The Book of Red Cow

Red Cow

The Red Cow clan are famed for the cattle and the heroes who have defended them from their thieving neighbours: the Maboder and the Culbrea.

They belong to the Cinsina, the Brave Tribe. The skalds sing of the Brave Tribe’s struggles against the Telmori – a tribe of werewolves

The Book of Red Cow

The Book of Red Cow is the background handout given to all the players in my HeroQuest campaign. It is both common knowledge for clan folk and some notes on the campaign.

The source material for this campaign draws from the Issaries publications Thunder Rebels, Storm Tribe, King of Sartar, Dragon Pass and the Sartar Rising campaign, particularly Barbarian Adventures.

Red Cow also owes a debt to John Hughes for beginning the Heortling Stead project, and for his material on the tribes of the Far Point. John’s work is poetic, mine merely pedestrian. John made Greg Stafford’s kingdom of Sartar come alive for me. Be sure to check out Questlines and the Bluefoot Orlanthi.

You can download the background and look at some outlines of adventures.During play a copy of the Book of Red Cow sits on our table for anyone, player or narrator, to use at need.

What is this about?

I first became intrigued by Glorantha reading a review of the boardgame White Bear and Red Moon.Later on I saw a review of the role-playing game RuneQuest and a scenario called Balastor’s Barracks. Just from those reviews I was captivated by Glorantha with its struggle between the mighty moon-worshipping Lunar Empire and the tiny kingdom of Sartar.

Not long after that I purchased RuneQuest 2 but perhaps more importantly Cults of Prax, which introduced me to the world where religions were powerful social forces, as real as those in our ancient past, and everyone knew some sort of magic. Over the years I had many happy hours of gaming with Griffin Mountain and Pavis and the Big Rubble

But I was always dissappointed that RuneQuest never told us more about Dragon Pass, the crucible of of the Hero Wars conflict and the setting for the White Bear and Red Moon boardgame (later less poetically titled Dragon Pass). There were hints of course in various publications, the accounts drawn from Greg Stafford’s own RuneQuest campaign in the Chaosium magazine Wyrm’s Footnotes,and scenarios like Apple Lane, and Snakepipe Hollow, or even in Trollpack. But mostly Dragon Pass remained an enigma.

Information about the conflict of that game, the Hero Wars, slowly dribbled out. A lot was revealed for RuneQuest 3 by Glorantha: Crucible of the Hero Wars. There we learnt that the tribes of kingdom of Sartar resembled the Germanic and Celtic tribes of Europe’s Dark Ages, or the Vikings of the Icelandic sagas. There we learned that the Hero Wars, when Prince Agrath, the Red Emperor, Harrek the Beserk, and JarEel the Razoress would lead the clash of armies at the end of days, were beginning now.

But it was only when RuneQuest was in hiatus that Greg Stafford gave us King of Sartar, a pseudo-historical document, and revealed the stories of the people of Dragon Pass and the conflicts of the Hero Wars. The region I had dreamed of gaming in, all those years before became accessible at last.

With HeroQuest I was able to contribute to the emergence of Dragon Pass, first with scenarios for the Sartar Rising campaign, later with fan material like Unspoken Word’s In Wintertop’s Shadow and most recently by project managing the supplement I had so longed to see, a description of Dragon Pass for HeroQuest.

Red Cow is the campaign I have been longing to run ever since I first heard about White Bear and Red Moon. A game set among the storm-worshipping barbarians of Dragon Pass as they endeavour to face up their old world changing beyond recognition under the the Red Moon and search for liberation from Empire under the leadership of Prince Agrath.

Red Cow begins, not as Issaries own Sartar Rising does on the eve of the death of Orlanth, but at the dawn of the occupation when the invasion is only a few years old and the loss of the royal house of Sartar has thrown the kingdom into turmoil. I was drawn to begin with the destruction of the Maboder tribe by the Telmori wolfmen after working on the Dragon Pass supplement. I became excited by that story, where so soon after the invasion the tribes of the Jonstown Confederation and the Empire would unite against a common foe, who was perhaps more loyal the royal house than the tribes. I also wanted to explore the Shakespearen premise that the death of a king throws a kingdom into turmoil in which everyone suffers.

Barbarian Adventures, the first of the Sartar Rising series is still a useful aid to running a game at this time, dealing as it does with Sartar on the eve of the Hero Wars.

Your Glorantha may vary

It is of course my view of an Orlanthi clan, shaped by the stories that I wanted to tell about a Sartarite clan. I wanted to capture the feel of the Icelandic sagas such as Njal’s Saga, Egil’s Saga and Laxdaela Saga and post-invasion Roman Britain struggling against Imperial rules as told by writers such as Rosemary Sutcliffe in Song for a Dark Queen and more recently Manda Scott in Dreaming the Eagle. Oh and, of course, to capture the spirit of the movie The Vikings

Your might want to use the RuneQuest and HeroQuest source material to run a game very different from mine. Go for it! Use what you can and ditch what you cannot. Remember that HeroQuest is a game, and Glorantha a fictional world. The Book of Red Cow is set up for the stories that interested me not some objective truth’. My Red Cow has variations from material presented in other sources. I dropped elements that did not fit the stories I wanted to tell. So should you.

Play of the Game

Red Cow is self-consciously community based, aimed at what Chris Chinn calls Protagonist Play. For my part, HeroQuest is a game that excels not in exploring ancient ruins or dungeons but exploring the relationships between people. Those who want to become heroes, and venture to the other side to take their place in the Hero Wars, will find it easier to do so with the backing of a community. Even Harrek the Beserk – the White Bear himself – has his Wolf Pirates. So Red Cow is consciously set amongst a clan and the places where the people of the clan live their lives.

Protagonist Play centers on the idea that players tell stories not the narrator, who provides the setting and backdrop. The admonition that players in Red Cow should have three relationships with narrator-characters in the handout is intended to provide a web of tensions to begin stories from. This makes it harder to share Red Cow adventures with you. Most are tailored around the heroes in my Red Cow game and the stories their players are telling. Many rely on techniques like Bangs, first described in Ron Edwards game Sorcerer. However I provide the outline of some of the key events of campaign so far, drawn from a first year of the game, 1605, where the clans of the kingdom of Sartar, in the absence of the royal house, settled old scores.

Hopefully those of you who might want to run a setting based game, but have been put off by the work required to create the setting, will be able to employ the Book of Red Cow to help you do that.

Others might just want to use the Book of Red Cow to give their heroes a place to visit, away from home.

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