Lore, Adventure, and Waterfall Quest

Sam W

Home | Blogroll (opml)

I have been thinking what my favorite RuneScape quest is. The answer might be surprising, because it’s a small, (more or less) one-off quest known for its rewards more than the quest’s events. I’m going to introduce the quest, tell why I love it, and how I plan to bring it to the table.

Waterfall Quest

A boy is stranded on an island in a river just ahead of a waterfall. His worried mother asks you to bring him home safely. But the boy is convinced there is treasure nearby. Unwilling to leave without treasure, you are now drafted into a treasure hunt to bring this young boy home.

A small visitor center near the waterfall has an old book in it. It tells the story of Queen Glarial and King Baxtorian, elven royalty buried with treasure below the falls. The way into the treasure room is locked without a small pebble belonging to Glarial, stolen by a gnome family a century ago. You must recover the pebble.

The gnome family’s home has been overrun by hobgoblins. The last gnome remains alive, having locked himself into a small room to survive. He passes you the pebble.

The pebble opens Glarial’s tomb, located not under the falls, but nearby, under a small shrine. It will not open at first. After leaving behind all armor, weapons, and magical items will the pebble open the tomb. Inside lurk tremendous giants made of wood and moss, standing guard over a sarcophagus. Inside the sarcophagus is an amulet once belonging to Glarial. You take it, leaving as quick as possible. You also take Glarial’s ashes in an urn.

You return to the falls, armed with weapons, armor, and knowledge. You enter a door in the wall of the falls, and with Glarial’s amulet you enter unperturbed. Dungeon rooms lay out before you, with monsters many times your power. Giants of fire and lava roam here. Spiders made of shadow. You find a key and make your way to the backmost room.

Here is a shrine to King Baxtorian. You fill the chalices scattered across the room with magical runestones, as the book you retrieved indicated. You also return Glarial’s ashes to the tomb here, reuniting with the dead king1. There is a deep grinding, and a treasure is revealed. Diamonds, gold bars, and curious metal seeds that sprout into flowers.

The boy claims you stole his treasure, and will not return home.

Place in the Game

Waterfall quest is a low-level quest, mostly used for its rewards (the skill experience points I didn’t mention). It boosts you up many levels, and can be completed early on with some cleverness.

Lorewise, it gives flavour to the region of the world it takes place in, near historically gnomish and elven lands. In RuneScape, these are not mysterious hidden folk, but organized factions with economies, governments, and histories. However, elves have long been gone from the known world for unknown reasons.

Most players might find Waterfall quest kind of charming on a first play, and just complete it afterwards for its rewards. It is required for further quests in the area, but its events and history does not develop beyond those described.

I think many don’t give this quest much of a second thought.

My Analysis

I think this quest shows great worldbuilding and lore delivery (except for reading an old book), has a great sense of adventure, and is a great self-contained location-based adventure. I think these features make it perfect for an OSR-style game.

The worldbuilding of this quest is great because it gives an ‘impression of depth.’ I came across this term in a Wikipedia article that uses it: Impression of Depth in Lord of the Rings. In short, the Wikipedia article says Tolkein creates an impression of vast history through various literary mechanisms, which are detailed. I’ll do a bit of the same for Waterfall quest.

Waterfall quest uses in-game texts, multiple historical references by NPCs, and hidden locations for an impression of depth. The book in the visitor center and the text on Glarial’s shrine above her tomb both give details about the past, and give interesting details by showing different sides of the historical account. The historical references by NPCs also shade the past, from the boy’s scant ‘treasure hunt’ to the gnome survivor’s family history of Glarial’s pebble. The hidden locations, both Glarial’s and Baxtorian’s tombs, provide a sense of wonder at the richness of the history: it’s right beside us, all the time.

The adventure in this quest is also fantastic. There are several types of adventure presented: treasure hunting (throughout), infiltration (as when navigating the hobgoblin-infested gnome home), and something like martyrdom, when you must remove your armor and weapons to descend into Glarial’s tomb. Each is a chance of death (especially at low level), and keeps the heart racing.

Many RuneScape players love the epic scale of the recent questlines. I think this old quest has something very appealing about its self-containment. By the end of the quest, we never learn more about Baxtorian and Glarial, nor the gnome family2, nor who the boy grows up to be. They simply exist as a memory, inviting you to wonder what it all meant. Did you do the right thing in taking the treasure? Shorting that boy? What historical role did these people play? What was the lost kingdom here? The questions can keep coming. None of them are answered. And that sense of wonder stays alive.

Bringing to the Table

I think I can synthesize several strategies for bringing this kind of experience to the table:

History delivery is often tricky in TTRPGS. You don’t want to have a GM monologue on irrelevant details to sate their desire to show off their worldbuilding. But you still need to deliver that information. I think a good tip is to keep the information itself fairly short, punchy, and maybe include a curious loose end that ties to the present situation. You can also have NPCs deliver history, but have have in-world prompts for the information given. If you can keep the players leading an interview-style dialogue, you have engaged the players well beyond the monologue.

I think hidden world elements are easy to implement: just always keep in mind the question the players will ask: why wasn’t this found before? There are several ways to answer this, and I’ll throw out some stock answers: it was locked, guarded, inaccessible due to terrain, visually hidden, magically hidden, or maybe it’s known to locals but no one has the means (or desire) to plumb its depths.

Tangible danger is also easy. There is plenty of writing and support for this in OSR games. Just don’t be shy to challenge your players!

Action-based advancement: I like this. Again, plenty out there to read this: see diagetic advancement as well. I think this also helps to keep the players “small” in the world: they only briefly touch the powerful forces that set the course of the currents of the world.

I’m currently running The Black Wyrm of Brandonsford for my group. I think I’ll incorporate some of the above for them. And most of all, try to keep the wonder alive.