"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.

Saturday, December 18, 2021


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

Check out the list here;


Saturday, December 11, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

So what exactly are we getting here? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Wednesday, December 8, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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


Monday, November 29, 2021


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CL: I would like to separate these questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 1, 2021


If you haven't played Six Seasons in Sartar, or read the blog, this post will contain spoilers. Be warned.

PROBABLY THE CHAPTER THAT CHANGED THE LEAST between the HeroQuest blog version of Six Seasons in Sartar and the published RuneQuest version was "In Sheep's Clothing." This mystery, in which an encounter with a ghost draws the player characters into a hunt for missing children, is pretty much the same in both versions. What did change is that the published version falls after "The Riddle" and "Rites of Passage," meaning that the player characters are now adults as they investigate the disappearances. In the blog version, "In Sheep's Clothing" fell before their coming of age rites, meaning that the player characters were technically just children themselves.

With a wink and a nod towards "Hansel and Gretel," "In Sheep's Clothing" deals with one of my favorite (and in my opinion most woefully underused) Gloranthan menaces, the ogre. I think I enjoy Glorantha the most when it borders on the fairy tale, and of the six chapters of the campaign this is the one where I indulge that predilection the most. Gloranthan ogres, which look indistinguishable from humans but have a taste for human flesh, are straight out of fairy tales. "Puss in Boots," "Hop-o'-my-Thumb," and even some versions of "Bluebeard" are classic ogre stories. They tap into that deeply rooted taboo of cannibalism, and the modern exemplar of the ogre would have to be Hannibal Lecter. Drugalla Applecheeks, the ogress in this particular fable,  is essential one gingerbread house short of being a full-on fairy story witch. She lures children to their dooms, devours them, and gives sacrifice to Cacodemon, literally a manifestation of the Devil.

The Fairy Tale Ogre

Of course, having played it all once, the revelation that Drugalla is an ogre was about as shocking to my players as watching any given film version of Dracula ("wait...Count Dracula is...a vampire?!?!"). While there are substantial differences between the other Six Seasons in Sartar chapters and the blog versions this group already played, enough to keep them guessing at least, replaying this one was pretty much the equivalent of watching a rerun. But that was fine. This was their first real session of RuneQuest, and so playing through the same story a second time gave them the chance to worry less about unraveling the mystery and more about learning the new system. As mentioned earlier, the fact that in this version their characters were adults (with magic) rather than children (without magic) also made a big difference.

The ogre from Puss in Boots

Which brings us to the climax.

The characters are now all initiates of the Black Stag and have sacrificed for Rune magic. This led to a very innovative and unexpected use of the spell "The Stag's Leap" (SSiS, p. 18). At the climax, entering Drugalla's cavern, they see her across the chamber menacing her captive child. Rather than cross the distance on foot, both Beralor and Kalliva used "The Stag's Leap" to get there instantly, giving Drugalla no time to react. A special success with a sword attack, added to the luck that it was a blow to the head, made short work of our ogress.

The next session will be "The Deer Folk," the chapter in which The Company of the Dragon has its roots. Now that the players have a basic grasp of the system, it will be time to throw a much fuller RuneQuest adventure at them.


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Sex, Gender, and the Orlanthi: Running "The Riddle" and "Rites of Passage" Again

Sex and Adulthood Rites

THE ORLANTHI HAVE A GRIM MYTH explaining the origin of sex. They speak of the Elder Gods—beings like Maker and Grower—who brought forth new life at whim but without any logic or order to it. The life-giving power was sporadic and chaotic. One of these Elder Gods, the most prolific, was called Great Eater, and “it could do only two things, bear and eat.” It spawned massive amounts of life only to reabsorb them into itself immediately after. In horror of this the gods gathered in a circle and prayed for help to end the madness. The result was a pair of new deities, Uleria and Urtiam.

Uleria and Urtiam showed the young world a New Way. Together they brought forth the children Love and Order. “They taught the gods about sexual intercourse…before this there were no sexes in the world.” The gods embraced the New Way and took up sexes of their own. This way, they were able to bear children that were distinct and different from them. Later, Uleria and Urtiam produced another pair of twins, Darhudan and Darudana. These were the two sides of the Man Rune, the Male and the Female.

In the Orlanthi mind, then, “biological” sex is simply about procreation. Humans and animals are born male and female simply for there to be an orderly continuation of the species. It has nothing to do with gender. In fact sex has little to do with the essential nature or being of a person. The Orlanthi refer to it as “shape.” He is “shaped like a man.” She is “shaped like a woman.” It is not necessarily who the really are. It should also be noted that they observe two more categories, less common perhaps but still valid. There is a sex “shaped like both” and a sex “shaped like neither.”

“Gender” is something deeper. Unlike “shape,” it determines the inner nature of the individual, their role in society, and most importantly which gods they are called to.

In writing the earliest chapters of Six Seasons in Sartar I needed to process all of this and keep it clear in my mind. The campaign starts with a pair of adulthood initiation ceremonies in which the player characters come of age. For boys, this happens when they “come of hair,” and the rites are something they go through with several other boys their age. For girls, immediately after menarche they undergo their womanhood rites alone. Greg Stafford left fairly detailed descriptions of these adulthood rites and I used them as the basis for both “Rites of Passage” and “The Riddle.” What became clear to me working through them was that the adulthood initiations were about sex, not gender. They are based, after all, on when children start displaying adult sexual characteristics, and separate the children based solely on their “shapes.” 

The More Complicated Question of Gender

The two “baseline” genders in the Orlanthi culture are the role embodied by the cult of Orlanth and the role embodied by the cult of Ernalda. Orlanth represents the tripartite roles of farmer, warrior, and leader. His job is to protect and nurture life. Ernalda heals, tends to the family, and possesses the mystery of sex and procreation. Her job to to create life and maintain continuity.

These tend to correspond to the sexes of “male” and “female,” but it is more accurate to call these genders “like Orlanth” and “like Ernalda.” In the adulthood initiation rites, children become “men” and “women,” but it is still an open question which gender they will take. While it is true that most men will become “like Orlanth” and most women “like Ernalda,” this is not definitely the case. In “Rites of Passage,” the character Aventarl Son of Rosonil is an example of a boy who may very likely not become “like Orlanth.” In my latest running of the campaign, in fact, I made it clear that he will become a Nandan (see below). Likewise, in “The Riddle,” the player and GM work together to observe and record the player character’s choices to see whether they will become “like Ernalda” or chose a different path.

Ernalda, in fact, presents us with a very particular problem.

Running the two adulthood rites again for my group I am once more struck how much darker, deeper, and more intense “The Riddle” feels to me. There is an element of danger here very different from that faced by the boys. This is not my doing, but Greg’s. It strikes me that the Orlanthi are curiously blasé about when exactly the boys go through their manhood rites. They are eligible “sometime” after coming of hair, but since the rites are generally held every three years or so for a group of candidates, a boy might sit around waiting years. Girls by sharp contrast must be given to Ernalda immediately after menarche. There is no waiting period. She is separated from those around her and the rites prepared immediately. She will face them alone.

My suspicion here is that it all has to do with the girl awakening into her reproductive powers, a power that belongs to Ernalda and Ernalda alone. Once the girl awakens this power, in a sense Ernalda lays claim to her. From the mythology we know Ernalda is quite stern in this matter.

Vinga and Nandan 

We can see Ernalda’s possessiveness of her reproductive power in the mythology of Vinga. Vinga is either the daughter of Orlanth and Ernalda, Orlanth’s female incarnation, or most likely both. In her myth cycle, Vinga decides to leave the Loom House of her mother to take up arms and fight alongside Orlanth and the Thunder Brothers. In effect she is declaring herself not “like Ernalda” but rather “like Orlanth.”

In The Book of Heortling Mythology, however, when Vinga becomes pregnant sometime after this Ernalda is furious with her, cursing Vinga and refusing to allow her to give birth. There is a real sense of Ernalda saying “that power is mine and you are no longer like me.”

Orlanth, the myth makes clear, is utterly powerless in this matter. (Vinga) went to her father, Great Orlanth, and asked for his help. To her shock, Orlanth told Vinga that he had no power to aid her – such things were solely within the province of Ernalda.

To soothe Ernalda’s rage, balance had to be restored. Vinga had to agree to surrender her daughter to Ernalda at birth. Furthermore, Nandan, a Thunder Brother, volunteered to take Vinga’s place in the Loom House. This sacrifice was acceptable to Ernalda and she relents. 

Now, this exchange created more gender possibilities in Orlanthi society. Most men are “like Orlanth,” and most women “like Ernalda,” but it was now possible for some women to enter the storm cult “like Vinga” and some men to enter the earth cult “like Nandan.” In effect this gave the Orlanthi four genders: men who follow the storm, women who follow the earth, women who follow the storm, and men who follow the earth. Two more logically followed from this. There are those who combine both male and female aspects in them (associated with the fluid deity Heler, the rain that unites both storm and earth) and those who have no gender roles, associated with the Eurmali tricksters.

It should also be noted what with men “like Nandan,” they are effectively part of Ernalda’s cult and through the Rune spell “Pregnancy” can wield their goddess’ greatest gift.

Afterthoughts and Conclusions

In this latest campaign running Six Seasons in Sartar, I decided to separate the male and female characters for their adulthood rites purely according to sex. The boys (David and Keith’s characters, Kalf and Beralor) went through “Rites of Passage” together. The girls (Ira and Vicky, as Kalliva and Leika) I ran individual one-on-one sessions of “The Riddle” for. Zoom made it a lot easier to arrange all of this. Once these rites were completed, the characters were officially considered young adults and full initiates of the Black Stag cult. The boys are lay members of Orlanth, and the girls are lay members of Ernalda, but we left the question of gender an open one until the characters finally commit to a cult.  I tend to think now of  the period between the adulthood rites and being initiated into a cult as analogous to our teenage years here on Earth, where we are trying to “find” ourselves. The characters are adults, sure, but it remains to be seen what sort of adults they will be.

“Cult” I think is the ultimate determinant of gender. Anyone who takes on a warrior role—whether you join Humakt or Yelmalio or Storm Bull—is viewed “like Orlanth” (i.e. legally and socially bearing a “masculine” role irregardless of sex). Anyone who takes on a healing, life-sustaining role is viewed as being “like Ernalda” (though a man would have to be at least a Nandan initiate of Ernalda to gain her life-giving pregnancy powers). In the rarer cases of character who manage both roles they would be seen “like Heler,” and those who follow the Trickster, “like Eurmal.”  

Sunday, October 10, 2021

BAD DAY AT DUCK ROCK: A Jonstown Compendium Review

A LOT OF THE PRODUCTS coming out of the Jonstown Compendium have been, shall we say, "experimental." By this I mean products that took RuneQuest in directions different from the ones Chaosium was taking. Right out of the gate Nick Brooke gave us A Rough Guide to Glamour, which while being a terrific overview of the Lunar capital also had its tongue firmly in its cheek, and was peopled by a cast of characters who looked suspiciously familiar. Six Seasons in Sartar soon after introduced ideas like shorthand character statistics and squabbling academics arguing the finer points of an epic poem which never existed. Tales of the Sun County Militia, in both art and attitude, demonstrated a rebel streak. I could go on, but the Jonstown Compendium was clearly a place to put on full display "Gloranthas That Varied."

In Bad Day At Duck Rock author Peter Hart does something very different. He gives us a thoroughly classic adventure...and by that I mean a call back to the earliest days of RuneQuest but this time with far superior art, lay-out, and editing. Reading through it, I was reminded of Apple Lane seasoned with shades of Griffin Mountain. It is an adventure for the latest edition of RuneQuest, of course, and is set in the post-Dragonrise timeline, but in spirit this is a visitation from the Ghost of RuneQuest Past. 

In retrospect, that is experimental, isn't it.

Weighing in at 79 pages, this PDF is lavishly illustrated by Dario Corallo. Because this is an adventure--and a mystery on top of that--there is very little I can say that will not spoil it. In the author's own words;

The adventurers are escorting a merchant, Tiberian Oneprice, through Duck Valley with a shipment of bronze, silver and gold ingots, acquired from Dwarf Mine, their destination being the village of Man Vill in Beast Valley. Tiberian orders the adventurers on to the village of Duck Rock to secure rooms at the inn and trade with the local redsmith. Meanwhile, the merchant heads off to visit a pair of old friends, both sages of Irripi Ontor, at their farm to the north of the village. What could possibly go wrong?

The adventurers will have to navigate through multiple challenges as they meet the villagers of Duck Rock, bandits, chaos, undead and of course, ducks.

With this set up, Hart sets up a race against time filled with all sorts of iconic RuneQuest adversaries, potential adversaries, and allies. This is part of what I mean about it being a "classic" adventure. All the old favorites seem to show up in its pages. The adventure will probably fill several play sessions, but the book is also crammed with ideas and tools you can easily borrow or use to build a foundation on. There are even clever links in it to past publications.

And Great Orlanth does this thing come packed! There are forty pages of statistics in the book's back end, including the introduction of a new monster I am not at all sure I know how the Glorantha Bestiary could have missed. There are real shades of Griffin Mountain in how complete a sandbox Hart has constructed for you to play in here. You might never meet all these characters, but the fact of their existence gives Duck Rock and its environs verisimilitude a lot of modern adventures forego. This is a setting your characters can feel free to wander anywhere in.

It is also an adventure I would heartily recommend to a new GM. Bad Day at Duck Rock is written with terrific clarity and care, with support at every twist and turn to help GMs run it. Nothing here comes off fuzzy or half-baked. I get the definite feeling that in the years this was playtested, Hart took the opportunity to refine, retool, and clarify. It assumes the use of the pre-generated characters from the RuneQuest core rules, but again is filled with examples of how to tweak things if players use characters of their own making.

If you favor the sandbox approach to play, Bad Day in Duck Rock is ideal for you. If you still love your Apple Lane, this is right up your alley. If you are a GM who appreciates support and detail in an adventure, but it. If you are looking for an adventure that will keep you entertained, guessing, and delighted by the large and colorful cast of characters, what are you waiting for? It is a terrific entry to the Jonstown Compendium.