The Quest of the White Horses


Copyright 1997 by Peter Maranci

The White Horse HeroQuest is based on wild conjecture about elements of the excerpt of "A History of My Black Horse Troop" which was published many years ago in Chaosium's RuneQuest Companion. It's not necessary to have read that article to run or play the scenario, but it would probably enhance the adventure.

This Quest focuses on social interaction, imagination, and negotiation. As such, the GM must make on-the-fly responses to unexpected PC actions. In some cases potential actions are suggested, but it is both likely and desirable that the PCs will not follow a rigid path of action. The playtest party's actions are noted in italics as an indicator to the GM of possible reactions.

Starting Hook

Players may be inspired to attempt this quest by finding a section of A History of My Black Horse Troop, written by the Hero known as Sir Ethilrist. Note that this information is not part of the fragment published in the RuneQuest Companion, and is entirely my own invention. If players have a truly desperate need for speed, they may choose to attempt the White Horse Quest.

In play, the party was in pursuit of a woman who they believed had been kidnapped. Her captors had a long lead on the PCs, and were making good time; at best, the party could catch up only slowly. On the advice of a Lankhor Mhy party member, the group therefore decided to attempt the White Horse Quest.

History

Long before he led the Black Horse Troop, the man who became Sir Ethilrist was a warrior and soldier. At one point he led a patrol to scout a hostile approaching force. His patrol encountered an enemy patrol, and in the resulting skirmish all but two men were killed: Sir Ethilrist and an opposing horseman. Rather than fight the foe turned tail and galloped in the direction of his army, which was roughly a day's ride away. Sir Ethilrist took chase, but was quickly unhorsed when his mount stumbled and broke two legs. Ethilrist knew that if the surviving foe contacted his army, the enemy would have a tactical advantage against his troops. Ethilrist himself faced the strong likelihood of capture, dishonor, and even death if the enemy messenger wasn't stopped.

According to Ethilrist's after-the-fact diary, it was at this point that his "great need and iron will" enabled him to break through to the God Time. Finding himself in a high place, he made his way down toward the Horse Plain, on the way meeting several strange creatures, an unusual bush, and a lake. On the Horse Plain he met and bargained with the Solar Equus for swift transportation. Being a spirit of great power the Equus would not bear Ethilrist itself, but in exchange for some gifts it gave him permission to travel to the High White Plateau and request the service of its subjects, the White Horses.

Making his way to the plateau, Ethilrist persuaded the White Horses of his Heroic virtue and obtained a steed. With his new mount, he was able to swiftly ride out of the Hero Plane. Once back in Glorantha it was a simple matter to run down the enemy messenger and slay him.

When Ethilrist returned to his army, however, he found it preparing to disband. A dishonorable peace had been made in his absence. In disgust, he spent the next several years as a mercenary. Over that time he recruited warriors to his band, and developed the White Horse HeroQuest to allow his men to gain their own magical steeds. The hard training and discipline of the cadre, and the superior qualities of the White Horses, made the White Horse Troop the most mobile and effective small unit in the region.

Completion of the White Horse HeroQuest was a requirement to join Ethilrist's White Horse Troop. The eventual version involved prayer circles to support the quester, jeweled saddles which could have significance for later HeroQuests, and special gifts for the entities of the God Time. One gift that is specifically mentioned is blessed grain.

A short footnote late in the work mentions that years later Ethilrist found it necessary to sacrifice the White Horses in order to gain the more powerful Black Horses for which he was best known.

Opening Move

Once the party has decided to attempt the White Horse Quest, they must find a way to gain access to the Hero Plane. The GM's vision of HeroQuesting determines what methods are available. If the GM prefers that access be limited, a material component may be necessary: a rare powder or liquid that is consumed upon use. Alternatively the quest may be possible only at certain times of the year. If more flexibility is needed but some limitation is desired (which I highly recommend, since it's a bad idea to allow indiscriminate HeroQuesting), the support of a minimum number of initiates and rune level NPCs as a prayer circle may be necessary.

The details of the group's entry into the God Time is up to the individual GM, of course.

In play, the group gained the support of a large number of rune- level supporters. Loading their horses with custom-made jeweled saddles and a variety of odd objects that they hoped would be useful, they started the quest at an auspicious hour in a sacred grove. As the chanting rose and fell, the PCs felt strength and power flowing into them. The world seemed the same, but different -- and in the distance they saw a grove of huge trees that had not been there before. Riding swiftly towards the grove, they passed under the massive outlying branches. Soon low brush began to grow higher and higher, impeding their passage and requiring successful Ride rolls to continue. The group penetrated further and further into the seemingly endless grove, until suddenly they burst forth into open air. Although they were clearly no longer in the mundane world, the chanting of their prayer circle continued to sound faintly in their ears throughout the adventure.

The characters emerge onto the Hero Plane in a small valley on a high mountain top. Before them the valley slopes downward, opening at the end to reveal far-off, low-lying vistas. Behind them even taller mountains rise upward, the furthest ones apparently touching the sky.

The valley is pleasant and quiet. A babbling stream runs from one end to the other, downhill. Tall grasses wave in the breeze. Colors seem brighter here, more vivid. Even the air has an electrifying quality.

Bathing in the stream is a small pudgy humanoid figure, less than a meter tall. If it becomes aware of the PCs, it tries to run and hide in the grass. If caught, it weeps, bemoaning its fate, and unceasingly attempts to appear pathetic. It claims to have no name.

This creature is an avatar of the Flesh Man, the pathos of mortal humanity made manifest. It knows little, but feels a great deal. It will do anything it can to escape and survive, if necessary trying to lull the party into relaxing their guard before dashing off into the grass. It has a nearly perfect ability to hide, if given the chance. It has a dull, defeated voice and sounds stupider than it is. "I don't know" and "please don't hurt me" are the most common phrases in its vocabulary.

Before very long, a successful Listen roll detects sounds coming from upstream. They are irregular hoofbeats moving at a slow pace (if the party is distracted at this point, Flesh Man attempts to escape). As they come closer the party sees Donkey, an equine spirit. In appearance, it is a large, handsome donkey.

Donkey is a comparatively friendly spirit, and talks with the party if they are polite. Successful use of Animal Lore helps the PCs to befriend this spirit. Beast Speech is also helpful. The PCs should not be asked to check their skills -- they should come up with the idea on their own.

Donkey is a relative of the Solar Equus, and gives directions to the Horse Plain if he is persuaded that the party means no harm. To reach the Horse Plain the group must travel downward, along the stream, until they reach a large lake. Circling to the left, they head away from the mountains until they see a golden glow on the horizon. That light shines on the Horse Plain.

A successful Scan allows a PC to notice that Donkey's left hind leg is injured. If the party heals the Donkey, it gives them an additional gift. It instructs them to bury gold (the more the better) in the dirt nearby. It passes water over the buried gold, and within minutes stalks of magical golden grain sprout and grow: a gift for the Solar Equus.

The Donkey is unlikely to travel with the party, although it is possible.

The party travels down the mountainside, along the stream. When they reach level ground, they are confronted by a large, shimmering blue lake.

The lake contains powerful spell spirits in the form of weird- looking fish. The shape and color of the fish generally show their nature; the Bludgeon fish looks something like a swimming mace, the Fireblade fish resembles a burning blade, etc. These fish are essentially mindless, casting their spells somewhat at random. Each can cast its spell as often as it wishes. Fishes with variable spells cast them at a random strength of 2D6, which is re-rolled each time the spell is cast. The fish have a POW of 2D6+12, a SIZ of 2D6, and CON of 3D6+6. Their MOV is 10 in water, 1 on land. In the water they are difficult to see; all visually-targeted attacks are at -30%. Underwater combat rules apply (i.e., blunt weapons do minimum damage). If a fish is attacked with a spell, it returns attack if it possesses an attack spell. Otherwise it moves away from the attacker at full speed.

If a party member walks within five meters of the water, there is a chance equal to their POW x 3 each round that they will be targeted by one or more fish. Any spellcasting within that five-meter boundary increases the chance of a fish attack to the PC's POW x 5.

If a fish is killed and eaten, the consumer(s) must make a POW vs. POW roll against the POW of the fish. If the PC is successful, they gain knowledge of that spell (in the case of variable spells, at 2D4 strength). There is also a chance equal to the Hero Lore of the consumer(s) that they will gain the permanent Heroic ability to cast that spell without using magic points. If they do gain this gift, they are able to manifest the spell at any time in the future by making a successful roll against their Hero Lore. Characters are unlikely to realize that they have gained this ability, and must discover it at some appropriate crisis point in the future.

If the bones and scales of the fish are retained and brought back to mundane Glorantha, they turn into runic metal of an appropriate type. If used to make a matrix of the spell, they add 20% to the chance of the enchanter to craft and enchant the matrix, and subtract 1 from the strike ranks needed to cast when using the finished matrix (the minimum SR is still 1). Each fish provides enough metal to make one matrix.

A successful Scan reveals two burned spots on the nearby bank of the lake. These are the result of random Ignite spells by the Ignite fish. On the left bank of the lake is large rose bush. It stands ten meters from the lake and bears seventeen huge and beautiful roses.

The bush is intelligent, and is neutral toward the party unless it is threatened or its flowers are picked. It is friendly to elves and plant/earth worshipers. If questioned, the bush remembers Sir Ethilrist (though not by name). He took a rose in exchange for a "gift" which the bush will not describe.

If the party manages to gain the favor of the bush it may deign to give them a flower or two. The gift would have to be munificent, though.

If a flower is picked without the bush's permission, the picker must make a POW x 5 roll or be rooted to the ground and unable to move. If the resistance roll is made, the character is still cursed. The Plant Lore of the character drops to base, and can never be increased unless the curse is lifted. The character's Hide and Sneak are always at base among vegetation. The character can never be able to handle a rose without being painfully scratched by thorns.

The curse may be lifted by a successful Plant Lore by some other character, plus the immediate gift of ten magic points per rose picked and the return of the rose (a Heal 2 spell is necessary to re- attach it).

In play the party questioned the bush, and found that it had occasionally been threatened by bush fires set by the Ignite fish. In exchange for killing the fish, the bush allowed the group to take a flower.

Proceeding down through the foothills, the party sees the golden glow of the Horse Plain. Those who successfully Scan also notice lesser flashes of different-colored light.

The Horse Plain is under siege by the spirit personifications of enemy beasts. These massive forms stand motionless around the perimeter of the plain, with their worshipers -- including a number of shamans -- chanting and making magic underneath them. These enemy magics are the source of the strange flashes of light.

If they are on horseback every member of the party must make a successful Ride roll to elude surrounding enemy patrols and reach the Horse Plain. PCs on foot may attempt to Hide and Sneak, or otherwise avoid confrontation. In any case, if the party is caught by horse- enemies they are treated with suspicion. If the party is seen riding horses, the opposing shamans and initiates are quite hostile and contemptuous. At the least, they demand that every horse be immediately slain without the benefit of a Peaceful Cut. This is a difficult encounter. If it comes to combat it is likely to end in bloodshed, and even a few deaths.

In play a Chalana Arroy Healer PC quickly cast her Sleep spell on the party's horses, thereby placing them under her protection. Rather than be cursed by striking a Healer, the shamans reluctantly let the party pass unmolested.

A beam of bright sunlight marks the center of the Horse Plain. In that beam stands a high, broad golden roof supported by slender beams. The space beneath the roof is open, without walls. In the center of the building floats the Solar Equus, something like a ball of light and something like the mightiest horse the PCs have ever imagined.

It's now up to the PCs to convince him to allow them to travel to the High White Plateau. The Equus is proud, but not unreasonable; good roleplaying by the PCs can persuade him. However, he will not give his permission lightly. Magical grain and flowers from the rose bush please him, but gifts alone will not suffice. Possible points of persuasion might include oaths to never harm a horse, promises to support one or more horses for a year, freeing the horses the party has brought with them (if they have) to stay with the Equus, proof that the PC as fought and killed enemy riding beasts, promises to do so in the future...it's up to the imagination of the PCs.

In any case the Equus does not simply give white horses to the PCs. The most that he does is give them permission and directions to travel to the High White Plateau and bargain with the horses themselves. He advises them to leave their own horses with him -- the path is not an easy one.

If the bargain is made, the PCs proceed up the mountains to the High White Plateau. Passage back through the besieging horse-enemies may be uneventful or not, depending on the stealth skills of the PCs and the wishes of the GM.

The High White Plateau is located far up in mountains even steeper than the ones that the PCs descended. As they climb the narrow path, they must make a Climb roll. If the PCs are mounted, they must each make a Ride at -40% and their horses must make a DEX x 3 roll. If either roll fails the horse slips and falls, taking 1D6 x 1D4 damage. The rider must then make a Jump roll to avoid damage.

As the narrow path winds upward, rock walls climb higher and higher to each side. The light is cold and bluish. Near the top of the mountain is a large niche in the right wall. In that niche are many fresh large cut flowers.

The walls suddenly open out to reveal the plateau. Much of the ground is grassy, but banks to each side are of bright white rock. But the light of the plateau is dimmed. Covering the grass are many bones, large ones -- horse bones. There is no living thing to be seen as the wind blows across the plateau. At the far end of the plateau clouds move slowly past a sheer drop.

A careful inspection of the bones reveals that all of the horses seem to have been killed with a single cut to the throat. A dark and jagged pit stands against the right bank of the plateau; any character who approaches it to within their POW in meters feel a bitter chill. If they approach to 1/2 their POW in meters, they feel themselves being drawn toward the pit. The edge of the pit looks cracked and broken.

The pit leads directly to the Underworld. There the spirits of the White Horses reside in darkness, sacrificial victims used by Sir Ethilrist to gain the service of the Black Horses. The PCs may choose to use this means to travel to the Underworld and attempt to free the white horses, but should be aware that this would be an incredibly dangerous choice.

At this point the PCs have a chance to use creativity and imagination to bring the horses back. If they manage to restore life to even one horse, all the spirits will return to life. Possibilities include casting Healing spells on the bones sufficient to restore 100 hit points; PCs shedding their own blood over the bones to restore them; casting a Resurrect spell on a set of bones; Divine Intervention; or anything else that seems plausible and makes sense in the context of the myth.

In play, one of the PCs was a Chalana Arroy Healer who had recently obtained a Resurrection spell. The party assembled a complete skeleton, and she cast her spell on the bones. Everyone was surprised at the result...

If the PCs manage to restore the horses without travelling to the Underworld, they hear a great sound of galloping as the spirits of the horses thunder upward, bursting out of the pit like an explosion. The force of their exit collapses the pit behind them. The valley is brightened by the pure white of their coats. All bones vanish.

The horses are naturally grateful to their rescuers. If the PCs offer them grain or care, they make fast friends. Only the most foolish behavior could prevent any PC from gaining a powerful mount and ally.

Once the PCs are ready to depart, the horses line up facing the opening at the far end of the plateau. Galloping towards the clouds, they leap off the precipice into the air. Clouds surround them, and there is no sensation of falling. The horses gallop through the blinding white mist, travelling tirelessly until they burst into mundane Glorantha again. The quest is over.

White Horses:

STR: 4D6+24
CON: 3D6+6
SIZ: 3D6+28
INT: 1D6+6
POW: 3D6+6
DEX: 3D6+4

Move: 16
Armor: 4-point hide
Attacks: As RQIII horse +30
Skills: As RQIII horse +50

Special: Do not suffer fatigue. If rider successfully rolls Ride and Hero Lore, may travel at 4x normal speed for up to one day, after which a week of rest is necessary. Other Heroic effects are possible.

The White Horses understand speech, but are not able to speak.

-- end --


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Copyright 1997 by Peter Maranci. Revised: October 20, 2000. v.2.0