"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, 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.  

1 comment:

  1. I guess Template booklets on the Jonstown Compendium would be nicely appreciated (and bought)!