"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.

Sunday, December 23, 2018



IN 1897, Francis Pharcellus Church, an editor for the New York Sun, found himself in a difficult position.  An eight-year-old girl, whose father told her she could rely on anything printed in the Sun, had written in with a burning question.  Church's answer was a classic example of the "Third Side," a crucial element of the thought and life work later promoted by Anton LaVey (1930-1997).

"There are not always 'two sides to every issue,'" LaVey would later write.  "It is invariably a third side that is overlooked in every issue and endeavor, from abortion to gun control.  The third side can be the crackpot stuff of conspiracy theories, or it can be the most logical and simple, yet deliberately neglected conclusion." (1)

The question put to Church was whether or not Santa Claus existed.  Her friends, it seemed, had told her that he did not.  Suffering an existential crisis, she reached out to the newspaper for clarity.  

"Virginia, your little friends are wrong," Church answered.  He continued;  

They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. 

Not believe In Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

...A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.


I think of Francis Church--and Anton LaVey--whenever I am asked if I "believe" in God.  For starters I try not to "believe" anything, especially in the sense of "accepting something is true without proof."  However, if you are asking if I think God exists, of course I do.  I am not an idiot.  Yahweh, Satan, Allah, Krishna, Thor, Osiris, et al are every bit as real as Santa Claus, Hamlet, and Sherlock Holmes.  To deny any of these exist is to fall into a trap laid by "vested interests and...minds of limited scope," (2) people who want to frame the definitions of the conversation into either/or propositions to force you to either side with or against them.  

Yes, gods exist and Santa exists.  They exert measurable and demonstrative influence on the lives and behaviors of billions. You might as well deny the existence of capitalism or liberal democracy.  Thus I am categorically not an atheist; "a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods."  That definition has that ugly "believe" word in it again.  I know the gods exist.  So rather than play the game of getting forced into one side or the other of this tedious debate (and therefore by default ceding the right to define its terms to the person asking me, who all too often has an agenda), I embrace the Third Side alternative that Anton LaVey synthesized.  The question is not whether gods exist or not, the question is who created whom.

"It is a popular misconception that the Satanist does not believe in God," LaVey wrote in his (in)famous Satanic Bible. "...Man has always created his gods, rather than his gods creating him."  It is clear from the way that LaVey wrote of gods and devils that he regarded them in much the same way as Francis Church regarded Santa Claus.  These are real ideas, real things, that motivate human behavior, and they have manifested in every human civilization we know of.  This indicates to my mind that they are somehow necessary--or at least useful--to us.  All too often, the use to which they are put is control; bullying other people into thinking and acting how we might wish them to, but LaVey had answer for this as well.  "If man needs such a god and recognizes that god, then he is worshiping an entity that a human being invented...(is) it not more sensible to worship a god that he, himself, has created, in accordance with his own emotional needs?" (3)  The Theism/Atheism debate tries to force us into either submitting to other people's gods or to throw the baby out with the bathwater and reject gods of our own.    

LaVey put forward the convincing theory that humanity is an amphibious species that needs to swim the waters of dreams and ideals as much as crawl out and walk the hard bedrock of reality.  This explains the dramatic and romantic dimensions of his otherwise brutal, pragmatic philosophy.  Like Church's Santa Claus or fairies, how drab and dreary existence would be without Count Dracula, Superman, Daenerys Targaryen, or Zeus.  How impossible to imagine.  Yes, atheists are right to point out we can find awe and wonder and beauty in looking at the stars and the sunsets, but this doesn't mean I would want to live in a world without myths and fairy tales. I daresay I needn't have to, because there is a need for these things deeply buried in the human psyche.  So long as we remain human, the need for gods and Santas will always be there.    

1. and 2. from "The Third Side: An Uncomfortable Alternative," published in Satan Speaks!

3. The Satanic Bible   

Tuesday, November 27, 2018



ORIGINALLY RELEASED IN 1991, Kult was at the forefront of a new RPG movement, the urban horror/fantasy wave that dominated that entire decade.  Drenched in real world gnosticism and occultism, it postulated a dark world in which humanity was tortured and imprisoned.  Once, the mythology goes, human beings were gods.  The race dwelled in Metropolis, a cyclopean city immense beyond comprehension.   Then, one of their number rose to power and turned against the rest of his species; called the Demiurge, he forged the Illusion and trapped his brethren within it.  Our world, with its 9 to 5 jobs, health insurance, and reality television, is a Lie.  It works to keep us distracted and divided from our own divine natures.  Since around the first World War, however, the Demiurge has been missing and the Illusion is beginning to unravel.  The angels and Archons who helped maintain our prison are scrabbling to keep things up and running, but true reality--the reality of Metropolis and its attendant realms--is bleeding through.  Kult characters are beginning to see through the sham, and their adventures are a quest to discover the Truth.

Now, I've reviewed the complex mythology of this game before.  Back in 2007, I wrote a lengthy review of the game here.  Instead of wasting your time then on the game's setting and history, I'll concentrate on what makes the latest edition of the game, Kult: Divinity Lostdifferent.  It is a a dramatic reboot of the classic game, updated to a more modern setting and driven by a completely different engine.  In fact, whether or not you decide to play Divinity Lost may depend less on your feelings towards classic Kult and more on what you think of games like Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, Masks, or Urban Shadows.  This version of Kult, you see, is "Powered by the Apocalypse."


Originally appearing in D. Vincent Baker's 2010 RPG Apocalypse World, this is a rules system that seems to generate particularly strong feelings in people.  On one hand, there are tons of fans out there determined to convert every RPG in existence over to Apocalypse, and on the other people like a friend of mine who likens the game's approach to ordering Chinese take-out from a menu.  My personal take is that there is more smoke in this debate than fire; the Apocalypse engine is not really all that different from any other RPG out there.  So instead of getting tangled up in the merits I will focus on how Apocalypse changes Kult.

Divinity Lost is driven by a series of "Moves."  Moves are what players characters--and indeed the GM--"can do."  Player Moves include things like Influence Other, Endure Harm, and Investigate.  GM Moves are things like Take Their Stuff, Deal Damage, or Separate Them. There are general player character moves that everyone can use, and then there are those specific to what Advantages your character has taken.  Your Contract Killer character might have Moves like Weapon Master or Sniper, while your Occultist might have Occult Library or Exorcist.  

Moves require the appropriate Trigger to bring them into play, and are resolved by rolling 2 ten-sided dice.  For example, the Trigger for Act Under Pressure is "when you do something risky, under time pressure, or try to avoid danger."  You would roll the dice and add a bonus from one of the game's ten attributes (in this case Coolness).  A result of 15+ means your Move goes off perfectly, without any messy complications.  On a result of 10 to 14, it succeeds, but there will be complications involved.  On a 9 or less you probably fail, but as with many modern RPGs here the philosophy is "failing forward."  It's not that nothing happens--Moves always drive the story forward--but perhaps not in the way you might have hoped.

GM Moves are obstacles put before the players, and are themselves diceless--the GM never rolls.  So instead of a monster trying to grapple a character, the GM plays the Capture Someone Move.  Instead of having an NPC attack, the GM plays Deal Damage.  The effects are automatic; it is up to the player to counter these with the appropriate Move of his own, such as Avoid Harm or Endure Injury.  While I cannot vouch for how the Apocalypse engine's approach here works for every genre, for Kult--a game about horrific supernatural forces--it works quite well.  Moves allow the GM to orchestrate the game like a horror novel or film, while the player to respond to these threats rests entirely in the player's hands.

My one concern is that so much of this is based on pure luck. Kult: Divinity Lost characters have ten core Attributes, such as Willpower, Reason, Charisma, or Violence (brilliantly these correspond to the Sephiroth of Kabbalah, or in the Kult universe, to one of the ten Archons created by the Demiurge to shape mankind's prison).  Each Move a player executes is keyed to one of these Attributes and receives a bonus from them.  The problem here is, the bonus from an Attribute ranges from +0 to +3 (in play an Attribute can be advanced to +4).  Again, there are no skills in this edition of Kult.  Archetypes simply allow new kinds of Moves, not additional skill bonuses.  Remembering that to avoid negative consequences you need to roll above a 15, and that a 9 or less is generally a failure (or at least a very messy success), the character's progress through the story relies mainly on pure luck.  The influence of actual skill or expertise is minimal.  Powerlessness is a common feature of horror roleplaying, but I can already hear my players balking at this.

The other side effect of adopting the Apocalypse engine over those used in previous editions is that it makes some major shifts to the lore.  

An important feature in previous versions of Kult was the concept of the character's Mental Balance.  Essentially this was a number determined by comparing all the values of your positive and negative traits.  Sleepers--humans blinded by the Illusion, with no real awareness of the reality behind it--were balanced.  In other words, their positive and negative traits evened out.  As characters began to approach extremes, either very high or very low Mental Balances, they started to break through the Illusion and were now Enlightened.  Breaking through the Illusion by pursuing a positive Mental Balance was the Light Path; breaking through by pursuing a negative Mental Balance was the Dark Path.  This was a fascinating feature of the game.  You could pursue Enlightenment either by becoming increasingly superhuman or increasingly monstrous.

Nothing like this really exists in Kult: Divinity Lost.  There is no Dark or Light Path.  The Apocalypse engine eschews bookkeeping of this sort in favor of Moves and a fairly simple Wounds and Stability bar.  Characters still can and do evolve from Sleepers to the Aware, and then to Enlightened, but this is handled via a much more abstract system of taking enough Advancements.  

Additionally, the removal of skills from the system removes the occult sciences characters used to have to pierce the Illusion.  For example, Kabbalah provided knowledge of the Archons, Alchemy studied the substances the Illusion was made from, and Voodoo was the science of breaking the hold of death.  These things could still exist in the setting, and might be introduced later, but for now this rich level of setting detail is all gone.  The same is also true of the remarkably rich and eerie spells that added so much texture to the previous edition.  The new magic system is extremely thin and freeform; not something I object to in a general sense, but it does deprive newcomers to Kult of the deep lore that made the setting such a dark jewel.  If you happen to have previous editions of Kult or your shelf it would be easy to port more of the lore in, but as things stand there is a lot more style in Kult: Divinity Lost, but a lot less substance.


This is hands down the best looking edition of Kult.  Arranged in 22 chapters (like the Tarot Trumps) the full color book is flawless in its visual presentation.  The art pulls no punches, which is consistent with the spirit of a game (in)famous for its unflinching approach to horror.  Neither does the text.  Particularly in the wake of issues plaguing the latest release of Vampire (we want our horror edgy but not that edgy), Kult: Divinity Lost goes "all in" on the horrific.  Kult can afford to be this bold because of its audience; while Vampire or Call of Cthulhu can be extremely horrific, there are large swathes of those communities that want the games more "Anne Rice romantic" or "genteel Lovecraftian."  People come to Kult because they have strong stomachs and like their horror relentless.

Divinity Lost hews close to the spirit of previous editions, and while I am not quite willing to call it a "better" game than Kult: Beyond the Veil, it does offer the much more narrative, story-based approach the people expect from games powered by the Apocalypse.  Unfortunately, Divinity Lost does seem to assume prior knowledge of that system.  It throws terms like Moves and Holds at you right away and gets into detail later.    If you have never played anything like Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts, the initial chapters can be unclear.  

In the end, if you like games powered by the Apocalypse you will like Divinity Lost.  If that isn't your cup of tea, I would recommend at least giving it a try.  The system's approach to gaming fits the macabre setting well, and might change your mind even if you disliked the way the mechanics model high fantasy or supers.  Previous Kult fans are going to find a promising but quite more scaled back game here.  We'll have to wait and see how it expands into something closer to the scope of the previous edition.


Sunday, November 25, 2018


Chapter Two

For decades now, I have kept what I call “Templates.”  These are little story blueprints, usually on one or two pages long, that are meant to be adapted to whatever campaign I am running.  I admit to stealing the idea completely from Greg Stafford’s brilliant Prince Valiant game.  Templates have no details, and often suggest multiple alternatives.  “A Courtship.”  “The Talking Animal.”  “A Cattle Raid.”  At this point in my life I have hundreds.  They are meant to be dropped into campaigns either as full scenarios or little side quests (subplots).  This chapter of Six Seasons in Sartar is based on one, “The Ghost.”

What follows is the bare Template first, and then immediately after a fleshed out example of that Template.  Because I like to focus scenarios on the characters I have, the fleshed out version will mention them by name.  Hopefully there is enough here that you, gentle reader, can take the Template and adapt it however you wish.   

THE GHOST (Template)

Begin With: A ghost appears to one or more of the characters.  Ideally, it will approach the character with the strongest connection to the Spirit Rune.  There are several ways to stage this.  For starters, the GM should decide whether it is obviously a ghost, or appears to be alive and mortal (a byproduct of the Illusion Rune; it is in fact immaterial and invisible but appears solid and visible).  Second, the ghost may or may not know that it is dead.  For example, the characters encounter a lost little boy in the forest who was murdered and buried in an unmarked grave…he is not aware that he is dead, but wants the characters to help him get back home.  If the ghost knows that it is dead (like Hamlet’s father) it might ask the player character(s) to avenge it.    

The Situation: Someone or something killed the ghost, and either because it was denied a proper burial, or it seeks justice, it continues to wander the earth.  The only way to give it peace is find its remains and convince the ghost it is dead, or find its killer and avenge the ghost.  

Characters: The Ghost.  If the ghost is seeking vengeance, you will also need an Antagonist (the ghost’s killer).  This could be a genuinely cold-blooded “bad guy,” or perhaps someone who feels remorse for their actions. 

Short Term Goal: The Ghost is looking to finally rest in peace.  The Antagonist wants to keep his or her crime hidden, and/or to be forgiven.  

Long Term Goal: To move on.

Scenes: The player characters encounter the Ghost, and may or may not initially realize they are communing with the Dead.  Once they do, they will need to need to find out what happened to the Ghost, where its remains lie, and where the Antagonist is.  This will require asking around.  To make things more complex, you could have the Antagonist hear the players poking around and might take steps to silence them before they learn his or her identity…   

Conclusion: Invariably in this sort of story, if and when the protagonists do confront the antagonist, the Ghost itself appears, finally confronting its killer.  The GM might wish to treat the Ghost as a Supporter (HeroQuest, p. 82).  Winning the Ghost’s gratitude, the GM additionally might have it appear at a later date, perhaps appearing to warn the players of danger or to assist them in some other time of crisis.

Chapter Two

This week’s Focus Character is Leika Faransdotr.  There is also a Subplot Character, Kalf Brogansson.  Kalf’s subplot concerns the relationship he formed last time in The Sons of Orlanth with Ashart Berothsson.

Begin With: Water Day, Stasis Week, Fire Season 1619 ST.  It is high summer, and Black Stag Vale is preparing for the Feast of Sartar, the Founder.  It has been hotter than usual, even here in the mountains.  The winds seem stifled and weak.  Without a breeze, the midsummer sun is merciless.  Many murmur this is a bad sign.  Orlanth is weakening.

With the planting done and the harvest still a season ahead, Fire Season is a lazier time.  Leika has been sent into the woods to gather herbs and roots her father, Faran Spirit-Talker, needs for his practice.  She is not alone.  She has asked Kalliva Kellassasdotr to accompany her.  The two have become increasingly friendly since the events of the last chapter, and it is currently forbidden for children to go about the Vale alone.

Four weeks ago, Andrin Gurhasson of Cliff Shield Stead went missing.  Two weeks ago, Keogor Tarnsson of River Bend Stead vanished as well.  Andrin disappeared while the young warriors of the Vale were south in Sambari lands raiding cattle in revenge for their duplicity.  When Keogor vanished, the Clan Ring forbade any further raiding and put the Vale on alert.  No youths are allowed to wander alone.

Back in the Vale, in the hills at the edge of the forest, Kalf and Ashart are together, lazily watching over a flock of sheep.  Since Beralor is the only player character not in the opening scenes, his player, Keith, will run Ashart as an NPC for the duration of the scene. 

Ashart Berothsson
Age: 12
Keywords: Heortling 13, Black Stag Clan 13, Hunter 13
Runes: Sun 1w, Movement 17, Beast 13 (note: as an uninitiated boy, these Runes only shape his personality, he cannot use them yet
Personality Sketch: Animated, talkative, and wide-eyed.  He looks up to Kalf as a surrogate big brother.

In the woods, the girls are approached by a boy of no more than 9 or 10.  He looks dazed and frightened.  There are smudges of dirt on his face and leaves in his hair.  His tunic is muddied and torn.  He asks the girls for help and says he is lost.  He needs to find his way back home before his mother gets worried.  Saying this, he starts to weep.  The boy cannot remember his name or where he lives, but he is clearly Haraborn.  

It is possible they recognize him as Andrin Gurhasson (or do so with a Moderate Simple Contest).  

Presumably they lead the boy back to the Vale.  They will emerge from the forest not far from where Ashart and Kalf are with the sheep.  However, just as they reach the edge of the forest, the boy vanishes.  Not before there very eyes but in a moment when both have looked away.  There is no sign of him.  Seeing the girls, Kalf and Ashart join them in this mystery.

Finding Answers

There are several investigatory options available to the players.

First, Leika might go to her father (who is, after all, a spirit-talker).  Faran Born-Old (so named because he was born with white hair; his skin and eyes have normal coloration unlike his albino daughter) is concerned, and not only about Andrin.  He is concerned that Leika—who has already awakened to womanhood but has not yet taken adulthood initiation because she intends to take the male “Star Heart” initiation and thus refused the Ernaldan—attracted the spirit because her magic is awakening but is as of yet untamed.  He gives her a charm, a small amulet to be worn about the neck.  It is made of cow bone and graven with an antlered man sitting cross-legged on the ground.  Spirits gather around him but are held back.  The effect of this Charm is Resist Magic 1w.  He means it to dampen her own uncontrolled magical powers.  So long as she wears it, Andrin WILL NOT appear to her (so she very well might decide to disobey him and take it off).  On the other hand, if she IS wearing it when Drugalla strikes, she can resist Drugalla’s magic with it (see below). 

Second, Andrin was the nephew of Harvarr Red Smith and Beralor’s cousin.  He was living and working in the Village and helping at the forge when he disappeared.  Since they know Beralor, it makes sense to begin there (this also brings Beralor into the game).  All Harvarr and his husband Affarr know is that Andrin went home to Cliff Stead on Wildday evening, to spend Godday and Freezeday with his family.  He never arrived there.

In either case, once the youths have gone to the adults the incident will get them brought back to the Hall.  The disappearance of one child is bad enough, but two has the community worried and Gordangar has made investigating a priority.  Even worse, the Feast of Sartar is in two days and the Ring is hoping a feast will raise spirits a little…tales of ghosts complicate that.  It may also raise a few eyebrows around the Ring that the same youths who themselves went missing last season (see Sons of Orlanth) are now in the thick of things again.

Savan the Seer has already performed divinations as a Priest of Orlanth.  So has Morganeth.  They know that Andrin and Keogor “no longer take breath from the Lord of the Airs” but also that “Mother Earth has not received their bones.”  But since the player characters have seen Andrin, and they know a ghost is afoot,  Jorgunath Bladesong now gets involved.  He is no Priest, but as a Sword of Humakt laying ghosts to rest is his territory.  The player characters are expected to lay off the investigating and leave it to the adults…but since Andrin reached out once to Leika it is possible he might again.  She is to report any further visitations immediately. 

The characters are now expected to go about their business and stop poking around.  Let the adults take care of it.  Whether or not they obey is up to them.

A Fateful Encounter

As they leave the Hall, the player characters run into Gordangar’s young wife, the raven-haired Jorna Songvoice.  She is in the company of Savan’s wife, the elderly Korra Longfinger, and Issaries Priest Borkar Gundinnson’s wife Drugalla.  Korra—a bitter old crone—scowls at them.  “Trouble.  You four track in trouble the way men track mud in on the floor.”  Jorna, more sweet natured, defends them.  “Now Grandmother, be not so harsh.  This sighting may lay the poor boy’s lost spirit to rest.”  Drugalla says nothing, but she commits their faces to memory.

Drugalla Applecheeks

Borkar married Drugalla Norsdotr in Earth Season of last year.  She is Hiording, originally from Apple Lane (though they met in Clearwine).

Except she isn’t. Drugalla is an Ogre.  She is far older than she looks and was moved from clan to clan over the years to feed her unnatural appetites.  She settles for awhile and children begin to disappear, then she moves on.  

Like most ogres, Drugalla is a secret worshipper of Cacodemon, a foul remnant of the Devil.  As his initiate, she has access to his Runes of Death, Chaos, and Disorder.  These include certain powers favored by the cult.  First is False Form, which allows her to appear completely human, and to avoid powers that detect the presence of Chaos.  The second, Raise Skeleton, is why Morganeth’s divinations have not been able to find where the boys’ bones rest…they don’t.  She ripped the flesh from the boys, eating them alive, and then reanimated the gnawed and bloodstained skeletons to serve her.  Her final, terrible power is Sever Spirit, the power of Death to cut the link between body and spirit.  She will only use this at the climax of the story, and the devastating spell uses the  Climactic Scene Victory Level table.  Followers of Cacodemon can also Raise Ghosts.  Drugalla did NOT raise Andrin, but she will raise Keogor to deliver a message for her (see The Festival below).    

Fearing Andrin’s unquiet spirit might communicate with Leika again and give her away, Drugalla will try to turn the tables and hunt the player characters instead.  Though she is supernaturally strong, she will avoid direct confrontation.  She has another plan…   

Drugalla the Ogre
Age: 78 (looks 30ish)
Keywords: Cunning, Strong, Sharp Toothed  
Runes: Disorder, Chaos, Death 
Personality Sketch: Voracious, sadistic, and ruthless.

The Other Boy

Divinations have revealed that Keogor Tarnsson is also dead, though his spirit did not reach out to Leika as Andrin’s did.  Still, the player characters may wish to go speak with his family.  

River Bend Stead is on the opposite side of the Village from Cliff Shield.  The boy is one of two twin children of Tarn Sharp-Eyed and his wife Kiora.  He leaves behind his sister, Keoara.  Approaching the grieving parents is tricky; they are not going to want to answer the questions of green, untried youths.  A better approach might be to try to speak to Keoara.

The girl is 11 and still deeply in pain over the loss of her twin.  It will require sympathy, kindness, and a Simple Contest to get her to open up.  She does not know much.  Keogor woke early and said he was going into the Village.  That was the last she saw of him.  If the group expands their questioning to cover anything that might have happened in the days leading up to that, she mentions that she and her brother had been in the Village a few days earlier, with their father, at the Trading Post.  Her brother had been quite taken with a set of soldier figurines imported from the south, and didn’t stop talking about them for days.  This is of course Borkar Gudinnson’s market, and it is where Drugalla saw and selected her prey.

The Trading Post

Located in the Village, just across the road from Harvarr’s Smithy where Beralor lives, is the Issaries Trading Post of Borkar Gudinnson.  While it is highly unlikely the player characters have any reason to suspect Drugalla at this stage, always expect highly intuitive leaps of logic from them!  In this case, Andrin was staying across the street from the Trading Post at the Smithy when he disappeared, and Keogor had just visited there.  This might be enough to bring the player characters there.

Borkar travels far and wide across Colymar lands and often to Boldhome, trading on behalf of the Haraborn for whatever goods they cannot produce themselves.  He and Harvarr Red Smith are quite friendly; the Smith is gifted, and his forgings often fetch a good price outside the Vale.  This means that Beralor will know the Trader well.  He will also know Drugalla.  His impression of her is softness…her voice is softspoken, she is warm and slightly plump, and bakes the most wonderful sweets.  

Even though Drugalla lives here, she does not kill here.  She keeps a cave in the hills for that (see below).  There is nothing to discover here then.  If Leika is not wearing her amulet, however, Andrin will appear briefly to her here…just a flash of him standing at the edge of the yard, staring.  

For an idea of what sorts of goods are at the Trading Post, consult pages 237 and 238 of HeroQuest Glorantha.

The Festival 

Sartar’s High Holy Day, the “Founder’s Feast,” is a bit like the 4th of July.  Falling as it does in High Summer, it is celebrated in the evening when the air cools a bit.  Tables are laid out in the Fyrd practice fields between the Village and the Hall, piled with food and drink.  Bonfires are lit, and there is signing, piping, drumming, and dancing.  Gordangar and Savan make patriotic speeches.  As is often the case, unmarried women from neighboring clans often attend seeking husbands (Esrala Kulvilsdotr will be here, picking up her subplot with Kalf; during the feast, Kalf will come across a rather drunken Darestan Varankosson making unwanted advances upon Esrala.  What does Kalf do?).

Keep the scene festive and lighthearted.  Give the player characters to interact with other clansman.  Take the time for character building roleplay.  Then…

Whether or not she is wearing the amulet, Leika will be approached by another ghost…this time Keogor.  Something about him is very different.  Andrin appears as a normal flesh and blood boy, but this is a horrible specter.  He is gaunt and pale, his eye sockets are empty except for a hellish black fire.  If she is wearing the amulet, he keeps his distance.  Other wise he appears beside her and touches her arm…this leaves a bruised handprint where he touched her.  In either case he speaks into her mind; Come to the woods where you first saw Andrin.  Come tonight.  Do not bring any of the men with you or Ashart son of Beroth will suffer of it.  Then he vanishes.

This specter is Drugalla’s doing, using her Cacodemon magic to raise Keogor’s ghost as her messenger.  Undiscovered and unburied the boy’s spirit is lost and wandering, not yet safely in the Underworld…easy for her to conjure.

Sure enough, if the characters go in search of Ashart, the boy is nowhere to be seen.  As the Festival winds down, Beroth will realize his son is missing, and panic will grip the Vale anew.  

The Cave

The climax can go any number of ways, depending on the player character’s choices.  

  1. If they go to Beroth, or Jorgunath Bladesong, or any of their parents, Ashart will die.  Drugalla’s cavern will be discovered and her skeletons dispatched, but Drugalla will have vanished, leaving Ashart’s corpse behind (uneaten, his throat slit).  Drugalla becomes a subplot to devil the characters sometime in the future.  
  2. Leika might go alone.  Obviously this is a very bad idea.  Drugalla sees Leika and her visions of Andrin as a loose end that must be tied off.  Going alone means facing the ogre and her skeleton servants unaided.  
  3. Leika goes to her friends for help.  After all, Drugalla only said do not bring any of the men.  From a storytelling perspective this is probably the best choice.  Don’t force it though, let the players do as they will.

The rest of this scene will assume choice #3.

At the edge of the woods, Keogor will appear again, visible to any character present.  He beckons them, and they assumes the form of a will-o-wisp, a pale, bluish ball of flame bobbing through the trees.  If they follow, he eventually leads them to a rock face.    Hidden by a variation of her False Form magic, Drugalla has concealed the mouth of a narrow cave here.  It will be unveiled as they approach and the wisp bobs inside.

The entrance tunnel extends about seven meters before opening into a larger cavern, roughly 40 meters long by 20 to 30 meters wide.  There is another, narrow passage behind the effigy (see below) that Drugalla will escape through if the player characters send the adults instead of them.  

The first thing they see, in the flickering light of a few oil lamps, is Ashart suspended upside down over a blood-stained earthenware vessel.  He is unharmed.  Drugalla slits the throats of her prey and drains them first, drinking the blood as she devours the meat.

The next thing they see is a hideous effigy of Cacodemon.  In the dim light it might at first look alive.  She has taken the mummified and mostly hairless corpse of a bear and mounted it with a mountain-goat skull.  Great wings have been fashioned behind it from tree branches and the flayed skin of her victims.  The escape passage is in the wall behind this monstrous thing.

Finally, they can see before the effigy two heaps of bloody, gnawed bones.  Each is mounted by a skull.  These are the remains of Andrin and Keogor.

The player characters cannot at this stage be sure what Drugalla actually is, but if they ask for rolls to get some idea make it a Moderate Simple Contest against the Heortling Keyword.  

Drugalla is not the type of villain given over to monologuing or chit chat.  Seeing her prey arrive she makes a gesture in the air and the two heaps of bones rise as animated skeletons.  She and her servants will attack.  Obviously, this is best played as an Extended (Group) Contest.

Things to bear in mind;

  • If Leika is wearing the amulet, the skeletons will not actually touch her.  The magic in it keeps them at bay like a cross with a vampire.  Likewise, Leika can resist any spell Drugalla uses against her at 1w.  It is purely defensive.
  • If Leika is not wearing the amulet, Andrin will appear and fight as a supporter.  Assume his enraged spirit also has 1w.  He cannot attack Drugalla but he can fight the skeletons, attacking the magic animating them.
  • Drugalla will attempt to use her Sever Spirit against whomever she thinks is the biggest threat.           


If they defeat Drugalla and save Ashart, the player characters will be hailed as heroes.  Yes, it was foolhardy and stupid to rush in and fight Chaos as mere children…but that is exactly what Orlanth would have done.  They should each receive a Benefits of Victory bonus which can be used in the future for interactions with clansmen or perhaps in their adulthood initiation rite (see Rites of Passage).  

Ashart will naturally credit Kalf with rescuing him (if Leika came alone he will be connived Kalf “sent” her).  Beroth will see the player characters in a new light.  The grudge he bore them from Sons of Orlanth will be replaced with gratitude and respect.

If they fail and live, Drugalla will flee, exposed.  If they fail and die, Drugalla will feed very well.


The scenario played out largely as written.  After the ghost of Andrin appears to Leika and Kalliva, they join the boys and go immediately to speak with Leika's father, the spirit-talker.  Leika takes the charm, but as expected removes it from time to time throughout the story so that Andrin's ghost can communicate with her.

They then head to the smithy, both the find Beralor and also to find out more about Andrin.  There was a lot of character building in this episode, both in introducing and fleshing out Leika's father and her relationship with him and in detailing Beralor's two fathers--Harvarr and Afarr--more.After these scenes they are brought to the Ring.  Naturally the Chieftain wants the youths to stay out of it, and the Chief Weaponthane, a Sword of Humakt, take special interest in laying this boy's spirit to rest.  He makes Leika promise that if she sees the boy again, she will come straight to him.

Afarr, however, knows Beralor and his friends will not let this lie.  He tells his foster son that he sees greatness in him, and encourages him to do the right thing here...so long as he is careful.  Again, it was a character building moment.

Leika removes the amulet intentionally and Andrin reappears.  He speaks, but cannot recall what happened to him.  The youths go to Jorgunath to report this second sighting.  He also encourages them to keep at it--despite the Chieftain's orders.  To his mind the boy is reaching out to them, they cannot refuse the obligation this puts on them.  He reminds them that Orlanth was himself a disobedient child.  

After speaking to Keora, they head to the Trading Post suspicious of either the merchant or his wife.  Drugalla is charming and ends up making cakes with the characters in preparation for the Feast of Sartar.

At the festival we revisit Kalf's subplot, the budding romance with Esrala that began in Sons of Orlanth.  This time Kalf comes to Esrala's rescue as she is being hit by a very determined Darestan.  Kalliva jumps in to assist and they end up getting Esrala away.  Later she dances with Kalf and hints that she will be willing to wait for him, that he can court her when he has passed through his adulthood rites.  He gives her a ring.

As planned, Keogor's ghost appears to Leika at the festival and lures her to Drugalla's gave.  Of course she recruits her friends for help.  Kalliva uses her uncle's sword, won in the last chapter, and Beralor takes the other to his father's forge to "borrow" some weapons.  Afarr confronts his foster son there and is deeply concerned...still he lets the boy go.

The climactic battle at the cave was planned out as an Extended Contest, with Drugalla unleashing her Sever Spirit.  However on the first roll Beralor scored a critical to the GM's fumble...instantly scoring five points against the ogre and finishing the battle in a flash.  No one seemed to mind; Beralor sweeps in and thrusts his spear right through the ogre's heart.

They then rush to Jorgunath Bladesong to lay the ghosts to rest at last.  He has high praise for the children.