"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.

Sunday, March 10, 2019


Chapter Six

No hev oska lagt seg/The ashes have fallen
Verda er grå og grødelaus/The earth grey and barren
Spring spirar upp frå si grav/Sprouts spring from their grave
 Spring dei sigrande upp/Victorious they spring
Til sin første dag/To their first day

Eg er ikkje stor/I may not be big
Men tida på jord/But my time on Earth
Vil eg nyttje og nå/I shall use and I shall reach
Opp til himmelen blå/Into the blue sky
Renn tårane strie/Tears fall freely
Tå glede og sorg/From joy and from sorrow
For alt som fekk plass/For all that took place
For alt som gav plass/For all that gave place

Wardruna; “Wunjo”

Begin With: (Fireday, Movement Week, Sea Season), 1620 ST. Spring has returned to Black Stag Vale, and this time, the player characters greeted it as full adults.  Most of the planting is now over, and the clan starts looking towards the arrival of summer.  It is the calm before the storm.

The Situation: Three full centuries of Lunar legionaries out of Bagnot (240 men), a Minor Class unit of the Field School of Magic, and a unit of Sun Dome Templars are descending upon the Vale under the command of Centurion Xerphon Hali.  For tax avoidance, for arming and supporting local rebels, and above all else for the massacre Starbrow unleashed last Dark Season, the Haraborn are to be made an example of.  The men are to be taken south to feed the Bat.  The women and children are to be sold into slavery and sent to the Grantlands in Prax.  The clan wyter is to be killed.  

A further complication is that the Lunar commander, Xerphon, is actually Kalliva’s father…

The Calm Before…    

Scene 1: In the heat of the late spring afternoon Kalf is tending his sheep when a man in a yellow cloak walks up the hill.  His tattoos mark him as an Initiate of Issaries, and an Enjossi.  “Safe journeys Kalf Brogansson.  I bring you greetings from the road,” he says in an amiable, traditionally Issaries fashion.  They have not met, but he looks familiar.  The man is Dergandi Kulvilsson, Esrala’s older brother.  He was away on a trading mission last year when his sister was kidnapped, and never had the chance to meet Kalf.  He has come to the Vale on business, but having concluded that sought Kalf out to convey his father’s greetings, news of Esrala’s continued recovery, her desire for Kalf to come and see her, and his own personal thanks.  As it is late in the day, he asks Kalf if he may shelter the evening there with him.  The cottage is Kalf’s now. After initiation, Kalf’s mother has turned it over to him.  “You are the man of the house now,” she told him.  “Soon enough you will be wanting to start a family of your own.”  They still live together; she still cooks and looks after him, but the house and what little they have is his.

Scene 2: Leika, meanwhile, has a secret.  While gathering herbs for her father in the forest three weeks ago, Three Bears—the Telmori youth she met last Earth Season—came to see her, always in the company of his wolf brother Blackpaw.  Since then they have met in secret several times.  Let Leika’s player describe the nature of the relationship (she has already added him as an Ally).  Are they friends?  Lovers?  The latter is dangerous; aside from the Romeo and Juliet aspects (the Telmori and the Haraborn are traditional enemies), Three Bears is technically a “non person,” with whom relations of that sort are a crime.  Play out a brief scene that establishes the relationship.

Scene 3: Beralor and Kalliva, in the meantime, are in the company of Harvarr at Grothrang’s Well.  Now that they are adults, Harvarr has confessed to them that, at the urging of Gordangar and the Clan Ring, he has been supplying the Sons of Orlanth with arms.  He wanted Beralor to help him take weapons to them, and they would encamp a night with the rebels while Harvarr looked over their armor and affected repairs.  Kalliva has come along to confront the Vingan Korolmara, whom she know knows to be her true mother.  Starbrow has instructed some of the Sons to remain in Sartar, while others are in Heortland facing the Lunar army.  The idea is to continue to put pressure on the Lunars stationed in Sartar and to harry the supply lines.  She herself is in Heortland, and many believe Whitewall.

Kalliva may wish to know the story of her birth.  Korolmara, reluctantly, shares it.  Against her families wishes, Korolmara dyed her hair red, initiated to Vinga, and went to fight in Boldhome.  They lost.  She was taken captive and because she was a woman in the Lunars’ eyes spared and sold into slavery.  She spent two years in the household of a Lunar officer.  He had a son, Xerphon, who was kind to her.  Despite herself—to her shame—they became lovers.  While Ernaldan women can generally control conception, she lost those powers when she broke and pledged to Vinga.  She became pregnant.  She did not want her child to be a Lunar, so she betrayed Xerphon—who trusted her and had removed her slave collar—and escaped.  She came back to the Vale and delivered Kalliva.  Vingan, she was not prepared or qualified to be a mother, so she surrendered her daughter to Kallessa.  It was the hardest thing she has ever done.

Scene 4: …the Storm    

On the morning of Wildday, as Shepelkirt hangs bloated and red in the sky, the horn is sounded from the palisade at the mouth of the Vale.  It is carried up the Vale as others grab horns and sound the alarm.  Terror runs up the length of the valley.  The fyrds are called to assemble.  Every able-bodied man is to take up arms.

The Lunars have come.

The legionaries storm through the gates, which are set magically ablaze.  The men posted their immediately slaughtered.     

The order comes down from the Ring that all fyrds are to assemble at Red Rock as fast as possible.  One of the narrowest parts of the Vale, it is the best place to hold up a larger invading force.  All women and children, as well as the infirm and elderly, are to flee to the Hall.  

Kalf and Dergandi hear the alarms just after breakfast.  The Enjossi was planning to return home after the meal.  When a runner tells Kalf what is happening, and that he is called to take up arms in his fyrd, Dergandi looks grimly at him.  “I will fight alongside your people.”  His mother, however, collapses to her knees, pale as milk.  “I lost him to this madness.  Must I now risk you too?”  She pleads with Kalf to flee rather than fight, which of course he cannot do.  Play it out.  

Leika is assigned to a fyrd.  Her father, however, heads immediately for the woods under orders from the chieftain.  “I am to summon help,” he tells her.  He grips her by both shoulders.  “If the battle goes against us…promise me you will flee the field.  You are too young for it to end here.”  

Beralor, Kalliva, and Harvarr arrive an hour later.  They find the Vale in a state of panic.  Affar has waited behind at the Forge and tells them where the fyrds have gathered and rush to get there on time.  Before leaving Affar tearfully kisses Beralor on the forehead and says goodbye to his husband.  

“Come back to me,” Affar says.  

“Always,” Harvarr replies.

Scene 5: The Battle of Red Rock Stead

The fyrds have assembled at Red Rock.  There are about 140 men.  Gordangar and his weapon thanes ride down from the Hall, about 40 strong.  Across the newly planted fields about 300 Lunars wait.  There are three centuria of 80 men each, all in leather and scale armor with spears and tall rectangular shields.  They wear standard issue, identical helmets.  Beside them are the Sun Dome Templars, a unit of 30 in leather and gold, and white.  Behind these forces is a final unit, a terrifying collection of men and women in scarlet wearing silver masks.  These are the Lunar Field Magicians.      

Gordangar sends a rider across the field to ask for parley.  The size of the force makes it clear the Lunars mean business but he is still hoping he can negotiate something.  Xerphon Hali has no interest in this, however.  His orders are to enslave all the women and children, kill the wyter, and take the men south to feed the Crimson Bat.  He knows the Haraborn will never surrender under these conditions.  So as the rider is halfway across the field, he has his archers shoot the man down.

It is a clear signal to the Haraborn that the Lunars have come with the sole purpose to kill.

Running the Battle

The player characters are ordinary participants (HQG, p. 108) in this battle.  It will be fought as a Group Extended Contest. 

The Difficulty is Very High (15W).  Because the Lunars outnumber the Haraborn two to one, each player character will therefore have two opponents.  The second opponent triggers a -3 penalty.  So the match-ups will look like this;

Player Character Lunar Opponent (15W)
Lunar Opponent (15W) - 3

This is a very serious battle.  Thus it is recommended to use the Climactic Consequence table at the end to determine the player character’s fate.

Critical here is bringing the battle to life.

There is a long terrible lead-up to the actual battle.  The Lunars start blowing their trumpets, the Haraborn pipers play the bagpipes behind the fyrds.  The sky begins to darken as the Haraborn prepare their magics.  Lightning flashes and thunder growls.  The Red Moon refuses to be obscured by cloud.  Now full, her bloated face spills a tinge of reddish radiance over the battlefield.

The Lunars start marching forward broken into groups of men employing the tortoise formation.  The Haraborn rain arrows and lightning down on them as they approach, but their formations are enhanced by protective spells from the Field Magicians.  

In addition, in the center of the battlefield, the crimson light of the Red Moon concentrates and coalesces as a massive lune is summoned.  Beside it, the shadows gather and converge until a large dehori  has joined it.

The winds begin to blow.

The Haraborn beat their shields crying out taunts and challenges.  Thunder growls.  In a flash of lightning, the clan wyter, the Black Stag itself, rises behind Gordangar and his Ring.

Then from the forests, the sound of beating hooves.  The Royal appears, with Leika’s father on its back.  A herd of Ghost Deer stags charge behind them.  Some of the Haraborn start sprouting antlers, unleashing great bellows. Lightning crackles on their spearheads and swords.

Gordangar cries out Orlanth Victorious!!!  The fords charge forward against the Lunar formations.  After several bloody exchanges, the formations break and the battle truly begins… 

PC Deaths

The fate of the Haraborn is certain.  The fate of the player characters and critical NPCs is not.

Given these odds it is extremely likely the player characters finish the battle Hurt, Impaired, or Injured.  It is even possible they might not survive.  It only takes 8 or 9 combined Result Points against a character to kill them.  A GM is well within her rights to let the dice fall as they may on this one.  “The Turning,” like Martin’s “Red Wedding” in A Storm of Swords or the massacre at the Two Pines Chapel in Kill Bill, is meant to be bitter.  People have to die.  If, however, the GM wants to ensure character survival, she can use option two from the list below.

NPC Deaths

Several NPCs are required to die.  Gordangar, Savan, Jorgunath, Erina, and Ashart’s father Beroth all perish in the Battle of Red Rock.  So too do a hundred other Haraborn men.          

Four other key NPCs are eligible for death.  The possibilities are;

Dergandi: As Kalf fights, he nearly trips over a body in the body.  It is Esrala’s brother, Dergandi, eyes wide and staring lifelessly at the sky. 

Leika: As she fights for her life she spies her father far across the battlefield trying to engage the Lunar Magicians. Faran is caught between the dehori and the lune.  Watching in horror, she sees his spiritual defenses collapse under the double onslaught.  Both spirits fall upon him and his screams of madness and terror are sickening.  He falls to his knees, clawing at his own face, screaming and screaming…

Kalliva:  Kalliva has no one to lose in this battle, but it is possible for her to lose her birth mother Korolmara in Scene 8 below.  

Beralor: Through the corner of his eye Beralor sees Harvarr swinging his great war hammer at two Lunars in front of him…until suddenly a third springs up from behind and drives his spear through his side.  Almost immediately the hammer drops, and the Lunar in front of him drives his spear into Harvarr’s chest.  What does Harvarr do?  Regardless, afterwards Harvarr is lying in the mud, blood pouring from his nose and mouth.  There is nothing Beralor can do; the man is dying.  Gasping, he grips Beralor’s face with bloody hands.  “Don’t let them hurt…don’t let them hurt your father.”  He dies in Beralor’s arms.

There are three options in these deaths;

  1. They all die.  Muhahahahahaha.
  2. They die instead of the player character dying.  If a player character ends up with 8 or more result points against them, lower the total to 5 (Impaired) and trigger the death above instead.
  3. The fall of the dice.  Roll a die for each.  On a 1 to 12 the NPC lives.  On a 13 to 20, they perish as above.

Scene 6: In Flames

With the chieftain, his weapon thanes, and much of the Ring killed, the Black Stag magically captured and bound, the Royal killed and the fyrds wiped out, the battle ends in Lunar victory.

The survivors are rounded up and fitted with slave collars and shackles.  The former makes it impossible for the wearer to use magic and saps his will.  By mid afternoon Lunar reinforcements have arrived and the women and children in the Hall are forced to surrenders.  They are also shackled.  As they are paraded past the male prisoners (now in cages), Kalf sees his mother and Ashart.  Kalliva sees Kalessa.  Beralor sees Affar.    

Xerphon arrives and reads his writ aloud to his prisoners.  This is first first time Kalliva has seen his face (he was helmeted on the battlefield), but this is the man both from her vision in the Dragon Temple and later her initiation.  When he introduces himself as Centurion Xerphon Hali there is no doubt.  The man who just destroyed her clan is her father.

As he reads, the men are sentenced to the Bat.  The women and children to slavery.  Already the Lunar Magicians are hunting the clan wyter in the spirit world.  The Black Stag will be dismembered and its heart fed to a Lunar demon.  The Haraborn no longer exist as a people.

As the sun sets on the Vale, the Hall, the Village, the steads are raided for anything of value and then set alight.  The night is lit red by massive fires up and down the valley.  Throughout the night the player characters watch their entire world burn.

Scene 7: Xerphon

At dawn, the prisoners are all roused and fed.  The soldiers announce the women and children will be taken east that morning, first to Boldhome and then Pimper’s Block.  The men will be taken south to Wilmskirk, then on to Whitewall and the Bat.  Shortly after the announcement, however, two soldiers come to the cage where the player characters are being kept with other prisoners and collect Kalliva.  “You.  You are to come with us.  The Commander wishes to see you.” 

She is taken to the commander’s tent.  In his presence, it is unmistakable…this is the man she saw in her visions down to the scar in his left eyebrow.  He is not, however, alone.

A woman (?) is with, tall but bent over, wearing tattered black robes and a hood that obscures her face.  Even her long-fingered hands are wrapped in black cloth, though she wear lead claws over her fingertips, like long thimbles with sharp blades.

“Kalliva, daughter of Kallessa, I suppose you know why I have sent for you.”

There is ever possibility Kalliva will suspect he knows she is his daughter; the fact is, he does not.  The Lunars have been able to gather, through intelligence and magic, that Kallyr Starbrow is on a great heroquest.  They know this quest has something to do with draconic powers.  And they know, through divination, that Kallyr sought the aid “of children four, and the daughter of two mothers with the Dragon’s mark upon her hand.”  He knows Kalliva is that girl, because of the Jakaleel priestess there with him.  Ashagara Faceless discovered her.

Roleplay this out.  Let Kalliva answer.  Does she betray herself?  If not, after a moment the witch will glide forward and grab her hand by the wrist, turning it palm upwards to show Xerphon the mark.  “Here is the Daughter of Two Mothers, the Dragon-Marked.  The shadows have spoken true to me.”

It will now become clear that Xerphon is interested in her because of the mark.  He tells the witch “find her companions and have them brought her as well.”  The witch then departs the tent.

Xerphon will try to get Kalliva to supply him with answers; what was Starbrow after?  Where did they take her?  What did she need the children to do?  If she refuses to speak he waves a hand nonchalantly.  “Eventually you will break.  Whether or not that happens before your body or mind is broken matters nothing to me.”

While Kalliva and the commander spoke the witch, accompanied by guards, walks in front of the prisoner cages.  As she does so, her shadow stretches out like a living thing, washing over each of the prisoners.  When it falls over the player characters they feel and icy chill touch their hearts.  Moments later the witch speaks to the guards and the other player characters are called out and brought to the tent.

Note: If Kalliva is dead by this point, start the scene with the witch picking the remaining prisoners out and have the commander interrogate them rather than her.

The scene ends with the commander telling the guards that the player characters will be traveling with him to Boldhome for questioning.  At a crossroads, still in shackles, they watch as the men are led away south.  Soon after, the women and children are brought out and led eastwards.  They are able to watch as friends and loved ones in both groups are dragged away to their fates.

Then they are dragged away to theirs.

Scene 8: Korolmara

Xerphon takes his prisoners, along with a contingent of 30 soldiers, to the Sambari power center of Roundstone.  Rivals and enemies of the Haraborn, these thrall-holding Sword Orlanthi have been promised Haraborn lands in exchange for intelligence they gave the Lunars on their neighbors.  Since the events of Sons of Orlanth, the Sambari have been spying on the Haraborn for the Empire.  Xerphon will ceremonially transfer control of the Black Stag tula to King Rogvarth on his way to Boldhome.  

The ceremony takes place in Rogvarth’s Hall.  It is a brief exercise.  A box of soil from Black Stag Vale is handed from Xerphon to Rogvarth while the player characters, kneeling in the center of the Hall, are forced to watch.  The symbolic message is clear; “The Empire has taken the land, its people are being brought away in chains, and the land is now given to you.”

Xerphon then brings the player characters to a new Lunar villa within the walls of Roundstone Fort.  His own guards patrol and defend it.  They are locked in a cell together to contemplate their fates.  In the morning they go to Boldhome.  

In the middle of the night, things take an unexpected turn.

The player characters are awoken by the sound of Xerphon’s voice.  “Unlock the cell and rouse the prisoners.  I have decided to have Asahgara begin their interrogation tonight.”

The guard does as commanded, and the prisoners are brought out before Xerphon.  If Beralor is there, he looks at Xerphon’s face and sees that one of his eyes is blue…  If he is dead, another player notices.  This is not Xerphon.  This is the trickster, Keladon Blue-Eye.  We winks.

Xerphon and his guard lead the prisoners outside.  There are two other figures waiting there in the darkness.  One is a bearded Orlanthi man.  The other is Kalliva’s mother—her true mother—Korolmara.

The man is Gangrath Rogvarthsson, youngest son of the Sambari king.  Opposing his father’s policy of Lunar cooperation and appeasement, he is a member of the Sons of Orlanth.  Alongside Keladon, Korolmara and a small group of the Sons, they have come (on Starbrow’s orders) to get the player characters to safety. 

The night suddenly flares red as the kitchens go up in flames. Gongs are rung in alarm.  Urging speed, Keladon, Korolmara and Gangrath escort the player characters outside and toward the villa wall.  Gangrath has arranged to get them out of the city.

Before they reach the wall, however, the darkness rises up before them like a barrier.  It whispers, hisses, and chills.  Tendrils of shadow reach out from this mass of blackness towards them.  Xerphon and the Jakaleel witch Ashagara emerge from the shadows.  “You see Commander?  As I told you.  Escape.”

Xerphon, a devotee of Yanafal Tarnils, draws his silver sickle sword and a dagger.  The witch gathers her black powers.

Korolmara looks at Keladon and nods.  Then she looks at Gangrath.  “Get them to safety.”  She steps forward and throws back her hood so Xerphon can see her.  “Hello Xerphon,” she says.

The shock on his face is apparent.  “You!”

Korolmara locks eyes with Kalliva.  “Live free, my daughter.”  With a sudden leap and a flash of lightning, Korolmara then attacks Xerphon with her spear.  Keladon engages the witch.  Gangrath rushes the characters away.

A final Extended Contest ensues.  After the crushing events of the Battle of Red Rock, set the Difficulty at Low (9).  With the Lunars in pursuit, the player characters need to scrabble over the villa wall and race through the streets of the city for the southwestern gate.  Their Gangrath has sympathizers who will let them through.  Horses wait outside.  The Contest is a chase through the alleys and streets of Roundstone.  Each player needs to score 5 result points to escape.  Failure means recapture.  

If they escape, Gangrath will take them to a Sons of Orlanth encampment in the forests between Roundstone and Wilmskirk.  Six Seasons in Sartar has ended.  The future awaits…


This is the third campaign--and third game--that I have run with this current RPG group.  The fourth with me for some of the players.  When I pitched it to them last year, offering them the choice of either RQG or HQG, I told them that Glorantha was not like other game settings.   That it gets into your blood.  Your soul.

Now they believe me.

The Turning turned out to be an emotional rollercoaster.  This group has walked the ruins of the Ninth World and fought Dracula in Europe, but seeing family and loved ones they have come to care about endangered--and their absolute determination to save them--is to my mind what makes gaming like this such a powerful exercise. 

In previous iterations I decided which NPCs lived and died.  This time not knowing who would survive made it a more powerful experience as a GM.  This is also what I love about gaming...these NPCs were created in cooperation with the characters.  I never knew Keith's character Beralor would have two married fathers, but they became incredibly important to me.  Ashart--meant to be a throwaway character--became something of a mascot.  I literally choked up describing the scene as the women and children are being taken away in chains and Ashart is looking around wildly trying to get a last look at the NPCs.  

Everything played largely as written, but with a few unexpected bounces.

First of all, most of the major NPCs survived.  I went with the option of letting a critical NPC die in place of a character followed by a die roll to see who lived and who died, and only one--the new character Dergandi--died.  Leika's father lived but went missing after the battle.  Beralor's fathers--Harvarr and Affar--went in separate directions, one to the Bat and one to slavery.  Kalf's mother and Kalliva's, Korolmara, made it through as well.  Though the story ends with the players fleeing the city while Korolmara fights Xerphon, so her fate is technically uncertain.

The truly unexpected bounce was that the tale ends with Leika and Kalliva escaping with the rebels, while Kalf and Beralor are recaptured making their escape.  Six Seasons ends then a bit like The Fellowship of the Ring; the party is broken.  Discussing it after, we decided to begin the next chapter with four new characters.  We will play one session with Beralor and Kalf in captivity--while Ira and Vicky play new characters imprisoned with them--and the next with Kalliva and Leika planning the rescue of those being dragged to the Bat with Keith and David playing two new rebels.  We will bounce back and forth between the two story threads until the group is eventually reunited.

Six Seasons in Sartar is now over, but the story will begin with a new arc, a new cycle, and a new name.  Stay tuned.