So my PCs decided to kill Harrek the Berserk. Here's how it went.
(for context, see
First, before I recap this, here's the cast of PCs we're working with:
Androgenus, a genderfluid Esrolian Eurmali trickster with the Illuminated Illusion, Earth, and Luck runes. They're out for blood vengeance against anyone who's ever victimized their family, their clan, and their homeland. in that order. Recently illuminated as part of a Heroquest that gave them temporary use of the Infinity Rune. The player has been coming up with some awesome ideas for how Illumination might work, and I've been wholeheartedly stealing from what @davecake has said on Illumination to try and inform the player on what they might want to do.
Iris, an Esrolian Earth Priestess in service to the Goddess of Moss (I don't know who that would be in actuality, but when her player heard "land of ten thousand goddesses," she immediately came up with a gaggle of minor Earth goddesses that barely anyone might care about). She's got the Earth, Movement, and Spirit runes. Iris wants power at all costs, both for her cult and her personally, and sees the group's adventures as the ticket to recognition and glory.
Zonthor, a Praxian sorceror of the Impala Tribe and expert archer. The player always uses that name if he can get away with it in ever game I've ever played with him. Zonthor learned sorcery from a demonically possessed spellbook he plundered from Big Rubble, and has the Fire, Disorder, and Magic runes--he's only in this for himself, and is up front about how he's only working with Iris as long as she can pay him. The Wolf Pirates have plenty of treasure, treasure that Zonthor wants.
Waddlestomp the Bloodybeaked, a Hueymakti Duck thane with the Water, Death, and Truth runes. He has sworn a dread oath that he will personally slay one human for every Duck that is or has ever been killed or otherwise victimized by human hands. Played by the oldest in our group, and the most experienced with Glorantha. He now holds an enchanted shield he got in the same adventure where our party Trickster got Illuminated.
For future reference, I use bold text to denote Traits, Runes, or other abilities the characters use.
We join Our Heroes a few days after they have accidentally rampaged through the Esrolian city of Valadon and escaped with the city guard hot on their heels. Androgenus's mind is reeling with the infinite possbilities of Illumination and the horrible truths contained within: there's no purpose to any of it. Even rebellion. Everything has a place, which is nowhere. Nothing means anything, so everything means everything. You only struggle against yourself. While having this cosmic existential crisis, Iris, Zonthor, and Waddlestomp are discussing their next move to murder Harrek the Berserk and avenge the Holy Country.
Iris succeeds at a role against her Noble Trait, with the breakout trait Connections At Court--she's heard a wild rumor at court that the queens of Esrolia, working with Caladraland and the Shadow Plateau, have amassed the remnants of their armada. They seek one last chance to strike at the Wolf Pirates and throw them out of the Mirrorsea or die trying. Zonthor once again gets reminded that the Wolf Pirates have plundered the City of Wonders, and that they've got to be swimming in loot. "As long as I get my shares," he says, emphasizing the plural, "Then you have my magic. I want to see that smug pirate die just as much of the rest of you."
"Maybe not as much as they do--" grunts Waddlestomp, gesturing at the party Trickster, who's walking down the road a little bit ahead of the rest of the party, rambling to themself and waving their arms in the air "--so we should probably hasten us to our deaths before they decide to do something really unexpected."
A brief travel montage later, the party arrives in Nochet, just ahead of bounty hunters sent from Valadon. Androgenus crits on his Beggar trait to find a bolthole for the party to hide in while Iris begs an audience with the Queens during their war conference. Meanwhile, Zonthor learns a new spell from his grimoire (he defines the ability Mass Migraine tied to his Demonic Grimoire) that he thinks will be useful in the coming battle, and Waddlestomp meets a sage to identify the enchantment on his shield. As it turns out, when thrown, the shield will always return to its wielder, a la Captain America.
Later, Iris barely wins an audience with the Queens and drags along Androgenus. However, they are told that if they so much as breathe a word that isn't an abject apology for the riot they started in Valadon, they'd be next on the sacrificial altar to Maran Gor. They overhear the Queens discussing strategy with the surviving admirals of Caladraland and a representative of Shadow Plateau. As far as they understand it, the plan is that some of the Holy Country's naval remnant will engage the Wolf Pirate treasure fleet as it leaves the City of Wonders's ruins, hopefully bogging them down in the classic ram-and-bow brawl while the rest circle around and engage from the rear in a classic pincer maneuver--and let a regiment of Dark Troll marines do their brutal work in boarding actions.
About then, Androgenus opened their dumb mouth. "This won't work, Your Highnesses."
"What?" exclaimed the assembled Royalty, as Iris quickly tried to silence her bound trickster.
"It won't work. You'll get slaughtered, and the Wolf Pirates will stay here forever. Broyan the Betrayer will have his barbarian mercenaries, and he'll come to rule Ketheala. Unless..." replied Androgenus, stepping away from his mistress.
The assembled Esrolian queens and Caladralander admiralty immediately began demanding the trickster's life for his insolence. The Troll mistress in attendance held up a hand to silence them. "Unless what, snack?"
"Why, unless you kill Harrek the Berserk."
Disbelieving laughter. Derisive laughter. A call for Iris to silence the Trickster before someone else did for her. The troll interrupted: "Is that all? I wasn't aware it was that simple. How should we do this, snack?"
"Well, that's simple. I'll betray you." Androgenus's player then managed a major victory with their Illuminated Illusion rune's breakout ability Tell Two Stories At Once, which they defined as tricking different parts of the same audience into hearing different things at the same time.
About now, we called for a brief break so that Androgenus-player could discuss the plan with me in private. When we came back, Androgenus told the rest of the party what would happen: Androgenus would Swallow his companions and steal a fishing boat. Then he'd travel to the Wolf Pirates, and beg an audience with their leaders. They'd tell them the entire plan for counterattack against the Wolf Pirates. Hopefully, that would buy enough confidence with the Wolf Pirates to let them speak to Harrek. At which time, they'd regurgitate the PCs, use the Infinity Rune to forcibly separate Harrek the Berserk from the god he wears on his back. Then it'd be up to the rest of the party to murder the (probably very angry) berserker and his inner circle before things went sideways.
There was a perfect, silent moment after Androgenus recounted their plan.
"That's a stupid plan," said Zonthor, after composing themselves. "We're all going to die."
"Do you have a better plan?" asked Androgenus, flatly.
"No," spluttered the sorcerer, "But we're still all going to die."
"Better we die our task fulfilled than live forever having failed," quacked Waddlestomp, grimly as ever. The other heroes stared at the murderous Duck for a while.
Eventually, Iris broke the silence. "I for one love this plan. I'm excited to be a part of it!"
Cut to two weeks later: the group bought a fishing boat (at a severe discount due to Waddlestomp's Unexpectedly Terrifying breakout ability keyed to his Death rune), and Iris whistled up a wind spirit to fill its sail. A day's calm sailing later, they approached the Island of Wonders from behind, drifting with the tide. As night fell, they reached the beach, hid their boat, and made camp in a secluded seaside cave. There, they talked more about their pasts and their motivations.
Iris related how her family has always been scorned for serving the Moss Goddess, despite their faithful service to Esrolia. Zonthor could relate--he was ostracized from his clan after learning sorcery, despite the fact that it was his own chieftain who ordered him to retrieve a treasure from Big Rubble. Waddlestomp merely sharpened his sword in preparation for the morrow's battle. When he did speak, he talked of how Duck Valley was once a beautiful place, and how every time he closed his eyes, he saw the humans who came, screaming Orlanth and Sedenya's names, and slaughtered his people en masse. Androgenus nodded sorrowfully and tried to comfort the Hueymakti thane...he also wanted revenge, so sharp and painfully he could taste it at every moment. Androgenus sheepishly offered Waddlestomp one of their "stabbing effigies," a sort of homemade Voodoo doll that so happened to be shaped like a Lunar soldier. Waddlestomp awkwardly took it, and poked at it with his knife. "I do feel a little better," he grudingly admitted. The party laughed, and with that, went to sleep.
Iris awoke last, just before dawn. Waddlestomp and Zonthor had already been Swallowed into the Trickster, and Androgenus had waited for the priestess to awaken on her own, because, as they put it, "What happens next isn't going to be pleasant. Best to have a good night's sleep first."
"Run the plan down for me one more time?" asked Iris, getting a weird feeling with a minor victory against Androgenus's opposed Trickster flaw.
"Well, first," they said, picking up a piece of driftwood, "I betray you."
The fight was short, but a few unlucky rolls from Iris had her knocked out and trussed up. Androgenus dragged her down the beach to a Wolf Pirate foraging party. Some tense negotiation later, the tricksy Trickster easily wormed their way into the Wolf Pirates' boat on their way back to the main force of looters. They were enbyhandled onto a pirate ship and interrogated at swordpoint by the captain himself--a massive man from the Far South, who demanded to know why they were spying. Androgenus said he'd brought a prisoner--Iris--and had knowledge of the Holy Country's plans to oust the Wolf Pirates once and for all. Some quick thinking, good rolls, and fast talk had Androgenus parlay the captain into bringing them and their hostage to his higher-ups.
It was about now that Iris woke up and started screaming bloody murder. She pronounced Androgenus a traitor. She begged, threatened, cajoled--and Androgenus just smiled. Her thrashing actually served to convince the pirates of Androgenus's truthfulness, despite his Illusion rune. We montaged the next hour or so of Androgenus being passed from pirate to higher-ranking pirate until finally, he stood on the deck of the Ice Serpent, in front of Harrek the Berserk, and at his right hand, Gunda the Guilty.
"I'm going to kill you, Eurmali," rumbled the vast pirate lord, "But speak quickly and speak the truth--if you can--and I'll make it a quick death."
"I know Esrolia's war plans to drive you out of the Holy Country. And this priestess here is head of a conspiracy to kill you, o mighty lord."
"You do, now? Hrm. Y'know, Gunda and I have a rather reliable policy: kill every Trickster I meet. You have five heartbeats to change my mind," said Harrek, standing up, popping his neck, and grabbing his axe. I made sure to describe how Harrek's bear cloak growled in response to its wearer's movement, the ears twitching in the sea wind.
And here's where things went even more off the rails. Androgenus rolled, and I kid nobody reading this not, three critical successes in a row. First, they rolled a critical success with Look Harmless to lull Harrek's bodyguards into a false sense of security. Then, he critical'd an opposed check against the assembled pirates with Tell Two Stories At Once: Harrek and the pirates heard the Holy Country's original plan, the pincer movement that wouldn't have worked. Iris heard him talk about the real plan: the Holy Country would beach its navy in a nearby hidden cove at low tide, then drift back out to sea (and directly behind the pirates, cutting off their retreat) when the tide shifted, catching the Wolf Pirates unawares. Iris, enraged beyond all reason, loudly proclaimed that Androgenus would die for betraying Esrolia. All of that 'proved' Androgenus's veracity even more. Harrek stepped closer to Androgenus, staring the little Eurmali down, madness matching madness.
"Do you feel that I should reward you for this?" asked Harrek, "I've had enough of Kethaelan traitors to last me a lifetime."
"Oh, mighty lord, getting this close to you is reward enough," replied Androgenus, who then made the sign of the Infinity Rune with their hands and placed it over their eyes. (In Roll20, this was accomplished by making finger goggles and pulling a rather amusing face). The third critical was activating the Infinity Rune they'd earned from the Heroquest. For a moment, the world stopped. Androgenus was Eurmal the Lightbringer, grasping the net of the Cosmic Compromise. He was Illusion Illuminated, separating Real from Unreal, remolding the Cosmos to his will. Harrek reeled as the energies of Creation surged through his boat, threatening to capsize it. He felt his magic drain from him, forevermore locked into the God Time. The Bear God left him then, leaving a confused, dizzy, and for the first time ever, frightened Harrek the Berserk retching on the deck of his ship.
"Harrek?!" exclaimed Gunda, rushing to his size. "What did they do?"
"I don't know! They took my bear! Kill! Kill them!"
And then came the fourth critical: Androgenus cast a glamer with their Illusion Rune that seemed to split them into five mirror images, each one taunting and jeering at the onrushing pirates. Then they regurgitated a sorceror (who'd been preparing their Mass Migraine spell, ready to cast as soon as he was out of the Trickster) and an angry Duck.
Hilarity, as they say, ensued.
This was the first big fight I'd ever run using the HeroQuest rules. Per the rulebook's suggestions, it was mostly narrative, with few rolls (which is weird for me, accustomed as I am to crunchier systems like D&D and World of Darkness, or even Fate, for that matter). Waddlestomp rolled well with his Truesword, Magic Shield, and Vengeance-Seeking Swordsduck to carve a path through the pirates and get the attention of Harrek and Gunda. Zonthor managed to get off his Mass Migraine spell (and had a lot of fun narrating its grisly consequences among the pirates onboard) and untie Iris. Then he failed hard against Gunda the Guilty, nauseated but still single-minded, who ran the little Praxian through with her spear and tossed him overboard for the sharks. Iris also got heavily wounded before she could scramble away from the pirates, but managed a bare success to get to her feet and summon up shark-spirits, attracted by the blood of the battle, to further harry the pirates. Androgenus...just stayed alive and taunted Harrek.
The battle concluded with a lookout's call--Kethaelan ships approaching, rowing hard for the pirates! The tide had come while Androgenus had distracted the pirates, and given the Esrolians a chance to get into position to ambush them. Harrek took a mighty swing at Androgenus--only for his axe to pass right through the little Trickster. Dumbfounded, Harrek tried it again--and again, his axe passed through (in game terms, this was an opposed Illusion check vs. Harrek being the most lethal man on Glorantha that I hid the results of until it was dramatically appropriate).
"You can't kill me, Harrek, but it's okay," said Androgenus peacefully the light of Illumination glowing in their eyes, "There is no struggle against yourself. You did well, but be at peace. Every story has an end."
And then Waddlestomp jumped on his back and stabbed him repeatedly. Harrek the Berserk, God-Traitor of the Rathori, Destroyer of Worlds, was brought low by an angry duck and a Trickster with a grudge (who, now that the exchange was over, was found to have gotten a Minor Defeat, and was very very injured, but had hid it with their Illusion rune for a few moments). Gunda the Guilty howled in rage, and leapt for Waddlestomp, murder in her eyes....
Right as an Esrolian galley rammed the Ice Serpent. Nearly capsizing her. We narrated the rest of it. Waddlestomp cut his way through the panicking pirates and Iris helped him haul Androgenus's broken, disemboweled body to the Troll marines who were stomping aboard and slaughtering the stunned pirates. They passed the trio onto the Gannet, the Esrolian trireme, and received emergency healing. The last they saw of Gunda, she was cutting down a pile of trolls around Harrek's form. Eventually, the Ice Serpent sank, but nobody was seen to have escaped. Surely, nobody could have escaped. Surely...
It was with that that we closed the session for the night. Everyone seemed to have had a good time. Waddlestomp's player in particular was dumbstruck that only one of them had died, and Zonthor's player took his death in good stride, promising to come up with someone with an even more ridiculous name next time. I left the players with hints as to what had come: they had now become capital-H Heroes of the Holy Country, and would be feasted and hailed as such...and they had also earned powerful, implacable enemies, and a key role in the world-shaking events to come.
Whether they wanted it or not.