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"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, August 12, 2022

NOBILIS: THE 2022 RERELEASE

The wind told me once that everybody gets to play a game of Nobilis before they die. Maybe it’s in their secret dreams. Maybe it’s in real life. But everybody gets to experience the world of the Nobilis once—to leave behind the dead world where things don’t talk to you and nobody knows the purpose of the world, for at least one night, and see the truth...

Nobilis, p. 7

When all else fails, start with a Kenneth Hite quote:

Imagine Neil Gaiman's Sandman and Clive Barker's Hellraiser on an absinthe bender, with flowers. That's Nobilis.

Hite wrote that twenty years ago, but it still is the best summary of the game I can think of. Nobilis is about mere mortals who have a god bury a piece of its soul inside them, transforming them into quasi-divine beings connected to one of the fundamental building blocks of creation. Whatever you were before, now you are Gravity, or Longing, or Autumn, or War. You are a "Noble" or "Nobilis," the heart and mind of the Estate stuck inside you. Your job is to govern it, to protect it, to serve it.

This is not just a superpower. Sure, the Power of Architecture can conjure buildings up from the dust, plant blueprints in an architect's mind, or create a secret floor in that skyscraper that no one else can find, but it's deeper than that. When the newlywed couple in Boise remodels their kitchen, you feel the tickle as they apply paint to the walls. When that earthquake in Japan levels a village, you feel the sting of every collapsed wall. You are Architecture, from that tree house in Oregon to the silver palaces in Heaven. The very concept lives inside you.

And this is why a god handed the Estate to you. See, the world is not what we think it is. Earth is just one of a billion worlds hanging in the branches of Yggdrasil, the World Tree. That Tree is surrounded by a wall of blue flame and beyond it...is Nothing. The Void. That is where they come from, the Excrucians. Appearing as impossibly beautiful men and women, mounted on pale horses and with black eyes filled with falling stars, they are the emissaries of oblivion. They have come to erase the cosmos one concept at a time. The "gods" (more accurately the Ymerae or Imperators) are at war with these Excrucians for the fate of all existence. To keep the Estates an Imperator embodies safe, they create Nobles. For example, when Baraqiel the Imperator of Thunder, Terror, and Reversals went to war, it likely created three Nobles: Thunder, Terror, and Reversals. As Baraqiel fights the Excrucians, those Nobles govern and maintain the Estates. If Baraqiel falls, those Estates are not erased from existence, but remain alive so long as the Nobles do.

Imagine the Imperators as crystal snakes: blue crystal, green crystal, red crystal— every color in the world. Where do the snakes come from? They create themselves, pulling themselves by force of will from nothingness. The snakes writhe one about another, a blind, squirming, undulating mass. From above, there shines a light.
It passes through the crystal snakes and forms a pattern of shifting, mixed, twisted colors on the void. 
That is Creation.

Nobilis, p.  17

So what do they do, these Nobles? 

Aside from defending and furthering their Estates (the Power of War, for example, runs around the globe or sends agents to undermine peace treaties and ignite conflicts), a Noble works with their siblings to run their Imperator's chancel. The chancel is a sort of "pocket dimension," the seat of the Imperator's power, and the Imperator's Nobles must run it together. In the example above, Baraqiel's Nobles (each a player character) work together as a kind of Noble family to rule the chancel. Chancels might appear as anything--a Renaissance Italian city, a castle in the clouds, a fortress on the back of a giant turtle--but they are usually inhabited by subjects and worshippers of the Imperator and need to be managed just like any mortal realm. Side note, the players will create the chancel, and their Imperator, as part of the character creation process.

Aside from Estate management and chancel governance, the Nobles thwart the machinations of the Excrucians and their agents, navigate Noble politics, and explore the Mythic Realms. They also pursue their own "projects." Perhaps the Power of Architecture wants to push 21st century humanity to create the first Arcology (a joint venture, perhaps, with the Power of Ecology?). Perhaps the Power of Reassurance wants to ensure no child ever again fears the monster in the closet or hidden under the bed. 

How do they do any of this? Let's talk system.

In the First Age, we lived in harmony.
In the Second Age, we were at war.
It was not until this, the Third Age, the Age of Pain, the
Age of the Excrucian War, that anyone seriously considered the possibility that the world itself could die; but now we know it likely will.

Nobilis, p. 154

Nobilis eschews dice. Play is driven by resource management and improvisation.

At its core, all characters have various statistics rated 0 to 5. When tested, they use the appropriate trait and compare it to a difficulty between 0 and 9. If the trait is equal to or higher than the difficulty, the character succeeds.

In addition to these traits, characters will have a pool of points available to them that they can add to these traits to beat higher difficulties. If a character with a trait of 1 is facing a difficulty of 5, they spend 4 points from their pool. 

There is a catch. These points must be spent in the following increments: 1, 2, 4, or 8. If the difficulty above was 6 rather than 5, the character would need to spend the full 8 points.

In any contest between two characters, the higher total wins.

Now, what these traits are, and what pools you can use to augment them, will vary based on the kind of character you are playing at the time. Yes, you heard me right: "at the time." There will be times when you are playing your Noble and other times when you might be playing one of your Noble's human (or inhuman) agents. 

Mortals, for example, have Passions and Skills they use in tests, augmented by a pool called Will. Two characters get into a brawl in an alleyway. One has the skill "Boxing 3" and the other has the Passion "Win at any cost 2." Boxing will win the challenge unless the other character spends Will, and Boxing could also spend Will to come out on top. Other factors come into play, though, including situational ones. "Win at any cost" looks at her GM and asks "we are in an alley, is there a bottle I can break and use as a weapon?" The GM might say "yes" and her character now gets a +1 or +2 boost. Or, her opponent might have "Cool," a catch-all defense trait that subtracts from opponents' attacks.

Nobles are of course more complicated. The game is about them, after all.

Nobles have four core traits. Aspect is body and mind, and as a sign of their power, the scale is utterly different than what a mortal has to work with. A mortal might face a difficulty of 9 to perform like an Olympic athlete. A Noble faces a difficulty of 2 or 3. Past 5 they perform physical and mental feats no human could dream of. At difficulty 6 a Noble could defeat 500 armed men armed with only his bare hands, or at 7 drink one of the Great Lakes dry. 

Domain and Persona both govern use of the Noble's estate. Domain governs the Estate itself, the "substance" of it, while Persona governs how the Estate interacts with the world. The Power of Fire could use Domain to cause a mortal to spontaneously combust, but Persona could make a mortal more fiery tempered.

Treasures governs a Noble's Anchors. These might be NPC servants, mundane objects, or at higher levels magical objects or wondrous beings. In Neil Gaiman's Sandman, for example, Dream's helm, bag of sand, and ruby amulet were all Anchors.

Each of these comes with a pool of 5 points to spend on that trait alone. These pools can be increased with character points or later over the course of the game.

Nobles will have both Bonds and Afflictions, flaws or vulnerabilities that help characters replenish their point pools (humans can replenish Will similarly or through sleep). Bonds are triggered by the player, while Afflictions are the province of the GM.


They rode into the world at the beginning of the Age of Pain. They rode pale horses and carried these horrible weapons—these soul-cutting atrocities that can destroy even nominally immortal things. They broke down the gates of Heaven and slaughtered amongst the Angels before the Angels gathered and threw them back, and since that time, their assault has not relented, but rather only dispersed, with the Imperator-Excrucian War being waged at any given time on dozens of the endless worlds upon the Ash and occasionally slipping upwards to Heaven, downwards into Hell or sideways onto the trunk of the World Ash itself.

Nobilis, p. 160

So what is different about this, the 2022 Rerelease?

Visually, in terms of layout, graphic design, and tone this is a return to the 2nd edition, the Great White Book. At the same time it has all the innovations of the 3rd. The setting is more clearly defined and explained, the material is more approachable. There is a terrific "lifepath" system (totally optional) that guides bewildered new players through the maze of Noble character design, and the rules for mortals are a terrific innovation. I had serious reservations--the 2nd edition sits high in my pantheon of the greatest games ever--but the 2022 Rerelease supplants it hands down.

Author Jenna Katerin Moran's prose (the 1st and 2nd editions were written under the name R. Sean Borgstrom) has never been better. One does not often read games for pleasure but Nobilis is hours of pure delight: 

You can survive anything. You don’t need air. You probably don’t even care whether you have air. You don’t need food or water. You can handle being thrown in a giant blender. Maybe the blades break on your legs, maybe you reflexively turn into protoplasm and reform, maybe you emerge on the other side with a torn sleeve and a dramatic nick on your cheek. It’s just being thrown in a giant blender, so, you know, whatever. There’s no point stabbing you. There’s no point nuking you. If someone throws you out of an airplane without a parachute you are going to be upset about possibly missing your connecting flight.

from the "Active Immortality" Gift, p. 128

All in all this is a masterpiece edition of the game. Go. Go and buy it now (as off this writing it is available at a sale price).



Thursday, August 4, 2022

THE CATTLE OF CTHULHU, a review of GET ALONG, LITTLE DOGIES

IT IS GENERALLY AGREED that 1979's Alien is essentially H. P. Lovecraft in space. It's not a perfect match--HPL was not big on working class heroes and no one delivers long monologues on the insignificance of humanity or the benefits of ignorance--but hey, one of the survivors is a cat, and that he would have approved of. The gist of the film is a group of people are out traveling the space lanes when they run into something, well, alien. Not Star Trek or Star Wars alien, no, this is the kind of alien that the more you think about facehuggers the longer you are put off wanting sex. The kind of alien that you cannot wrap your brain around. The kind of alien that is inimical to humanity.

Now I mention Alien because the crew of the USCSS Nostromo are just hard-working folks out there in the middle of nowhere doing their jobs, people trying to put food on the table. They weren't asking for any of this. They are not big bad space marines out on a bug hunt (Aliens), psychopathic inmates (Alien 3), or military doctors looking for the ultimate biological weapon (Alien Resurrection). The Nostromo crew are just operating a space tug, bringing cargo from point A to point B. Basically, they are space truckers on a long, desert highway. Or, if you think about it, cowboys out on the range.

2017's Down Darker Trails brought Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu to the 19th century American West, but Trails paints with broad strokes, covering the entirety of the "Old West" setting. What John LeMaire's Get Along, Little Dogies--a new supplement for Down Darker Trails available from the Miskatonic Respository--does is to focus on one aspect of that setting. It is 134 pages zeroing in on the "cattle drive." In other words--and I swear this is the last time I will beat the Alien analogy like a dead horse--John is concentrating on the helplessness, the isolation, of crossing a wide, empty expanse and encountering the Mythos far from the streets of Kansas City or Tombstone.

Out on the range, no one can hear you scream.




If I lost you back there, let me explain. The Miskatonic Repository is the Call of Cthulhu equivalent of the Jonstown Compendium for RuneQuest. It is Chaosium's community content program for its immensely popular and venerable game of cosmic horror. 

"Community content" is a slur in some circles, but those circles are continually getting smaller. With ENNIE award wins and bestselling titles, venues like Miskatonic and Jonstown are increasingly holding their own. As pointed out by Chaosium's own community ambassador Nick Brooke recently, they allow authors to do the kinds of projects that a publisher like Chaosium can't, either taking their games is bold new directions or diving deep into specific aspects of their settings. The latter is what John has done for Down Darker Trails.




 

In Part 1 Get Along, Little Dogies starts by giving you the reality. John provides a history of cattle drives in the American West and a discussion of their difficulty and necessity. There are in-depth explanations of where and when these drives happened, the various roles people played in them, and what it was actually like to be out there on the trail. All the terminology is there, the little details, and the author has to be commended for his exhaustive research. Useful spotlight rules are included, like a full page on lariat usage. 





Chapter 4 presents a number of episodes, "mini-scenarios" like "Gathering Lost Cattle," "River Crossing," and "Stampede" that turn the realities of the cattle drive into gamable challenges to play out at your table. Reading this chapter I kept thinking how much fun it would be to spend an evening just roleplaying a cattle drive sans the Mythos. 

But that isn't really what we are here for, and it is in Part 2 we are presented with a 40-page scenario that shows the Mythos colliding with characters just out there doing the job. Playable in a single session, "Get Them Dogies Rollin'" could easily be expanded with the episodes mentioned above, and could serve as a terrific springboard into a greater Down Darker Trails campaign. 





Obviously I am going to get necessarily vague here to avoid spoilers, but I will say the scenario is a memorable one, both for the uniqueness of the situation and setting and the way John has woven those all-too-familiar Lovecraftian tropes into the mix. The story provides a number of challenges both real and Cthulhian, and an escalating sense of dread.

The book rounds out with tons of NPC statistics, as well as stats for cattle, horses, and the scenario's new creatures. A few premade settings are offered to launch the story, a mix of believable historical ones and...well shall we say a "darker" option.





Get Along, Little Dogies holds its own nicely against any 7th edition Call of Cthulhu title, and that is a remarkable achievement for a one-man operation. It looks and feels like a 7e title should (and given the praise I have lavished on 7e products here that is saying something). Full of maps, detailed statistics, and a plethora of character hand-outs it is clear that the author has put the work in. There is art on nearly every page, a mixture of period pieces and the author's own work. If you like Down Darker Trails you are going to want Get Along, Little Dogies. It is a terrific expansion full of ideas to be mined. As mentioned its core concept--you out there in the desert, in the darkness, isolated and alone--ratchets up the horror. Yet even Basic Roleplaying players interested in historical roleplaying (or players of a game like Deadlands for that matter) will not be disappointed by this title. The author has clearly already put in the blood, sweat, and tears of research so you don't have to.  


Sunday, July 24, 2022

OSR, or "Old School RuneQuest"


Well. That was a long absence. Apologies to my readers. This year I was working on two different
RuneQuest projects for Chaosium, one for Call of Cthulhu, and finishing up the third and final book in the Six Seasons in Sartar series, The Seven Tailed Wolf. Wolf is now nearly there, so I will be trying to make up for lost time on the blog. I thank you for your forbearance and patience.



IS RUNEQUEST AN "OLD SCHOOL" RPG? It might seem an odd question to ask about a game which has been around since 1978, just four years shy of Dungeons & Dragons and contemporary with AD&D. By a chronological measure, it almost certainly is Old School.

But we are talking here about "Old School" from a game-play and game design perspective, and that has a more specific meaning. Just exactly what that meaning is is still being debated, but there are general criteria that can be pinned down.

The terms "Old School" and "OSR" (either "Old School Revival" or "Old School Renaissance") date back to the turn of the century (the 21st, not the 20th). When Wizards of the Coast acquired Dungeons & Dragons and released their "third edition"*, they also instituted the OGL or "Open-Gaming License." The idea here was to allow third-party designers to make supplements that were compatible with the new edition of D&D. But the Wizards of the Coast third edition (hereafter just 3e) was a radical departure from all previous editions of the game, which were, by and large, all compatible with each other. There was a general sense that D&D needed to be "modernized" to make it more similar to contemporary RPGs. Not all the D&D community agreed, however. A movement started in which the OGL was used not to make products compatible with 3e, but to recreate out-of-print editions of the game. These "retro-clones" were faithful adaptations of the original game, the various Basic editions, and the advanced. Aside from bringing older editions back into print, this new "Old School Renaissance" also started fruitful conversations on what exactly Old School gaming was, and what made it different. 

Defining the Terms

As I said, opinions differ, but a general consensus exists on the following points.

SURVIVAL: Old School games, particularly for starting characters, were lethal. Modern games tend to define a "campaign" as a set of stories following the exploits of a specific cast of characters. They are the heroes, the protagonists, of the story. This was not the case with the earliest RPGs. The characters were inhabitants of the setting struggling to survive and carve out a name for themselves. They were not "heroes" and there was no "plot armor." Old School games embraced a kind of literary naturalism, the type best exemplified by Jack London and Stephen Crane, but which made its way into the hobby via pulp authors like Howard, Lieber, or Lovecraft. Naturalism was the attitude that the universe is impartial, uncaring. It does not favor the protagonists. It is neutral whether they succeed or fail. In game terms, this meant systems that were neutral, that did not favor the player characters over any other NPC. While modern games trend towards treating player characters like the Enterprise bridge crew, expected to return week after week, in Old School games everyone is a "red shirt."

IMBALANCED: This flows from the previous point, but Old School games were not particularly interested in "balance." These were games primarily about exploration, not combat. There was never any guarantee that a fight would be "fair." Ben Milton, author of games like Knave, Maze Rats, and co-author of the Labyrinth adventure game, emphasizes that Old School games treat combat like "war," not "sport." What he means of course is that modern RPG players expect combat to be fair, played out on a level playing field. It's a sport. Old School games saw combat as unfair, messy, and lethal, and you did whatever you had to to win. Better still, you avoided combat unless you were absolutely sure you could win it. Negotiation, surrender, and retreat were all viable options. Likewise, the ideal that all player characters should be equal was also absent. These games often focused on the setting, and in some of these, some species or professions were simply better than others. That was just a fact of life. This didn't mean a "weaker" character was a liability, however, because...

PLAYER OVER CHARACTER: To my mind the most critical difference between Old School and modern game design is that the former challenged the player, while the latter tests the characters. Early rule systems and character sheets were surprisingly sparse. There were not rules to cover every situation, by design. Instead, players were supposed to come up with creative solutions and the GM would then come up with a way to adjudicate them. While modern players just roll some sort of perception check to look for traps, Old School players had to come up with ways for finding them. This led to the "ten-foot pole" trope, with players poking and prodding the dungeon floor ahead of them as they went. Instead of rolling to see if your character persuaded the guard, you role-played out the situation and the group decided how you did. Some of this is to do the lethality. Character creation had to be fast, roll a few dice and you are done. In modern games, where characters are the assumed protagonists, a player can lavish hours building the "perfect" character, and this necessitates all sorts of skills, buffs, and options that simply did not exist in older games. In Old School gaming, a clever player, regardless of their character's attributes, stood a better chance or surviving than a careless player with higher stats.

There are other common features, such as sandbox-style play and greater player agency in co-creating the setting, but these points are the Big Three. Now that we have them out there, we can return to the question of RuneQuest.

Is RuneQuest Old School?

RuneQuest easily matches two thirds of the description above. It is, famously, a system known for lethality. Unlike other RPGs, RQ characters do not really gain "hit points" as they adventure, and there is always a chance that a lucky blow or a failed defense roll could result in the death of the character. Particularly in the older editions, typified by RQ2, characters started with very low skills and barely any magic. Survival was a genuine struggle and at the heart of the game. In this way it captured perfectly the feel of the pulps referenced as inspiration in its "Appendix N." Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, Smith all get their mentions here. Of course there are other inspirations mentioned here...The Saga of Grettir the Strong, Njal's Saga, Le Morte D'Arthur, King Harald's Saga, not to mention those referenced in its board game predecessor White Bear and Red Moon (the Iliad, the Mahabharata). These were ancient examples of epic literature, heroic literature, but notably not super-heroic literature. All of the sources mentioned above dealt with death as a grisly and ever-present possibility, and their protagonists become heroes by facing death, not benefiting from plot armor. 

Another way RuneQuest differed (though I would argue just slightly) is that its naturalism was Gloranthan naturalism. The player characters were not favored by the cosmos, and it was indeed indifferent to their survival, but the scientific or sometimes pseudo-scientific elements of naturalism were replaced here by a mythic and magic reality. I don't think this had a substantial effect on play, but it did contribute greatly to the sense of awe and wonder in the setting.

On the question of game balance--or the lack thereof--RQ was again decidedly Old School. The playable character species are not balanced against each other in any way. Dark Trolls are simply bigger and stronger than humans. The Agimori even moreso. Ducks are smaller and weaker. Likewise, not all cults are equal. Some offer more magic than others, or magic more conducive to adventuring. RQ is extremely Old School in the assumption that the game is about playing your characters, not about making certain it is fair. The game is prioritizing the setting, Glorantha, and trying to represent what life is really like there. Likewise, in RQ2 and today in the current edition, there is no interest in "balanced encounters." Again, the game is prioritizing the inherent realism of the setting. The Glorantha Bestiary clearly tells player characters that running away is a sound option, and that combat should never be entered into lightly. 

Now, where RQ differed from other "Old School" games is in the third criteria. While RQ cannot really be called "rules-heavy," even back in 1978 there was a lot happening on the character sheet. RuneQuest did have--then and now--a unified dice mechanic that reasonably covered most situations. GMs were not encouraged to improvise random die rolls, those are pretty much covered. Further it was RQ that really pioneered the skill system, so that a character rolled Orate or Spot Trap, putting less pressure on the player to come up with inventive ideas. What we are seeing here, I think, is a difference in design philosophy. Consider Gary Gygax in the 1979 Dungeon Master's Guide;

"Of the two approaches to hobby games today, one is best defined as the realism-simulation school and the other as the game school. AD&D is surely an adherent of the latter school." (p.9)

Gygax goes on to defend at length his decisions, why he prefers the archetypical simplicity of class, the concept of levels, the lack of skills and the like. While I feel he was specifically addressing RQ (already well on its way to becoming D&D's only real rival at the time), what is clear is that it is a matter of taste. Steve Perrin leans squarely towards simulation and realism. His combat system exemplifies that. Greg Stafford was keen on simulation as well...if not of our reality than of Gloranthan reality. So in this third criteria, this is where RQ departs from the Old School. It was a game specifically designed to model Glorantha, not to be a free-wheeling-do-it-yourself fantasy game kit.  

What About The Modern Game?

In keeping pretty much the entire engine that drove RQ2, RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha is keeping it Old School. On the other hand, the new edition embraces many features that move it further away from Old School than ever before.

Personality: With the exception of "alignment," Old School games were loathe to put personality traits down on the character sheet. Gygax recommended that for NPCs, but never PCs. RQ2 shared this feature. There was nothing really on the sheet that told you how the character should act...that was left to pure roleplaying and the details of the setting. In drawing on Stafford's Pendragon, however, RQG has Passions and Rune affinities that suggest how the character should act.

More Heroic: The inclusion of augmenting in the game, as well as the much greater accessibility to powerful magic, definitely shifts RQ further from the gritty "survival" style of play and towards something more epic. That having been said, I think this can be justified in the thematic backdrop of the setting...the Hero Wars. RQG remains far more lethal than, say, 5e, but it is far more epic and heroic than RQ2 was.

More Skills, More Background: If you compare the skill lists on an RQ2 character sheet and RQG, it is clear that skills have proliferated and become even more integral to the game. Instead of just Oratory, for example, we now have Bargain, Charm, Fast Talk, Intimidate, and Orate. Skills are easier to get in character creation and start at higher levels as well. Couple this with the detailed Family History phase of play, and it is clear that players are investing a lot more time into character creation than before, and far more than would be considered desirable from the point of view of Old School play. I think this is again RQG leaning into "simulation." The skill proliferation deepens the understanding of the setting, what characters do there. The Family History (and personality traits mentioned early) better integrate the character into the setting as well. This is very clearly a game about living in Glorantha rather than exploring ruins in search of glory and treasure. That is is a feature of the game too, but more than ever RQG prioritizes the setting.

In the final analysis I would say that RQG is still deeply Old School, but was never totally a part of it. The ways that RQ differed in 1978 are still the ways it differs now, though RQG doubles down on them. Having said this, I think there is still tremendous crossover between RQ fans and Old School gaming fans (or vice versa...I have never been a committed D&D player but I would readily play AD&D or the Rules Cyclopedia over the current incarnation of the game). And with that in mind, I offer the following little "hack"...


An RQ Old School Hack

The following is actually a sidebar in an up-coming adventure I am writing for the Jonstown Compendium, but why not add it here?

Basically, it is a rules hack ideal for those times when you want to run a mindless Gloranthan dungeon crawl (or ruins crawl, or Big Rubble crawl). It doesn't change the system in any way, it just cheats a little so you can spit out brand new characters faster for the meat-grinder. It is by no means a substitute for RQ campaigning! Try it on a beer n' pretzels night.


Here is the hack. To create a character;

1. Roll your Characteristics up normally, based on species.

2. Figure Hit Points, Magic Points, and Spirit Combat Damage normally.

3. Now we get funky. Average your STR and DEX for a "Combat Value." Write that down on your sheet.

4. Pick a Homeland and an Occupation.

5. Pick a Cult.

6. Rune Affinities and Passions are optional.

7. Grab spells and equipment.


Great Orlanth! Where are my skills?!?!

Breathe. We are deviating a bit from the realism-simulation part of the game. For the hack, when your character wants to attempt to do something, explain to your GM what it is and how you are trying to pull it off. The GM will then decide that Characteristic you are testing.

The standard roll is your Characteristic x 2. However, if you have an applicable Homeland, Cult, or Occupation, bump the roll up a "step" (x 1) for each.

Let's say you want to barter with a merchant. The standard test might be CHA x 2. If you are a Merchant, that becomes CHA x 3. If you are an Issaries as well, CHA x 4.

Same logic applies to your Combat Value. Let say the average of your STR and DEX is 14. basic combat rolls then would be 28% (x 2). But wait! Let's say you are using a sword. Are you from Sartar? Broadsword is a Homeland skill so now your chance is 42% (x 3). Are you a Warrior (x 4 or 56%)? Orlanth Adventurous or Humakt (x 5 or 70%).  

Once you get the hang of it, you will figure out most values fairly quickly. The GM always has final say in how many bumps you get.

While we intended this hack for only a few sessions, if you do get attached to your character and continue on, roll 1D4+1 at the end of every season. These don't change your characteristics, but they are skill bumps. Each is equal to 5%.

For example, you spend 3 or them on Broadsword. Make a note on your character sheet, Broadsword +3 (+15%). Add that to your Characteristic whenever you make a specific roll. essentially we are removing skills from the character creation process and easing them in as you go. To keep things at a slower pace, limit skill increases by +1 a Season.

Note that nothing else changes. You are just freewheeling things a bit with the whole skill use. 


* The "third edition" designation has always been a bit confusing. TSR published two parallel D&D games, the basic line which consists of the original game (1974), the Holmes boxed set (1977), the Moldvay/Cook boxed sets (1981), and the Mentzer boxed sets (1983) culminating in the 1991 Rules Cyclopedia. By this reckoning, the Wizards of the Coast "third" edition would have to actually be the fifth or possibly sixth. But starting in 1977, TSR also published Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which saw two editions. So technically the Wizards game was a sequel to AD&D, they just dropped the "A" from the title.


Friday, January 14, 2022

THEY CAME FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE: A REVIEW



HORROR HAS BEEN A CONSTANT since the earliest days of cinema. 1896 saw the three-minute long Le Manoir du Diable, created by pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès. Just two years later, in Japan, Ejiro Hatta filmed Shinin no Shosei, about a corpse that returns to life. Lon Chaney's silent Phantom of the Opera was a sensation that put Universal Studios on the map. This in turn led to two decades of classic Universal horror pictures, with competitors like RKO producing their own share of surprising classics, including Val Lewton's superb Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, and The Seventh Victim. The war brought a lull to this, and in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the monsters became atomic. Fueled by the Cold War, weird cinema turned to alien invasions and mad science. But just when you thought the supernatural monsters were down, they struck back with a surprising revenge.

Hammer Films started with post-War science fiction, their Quartermass films and X the Unknown making a name for themselves. But it was their decision to cover the same gothic ground the Universal classics first marked out, this time in glorious color and with buckets of blood, that summoned the horror picture back from the abyss. 1956 saw The Curse of Frankenstein and '58 saw The Horror of Dracula, and with these there was no longer any returning the genie to the bottle. Pandora's Box was open, and the 60s and 70s saw a superb and terrifying flowering of the horror genre. Not just Hammer, but AIP's terrific Roger Corman Poe Cycle and Italian giallo made these decades a macabre golden age of terror.

And all this to try and explain Onyx Path Publishing's They Came from Beyond the Grave!

They Came From Beyond the Grave! is in the publisher's own words "a dramatic, hammy, and horrifying tabletop roleplaying game encompassing the shock, terror, eroticism, and humor of 1970s horror." It is, as they say, "a mix of serious threat, unmitigated ham, and nonsensical farce." If you know horror from that period, it was a cocktail of chills and camp that Grave! does a terrific job of emulating. It is, to put it mildly, an odd duck of a game.




The product I am looking at is a 311-page PDF, 40-odd pages of which are Trope and Quip cards meant to be printed out for play. The engine is the Storypath System, an evolution of the Storytelling System popularized in the 1990s by White Wolf. The book is lavish, full color, and incredibly evocative of the source material.

Characters come in two parallel forms...1970s characters and their late 19th century counterparts. Essentially this is because so many horror films of that period were gothics set a century before. There are various ways you could relate these two characters. One could be an ancestor of the other (perhaps even a reincarnation, a la Dark Shadows), or simply just a 19th century doppelganger. The characters are characters in movies, after all. This picture could be set in the 70s and the next in the 1800s. Depending on play style, a group might weave the lives of these two sets of characters together in a single story, or not.

Players will select from archetypes that embody the stock characters of films like these. The Dupe is Joe or Jane Average, a normal person caught up in terrors beyond their ken. The Hunter is a monster hunter. Maybe they bag werewolves, maybe fearless vampire hunting is their thing. The Mystic dabbles in the supernatural, the Professor is the expert, and the Raconteur is the eccentric detective. Each comes with special tricks, called trademarks and tropes, that define them. This is where the cards come in. Tropes trigger some sort of stylish and characteristic benefit. The Hunter, for example, can use "Listen Here, Kid" and inspire a young supporting character to do what you tell them. The Dupe might use "I Didn't Sign Up For This" which allows them to escape a dangerous scene. Archetypes also get a number of Quip cards, one-liners they can deliver in play at an appropriate time and earn a temporary benefit.




The game also has a system of "rewrites" that allow players--not their characters--to step out and direct a scene. These are the Cinematic Powers that make the game so distinctive. Spend 3 rewrites for a Deus Ex Machina, a stroke of luck that saves your party from certain doom. 2 rewrites can buy you a Musical Montage in which you prepare for something. I am particularly fond of Summon the Stuntman, in which if you are not up for a physical confrontation or athletic challenge replaces you with a stunt double who is. Rewrites are a limited resource, and you won't be falling back on these cinematic saves all the time, but they do a terrific job of adding color and emulating the genre.

This is, of course, a game of supernatural horror and it comes fully loaded with all the monsters you might expect. Dracula is in these pages, and the Brides of Dracula. There are Ghosts and Mummies and Possessed Dolls and THE DEVIL HIMSELF (caps not mine, it is how he is referred to the entire text). Monsters all have special rules that apply to them to make them unique. They also come with both 197os and Victorian modes. All together there are around 30 of these beasties, and all the ones you would expect.




The Director's (GM's) chapter has terrific advice on the genre and running the game. There are tons of "sets," stock locations featured in films like these for both eras. There are also two scenarios that are terrific, ghoulish fun. 

The result is a game that manages to be much more than the sum of its weird little parts. They Came From Beyond The Grave! does not pretend to be something for everyone. It has a very specific focus and style and it nails it. Reading it, I couldn't help but think of those little Peter Vincent scenes 1985's Fright Night used to send up 70s horror. If you like Hammer, Dark Shadows, Amicus or AIP, this is the game for you. A slick piece of design that is a loving and loyal tribute to the films that inspired it.



   



   

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Sons of Umath: The *Kóryos Myth in Gloranthan Gaming


This article builds on the previous one. Read that here. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, are from The Book of Heortling Mythology

LIKE THE ANCIENT *Kóryos themselves, the roleplaying games that followed 1974's Dungeons & Dragons had to leave the safe and established domain of their predecessors to explore new territory of their own. Both Empire of the Petal Throne and RuneQuest took the early lead in this, adapting the detailed and complex settings of M.A.R. Barker and Greg Stafford to show that roleplaying games did not need to be generic dungeons but could, in fact, explore whole new worlds. But in 1979 Stafford and Steve Perrin produced something wholly new, something that suggested for the first time that gaming could simultaneously be a few hours of entertainment with your friends and an exploration of deeper themes and meanings that date back thousands of years. I am talking, of course, about the publication of Cults of Prax.



The title itself was radical, and telegraphed exactly what Stafford was trying to do. "Cult" back in 1979 (and yes, even today) had only negative connotations in the public mind. People would have thought immediately of Jim Jones, the Process Church, and Charles Manson. In academia, however, especially in disciplines like anthropology, archaeology, and comparative religions, "cult" had a very different meaning. Derived from the same root as "culture" and "cultivation," it was a term that related to the religious, ethical, and philosophical dimensions of specific groups. This was exactly how Stafford used it. Eschewing character classes as archetypes for characters, Perrin and Stafford used cults. The cult your character belonged to defined their role not just at the gaming table, but in the society the character lived in. Cults of Prax gave characters views on history and mythology, life after death, morality, and proper living. It was the publication of this work that set Glorantha apart from everything else as an adventure game that was also struggling with the age-old question of meaning.

There is so much, frankly, to unpack from this book that it would take several articles to do it. Tonight, however, I would like to look at just three cults Prax introduced to the world; Orlanth, Storm Bull, and Humakt. Specifically, I would like to look at them each as critical facets of the Indo-European *kóryos tradition.

*   *   *

As mentioned in the previous article, the *kóryos are an academic construct, but one which nevertheless fits the facts and has archaeological evidence to support it. Based on innumerable traditions, practices, and stories amongst Indo-European language speakers from India to Ireland, scholars hypothesize an ancient and long-standing practice that seems to have survived for thousands of years. Adolescent young males underwent a strenuous initiation rite in which the boy "dies" but is not yet reborn as a "man." Instead, the adolescent assumes a sort of liminal status outside of regular society. He and his peers form a warband, and are expected to survive on their own in the wilderness, raiding, hunting, stealing.

These warbands were called "wolf" or "dog" warriors, and had a very peculiar status. Neither children nor adults, neither "men of the land" or "beasts of the forest," they existed somewhere between these realities. They also existed between life and death. Wrapped in wolf, dog, or bear skins and painting their faces black, they were said to be utterly fearless, charging into battle naked. Already dead, they had not yet been reborn by taking a wife and starting a family. Thus, not only were they said to be terrifying and fearless warriors, they also communed with and were representatives of the dead, often haunting burial grounds outside their communities.   

After a specific period of time and under conditions which varied from society to society, the young men either came home and married, or went out and formed new communities of their own. In either case, they now assumed their full status as "men" and were expected to set aside their war-like days and rejoin the world of the living.

But not always.

You see, there is also evidence to suggest that these boys had a captain or a guide, an older man who never assumed "normal" adult male status but instead chose to remain wild and warlike, out on the fringes of his culture. This type of person both prepared the boys for their days of exile, and went with them when the exile occurred. Something like a shaman or a priest, he was a representative of the Otherworld, but a martial one expected to use violence to defend his people. He was a living embodiment of a god, but a dread one.

This is all a construct of the practices of Proto-Indo-European peoples from at least 5000 years ago, somewhere in central Eurasia. A community would form, the adolescents would be kicked out to form warbands, and in turn end up founding their own communities elsewhere. As successive generations carried the practice further west and north, the Indo-European societies they left behind became more settled and civilized, maintaining vestiges of the *kóryos tradition but not actually practicing it. Thus the very end of the practice of *kóryos is seen in the Middle Ages, in the practices of the Vikings. But make no mistake, there is evidence of the *kóryos amongst the ancient Latins, the Mycenaeans, early Celts, and ancient Iranian-Indians as well.

*   *   *

So what has any of this to do with Glorantha?

Three of the cults in Cults of Prax are gaming-table reflections of the *kóryos traditions. To be clear, we are NOT arguing that Orlanth Adventurous, Storm Bull, or Humakt are meant to model the *kóryos the same way that the knights of Pendragon are meant to model their counterparts in the Matter of Britain. Instead, Greg, in digging deep into Indo-European mythology in creating his own Orlanthi, takes inspiration from them. These gods, the Sons of Umath, collectively mirror the *kóryos in a way that is playable, and palatable, to modern gamers, buts still clearly draws on the currents of this very ancient practice.

In Orlanth, we see the very core of the tradition, the wild and rebellious young male who needs to carve out his place in the world before assuming the opposite duties of fatherhood and order. In Humakt, we see the individual cut off from his kin and occupying a liminal status between the living and the dead, a mediator between both worlds who is also an instrument of violence. In Storm Bull, we see the wild berserker face of *kóryos, terrifyingly between animal and man.

Scholars have speculated that the tradition of the *kóryos originated at least partially in the fear the ancient and established older males had of their sons. The  older male had built a home, taken a wife, and made a place for himself. He feared his sons would then grow and try to take it from him. It's theme we see preserved in Indo-European mythologies again and again.  Modern readers might be most familiar with Kronos, who eats his sons for fear of being supplanted, or of Oedipus.
 
Umath, the father of Orlanth, Humakt, and Storm Bull typifies exactly what these older and established males were afraid of. Once Umath is born;  

There was no place for him anywhere. Every space and place had been parceled out to other gods and demigods and children of the Solar Empire, as well as their tributaries, servants, office holders, leaders, and protectorates. Emperor Yelm ruled everything, nothing was left. Being impulsive, Umath made his own place in the world. He put his hands up to the belly of his father and his feet upon his broad mother, and then pushed them as far apart as he could. Old man sky groaned with that effort, and Grandmother Earth wept too, so now life also has its groans and sorrows for everyone. But Umath made a place for himself...

Umath's first real act mirrors one of the roots of the *kóryos tradition, but it is his sons who are actually forced to enact it. What know of the *kóryos is that it began with an ordeal, an initiation ceremony that separated the boys from their families, their lives, and their people. There is every indication it was brutal.

As mentioned, the *kóryos were associated with wolves and dogs, creatures that in Indo-European mythology are associated with the Underworld. For example, just as in Greek mythology Cerberus guards the entrance to the Underworld, in ancient India it was Sharvara, dog of the Lord of the Dead Yama, who did. Both Cerberus and Sharvara mean "spotted" in their respective languages, again indicative of a common root and ancestor. Undergoing this ordeal, the boys became "dog warriors," servants of the Underworld. Archaeological evidence suggests that the ordeal involves being imprisoned in pits...and further, an even more traumatic ordeal. At Krasnosamarskoe, on the Russian steppes, archaeologists have uncovered 4000 year old remains of this ritual. Aside from the pits, the bones of numerous dogs have been found, showing signs of ritual killing and being consumed. The eating of dogs--faithful companions to these Indo-European peoples--was taboo. By killing and eating these dogs (quite possibly their own beloved pets), the boys were meant to be shocked and traumatized, as well as cast out of the social order. It also seems likely that by ingesting these dogs, the boys became "dog warriors," possessing the ferocious spirit of the animal.

Stafford wisely jettisons all traces of dog-killing from his Orlanthi initiation rites, but he kept the pits. He also moves the cause of the act from fathers worried about being supplanted by their sons to uncles;

The giants were Genert, Lord of the Earth; Kalt, the Renewing God; Lodril, lord of Fire; Magasta, the Sea giant; Dehore, Darkness-keeper; and some others whose names are not known now. These were all uncles of the child gods, so although they hated them they could not kill them. Instead, they decided to destroy them without having to take responsibility for the deed. They lied to the children, and said that they had prepared tests for each of them, and that afterwards they would be gods. In truth, they took the children to various wicked places that they could not understand, and they put a child in each. 

These places are pits of various kinds, where each of the Sons of Umath undergo a terrible ordeal. Notice here the promise that these rites would make Orlanth and his brothers gods. This was very likely the same promise the *kóryos boys were given. Vadrus, Orlanth, Storm Bull, and Humakt all pass through their ordeal triumphant. The Other Brother, likely the mad Chaos god Ragnaglar, was driven mad by his. While it is widely believed that "dog warriors" from ancient India to the Viking berserkers used alcohol or drugs to attain their fearless, frenzied state, it has also been suggested that the ordeal of undergoing these rites traumatized some of the boys to the point of sociopathic behavior as well. Like the Other Brother, not everyone made it through these initiations sane and whole.

The Sons of Umath emerge from their ordeal only to find that Umath has been killed by the Red God. They no longer have a father. They no longer have a place in this world. Again, this is exactly the position the *kóryos were in after their ordeals. The boys in both cases are on their own. And it was this myth that first inspired Six Seasons in Sartar, which begins with initiation and ends with being cast out into the world.

*   *   *

The figure of Orlanth mirrors the core of the *kóryos myth. As a fatherless and rebellious youth he leads a band that wars and raids and gets into a number of misadventures. Eventually he wins and woos Ernalda, settles down, and becomes a figure of authority. More significantly, he leads his followers away from the lands of this father to claim new territory for himself;

The Sons of Umath lived upon the Great Impenetrable Mountain that is now called The Spike. They lived high up on its slopes in great hidden valleys. Many other peoples lived there too, some more numerous than the Storm Tribe.

“Now is the time,” said Orlanth, “that we go.” 

As mentioned in the previous article, the *kóryos are one of the models of Indo-European expansion. These warbands left the borders of their ancestors' land to explore and claim new territory all their own. In the same way, Orlanth takes his entire entourage away from the Spike, the cosmic mountain of the gods, in search of new lands he can tame and rule.

Of course, this could really just be a metaphor for any adolescent, couldn't it. You leave your parents and make a life of your own. None of this is specific to the *kóryos. But it is the Sons of Umath collectively we need to observe to see the total picture. It is in Orlanth and Humakt and Storm Bull together that we see the full representation of the *kóryos practice.

*   *   *

Wait. What about Vadrus?

The reason we have excluded Vadrus (Umath's third son) from this study is that he does not have a published cult of his own. Storm Bull and Humakt date all the way back to Cults of Prax, and are major portions of the Gloranthan gaming experience. Vadrus, by contrast, is more of a peripheral character. Having said that, he is a perfect representation of the *kóryos myth as well. In fact, he represents some of the darker, harsher aspects. 

Vadrus was the first to open hostilities against the Golden People. He led a band of his men from the above and took wives from among the people who followed the Emperor. The tribe is called the Vadrudings and were a terrible scourge upon the Golden Empire when they invaded.

In the *kóryos model of Indo-European expansion, we do not see armies of Indo-Europeans sweeping across Europe and south central Asia conquering as they go. Instead, we see these warbands of young men, exiled from their tribe, who start raiding neighbors. Not numerous enough to conquer these neighbors, they raid and steal and terrorize. Some evidence suggests the neighbors being raided tried to appease them with offerings of food and cattle and even women. Or, unfortunately, that these warbands took women by force. Often they fathered children upon these women and settled amongst them. In this way the Indo-European culture, language, and genes crept across Europe. The Vikings, the descendants of the *kóryos closest to us in time and therefore the best attested, are prime examples of this.

Just as Greg Stafford wisely toned down the sheer brutality of warband initiation (though with Ragnaglar was see him acknowledging the potential trauma), he also played down this unfortunate aspect of the *kóryos. He didn't ignore it entirely, however, because we see it with Vadrus.

When Vadrus was fighting against the Sea People they often forcibly took their foes’ women. Aerlit took one named Warera, and she was a royal of the Neliomi Clan. She escaped from her captor and went back among her people and gave birth. The child was nursed on her resentment and anger, and he was trained in the ways of the Westerners. The child was named Malkion

Vadrus is more associated with the rapacious elements of the *kóryos than is Orlanth or his other brothers. As a game designer and myth-maker for modern audiences (and yes, I am counting the late 60s and 70s and 80s as "modern"), Stafford walked a fine line of presenting the wholeness of the myths he was drawing on and making them playable. Vadrus didn't get a cult, but just as much as Orlanth, Humakt, Storm Bull, and even Ragnaglar he reflects an aspect of the myth the Sons of Umath draw upon. He is an element of the Indo-European warband as much as the others.

*   *   *

Humakt.

One of the most important aspects of the *kóryos--and perhaps the most difficult for modern audiences to understand--is their association with the Dead.

In the initiation rite that separates the boy from his childhood and his people, he was also being separated from "life." The adolescent dog-warrior was counted amongst the Dead. Until he proved himself, taking a wife and starting a family, he was not yet a man and not yet "alive." He was now an instrument of Death, associated with violence and killing, but a representative of the ancestors. For being himself Dead, he walked alongside those who had gone before him. Thus there was something holy about the warband. They were agents of the Otherworld and the Dead.

There is strong evidence that the warbands painted their faces and wore animal skins to mask themselves. Masked, their identities were removed. They were not members of this clan or that tribe, they were the troop of the Dead. All across the Indo-European world, we find vestiges of the "Halloween tradition," where masked youths come to your door demanding beer or food or sweets. You either give this to them, or face the consequences. Again, this could well be a memory of the  *kóryos.

In Humakt we see this facet of the *kóryos brilliantly exemplified. In joining the cult of Humakt, the individual severs their ties to kin, family, and life to become a member of a mercenary company, a warband sword to the god of Death. They stand as gatekeepers between the living and the Dead, and are instruments of death itself. 

Of course in the*kóryos tradition, the warband would eventually settle down, take wives, and rejoin life. But Stafford already assigned the "settling down" aspect to Orlanth, leaving the Humkati to maintain that status throughout their careers. As mentioned earlier, not all members of the warband did chose to settle down, some continuing their liminal status throughout their lives. These men were particularly feared--and respected--as terrifying warriors and champions of the Otherworld. We see shadows of the Swords of Humakt here, but also, I think, our final brother.

Storm Bull.

*   *   *

I'll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
Those who wade out into battle?
Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
They bear bloody shields.
Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
They form a closed group.
The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
Who hack through enemy shields.

-Haraldskvæði Saga, 9th century AD

 
In the monument erected to the Emperor Trajan's conquest of the Dacians (101-106 AD), one relief depicts Dacian warriors wearing bear and wolf skins. 700 years later, Norwegian skald Þórbjǫrn Hornklofi--in writing of the battle of Hafrsfjord, Norway--described the terrifying Úlfhéðnar and Berserkir, the wolf warriors and bear warriors. These two recorded instances are seven centuries and 3000 kilometers apart, but there is evidence of these warriors as far afield as ancient India in the Rigveda (1500-1000 BC). These warriors were not considered strictly human, but somewhere between man and beast, tied to the invisible forces of the Otherworld.

The *kóryos warbands were associated with the dog or the wolf. Later, in Europe, the bear seems to be embraced as well. As the archaeological evidence suggests, in their initiations they consumed dogs to become them, and wore wolf or dog skins. They were no longer humans, leaving the settled lands of humanity to haunt the woods and the wilds. They were viewed as between man and beast. Fearless, ferocious, and terrifying, they were said to fight in a trance-like state or berserker rage.

Theoretically, the tradition predates the concept of a full-time warrior caste. For early Bronze Age Indo-Europeans, the *kóryos were the "necessary evil" of violence, keeping a settled community safe by terrorizing those all around its borders. When the warrior caste innovation occurred, and the community now had more permanent defenders, the role of the *kóryos evolved somewhat into the concept of "shock troops," which seems to have been the role they played right up into medieval times.

It is crucial to understand here that the *kóryos (and their descendants) were permitted to act in ways that were taboo. They were not human, they existed beyond human rules and behaviors. They were tolerated because they were useful. This tradition lasted in Indo-European societies well after they became settled and civilized. Among the ancient Greeks, for example, young males (the Athenian ephebos and Spartan krypteia ) who passed through their adulthood initiations were allowed to fight in ways no honorable warrior would, which traps, night attacks, and ambushes. All of this was part of their traditional status as being somewhat outside the human sphere, between animal and Otherworld...

Urox was the oldest son of Umath.
When he was young he was never sure if he was an
animal or a god.

Urox, or the Storm Bull, embodies this final facet of the *kóryos, their status between man and animal, their legendary berserker fury, and the fact that they are tolerated as a necessary evil. The three lines quoted above describe exactly the status the *kóryos held, somewhere between animal and divinity. 

The Storm Bull is one of the oldest manifestations of Umath the god. Umath was the primal Aer who tore apart the sky and the earth to make room for himself and his children. When Umath provided the world with his children the Storm Bull contained mostly that which was bestial in nature: violence, and raw unthinking strength, guided by instinct and the sensitivities of a god.

-Cults of Prax

This inhumanity, this bestiality, is at the very core of the *kóryos and their identity as "dog" or "wolf" men, as is their liminal status and the breaking of taboos. The following passage, also from Cults of Prax, might have been written about them; 

Socially they are unacceptable. They characteristically act with total disregard for any tribal taboos or manners, even to the extent of occasional murders which will go unavenged. Normal people consider all worshippers of this cult to be mindless brutes, barely human, certainly deranged, and absolutely dangerous. These opinions are correct. But the necessity of the warrior overrides the temporary discomfort which people must suffer...

Broadly speaking, this sort of behavior and status was reserved for adolescent males in Indo-European societies. But as mentioned, we know there were those who never returned to human society. The beast never released its grip on their souls. Their role was to continue to teach and train the young to become dog warriors (or wolf, or bear). In these full time and "professional" berserkers I think we see the Storm Bull the most clearly.

*   *   *

So what is the point of all this?

I think what makes Glorantha distinctive from other richly developed settings (like Tékumel) is that its foundation is wholly myth, not linguistics or culture. Generally speaking, the cultures of Glorantha arise from myths that transcend culture. The Praxians and Pentans are "nomads," but that could be Scythians or Huns or Mongols or Turks (etc). The Lunar Empire is any dream of empire, from Star Wars to ancient Persia. The Malkioni are the mythical "West," with its materialism, humanism, monotheism, and atheism. They are not so much cultures but ideas of cultures, myths of cultures, and this makes it impossible to identify them with any specific people in human history.

The Orlanthi are another kind of myth, the mythological "proto Indo-European." When we look at cultures as diverse as the Indo-Iranians, the Irish, the Greeks, Latins, and Norse, we see commonalities both linguistic and religious that lead us to imagine some distant proto ancestor. That is the myth-space I think the Orlanthi occupy. The thundering chieftain god, the clan, and the central significance of the warband are not specific to any one Indo-European culture, but buried in the DNA of them all. And this of course means the *kóryos are as well.

But what makes Glorantha particularly fascinating is that it is not a "copy." If the Orlanthi had warbands of dog warrior youths running around they would simply be a clone. By breaking this tradition up amongst various gods and cults, the mythological inspiration remains intact, but now in a more playable and original fashion. We can look at the Sons of Umath collectively and see the shadow of the *kóryos, but individually they remain original and unique. Aspiring GMs take note!

For me, the *kóryos were the model for Six Seasons in Sartar and The Company of the Dragon. But following the lead of Greg and others, I followed the broad outlines of the idea (adulthood initiation, going out into the world to form a warband, eventually coming home) but reworked it to try and pay homage to the original myth but still do something different with it. I think it is very useful to go back and look at how Greg did the same in the design of Glorantha.