Thursday, 28 August 2014

Runequest solo - part I, Murder in Anzakàr

"I'm so bored!" sighed Lachaidiga as she sat brushing her hair for the fourth time that day. Her friend Nillath, the fair priestess of the Sun, looked on with sweet concern as she handed her a golden headband.

"In the three weeks," she said, "since you completed your studies at the Sorcerers' College, you've done nothing but lay about the villa complaining of boredom."

"Not true! I've also attended plenty of dinner parties -- full of tiresome people with nothing to say."

"Oh?" responded the priestess. "I shan't force your ladyship to endure another evening in my tiresome presence."

"You know perfectly well I'm not talking about you, dear heart. I'd forgotten how superficial society is. I've spent the past ten years talking to scholars."

"You've spent the past ten years talking to Serpentfolk. I'm surprised you didn't come out with a lisp!"

The hairbrush sailed past the priestess in a wide arc and skittered over the marble floor.

"And now," says the sorceress, "my dear brother informs me that my presence is needed yet again, whilst his precious wife is away tending her sick mother. 'A very important meeting', he says, 'for the City and for our family', he says, 'and I need you to accompany me and be gracious and charming'. Why didn't he just tell me to smile and keep my mouth shut; it's what he was thinking!"

"I can hardly imagine why."

"And you," continues the sorceress, undaunted, "shan't even be there to keep me company. Oh, why can't you come?"

"You know very well, my treasure, that I have duties at the temple. I really must away before dusk. Now finish your hair, put on your gown, and promise me you'll be a good girl and not cause any diplomatic incidents. To-morrow is a festal day. We can go watch the procession and make fun of the sea-priests' hats."

[My toolbox for the adventure:
Ruleset: Runequest 6
GM: Mythic & Mythic Variations
Random idea generator: random pictures, as explained in the preceding posts
Random encounters:  Cities (2nd ed.) by Midkemia Press, also random pictures
NPC stats: RQ 6 Encounter Generator (I've saved a bunch of randomly generated NPCs on PDFs)
Treasure: 2nd ed. Runequest has perfectly serviceable treasure tables
Rumours: my Rumours system

At least, that's a start. Most things should come of a combination of Mythic and random pictures. As it's going to be an urban adventure, I will roll once on the Cities encounter table(s) whenever my PC moves around an area of the city. I doubt I will be mapping the city at any point, but should the adventure move beyond it I'll generate something with Hexographer.

For the first adventure, I will be using only one PC (Lachaidiga, the sorceress), but the other two characters I rolled up (an elite warrior and a priest of the City god) are waiting in the wings as quasi-PCs in case an actual party becomes necessary. But enough with the preliminaries.

For the first adventure, I'm using the Mystery theme from Mythic Variations. My plan/hope is that when the mystery is solved, the next adventure can come right off the back of whatever dastardly plans are revealed. I rolled a random setup for the actual start, since 'the PC is brushing her hair' is hardly a good starting point for adventure [though in point of fact I did roll to see if the thrown hairbrush hit. Since Lachaidiga does not have Combat Style (toilet articles), her attack% is the default STR+DEX. She rolled a 77, missing]. Instead of using the Event Focus tables in Mythic to determine the event focus, I picked out a picture to illustrate it at random:

Scene 1

chaos: 5

Setup: (random) Remote Event.  So this is just foreshadowing. Normally this isn't the sort of thing I like in RPGs; I'd rather not tell the players anything their characters aren't present for. But I was hoping the pictures would lend the proceedings a storybook quality, so I suppose I can't complain. Also, when I chose 'mystery', I was thinking more along the lines of a conspiracy rather than a straight-up murder mystery. But that's the joy of Mythic: never quite knowing where things are headed.

1. (the murderer or murderers)
2. Ay-Meddush, the merchant
3. Huollof, the caravan leader
4. (a barbarian delegation in the city)

Threads: none yet

A group of merchants and diplomats have gathered to discuss important trade agreements. The barbarians far to the north (across the sea) are the only known source of iron. Certain barbarian clans ship it down from their homeland to the port (a town wholly controlled by the aristocracy of Anzakàr). After the City takes its share (as a tax), the rest is sold on. Powerful nomad caravan masters are then hired to transport iron safely through the wastelands where it can be traded to other, smaller human cities.

Tonight, Ay-Meddush, a wealthy Anzakarite trader is meeting with the renowned caravan master Huollof and the barbarian Prince Hurthred in the home of one of the cities more influential families. But as the dignitaries leave their entourages to repair to a more private room, a grim discovery is made: the barbarian prince has been brutally murdered!

Scene 2

chaos: increases to 6

Setup: since scene 1 was a remote event, I'm going with another random setup (just Mythic this time) to see how my PC gets drawn in - NPC action: (1d4=) the barbarian delegation -  Inspect / Friendship (The barbarian delegation will come to call at Lachaidiga's family villa, to solicit help)

Modified?(yes if a 1d10 roll under chaos factor): 1, yes -- altered scene; the murder happened in villa itself (whilst she was tarrying upstairs); the barbarians are now treating the hosts as circumspect.

1. (the murderer or murderers)
2. Ay-Meddush, the merchant
3. Huollof, the caravan leader
4. (a barbarian delegation in the city)

1. solve murder

[Q: Do the barbarians completely freak out? 50/50: 66, no +Event: PC positive - Trust / The intellectual]

Having arranged her hair and put on her most opaque gown (those barbarians are such prudes!), Lachaidiga is on the point of leaving her apartments when one of the servants bursts in the door.

"Oh, mistress, it's horrible! The Master is trying to clam the guests but everyone is shouting and making accusations! His temper is beginning to flare. Please mistress, come down and help."

"Oh, no! Not a chance. Whatever they're all on about, I am most assuredly not interested, and not going to get involved."

"Mistress, you don't understand. There-- there's been a murder!"

[What shall our heroine do? Her inner turmoil can be modelled by a test of her Insight skill vs. her Passion (Hates her brother). The deleterious effect of having her brother implicated in murder makes the Insight check easy (skill level increased by 1/2). D% rolls are Insight 36 (success) vs. Passion 60 (failure).]

Rationality wins out over the brief impulse to let her brother make a mess of things, and she rushes down to help.

She strides into the room to find the dignitaries and their parties all making wild accusations around the body lying crumpled against the wall in a pool of blood. Her screams for quiet, unsurprisingly, go unheeded. In desperation she picks up a large silver tray of pickled mushrooms and other delicacies and hurls it against a low column. The clattering of the metal against marble gets the assembled throng's attention.

"You always did love a grand entrance, dear sister."

"Oh, be quiet. Has anyone here done anything other than shout and make accusations? No? Anyone examined the body? It's still warm. Has anyone checked the room or the street? Whoever did this couldn't have gone that far... well, by now they could have. Everyone just stay where you are and let me look."

"Don't trust her!" shouts one of the barbarians. "Never trust a sorceress!"

"Hold your tongue, Ragnild!" says the barbarian chieftain. "Her words ring true."

[This is the Mythic PC positive - Trust / The Intellectual event.

It will be a hard (skill reduced by 1/3) Perception check to figure out exactly what killed the barbarian. Skill of 48 -1/3 = 32%; d% roll 14 = success. I asked Mythic a series of Unlikely questions to figure out the clue.

Q: Q: Was the Barbarian killed with poison? No (good, I don't have to photoshop out the blood to make the picture match). Weapons? No. Magic? No. His own dagger? No. By a monster? Yes (photoshop in more blood, then).]

"Look here," says Lachaidiga, "these are claw marks. And here... and here. But see how they're shaped. Look, it's almost like fingernails... only sharper. And this bite mark. I don't know what did this but it wasn't an animal. Not a natural one, anyway..."

[Q: Are there bloody footsteps leading out of house?  Unlikely 22, Yes +Event: PC Negative (random picture)]

Lachaidiga looks further about the room, and sees a bloody half-footprint. A few paces further is another, and another. The trail goes faint, but it appears as if the assailant fled out a window into the street. Lachaidiga runs out the servants' back entrance into the side street, where she finds a crowd of soldiers, labourers, and other servants from the neighbourhood gathered.

"How can we trust them?" shouts a rabble-rouser. "They're always plotting something against us. And they call themselves our betters! They allow violence in their own homes! Violence against the likes of us, brothers and sisters! Why, I heard shouting coming from this fine house here: the house of the wicked sorceress. And screams of pain! Then I saw her emerge with blood on her hands!"

[Q: Does the city watch take Lachaidiga in for questions? 50/50: 96, Exceptional No.]

Some of the crowd speak in assent, but the flustered guardsmen do not listen to their wild stories and order them to calm down and disperse. Lachaidiga pleads with the crowd [Influence (63%) check. D% = 50, success] for anyone who actually saw anything to come forward, but no one did [according to Mythic]. Frustrated, she is about to go back into the house, but pauses for a word with the guardsman.

"I don't suppose there's any way I could convince you not to report this until the morning. These barbarians are so volatile, but I think they trust me, and if I get a head start I can solve this. For the good of the City."

[It will take a Formidable (1/2 skill, so 32%) Influence check to convince him. A roll of 43 is a failure.]

"Sorry, m'lady, but I dare not. If the rumours reach the prefect's ears before my report, they'll send me to the mines for certain!"

scene 3

chaos: back down to 5, as she was more on top of things than not in the last scene

Setup: on next day, talk to barbarians to look for clues

Modified? 2= interrupt: New NPC (random picture)

1. (the murderer or murderers)
2. Ay-Meddush, the merchant
3. Huollof, the caravan leader
4. (a barbarian delegation in the city)
5. prefect (PC's enemy)

1. solve murder

The following morning, Lachaidiga gets a very early start, hoping to be out of the house when the prefect or his agents arrive for the inevitable interrogation. She sets out into the streets in her palanquin, promising the bearers an extra piece each for their exertions; she has a lot of places to go today.

As they are making their way through the wealthy quarter, another litter coming towards them in a narrow street suddenly turns to block their way. The brocaded silk curtains concealing the other litter's occupant are brushed aside from within by a bejewelled hand. A man's elegantly coiffured head pokes out.

[Q: What do they want? Spy / Dispute. Interpretation: nosey neighbour!
Note to self: his stats are Maruthus (Civilised Noble 2), rq_Wealthy_family.pdf]

"Ah, Lachaidiga, dearest lady! Allow me to extend to you the blessings of the day. What brings you out of doors at such an early hour? Not more unpleasantness at home, I hope; I heard what happened to that barbarian. Shocking that those brutes would do this to one another in your family home. Absolutely shocking!"

[It will take an opposed roll of Lachaidiga's Courtesy(45%) vs. his Willpower (56%) to get him to go away: rolling 10 (success) vs. 62 (failure), Lachaidiga succeeds handily.]

"Oh, Maruthus, it was simply awful. I'm sure I shall have to spend many an hour in front of the prefect -- perhaps even the magistrates! But do not fret, good Maruthus, I shall make sure to tell them that you have no small knowledge of this ghastly affair."

"Oh, no, no! My lady, you misunderstand me. I have merely heard report of these tragic events. No, I must proclaim great ignorance. I only wished to enquire after your health... as a concerned neighbour. But I should not detain you from your business. Servants, walk on!"

scene 4

chaos: 4

Setup: talk to the barbarians to look for clues

1. (the murderer or murderers)
2. Ay-Meddush, the merchant
3. Huollof, the caravan leader
4. (a barbarian delegation in the city)
5. prefect (PC's enemy)
6. Maruthus, the nosy neighbour

1. solve murder

[Note: The detective asking the suspects questions is a major part of the murder mystery genre, but relies on the writer knowing what happened to come off properly. This absolutely doesn't work for my adventure, since everything is developing via die rolls. So these first interrogation sequences are going to seem a bit heavy on the game mechanics and a bit light on anything else, as dropping subtle clues is honestly an impossibility.]

The barbarian delegation is staying at one of the finer inns in the wealthy quarter of the City. Lachaidiga sends one of her servants inside to announce her and request an audience. She is ushered inside by a pair of sneering and surly -- not to mention heavily-armed -- barbarian warriors. Within the barbarian's apartments she is witness to a pitiable sight. The murdered prince lies in state on a bed, his disconsolate mother in tears beside. Ulevaard, the chieftain, rises when he sees her, and silently motions her into a side chamber where they may speak in private.

"I was wondering when you'd get here," begins Ulevaard. "The city prefect came late last night with some of his soldiers and a priest, and a serpent man wearing the death rune. They, shall we say, requested some time alone to examine the prince. They came out a while later not much wiser than they went in. The prefect told us we must remain here until this is solved. The serpent assured us that we should not worry, that he had banished the spirits of decay from the room. We're not such ignorant and fearful savages that we don't understand sorcery, you know. I hope you will not treat us with such contempt."

"I wouldn't dream of it," says Lachaidiga. "Tell me, can you think of anyone in the City who would wish you or your family ill?"

[Q: Do the barbarians have any personal enemies in the city? 50/50: 02, Exceptional yes.

Who? A priestess of the god of Knowledge
Why? Harm / Reality]

"There is a high priestess, Izzeri-zatah. She looks down on us, on all the clans, and wishes to end our trade with Anzakàr. She is one of those who believe our iron to be cursed, and has said very publicly -- and on more than one occasion -- that she would see us destroyed ourselves before we bring doom to your City."

"I know of her; she's a priestess of Ziburrun, the god of knowledge. Violence is abhorrent to them. Their sect is even immune from militia service."

"She is the only one who moves against us. The only one of consequence, that is."

"Did the prince have any personal enemies here? Perhaps this isn't about trade or politics at all."

[Q: Is there something Ulevaard will refuse to tell Lachaidiga? Somewhat likely: 17, Yes.
Insight (58%) roll to realise he's holding back: 24, success.
Influence (63%) roll opposed by Ulevaard's Willpower (71%) to get him to spill beans: 95 vs. 36, such a failure!]

"Look, this is the first time I, the prince, or his poor mother has ever set foot in your city, and once this business is concluded I hope it be the last. I have no idea why anyone would want him dead. I've already been over all of this with the prefect and his men, so unless you have anything further to add, I shall return to the side of my grieving wife. Good day!"


  1. I've been gearing up for my own bit of solo-playing recently, and your point about being unable to drop subtle hints or rumors about unexplored areas when randomly generating the adventure is well taken.

  2. I almost didn't write up the investigation scenes at all (see next post). I was just going to list the clues and skill checks in summary fashion. It did seem a bit bland thatway though, so iwnet backand put them into proper scenes. I'm hoping that something i wrte in one of them will turn out to have been a subtle hint in retrospect -- Mythic willing.

    And I'm looking forward to the continuation of your Epirus Nova campaign.

  3. I am looking forward to see where this goes.

    -- Jeff

    1. So am I. It's a bit of a grand experiment at the moment.