"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.

Friday, May 24, 2019


Chapter Three:

No One Can Make You Do Anything is the beginning of a three-chapter trilogy, introducing the player characters to Prax and giving them a deeper look at the Lunar Empire.  Followed by Violence Is Always An Option and There Is Always Another Way, it also explores the core beliefs of the Orlanthi.  It is part of an ongoing campaign (check here if you are new to all this).

Like most Gloranthan game masters, when writing for the setting I try to keep the core myth cycle as I see it in mind.  From Darkness emerged the Waters and then the dry Earth, initiating a Green Age of innocence and bliss.  Then came the reign of the Fire/Sky, a time or ordered perfection.  The emergence of Air/Storm shatters this by killing the Sun, and initiates the Gods War.  Chaos comes.  Suffering begins.  The world is dying.  The Lightbringers set off on their quest to restore life and light.  These events form patterns that are evident in daily Gloranthan life, such as the rising and setting of the sun and the seasons of the year, but the great myths also echo in the lives of Gloranthan residents.  For the vast majority of Gloranthan humans, the main myth cycle is that of Grandfather Mortal, who was born, fathered/birthed children, and died.  But for others, those who commit to higher magics and mysteries, other cycles come into play.

The story presented in Six Seasons in Sartar intentionally echoed then the Green Age, Golden Age, and the coming of Darkness and Storm.  The characters were children—innocents—in a time of peace and plenty (relatively speaking).  The destruction of their clan by the Lunar army is like the fall of Lesser and Greater Darkness and the arrival of the Devil.  Now, in The River of Cradles, we mirror the Lightbringer’s quest…not necessarily the myth itself so much as the core of it; the characters are setting off beyond the limits of the world they know to rescue the life and light they lost (the women and children of their clan sold into slavery).

These three chapters then begin that quest.

A Note on the Lunars and Terminology Used Herein:  Yes.  Glorantha is not Earth.  Out of habit and long practice however, I present the Lunars as a mixture of three empires; the Roman, the Persian, and the Gupta Dynasty of India.  Mentally, I portray the armies as Roman, the provinces (satrapies) and government as Persian, and the religion slants towards Indian.  When I refer to Roman legion ranks or other cultural appropriations, just bear in mind I am translating from the original New Pelorian terms.    

Setting: Pimper’s Block and environs. Starting from Water Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season 1619 ST.      

Theme:  Freedom vs. Slavery.  The Orlanthi principle that “no one can make you do anything.”      

Motif:  Bonds, both physical and spiritual.  Bonds of kinship, or cult, of tradition.  Physical bonds such as collars and chains.  

Synopsis: Broadly, the PCs are hired as guards to protect a merchant caravan heading out from Swenstown to Pimper’s Block.  Arriving at the oasis, they discover one of their own friends/allies/kinsmen has recently been taken as a slave and is laboring there.  Do they disturb the peace and put their employer in danger by attempting a rescue, or turn a blind eye and let it stand?

The above is the core concept you can adapt and drop into nearly any campaign.  Specifically, in terms of The River of Cradles campaign and my player characters, the heroes have joined with an Issaries merchant named Teolrian Soudatch—the Tradetounge name of Teol Soudsson—to act as his caravan guards on the way to Pimper’s Block.  They are headed there because the women and children of their clan, taken into captivity by the Lunar army after the events of The Turning, were brought there to be sold.  They want to inspect the Etyries records in the House of the Bonded to find out to whom their kin have been sold and where they currently are.  Unfortunately, none of them read…and that is where Teolrian comes in.  With a combination of the Lightbringer’s Oath (reminding the Issaries how his god aided Orlanth) and a favor Teolrian owed the Death Drake Targan Ironbeak, they have persuaded Teolrian to help them.  Once in the encampment, Teolrian will examine the records in the House of the Bonded and find out where their kin is.

Several things complicate this arrangement.

First, Teolrian is Sambari, the rival clan that ratted out the player characters’ clan (the Haraborn) to the Lunars and led to their destruction.  The Sambari, in return, were given the Haraborn’s lands.

Second, the Sambari practice taking and keeping thralls.  The Harbaborn are historically against this practice.  Teolrian is, in fact, taking five Heortling thralls to be sold at Pimper’s Block…putting the player characters into the position of abetting slavery while on a mission to rescue slaves.  As Teolrian will happily point out to them if they ask, “How else do you expect me to credibly enter the House of the Bonded unless I have legitimate business to conduct there?”

Third, Teolrian himself owns a slave.  A Lunar slave.

All this will make the journey to Pimper’s Block complicated.  The slave market itself will become even more complicated when Kalliva spots two of her cousins, Beneva and Dushi, working at a brothel there.  It turns out that four of their clansmen are right there in Pimper’s Block; another girl, Insterid, and a boy, Venharl, were purchased by the brothel as well…

Dramatis Personae

Teolrian Soudatch (Teol Soudsson)
  • Runes: Trade, Movement, Darkness
  • Issaries Initiate
  • Goals: To rise in the ranks of his cult and make enough of a profit to buy a house and land for himself on the edge of Sartar or civilized Prax.
  • Notes: While Teol is not a bad man, his affinity with the Darkness Rune gives him a cold streak and a tendency to be grasping; he wants, but it never really full.  He traffics in all sorts of goods, but his willingness to traffic in slaves is another manifestation of this Darkness…his own parents were thralls.  Born free, but poor, he has had to make his own way in the world.  Teol is a fair merchant and a true Issaries, however.  He never goes back on a bargain.  

“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
  • 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.   

The Scented Lady
  • Runes: Crescent Go Moon (Earth and Life)
  • Seven Mothers Initiate, Brothel Madame, Shrewd Businesswoman
  • Goals: To increase her wealth, to maintain her independence, to accumulate information and intelligence.
  • Notes: Madame of the Court of Hidden Flowers, a brothel on the outskirts of Pimper’s Block, the Scented Lady wears saris of light cotton and silk dyed with indigo, red madder, and turmeric, embroidered with silver.  She is never seen without her veil, covering her nose, mouth, and chin.  She appears to be a woman in her mid-thirties, but her inky black-hair (carefully lacquered) might also be dyed.  She wears kohl around her eyes.  She is not a particularly cruel woman, but she reigns over her domain with an iron fist.  Having made her way as a Lunar camp follower in her youth, she understands what her staff goes through but is herself hardened to it.  One does what what needs to to survive.  The Scented Lady not only runs a thriving business, but she collects “pillow talk” from her clientele, and thus wields considerable influence (in the form of mild extortion) over officials in the area.  Crossing her is not a good idea.  

Ou’or Yii’yor Yav’av
  • Runes: Darkness, Death, Mastery 
  • Morokanth Trader and tribal leader, Waha Spirit Tradition initiate
  • Goals: To replenish his people’s recent loss of herd men (more on this in episodes ahead).
  • Notes: Not a stock monster, Ou’or is a person driven to extreme means to accomplish his ends.   

Principes Baegar Drussex
  • Runes: Empty Half Moon (Darkness and Death)
  • Seven Mothers Initiate, Princeps Ordinarius Vexillationis (in charge of a patrol)
  • Goals: To secure a position as second in command of his century, then perhaps full centurion.
  • Notes: Tarshite, Drussex has a deep-seated distaste for Heortlings who cling to the Old Ways.  It is not so much arrogance as he feels their lives would be better if they just set aside their stubborn pride and opened themselves up to the Goddess.    

Begin With:  DESPITE THE PALE and wintery Sun of Dark Season, the landscape in front of you is dry and barren, shimmering with heat that pools like water on the baked soil.  The sky is cloudless, a dark and azure blue.  Along the horizons you can still see stars, flickering and faint.  The caravan—three hours out of Swenstown—follows a narrow trail of dusty earth turned hard as stone.  It winds its way through the chaparral, thorned, waist-high bushes with tiny, waxy leaves, weird leafless plants covered in needles, the rare gnarled tree.  The beasts of burden are mules and zebras, laden with the merchant’s goods.  Walking beside the animals is the human cargo he leads to the slave markets of Pimper’s Block…four men and one black-eyed woman, hands cuffed, feet shackled, bound to a single tether than runs through a ring on the side of the leather collars they wear…

Add whatever dialogue or background you need here.  In my campaign this is a brief flashback to Swenstown, a goodbye to Targan Ironbeak, and the discovery that Teolrian is transporting Orlanthi thralls for sale at the markets.

  • Targan will narrow his eyes in the flashback and warn them; “Death goes with you, young humans.  Whether you carry the Sword, or face it, I cannot say.  I suspect both.”
  • Teolrian defends himself if the player characters attack him for trafficking in slaves: “And how do you propose I enter the House of the Bonded to inspect the sales records without legitimate cause?  Do you think the Etyries just allow people to wander in and examine the bill of sales?  These people are criminals; a murderer, a rapist, a kidnapper, and two debtors.  I understand your clan would execute, imprison, or exile them…is it any different for mine to sentence them to bondage?”
  • They also meet Orin here, their first real chance to interact with a Lunar who isn’t charging them with a weapon.   

As the afternoon wanes the characters begin to see dust devils, spinning columns of wind and sand,  Far ahead they see a cloud of sand that hides the horizon.  “Just as Orlanth is the great storm that blows over the mountains,” Teolrian explains, “his brother Urox—whom the people of the Wastes call the Storm Bull—rages here.  That is him ahead.  The Desert Storm.  It can strip flesh from bone.”

He proposes they encamp for the evening and head out early to Pimper’s Block come the morning.  They find a suitable place, a bowl-like depression cleared of scrub and brush with evidence of previous camps and campfires.  They set up camp here for the night.

Scene One: The Stranger.  As they prepare food, a figure emerges from the shadows, or perhaps the characters spot him first.  How he crept up on them is a mystery, for he is certainly easy to spot.  

He’s taller—a full head taller—than any of them, with tanned skin and sharp black eyes.  His nose is hawklike, and his face is intricately painted with black Runes, lines, and patterns.  His head is shaved (and also painted) except for a single long black braid on the back of his head.  He wears no metal…a long leather loin cloth and boots of fur-trimmed leather.  The patterning of Runes and lines continues over his whole body.  There are many white scars on his skin from past injuries.  He caries on his back a bow, arrows, and javelins, and there is a knife on his hip.  But he holds one hand up in a sign of peace and greeting.  With his other hand he leads by a tether a beast unlike the characters have ever seen.  At the shoulder it is taller than any horse, but then it has a long neck that raises its head two horses high.  It is covered with long smooth hair that grows shaggier at the chest.  It has the wide and gentle eyes of a deer.  The animal is also painted with markings like the man.

“I have water to share if you will share fire and friendship and food,” he says in accented but passable Sartarite.  “For the Devil came and made these good things scarce.”

The players might recognize this as a Praxian version of their own ritualized greeting; 

Hail Stranger, who comes this way? I am…  Tell me your name.  Are you friend or foe?

You are welcome here.  I offer you the warmth of my fire and the protection of my house.  I offer you a blanket to sleep under, meat to fill your belly, and salt as a token of your honor.  This is a thing we offer only friends and kinsmen.

He introduces himself as Harjaani Finds-Water of the Blue Stone High Llama People.  He is a scout and hunter for his people.  The Blue Stone are grazing in the area and saw their camp, so he came to check them out.  He might not volunteer this, just claiming to be “out-hunting” first, but Teolrian is savvy enough to know the Praxians do not travel alone.

It is clear he is quietly just checking them out and seeing what their business is.  Not nefarious, just cautious.  He shares information as well, warning them that the Morokanth have been seen outside of Pimper’s Block, looking to purchase humans.  Teolrian seems perturbed by this.  “They are forbidden near Pimper’s Block.”  The Praxian nods.  “They are keeping about a half day away, out of the sight of the Red Moon soldiers.”

Teolrian thanks him for the information.  Finish the scene as you like.

Scene Two: The Morokanth.  The next morning, after the guest from the night before has departed and camp has been broken, the Morokanth come calling.  In Trade, or broken Sartarite, their leader, Ou’or Yii’yor Yav’av delivers a greeting similar to Harjaani’s the night before;

I have water to share and goods to trade for what you care to spare.  For the Devil came and made all good things scarce.

There are only a half dozen of them (or at least two to three more than the size of your party).  They have surprisingly few herd men with them.  They are looking to purchase slaves.  They are not interested in discussing why they want them.  They will not initiate violence, and any Contest here should be of a more diplomatic or negotiating nature.  But if driven off or forced to leave, the player characters should be left with the nagging sensation this is not over yet, and that something strange is going on…

Scene Three: Pimper’s Block.  Before the Lunars, the oasis was a scared place, where people came to negotiate for and buy back captured kin.  This was done at an ancient altar of red stone, which now the Lunar Etyries merchant cult has built a temple complex around, the House of the Bonded.  This contains shrines to both Etyries and the Seven Mothers, several massive slave pens, quarters for priests, officials, and guards, a large auction hall, and several libraries where records of transactions are kept.  For the original purpose has been twisted; instead of coming here to pay weregild and ransom, now people come to sell captives to the highest bidder.  The House of the Bonded is now the spiritual and literal heart of Pimper’s Block, as it actually encloses the original oasis itself in a large indoor garden in the center of the complex.

Around this temple have sprung up a dozen inns, scores of drinking establishments, a market square, and several brothels.  People come from across Prax, and from as far as Dragon Pass and the Holy Country, to trade in human (and sometimes other sentient) flesh.

The city is under the protection of the Lunar Provincial Army.  In the style of ancient Roman caster stativa a trench was dug around the entire settlement, the excavated earth thrown inward to form a rampart upon which a palisade of stakes is raised, forming a wall around the entire community.  The wood was brought here from Dragon Pass.  Guard towers are then raised at consistent intervals around the perimeter.  There are three entry gates.  

At one of these gates the player character’s party is stopped and challenged.  The merchant has the necessary paperwork, however, and they are allowed into the city with little difficulty.

He plans to go directly to the House of the Bonded with his thralls, and instructs the player characters to keep their heads down and stay out of sight until he concludes his business (and theirs).

Play up as much of touring the oasis as you like; the diversity of its peoples (members from all the major Praxian tribes come to trade, as well as visitors from the Holy Country and Dragon Pass.  A large Argan Argar market is in the bazaar.  

At some point, however, one of the characters notices two familiar faces outside of a brothel.  These will be two young girls who are kin to the character, taken in a past raid and missing for some time (in the context of my campaign, Kalliva spots two of her cousins—Beneva and Dushi—girls she grew up with, taken by the Lunars to be sold with all the other women and children after the battle of Red Rock Stead).  They have been forced into a life of prostitution, leaving the characters with two choices…to do something, or to turn away.

Scene Four: Raiding the Court of Hidden Flowers.  The Court of Hidden Flowers is like most buildings in the city, a square structure with an inner courtyard in its center, two floors, built of mud bricks baked in the hot Praxian sun.  It is garishly painted, inside and outside, with lewd scenes of beautiful women and boys being ravished in any number of ways.  

There was very little glamor in ancient world prostitution, and the Court is modeled on Roman examples still left to us.  The rooms are dark, low-ceilinged, and narrow, with skins and straw tossed on the floor.  They are lit only by small oil lamps.  The men are served wine and fruits in a main entry area, then led to these cells to conduct their business.  There are around 30 slaves here, 19 girls and eleven young boys (three of whom are slightly older eunuchs).  The players will have to decide whether or not to free all of them, or just their kin.

Obviously this is the climactic challenge of the the episode, but the characters will need a plan.  First of all they need a way to get the slaves out without bringing the whole of the Lunar guard on them, then a way to get the slaves away from Pimper’s Block and to safety.  The GM can make this as easy or as difficult as he likes; a low Difficulty reflects catching the guard completely…um…”off guard.”  A higher Difficulty can reflect a better prepared watch.  Much of the Difficulty should depend on how clever the characters’ plan is.


Beralor, Kalf, Leika, and Kalliva spent a great deal of time planning their assault, going on to the inn with Orin to wait for Teolrian to return first.  They had begun to form a relationship with the Lunar slave by this point after hearing his tale and realizing his situation parallels their own.  Perhaps the Lunar Empire is not as homogenous and monolithic as they thought.

Teolrian was able to locate the sale of 47 of their people.  The Court of Hidden Flowers has four of them; Beneva, Dushi, Instered, and a boy, Venharl.  Ashart, along with a dozen other boys, was sent to the mines in Vulture Country (mining in much of the ancient world was done by children, who could more easily navigate small, cramped spaces).  Kalf’s mother is in Corflu.  Beralor’s father, Affar, and Kalliva’s aunt, Kallessa, are both in Pavis.  The rest are scattered up and down the River of Cradles at several plantations.  Armed with this knowledge, they can turn their attention to getting the slaves out of the brothel.

Teolrian turned out to be more sympathetic than they had thought.  He is, in fact, part of the Sons of Orlanth and helps smuggle people in and out of Lunar Prax for the rebels.  He and Orin both agree to help for their own reasons.  The plan they devise is as follows;

Teolrian arranges passage for the slaves with a caravan heading back to Sartar.  They send word to the Enjossi asking them to shelter them.  Beralor will draw on the magic of Orlanth Adventurous (his Movement Rune) to steal weapons and get inside the brothel, arming as many of the slaves as are willing to fight.  Kalf will set fire to the temple granaries as a distraction.  Leika uses her Before Me charm to raise fierce winds to strike down one of the gates (it works better than she hoped, actually luring a couple of Whirlvishes from the desert to devastating effect).  Kalliva gets her kin out.

It all goes fairly well, the Lunars caught off guard by the triple assault.  The combination of Leika’s winds and the fires Kalf set endanger the entire oasis.  With that distraction, it is easy to penetrate the brothel and rescue the slaves.  Unfortunately for them, the Jakaleel witch, Ashighara, is also in the city.  She has been in pursuit of Kalf and Beralor since they escaped her clutches in Boldhome.  Led—as always—by casting her Rune stones—to Pimper’s Block she guessed rightly they might come here in search of their kin.  She confronts them as they flee the city, and an epic battle ensues.

Kalliva improvises a Vingan feat and buries a javelin in the witch’s chest.  Beralor rains lightning on her.  Leika puts an arrow in her eye.  Kalf manages a stunning blow and beheads her.  The witch dissolves, leaving behind her robes and, to their surprise, a Truth Rune carved on a piece of Adamant (from the Block).  

As a narrator, I was reluctant to put Ashighara in the field so soon (no matter how tough an opponent, in either RuneQuest or HeroQuest, there is always a chance the dice will be on the players’ side).  But her death clears the field for larger foes.  Namely the Lunar Empire, once they find out who started the fires that burnt half of Pimper’s Block down and badly damaged the House of the Bonded (the fires consumed the library, losing many of the sales records there).  This changes the game.  The Lunars will now been committing troops and magic to find these vandals and bring them to justice.

THAT will be continued in the second part, Violence Is Always An Option. 

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