THE WHITE BULL
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…
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.
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…
- 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.
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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
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).
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).
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;
- 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.
- All of the remaining points that follow here hinge on this and apply ONLY to White Bull, NOT the “other” Argraths.
- 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
- His primary goal is the liberation of Prax, NOT Sartar or Dragon Pass.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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;
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…
AFTER PLAY REPORT
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.
Very cool! I might steal your concept of multiple masks of Argrath for my own campaign!ReplyDelete