A while ago, I talked about Quelong and loved it. Yesterday, I got to run it.
As is typical for my Planescape-Spelljammer-Traveller mashup, I started off by summarizing how the party got back to the Astral Sea and used the red pill to return to Sigil. There, they contacted Lissandra, a dealer in planar gates they knew from a previous expedition. They described their goal and I decided for myself that Zadara was going to sponsor a mission to Qelong on the condition that the party provide at least one hands-on experience with a god weapon. The party agreed and so Lissandra’s “anonymous client” coughed up the diamond dust worth 5000 gold pieces I deemed necessary to transition from Sigil’s Slag to Qelong…
At the end of a three hour session we ended with the party standing in front of the cylinder, having just thrown a naga-kin against it’s shell and watching the naga-kin burn to death.
How did it go? It was straight forward. The party had two goals:
- find the elven sorceress Barlakana who had disappeared in Qelong decades ago in the search of aakom (and nobody they talked to knew where to find her)
- they quickly learned that the aakom was being leaked from a god weapon and decided to investigate
Here’s what happened, and where I got the information from. You decide for yourself whether that’s the kind of 3h session you’d like to play in.
The party arrives in Qelong and the character that can fly investigates the area; he decides to land near a peasant hut along the canal. He sees Varangians harvesting the former inhabitant’s livers and everybody at the table is disgusted even though the dudes seem nice enough and offer the flyer a job as a scout. Report to Diamond Geary about 25 miles up north, they say. This was from the random river encounter table.
They also visit a lotus temple and learn about the importance of the canals and stupas in keeping the Naga Qelong asleep. They hire a 3rd level monk named Xue Sijhanouk to serve as a guide. This was improvised based on the Gold Lotus description and the henchmen rules. The monk brought the player map aboard. It’s “from an old religions text” and only vaguely up to date. Players like hand-outs and maps. They also like the lotus as a power for law and civilization, resisting the aakom.
Learning about the aakom poison in the water, they spend 400 gold pieces to buy rations and water for 400 days. This is a party with 10 characters ranging from levels 1 to 6, plus one wolf, so that leaves them 36 days to adventure. They also own a chalice that casts cure disease 5×/day, and they have two high level clerics with them. We look at the numbers and ponder ignoring the aakom poisoning rules. In the end I decide that since the weakest character in the party has 1 hit-point and the cure disease only masks the effect without getting rid of the poison, we’ll keep track of the 1 point/day aakom poison accumulation. That’s easy to track, toghether with the rations.
They buy a sampan (a small boat) for 5000 gold pieces and sail and row up the river. This was from the description of Qampong.
Three giant pythons drop on deck and one of the giant ape characters in the party breaks a foot. I later noticed that the pythons in the book have 2 HD stats but I used the ones from the Labyrinth Lord book which have 5 HD. No problem. This was from the random river encounter table.
They come to a village full of refugees and learn about the Varangian blockade and their confiscation of all goods. Hundreds of villagers beg for food and water. I offer to scratch 100 rations to feed the crowd and the party agrees. They spend the night. This was from the random condition of village table. I didn’t roll on the village encounter table.
Along the way, the party also meets a guesthouse. The inhabitants are extremely helpful and generous. The party is immediately suspicious and discovers that the inhabitants are in fact all evil cannibals. The guesthouse is set on fire and the party leaves. This was another entry from the random river encounter table.
They reach Jamqar Long and see the squalor, the refugees, the Varangians (the refugees called them “evil dwarves”). They talk to the Varangians and learn that Diamond Geary is on the other arm of the river. They spend the night. This was from the description of Jamqar Long.
They reach Sajra Amvoel and Fort Hawk (players chuckled at the latin name) and talk to Geary and Hagen. Geary is interested in hiring them, Hagen would love for them to find the cylinder but doesn’t want to risk his own men. It’s easier to harvest aakom from the refugees. They also see Hagen feed liver to the large hawk in his lab. Should the party locate the cylinder, however, Hagen offers to bypass its protection and as a reward, the players would get an ordinary Varangian share of the profits. The players decline and want to split profits 50:50 with the Varangians. This Hagen declines. They part on uneasy terms. Before leaving, the party also talks to the four clerics in the shrine. The monk henchman notices the non-traditional lotus ponds and disapproves of laymen using the lotus power. The clerics explain how they need to cooperate with the Varangians—including offering up terminal cases for “harvesting”—because the Varangians are all that keep the refugee situation from breaking down completely. The clerics also explain about Xam and Thip Qelay. There is some sympathy, there. This was from the description of Sajra Amvoel and the Varangian NPCs.
The party moves up the river. The clerics decides to use detect magic to attempt to find the arm of the river that would lead them to the cylinder and I agree that this would work. As they move up the river, they are attacked by 13 naga-kin. Two are taken prisoner and there is some talk regarding the Naga Qelong (a four headed serpent demigod) and Set (a seven headed serpent god). The naga-kin have never heard of Set but agree that he sounds very powerful and vaguely related. The naga-kin also agree that the aakom poisoning must end but for now it serves their purpose in weaking the canals and stupas. The situation remains unresolved, for now. The party spends the night.
On the forth day, they reach the cylinder. After much talking, one naga-kin is thrown against the cylinder and expires in the flash of fire as the other naga-kin watches in horror. That resolves the relationship towards the naga, I guess. The flying character managers to make a drawing of the inscription and the party now feels that they have earned their “pay” from Lissandra’s client. They haven’t found the elven sorceress, however.
Looking back, I think I should have played a non-stop thunderstorm track instead of Two Steps From Hell.
What do you think? Not enough atmosphere? Just enough atmosphere? Quicker than you thought? Does this session summary make you want to tweak the encounters in the Qelong book?
Until now I kept saying that Rob Conley’s Points of Light (4 settings, 42 letter-sized pages, reviewed on Dragonsfoot) and Points of Light 2 (4 settings, 59 letter-sized pages, also reviewed on Dragonsfoot) were the perfect hexcrawl products. The size was right. That’s about 25 A5 pages per setting. Thus, Qelong is about twice the size of a Rob Conley setting. If you want to get a feel for the Rob Conley settings, take a look at the Southland PDF. It’s available for free.
How does Qelong compare to the top hexcrawl? Here’s what I think.
Both provide a handful of pages of background, history, the major factions, how to integrate it into your campaign. The usual stuff, but short. I like short. I also like to know what the author intended to convey with the setting so that I can read the rest with the right mind set. I like to know whether it’s “hellish southeast Asia” (Qelong) or “embattled forces struggling to establish a home” (The Golden Shore, in Points of Light 2).
One thing I noticed was that the Qelong introduction referred to more faction details: “Myrmidons deranged and misdirected chew through the land, laying eggs in the river dwellers to hatch out more warriors. (See p.28 or [sic] details on the myrmidons.)” The effect was that while I was reading the introduction, I already eagerly leafed through the book, looking up details. It introduced me to the factions and made curious for more. Well done.
The Qelong introduction also has a table of 50 rumors and lets each character start with a random rumor; spending a handful of coins will let players roll again. I like it.
The Qelong introduction also features elaborate disease and magic poisoning rules that require purify food and drink, cure disease and remove curse spells. I think it’s very atmospheric but I’m not sure how well these poisoning rules work in play. We don’t keep track of rations, how will we keep track of poison levels?
Both Points of Light and Qelong describe geographic features. These are entire areas instead of single hexes with a specific description. In Points of Light most of these areas have one paragraph each, which is short. Qelong has more. It starts with a bold paragraph that could be read aloud or just provide the “in game” view. This is followed by another paragraph of background information that you don’t need at the table but which helps the referee understand what’s going on. And then there’s what I love: each geographic feature comes with a bullet list of suggested encounters.
- A sampan with its bottom staved in. A Tinkering roll could repair it.
- A carnivorous fish lives underneath the lotus field. Armor 13, 2 Hit Dice, bite 1d6. Or a school (2d8) of them.
- The characters’ boat approaches a sunken tree. Anyone actively searching for dangers in the water will notice it in time to take evasive action; otherwise it tears out the bottom of the characters’ boat, doing 1d10 shp [sic]. If the Referee wants to be a jerk, there is an ambush party of 1d6 naga-kin at the bottom of the river under the tree, waiting for their dinner.
In addition to that, Qelong has a different random encounter table for each hex type. This is excellent.
Qelong also comes with its own monster section to describe the various new creatures. This is also excellent.
Qelong comes with a table of names (family names, female and male first names). Very useful if you’re providing us with a new culture.
Quelong also comes with a small list of new ships and including required crew, sailing miles/day, rowing miles/day, cargo (tons) and ship hit points—these must be the shp mentioned in the encounter with the sunken tree in the list above. I like it.
Is there anything Qelong doesn’t come with?
Both Points of Light and Qelong come with a list of locations. In Points of Light, these are sorted by hex coordinates: “1604 Unicorn Pool”. There are a fair number of them. Southland, for example, comes with 38 hex descriptions. Each one consists of one to five paragraphs, many settlements come with a little overview map (to be copied and handed out to your players, perhaps?). Characters only have class and level indicated: “Lord Mayor Thomes White (Ftr3)”, monsters just have their hit dice noted: “Clak and Frull, hill giant (9HD) brothers”, and in Points of Light 2 they have some D&D 4E descriptors as well: “rust monsters (level 5 controller)”.
In Qelong, which is about twice the size of a single Points of Light setting, there are only ten encounter areas. Each has two to five paragraphs, some come with extra information about important non-player characters or unique monsters. If characters or monsters are described in more detail, any treasure they have is also listed. I like the detailed Qelong encounter areas and even if there are only ten of them, I think it works out because Qelong, unlike the Points of Light settings, has an optional end to it.
Wow! I really must recommend Qelong. I agree with Zak’s review: “So yeah, Qelong is fucking good and stuff.”
The only thing I would have liked is no watermark on each page. Points of Light also has it, but it’s lighter. The Qelong watermark is dense in the bottom quarter of the page and slows me down when reading it. That’s the sum total of all non-badass points I have.
I have yet to add it to my running campaigns and I have no idea of how to do it. It would seem like a major break from current events.