisoner, with bowed head and flaming red hair
and a plaited beard. Could it be one of the Firebulls? Civius,
Dushan and the other officers retire to read the urgent message and the
prisoner is led away to the stockade.
The PC-spirit now resides in the standard. The spirit can interact with the others, but its contact with the material world is limited to little more than making the standard fall over in a specific direction. The PC-spirit has the following ill-defined powers, which can be used at any time:
13. Mission Possible
An hour earlier than normal, the drummer calls parade, and everyone assembles, with sleepy eyes and aching heads.
The Wyvern Rider is gone, and it looks like Civius and Dushan haven't slept a wink. In a hoarse voice, Civius announces that Enstalos Tribe to the east have killed the Lunar tax collector and rebelled, joining with the Firebulls! The Cohort is march out against them immediately. They must be crushed before the whole of Sartar rises up with them against the Lunars! Three cheers!
As the Cohort prepares to move out, Dacretia orders the PCs to see Civius:
"she's got a special job for you. Now, jump to it!" The special
job is, to Civius's mind, a great honour. Carrying the standard aloft,
they are to take the prisoner who arrived last night with the Wyvern Rider
up into the rocky hills above Roundstone. There, at a point called
Picnic Rock, the rebels have constructed a number of Cursing Towers.
These towers have windsock-like arrangements on the top of them which supposedly
blow curses upon those in their path - Fort Equinox, for one. The
PCs are instructed to remove the windsock, and then hang the prisoner from
the tower. "That'll show 'em whose boss around here", says Lady Dushan,
almost foaming at the mouth in sadistic delight.
Hanging at Picnic Rock
The prisoner is Mavrek Firebull (cynical, ironic, self-confident), a Firebull rebel to be sure, who was largely responsible for raising the Enstalos tribe against the taxman. Mavrek cleverly let it slip about the cursing towers, and more or less goaded Dushan into the plan to have him hanged there.
The Cohort marches out, marching in time to the drummers and singing Men of Furthest lustily. Meanwhile, with one of the party carrying a coil of heavy rope, VIIth Maniple takes the prisoner to his hanging at Picnic Rock.
Mavrek speaks fluent New Pelorian (the Lunar language), and until he is silenced, alternately goads the PCs with insults, attempts to bribe them, and appeals for mercy ("lemme go, nobody will ever know"). If one of the PCs is a Sartar spy, he gives a secret signal.
As Picnic Rock looms nearer, it becomes a lot windier than before, and the cursing tower appears, their windsocks moaning and wailing in the breeze. Suddenly, a chill creeps over the PCs, and things start to go wrong: someone stubs a toe, someone else drops their shield, an armour strap breaks, a strange sense of foreboding permeates the air. Hmm, must be those towers...
Yes, there is an ambush of course, but it doesn't happen until the PCs
actually hang Mavrek (or at least try to kill him). Mavrek summons
an air elemental to support him, and unless it is attacked and killed,
he just hangs there. Meanwhile, a group of Firebull rebels burst
from he surrounding scrub, yelling murderous cries. The are clad
in skins and bits of filched armour, and armed with all manner of nasty
weapons - axes, swords, meat cleavers, etc. Until the windsocks from
both cursing towers are removed, the PCs continue to have bad luck in the
combat. The towers are approximately 15 meters high and made of a
number of sapling trunks lashed together as a sort of tripod.
Beer and Medals
To win through, the PCs must extricate themselves and either return to the fort or find their unit. Beer and medals all round if they manage to do all or most of: hang Claymore, kill/drive off/capture rebels, remove windsocks/destroy towers, get back in one piece.
In they do badly, especially if they lose the standard, they are assigned
to General Roan-Ur's Danfive Xaron Punishment Legion (known as The Dirty
Six Hundred), currently stationed at the fringes of the Chaos Woods
near Dorastor. If they do well, each PC is awarded the Death Rune
and Sickle Medal and is promoted Leader of Seven with their own file of
new recruits! The PC who was already a Leader of Seven is brevetted
to Drill Optio, Dacretia having finally been caught out and sent back to
desk job at the Quartermaster-General's office, in charge of the Salt-meat
and Seasoning Commissary.
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