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Saturday, 18 February 2017

An Unpublished Gem

The publication of The Old School RQ Source Pack, funded by the Kickstarter campaign for RuneQuest: Classic Edition, the reprint of RuneQuest II has provided both support for the reprint and a snapshot of the type of support that was being published for it in late 1970s. RuneQuest Scenario Pack 1: Balastor’s Barracks provided a base dungeon, whilst RuneQuest Source Pack Alpha: Trolls and Trollkin, RuneQuest Source Pack Beta: Creatures of Chaos 1: Scorpion Men and Broos, and RuneQuest Source Pack Gamma: Militia & Mercenaries between them provided a mix of enemies and allies for RuneQuest: Classic Edition as well as background and supporting material to varying degrees of interest and usefulness. The fifth and final entry in The Old School RQ Source Pack is SP8 The Sea Cave and is perhaps the most interesting.

SP8 The Sea Cave is the second scenario included in The Old School RQ Source Pack after Balastor’s Barracks. Originally written in 1979, it has sat in Chaosium’s archives since then and is now only being made available ‘incomplete and unfinished’ as a ‘work in progress’. Now this is something of a misnomer, since ‘The Sea Cave’ actually contains a complete adventure and the only ‘incomplete and unfinished’ aspects are the caves and dungeon complex beyond this adventure, the hand drawn maps, and the handwritten entries and notes on the monster sheets for ‘The Sea Cave’. The former is only detailed in map of the greater complex—‘The Cave of the Wyrm’—which is marked up with notes and annotations enough that a GM could further develop the adventure himself. ‘The Sea Cave’ adventure itself is designed for use with between four and eight medium level player characters, that is, those with a weapon skill of at least 50% and three points of armour. Now this does highlight an issue with both RuneQuest: Classic Edition and The Old School RQ Source Pack, which is that there is no support for the beginning GM and players straight out of the book.

‘The Sea Cave’ is set east of Corflu on the coast of Prax where the men of a fishing village have been attacked by some kind of sea monster. The local priest blames this on the village not having built a new temple to the sea god, Magesta, but the head fisherman thinks otherwise and hires the adventurers to investigate the attacks. He believes that the creature responsible has its lair in the nearby sea cave. Getting into the cave is a challenge in itself, given that the tide can hamper or even block access. This also affects the conditions within the caves nearer the sea, perhaps meaning that adventurers will need to row or wade through sea water, or just be careful of their footing on the slippery cave floors, all depending upon the height of the tide. The complex consists of just nine areas—caves and tunnels—mostly inhabited by a mix of cave trolls and sea creatures.

Each location is described in some detail, providing the GM with notes as what the adventurers will see upon first glance and a closer look, what hidden spots that may be found, any denizens, and so on. These notes nicely pull the GM into understanding each area, each also having the chance of being the location where a major piece of treasure might be found—this in addition to any already there. There is also a pair of plots running through the adventure, one set against the other and the other a decent bit of bait and switch. These though are written up at their respective locations rather than in the introduction, so the GM will need prepare these before running ‘The Sea Cave’.

What is notable about ‘The Sea Cave’ is how sophisticated it is in comparison to Balastor’s Barracks. As well as the aforementioned plots, there is a greater depth and detail present here in just nine rooms than there is in the twenty or so rooms to be found in Balastor’s Barracks, and as a result, The Sea Cave has flavour and atmosphere where Balastor’s Barracks is lacking. Nevertheless, this is still a challenging adventure and an adventuring party may want to make one or two attempts in exploring the far reaches of the caves in order to complete it. Notably, the GM is given advice that, “When adventurers are slaughtered or run screaming, the Monsters get experience rolls too.”

Beyond the adventure itself, SP8 The Sea Cave provides further background to the setting of Glorantha, this time details of the Cult of Cacodemon, the chaos and death cult dominated by Ogres. This was included since the greater part of ‘The Cave of the Wyrm’ complex mapped but not detailed in SP8 The Sea Cave is dominated by a hidden temple to Cacodemon. In addition, SP8 The Sea Cave also lists a number of scenario packs promised, but never released. These include The Howling Tower, Expedition to Miskander’s Tower, and Illyssia’s Grove.

Physically, SP8 The Sea Cave is decently presented. It is not illustrated, but the maps are charming and the one of ‘The Cave of the Wyrm’ can spur a GM to develop the SP8 The Sea Cave further.

SP8 The Sea Cave is a good scenario and without doubt, the best entry in The Old School RQ Source Pack. This is despite its ‘incomplete and unfinished’ aspects and its rough edges, but says much about the simple strengths of ‘The Sea Cave’ scenario—the two plots, the detailed descriptions, and the sense of the environment.