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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, 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.
  
 

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Kóryos, Orlanth Adventurous, and the Myth behind the Six Seasons in Sartar Campaign

IMAGINE WITH ME, if you will.

In the dark of a central Eurasian night some five thousand years ago, under the light of a full moon, a group of adolescent boys are taken from their homes and their beds and brought to a sacred enclosure. Stripped naked, their faces are painted with a mixture of charcoal and fat. After a night of ritual ordeals that test their courage, their strength, and their stamina, the boys are pronounced "dead." They go into the Underworld and meet their ancestors, who bring them back to life not as boys but as young men. The holy men of their clans wrap them in the skins of wolves (and in a descendent of the tradition later on, bears), and banish them. They are now landless, clanless, and must go into the wilderness--perhaps for a year, or maybe even five--to survive by raiding, stealing, and their wits. They are permitted, even expected, to perform lawless acts like murder, rape, and theft. When the ordained period of time expires, they are expected to set aside these ways, settle down, and either return to their communities or establish their own. No longer outlaws, they are warriors of the clan who enforce the peace.

These lawless wanderers are called the *kóryos, or in simple English, the "warband."

I have long maintained that while we can draw on historical cultures to help us imagine the peoples of Greg Stafford's Glorantha, it is probably a mistake to think there are any actual parallels. The Orlanthi barbarians are not ancient Germans, or Norse, or Greeks. The Lunar Empire is not Rome, or Persia, or the Hittites. Rather, Glorantha is (in the words of its own creator) based on mythology. The Lunars are therefore the mythological "Empire," with all that entails. Their invasion of the Orlanthi nation of Sartar could be seen as the Romans invading Gaul or Germania, but it just as easily--and accurately--could be read as the British in Afghanistan, or the Soviets in Afghanistan...or yes, even the Americans in Afghanistan. Glorantha is based on mythological currents, themes...not historical details or (gods preserve us) the modern obsession with "accuracy."


The Orlanthi are based on the myth of the "barbarian," but it is important to note not just any barbarian, a very specific kind. The Pentans are the mythological "horse barbarian." The Hsunchen are sort of Mesolithic and Neolithic "primitive barbarians," etc. The Orlanthi, by contrast, clearly embody the Proto-Indo-Europeans or PIE peoples, who are themselves completely mythological. Scholars have hypothesized their existence, and contructed bits of their language, based not on any real archaeological record, but on linguistics and mythology. There is a general feeling that they existed, but the debate rages on over where they originated and who they originally were. The ancient peoples of the Caucasus, of Anatolia, or the southern Russian steppes are the usual suspects, but I just prefer to think of them as the Orlanthi.

The reason it is so easy to imagine the Orlanthi as Celts, Germans, Greeks, or ancient Indians is because of this PIE connection. There is enough linguistic evidence that we can identify a vast Indo-European language family that stretches from Ireland to the Indian subcontinent. Both the names "Ireland" and "Iran," for example, likely derive from the same PIE root meaning "the people." Again, this is itself a kind of myth because it cannot ever be proven, but the evidence is there. As Gloranthanphiles however we are much more interested in the mythology, and here again among the descendants of the PIE peoples we find surprising consistency. The clearest example of course is the chieftain god, the thunderer. Indra. Zeus. Thor. Tarhunna. Et cetra. All the linguistic and mythological evidence paints the picture of an ancient people organized into clans, who saw cattle as wealth and worshipped a thunderbolt wielding chieftain god. 

But there is another feature of PIE culture that brings us back to Glorantha and to the topic at hand.

The *kóryos.

*  *  *

19th century scholarship imagined the spread of the Indo-European languages through the vehicle of invasion. Under this model, the ancient PIE were a sort of hyper-martial warrior people who poured forth from their homeland in a ceaseless tide of conquest. The idea was so pervasive that the PIE word *arya ("the people," and again the root word of the names Ireland and Iran mentioned above) became embraced by the Nazis as a sort of mythological justification for their own land grabs.

Today, it is all widely regarded as nonsense.

Instead, many scholars point to the *kóryos to explain the spread of Indo-European languages and religious practices across Europe and the Near East. It works a bit like this: a group of young men are banished from their tribe or clan in the form of a warband. Landless, without a home or a people, they are encouraged to raid, pillage, and plunder...but only other peoples, not "the people," not your people. And so the wild *kóryos head out (originally, we think they rode out and that being on horseback gave them the tactical advantage, but the model applies just as easily to their descendant vikings who sailed out) to terrorize other people. But these are not armies. They are bands of young men. They went out amongst neighboring cultures that often appeased them with offerings to avoid bloodshed. The *kóryos mingled with these people, fathered children amongst them, and many times settled there. They then raised these children in their ways, and when the time came these boys went out and repeated the cycle. After thousands of years, it spread a myth, a language family, and a tradition across much of the Eurasian continent.




Shadows, memories, and remnants of this practice long out-lived the practice itself. The civilized and settled Athenians practiced the ephebos tradition, where adolescent boys lost their familial status and where given the role of guarding the borders of their society. They wore black tunics in times of war, with "blackness" (the Underworld, the ancestors, and masking) being a common*kóryos theme. Among the Spartans they were called krypteia, encouraged to raid cattle and plunder amongst their neighbors. It is said that Taras was founded by such Spartan young men. In ancient Ireland, the fianna were young men expected to spend half the year in the forests and wilds raiding and hunting. The Vikings, of course, fit the model closely. Many scholars believe the*kóryos often had an older and more experienced leader guiding them through the process, and this we see in the Viking practice of sending young men out on three-year raiding voyages under an experienced guide. In ancient India, boys were sent out into the forests to survive on their own and their leader was selected by a ritual dice match...something any reader of the Mahabharata will immediately recognize as the exile of the Pandava. All these traditions--the persistent stories of cattle-raiding and the like found from the Indus to northern Europe--are speculated to have their origins in the ancient *kóryos.

*  *  *

The Orlanthi are a mythological re-imaging of the PIE. More heroic. More idealized. But in Greg's stories of Orlanth, the pattern is clearly there, albeit missing some elements.

The *kóryos, for example, were associated with the dead. During the time of their exile, they were "dead" to their people. We believe they masked themselves because of this, painting their faces black or wearing wolf or bear skins (wolves and dogs are associated with the Underworld in numerous Indo-European cultures). Being "dead" they rode with their ancestors, and the widespread Celto-Germanic tradition of the Wild Hunt has its roots in the idea. Being "dead" they had no fear of dying, something evident in later berserker traditions. Conversely, because they rode amongst their ancestors and were roving bands of young men, they were also powerfully associated with fertility and lineage. The Roman tradition of lupercalia, an orgiastic festival with animal sacrifice, men roaming the streets looking for women to assault, and associated with wolves was believed to be necessary to ensure fertility the upcoming year. There is a tension between the*kóryos--the young unmarried men--and the older, married, established men. The latter embody "society," while the younger are in a liminal transition space, not children but not men. They are outsiders, wild, sowing their oats, and a threat to the establishment. Their energies are necessary to continuing the line and ensuring the next generation, but at the same time they pose a threat to the men running the show.

Many of these elements are softened somewhat in Greg's Glorantha by necessity. No one really wants to play a roleplaying game where you get brutally kicked out of your village and need to go out killing and raping...and if you do, well, I will leave that there. But looking at the stories in works like The Book of Heortling Mythology and elsewhere, the*kóryos wink back at us. Orlanthi and his brothers undergo a harrowing initiation ceremony. Their father is killed. They go out into the world living by their own wits, fighting, raiding, attacking the settled empire. Eventually, Orlanth makes the transition from wild and rebellious youth to settled farmer-king. He goes from being a liminal outsider to the very embodiment of order and tradition. This is exactly what we see with the *kóryos.

Those of you who have read or played Six Seasons in Sartar and/or The Company of the Dragon probably know exactly where I am going with all of this. Way back in primary school, learning long division, my teacher drummed into my head the value of "showing your work." I suppose I am doing that now and tipping my hand.




In these books I am retelling the myth of the*kóryos, modified of course for modern sensibilities and Glorantha. Under the hood it is the exact same engine. A group of newly initiated young people--male, female, and non-binary this time--are rendered landless and clanless in Six Seasons in Sartar. They go out into the mountain wilds of Sartar and form a warband, living by their own wits, raiding, fighting, and warring in The Company of the Dragon. Again, because we are talking mythology here and not accuracy, they are doing it to overthrow an "evil empire," but they are a roaming warband nevertheless considered bandits and thugs by many.




The Seven Tailed Wolf is about the end of the *kóryos tradition, the part where the warband returns home and builds a new community. The company comes home (or builds a new one) and finds themselves thrust into the position of running and defending it. Of course, because this is heroic fantasy, there will be a twist, but I am still following the myth.

Which I suppose would be my word of advice to those starting to GM or write for Glorantha. Always stick to mythology. Avoid the pitfalls of modern "fantasy" and look back at the classics instead. I am proud of the fact that Six Seasons in Sartar is the Jonstown Compendium's best selling title, and that The Company of the Dragon is nipping at its heels, but I cannot take credit. My suspicion in sitting down to write these stories was that Glorantha fans would respond to them because they were rooted in myth...even if they were not familiar with the exact myth I was retelling. The currents run so deep that no one needed to be familiar with the *kóryos to resonate with them. Shadows of the story remain in so many myths and stories that we know the story before it is told. It resonates in our blood. Sure, the word "novel" means "new," but we are not writing novels here. We are gaming. In gaming, and especially Gloranthan gaming, it is fruitful to reach back into the past.

As the old adage says, everything old becomes new again.





Saturday, December 18, 2021

COMPANY OF THE DRAGON ONE OF THE BESTSELLERS OF THE YEAR

Chaosium's own Michael O'Brien just shared this Geeknative article. In it, Andrew Girdwood ranks the bestselling titles of the year that were NOT Dungeons & Dragons. Our own The Company of the Dragon is in at #7!.

Check out the list here;

https://www.geeknative.com/137624/the-other-best-selling-fantasy-rpgs-of-2021/

Saturday, December 11, 2021

EXCAVATING GLORANTHA: A LOOK AT THE RUNEQUEST WEAPONS & EQUIPMENT GUIDE

I have a bone to pick with the brand-new RuneQuest Weapons & Equipment guide. Its title.



Entering university, I knew I wanted to study the ancient world. What I didn't know was how I wanted to go about that. Eventually I would settle down with philology, peering into bygone eras through the languages and texts they left behind. Before that, however, I played the field. I had a fling with anthropology, but there was no chemistry there. History and I hooked up several times without commitment. My first boyhood crush, however, was on archaeology. How could it not have been? I was ten when Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the screens. While all my friends were hot for Han Solo, I only had eyes for Indy. My first Call of Cthulhu character was a much more bookish version of him. Once I seriously started taking courses, I soon realized that archaeology was going to involve a lot more time studying sediment layers than raiding tombs. We broke up, but you never really forget your first.

One thing that stuck with me from that relationship was a respect for material culture. Sure, language is fundamental to how we act and think--it's the operating system of consciousness--and religion appears to be the thing that first divided our ancestors from other primates, but what a people wore, what they ate, what games they played and tools they used and materials they built from...these things are definitive. Visceral. You can read about the ancient Greeks, but a day spent at the Ure Museum of Greek Archaeology staring at the dishes they ate off of and the cups they drank from actually transports you to their world.

And that is why I have a bone to pick with this title. Weapons & Equipment sounds like a laundry list for player character adventurers. This book is so much more. This book is RuneQuest: The Material Culture of Dragon Pass.

At present the book is a 130-page PDF. As with other Chaosium titles, buy it now and you will get a voucher offsetting the price of the physical copy--the material culture copy--when it arrives. The writing team rounds up the usual suspects; Richard August, Jason Durall, Martin Helsdon, Erin McGuire, Diana Probst, Jude Reid, Jeff Richard, Jared Twing, and Dom Twist. The art team, under the direction of Helsdon, Durall, Kalin Kadiev, Jaye Kovach, and Aron Tarbuck is too extensive to name here but is filled with many of the people who have been breathing life into the current RuneQuest line. Notable is Ossi Heikkala, who provides the cover art (fresh from having done so for the Starter Set). We are coming back to Ossi in a moment.

So what exactly are we getting here? 

After a brief introduction and a helpful chart of weights and measures, we dive into "The Market." This chapter talks about trade in Glorantha, currencies, and economics. What goods might be available, selling loot, and repairing and maintaining material goods are all found here. 

"A Bronze Age World" follows next, though the title might be a tad misleading. Glorantha in the Third Age most closely resembles the terrestrial Bronze Age, but the chapter begins with a description of Gloranthan metals (the most detailed we have seen in the new line thus far) that makes it clear we are not really in Kansas, Toto. It then moves quite logically from metals to pottery. While metals were essential for tools and weapons in ancient material cultures, it was pottery that formed the backbone of everyday life. Used to store food, drink, and oil as well as to eat and drink off of, there are reasons museums are crammed full of ancient pottery today. Then we get a discussion of spinning and weaving and--huzzah!--fuels. I suspect the minds of the vast majority of fantasy RPG players just imagine everyone burning wood. Not so, my friends, not so.

And this is where I need to pause and stress what is exciting about this book. Sure, something like The Red Book of Magic might be sexier, but Weapons & Equipment immerses you in Third Age Dragon Pass like absolutely nothing else before. We all want to know about the magic and the cults, and Gloranthan gaming has always done a superb job on the religious aspects. But what about everything else? What would the daily life of a character in Dragon Pass look like? This is the book that tells you.

"Common Goods" comes next, with clothing, jewelry, cosmetics (including tattooing pigments!), tools, musical instruments, and popular toys and games. What will your adventurers do the next time you are sitting around the campfire? Get out your dice and play Enzetsu of course! Then comes the section I found the most exciting...food and drink. As a GM, there is a tremendous different between saying "okay you eat" and "you are served frybread with spiced minced chicken and einkorn ale." A discussion of herbs and plants is next, with more exotic raw materials soon after. Household goods and trinkets are covered before finally talking about adventuring gear.

"Beasts" covers both the riding kind and the kind you eat, as well as rules for mobile dwellings and awakened animals. 

"Hirelings & Services" is next, a chapter I expect player characters to get a lot of use of. The kinds of hirelings and prices they command are covered, with a very detailed look at mercenaries and how they function. Culturally differences are examined (how the Orlanthi divide spoils versus how Yelm worshippers do), before we move on to hiring laborers, sages and scribes, and crafters. Slavery is discussed, with a useful reminder that the slavery of the ancient world is not that of the American antebellum south, and how to deal with it (or not) in your games. We come round then to tattooing and the types of it practiced in Dragon Pass, as well as magical services and inns. Funerary rites is next and makes for a fascinating read.

"Weapons" and "Armor" come next and I will gloss over these chapters. They are comprehensive, and beautifully illustrated, but as RPG players we all know what to find here.

We get to "Travel," a terrific little chapter that details the various methods of getting around Third Age Glorantha. Guides, chariots, and ocean travel are all here. But I did warn you earlier we would be getting back to Ossi Heikkala's art, and I can't leave this chapter without pointing out a piece that exemplifies this book and what it is trying to achieve.

On page 91 is a full-page plate of a Vingan warrior asking for directions. To be honest, I first saw it a year or so ago where it struck me and has stayed with me ever since. To me this is the RuneQuest illustration. All the grit, all the realia of the game and the world is right there. Not a Red Sonja in a chainmail bikini, this battle-scarred Vingan is dusty, dirty, and has a look of weary resolve. The goods slung off the spear, the little girl cowering behind the farmer, this is what Glorantha looks like. I might have been tempted to make this image the cover of the book, as it immerses you in the setting as intensely as the text does.


The next chapter is "Dwellings," with discussions not only of the kinds of homes and buildings you find in Glorantha, but also building fortifications, acquiring land, managing property, building settlements, and farming. This is followed by "Training," another chapter player characters will love, as it goes into detail on the different kinds of training available.

We end on "Exotic Items," mostly magical, which are the kinds of treasures PCs are always hungry for.

Look, it is easy to call anyone of these titles "indispensable." The Red Book of Magic is the "indispensable" guide to spirit and Rune magic, the Glorantha Bestiary is the "indispensable" book of Gloranthan monsters, beasts, and Elder Races. But Weapons & Equipment is different. GMs and players should both want to have this, because even just reading random sections of it, Glorantha springs to life. It is like going from 2 to 3D. As gamers we forget, dazzled by gods and magic and monsters, that the best fantasy settings are living, breathing worlds. This journey into material culture drives that point home. For all of her wonders, her strangeness, Glorantha is an incredibly defined and real setting. Weapons & Equipment underscores this, and I suspect will change the way you think and feel about the game.  

    

    

     

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

SIX SEASONS GOES PLATINUM, COMPANY GOES GOLD, AND THE SEVEN TAILED WOLF IS ON THE WAY...

JUST WEEKS AFTER The Company of the Dragon became a Gold Bestseller, Six Seasons in Sartar pulled ahead of its sequel by becoming the very first Jonstown Compendium title to ever go Platinum. To celebrate the tremendous success of the series, I thought it was as good a time as any to announce the third installment, The Seven Tailed Wolf.


Long before the Dawn and the beginning of Time, the Black Stag seized a mountain valley from the jaws of the Seven Tailed Wolf and made it his own. As told in Six Seasons in Sartar, the Haraborn clan accepted his patronage and called his valley their home. Centuries later, in Glorantha's Second Age, signs and omens convinced the Haraborn to flee south, just ahead of the Dragonkill. When their long exile finally ended and they came home in the Third Age, they discovered the Seven Tailed Wolf had risen again, taking the valley in their absence. After a long struggle with the Wolf and his children, a local Telmori tribe, Black Stag Vale belonged to the Haraborn once more.

Now, after having been driven from their homes for a second time, the Haraborn return to find the Seven Tailed Wolf waiting for them yet again. Do they repeat the events of the past and take the valley back with bloodshed, or break the cycle and find a way to co-exist?

Playable either as a direct sequel to Six Seasons in Sartar, or to The Company of the Dragon if you played that as well, The Seven Tailed Wolf will be the shortest of the three sagas. We are looking at a page count of just under 100 pages. The book is not, however, just adventures. It will contain material originally cut from both Six Seasons in Sartar and The Company of the Dragon, including more in-depth descriptions of the Haraborn and their valley, spirit cults dedicated to renowned ancestors, guidelines for adapting the Community Characteristics system in The Company of the Dragon to playing a clan ring and running a Sartarite community, advice on continuing the Haraborn campaign into Chaosium's own official post-1625 timeline, and much, much more.

I am a mostly one-man operation here and have a lot on my plate. The Final Riddle is still on its way, and I have a few writing projects for Chaosium, so I can't promise you a firm deadline just yet. Look for it later this winter (closer to spring, NOT in time for Christmas!).

If you haven't yet experienced the Jonstown Compendium's bestselling title or its sequel, now is a terrific time to get them! Both are on sale throughout the holidays.

      

Monday, November 29, 2021

REDISCOVERING ERNALDA: AN INTERVIEW WITH CLAUDIA LOROFF



Ernalda. In most RuneQuest and other Gloranthan campaigns she is Queen of the Gods and the supreme deity of the Earth pantheon. Hers is one of the most powerful and widespread cults in the setting. But the Ernalda we see today, in products like the Glorantha Sourcebook and the new RuneQuest Roleplaying In Glorantha game line, is not exactly the same Ernalda we met in products 40 years ago. If you lay the cult of Ernalda description from both 1984’s “Glorantha Book” in RQ3 and the one appearing in the upcoming RQG cults book side-by-side and read them, the difference is striking. Nothing has been retconned, and sometimes the very same sentences are repeated, but you easily see that while the skeleton has remained the same the current Ernalda has been fleshed out in fascinating ways. Important ways. In this piece I would like to dive into those. 


My interest in Ernalda began at university. I had played RuneQuest for about eight years and was finally running my first campaign. More than half of the players in my gaming group were women. At the same time, I was a budding Indologist, and my focus was on the Mahādevī (Sanskrit “great goddess,” cognate with Latin magna dea). Naturally both my players and I were interested in exploring the Gloranthan Great Goddesses and the Divine Feminine in the setting. Unfortunately, this was 1990, and the only real example of this in print was the Red Goddess. We had the cult write-up of Ernalda from RQ3, but the Disneyfied presentation of her there did not at all embody the Great Goddess I knew from mythology. Yes, she was universally loved and worshipped, yes she was the bountiful earth, yes in many lands she was the bride of the ruling local god, but she lacked anything even vaguely resembling agency. This was not a truly mythological Great Goddess. She felt sanitized and whitewashed for a hobby that still catered to a young male demographic for which a true Great Goddess could only be portrayed as the Chaos-loving adversary.


As I introduce my latest group of players to Glorantha, this is no longer true. Like the Red Goddess, Ernalda now feels like a Great Goddess. To find out more about this evolution, I reached out to RQG editor-in-chief Jeff Richard, who in turn pointed me in the direction of Claudia Loroff, who alongside Jeff and Greg Stafford was instrumental in writing the new cult of Ernalda text.


ALM: Claudia, thanks so much for doing this. I thought we might start by having you introduce yourself, and tell us a little about what brought you to Glorantha and fantasy gaming?


CL: I started roleplaying games in the mid-eighties, living in Berlin, Germany where I grew up. My school mates were playing Das Schwarze Auge – at that time the most popular German RPG. Some time after, we went through a period of trying a lot of RPGs. That was when I tried Call of Cthulhu, Traveler, AD&D, Elric! and whatever was on the market. In the early nineties I came into contact with a group playing RQ3 and became involved in the German RQ-scene. Later, in the mid-nineties, I had a strong Call of Cthulhu phase – both games became the games I played most. I also went through a long phase of playing Magic The Gathering and my other big love are board games. I am an “Essen Spiel” regular and attending the fair since 1992 every year. And of course, I read all the relevant books already as a teenager (like Lord of the Rings, Dune, Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy and so on). I would call it a classic gamer vita except maybe that I always was one of the few women who did that.


Eventually, I met my husband Jeff Richard on a gaming convention at the Rhine River in 2006. He introduced himself as my nemesis. Isn't that romantic? It was actually Greg Stafford--who was there too who got it faster than the two us that we could be a good match. But that is another story.


I got stuck with Glorantha because of the setting AND the people I played it with. Of course, when you are playing it for so long, attending many conventions, you know people from all over the world and it is a setting which connects you with a lot of very interesting people. 


ALM: How would you describe Ernalda? Who is she, what is she and what are her key attributes?


CL: She is the earth mother! She brings life, feeds everybody, keeps the community together. She is powerful. If you treat her badly, you will starve, or nature will threaten you. 


She knows how to keep the soil fertile in the real world but also spiritually with her rituals. Of course, sex and childbirth both play a very important role. Her followers will be the first ones rolling in the fields having sex with lovers to end the winter and give spiritual life to the soil. A priestess of Ernalda would welcome and encourage women who are able to give birth to do the same and to strengthen her magic! And if children result of these kinds of rituals, they are blessed by the goddess! Keep in mind – childbirth is a dangerous thing and bringing a child up and make it survive in a Bronze Age world is a challenge. Pregnant women, babies, and children need every worldly and spiritual support.


Her followers represent the wise woman in a community who knows when the weather changes and the crop must be brought in or when the time of frost is over, and the seeds can be brought into the soil. She knows the yearly rhythm of planting to keep the soil fertile and what can be planted with others to keep plants and creatures healthy.


Her followers are the ones who look after the community – making sure everybody is healthy and fed and play their part to make the community thrive.



 

I always have those ancient voluptuous clay figurines in mind with wide hips, big breasts, narrow waist, fleshy legs, and arms which show abundance and femineity at the same time, mixed with the Minoan pictures of women in dresses showing their bare breasts. 


If treated badly, Ernalda gets her revenge. She can do it herself but of course, she has deities in the earth pantheon who are more on the fighting side, but she makes it also very clear to the male deities that they must fulfill their role not only as a lover but also as a protector or even avenger if necessary.





In a game, an Ernaldan worshipper in the group opens doors, makes easy contacts, and can kick ass in battle if necessary through earth magic. They are fun to play because these characters have the potential to be “three dimensional” – what I mean is that they can be the characters with the social connections but also can kick ass in fights (of course, they must keep an eye on their magic and Rune points but on the other hand – use them – that is what they are for!). And never forget how awesome an Ernaldan dancer or singer can be in augmenting other characters if necessary. Even in real world history, dancing and singing – often supported by mind opening substances – was one way to give courage and support in difficult times or for difficult tasks. This can be directly transferred into roleplaying with augmentation – perfect!


I know that the Ernaldan picture I draw here is a character archetype which is meant for adult players. It stresses a lot – let’s say – difficult or “R-rated” topics, like blood sacrifices of animals, sex in the fields, mind opening substances and glorifying pregnancy (some pregnant women artwork made it into the Gloranthan books – I love it!). But they all fit to mother earth!


ALM: If you look at “The Cult of Ernalda” in 1984’s RQ3, one of the earliest presentations of the cult, you read; “Yelm came and inaugurated the Golden Age. He took Ernalda as queen. Later Orlanth came and vied mightily for her freedom. Finally, Orlanth won Ernalda and slew Yelm.” 


That same section today reads; “The Celestial Court handed rulership of the cosmos over to Yelm, who came and inaugurated the Golden Age. Yelm took Ernalda as his concubine and demanded absolute submission from all. Ernalda sought a champion who could rescue her from this imprisonment. The storm god Orlanth came to court Ernalda and proved he was worthy of her. With her aid, Orlanth vied mightily for her freedom and killed Yelm. Ernalda took Orlanth as her husband and together they ruled the gods.”

It’s the same story, clearly, but in the first version Ernalda has no agency. She is taken as queen and then won. All the action belongs to Yelm and Orlanth. The new version is very different. Why the change, and why did you feel it necessary?


CL: Several years ago, we had a long discussion how to make Ernaldan initiates playable as characters. Why were they not attractive? 


In the first story, Ernalda is a token which can be taken and given to the next. I don’t think it was meant like this but that is how it reads. But stop – you are talking about a kick ass goddess who – within her pantheon, can shake the world and shape it, can breathe life into dirt, can let plants grow and last or wither, can bless pregnancy and childbirth and with all of that controls the life and – as a summary - is the incarnation of love, sex, and rock'n roll! Of course, no god can rule over her. Somebody so powerful does not want to be a concubine – she is the “first mother”, the super woman, the life giver and in the end within her pantheon also the resting place for the dead. She IS the life cycle and Orlanth did well in freeing her from Yelm’s claws. For that, she rewarded him with accepting him as a husband. He showed with his actions that he cared, that he can fight for her and win and these are very important traits for bringing up and supporting future children and the things she loves. 


The question was how to translate this into game play. Of course, an Ernaldan initiate or priestess can fight for herself but why? She has a more important task – let the ones do the fighting who have it as their main focus. Ernalda makes a community thrive. In an adventurer’s party, an Ernaldan initiate or priestess is the one who is always welcomed as a representative of the goddess. She will be asked to bless whatever gives (uncorrupted) life or represents life (crops, animals, women to get pregnant, pregnant women, children). To make a blessing worthwhile, it involves sex, sacrifices, singing and dancing.


By the way, the communities love every Ernaldan sacrifice (goods from the harvest, prepared foods, a nice bull or cow, chicken, a pig, or sheep). Since these are sacrifices to keep the goddess happy, the community will make sure to present high quality goods. An animal slaughtered in a ceremonial way makes it special. Part of the ceremony is not only cutting the throat of that animal but also preparing it into a delightful dish which the community can share in the name of Ernalda. Every sacrifice will be eaten – smaller “day-to-day” sacrifices keep the priestess nourished (or the ones of the community who need help), bigger ones as part of festivities will be shared in the community. In my opinion, thinking about sacrifices this way takes the edge out of them. What does this mean for game play? Of course, an adventuring party has a much better standing entering a village to get them to help if they pay for a nice pig to be sacrificed, hand it over to their Ernaldan priestess (not every village has their own Ernaldan priestess), she throws the big party properly killing the pig, grilling over a fire and presenting it with a lot of dancing and singing to the community for a nice party.


To make a long story short – your Ernaldan in your adventurer’s group is usually the key to get people to trust you and get their support. She can be very convincing, and her parties are legendary. 


At the same time, we had to make sure that she can be a real threat in a battle. An Earth Elemental is not funny and commanding swine can make the life of Tusk Riders very difficult. 


What I always like about playing in Glorantha is the rich setting and that you can do much more than dungeon crawls. Playing out the community part: I talked already a lot about the role and importance of an Ernaldan in communities. Of course, you can go into the Puzzle Canal and fight chaos monsters. But this gets boring. And if you are not a Storm Bull, you like to have a reason why you fight the Chaos monsters. This is when the community part comes into focus. Of course, the GM can let the adventurers enter a village and the villagers run instantly to them to ask for help against the chaos monsters torturing them. On the other side, the GM can play it out, maybe the village is cursed by the gods and the adventurers must find out why. An Ernaldan is good in building up trust and making good sacrifices!


The setting is deadly: You character can die easily. I find this challenging and interesting.


Try to run a farm: The setting gives you enough material to make playing a farmer interesting. We tried to run a farm in Dorastor and failed! It was too dangerous!


The world is Mystical: Glorantha is always described as a rich setting. Why? Because even after playing in it for nearly 30 years I can find new things. You can fight chaos monsters (and likely die – remember – the setting is deadly!). You can help a giant baby on the River of Cradles get to the ocean, you can fight Lunar oppressors, you can be a Wolf Pirate, you can try to find out why the dwarfs work on the world machine, you can ride on zebras, beetles and bisons (and more), you can go on treasure hunts in the Big Rubble, you can play politics in Notchet (see later point), you can discover that Argrath is a Dragon (did I spoil something here?), you can meet the Feathered Horse Queen and become her champion, you can be a crazy Lunar magician, you can try to fight iconic figures like Jar Eel (and lose), and so on. 


Going on a heroquest: I love heroquesting! In a good heroquest, you must be very creative and use what you have at hand. It comes out always differently than as planned and it is about challenges to overcome. A good GM lets you play around with metaphors and metaphorical use of your skills to overcome the challenges. 


Gods are real. I mean it two ways – you can talk to them or interact with them because they are real and they are a bunch of jealous, backstabbing, loving, caring, fighting, killing, and scheming creatures, which give a lot of potential to put it into games!


The setting is four dimensional. You not only have not only a well described setting but a well described setting over time! You have a rich history to play around with. The year and season you play in matters. This gives the world an additional complexity which I call the fourth dimension - time. 


Coming back to Ernalda there is of course Nochet in Esrolia – the place to go for any Ernaldan. City ruled by women – not only in the palace complexes but the whole city by the Grandmothers – with political scheming as much as your heart likes. 


I also like that the picture of other sentient beings like elfs, dwarfs and trolls is very different in Glorantha from classic high fantasy – I find it very refreshing.


ALM: What are some other important additions or changes to the current portrayal of Ernalda do you feel are important?


CL: Ernalda is a powerful goddess, and her worshippers can take over an important role in an adventurer party. They now have useful skills (and yes, in a very mystic culture with a lot of powerful gods and goddesses skills like singing, dancing and worshipping are very useful!) and powerful spells (only want to mention the big huge Earth Elemental again – not only useful in battles!). I also think that stressing the importance of pregnancy and childbirth gives Ernalda a positive and special touch. 


What I am still working on is to change the mental pictures of Ernaldan women. I am very happy that pictures of pregnant women made it into the published books. I would love to see more pictures of “fleshier” Ernaldan priestesses, not only the skinny ballet dancers. They do not to have to be Rubenesque, more like a well-curved belly dancer – and they are getting more and more in this direction. In my eyes, a successful and powerful Ernaldan priestess would look well-nourished and reflect how successful she is and not look like the super models today. And – to be honest – giving childbirth also changes the body of a woman and that is OK!


ALM: Ernalda is first and foremost a mother goddess. Her priestesses must have given birth to at least one healthy child to qualify for the position. As a mother, how (if at all) has motherhood affected the way you approach RPGs and Glorantha? And what are your thoughts on women and gaming, and especially mothers in gaming? Does the hobby do enough to include them?


CL: I would like to separate these questions:


Before being a mother, topics like pregnancy and childbirth were there but in a very theoretical way and made it only rarely into my games. Giving birth to two wonderful children and nearly dying giving birth to my second, my daughter, changed a lot. Taking responsibility for the two changed me even more. You become a member of a “different club”, as a friend once said and that is right. Playing a priestess of a goddess which - as you said yourself - is the mother goddess must be a mother herself to know what it means. As I stressed before, giving birth is wonderful but can also be very dangerous – even nowadays. The wonderful thing in the game is that there is a goddess who can help and who sees this as one of her tasks to help bring new life to the world (human, animal life, plants) and let it thrive and fiercely protects it if necessary. 


Since becoming a mother, my characters became more involved with the topic. Getting strategically married for a year and a day and discussing what happened with children during the time was not a thing we waived away but really discussed it. With my Ernaldan initiate I made sure that one of our other characters played by a friend got pregnant to build a strategical alliance (don't be shocked – it was totally normal in ancient times). Over the course of the campaign that character gave birth and child raising was an important topic. I was the only mother in the group, and I don’t think I would have chosen that path during the game without my own experiences. I think I would not even have thought about it.


About women in gaming – of course, the Ernaldan is a character which should be fun for women to play. I think I will fall into stereotypes saying that women like to play more social characters and men the fighters. Yanioth, initiate of Ernalda from the starter set, is based on one of my characters I play. This character is so often played by men at conventions, and they do a wonderful job!


What I observed is that people new in RPGs (or new in an RPG setting) often tend to choose a character of their own gender and maybe even with ties to their own life. It makes it easier to get into the role and keeps space to concentrate on the new setting and on the rules. Experienced gamers usually do not care – they play what they like or what they always played (I don't understand that part – I love to experience new concepts). To give support for the first group I think it is important to provide them with sufficiently different kinds of possible characters and genders which are fun to play which Glorantha allows. And that is what we tried when tweaking the Ernalda cult – making these characters fun to play! If a woman (or man or nonbinary) wants to play a woman, nearly all cults provide a female aspect and they are fully integrated and have a distinct place in Gloranthan society. In many cases, they are not only a male version made with the changed gender, but they are often represented with their own variation of a cult including their own specialties. And yes, some cults are reserved for certain genders because it makes mythological sense. This makes the setting so attractive for me! I usually prefer to play characters which challenge me to play –I have played straight forward male and female Humakti and my first RQ character was a female Chalana Arroy. I also liked my male Lhankor Mhy initiate, or the female Ty Kora Tek initiate I play in our White Bull Campaign. I wanted to try how to create a playable necromancer in Glorantha and that was how Gina Gravedancer was developed. Maybe I have a soft spot for cults in Glorantha which are rarely played and try them out. 


About mothers in gaming – having children, especially smaller children means that somebody must take care of them. This can make participating in RPGs sometimes difficult if both parents play (especially in our case where my husband needs to play as part of his work, so he goes to conventions and I stay home with the kids or we all go but I am still stuck with the kids. Luckily, they are now at an age where they enjoy board games – my other big hobby). As parents, you have several options: if you are lucky and the gaming group comes to your home, maybe you get to play when the kids are in bed or when they are watching TV, playing computer games or can join (and when they are able to join, they start to play with their own group and are old enough you do not have to observe them anymore). Maybe somebody in your gaming groups has kids the same age, then you can share the duty but there is always the possibility that the kids destroy the house while you are totally entranced in a heroquest….


Next option: only one goes out gaming and the other one stays at home (can be a nice break in childcare but it is sad if you shared the hobby before…). 


Or you play online, checking from time to time if the kids have not destroyed the flat and while the other players get a fresh glass of wine during a break you quickly try to get your kids asleep. In my experience, the game is not the problem, the setting is challenging, and you must find ways to make playing possible. And even during a time where parents share the tasks bringing children up, often certain things are still mommy-duty. Which is totally OK (and yes, I am a fierce believer in gender equality, but it also has its limits – men cannot give birth and they cannot breast feed and there is a special mommy-power especially with smaller children – daddies don't worry – you get your fair share when they get older!). 


ALM: What advice would you give to players who wanted to portray an Ernaldan character?


CL: Good question. The easy answer would be: look at Yanioth in the starter set. The more complicated one is – try to picture the character you want to play. Think yourself into a tough Bronze Age time combined with a lot of powerful magic and scary mythology. Think about this little clay figurines I talked about before and what they mean – femininity, fertility, abundance, and the protection of all three of them. That is what your character needs! Don't be afraid of topics like sex, nudity, or sacrifices (but, of course, respect the feelings of your other players about these topics – use them with care!). Don't make your Ernaldan Character perfect in minimaxing points and skills – give her some edges and make a kick-ass lady which is fun to play! 


ALM: Finally, and just for fun, Ernalda famously has a long line of husband-protectors. Which of them is you favorite and why?  


CL: Orlanth is the best. Why? Because most of the games, one plays an Orlanthi and you find them everywhere as NPCs. It can be very practical in a game to remind them of their husband protector duties. And they have the best runs for proper Ernaldan rituals!