POINTS OF DEPARTURE is itself a bit of departure. The six episodes of Six Seasons in Sartar followed a heavily scripted plot line, chronicling the coming of age story of its protagonists as well as the tragic demise of their people. The first chapter of The River of Cradles was a transition, picking up where Six Seasons left off and tying up loose ends. Points of Departure, then, is the first entirely "player-led" episode. As the young heroes prepare to leave Sartar for Prax in a quest to liberate their clansmen who have been sold into slavery, their players were left to decide what their characters would do before saying goodbye to their homeland. Beralor and Kalliva decided to commit to the cults of Orlanth and Vinga; Leika took her father south to the Kolati shamans of Stormwalk Mountain to heal him and for herself to be initiated into their spirit society; and Kalf heads north to Enjossi lands to marry the woman he loves (a story that began in The Sons of Orlanth and reached its climax in Harvest).
This means that for you, gentle reader, Points of Departure presents four "mini-episodes." Two are cult initiations, one is initiation into a spirit society, and the last is an Orlanthi wedding. The fifth and finale episode, "Point of Departure," brings the united heroes to the border town of Svenstown, their first taste of Prax, and a meeting with a deadly duck...
VINGA THE DEFENDER
THE CANDIDATE is taken by the sisters of the local Vinga cult and prepared (in this case it was Kalliva's own mother, Korolmara, and her lieutenant Stora). Her initiation happens sometime in either Earth or Dark Season, based on the arrival of the Defender Storm. The girl is washed and painted with woad, then rearmed and armored. If her hair was not already red, it should be dyed here. She is given a short skirt to wear over her armor, and given a shield, sword and javelin.
Woad--in my version of Glorantha--is frequently used in Orlanthi rituals and slightly hallucinogenic. It is my adaptation of the soma used in ancient Vedic rituals. As the magic in the herb takes hold, the sisters chant and beat swords against their shields. The ritual leader sacrifices a bull. Before she enters the Otherworld the candidate is given a ritual charge;
Do you vow to take up sword and shield over kettle and spoon?
Do you vow to take up the javelin over the sewing needle and thread?
Do you vow to leave the comfort of the hearth to take up guarding the stead? Will you help the helpless? Will you protect the defenseless? Will you avenge the wronged?
The candidate affirms that she does, and crosses into the Otherworld.
Stands alone at the darkened stead of Orlanth (perhaps it looks much like the stead she grew up in). The winds howl around her, the sky is pitch black. A blizzard rages and the snow is waist deep.
She knows that Orlanth her father is gone on the Lightbringer's Quest. She knows that Elmal has left his post to deliver his torchlight to the Shiver Bone clan. She knows that Vinkgot is out hunting Varudi, who killed her brother Barntar. She alone remains to defend the women and children shivering in the endless, eternal cold.
Perhaps she goes to check on them in the stead. Or perhaps she choses to patrol the perimeter. If she goes into the stead she finds the children wailing and the women shivering; the hearth has gone cold and cannot be lit. She realizes there is no sign of Mahome.
If she patrols the perimeter, or goes searching, she finds Mahome out near the gates, buried in the snow and half dead. If the hearth goddess dies, all the hearths of the Vinkgotlings will go out forever.
The candidate will know that Vinga surrendered her cloak to keep Mahome warm. Once she does this, she triggers an Extended Contest with a Base Difficulty. She hears the creaking winter wheels of Valind's chariot, its ice ram mounted on the front. The blizzard intensifies as the Winter God rolls like a juggernaut towards her. She needs to defend Mahome!
In staging this conflict, stay close to the mythic beats. Vinga should use her javelins to fight, and at some point should summon the Defending Wind (if the candidate does not voluntarily do so have the Wind spring up around her anyway).
If the Contest goes in her favor, Valind will turn and flee, making the snows rise behind him nearly as deep as the trees are high. Vinga should leap and run after him across the treetops, hurling her javelins. If the Contest ends in her favor, Valind will flee the stead beyond the farthest boundary stones, and Vinga returns to Mahome and leads her back to the stead.
If the Contest goes against her, the candidate will be buried in the snows and awake suddenly back in the ritual space. She has failed and cannot attempt to join the cult again for another year.
If she is victorious, she is now an initiate of Vinga. She can use her Benefits of Victory bonus for things like knowledge of cult myths and interaction with other members. There will be much feasting and celebration as a new sister is welcomed.
Notes: This is based on the myth recounted by Greg Stafford in The Book of Hurtling Mythology, page 72. I selected it for initiation because it is described as the event which "catalyzed her committed powers." When initially running this, I also included the following myth on p. 73, in which a Chaos obscenity kills everyone in the stead and Gustbran forges her despair and rage into the blade "Vengeance." In retrospect, I decided the fight against Valind ("Vinga the Defender") is complete enough; the story of "Vinga the Avenger" could be saved for the initiation into becoming a Devotee, or a later Heroquest.
The candidate is initiated on Windsday, Movement Week of whatever the current season. The initiation begins just as Orlanth's Ring prepares to enter the Pole Star.
Surrounded by initiates of the cult, he is presented to the Wind Voice (a Wind Lord can also perform the rite). He is stripped naked and painted with woad as drummers and pipers fill the night with music.
As the magic of the woad begins to induce a trance-like state, the Wind Voice anoints the candidates brow with woad, drawing the Runes Air, Movement, and Mastery. He delivers the charge;
Son of Storm, in the light of the Disruptor, the Raider, the Donkey Holder, the Third Outlaw, the Dragon's Head and the Three Brother Stars, you now set foot on the Path of Thunder. I mark you Farmer, I mark you Warrior, I mark you Chief. Do you dare to walk in the footsteps of the King of the Gods?
The candidate answers affirmatively.
Swear now this sacred and unbreakable oath; to keep faith with the cult, to follow the words of its leaders, to betray no secret to outsiders.
The candidate swears.
Swear too to come to the aid of the Earth Daughters, to answer the call of the Lightbringers, to destroy Chaos where you find it. Swear faith to Orlanth and to live as he lived.
The candidate swears.
A bull is sacrificed. The candidate is given a rattle, a runestone, a bagpipe, and a sword. As the woad takes full hold the candidate crosses to the Otherside...
He is now a boy of five or six years. He stands at the golden doors of the Solar Emperor's Hall. Once he throws these open, and Extended Contest begins at a Base Difficulty. Striding into the Golden Hall, he is awed perhaps by its splendor. It is larger than several hides of land. The floor is marble, as are the columns holding aloft the gilded ceiling. Gold is everywhere. At the far side of the hall the Emperor sits high upon his golden throne, courtiers around his feet. His face is too bright to look upon. Along the sides of the hall all the gods stand, watching the boy Orlanth.
The Emperor speaks with a sweet, honeyed voice, welcoming young Orlanth to his Hall in slightly mocking tones. He speaks of accepting the young god's challenge.
The first contest is a dance. Yelm whirls across the marble, whirling like a dervish, his slippered feet tracing out elaborate circles over the floor. The candidate responds with a war dance, whooping and hollering and shaking his rattle.
This counts as the first exchange of the Contest. Even if the player wins the exchange, Orlanth loses as the guides judge Yelm the winner. This repeats through the next two contests.
Suddenly, the candidate is a boy of 12 or 13. He pushes open the golden doors and strides inside. The scene is the same as before. This time it is the contest of magic. The Sun King shows a brilliant display of the magic of being...the unchanging perfection of the cosmos. Orlanth uses his runestone (marked with the Movement Rune) to demonstrate the magic of change and becoming. Again, the gods side with Yelm.
Now he is a youth of 18. He pushes open the doors and strides inside. This time, he catches the eye of Ernalda, watching him from the side of the room. If he wishes to speak with her, let him. Perhaps she gives him a piece of embroidered cloth as her favor.
Yelm plays the golden harp. Orlanth responds with the bagpipe. Again, Yelm will be judged the winner.
For the final contest, Orlanth is now a full man. He strides into the Hall bearing the Sword, Death. He sees Orlanth again, and may speak with her again if he wishes. For the contest, Yelm will fire a rain of golden arrows upon Orlanth. One embeds in his chest.
If the player character wins the Extended Contest, it goes like this; the golden arrow in his chest turns black, withers, and melts away to nothing. He crosses the floor and strikes Yelm with his Sword. The Hall goes dark. The gods scream. An earthquake shakes the room and the floor opens up to swallow Yelm and drag him to Hell. Orlanth can now take Ernalda by the hand and lead her out. The initiation ends...
If the player character loses, he collapses from the pain of the arrow in his chest and awakens in the ritual space. He has failed and cannot try again for another year.
If he succeeded he is now an initiate of Orlanth. There shall be drinking and feasting into the night. He can use his Benefits of Victory bonus on rolls to know deep cult knowledge or in dealings with other Orlanthi or Lightbringers.
THE SEVEN WINDS
The candidate travels to one of the holy places of Kolat; Chalk Man Hill, Crow Top, Six Sisters, Tarndisi's Grove, Stormwalk Mountain, or some other location. She presents herself to the shaman there. A long period of training will follow, perhaps as long as a full year, while the candidate is made to perform menial chores (note: we skipped this phase...Leika was already trained as a Kolat spirit-talker by her father, who accompanied her here, so she was deemed ready for the Testing).
For the Testing, the candidate climbs Stormwalk alone, following the spiral path that turns seven times (one for each of the Seven Winds). She is minimally dressed and carries no food or water. She carries a new set of gambling sticks in a pouch as her waist, and a small drum. At the peak she enters a cave and begins chanting to the Seven Winds, beating the drum. She does this without stopping and without sleep. The chant is as follows;
I call upon the spirits Before Me, the spirits on my Right, the spirits Behind me, the spirits on my Left, the spirits Above me, and the spirits Below Me. I wait for you in the center.
As cold, hunger, thirst, and fatigue take hold, the Extended Contest begins against a Base Difficulty. Several spirits will appear and try to persuade her to give up and leave. They come one at a time, hours or even days apart. One appears as a friend, one appears as a foe, one appears as a loved one. Each tries to tempt her into leaving, threatening, begging, persuading, etc.
The final spirit looks exactly like the candidate herself. This is, perhaps, her own Fetch (which will not actually join her until she becomes a full shaman). She takes out her gambling sticks and plays against the final spirit. If she wins, she is now a member of the Seven Winds Spirit Society and selects her five Charms. She can use her Benefit of Victory bonus in dealing with these spirits or other members of the Society.
If she fails, she must descend the mountain and cannot try again for another year.
THE LIFE-BRINGING RAINS
Before the wedding, it is traditional for the Bride to set the Groom some challenges or tests. We omitted this in our story, as Kalf and his companions already faced great danger the year before to rescue Esrala from her abductor.
The Bride appears as Ernalda. She is painted green and bedecked with the finest jewels her mothers can provide. Her bodice is open, bare-breasted. The Groom appears as Orlanth. He wears only a loin cloth, and is painted blue with sacred woad. She carries a sheath. He, a sword.
The Groom’s brothers stand behind him to the side. They play the Brothers of Orlanth. The Bride’s mothers and sisters stand behind her as the Earth Goddesses.
The Earth Priestess enters and summons the Bride and Groom to stand before her.
P = Priestess, O = Groom/Orlanth, E = Bride/Ernalda, B = Orlanth’s Brothers
P: When young was the world, before the Darkness fell, in the Court of the Sun mighty Orlanth first heard the laughter of Ernalda.
O: Your laugh is like new music, and so pure that I would like to bring it home with me.
E: Not today, lord Wind, for when I leave here I will go to my own tribe, to my mother's house.
O: If you will promise to share that music with me again, I would take you anyplace.
E: Not today, wind lord. Not today. But please, I bid you to come once again, with whatever contest you need to get inside the doors.
P: To the Hall of the Emperor came Orlanth thrice; and then upon the fourth time vanquished him with the Sword called Death. Then was Orlanth King of the Gods. King of Heaven and the Middle Air, he went then to the House of Ernalda to ask for her Earth.
E: My Earth? How flattering That you, king of the world, would want the soil and its treasures. You are wise, my lord. Are you generous too?
O: Orlanth Openhand is one of my names. All gods can speak well of my generosity; especially you, Bountiful and Beautiful. Take this, my bullroarer. Roar it when you want me; I am yours.
(Hands her a bullroarer. The Earth Goddesses in return hand the Groom a chest of Earth with floors and grasses upon the topsoil. He carries this to where his brothers stand).
P: Afterwards Orlanth went to his brothers with his present, but when they looked closely the grasses and flowers upon it were whipped and torn about, scattered in all directions.
(The brothers blow, rip, and tear the grasses and flowers from the soil until the earth in the chest is bare)
The storm gods, tied of their plaything, tossed it back to Orlanth and laughed at his worthless gift. Angered when nothing returned to the bare earth Orlanth returned to Ernalda:
O: Liar! Perfidious Trickster! No fishwife, no slave woman, should treat me Like that! I am mocked, shamed, cheat. I am also angry, powerful, and violent: the Thunderer! Shall I show you my dread powers?
E: Most powerful and horrible lord, King of creation and Render of Terrors. Mercy please, let me repay you. Twice the gifts I will trade back for my earth. Are you just? Can you see value?
P: Orlanth, not wishing to be unjust, agreed to accept two presents back for the return of the worthless and barren earth. Ernalda gave him his bullroarer first, and he was pleased since it was certainly a gift fit for him.
(Returns the bullroarer)
The second gift was access to the secret Treasure House of the Great Goddess herself, a simple and ecstatic thing which Orlanth never suspected might exist.
(The Bride the Groom hands the Groom a vessel of water. This he sprinkles over the bare earth in the chest like rain. He turns to his brothers)
Awestruck and dumbfounded, Orlanth returned happily to his brothers. The other storm gods again laughed at Orlanth.
B: Dupe and fool, women’s wiles will ever turn your head from sense. Look at that present you gave the goddess! Simple is he who makes deals without scrutiny.
(The entire wedding party looks at the Earth chest. The Priestess holds her hands over it, and a miracle occurs...the grasses and flowers grow back richer and more lush than before)
P: Their words seemed truth. The earth that had been blown bare was now again covered over with luxurious growth, made fertile by the rains the Wind Lord had shed upon Ernalda’s body. This time it was even thicker and richer, like the higher lands where trees had never grown before, or the dryer lands where grass had not been before. Orlanth was incensed. In a blind rage, with roarers roaring and hail pelting, he thundered to Ernalda again.
O: Pitiless liar! Deceiver and foolmaker! My heart will turn and my eyes will be opened If I let you dupe me again. That was not worthless which you took from me! I was robbed. You are the Taker.
E: Powerful lord, Shaker and Destroyer, You abuse me, you are unjust. I did just what you told me, I do not lie. Would the land bless me if I were untrue?
O: I see many things Ernalda, Treasure of Treasures: Each thing you give me Is less in my hands than in yours, is not what you told me it was, is useless to me and mine. I see black spots of anger before me.
E: Great God, Keeper of Kin, clear the spots from your eyes: look again. One half of the wonder is yours! Your rain, fruitful wonder, spread my beauty, Be worshipful: Help keep this bounty eternal! I need your aid for protection. I need your presence for my happiness. I am yours!
P: Orlanth saw the truth of this and kneeled—though he were King of the Gods, before his bride to be.
O: Great woman, bountifully bosomed, my sword is yours to sheath. My rains yours to transform into life. I am yours.
(He kneels and gives her his sword. She sheaths it, and kneels, handing sword and sheath back to him)
E: And the fruits I bear are yours. I shall sheath your sword, I shall clothe your body, I shall feed your belly, and the fruits I bear shall be in your name. I am yours:
O & E (standing and holding hands in unison): We are ours.
POINT OF DEPARTURE
In the story, the three player characters returned from their initiations in time to participate in Kalf and Esrala's wedding. As they feasted and celebrated, Kalf and Esrala vanished to consummate the marriage. In my Glorantha, women have the right to pick or refuse their husbands; the Orlanthi do not have arranged marriages. Even parents have no say ("no one can make you do anything"). Esrala's mother had a scene earlier with Kalf where she was "feeling him out" regardless. She wanted him to know that he, as a clanless cottar with nothing to bring to the marriage, was preventing Esrala from a choice of wealthier, more prosperous husbands. In the end, however, she was convinced by Kalf's devotion to her daughter. In marrying, Kalf will be joining her clan, and any children born will be raised as Enjossi.
I also give Ernaldan women the power to conceive or not. It is a power they earn in their adulthood initiation. Esrala asks Kalf if he would like her to give him a child. He says "yes," fearing that he may not return from Prax and would like to leave something behind. If and when he comes back from Prax, a son or daughter will be waiting for him.
After the wedding, goodbyes are said, and the heroes head for Swenstown. Korolmara, as a leader of the rebel Sons of Orlanth, has suggested they meet a former ally of hers there, A Sword of Humakt known as Targan Ironbeak (note: this was the players' first experience with a Gloranthan Duck, and they loved him).
We played up much of the strangeness of Prax here; even though Swenstown is still Sartar, coming from their isolated mountain valley seeing the pygmy Impala Riders or a troop of trading baboons was a shock to them. Then have their first encounters with hazia, which Leika becomes a fan of.
Targan introduces them to an Issaries Goldentongue named Teolrian Soudatch. He is headed to Pimper's Block to trade. Invoking their shared Lightbringer Oaths, they persuade him to accept them as caravan guards, and to assist them in Pimper's Block track down their sold kinsmen.
Finally, a bit of conflict. Leika has taken as a companion a Telmori warrior named Three Bears (she met him during the events of Harvest and the pair of something of a forbidden romance subplot going). A trio of local Uroxi spot him, and hot to exterminate Chaos, pick a fight. The player characters did well against them, with Targan finally threatening them off with his icy, deadly duck stare. And so we are reading to pick up next time with Chapter Three: No One Can Make You Do Anything.
Final note: stay tuned! My reviews of Pelgrane Press's The Yellow King, the Spire sourcebook Strata, Monte Cook's Invisible Sun, and Cubicle 7's new Warhammer Fantasy are coming this month as well.
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