"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, January 20, 2019


Chapter Three

Note: If you are just joining us, please go back and start here.  Then check out episodes 1 and 2.

ABDUCTION (Template)

Begin With: Someone—or something—valuable to one of the characters is stolen or abducted.  News is brought to that character while he or she is with the other characters.     

The Situation: First decide what exactly was taken.  If it was a person, why was he or she taken?  Does the abductor want something from the abductee (information, revenge, requited love?), or is the abductee a means to an end (a hostage to get something out of someone else?).  If it is an item, why did the thief want it?  Will it be kept or fenced?  Destroyed?  Next determine where the object or prisoner is being held and who is guarding it.  What is the time frame before the object is sold/destroyed or the person harmed.  There are many excellent models for this kind of story.  Kurosawa’s 1949 Stray Dog features a rookie cop whose service revolver is stolen by a pickpocket on a crowded train, and he chases it down, trying to recover the weapon as it passes from criminal to criminal and is used in a series of crimes.  Abduction stories are also abundant; look no further than the Arthurian Cycle and the many abductions of Guinevere for inspiration.           

Characters: The Abductor.  The Abductee.  Anyone else who was part of the theft or capture.  If the Abductee is a hostage, who is the Abductor trying to pressure or get revenge against?  

Short Term Goal:  Figure out what the Abductor wants immediately.  To find a fence for the item?  To smuggle it out of the area?  To obtain information from the prisoner?  To make the prisoner love him?  Does the stolen item or person gain the Abductor glory or respect in the eyes of his or her allies?  Or is the theft kept secret?  

Long Term Goal: What does the Abductor want in the end?  To humiliate a rival or get revenge?  If so, is he or she willing to die so long as the target suffers?   

Scenes: After the characters learn of the abduction, they will need to investigate.  When, where, and how was the item or person stolen?  Are there witnesses?  Who do the players suspect?  The first few scenes involve narrowing down the list of suspects and chasing them down.  The player characters then need to try and locate the Abductor.  There should be a trail of clues they can obtain and follow.  Decide if there are any complicating factors (for example, in Stray Dog the gun passes from criminal to criminal).  Does someone steal the object or person from the original thief?      

Conclusion: The Abductor (or current possessor) of the item or person is confronted.  Is the item/person unharmed?  Do the player characters kill the Abductor or bring him/her to justice?


Wild Day, Death Week, Earth Season ST 1619.  Harvest season has come to Black Stag Vale.  The land has brought forth fields of ripened oats and barley, orchards heavy with hanging apples, tended plots of carrots and beets.  These need to be harvested and picked.  Herds of pigs and sheep, flocks of chickens, even some of the cattle need to be divided into those who live through the winter and those which need to be slaughtered.  And in the middle of all this, comes one of the greatest of the annual festivals, a full week of rituals, ceremonies, and celebrations in the name of the Great Mother, Ernalda.  The Earth Priestesses gather the women of the clan together for their deepest, most sacred mysteries and magics.  Young men prepare for the Harvest Games, competitions of archery, javelin hurling, and rock lifting meant to impress eligible women from the neighboring Enjossi, Antorling, and Konthasos clans.  Beer will flow.  Feasts will be consumed.  Life will be celebrated before the coming of the Dark.

Yet this year, a shadow hangs over the festivities.

There are grumbles and whispers among the adults that even the youths have heard.  In the lowlands to the south, Heortland—the last bastion of free Orlanthi in Dragon Pass—has all but fallen to the Lunars.  Smithstone and Karse have been taken, and only Whitewall (currently besieged by the Lunars) stands.  It is expected to fall.

In triumph, bloody Shepelkirt shines brighter at night.  The winds have been strangely becalmed as the Storm God weakens.  The summer was long and hot with very little rain.  As a result, the crops have suffered, yielding a third less than the year before.  There is nervous talk of empty bellies, and in more ways than one.  For this year, as fear takes hold, the women of the Vale have produced less children.

The Sons of Orlanth continue to harry the occupying Lunar forces.  Fires have been set to barracks and granaries.  A Tribune was assassinated and his body dragged through the streets behind his panicked horse.  And everywhere are the whispers that Starbrow is with the rebels again.

Everywhere there is a sense of something coming, of a darkness greater than winter falling.  It tinges everything the clan does.

The Focus Character this week is Kalf Brogansson, whose budding courtship with Esrala Kulvilsdotr and rivalry with Darestan Varankosson comes to the fore.  A subplot follows Kalliva Kellessadotr and the strange draconic mark on her hand.

The Situation: Darestan Varankosson, a member of the Haraborn, has kidnapped Esrala Kulvilsdotr of the Enjossi.  Darestan, the only member of the group of men he went through the adulthood rites with four years ago to still not have found a wife, has been trying to court Esrala for two years with little success.  Her sudden interest in Kalf Brogansson, a mere cottar and worse—a beardless boy—has driven him to the edge.  Keladon Blue-Eye, the chieftain’s skald and Bonded Trickster, pushed him over that edge, showing up unexpectedly at the White Bark longhouse one evening shortly after the Founder’s Feast to entertain those gathered with the law of “Jarndor and Gralala,” about an Orlanthi warrior in love with a woman who belonged to another.  Jarndor abducted Gralala and wooed her until finally winning her over.  Since that night, Darestan was obsessed with the idea.

Keladon’s motives have more to do with the player characters than Darestan, especially Beralor.  He is acting in his role as a member of the Eurmal the Guide subcult.

Darestan has taken the girl to a hunting lodge high up the slopes of Mount Quivin.  He has been stocking him quietly with enough food for the winter and dressing it up as something of a love-nest.  He is no longer quite in his right mind, and unlike Jarndor has no intention of wooing Esrala properly.  He will make her love him.

Short-Term Goal: Darestan wants a wife.  He has decided that is Esrala.  He had decided he is entitled to her.

Long-Term Goal: Darestan was never as clever, as fast, or as strong as the other boys in his peer group.  They are all married now and most are fathers.  More than anything he wants to be accepted by them.  However he is no longer reasoning clearly.

Begin With: Exhausted and aching from head to toe after several days of reaping grain, bundling it, and carting it around, Kalliva sits beside her mother in the Twin Stone longhouse, eating a communal meal with the rest of her family.  There is agitation at the head of the table.  News has arrived in the Vale that has the elders huddled in fear.  The Crimson Bat has been spotted in Tarsh, headed south.  The Lunars seem to be bringing it to Sartar.

Play this out a bit if you like.  Give Kalliva’s mother, Kallessa, a chance to complain about her Vingan sister Korolmara, and how her activities with the Sons of Orlanth only provoke the Lunars and bring doom on them all.  We have the right to strike against those who oppress us, one of the men replies.  Violence is always an option.

There is always another way, Kallessa replies.  And violence will not win against the Lunars.  You do not know them as I do.

With this cryptic statement, Kalliva realizes many of the adults are looking at her, not her mother.  But this is the end of it.  Even if pressed, Kallessa will add nothing more.

Kalliva goes to her sleeping mat beside her cousins Andressa and Talliva.  As the long house settles down and fatigue takes her, she has blurred and fitful dreams of Shepelkirt hanging bloated in a black sky and the beating of great wings.  When she opens her eyes, in the fire-lit shadows of the longhouse…something is looking at her.

It is no bigger than a small child, or perhaps a large alynx.  It is on all fours, leaning across Andressa’s sleeping body to examine Kalliva.  She sees first its face…a hairless muzzle almost like a beak, large oval eyes slit like those of a cat, a forked tongue that darts in and out of its mouth inches from her face.  A short crest runs from between its eyes back over the top of its flat head.  The firelight reflects over its skin, which is shiny like polished bronze.  When it sees her awake, it rises on to its hind legs and tilts its head, staring at her.  Then it turns, a short tail whipping in the air behind it.  As it does so it either blurs or fades, becoming hard to see.  There is the sound of claws scrabbling over wood and it is out the longhouse door into the night.

How does Kalliva react?  Does she tell anyone?  Keep it to herself?  Dismiss it as a dream?  


The next morning the player characters are helping Kalliva bind and carry sheaves of hay the next day on Twin Stone clanstead (as Cottars, both Kalf and Leika had smaller plots to harvest and are finished; as a Thane, Beralor has no plots of his own and assists others on theirs).  It is around midday and they are already tired and sweaty when young Ashart comes running towards them across the field.

He has come for Kalf.  Ashart and his father were visiting his mother’s kin in Enjossi lands when they heard the news. Esrala Kulvilsdotr has been missing for three days, and her clansmen have been searching everywhere for her.  The last anyone saw of her was in the orchards, after a day of picking apples.  It was sundown and she was headed home.  She never arrived.

Answers and Decisions

It is likely the players will suspect Darestan Varankosson; all they need do is head up the Vale to the White Bark longhouse to confirm their suspicions.  It will be easy to discover that Darestan went missing three days ago as well.  Worse, there are signs he was leaving for somewhere.  He took food rations and his weapons.

If they don’t suspect him, let them chase down whatever leads they like and when appropriate, arrange for them to overhear someone mention Darestan’s disappearance (it’s a small valley, news travels vast).

Darestan’s cousin, Fiedor Faffirsson, knows more than anyone what has happened, and can easily provide all the details.  He keeps his silence because Darestan knows Fiedor has himself been having an affair with the wife of Karenstar Grollsson, a weaponthane who would probably kill him.  Darestan used this to blackmail Fiedor into helping him.  Others will point inquiring player characters in Fiedor’s direction (Ask Fiedor, he is the only one who keeps company with Darestan).  Getting him to speak should be challenging.  The players will need some sort of leverage.

Assuming they can get him to talk, he will say something like it was that song Keladon Blue-Eye sang that put the idea in his head.  This should set off some bells.  It was Keladon who also “put the idea into” the player characters’ heads to go seek out the Sons of Orlanth in the first story.  

If they fail to get Fiedor to talk on the first attempt, all is not lost.  One option is to have Soratha Umandorsdotr overhear what happened and approach them.  She has no love for the beautiful and vain Daladra—the weaponthane’s cheating wife—and is happy to stir the pot.  Perhaps you should talk to Daladra Thargansdotr about Fiedor…or him about her.  Perhaps you should talk to Daladra’s husband.  This should give them enough to start making suppositions and asking questions.  

Alternatively, you could have Keladon Blue-Eye show up and suggest the same.  Remember Keladon embodies the Trickster, and in Orlanthi mythology it is usually the schemes of the Trickster that initiates quests.  Keladon is playing a long game here, a longer game than even he knows, and pushing the player characters towards their destinies is part of it.

Once they get the full story the question is what to do with it.  Do they do the responsible thing and tell their elders?  Do they take it upon themselves to seek out the hunting lodge and rescue Esrala?  WWOD (what would Orlanth do?).

The Lodge

Assuming they go up the mountain to the lodge, they will arrive to find it empty.

It takes two days to get there, and one night will have to be spent camping.  If you feel foreshadowing is appropriate, fill the dark with the distant howling of wolves.

There are definite signs at the lodge that Darestan was there…but the door has been battered in and their are signs that the entire place as been raided.  Grain and vegetable stores are still there, dumped on the floor…but the meat has all been taken.  Signs and symbols carved into the walls, a broken flint knife, and the tracks of several large wolves circling around the cabin outside suggest a disturbing twist; while Darestan was holding Esrala here, the Telmori must have found them.

Bearding the Wolf in its Den

The players should again have the option here to turn back and get help or to try and press on.  The signs are good that this is a mixed Telmori party of both humans and wolves, a challenge the player characters are probably not up to facing.  On the other hand, the two days it will take to get back for help will put Esrala at greater risk.  

If they turn back: search parties will be sent out, but no sign of the Telmori are their captives will be found.  Darestan and Esrala are gone.  Role-play the ramifications of this, including the weregild the Haraborn will need to pay their neighbors and the loss Kalf suffers.  The fate of Esrala becomes a plot thread to be followed in future episodes.

If they pursue: even without a hunter among them the tracks should not be too difficult to follow.  They lead up a craggy mountainside towards a cavern the Telmori are using as a den.  Long before the player characters get near this place, though, the wolves get wind of them.  Outnumber the players by sending one pair of Telmori—a human warrior and his wolf brother—for each of them.

The Telmori (Sees Far Black Fang, Gray Paw Boarkiller, Singing Tree Shadow, and Walks-In-The-Dark) will surround the characters and demand their surrender.  Sees Far speaks for them in halting Sartarite.  Walks-In-The-Dark, one of the warrior women, takes a special interest in Leika.  If Leika is still bearing the stone that dampens her spirit powers, Walks will sense it immediately.  She speaks to Sees Far in the yips and barks and growls of their language.  Walks-In-The-Dark says the White Deer Red-Eye is not like the others.  She says the spirits sing to you but you silence them.  

Sees Far tells them they know why they have come.  You come for the other followers of Big Thunder and Earth Woman.  He tells them they will come see the Mother and Father and they will decide what should be done.

He takes them to the cave this Tribe is sheltering in.  There are at least 12 humans and as many wolves using the cave as their lair.  

Pack Father Takes-Teeth is a powerfully built alpha, heavily muscled and scarred.  He wears an extraordinary collection of teeth—wolf, bear, boar, shadowcat, etc—on a knotted leather thong around his neck.  He snarls into the faces of each of the characters, sniffing them.  Pack Mother Wind Chaser is an actual wolf.  One or both of the mated alpha pair are shapeshifters.

Pack Father growls and snaps.  Sees Far translates.  You are the Wind Deer People.  You fought the Seven Tailed Wolf.  You are not friends.  You are prey.  

Getting out of this will require negotiation. Crucial to running this is making sure the player characters have something to negotiate with.  In the version written here, I created Takes-Teeth to give the players just that; he collects teeth.  In the last episode, Beralor took some of the teeth from the ogre he killed and made a necklace of them.  In the first episode, Kalliva was given a dragnonewt tooth necklace.  Both are rare prizes and could be used to sway the chief.  GMs will need to tailor the story to give a similar bargaining chip.

Appealing to their “better natures” is also a way out.  There are few “monsters” in Glorantha, by which I mean adversaries are often complex and have their own values and motivations.  The Telmori are not slavering werewolves.  They observed Darestan holding Esrala hostage long enough to know this man was abusing her and decided to intervene.  While they are holding both prisoner, they have clothed and fed Esrala recognizing she is a victim.  An appeal can be made to their sense of justice (we must take this man make to our clan to be punished) or sympathy (this girl must be taken back to her family).  This does not need to be made easy, but could be a way to get the Telmori to release them.

If the players succeed in convincing the Telmori, especially if they give the Telmori something in return (like the teeth), they will be allowed to stay the night with the pack and will be released in the morning with the prisoners.  This can be a chance to pull the curtain back a bit on Telmori culture, possibly even to make a few friends.  Again, these are not Tolkienesque orcs or goblins; tensions between the Telmori and Haraborn are more akin to real life adversaries.  This evening with the Telmori could be like the “Christmas Truce” of 1914.   

If the players fail avoid letting it come to blows.  The Telmori are not eager to start a conflict over this.  They understand the situation and simply decide to wash their hands of it all.  Have them turn over the prisoners and tell the player characters to in effect “take your fellows and go.”

Darestan and Esrala

Darestan is clearly not in his right mind.  It should become obvious he is unhinged.  In his mind Esrala is his.  She belongs to him, and he feels her flirtation with Kalf was a betrayal.  He did not abduct her to woo her…it is clear he did so to punish her.

Esrala is more complicated, and handling situations like this depends entirely on what your players are comfortable with.  Esrala was tied up and terrorized…but push the details only as far as you know your players can handle.  Was she beaten?  Raped?  The details will depend on how dark your group likes its stories.  Remember, there is a long tradition of leaving the details vague.  Classics like the Iliad or Le Morte d’Arthur  contain the abduction and mistreatment of women, but handle the grisly details off camera.  It is also fine if you decide that he abducted her but never touched her.

However, be aware that the degree to which Darestan mistreated Esrala will affect what the player characters do to him.  If you have established a relationship over the last few episodes between one of your characters and Esrala (as with Kalf and Esrala here), Esrala’s paramour might well be tempted to kill Darestan.  Be aware that this is kin strife, that the killing of a member of your own clan is one of the worst crimes an Orlanthi can commit.  Usually it ends in death or exile.


The player character’s return to Black Stag Vale will be a complicated one.

Bearing in mind the two days it took to reach the lodge, the two days to get back, and the day spent with the Telmori, they likely return Windsday of Fertility Week…right in the very middle of the very sacred and critical rites of Ernalda.  These were greatly disrupted by the need to send out parties looking for the characters.  In the very least, the Harvest Games were suspended, leaving the young men of the Vale particularly angry with the characters.

In addition, following on the events of the last two episodes, this is the third time the player characters—still technically children—have run off and done something dangerous.  While secretly many of the men might approve, the more level-headed women will be less amused.  Some sort of punishment or consequences will have to fall.  Feel free to forbid the player characters from “hanging out” with each other again.  Roleplay scenes of angry confrontations with the parents.  All of this will be suspended in the next episode by an earth-shaking event…but the players don’t know that.

On the other hand, the Enjossi and particularly Esrala’s father and family will be extremely grateful for what the player characters have done.  If they bring Esrala back, it will even mitigate somewhat the weregild the Haraborn owe their Enjossi neighbors (yes, a Haraborn abducted her, but other Haraborn took it upon themselves to rescue her).


IT TOOK MY PLAYERS all of five seconds to decide that Esrala had been kidnapped and Darestan was the culprit.  They immediately left their harvest duties behind (!!!) to march up the valley to White Bark longhouse to confront him.  

Fiedor was dismissive of these youths and their questions, but once they had the leverage they needed (his affair with the weaponthane's wife) they seemed to enjoy going back to make him talk.  Likewise, there was very little discussion about going to their elders or the clan ring with this.  Kalf was determined to go get Esrala himself, Ashart--who continued to follow Kalf around like a puppy--was determined to go with him, and the rest felt they needed to help their friend.  Beralor felt particularly invested...he had persuaded Kalf to approach Esrala back in the first episode, and with his Honey-tounged ability had even helped persuade her to dance with Kalf.  As the de facto match-maker he felt responsible for this.  WWOD?  

They decided to return to their homes, gather food, steal weapons, and sneak out before dawn.  The two exceptions were Beralor and Kalliva.

Kalliva is still torn between what her mother--an Ernalda--and her aunt--a Vingan and rebel--want for her.  Rather than face her mother's potential wrath, she went to recover the sword her uncle had given her, carefully kept hidden in a cliff face behind her family's longhouse.  I added a scene...while she was there, the Dragonewt appeared to her again.  She tried to communicate with it, but after watching her quizzically for awhile, it ran off again.

Beralor decided he must tell his two fathers that he was leaving on this quest, but tried to omit all the details.  It did not go well.  Harvar Redsmith forbade Beralor to leave the house.  He has been growing increasingly wary that despite his bringing up the boy, Beralor has too much of his "true father" in him (more on this later).  He feels this streak will end up killing the boy.  As always the more gentle Affar tried to be the bridge between them.  It failed and Beralor left the house against his father's wishes.

Note however that Harvar did not do what he probably should have...he could have gone immediately to the Ring and tried to prevent the youths from leaving.  Instead, having made his disapproval clear, he let Beralor and his peers do what they felt they needed to.  

At the mountain lodge there were the first signs that Esrala's captivity was a horrific one.  She had clearly been bound and gagged (there were signs that the Telmori were the ones who freed her).  The ring Kalf had given her as a promise of future courtship was discarded in the corner.  Again...this was enough to drive the players forward.  Knowing full well that they were dealing with a large band of Telmori, and that there was little chance of success, they were even more determined to get Darestan and Esrala.

I didn't need to drop any hints about the ogre or dragonewt teeth.  Beralor thought of this himself after their encounter with Pack Father Takes-Teeth.  Leika (who was the spotlight character last episode and less directly involved her) had a chance to come into the spotlight here as well.  Her connection to the Spirit Rune created a kind of connection with the highly shamanic Telmori.  After a "complete victory" result (the equivalent in HQG of an RQG or 13G critical) in negotiating with the Telmori, Takes-Teeth was not only pleased but felt greatly honored by the noble gifts of ogre and dragonewt teeth.  The player characters spent the night with the Telmori, and Leika took part in their celebratory dances...forming a slightly flirtatious relationship with the youngest member of the pack!  This was left as something to explore in episodes ahead.

Esrala was not in good shape.  The fact that she was wearing the furs and skins of the Telmori suggested that Darestan had stripped her of her own clothing, and after Kalliva and Leika examined her it was clear she had been abused and mistreated.  She was semi-catatonic from her ordeal and not speaking.  Even as they descended from the mountain, Kalf could not get her to speak...not until finally he had the idea of returning the ring to her.  For the first time recognition sparked in her eyes and she spoke his name before falling silent again.  But she took the ring and clutched it tightly in her fist the rest of the journey down.

Back in the Vale the characters were disarmed and locked up while the Ring sent emissaries to the Enjossi.  The characters were visited by their parents with mixed results;

- Kalliva's mother was icy in her fury, deciding that Kalliva was "exactly" like her aunt.  She said she would continue to feed and clothe her daughter until her adulthood rites, but that they should avoid speaking to one another.

- Kalf's mother told him that things had not been good between them since they both lost Kalf's father in Starbrow's Rebellion.  It is sometimes painful even to look at you, because I only see him, she tells him.  But she also says rescuing Esrala is exactly what his father would have done, and that she has never been prouder of him.

- Leika's father seemed more interested in hearing about her experiences with the Telmori than anything else, and we realized how alike father and daughter are.  Their entire conversation was about the Telmori and their spirit magics.

- Beralor's father Harvar remains furious with him.  Affar continues to try to get the two to communicate.  A surprise visit from Jorgunath Bladesong, the Humakti Sword who is both the chief weapon thane of the clan and an old war comrade of Harvar comes to tell Beralor what he did was honorable and that Harvar will eventually come around.

The characters are eventually released and brought to the Hall.  Esrala's father, mother, and siblings have come to thank the youths personally for what they have done, and her father stresses that if there is anything they can do to repay the debt in the future they will.  They have asked the characters to come back to Enjossi lands with them to watch sentence be carried out on Darestan.

That sentence is trial by combat.  As they watch, Darestan stands in the ring with his opponent as if he doesn't know where he is.  He refuses to fight back or even face the Enjossi warrior selected to champion Esrala.  Instead he stares wide-eyed at the howling crowds crying her name.

In the crowd behind Beralor a voice whispers into his ear.  Sometimes sacrifices have to be made.  It is Keladon Blue-Eye.  I wonder what happens next.  As they watch, Darestan simply falls to his knees and dies from no apparent cause.  Oh.  That's what.  When Beralor looks back, the Trickster is gone