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Jack O'Bear stories please

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I'd like to hear your stories of how you've used/experienced Jack O'Bears effectively in a Glorantha game. I've never put them to great usage as a GM but they sure do have potential to be more than just a gotcha monster for mean GMs. (Sorry players, they might not fit into our current campaign though)

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Jack O'Bears have been a part of my Gloranthan gaming experience from almost the very beginning. They were in the RQ 1st ed. rulebook (page 79) in 1978. I did not meet them in play until late 1981 when they were featured in Griffin Mountain, out in the Elder Wilds north of Balazar. They almost killed me then, despite Gondo Holst's best efforts... I should have heeded the earlier warning displayed a few months prior on the cover of Wyrm's Footnotes #11 (Spring 1981) when I saw the cover of that magazine in a local game store (but wouldn't pay $2.25 to buy it).

I had no idea that Jack O'Bears technically pre-dated RuneQuest until Greg Stafford revealed their origins to me. Greg very much wanted to have a miniatures line to support the RPG. Archive Miniatures, run by the mad wizard sculptor that is Neville Stocken, offered Greg an easy "hit the ground running" solution. If Greg wrote up some of the existing Archive minis as Gloranthan creatures, then they were ready to sell immediately. Thus, Archive's bugbear miniature became immortalized as a Gloranthan Jack O'Bear.

I only encountered them that once in Griffin Mountain, but the unique monstrosity that they are has cast a long shadow over my life ever since. When I moved to the UK in 1995 I soon found out that Games Workshop had published Griffin Mountain with a slightly different cover. Being a completist collector I added that Jack O'Bear to the top of my want list, and paid dearly for it at the Convulsion 1996 auction. First they tried to take my PC's life, and now they were picking my pocket. Over the next several years I heard the lament of many RQ fans that longed to play the campaign, but could not pay a collector's price to have the pleasure of facing an elusive Jack O'Bear. Now those Jack O'Bears were taunting my fellow tribe members, and something had to be done. In 2001 I had the immense pleasure of publishing Griffin Mountain as the 2nd volume of the Gloranthan Classics series of 4 books. Dario's wonderful covered showed a Jack O'Bear in action against the caravan I was with back in the day. You might recognize my first employer, Joh in that scene, along with my first Troll friend XigXag.

As a married man I didn't expect to be staring a Jack O'Bear in the face again any time soon. I had young children, a wife, and a job on the road far different from the adventurer's path. My wife has always supported my "hobby", yet I didn't realize how much until she gifted me with the original painting used for the cover of Griffin Mountain about 15 years ago. It sits on the wall of my office and it catches my wary eye every day. I take heed of the original caption at the bottom of the painting, which is "harmony at twilight". Some evil bides its time...

I don't know what my life would have been like without Jack O'Bears in it, and oddly enough I don't want to find out.








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I know the current trend is to illustrate or model them as bearlike creatures with heads that vaguely resemble pumpkins, but that's insufficiently chaotic for me. The jack-o'bear's head IS a pumpkin: vegetable, bright orange, and there's probably a lighted candle inside it, if you stare into its carved-out eyes.*

You know, they probably grow in tainted pumpkin patches -- imagine a twisted, homunculus-like mandragora root growing down beneath (or parasitically inserting itself into?) a pumpkin, eventually uprooting itself (at this early stage the swollen pumpkin head is much bigger than the vestigial root-body) and skulking away into the wilderness to grow.

I've always thought you could work out a neat Hallowe'en-ish custom for some rustic part of Sartar: as a relevant Chaos holy day approaches, the clanfolk carve a grotesque face into a pumpkin, stick a candle inside to make it into a lantern and use it to light the threshold of their steads. The theory is that when a rampaging (and for these purposes highly territorial) jack-o'bear comes loping towards its next prey, it will see your lantern, cry out "Curses! Someone else got here before me," and go and find easier prey. In practice, of course, you could end up with all sorts of shenanigans...

* the management urges you not to stare into the carved eye-slots of a jack-o'bear.

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34 minutes ago, Nick Brooke said:

I know the current trend is to illustrate or model them as bearlike creatures with heads that vaguely resemble pumpkins, but that's insufficiently chaotic for me. The jack-o'bear's head IS a pumpkin: vegetable, bright orange, and there's probably a lighted candle inside it, if you stare into its carved-out eyes.*

I wonder if there is a myth in which the first Do-karal/Hungry Jack stole the light from Yelmalio for its lantern. Maybe another Hill of Gold suffering for poor lightboy. And Aldryami would be none too pleased by the infection of good innocent pumpkins; perhaps Aldrya is tied into the origin myth. Could lead to some fun heroquesting for Yelmalions and elves to stick it to the jack-o-bears. Meanwhile I wonder how bear hsunchen feel about all this ursine appropriation. Harrek not available for comment?

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I once had the theory that Jack O'Bears came about because renegade Elves in the Seven Hills of Dorastor took a snippet of Hungry Jack and grafted them onto headless bears and this was all done in the Bright Empire times.  The theory doesn't fit because a) Hungry Jack is from the convergences in the Msilari Mountains and not as I assumed in Dorastor b) there are Jack O'Bears in Koromandol (Guide p289) whose presence is difficult to explain.

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28 minutes ago, metcalph said:

I once had the theory that Jack O'Bears came about because renegade Elves in the Seven Hills of Dorastor took a snippet of Hungry Jack and grafted them onto headless bears and this was all done in the Bright Empire times. 

I was thinking something similar. 

28 minutes ago, metcalph said:

The theory doesn't fit because a) Hungry Jack is from the convergences in the Msilari Mountains and not as I assumed in Dorastor

The original appearance of Hungry Jack in WF 1 said that 


One of the latter was the monster called Hungry Jack, which was slain by Sir Ethilrist. Despite this great deed the creature was not annhilated, and its seeds took root in the Convergances where they took root and developed into lesser versions of the original.

Noting multiple Hungry Jacks, and multiple Convergences (one in the vicinity of Dorastor does not seem implausible, or one in the vicinity of Koromondol). So it could be a different one - but it would have to be much later than Bright Empire times (unless the Convergences are even strange enough to interfere with causality/linear time). I don't know if they have been mentioned since!

Its also possible that the Jack O'Bears are created without direct agency, as a result of the transformative 'inside out' process that things consumed by Hungry Jack go through (as described in WF1), when Hungry Jack swallowed a powerful bear. 

It seems likely, too, that Hungry Jack, as a vegetable monster, has some very nasty mythic origin that the elves probably know about and aren't discussing. It's also possibly that some deity, who knows who, used some sort of vast knife to carve out Jacks eyes and mouth as some sort of terrible ritual to awaken him. 

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Got inspired- Will be horrifying my River Voice PCs, heroquesting via Camenura to learn about the Cleansed One's background, by having them encounter "Jack O' Broos" that gained their Harmonize ability from the (pre-Cleansed) Cleansed One broo's theft of Harmony's power from the Three-Bean Circus. Muhaha.

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7 hours ago, Nick Brooke said:

I know the current trend is to illustrate or model them as bearlike creatures with heads that vaguely resemble pumpkins, but that's insufficiently chaotic for me. The jack-o'bear's head IS a pumpkin: vegetable, bright orange, and there's probably a lighted candle inside it, if you stare into its carved-out eyes.*

YES!  (Much as I like most of the art in the new RQG Bestiary, the Jack-o-bear there lacks the cool chaotic horror of the vegetable pumpkin horror that was a hallmark of RQ2) 


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I thought that Pumpkins were created by Flamal and one of the minor Goddesses. 

One day, Eurmal was bored, so he wandered through Aldrya's Forests and came across a giant, bloated orange mass that was sucking the energy from the forest and growing bigger and bigger. Immediately spotting it an dangerous, he did was any self-respecting god would do and took out his trusty dagger, that he kept hidden from Humakt, and started to cut away at the great beast. He cut and cut until he was satisfied that it was no longer a danger, for now it had two eyes, a nose and a smiling mouth, so could not be a threat. as he walked away, the pumpkin called out to him not to go, for it wanted a friend. laughing, Eurmal went further away and the pumpkin called again, but more insistent this time. Drowned out by Eurmal's laughter, it called a third time, even more insistently, as Eurmal disappeared. However, other creatures heard its call and came to see it and be its friend. They weren't its friends, though, as they were not Eurmal. as they got closer, the beast realised that now it had a mouth it could sate its hunger a different way and gobbled them up. Since then, Hungry Jack has attracted those foolish enough to stray near to its lair.

As it got bigger and bigger, Jack realised that it just had too much of itself within itself, so strained and strained until part of it burst, throwing small chunks out into the Forest. This took root and grew, becoming smaller versions of itself, called Jacklings. They also attracted people, as they were as lonely as their father. Eurmal wandered past and saw the Jacklings. Intrigued, he moved closer and recognised what they were. "Ah, aren't you cute?" he said to one of them, "Not like that bloated thing you call a father. I'd like to be your friend, but we can't stay here", so he took one of them and pulled it up, he pulled and pulled until its straggly roots came free with it. He put it under his arm and wandered off, but soon found that it was heavy and not great company. He put it down and scolded it, "Look, of you want to be my friend, you have to walk with me" and it got up on its roots and started to walk. Happier, he walked out of the Forest and happened upon one of the Dark Men who had recently appeared. The Dark Man rushed towards him and Eurmal cowered, until his friend roared and rushed the Dark Man, shocking it into stillness. "Wow, you were so scary, you looked like a bear", Eurmal said, "so that's what you are, a Jackling Bear", but that sounded odd, so he shortened it to Jack o'Bear. Eventually, he lost interested in his Jack o'Bear and they parted ways.

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Many years ago there was a Games Convention in Burton-on-Trent and a couple of my friends (Stuart Hunt and Andrew "Tom" Taylor) went along (I couldn’t as I was working or otherwise engaged). Even though I was not there, the tale has been related to me on so many occasions that I could retell it word for word. As the session was so good (Stuart and Tom say that it was one of the best they have ever played in) I thought I would share it with other people.

After half an hour of wandering around the Convention looking at figures etc. they came across a RuneQuest game being set up. They got chatting with the GM and found out that the game was for two teams and he already had one team. "What’s RuneQuest? Is it like AD&D?" they asked, having only played RuneQuest for 12 years. When he explained they said they would give it a go.

The Scenario was a simple one - a group of Chaotics had stolen a Yelmalion artefact and a squad of Templars had come to get it back. Victory conditions were: The Yelmalions had to get the Artefact back, in which case they scored a huge amounts of points. The Chaots got a number of points for each Yelmalion they killed. It was possible for the Yelmalions to get the Artefact back and still lose if they took huge losses.

"What are Yelmalions?" When the GM explained, they said "So, they are like Paladins. We’ll play the Chaotics - are they Chaotic Evil?" The GM explained that Chaos was different in RuneQuest. "OK, we’ll still play the Chaotics, they sound fun."

The Yelmalions had a number Templars and a couple of officers on horseback. The Chaots had a load of broos, a Jack o’Bear, a Scorpionman Lay Member of Bagog and could summon a Chaos Demon from a Chaos Pool if they sacrificed a living person to it.

Stuart and Tom looked at the stats quickly and asked if the Chaots could have a couple of stone buckets. "OK" said the innocent GM.
"For a couple of weeks beforehand, these two broos spit their acid into the buckets at night, building up a supply of acid."
"You can’t do that!" (I don’t know of any GM who has allowed player Chaotics to do this (except me, of course - I allow anything) but all of them have had NPC Chaotics use the perfectly valid tactic.)
"Why not?"
"You just can’t!" (Falling back on the age-old GMing strategy.)

"What are Diseases?"
The GM explained.
"Ok, the broos all crap in a pile and wipe their weapons in the dung heap to get the diseases on everything and to get them really dirty."
"You can’t do that!"
"Why not?"
"It’s against the Spirit of Roleplaying!"
"But they are Broos, they do that sort of thing!"
"Well, you can’t do it!"

Having the tone set, Stuart and Tom gathered that they were going to lose, but that they would have fun doing so.

When the session started, two broos started grappling with each other, ignoring everything else.

The Templars came marching in as a few groups with the officers on horseback. What they should have done was to go straight for the Artefact, put it with an officer and have him ride away as fast as he could, with the Templars covering his retreat. Session won. However, things went badly.

Tom spent a while looking at one of the cards. "I don’t understand some things here. What’s special about ‘Iron’? All my weapons are just ‘Bastard Sword’, ‘Spear’ and so on but this says ‘Iron Spear’." The GM explained that Iron weapons had more armour points and did not take damage as easily. "OK, what is Carapace?" The GM explained that it was a Bagog spell which increased armour. "And Jabbers?" The GM explained. "I suppose that ‘Venom Boosting’ increases the Scorpionman’s Poison." The GM agreed. "OK, she casts all her spells and charges that group of Yelmalions." At this point the squad of Templars broke and ran with the players complaining bitterly that the Chaots had a Rune Lord of Bagog and that this was not fair. By far the best piece of psyching out I have ever heard of.

The two broos were still grappling and ignoring everything else.

A couple of Yelmalions cast Fireblade and charged into combat. "Ahem", said Stuart and Tom, "how can they use Fireblade as they are in Yelmalio" and made the GM look at the cult in Sun County. True enough, Yelmalions could not cast Fireblade. This may have blown their cover that they knew nothing about RuneQuest, but it was too late now.

One of the grappling broos succeeded and the other failed. "I offer this willing sacrifice to Thed". "I’m not willing" wailed the other broo as he was thrown into the Chaos Pool. The GM was horrified. The broos should have tried to capture a Templar, dragged him to the pool and thrown him in. This should have taken rounds and rounds, he did not expect the Chaos Demon to be summoned at the end of round 2. However, he could not complain as only a sacrifice was needed. Several tentacles snaked forth from the Pool.

Then the Master stroke. The Jack o’Bear Harmonised a Templar. This held no fears for anyone as Harmonise is a 2 point effect which could be dispelled by Dispel Magic 2, which both officers had. No problem. However, a broo ran up to the Templar, lifted his skirts and proceeded to bugger him senseless.
"You can’t do that!" cried the opposing team and the GM.
"Why not?"
"It’s against the Spirit of the game."
"But they are broos, it’s what they do."
This they could not argue against, because it was indeed what broos do.
"But they don’t do it in the middle of combat!"
"Normally, but we know that you are going to win, this makes sure that you won’t boast about it!"
End of discussion.

Next round, the Jack o’Bear harmonised someone else and the same thing happened.
And again. And again. The funny thing was, all the buggered Templars took no further action in the game, even though the Jack o’Bear was killed and the Harmonises removed. They were not touched by the opposing players. Maybe they were deemed to be in a state of shock, maybe the players were so disgusted about the Broos' actions that they couldn’t bring themselves to use the Templars. Who knows.

Anyway, the Templars decided to kill all the broos. This they could do as they were the stronger force. However, they got no Victory Points for doing this and they lost Templars in the process, increasing the broos’ Victory Point Tally. When Stuart and Tom had killed enough Templars they could relax, confident that Victory was theirs.

True enough, the surviving Templars got the Artefact away but did not brag or boast about it.

I wish that I had been there as it was exactly the kind of game that I enjoy.

If anyone is reading this who took part in the Session, could they PM me with their recollections of the Session as I would like to include the Opposing Force’s comments.

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