"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Thursday, September 19, 2019


VILLAIN OR HEROINE, satan or savior, the Red Goddess is one of the most compelling figures in the rich tapestry of Gloranthan mythology.  Born inside the mortal world of Time in 1220 ST, she was the result of a ritual undertaken by seven conspirators in direct violation of the Compromise that separates the realms of the divine from the mundane.  Beginning life as a mortal girl, she would later ascend into the heavens wrapped in a massive ball of stolen earth, a living goddess contained in the newly formed Red Moon.  In her wake she left a spreading empire, a demigod son, and a new form of magic whose nature has led some to embrace her teachings and others to despise them.  At the heart of her controversy lies the ancient terror of Chaos.

Yet what does this all mean?  What is the Red Goddess trying to do?  In HeroQuest Glorantha, Jeff Richard writes;

Lunar magic was a created by the Red Goddess and so can only be summoned by those with the / Moon Rune. Her devoted followers say it is the fourth form of magic, a healed syncretic expression of the old ways of magic. Her vociferous enemies claim that Lunar magic is Chaos disguised with a glamour.  (HQG p. 179)
I would like to suggest that both opinions are true, and to make sense of this, we need to get into the metaphysics of Gloranthan Chaos.
Chaos erupted into the world—Theyalan mythology tells us—during the Gods War.  As Glorantha’s deities fell to fighting and killing each other, the Order that held the cosmos together was threatened.  The Unholy Trio, a conspiracy of gods that some might suggest foreshadow the Seven Mothers who opened the way for the Red Goddess to enter the world, worked together to bring Chaos into creation.  It came in the form of Wakboth, known as both the Devil and the Doom of the World.  Wakboth was the living embodiment of the Chaos Rune, which is associated with “entropy, evil, corruption” (HQG p. 18).  He nearly undid the whole of the cosmos until a last ditch effort by the surviving gods bound him—and them—in the Web of Time.
Since then, Chaos in Glorantha has been a source of unspeakable horror.  Woven into the fabric of Time alongside all the other Runes it brings mutation, madness, rot, and taint wherever it manifests.  The cults that embrace Chaos are amongst the world’s blackest, and most sane people shun it.  The Red Goddess, however, chooses to embrace Chaos alongside all of the other Runes, and in doing so claims she is “healing” the world.  How could this be?
The answer lies in what came before Glorantha.  We are told that everything started with the Elemental Runes, each of which emerged from each other.  Darkness emerged first, Water from it, then Earth from Water, Sky from Earth, and Air from Sky.  The other Runes all appeared in the midst of this process.
Yet assuming that there was no Element before it, what did Darkness emerge from?  The answer is intriguing;
The most ancient Rune, the First Born, the Waker from the Void, from whom all other Elements were born or descended. Darkness was the first Element to arise out of the Primal Chaos.  (HQG p. 14)
The implication here is that all of the other Runes emerged from Chaos, which naturally makes little sense.  Chaos is the primary force of annihilation and corruption.  It doesn’t make, it destroys.  The “Devil is in the details,” if you pardon the pun, and the phrasing here is significant.  Darkness is the Waker from the “Void,” and emerged from “Primal Chaos.”  This equates the Void with Primal Chaos, and suggests that “Primal” Chaos and Chaos are not the same thing.
Among our own world’s most ancient scriptures, the Rig Veda tells us;
In the earliest age of the gods existence was born from non-existence…in that age their was neither existence nor non-existence, no realm of air, no sky beyond it… (Rig Veda, Mandala 10)
The Torah mirrors a similar idea in telling us that in the beginning the world was תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ, tohu wa bohu, “without form and void.”  This Void, neither existence nor non-existence, is identical with Glorantha’s Primal Chaos.
To wrap your brain around this concept, and how a universe could possibly emerge from nothingness, lets do some simple math.
Zero is “without form and empty,” yet it is also the only number you can reasonably call “infinite.”  Think of Zero as the sum of all paired opposites; -n + n always equals it.  Any number, added to its opposite negative number, is Zero.  Genesis goes on the talk about God creating the world by separating things; light from darkness, night from day, the waters above from the waters below, etc.  If we were somehow to add these things back together—light plus darkness, day plus night—we would arrive back at Zero again.
Primal Chaos, the Void, contained all the Runes and all the world in a potential state.  It was Darkness and Water, Harmony and Disorder, Life and Death.  It was a nothingness that hadn’t been separated yet.  The Rune we know as “Chaos” cannot possibly be the same as this Primal Chaos, because Chaos must exist in opposition to Order.  Entropy and Corruption cannot exist without something the break down and corrupt.
Illumination is central to the Red Goddess’s teachings.  Long condemned by its detractors as “Chaotic,” Illumination is actually association with the Infinity Rune (HQG pp. 203-204).  As pointed out above, Infinity is by definition synonymous with Zero, Primal Chaos, the Void.  “Nothing is eternal.”  “Nothing lasts forever.”  Illumination liberates the individual from all dualities and all opposites.  An Illuminate could master the powers of both the Life and Death Runes, Truth and Illusion, etc.  Again, this is because they are attaining the “zero” state in which all opposites come together. In this way we can see Gloranthan Illumination as something similar to the extinction of self in Buddhist and some Hindu traditions, in which there is no longer any division between subject and object. 
This is the object of the Lunar religion, and its Sevening Rites lead the initiate to Illumination.  Yet you cannot reach Illumination—a state of Primal Chaos that enfolds all dualities—without embracing Chaos, the entropic and corruptive force.  From the Lunar point of view, there is a distinction from mastering Chaos in this way and in being corrupted by it.  This is made clear in the Lunar religion’s deepest secret, the Quest of the Red Goddess. When the Goddess first enters God Time she encounters Wakboth the Devil and he defeats her.  Later, she encounters Nysalor (the deity who taught Illumination in the Second Age) and is Illuminated by him.  When she next encounters Wakboth, she conquers him.  The Lunar Way is drawing a distinction between being the victim of Chaos and its master.
The ultimate goal of the Lunar Way then has to be the attainment of a state of consciousness of Primal Chaos.  Embracing Chaos, like any and every other Rune, is a necessary part of this.

COMING SOON: In honor of Chaosium’s #WeAreAllUs celebration of the life and work of Greg Stafford (running from October 10 to October 31st), my group and I will be running back-to-back game sessions revisiting the classic “The Cradle” scenario, rewritten for the campaign.  The new version will appear in two blog posts here.  And stay tuned for my upcoming Jonstown Compendium contribution, Rites of Passage, which will look at adulthood initiation rites across several Gloranthan cultures.  This will include guidelines for designing your own as well as several ready-to-play examples (Orlanthi, Esrolian, Dara Happan, Uz) for both HeroQuest Glorantha and RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha.   

Thursday, September 5, 2019


Author's Note: The following is a very HeroQuest Glorantha specific piece.  Most of the ideas can easily be converted to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha however.  To help with that, I am including a link to a much older essay I wrote on heroquesting that is RuneQuest specific...unfortunately it predates the latest edition and is based on the classic RQ2.  Still, between this article and that, RQG players should fine ideas they can mine for their campaigns.

HQG players might want to peek at the other article too!

WHENEVER POSSIBLE, I prefer to have my players write their own heroquests. There are several reasons for this.

First of all, there is a fundamental difference between a heroquest and your standard role-playing adventure.  An adventure, by nature, is a venturing into the Unknown.  Player characters do not know what threats they will face, what challenges they will encounter, what obstacles they will overcome.  In a heroquest, however, the player characters are reenacting a myth.  Like actors, they are assuming roles and following a script.  In many cases these are stories they have grown up on, that they know backwards and forwards.  Bear in mind we are talking about “Established Heroquest Paths” here, not “Creative” heroquesting (see HeroQuest, p. 200).  Since the player characters are fully aware of what is coming (or so they think…GMs will insert their own twists and turns into the players’ narratives), there is no harm in letting them write the script.

Second, by nature a heroquest is a textbook example of what for decades they have told gamemasters not to do; i.e. railroad the players.  As a heroquest is a script, and as deviating from it brings penalties and possibly disaster, there is a danger of players feeling a bit like their characters are simply jumping through hoops.  I’ve found that players are far more inclined to stick to the script if they themselves wrote it.  It might be a railroad, but they laid the tracks and are driving the train.  And when the GM intervenes to insert his or her own changes to the script (more on this below), the surprises seem more jarring and exciting.

Finally, Glorantha is a shared narrative.  Over decades Greg Stafford and many others have contributed to the tale, and it falls on the individual gamemaster to orchestrate his or her own vision of it.  Players contribute the protagonists, the heroes that move and breathe through the world.  Allowing players to write their own heroquests lets them contribute on the world-building side; their own myths will become part of Gloranthan reality for the campaign.  Players are always co-creators…this just ramps that up a little.

Over the years then I have used various formulas and guidelines to enable the players to do this.  I adapt and change these when new models come to my attention (over the last few years HeroQuest Glorantha and 13th Age Glorantha—both of which devote entire chapters to heroquesting—have been influences on me).  The guidelines I provide here will point out those sources when they come up.  As a final note before we begin, I should also stress these rules are for an ongoing HeroQuest Glorantha campaign.  They can be used in either 13G or RuneQuest, but some tinkering will be needed.  I have a few suggestions in those areas as well.


I DON’T USUALLY allow my player characters to start heroquesting until they have become Rune Masters.  This goes all the way back to my RQ2 days.  There are two obvious exceptions; I usually run them through their adulthood initiations at the start of the campaign, and later initiation into a cult.  Both of these events I run as heroquests.  They enter myth, reenact the deeds of their gods, and come back transformed (as adults or cult initiates) with new powers (access to basic magic and later Rune magic).  I design both these heroquests.  Their initiation into Rune Master status I let them write for themselves, and any heroquests they might like thereafter.

This “training wheel period” is meant to let them have ample time to get used to their characters and the world they move in.  I encourage the players in this time to become as familiar with their cultures’ myths as possible (the Stafford Library is invaluable for this).  I like them to read the chapter in HQG or 13G on heroquests before they start as well.

Step One: The Myth

Players start by asking themselves What boon am I looking for? and What myth am I using to get it?

A boon is a power, a treasure, or some other tangible or spiritual benefit.  In my HeroQuest games, attuning to a new Rune or gaining a new Feat both require heroquesting.  If you want to allow cult initiates to heroquest before reaching Rune Mastery, you could require heroquests for break out abilities for Runes (like lightning spear for the Air Rune).  I tend to view such things as Rune spells (as under the RQ rules) and let initiates sacrifice or worship to gain specializations like this.  

Another excellent type of heroquest boon is a to bolster community ratings and cement those benefits (see “Gloranthan Communites,” p. 119, of HQG).  Communities have ratings in Wealth, Communication, Morale, War, and Magic, and a heroquest could be performed to improve any one of these.  For example, a heroquest could be performed to bring a mythic weapon back for the clan, boosting its War attribute, or an artifact for the cult that increases the Magic rating.  Such quests can also repair damaged ratings.  A clan whose Wealth has been lost through cattle raids or disease could have its heroes quest to boost the rating, bringing greater fertility to the herds the next spring.  

Pick a Boon
  • New Rune
  • New Feat
  • New Magic Specialization 
  • New Ability (ally, weapon, power, skill, etc)
  • Community Rating Boost (War, Morale, Magic, Communication, Wealth)

Now the players need to decide what Myth they will enter to gain that Boon.  Either an established Myth can be borrowed and adapted, or an entirely new Myth can be written.  If a pre-existing Myth is used, the players should be encouraged to change it (with reason) to suit their needs.  If a new Myth is written, don’t worry about great prose or thrilling drama...what matters is consistency.  The Myth should portray the gods involved in a manner consistent with their deeds in other Myths.

When picking a Myth, keep in mind the cultures of the characters and the gods they worship.  Entering the Myths of your own gods is easier than those of other cultures and pantheons.  An Orlanthi could enter the Myths of Orlanth or other members of the Storm Tribe with comparative ease; entering the Myths of the Darkness Tribe or the Fire Tribe would be considerably harder.  The GM will take this into consideration when assigning difficulties to challenges in the heroquest (see below).

Example: A Vingan character wants to boost her clan’s War rating.  While reading Vingan myths in The Book of Heortling Mythology, the player notices and is struck by the line “Vinga again cast her wind-fed javelin” (p. 72). She decides her character will enter the Myth seeking to bring back “the Wind-Fed javelins” for her clan.

Example 2:  An Orlanthi character wants to achieve the same thing as in the previous example.  He has the break-out ability “Lightning Spear” on his character sheet, and thinks “wouldn’t it be cool if the fyrds of my clan could fight with crackling, electrified spears!”  He decides to create a Myth, “How Orlanth Won His Lightning Spear” and enter it.  He doesn’t know any Myth like that, but surely a lightning spear is something Orlanth would have so it is consistent.

Now that you have a Myth, or have decided to make one, it’s time to map it out.

Step Two: The Hero’s Journey

Traditionally I’ve used Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” as the basic template of a heroquest Myth, but considerably streamlined and cut down.  I encourage players to have the following stages;

  1. The Call to Adventure
  2. The Road of Testing
  3. The Abyss
  4. The Return

The Call to Adventure is simply how the god or goddess gets involved in the Myth.  This is where the heroquest begins.  

Example: Reading the “Wind-Fed Javelin Myth,” the player decides the Call to Adventure is when Vinga is all along at the stead, Orlanth, Elmal, and all the Thunder Brothers absent, and Mahome is frozen by the encroaching power of Valind.  She must take up arms and defend the stead.

Example 2:  The Orlanthi character’s player likes the idea of a young Orlanth hearing about the King of the Umbroli and his amazing weapon, the Lightning Spear.  Orlanth decides he will see out the king’s hall and steal it.

The Road of Testing is the main body of the Myth leading up to the Climax.  It consists of making allies, fighting lesser foes, passing tests and surmounting obstacles.  13G likes to call these events “Stations,” and I have adopted the term (like the “stations of the cross” it is perfect, and it gives me the added joy of hearing David Bowie in my head every time I think of it).

I recommend to the players three or four Stations here.  There are three types of Station to chose from;

  • Facing a Foe
  • Making an Ally
  • Beating a Challenge

These can be selected any number of times and in any combination.  Your Myth could have you facing three foes, making four allies, or beating two foes and two challenges.  It’s up to you.  Note however that while you dream up these Stations, the gamemaster will be the one to assign difficulties to them.

Example:  The player pours over the Vinga myth.  She decides on three Stations from her reading; 1) Vinga shields Mahome with her cloak against Valind’s icy winds (Beating a Challenge), 2) she runs across the tree tops when Valind covers the earth in deep snow (Beating a Challenge), and 3) she drives Valind off by hurling her wind fed javelin at him (Facing a Foe).

Example 2:  The Orlanthi’s player decides that 1) Orlanth first goes and asks Yinkin for help (Making an Ally), 2) then must scale a steep mountain to reach the King’s Hall (Beating a Challenge), 3) has to sneak his way past the three-headed giant guarding the door (Beating a Challenge), and 4) steal the Lightning Spear from the Locked Strong Box (Beating a Challenge).

Each Station should be a Simple Contest.  Keep track of the cumulative Benefits of Victory and Consequences of Defeat at each Station to apply to the next stage, The Abyss.

The Abyss is the Climax, the final confrontation.  It involves the protagonist coming face to face with the ultimate challenge or antagonist.  Often this antagonist is the antithesis of the protagonist, a dark reflection of an opposite.  It is always an Extended Contest, and the accrued Benefits and Penalties from all previous Stations are applied here.  The Abyss results in a transformation to the protagonist, a change of state.

Example:  The Myth of Vinga and Valind ends with Valind running off and Vinga chasing him to the end of the stead’s border and hurling a javelin at him from a mile away.  The player decides to make this more epic.  Vinga pushes him to the edge of the tula, and as he rains snow and ice on her she keeps hurling her javelins at him as he flees farther and farther away, until final hitting and defeating him from a mile off.  This is an Extended Contest, Valind is her mythic antithesis (he is the Invader, she is the Defender), and she emerges from the encounter transformed (the Thunder Brothers return and acknowledge Vinga at last as a warrior after she single-handedly saved the stead).

Example 2: The King of the Umbroli air spirits is Ohorlanth. The player decides he is a brutal, barbaric shadow of Orlanth, an Orlanth lacking all the god’s nobler aspects.  For the Abyss of this Myth then, the King catches Orlanth red handed and tries to wrest the Spear back from him.  This leads to a titanic battle between the King of the Umbroli and the future King of the Gods.  If Orlanth is victorious, he is transformed, now HE is the Thunderer, not Ohorlanth.

The Return is a scene that “closes he circuit.”  The protagonist returns transformed to the awe and wonder of his kin or peers.  It is an important part of the Myth.  This does not need to be a struggle, and if it is leave it a Simple Contest.  It is more symbolic.  In the examples above, the Thunder Brothers come home to the stead and are in awe that Vinga saved Mahome and fought Valind alone.  Orlanth comes back and awes his brothers with his new weapon.  This scene is the end of the tale.

Step Three: Preparation

Now the player has a clear objective (Boon) and a Path to follow (the Myth).  There are still some requirements to be met.  The player character needs;

  • The Right People
  • The Right Place
  • The Right Time
  • The Right Tools

A heroquest is a ritual.  It requires qualified people to perform it, an auspicious location from which a doorway into the Otherside can be opened, an auspicious time when the proper Runic energies are aligned, and the right ritual instruments.  The player needs to think about all of these elements, and the characters must assemble them before the quest can begin.

The Right People can mean several things.  Few heroquests are done alone.  For starters, people will be needed to assume the roles of the mythic protagonist and his companions.  Ideally these people are Rune Masters of the same cult as the god they are portraying.  An Orlanthi playing Orlanth, a Eurmali playing Eurmal, etc.  Conditions are seldom ideal, however, but you want to get as close to perfect as you can.

For example, a Storm Tribe cultist (Orlanth, Urox, Barntar, Vinga, etc) can step into the role of any member of the Storm Tribe with minimal damage to the Myth.  Likewise a Lightbringer cultist could play the role of any of the seven Lightbringers.  An Orlanthi playing Ernalda, or Yelmalio, or Zorak Zoran...that would create a deep Mythic dissonance (all actions performed would be a “stretch” in HQG terms).  

Second, unless you have traveled to a part of Glorantha that has an opening into the Otherside, you need someone to open the way for you.  This means Rune Priests.  Even if you are a Rune Master you cannot open the way for yourself, as you are the one passing over.  Lengthy invocations must be performed, sacrifices offered, rituals observed, and the way must be kept open for the questers to come back.  So unless you are jumping into the Hell Crack, Magasta’s Pool, or someplace like the Gates of Dawn and Dusk, you need a community to assist you.  Usually this is your cult or clan (tribe, etc).

Finally, you need companions.  True, the Vinga myth has her fighting alone...but surely she has shield maidens and people to carry her extra javelins for her.  When designing a Myth, unless you plan on a one-on-one session with your GM, look for roles for your who group to play.

The Right Place.  To open the way into the Otherside, you need to be at a place sacred to the protagonist of that Myth.  This is illustrated by the Windstop.  When the Lunar Empire conquers Whitewall and the last Orlanthi holy place is defiled, all connections to Orlanth are cut off.  Sacred places are where the power of the gods bleeds into the world.  

It is possible to migrate from one area of the Otherside to another, but this is best left for a later discussion on Creative Heroquesting.

The Right Time, ideally, is the High Holy Day of the protagonist of the Myth, or even better, his or her day in Sacred Time.  In a pinch a Holy Day will do.  Failing that, a day aligned with the god.  In the case of Orlanth, for example, Windsday/Movement Week/Storm Season is best.  Failing that, Windsday/Movement Week of any season.  Failing that, any Windsday.  The GM would be well in his or her rights to increase difficulties of actions within the Myth the less auspicious the time is.  Other conditions might be auspicious, such as an Orlanth heroquest begun during a storm, a Yelmalio one performed at noon, or a Kyger Litor one at midnight.

The Right Tools.  At the bare minimum the questers should be costumed as the gods they are portraying.  They should be armed with the deity’s weapons and symbols.  These do not need to be real weapons...just props.  They will become real on the Otherside.

More often than not the sacred space needs to be “dressed” with symbols that reflect the Myth.  Sacrifices must be offered that are pleasing to the god.  Such things can be costly and hard to find.

Once you have completed Steps 1-3, you have a finished Heroquest ready to show your GM.  He or she might suggest changes. Once approved, it is ready to run.

Step Four: Performance

Now it is time to address you, the Gamemaster.  But stick around players, so you can get the full picture.

The player has brought you a heroquest and you have agreed to run it.  For starters, unless they have traveled to a physical opening to the Otherside, they need to meet the ritual requirements to open the way.  If everything is ideal, like being at a Sun Dome Temple on his High Holy Day to enter a Yelmalio Myth, give opening the way a Low Difficulty.  If things are mostly right, make it Moderate.  If things are about half right and half wrong, give it a High Difficulty.  Mostly wrong, Very High.  Anything worse than that is Nearly Impossible.

In any case the roll to open the way is made by the lead character (the central protagonist in the Heroquest), but uses the community’s Magic rating.  They are the ones opening the way, after all.

Devious GMs might also want to test the community’s Wealth attribute unless the player characters have financed the ritual themselves.  Sacrifices are costly.

If successful the way is opened and the heroquesters begin to pass over.  The chanting, the incense, the possible ingestion of hallucinogenics (an Indologist at heart, I like a soma component in all my heroquest crossing overs), starts to send the characters into a trance state.  The world fades and the Otherside grows brighter around them.  They are no longer costumed and painted performers but genuine images of the gods.  The props they carried are real.  Of course they still have all the abilities and personalities of the player characters.

Now you need to set the difficulties for the Road of Testing.  If the protagonists are all “well cast” in their roles, start with a Moderate Difficulty.  If you feel they are badly cast, make it High.  Don’t be any more punitive than that unless they are flagrantly miscast, because already they are suffering a stretch for playing the wrong roles.  From their I like to let the Pass/Fail cycle guide things.  YGWV (your GAME will vary).

As they play through each Station, keep track of the Benefits and Penalties they accumulate.  These are cumulative and cancel each other out.  The better they do on the Road, the better their chances at the Abyss.

After the Abyss, the prize is won or lost.  After this Extended Contest be sure to use the Climactic Scene Victory Level table.  Heroquests are high stakes and not for the faint of heart.

Now.  The most important thing.  This is the PLAYERS’ script, GMs, NOT yours!  No heroquest goes as expected.  Remember, a Myth is really just a human record or perception of truth.  Myths can be wrong.

Don’t be punitive with this, but play with it.  Maybe a Station or two pop up out of order (God Time is not linear).  Maybe an unexpected ally appears (Eurmal is always a good candidate).  Maybe the group stumbles a cross an entire Station that the Myth forgot.  Maybe they run into other heroquesters (maybe even enemy heroquesters trying to stop them).  Once, I dropped an insane God Learner who had been lost in a Myth since the Second Age into the middle and all hell broke loose.  The goal here is to give players a few twists and turns, a curve ball or two.  Don’t actively try to ruin the quest.

Even if things do follow the script, feel free to insert new elements.  Do you have a story you are running next session that you want to foreshadow?  Have the lead NPC from it appear briefly in the heroquest.  Does the character have a dead lover?  Sibling?  Parent?  Have one of the beings in the Myth wear their face or form.  A classic option is to have the chief antagonist appear as an antagonist from the Mundane world.  The Hero Plane is a reflection of the Gods Age muddled by human perception.  Time does not function here.  Dreams become flesh.

Once you are running their script, it’s yours too.  Keep them on their toes.

When all is said and done, the characters find there way back.  Unless you feel things were too easy for them, just allow this to happen.  They return with their prize or their failure and deal with the consequences.  Otherwise, introduce a complication…another foe appears, there is an obstacle, etc.  

Sunday, September 1, 2019


Heroquesting is a key characteristic of stories set in Glorantha.  Glorantha heroes can journey to the mythic realms and bring back some of the magic of the Gods Age.  Heroquesting is a magical act wherein the quester can transform herself, her community, or even her gods.  It is the source of the most powerful Gloranthan magic...

Jeff Richard, HeroQuest Glorantha


MANY OF US already know the story.  The people of Jrustela followed the teachings of the prophet Malkion, who taught that there was only a single, transcendent God, and that this being set in motion a universe that conforms to immutable and impersonal laws.  Understanding those laws, and applying them, was the basis of their sorcery.  During the imperial Second Age, the Jrusteli ruled the Middle Sea Empire, dominating the costal regions of both the northern and southern continents.  This brought them into contact with a wide variety of cultures, most of which had either animistic or theistic worldviews which the Jrusteli considered both primitive and ignorant.  

One of the many paradoxes of the Jrusteli then is the sobriquet they became known by; the "God Learners."  

It is impossible in Glorantha to simply dismiss the presence of gods and spirits.  The Jrusteli knew they existed, but saw them more along the lines of plant and animal life.  Such beings were merely products of the immutable laws of the universe, which were properly embodied not in the gods but in the Runes.  The storm god Orlanth, for example, was passionate, proud, violent, and impulsive for the same reason a human being attuned to the Runes of Air and Motion would be.  All things in Glorantha were bound to the Runes, they dictated the shape of existence, not the deeds of petty gods.

The Jrusteli then came to see gods and their myths as another form of flora and fauna, specimens to be studied, quantified, catalogued, and ultimately used.  Here they earned the name God Learner, for every culture they encountered they would delve into the local myths.  Their ultimate goal--like 19th century scholars of comparative religion in our own world--was to form a unified theory of myth, a "monomyth," if you will.  Glorantha being Glorantha, however, the God Learners did not confine themselves to mere philosophy.  They tested their theories out in the field.

The most infamous example of God Learner experimentation was the "Goddess Switch."  By God Learner thinking, if this goddess had the Runes of Earth, Fertility, and Harmony, and that goddess had the same Runes, then local mythology aside they must in fact be the same goddess.  They were interchangeable.  The analogue would be saying that Osiris and Christ were really the same figure, because they were both resurrected gods, or that Loki and the Native American Coyote were the same.  Yet the God Learners tested their theory and "switched" the goddesses, making the worshippers of Dendara worship Ernalda instead and vice versa.  The results were catastrophic.  In one region, all marriages started to fail.  In the other, trees stopped bearing fruit.  Widespread famine occurred.

To finish this cautionary tale, the whole of Nature eventually rose up against the God Learners.  Jrustela was shattered and sunk beneath the waves.  The oceans of the world were closed so that no ship could sail upon them.  The God Learners had played with fire and ultimately gotten burned.

We need to ask ourselves "why?"


To answer that question, we need to sink into a bit of our own God Learnerism here.  We need to postulate our own sort of unified field theory.  Unlike the Jrusteli, we do so fully aware of the "Your Glorantha Will Vary" principle, and emphasis this is just a possible answer.  A model, if you will.

I started thinking about this as a graduate student two decades ago.  It was a sort of thought experiment to integrate what I was learning with something I loved (Glorantha).  At the time I was studying under two mentors who were perfect for Gloranthan thought experiments; Alf Hiltebeitel had studied under Mircea Eliade--whose ideals had tremendous influence over Greg Stafford--and Seyyed Hossein Nasr was (and is) one of the foremost Perennialists in the world, meaning that the Gloranthan world view was not a thought experiment to him but an actual reality.  From Alf I got a very clear idea of Eliade's work, and from Nasr a first-hand look at someone who accepted the notion of a divine or sacred plane that informed the reality of our own.  

The model that best explained to me then the "sin" of the God Learners, and how Gloranthan reality might work, was ironically a very God Learner one.  It came from Hebrew Kabbalah, which would have pleased the followers of Malkion immensely, I think.

Essentially, Kabbalah postulates four worlds or "planes" of existence.  Each of these correspond to one letter of the Divine Name YHVH (Yahweh).  

The highest world is Atziluth, which we might call pure potentiality or being.  This is the "stuff" of existence.  Shapeless, formless, without conditions or definitions of any kind, in Gloranthan terms we might call this Chaos (though the Dragonewts and Kraloreli might prefer "Silence" or "the Void").  

The next world down is Briah, the world of Archetypes.  These are the building blocks that start to shape and define the pure essence of Atziluth.  Kabbalah put the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet here, because in the Torah God "speaks" the world into existence.  If Atziluth is pure Mind, Briah is Language, the ability to form thoughts as words.  In Glorantha, the Runes clearly fall here.  We have several stories of how the Runes emerged from Chaos, and how in doing so began to shape the world.

Yetzirah comes next, and this is the plane of Formation.  Atziluth is pure mind, Briah provides the mechanics of thought, but Yetzirah is where the actual thinking occurs.  This is where the Runes interact, combine, and make shapes. In Glorantha this is the Gods Age.  The interaction of the Runes establishes the patterns of the mundane world.

Which brings us to Assiah, the physical world.  The world we see around us.  It is the product of the three realms above it.

Let's illustrate this with an example...the article you are reading right now.

I possess a mind, and had the potential to write anything I wanted...a love letter, a poem, a cookbook, an article on Gloranthan metaphysics.  That is all Atziluth.

I possessed a symbol set to shape my thoughts.  In this case, the English language.  That is Briah.

I sat down and organized by thoughts, used letters and words and grammar to shape them, and spent a morning sitting here typing them.  This is Yetzirah.

You are reading this finished article.  It now exists, brought into existence by the steps above.  That is Assiah.

The simplest analogy is to regard Atziluth as the blank page, Briah as the letters on that page, Yetzirah as the writer writing on that page, and Assiah as the final written product.

In Glorantha, Chaos is clearly the origin and author of all being.  The Runes emerged from it.  What makes Chaos dangerous on the Mundane level is that it is undefined.  It exists with rules or definitions.  Thus, when Chaos bleeds into the world bypassing the two middle planes it destroys shape and order.  It recreates the undefined potentiality of its pure state.  

The Runes emerged from Chaos and form the language by which the world can be expressed and defined.  The Gods Age, "myth," is the process of defining the world.  The Inner World of Time is the finally result, what was created through that process.


Let's imagine the mundane Inner World of Glorantha as a Wikipedia article.

The article "as is" is what everyone experiences and sees.  Heroquesting is, in a sense, going in and editing that article.  Even if you go in an change the wording of s single sentence, but keep the same meaning ("He was born in Pella in 356 BC and succeeded his father Philip II to the throne at the age of 20" to something like "Born in Pella, 356 BC, at just the age of 20 he succeeded his father Philip II to the throne"), the fact is you have now participated in the article, changed it, and been changed by it.  Reality has been altered.  The world just shifted a fraction.  Heroquesters do this by going in and following the footsteps of the gods.  They are not changing the meaning, just the "wording" by their presence there.

The more radical heroquests are when you go in an deviate entirely.  Say you change Alexander's birthplace or age when he succeeded his father to the throne.  This is a radical departure and you have just made a major change to reality (this is the whole current plight of out society and "fake news").  The difference between our world and Glorantha is that by entering the Gods Age and re-editing, you can potentially alter Alexander's birthplace.  You've changed the world.

To shift arenas for a moment, let's consider Hamlet.  If you are an actor, taking on the role of Hamlet means following the script.  You embody Hamlet and your own performance alters the role.  You yourself are changed by the experience (some of Hamlet is now part of you), and the world has been changed (your performance added to the interpretations of the character out there).  This is the standard heroquest.  The God Learners, on the other hand, went in and switched Hamlet with Romeo thinking it would remain the same play.  

This is the mistake of the God Learners.  They understood, correctly, that the Runes are the foundation of reality.  C and A and T makes "cat" in the same way Earth and Fertility and Harmony makes "Ernalda."  But they failed to understand that usage and context matter as well.  "Minute" might be spelled identically to "minute" but one means sixty seconds of time and another means a small quantity of something.  Ernalda and Dendara might indeed have been composed of the same Runes, but their myths (usage, context) rendered them quite different.  They are not interchangeable.  

Malkioni sorcery, by skipping the entire "Yetzirah" level of the gods and going straight to the Runes, can indeed produce similar magics to Ernalda by manipulating the Earth, Fertility, and Harmony Runes, but the fact remains that Ernalda's deeds during the Gods Age "wrote" the world and defined what it is.  You cannot go back and change her deeds without changing what is "on the page."

Tuesday, August 27, 2019


Chapter Six:

Setting: Pavis; both New Pavis and the area known as the Big Rubble. 

Theme:  Luck versus Fate.  As the player characters increasingly find their lives seemingly following prophecies, they question whether chance or destiny governs their lives.  To underscore this, Argrath White Bull (see below) will talk to them about their destinies and fates, while Garrath Sharpsword (ibid) will tell them he believes in luck and that a man makes his own way.     

Synopsis:  In the Big Rubble of Pavis, the protagonists are introduced to Argrath White Bull, a Sartarite exile and former slave whose encounter with a powerful Praxian spirit gave rise to the White Bull Spirit Society.  Argrath has taken a special interest in the famous “Starbrow’s Children,” and their quest to liberate the slaves of Prax.  He is not the only one who sees their coming as fortuitous…Orvost Tintalker, the local Orlanthi High Priest who is hiding from Lunar forces in the Rubble, has a mission for the characters as well.  There is a legendary relic, part of the regalia from the original temple of Orlanth, that he believes they can recover.  This quest will take them to Temple Hill in the Rubble—Troll territory—but will win them the full support of the local Orlanthi.  Along the way, however, teaming up with the Wind Lord and swordmaster Garrath Sharpsword unleashes another shock…     

Subplots:  A possible link between the Spirit Society and the group’s own spirit-talker, Leika, begins to emerge as White Bull and many of his followers see her own albinism as holy and somehow connected to their own tutelary deity…

Our Protagonists

Leika Faransdotr
The daughter of the Black Stag Clan’s chief spirit-talker and human leader of the local White Hart Spirit Society, Leika’s mother died in childbirth.  Raised alone by her father and somewhat spoiled by him, she was instructed from a very young age in the spirit world and its magic.  An albino, she was something of an outsider to her peers.  She is now a member of the Kolat Spirit Tradition.

Beralor Three Fathers
Raised by Harvarr—his clan’s Redsmith—and his Nandan partner Affar, Beralor is actually the son of Harvarr’s sister and the bonded Eurmali Trickster Kheladon Blue-Eye.  An enthusiastic Orlanth initiate, his path (and consequently that of his friends) has been manipulated by his Trickster sire for reasons he cannot guess.

Kalf Light Foot
A herdsman and shepherd raised by his widowed mother after his father died in Starbrow’s Rebellion, Kalf married his youth-time sweetheart Esrala and the couple are expecting a child.  Wanting only a quiet family life that his father’s death deprived him of, he nevertheless finds himself in the foreign lands of Prax trying to save his mother—and fellow kinsmen—from Lunar slavery.

Kalliva No One’s Daughter
The daughter of a Vingan and a Lunar commander, Kalliva was raised by an aunt who always resented and later rejected her.  Herself a Vingan initiate who wants only to protect and defend her kin, she is marked by powerful Dragon Magic that pulled her into the designs of Kallyr Starbrow and a destined role in events yet to come.   

Dramatis Personae

Argrath White Bull
  • Runes: Harmony, Beast, Spirit
  • Shaman and White Bull Spirit Tradition leader
  • Goals: To unite the Tribes of Prax against the occupying Lunar forces.
  • Notes:  Yes…that Argrath (see “What Gives?” below).  Argrath White Bull is the cliche riddle wrapped in an enigma and packaged in mystery.  A Sartarite, he was found and taken captive alone on the plains of Prax by the Bison Tribe, who made him a slave.  At the time he was just fifteen.  Over the next five years of captivity, he stunned his captors by mastering their language, their customs, and more disturbingly, their magic…almost intuitively.  Tribal spirits swarmed to the young outsider, embracing him as their own.  When he heard the legend of the White Bull from the tribal elders, Argrath announced he would seek out the spirit and free it, much to the mocking amusement of the tribesmen.  Then he did exactly that…his body cold and dead for three days and three nights while his spirit went out to find and bring back the Bull.  When he returned with the spirit, much of the tribe fell on their knees to him.  He was quickly accepted and trained into a shaman, and founded the White Bull Spirit Society.  Argrath wandered Prax for two years after this, approaching other tribes and inviting him into his society, slowly building an underground army, a tribal confederation unlike anything seen in Prax in ages.  In 1618 he relocated to the Big Rubble in Pavis, from which he leads his society.  
  • Roleplay Notes: Think Gandhi.  Think Buddha.  Think “deep, mystical, shamanic wise man.”  For a young man of 24 years he seems ancient, with a gaze that seems to stare right through the Mundane World into the Spirit Plane.  He has the same annoying habit as Starbrow of speaking in pronouncements (“you will do this,” “you are going to do that”) but when he does it, it comes off prophetic instead of imperious.  In playing him, keep the Harmony Rune in the front of your mind.  He is a uniter, a peace-maker, a healer.  People come to him broken and he fixes them.  They come to him drifting, and he gives them purpose.  His society turns members of different tribes into the same tribe (their animals become albino as a sign of this shared unity).  Now, if it seems odd to you that a man of peace is building an army, buckle-up buttercup, because it all gets weirder with the next entry…       

Garrath Sharpsword
  • Runes: Air, Mastery, Motion
  • Sartarite Wind Lord, Weaponmaster, Teacher, and Adventurer
  • Goals: To personify Orlanth Adventurous, to be a thorn in the Lunars’ side.
  • Notes:  Sharpsword turned up in New Pavis two years ago, a Sartarite exile with a taste for adventure, ale, and attractive young people (of both genders).  Charismatic, ridiculously charming, and just a little bit wicked, he is almost too much of a swashbuckler to be in a Bronze Age heroic fantasy setting…yet there he is.  Sharpsword proved himself as a Rune Lord to the Wind Voices of the city, and to the adventurering regulars at Gimpy’s as a swordsman to be reckoned with.  His mastery of styles, especially Wind and Dragon, is deadly.  He regularly makes forays into the Big Rubble, sometimes alongside other adventurers like Krogar Wolfhelm, Wolfhead, and Griselda, sometimes alone.  He has also joined the White Bull Society.
  • Ropleplay Notes:  Garrath Sharpsword is an adventurer who gets off on the thrill of danger.  He is a risk taker.  He puts others in harm’s way.  He is a shameless flirt who sees lovemaking as a sport, and plays it with both attractive men and women.  However he is also loyal, dedicated to Orlanth, and a man of his word.  Like Batman and Bruce Wayne, you will never see Garrath and Argrath in the same room together (you do the math).  As the anagram indicates, there is more to Garrath than meets the eye.  In playing him play up the mischievous twinkle in his eye, the sly grin, the dashing charisma.        

Wait…What Gives???

Yes, Garrath Sharpsword is Argrath White Bull and vice versa.  This is, in a sense, my answer to the “many Argraths” question.  While in some campaigns Argrath is several different people combined by historians into a composite figure, and in others he is just a single hero who performs all sorts of great deeds, I am splitting the difference.  He is multiple personalities…not in the clinical sense, however.  

We know that at some point Argrath becomes Illuminated…here, I am going with an Argrath who is already Illuminated and who has been since the age of 12.  In chapter five of Six Seasons in Sartar, “Rites of Passage” (my interpretation of Greg Stafford’s description of Orlanthi adulthood rites) I laid the groundwork for this.  The initiation is in stages, and not everyone completes ever stage.  Most don’t.  Most complete the Second Son stage (making them adults) and then return.  Beyond this was the Star Heart (making them potential heroes), the Devil’s Face (empowering them to fight Chaos), and finally confrontation with the Void (Illumination).  Almost no one ever makes it that far. Argrath did.

Being Illuminated allows him to be an Orlanthi Wind Lord and a Shaman, and it also gives him a somewhat detached view of “individuality.” Argrath understands that things like clan, tribe, cult, tradition, and even personality are all just masks.  He can take one off and put on another at need.  Argrath White Bull is who and what he needs to be to unite the tribes of Prax behind him.  Garrath Sharpsword is who and what he needs to be in a city like New Pavis, riddled with adventurers and scoundrels.  A new mask will emerge when it is time for him to take the throne.  

Orvost Tintalker
  • Runes: Air, Motion, Mastery
  • Wind Voice, the Rebel High Priest of Orlanth Rex in Pavis
  • Goals: To restore the worship of Orlanth in the city
  • Notes:  Orvost is the grandson of Dorasar, the Sartarite founder of New Pavis (1550 ST).  When the Lunars took the city, the Orlanth temple was outlawed and the previous High Priest killed.  Orvost escaped with the sacred temple regalia into the Rubble, and has lived in hiding there since.  The Lunars have placed Faltikus the Good (a worshipper of Maru, a storm god in Talasar) in charge of the city’s “Air Temple,” as closing the temple entirely was not an option (it is responsible for bringing the life-giving rains to the city).  For the Sartarite true-believers, however, Orvost is the true spiritual heart of the community.  he carries with him the sacred Lightning Bands of Saronil and the Silver Mantle.      
  • Roleplay Notes: Orvost is, perhaps, a bit too obsessed with Faltikus and the Pavis Air Temple for his own good.  He speaks of the Lunar official priest as “the Imposter,” and even “Gbaji.”  In his own mind he sees himself as Arkat, meant to bring the false priest down.  Regardless, he is a good and true Voice of Orlanth and faithfully sees to the spiritual needs of those who come to him in the Rubble.  

Gor Gar Gurar
  • Runes: Darkness, Death, Disorder
  • Zorak Zoran initiate, second-in-command of the Troll war band of Temple Hill 
  • Goals: Kill Chaos, kill humans, kill dwarves (you get the idea).
  • Notes:  Gor Gar Gurar was born in the Big Rubble, the first Dark Troll to a mother who had only brought forth Trollkin litters.  To nurture him, as soon as he was weaned his older siblings were fed to him over the first two years of his life.  From the start he seemed marked by the Black God; even as a youth his murderous rage was legendary.  As a Zorak Zoran initiate, his rage and battle prowess quickly won the favor of the local Death Captain, Shumbar Gnash Gnak, who Gor Gar Gurar dreams of replacing.        
  • Roleplay Notes: Gor Gar Gurar is, pure and simple, a fanatic.  He fights with berserker fury, using his powers of Darkness, Terror, and Death to cower his foes.  His war band will fight alongside Dehori and ghosts.  He will surprise the player characters with a fire attack or two as well.

Surbar Sor Sar
  • Runes: Darkness, Harmony, Mastery
  • Argan Argar Rune Priest
  • Goals: To keep the Troll community of the Rubble free and independent of the Lunars, to act as a bridge between the Human and Uz communities
  • Notes:  Even from youth, Surbar was different; he is blessed (or cursed) with prophetic powers.  He does not see the future, he “hears” and “smells” it.  Privately he knows Chaos is returning, he feels the Hero Wars coming in his bones, and he worries what this means for his race.  He is a well known Troll merchant in New Pavis and Prax, dapper in his black Trollkin leather and imported Kralorealan silk.  He has a fondness for snuff.     
  • Roleplay Notes: Surbar seeks to maintain a status quo that he knows he cannot.  He senses a coming storm, knows the White Bull is somehow part of it, and wants to make sure that the short-sightedness and unthinking brutality of people like Gor Gar do not doom his people.  He wants to be on the “right side” when the storm comes.

“Orin” (Orininus (or-i-NIGH-nus) Prathvi Yuthaldrex)
  • Runes: Fire/Sky, Life, Truth
  • Slave
  • Goals: Teol has promised him the ability to but his freedom at some point in the future, an option he likely would not have under a Lunar master.  This makes him surprisingly loyal to Teol.
  • Notes: No more than seventeen, his pale skin tanned by the sun of Prax, his hair pale blonde and eyes sky blue…is from the Lunar Heartlands.  He is originally from a well-placed Dara Happan family that fell afoul of a Dart Competition.  The adults in his family were sentenced to death, the children to slavery.  Orin was sold to a wealthy Lunar magistrate soon after assigned to Pavis, and lost by his master in a dicing match.  That is where Teolrian bought him.  The boy is useful because he is fluent in Trade, New Peolrian, and now Praxian, knows arithmetic, and can read well.  While obviously a Lunar, he is by no means a Lunar.  He recognizes the Red Goddess and the Emperor as the supreme powers in the world, but culturally he is Dara Happan.  He sees the Red Goddess as something that happened to his people, not something they have become.  His father taught him that one day the Sun would vanquish the Moon…which is in part the kind of heresy that destroyed his family.     

Harjaani Finds-Water
  • Runes: Harmony, Death, Spirit
  • Foundchild Initiate, High Llama Tribesman, Scout, Secret White Bull Initiate
  • Goals: To be known as a great scout and hunter, to win a wife.
  • Notes: Finds-Water is a young and up-and-coming member of his tribe, a group of 34 wandering High Llama Riders (the Blue Stone Bearers).  He has a strange streak of curiosity regarding outsiders, something his khan disapproves of.  He has learned to be wary of the Red Moon People but the High Mountain People fascinate him.  He is also an initiate of the White Bull spirit society, and part of a movement he believes will bring peace back to Prax and the world.


In which the history of Pavis is revealed.

Act One
In which the player characters arrive in Pavis.  With the aid of an Argan Argari they pass into the Rubble through Troll Break and are led through the Troll Strong Lands to Huntland, where Argrath White Bull awaits them.  The shaman seems strangely interested in them, yet noncommittal on aiding them in their cause.  He seems to have a particular interest in Leika.  He suggests they remain in the Rubble for the time in Manside, while he considers helping them, and that they might want to meet with Orvost Tintalker to attend to their spiritual needs.

On a Windsday religious ceremony, a week later, the Wind Voice is inspired and begins to speak with the Breath of Orlanth, delivering prophecy.  In the wake of this, he lays a dangerous quest upon the player characters, but promises them the aid of a Wind Lord guide.

Weeks are spent preparing for the quest.  On the day before they set out, the arrival of their guide changes everything (Climax).

Act Two
In which the player characters and their guide head for Temple Hill seeking the ancient, Second Age temple of Orlanth there.  A lost piece of temple regalia, Vorhar’s Mead Horn, is believed to still be in the vaults below, but legend recounts it sealed behind powerful EWF magics.  Orvost believes the mark on Kalliva’s hand may be the key.  

A Lunar patrol and unfortunate encounter with a party from the nearby Troll Fort complicates matters, and when the Temple is found a mosaic there suggests an unexpected connection to the player character’s pasts (the Midpoint “twist”).  

The vault is opened, but the relic is guarded by a terrible and deadly spirit, the product of Second Age sorceries.  Only if Leika can call the White Bull do the characters stand a chance of defeating it (Disaster and Crisis).  With the relic recovered (or not), the characters must then contend with reinforcements from the Troll Fort and a bloodthirsty Zorak Zorani (Climax).

Act Three
The player characters must return to Manside with the relic, and then decide whether or not to turn it over to Orvost and trust things will unfold according to the will of the gods, or to take matters into their own hands.  Their guide offers to take them into New Pavis under new identities; he has a future enterprise he thinks they might be helpful with…  


WE SEE THE INNER SANCTUM of the Temple of Pavis.  Torchlight flickers over carved stone reliefs depicting the history of the city.  

In the beginning came the Sorcerers of Jrustela.  The Godlearners sailed up the Zola Fel  from their Middle Sea Empire in search of the source of the Giant Cradles that periodically sailed downstream.  We see men in ships on a river, their beards lacquered and waxed.  Here they built Robcradle, a fort to capture and study these infants and their vessels.  We see the same men surrounding a massive wailing infant, taking its giant cradle apart.

In fury came Paragua, the Giant, to avenge these infants.  We see a titanic figure shattering the walls of a fortress, the bearded men dismembered and flying through the air.  Taking great slabs of stone from the mountains in the north, he erected a great wall around the ruins of Robcradle, to keep the Godlearners from ever coming again.  

So it was until the coming of Pavis Half-Elf.  We see a human lord holding hands with an Aldryami woman.  Beneath them a baby lies in a cradle.  Unique among all living beings, Pavis was an attempt to recreate a person in the image of the primordial Man Rune.  He grew to be a great sorcerer and hero.

As a man, he set his sights on the ruins of Robcradle.  We see Pavis now, shaking hands with a dwarf.  He met and befriended Flintnail, one of the few True Mostali still living from the God’s Age.  Together, they went north to Throne and animated the colossal Faceless Statue.  Now we see Pavis and the Dwarf riding on the shoulders of a gigantic naked man, human in all respects but lacking a face.  Together they went south to the giant’s enclosure, and with the Statue battled the Giant.  They were victorious and Pavis claimed the territory for himself.

Now we see many dwarfs working on the walls of the city, and erecting many palaces and buildings.  With Flintnail’s help them dismembered the Faceless Statue and incorporated its magic into the walls of the city, smoothing and joining the rough stones.  The City of Pavis was born, one of the splendors of the Imperial Age.  Eventually, Pavis ascended to become the god of the city, and his friend Flintnail returned to Dragon Pass.

We see a group of nomads, each riding a different beast.  They are led by a fierce warrior with an oversized mouth and teeth.  In the carved relief, his teeth are actually inlaid gold.  Then came the Host of Jaldon Toothmaker, Jaldon Goldentooth.  He united the nomads against the city—which they had always seen it as a nest of invaders come to claim the good grazing lands along the Zola Fel—and laid siege.  Three armies came from the Empire of Wyrm’s Friends to defend their eastern outpost, and the Nomads threw down them all, sacking the city and driving the Pure Horse Tribe from Prax.  We see Jaldon chewing through the walls of the city.  Pavis was laid waste.

So it remained for centuries until Dorasar of Sartar came.  By this time the ruin was a nest of Trolls and worse.  We see a proud Sartarite warrior, holding a sword in one hand and a lightning bolt in the other.  There are many Trolls within the walls of the City.  Dorasar made friends among the Impala people, the River people, and the dwarfs of the city.  Together they reawoke the spirit of Pavis and used it to build a new, smaller, city, just outside the original walls. New Pavis was born.

We linger now on the last relief.  Lunar soldiers with sickle-shaped swords and Sable Riders march upon the new city under a Red Moon.  So New Pavis remained until the coming of the Lunars, who conquered the city in a day.  Now they hold New Pavis, and lay claim to the Big Rubble, the massive ruins of the original city enclosed in the giant walls.  But no one can truly rule the Rubble, which is home to Elder Races, bandits, rebels, and Chaos, it’s ancient ruins containing lost magics of Godlearners and Wyrm Friends…



Beginning: (Waterday, Disorder Week, Storm Season) EVEN IN THE DARK of night when you close your eyes you still see it…the blazing white light of day reflected off the Long Dry.  It took two and a half days to cross it, two and a half days of dry, cracked earth that shimmered in the heat, dust storms that stung your eyes and caked your lungs.  Two and a half days of carefully rationed salt and water.  And this, Harjaani reminded you, was the winter.  In the summer the Long Dry is best avoided.  

As you left the Paps behind you, you came to realize that range must have formed a kind of spine down the middle of Prax, for as you rode east from Day’s Rest the land gradually and continually rose; now since the Paps, as you continue east it is falling.  This matched something Harjaani had said.  “The Rain Chief sends the wet winds down from the mountains towards the rising Sun.”  “Rain Chief” is what he calls Orlanth, a word that with his Praxian accent sounds like “War-lanth” when he tries to say it, just Orinius we keeps calling “Woe-rin.”  “The Paps drink up most of the water from the wet winds, so the western sides are green and good.  By the time the wind makes it to the west side, it is dry and dusty.  It is no longer Rain Chief’s wind.  It belongs to the Storm Bull.”

Rain, he assured you, seldom fell east of the Paps.  “Except around Stone Hut Camp, the place you call ‘Pavis.’  Rain falls there because many High Mountain people like you live there, and Rain Chief does not forget them.”

On the second day, as your eyes adjusted to the blinding light and heat shimmering off the ground, through a lull in the dust storms you saw the Zola Fel river valley ahead of you in the distant east.  It was a long ribbon of green in an otherwise barren landscape.  The River of Cradles itself caught the sunlight and shone like a thin thread of light, woven through the center of the green.  With a chill you realized your people were down there, somewhere.  You were in sight of them.

Harjaani turned northwards, where the river valley bent towards you.  By the late afternoon you could smell moisture in the air as you neared the Zola Fel, and the ground began to soften.  Miles ahead, with a shock like thunder, you saw it...or rather them.  The white walls of Old Pavis, stretching for leagues, higher than you even imagined.  You remembered the stories of giants building them, and you suddenly did not doubt them.  Only a giant, or a god, could make such things.

As the sun set behind you, and darkness spread across the sky, Harjaani led you not towards New Pavis—huddled against the great ways of the Rubble—but in the opposite direction.  “We are not entering Stone Hut Camp.  The Moon People rule it.  We meet our friends in the Rubble.  There is only one entrance they do not hold.  To pass, we need assistance.”

You discover that “assistance” on the banks of the river, which stretches out black before you in the moonless night.  The sound of peeping frogs and crickets fills the dark.  Hidden amongst the high reeds which grow there are three rafts.  The figures surrounding them—which from a distance you mistook as children—are hunched and twisted things with malshaped limbs and bulbous eyes.  There is something infantile and timid about them; as you approach they begin to make  mewling noises.  These are cut short by a sound which is half-grunt and half-snarl, a sound so deep that you feel it in your guts like the beat of a drum.

He—she? it?—emerges from the reeds.  He must have been seated, for standing you could not miss him.  He is a head taller than the tallest amongst you, and nearly as wide…especially around the waist.  The inhuman face stretches out into a snout, tusks jutting from the bottom jaw.  He has bejeweled these with rings of lead and obsidian stones.  His eyes seem too small for so large a head, black and beady.  His skin, a gray so dark it is nearly black, is smooth and mostly hairless, even on the top of his head.  As he speaks he puts a massive hand on his belly in some sort of salute.  His voice vibrates your bones.

“I have the honor of being Surbar Sor Sar, son of Zorjar Jag Jor, She of the Seven Darks.  I welcome you to Pavis.”

The Dark Troll and his trollkin servants are here to ferry you across the river, and to escort you through the Troll Break, the single entrance into the Rubble not under Lunar control (well, less under Lunar control than the others).  Surbar does this out of a favor owed to White Bull.

Surbar is urbane, genial, and enjoys conversation—his Harmony Rune mitigating the secrecy and iciness of his Darkness Rune.  Feel free to extend this scene in role-play if it is right for the story.  It takes fifteen minutes to pole their way across the Zola Fel, and another hour rounding the massive wall towards the Troll Break.  Plenty of time for speaking with him.  On the other hand, he and his Trollkin slaves remain alert and wary of Lunar patrols.  He doesn’t expect trouble…it is Waterday and the Red Moon is black, making Lunar magic weak…but is still cautious.  As they near Troll Break, his caution turns towards the Trolls.

Before nearing sight of the Break, Surbar apologizes.  The Trollkin will strip the players of any armor and weapons and fit them with shackles and collars.  Even Harjaani’s High Llama is leashed.  “A gentle ruse, my new friends, to get you past the guard.  I fear in your grand quest to liberate captives, you must enter the ancient city disguised as such.  I trust you appreciate the irony?”

If need be, he will try to convince them this is the only way.  

The Troll break is a massive gap in the wall, V-shaped, wide at the top but narrowing at the base so that only two men—or one Troll—could pass through at a time.  Rubble is strewn across the plain around it.  Here, encamped, are several Dark Trolls and at least twice as many Trollkin.  None seem nearly as genial as Surbar.

Their leader—possibly a guard captain?—is terrifying.  Larger than Surbar, and more top heavy, his muzzle is hideously scarred.  Something about the scarification makes you think it might be ritually done.  He is armored with bronze and leather, Runes of Darkness, Disorder, and Death painted on it in what you are sure is blood.  He wields a wicked spiked club and has not bothered to clean the gore from its last victims off the weapon.  

He inspects each player character, leaning in close to sniff each.  For effect, he might even lick the face of one with a massive, grayish-pink tongue.  Surbar delivers to him what might be a bribe, a small wooded chest filled with misshapen lead coins.  They negotiate in Darktongue, a language at once deep and echoing and also strangely cold, sending shivers down their spines.  They seem to quarrel.  The guard gestures at Surbar’s Trollkin, and in the end he sweetens the deal by giving the guards three of them.  The Trollkin are mewling and screaming in terror as they are turned over.  

The guards are licking their lips.

They pass without incident through the break, mindful of watchful eyes on them.  They are in the Troll Strong Lands here…a sprawling village of Trolls and Trollkin who have salvaged homes and shops from the ruins of the ancient city.  Surbar leads them cautiously through these, down narrow lanes for a mile or so.  Troll matrons snort as they pass, Trollkin mostly scamper.  It seems most know Surbar here and let him pass.  You stop twice, however, for him to bribe local Troll gangs for passage through their turf.

Eventually the Troll huts give way to a wide, rubble-strewn plain.  Surbar walks you another mile, perhaps two, returning your arms and liberating you.  Shortly after you can see the flicker of firelight ahead.  It flickers over the walls of what might once have been a tower.  Now only archways, broken columns, and two partial walls remain.  Surbar gestures for Harjaani, who comes up alongside him, and they lead you rough one of the walls.  Guards stop you again.  This time they are Nomads, and some Sartarites.  As you come round the corner you see their mounts tied up along one of the walls.  Bison.  Impala.  Sable.  All of them are albino…bone white with ruby red eyes. 

Before you can question, you see Harjaani’s own mount as the illusion lifts.  The color seems to evaporate from its fur like steam rising off a horse.  It is just as white as the rest.

Waiting there in the ruins, looking into the fire, is the man they call the White Bull.  Bare-armed and chested he wears a simple linen skirt around his waist, belted, and sandals.  You can see his tribal and clan tattoos.  Like you, he is Colymar.  His clan is Orlmarthing.  His auburn hair hangs just below his shoulders, and as he turns to face you, you recognize in the lines and contours of his face the boy you saw in your vision at the Paps.  To Beralor’s eyes, the kinship with Affar is unmistakable.

He speaks with Surbar in Darktongue, and reaches up to lay a hand on his shoulder.  The Troll bows slightly and steps back into the shadows.  Then he looks at Harjaani and grips him by the upper arms in a greeting you have seen enough times to know is standard among the Nomads.  They speak a few moments in Praxian.  Then he turns his eyes on you.  

“So these are ‘Starbrow’s Children.”

He is at least ten years older than you, in his mid-twenties, but his eyes, his demeanor, are ancient.  As he looks at you he seems to look through you, straight through flesh and bone to your spirit.  

Role-play this out.  He will thank them for coming, for what they did at the Paps.  He nods towards one of his followers—who is a Morokanth—and the creature bows deeply with them in thanks.  “That is the enigma of you.  You come to Prax to start a war, and yet you prevent another.  You sow both death and peace.”  He considers.  “Not the only enigma, however.”

He looks over each in turn.  “One divided between two fathers; one who makes and one who breaks.”  He looks at Beralor.  “One who is Vingasworn, but Dragons swim in her blood.”  Kalliva.  “One who wants only the quiet life of family, but who like his father leaves that to chase the storm.”  Kalf.  “And…” he pauses in front of Leika.  “One who bridges two worlds, but not perhaps the ones she thinks.”  He leans in very closely to her.  “Everyone here can see it.  The power of the White Bull branded into your own eyes and flesh.”

There is a fair bit of foreshadowing here, for as we shall see Argrath has his fair share of enigmas as well.   He stares into Leika’s eyes with that same penetrating gaze.  “There is someone here to see you.”

He puts his hand on her shoulder and gently turns her.  Immediately she sees her father, Faran, step into the firelight.

Play the scene out, bearing in mind the following points;

  1. This is Argrath White Bull, and for the sake of demonstrating the unearthly nature of Illumination and the paths he is walking, we will be treating he, Garrath Sharpsword, and the future Prince Argrath as completely separate people (more on this later).  Don’t think of it as schizophrenia; think of them as manifestations or masks of a single Illuminated being (if it helps, think of White Bull, Sharpsword, and Prince Argrath the same way you do Orlanth Adventurous, Thunderous, and Rex). They are facets of a much larger, incomprehensible being.  
  2. All of the remaining points that follow here hinge on this and apply ONLY to White Bull, NOT the “other” Argraths.  
  3. III. White Bull is no longer an Orlanthi. In his mind all he was died when he was exiled and taken captive as a slave.  He sees himself as reborn in the wastes, and has adopted the Praxians as his people, and the White Bull as his patron.  He is, through and through, a shaman, not a theist.  This is ESSENTIAL in getting across to make the player character’s encounter with Garrath Sharpsword (who IS an Orlanthi and a theist) all the more jarring 
  4.   His primary goal is the liberation of Prax, NOT Sartar or Dragon Pass.  
  5.   He understands, however, that liberating Sartar would greatly ease the difficulty of getting the Lunars out of Prax.  To that end he has reached out to Kallyr Starbrow and the two are working in a sort of alliance.  She is obsessed with freeing Sartar, he with Prax.  Cooperation is in the best interest of both.
  6. Kallyr has no idea who or what she is dealing with.  To her mind Argrath White Bull is an exile who has gone “native.”  Never in her wildest thoughts at this stage could she imagine the arrival of “Prince Argrath” in Sartar.
  7. VII.  What White Bull is achieving here in Prax is just a taste of what Prince Argrath will pull off in Sartar.  Here he has introduced magic that unites rival tribesman.  In Sartar he will introduce magic that unites entirely different cultures and world views.
  8. VIII.  He has not made up his mind about the player characters.  He is helping them because Starbrow is an ally and they continue to figure in her future plans; he is also intrigued by their crusade and thinks a full-scale slave uprising in Prax would dovetail nicely with his own ambitions.
  9.   He is a younger cousin of Beralor’s father Affar…but again, White Bull considers that life dead.  Neither Affar nor Beralor should expect any preferential treatment based on those ties.
  10. Finally, Argrath has plans for Leika (these will be revealed in the next chapter).  Right now let’s just say it is not lost on him that one of Starbrow’s Children is an albino spirit-talker, nor that the spirit tradition of her clan is the White Hart (an albino stag).  He is a magician; he knows like attracts like when he sees it.  When people join his White Bull spirit society, their mounts magically become albino.  Her clan receives its spirit magic from an albino stag.  She is an albino.  None of this in his mind is coincidence, especially not now (Gloranthan scholars, consider this is Storm Season 1620, and what is about to happen in the spring).    

Faran has recovered under the care of the Kolating shamans, and has come at White Bull’s invitation along with other emissaries from Kallyr Starbrow.  The emissaries returned, but Faran stayed when White Bull assured him Leika was coming.  In the two weeks since then, White Bull (who can be superhumanly persuasive) has convinced Faran that his daughter should possess the spirit charms of the White Hart…that she was, in fact, born to possess them.  He has agreed (more on this below).

After sufficient time and role-play White Bull will call it an evening.  He will not have promised the aid of the White Bull Society in freeing the Harbor captives, but he is giving it “serious consideration.”  He will offer them shelter in Manside, in the Rubble, under his protection, and he will arrange for them to meet the only “true Voice of Orlanth” in Pavis, Orvost Tintalker, to see to their spiritual needs.  He mentions that Orvost has two Wind Voices that work with him, Krogar Wolfhelm and Garrath Sharpsword (!)  He will then retire, leaving them to rest themselves.

Inciting Incident:  The party is taken to Manside, where quarters have been arranged for them in Real City.  They will be fed and sheltered there while White Bull considers how to assist them.

The filth and squalor is shocking to these highland Orlanthi, whose idyllic upbringing in their high mountain valley left them unprepared for this.  Furthermore, the shocking degeneration of their fellow Sartarites—many of whom were born right there in Pavis and the Rubble—appalls them.  They own clan had been ferociously traditionalist, and seeing so many of the Old Ways forgotten discomforts them.

This becomes painfully clear on Windsday, when they attend a secret Orlanth worship rite in a ruined bath house.  The rites are garbled; most of the congregation gathered do not known the proper words.  The “sacrifice” offered is some meat and wine poured on the floor.  No wonder Orlanth has abandoned these people, the highlanders think.  They have forgotten him.

Then…  There is an unexpected grumble of thunder.  The room smells of ozone.  Orvost Tintalker, who leads the rites, is seized by a fit and the Wind Voice suddenly starts speaking for Orlanth;   

On the Last Day of Storm before the Wind Dies
Must No One’s Daughter open the Dragon’s Eyes
On the Hill of Gods where only Darkness lies
There the White Bull must answer his sister’s need
And the defiant shall hold the Horn of Mead

The congregation—clearly not used to “real” magic—scatters in fear, but the party talks to Orvost after.  The reference to “No One’s Daughter” must clearly mean Kalliva.

Orvost will listen, excited, and then charge them with a quest.  He shows them the sacred regalia he carries, and tells them he has long heard of a lost relic in a vault beneath the ancient temple of Orlanth on Temple Hill;  Vorhar’s Mead Horn, brought to Old Pavis in the days of the EWF.  Vorhar was a legendary Vingkotling dragon slayer, and his Horn is said to be carved from a Dragon fang.  It would add considerably to the power of the local Orlanth cult—and his own claim to high priestship of it—if it could be recovered.

He believes the divination means they must undertake this dangerous quest on Orlanth’s coming high holy day (Windsday, Movement Week, Storm Season), five weeks from now.  With the support of the local community and his blessing, and the assistance of one of the local Wind Lord’s, he charges them to undertake the mission.

In the interim, Leika has a conversation with her father.  He reveals to her that the totem holding the spirit of the White Hart was not lost during the Lunar assault on their valley; he reminds her that the chieftain had sent him to the court of the Royal to raise aid from him.  Faran hid the charm then.  Later on the battlefield, fighting against the Lunes and Dehori his mind was shattered, but as he recovered in the care of the Kolating shamans, he went back and retrieved the relic.  This means the spirit of the White Hart lives on.  He shows her the charm, a bronze dagger with a handle of white antler.

He further reveals that once recovered he went to the Sons of Orlanth to offer his aid to the resistance.  When Starbrow ordered emissaries to come treat with the White Bull of Pavis, the White Bull specifically asked for Faran to come.  In Pavis, the White Bull revealed that Leika was on her way there, and persuaded him that Leika, an albino like the White Hart itself, is clearly meant to possess the totem and carry on the tradition.  Faran found him persuasive (!) and thus is giving the totem to her.  She must carry the White Hart and keep it alive for the future of their clan.   

Second Thoughts/Climax of Act One:  Being charged with a sacred mission, having the magical support of the community, these are things they all known Heroes do (and all of them have attained the Star Heart, after all), but this community is not truly theirs and feels foreign to them.  It also means five weeks of remaining in this squalid place, delaying their own quest.  Still, having the support of the local Orlanth temple, as well as the White Bull society, gives them resources they desperately need to pursue the liberation of their clansmen.

As the day approaches, and they are prepared, Garrath Sharpsword—the Wind Lord asked by Orvost to lead them to Temple Hill—arrives.  Bold, flirtatious, cocky, charming…he immediately strikes them as everything a Wind Lord should be.

Except…he is Argrath White Bull.

The otherworldly shaman they met in the Rubble and this proud, passionate Rune Lord are clearly the same man.  Yet his Runes are different, his magic is different.  His personality is different.  What is going on?

Asking Directly: There is every chance the player characters will ask Garrath “what the hell?”  He will never answer directly.  Instead with a wink and a grin he will say something like “a man can be the Devil to the man he has just killed and a god to his son.  Does this make them different men?”  In RQ terms this would be a Nysalorian Riddle.  Then he will brush off the questions and remind them of the work they have to do.


Obstacles 1 and 2:  Journeying towards Temple Hill, at some point while crossing Huntland they will come across a patrol of Antelope Lancers.  This will require either fighting or evading them.  As darkness falls and they reach the Temple, a local Trollish patrol, made up of a few Dark Trolls and several Trollkin warriors provides the second challenge.  Use the Pass/Fail Cycle when setting the challenge for these and resolve them with Simple Contests; save the Extended Contest for the climax.

Along the way take every role-play opportunity to portray Sharpsword as a completely different man from White Bull.  One is a shaman who now considers himself Praxian, the other is a Rune Lord and passionate advocate of Sartarite freedom.  One is a deeply spiritual man who advises and leads but stays above the fray, the other is lusty and a deadly swordsman who loves to fight and f***.  One talks about Fate, the other trusts only to Luck.  You are doing your job if the players keep forgetting their characters are talking to the same man.

Midpoint (the Big Twist): Reaching the Temple they need to find their way down into the vaults.  Sharpsword has been here before, so if the player characters fail the roll you can rely on him.  As a storm gathers overhead, they find a secret door in the rubble and a narrow flight of ancient steps leading down into the earth.  As if to welcome them, as they arrive in the vaults below the torches all begin to light for them.  Again, the smell of ozone signals the presence of Orlanth in the passages.

They find the vault that Orvost spoke up.  There is a stone wall covered with a repeating pattern of Dragonewt Runes.  Two Beast Runes are also set into the wall (the Dragon’s Eyes).  Kalliva can open this simply by using the key burned in the palm of her hand.

In the days of the EWF, when Draconic magic was used (and abused), it was common practice to seal important vaults and rooms by magic.  These could not be opened by physical keys, but by magic ones.  When Kalliva found the Key Stone in the ancient Dragon Temple and touched it, the power burned into her.  She can open this door the same way she opened the one for Starbrow.

Before she does, draw their attention to a mosaic beneath their feet.  It is covered with rubble and dust, but they can clearly make out a dragon bursting out of the earth on the right side of it, its open jaws ready to engulf a red orb that must be the moon…remind them the Moon did not exist then.  If they clear the mosaic they are in for a shock;

The mosaic shows a red-haired woman standing in the center of the depiction.  She has a glowing white stone in her forehead.  In front of her, another red-haired woman is handing a white drinking horn to her.  Behind this second woman is a white stag, a shadowcat, and a thundercloud.  The rising dragon is on the opposite side of the picture behind the central figure.

The central figure has to be Starbrow, though this is centuries before her birth.  The other figures might relate to them, and the implication is clearing giving Vorhar’s Horn to Starbrow.

Obstacle/Disaster: Once Kalliva opens the Dragon door, they are assaulted by a powerful spirit guardian, an abomination of EWF magic.  The thing seems to be the spirit of a Dream Dragon, black and terrible.  The entity is far too powerful for any of them.  Garrath implores Leika to release the White Hart…only a powerful spirit like that can hope to fight it.

If Leika releases the spirit, instead of the White Hart the White Bull arrives.  Even though he is now “Garrath Sharpsword,” Argrath is standing right there and the White Bull is still present where he is present.  Yet the White Bull responds to her call.

Handle this with a Group Simple Contest, as the White Bull requires all of their collective power and support.  Assuming they win, the Horn is theirs.  if not it shatters and the door is forever sealed.


Unless you feel the battle against the draconic spirit was too easy, let them take the Horn back to Manside safely.  Otherwise, throw a Lunar patrol or Troll party at them if they need it.  Let them decide if they will give the Horn to Orvost, or keep it for Starbrow.  The former choice will earn them the support of the Rubble Orlanth cult as a Community;

Wealth: 12
Communication: 18
Morale: 9M 
War: 18
Magic: 12M

A third option is to trust Orvost, give him the Horn, but tell him what the mosaic showed.  This is actually the best choice.  They will gain the community and he will still decide to give the Horn to Starbrow.

There is every chance that someone will get the idea of drinking from the Horn.  This is a terrible idea, but we all know how impetuous Orlanthi are.  Drinking from the Horn will flood the character’s mind with Draconic consciousness, effectively rendering them catatonic for several hours.  Repeated drinking will either drive the character mad, or at the GM’s discretion, light a “Draconic” spark.

If they won the Horn, at the conclusion Garrath should approach them.  If you have done your work well, they like him.  He will ask them if they have ever heard of Robcradle, and offers them the job of protecting a giant’s cradle…


The White Bull was incredibly top heavy.  If you have been following the campaign I like starting quickly or even in media res.  In this one, the first act was massive.  This was intentional.  The White Bull is only the first chapter of a three-parter; The Cradle, parts one and two, follows next.  The White Bull is really setting there table for the feast.

There is a tendency to equate Argrath with Arthur.  I associate him with another “Ar” entirely, the warrior Pandava of the Mahabharata, Arjuna.  Arjuna is the incarnation of Indra, the thunderbolt-wielding chieftain god, and the best friend of Krishna (one of the best embodiments of the Trickster you will find in mythology).  Krishna illuminates Arjuna in a scene immortalized in the Bhagavad Gita, but my approach to Argrath was to merge the two together.  You have the philosophizing master manipulator like Krishna (White Bull), and the “in-the-trenches” fighter like Arjuna (Sharpsword).  But Sharpsword is, as Krishna reminds Arjuna, just the instrument of destiny.  A greater force impels him.

The expression on the player’s faces was priceless when Garrath appeared.  We did a whole initial scene, briefly, before I said “oh, and he looks exactly like Argrath White Bull.”  They were dumbfounded because my portrayal of him was so different.  But twelve scenarios and nearly a year in they are not Glorantha newbies any more, and the theory rapidly was floated that he must be Illuminated.

It should be noted that they like Garrath Sharpsword far better than Argrath White Bull.

They made the best choices straight through the episode.  They teamed up with Garrath but asked no questions until the end (he was more honest; “Is it possible that a man would need to be one thing to unite the tribes of Prax and another to serve Orlanth?”), and read the prophecy so well that Leika did not bother calling the White Stag…she immediately summoned the White Bull.  Glorantha scholars may already see where I am going with this…an albino spirit talker whose own tradition reveres the albino cervidae equivalent of a Bull shows up just as Argrath is contemplating the possibility of leaving Pavis (the fact that the player like the name Leika, reminding me of Leika the Mayor, poured gas on that fire).  They also decided to turn the horn over the Orvost, but tell him about the mural.

They are well positioned now for the Cradle episodes.