"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, June 23, 2019


As always, this story is part of an ongoing campaign.  Start here for the beginning.

Parts of this story could not have been prepared without the superb work in Stafford and Richard's Pavis: Gateway to Adventure, especially the White Bull references on pages 48, 54, and 54, as well as the Sunset Society on page 54.

Chapter Four:

Setting: South of Pimper’s Block, near Hender’s Ruins. Starting from Fire Day, Disorder Week, Dark Season 1620 ST.      

Theme:  The Orlanthi principle that “violence is always an option.”  The characters will be put into positions in which killing is probable, but not perhaps always the best option.   

Motif:  Blood.  And lots of it.

Synopsis:  The PCs are asked by a desperate man to help him save his kin from a fate worse than death.  Helping him might also be their own best chance of getting across the plains of Prax alive.  This means facing a desperate band of Morokanth and a shaman hellbent on saving his race... 

Dramatis Personae

Teolrian Soudatch (Teol Soudsson)
  • Runes: Trade, Movement, Darkness
  • Issaries Initiate
  • Goals: To rise in the ranks of his cult and make enough of a profit to buy a house and land for himself on the edge of Sartar or civilized Prax.
  • Notes: While Teol is not a bad man, his affinity with the Darkness Rune gives him a cold streak and a tendency to be grasping; he wants, but it never really full.  He traffics in all sorts of goods, but his willingness to traffic in slaves is another manifestation of this Darkness…his own parents were thralls.  Born free, but poor, he has had to make his own way in the world.  Teol is a fair merchant and a true Issaries, however.  He never goes back on a bargain.  

“Orin” (Orininus (or-i-NIGH-nus) Prathvi Yuthaldrex)
  • Runes: Fire/Sky, Life, Truth
  • Slave
  • Goals: Teol has promised him the ability to but his freedom at some point in the future, an option he likely would not have under a Lunar master.  This makes him surprisingly loyal to Teol.
  • Notes: No more than seventeen, his pale skin tanned by the sun of Prax, his hair pale blonde and eyes sky blue…is from the Lunar Heartlands.  He is originally from a well-placed Dara Happan family that fell afoul of a Dart Competition.  The adults in his family were sentenced to death, the children to slavery.  Orin was sold to a wealthy Lunar magistrate soon after assigned to Pavis, and lost by his master in a dicing match.  That is where Teolrian bought him.  The boy is useful because he is fluent in Trade, New Peolrian, and now Praxian, knows arithmetic, and can read well.  While obviously a Lunar, he is by no means a Lunar.  He recognizes the Red Goddess and the Emperor as the supreme powers in the world, but culturally he is Dara Happan.  He sees the Red Goddess as something that happened to his people, not something they have become.  His father taught him that one day the Sun would vanquish the Moon…which is in part the kind of heresy that destroyed his family.     

Harjaani Finds-Water
  • Runes: Harmony, Death, Spirit
  • Foundchild Initiate, High Llama Tribesman, Scout, Secret White Bull Initiate
  • Goals: To be known as a great scout and hunter, to win a wife.
  • Notes: Finds-Water is a young and up-and-coming member of his tribe, a group of 34 wandering High Llama Riders (the Blue Stone Bearers).  He has a strange streak of curiosity regarding outsiders, something his khan disapproves of.  He has learned to be wary of the Red Moon People but the High Mountain People fascinate him.  He is also an initiate of the White Bull spirit society, and part of a movement he believes will bring peace back to Prax and the world.


BEGINNING:  THE ZEBRAS RACE across the hardened earth, nostrils flaring, foam flecking their striped flanks.  Driven furiously by their riders, they scream and whinny as the racing scrub brush and cacti draw blood from their legs.  Astride them, the riders keep low, holding fast with their legs, clutching white-knuckled the reins.  Their hearts pound almost as loud as their mounts.

The player characters are fleeing.  Behind them a Lunar cavalry division, mounted on  the lighter and more nimble sables, gives chase.  Mounted archers fill the air with the hiss of passing arrows, and now and again a javelin passes too close for comfort.  There are a dozen in the patrol, which through sheer ill fortune came upon the player characters as they watered their zebra mounts at a muddy hole a quarter of a day south of Pimper’s Block.  Despite Teolrian Soudatch’s best attempts to persuade the patrol that he and the player characters were merely merchants bound south down Caravan Alley, the captain was suspicious.  Half of Pimper’s Block has burned to the ground in what the Lunars have deemed a terrorist attack, and they are out in force rounding up anyone suspicious in the area.  The characters could not risk capture, so they fled.

Soudatch was forced to abandon his trade goods, his supplies, and now, racing across the chaparral, the player characters watch a well placed javelin take his life.  The merchant falls in a rain of blood from this terrified mount, bouncing several times across the fired-clay earth before lying impaled in a cactus bush.

The slave boy, cries out his master’s name, and for a few brief seconds looks like he might wheel his mount around and stop.  Yet a leaping sable, the leather armored Lunar on its back slashing at Orin with a curved khopesh close enough to draw blood from his shoulder, changes his mind.  He turns his zebra liked a skilled horsemen and races after the player characters...

Violence is Always an Option is the tenth episode in the ongoing saga, setting the Base Difficulty at 16 and the Augment Value at 15.  Escaping the Lunars should be Moderately difficult; fighting them much harder (they outnumber the player characters three to one), at least High or Very High.  Run this as a Simple Contest for each player.  If they attempt escape let them; any Consequences of Defeat can be handled in the next seen as wounds and injuries they received while getting away. 

INCITING INCIDENT:  By sunset they have lost the Lunars, their guide, and most of their supplies.  They are forced to make a meager camp.  If there are wounded, they will have to be tended.  They will no doubt wish to discuss what to do next.

Orin will elect to stay with them.  After seeing their mission in No One Can Make You Do Anything, the slave boy supports their cause.  This is lucky; from his travels with Soudatch, he knows the trails and trading camps in Caravan Alley fairly well.  If asked, he suggests they head on to Tourney Altar.  There should be more Issaries caravans there.  

However the scene throws them a pair of curveballs.

First, Beralor dreams.  He sees a city of giants.  He sees a massive boat, as large as his chieftain’s hall, floating on a river.  He sees a massive white bull under the stars.  When it raises its head and bellows, the brightest flash of lightning he has ever seen strikes the earth and ignites an inferno...

Second, Leika will be awoken from sleep (unless she is on watch) around midnight.  Harjaani Finds-Water, the Blue Stone High Llama rider they encountered a few days earlier, is standing there at the edge of her bedroll (or the edge of camp).  He is dressed differently, despite beating a Llama rider, he is wearing the skin of a white bison.  The animal’s head forms a hood over his own, with long, ivory-colored horns.  

She realizes he is a spirit.

They communicate in spiritspeech.  Harjaani is desperate.  His body lays injured about a league away.  While he and two companions were off hunting game, his tribe (about 30 people, including his sister and her two small children) were ambushed by a Morokanth raiding party.  Not just any raiding party, there was a shaman leading them, and they seemed particularly rapacious.  Seven men were killed, two badly wounded.  Harjaani and his companions returned too late; the Morokanth killed his companions and he was force to flee, both he and his mount injured.  The Morokanth took not only the llamas, but also all of his people.  He has heard something unspeakable is happening among the Morokanth; some curse is killing their herd men, and desperate, they have taken to magically stripping captive humans of their intellect to replace their losses.  They are making for a holy place near Hender’s Ruins, where dark magic is strong.  If they get their, his family will all lose their humanity.  

He will do anything if they help him.  Even guide them unseen across Prax.  They must help him.

SECOND THOUGHTS:  Do they do this, risk their own lives when their own kin, in Lunar bondage, depend on them?  On the other hand, a guide and tracker like Harjaani may just be the only way to get across the plains uncaptured.  If Leika mentions the White Bison, it might feed into Beralor’s dream as well.

ACT ONE CLIMAX: Led by Leika, they find Harjaani lying in a stream bed, a muddy trickle flowing past him.  He is in trouble, though.  As they approach, the wounded Praxian is fending off three hunting Deinonychuses (packing hunting dinosaurs 3.5 meters from snout to tail…think feathered Velociraptors; see RQG Bestiary, p. 111).  This is the climax of Act One, so should be run as an Extended Contest. 


OBSTACLE 1:  THE MOROKANTH are headed for Hender’s Ruins, a place so foul only Jaldon Toothmaker was mad enough to go there.  The ruin sits atop a low, flat topped hill rising out of the chaparral, glittering in the light.  The top of the hill is crowned by broken crystalline structures, perhaps the shattered wreck of some lost deity’s palace.  The base is surrounded by foul vegetation…blood red shrubs that stink of reeking meat and attract flies, cacti with bloodsucking tendrils, fleshy, green and crimson flowers that taint the air with cloying, carrion perfume.  Getting through all of this may or may not require a Simple Contest at the GM’s discretion, representing the fight to find or cut a clear path through.

Harjanni explains that the Morokanth are not behaving normally.  Their community seems divided.  While some continue on the old ways, recently a growing number have been marking themselves with red paint that looks like claw marks and either purchasing or stealing a great number of slaves.  These are the ones that raided his clan.  The other tribes are concerned, as the Morokanth seem to be breaking the ancient covenant of Men and Beast.  They are not ransoming human captives…the prisoners just disappear.  The general consensus is they are being made into more herd men…and yet, the number or herd men on the plains seems to be dwindling.  It is a growing threat that will inevitably lead to war.

OBSTACLE 2: As they near the base of the hill, the party comes across a shimmering pool of iridescent, milky slime.  They need to go round it to reach the stone ruins at the foot of the hill.  As they near, however, it rises in a towering pillar of slime, shooting forth tendrils and sizzle and burn with acid.  This is a massive Gorp (RQG Bestiary, p. 99).  Fighting it is madness, but fleeing it is far easier.  In either case a Simple Contest will do.

PLOT TWIST: Atop the hill the Morokanth lie encamped with their prisoners.  If it is daytime, the nocturnal Morokanth will be asleep, with two guards on duty.  If it is night, all will be awake, sitting, eating, and waiting.  

The waiting is for the arrival of four mounted shamans; Deheya Widowmaker of the Bison Tribe, Ohota Hoy’oho of the Rhino Riders, K’nuknuk of the Ostrich Tribe, and Pahaya-jajaati of the Bolo Lizard Folk.  These arrive shortly after the player characters do.  The shamans are all similarly garbed in black, and their is a sinister air about them.  If Harjaani is with the player characters when they see this group arrive, he visibly pales.  They are the Sunset Society, he tells them with a voice that is tight with fear.  They are—how do your people say it?—the “boogeyman.”  Our mothers tell us to behave when we are children or the Sunset Society will come and take us away.  They are a secret brotherhood.  Some say they serve Darkness Spirits.  Some say the Dead.  Others Chaos.  They are the blackest of the magicians found amongst my people.

The shamans go inside the single tent on the hilltop to speak with the Morokanth shaman leading this band, Awa-wa-hahey.  The player characters have no way of knowing this at this stage, but the Morokanth are being extorted.  A plague is sweeping Prax and the Wastes right now, an it kills only Morokanth herd-men.  Normal humans are unaffected.  The sudden demise of their herd populations is driving some Morokanth to turn to normal human slaves, and the Sunset Society has swept in with a proposition.  They have demonstrated their ability to lift the curse, but they require large numbers of human sacrifices in payment.  Desperate to save themselves, these Morokanth will do anything—even risk war with neighboring tribes—to give the Sunset Society what it wants before their entire way of life goes extinct.

OBSTACLE: The group needs to formulate a plan of attack, and fast.  Here they should devise the spells they will use, the battle plans, etc.  Run this as a series of augments as they prepare to strike.

DISASTER (and CRISIS):  NOTE: As I ran the episode tonight, I actually dropped this part.  As you will see in the AFTER PLAY REPORT below, the players already suffered a disaster during the Obstacle stage above, leading to one of the characters offended her deity and losing magical support in a way that shattered their entire battle plan.  There seemed no need to pour salt into the wound, so I replaced THIS Disaster and Crisis with THAT one.

The goal is to rescue the captured tribe.  There are nine Morokanth; 2 guards, 7 resting or sleeping depending on the time of day.  In addition there are five shamans; the Morokanth and the four members of the Sunset Society.  The prisoners are all seated on the ground under the watchful eyes of one of the guards.

The player characters might intend to get the prisoners to safety while the rest of the party fends the Morokanth off.  The goal is, after all, to rescue them.  The slaves have been enchanted, however, marked with special painted runes that bind them to Awa-wa-hahey.  If any attempt is made to remove them from his presence (i.e. off the hill top) they will suddenly collapse, convulse, and if not returned die.  The ONLY way to stop this is to kill Awa-wa-hahey first.

CLIMAX OF ACT TWO: This is the Big Fight.  The player characters go head to head with the Morokanth in an  Extended Contest.  There are several key things to remember here;
  • If they kill Awa-wa-hahey, they can lead the captives safely away from the hilltop,
  • If they kill the four Sunset Society shamans, the Morokanth will stop fighting.  To the player character’s surprise, despair overcomes them.  They just give up.  Even if the characters keep killing them they don’t fight back.  Remember…they are giving these captives to the Society because they believe the Society can help save their people.  

CLIMAX OF ACT THREE:  If they defeat the Morokanth and save the prisoners, Harjaani leads them to Day’s Rest.  Several tribes are encamped at the oasis, as well as Issaries and Etyries merchants.  They are honored guests of the High Llamas, given a tent and food and drink.  Harjaani goes to speak with the elders of his people.  

And yet as he sleeps Beralor is drugged and abducted.  He wakes up blindfolded as people around him speak in Praxian.  He can pick out a few words, Argrath, Starbrow, and his own father’s name, Affar.  They question him about his dream.  Another person speaks to him in his own tongue, another native Sartarite by the sound of him.  You must go to Pavis, the voice tells him.  You have been summoned.  The dream comes from Orlanth himself.  Your destiny lies with the White Bull.

These men are all members of the White Bull Society.  Just as the Sons of Orlanth is Starbrow’s underground network in Sartar, the White Bull Society is Argrath’s network in Prax.  News of the four player characters has reached Argrath in Pavis (they are being called “Starbrow’s Children” by some in the wake of the role they played in helping her open the Dragon Temple), and he is curious about them.  Harjaani first contacted them in No One Can Make You Do Anything under White Bull Society orders.  When his people were taken, he sought them out because of their reputation.  If Beralor or the others told him about Beralor’s dream, he would have immediately reported it to them.  Otherwise, assume they know it through similar dreams.  

They will try to convince him to head for Pavis, then drug him again and dump him on the edge of camp.

The rest of the episode should deal with this revelation, and the group discussing what to do next (DENOUMENT and END).

AFTER PLAY REPORT: THE EPISODE played out largely as written, with a few minor changes and one major.

Beralor did, in fact, discuss his dream with Harjaani early on (a reasonable thing to do, after Leika told him about seeing Harjaani's spirit dressed as a white bison).  This led straight to a scene at the end where--partially at Orin's urging--they group told Harjaani the debt he claimed to owe them could be repaid by telling them the truth of the White Bull Society, which he did.  

Notable also was a scene where Kalliva removed Orin's slave collar after Soudatch's death.  The entire party made an effort to welcome him to his freedom and to make him feel free.  He had originally intended to join the party because he believed in their mission to liberate slaves, but he is coming to see them as family now.

The biggest change came in the Disaster phase.  I scrapped the complication I had planned when Kalliva's own plan went south in a big way.  

Drawing on Vingan mythology, Kalliva wanted to create the illusion of larger forces on their side (Vinga tricked her enemy into thinking she had more warriors by putting straw dummies on sheep).  It was a terrific idea...but Vinga did not think so.  The player fumbled his roll and I did well in mine.  The goddess was so offended she withdrew her power from Kalliva, abandoning her.  We need to decide now what made the goddess offended...that Kalliva was saving "non-people" (Praxians, not Orlanth), that she was sacrificing a zebra in offering instead of cattle, or that it was Wild Day?  That needs to be decided later, but the ritual was a disaster.

So in the next episode, led by Harjaani, and with the aid of the High Llama, the party heads for Pavis and the next big twist in the saga...