"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.

Friday, January 14, 2022


HORROR HAS BEEN A CONSTANT since the earliest days of cinema. 1896 saw the three-minute long Le Manoir du Diable, created by pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès. Just two years later, in Japan, Ejiro Hatta filmed Shinin no Shosei, about a corpse that returns to life. Lon Chaney's silent Phantom of the Opera was a sensation that put Universal Studios on the map. This in turn led to two decades of classic Universal horror pictures, with competitors like RKO producing their own share of surprising classics, including Val Lewton's superb Cat People, I Walked With a Zombie, and The Seventh Victim. The war brought a lull to this, and in the shadow of Hiroshima and Nagasaki the monsters became atomic. Fueled by the Cold War, weird cinema turned to alien invasions and mad science. But just when you thought the supernatural monsters were down, they struck back with a surprising revenge.

Hammer Films started with post-War science fiction, their Quartermass films and X the Unknown making a name for themselves. But it was their decision to cover the same gothic ground the Universal classics first marked out, this time in glorious color and with buckets of blood, that summoned the horror picture back from the abyss. 1956 saw The Curse of Frankenstein and '58 saw The Horror of Dracula, and with these there was no longer any returning the genie to the bottle. Pandora's Box was open, and the 60s and 70s saw a superb and terrifying flowering of the horror genre. Not just Hammer, but AIP's terrific Roger Corman Poe Cycle and Italian giallo made these decades a macabre golden age of terror.

And all this to try and explain Onyx Path Publishing's They Came from Beyond the Grave!

They Came From Beyond the Grave! is in the publisher's own words "a dramatic, hammy, and horrifying tabletop roleplaying game encompassing the shock, terror, eroticism, and humor of 1970s horror." It is, as they say, "a mix of serious threat, unmitigated ham, and nonsensical farce." If you know horror from that period, it was a cocktail of chills and camp that Grave! does a terrific job of emulating. It is, to put it mildly, an odd duck of a game.

The product I am looking at is a 311-page PDF, 40-odd pages of which are Trope and Quip cards meant to be printed out for play. The engine is the Storypath System, an evolution of the Storytelling System popularized in the 1990s by White Wolf. The book is lavish, full color, and incredibly evocative of the source material.

Characters come in two parallel forms...1970s characters and their late 19th century counterparts. Essentially this is because so many horror films of that period were gothics set a century before. There are various ways you could relate these two characters. One could be an ancestor of the other (perhaps even a reincarnation, a la Dark Shadows), or simply just a 19th century doppelganger. The characters are characters in movies, after all. This picture could be set in the 70s and the next in the 1800s. Depending on play style, a group might weave the lives of these two sets of characters together in a single story, or not.

Players will select from archetypes that embody the stock characters of films like these. The Dupe is Joe or Jane Average, a normal person caught up in terrors beyond their ken. The Hunter is a monster hunter. Maybe they bag werewolves, maybe fearless vampire hunting is their thing. The Mystic dabbles in the supernatural, the Professor is the expert, and the Raconteur is the eccentric detective. Each comes with special tricks, called trademarks and tropes, that define them. This is where the cards come in. Tropes trigger some sort of stylish and characteristic benefit. The Hunter, for example, can use "Listen Here, Kid" and inspire a young supporting character to do what you tell them. The Dupe might use "I Didn't Sign Up For This" which allows them to escape a dangerous scene. Archetypes also get a number of Quip cards, one-liners they can deliver in play at an appropriate time and earn a temporary benefit.

The game also has a system of "rewrites" that allow players--not their characters--to step out and direct a scene. These are the Cinematic Powers that make the game so distinctive. Spend 3 rewrites for a Deus Ex Machina, a stroke of luck that saves your party from certain doom. 2 rewrites can buy you a Musical Montage in which you prepare for something. I am particularly fond of Summon the Stuntman, in which if you are not up for a physical confrontation or athletic challenge replaces you with a stunt double who is. Rewrites are a limited resource, and you won't be falling back on these cinematic saves all the time, but they do a terrific job of adding color and emulating the genre.

This is, of course, a game of supernatural horror and it comes fully loaded with all the monsters you might expect. Dracula is in these pages, and the Brides of Dracula. There are Ghosts and Mummies and Possessed Dolls and THE DEVIL HIMSELF (caps not mine, it is how he is referred to the entire text). Monsters all have special rules that apply to them to make them unique. They also come with both 197os and Victorian modes. All together there are around 30 of these beasties, and all the ones you would expect.

The Director's (GM's) chapter has terrific advice on the genre and running the game. There are tons of "sets," stock locations featured in films like these for both eras. There are also two scenarios that are terrific, ghoulish fun. 

The result is a game that manages to be much more than the sum of its weird little parts. They Came From Beyond The Grave! does not pretend to be something for everyone. It has a very specific focus and style and it nails it. Reading it, I couldn't help but think of those little Peter Vincent scenes 1985's Fright Night used to send up 70s horror. If you like Hammer, Dark Shadows, Amicus or AIP, this is the game for you. A slick piece of design that is a loving and loyal tribute to the films that inspired it.



Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Sons of Umath: The *Kóryos Myth in Gloranthan Gaming

This article builds on the previous one. Read that here. All quotes, unless otherwise attributed, are from The Book of Heortling Mythology

LIKE THE ANCIENT *Kóryos themselves, the roleplaying games that followed 1974's Dungeons & Dragons had to leave the safe and established domain of their predecessors to explore new territory of their own. Both Empire of the Petal Throne and RuneQuest took the early lead in this, adapting the detailed and complex settings of M.A.R. Barker and Greg Stafford to show that roleplaying games did not need to be generic dungeons but could, in fact, explore whole new worlds. But in 1979 Stafford and Steve Perrin produced something wholly new, something that suggested for the first time that gaming could simultaneously be a few hours of entertainment with your friends and an exploration of deeper themes and meanings that date back thousands of years. I am talking, of course, about the publication of Cults of Prax.

The title itself was radical, and telegraphed exactly what Stafford was trying to do. "Cult" back in 1979 (and yes, even today) had only negative connotations in the public mind. People would have thought immediately of Jim Jones, the Process Church, and Charles Manson. In academia, however, especially in disciplines like anthropology, archaeology, and comparative religions, "cult" had a very different meaning. Derived from the same root as "culture" and "cultivation," it was a term that related to the religious, ethical, and philosophical dimensions of specific groups. This was exactly how Stafford used it. Eschewing character classes as archetypes for characters, Perrin and Stafford used cults. The cult your character belonged to defined their role not just at the gaming table, but in the society the character lived in. Cults of Prax gave characters views on history and mythology, life after death, morality, and proper living. It was the publication of this work that set Glorantha apart from everything else as an adventure game that was also struggling with the age-old question of meaning.

There is so much, frankly, to unpack from this book that it would take several articles to do it. Tonight, however, I would like to look at just three cults Prax introduced to the world; Orlanth, Storm Bull, and Humakt. Specifically, I would like to look at them each as critical facets of the Indo-European *kóryos tradition.

*   *   *

As mentioned in the previous article, the *kóryos are an academic construct, but one which nevertheless fits the facts and has archaeological evidence to support it. Based on innumerable traditions, practices, and stories amongst Indo-European language speakers from India to Ireland, scholars hypothesize an ancient and long-standing practice that seems to have survived for thousands of years. Adolescent young males underwent a strenuous initiation rite in which the boy "dies" but is not yet reborn as a "man." Instead, the adolescent assumes a sort of liminal status outside of regular society. He and his peers form a warband, and are expected to survive on their own in the wilderness, raiding, hunting, stealing.

These warbands were called "wolf" or "dog" warriors, and had a very peculiar status. Neither children nor adults, neither "men of the land" or "beasts of the forest," they existed somewhere between these realities. They also existed between life and death. Wrapped in wolf, dog, or bear skins and painting their faces black, they were said to be utterly fearless, charging into battle naked. Already dead, they had not yet been reborn by taking a wife and starting a family. Thus, not only were they said to be terrifying and fearless warriors, they also communed with and were representatives of the dead, often haunting burial grounds outside their communities.   

After a specific period of time and under conditions which varied from society to society, the young men either came home and married, or went out and formed new communities of their own. In either case, they now assumed their full status as "men" and were expected to set aside their war-like days and rejoin the world of the living.

But not always.

You see, there is also evidence to suggest that these boys had a captain or a guide, an older man who never assumed "normal" adult male status but instead chose to remain wild and warlike, out on the fringes of his culture. This type of person both prepared the boys for their days of exile, and went with them when the exile occurred. Something like a shaman or a priest, he was a representative of the Otherworld, but a martial one expected to use violence to defend his people. He was a living embodiment of a god, but a dread one.

This is all a construct of the practices of Proto-Indo-European peoples from at least 5000 years ago, somewhere in central Eurasia. A community would form, the adolescents would be kicked out to form warbands, and in turn end up founding their own communities elsewhere. As successive generations carried the practice further west and north, the Indo-European societies they left behind became more settled and civilized, maintaining vestiges of the *kóryos tradition but not actually practicing it. Thus the very end of the practice of *kóryos is seen in the Middle Ages, in the practices of the Vikings. But make no mistake, there is evidence of the *kóryos amongst the ancient Latins, the Mycenaeans, early Celts, and ancient Iranian-Indians as well.

*   *   *

So what has any of this to do with Glorantha?

Three of the cults in Cults of Prax are gaming-table reflections of the *kóryos traditions. To be clear, we are NOT arguing that Orlanth Adventurous, Storm Bull, or Humakt are meant to model the *kóryos the same way that the knights of Pendragon are meant to model their counterparts in the Matter of Britain. Instead, Greg, in digging deep into Indo-European mythology in creating his own Orlanthi, takes inspiration from them. These gods, the Sons of Umath, collectively mirror the *kóryos in a way that is playable, and palatable, to modern gamers, buts still clearly draws on the currents of this very ancient practice.

In Orlanth, we see the very core of the tradition, the wild and rebellious young male who needs to carve out his place in the world before assuming the opposite duties of fatherhood and order. In Humakt, we see the individual cut off from his kin and occupying a liminal status between the living and the dead, a mediator between both worlds who is also an instrument of violence. In Storm Bull, we see the wild berserker face of *kóryos, terrifyingly between animal and man.

Scholars have speculated that the tradition of the *kóryos originated at least partially in the fear the ancient and established older males had of their sons. The  older male had built a home, taken a wife, and made a place for himself. He feared his sons would then grow and try to take it from him. It's theme we see preserved in Indo-European mythologies again and again.  Modern readers might be most familiar with Kronos, who eats his sons for fear of being supplanted, or of Oedipus.
Umath, the father of Orlanth, Humakt, and Storm Bull typifies exactly what these older and established males were afraid of. Once Umath is born;  

There was no place for him anywhere. Every space and place had been parceled out to other gods and demigods and children of the Solar Empire, as well as their tributaries, servants, office holders, leaders, and protectorates. Emperor Yelm ruled everything, nothing was left. Being impulsive, Umath made his own place in the world. He put his hands up to the belly of his father and his feet upon his broad mother, and then pushed them as far apart as he could. Old man sky groaned with that effort, and Grandmother Earth wept too, so now life also has its groans and sorrows for everyone. But Umath made a place for himself...

Umath's first real act mirrors one of the roots of the *kóryos tradition, but it is his sons who are actually forced to enact it. What know of the *kóryos is that it began with an ordeal, an initiation ceremony that separated the boys from their families, their lives, and their people. There is every indication it was brutal.

As mentioned, the *kóryos were associated with wolves and dogs, creatures that in Indo-European mythology are associated with the Underworld. For example, just as in Greek mythology Cerberus guards the entrance to the Underworld, in ancient India it was Sharvara, dog of the Lord of the Dead Yama, who did. Both Cerberus and Sharvara mean "spotted" in their respective languages, again indicative of a common root and ancestor. Undergoing this ordeal, the boys became "dog warriors," servants of the Underworld. Archaeological evidence suggests that the ordeal involves being imprisoned in pits...and further, an even more traumatic ordeal. At Krasnosamarskoe, on the Russian steppes, archaeologists have uncovered 4000 year old remains of this ritual. Aside from the pits, the bones of numerous dogs have been found, showing signs of ritual killing and being consumed. The eating of dogs--faithful companions to these Indo-European peoples--was taboo. By killing and eating these dogs (quite possibly their own beloved pets), the boys were meant to be shocked and traumatized, as well as cast out of the social order. It also seems likely that by ingesting these dogs, the boys became "dog warriors," possessing the ferocious spirit of the animal.

Stafford wisely jettisons all traces of dog-killing from his Orlanthi initiation rites, but he kept the pits. He also moves the cause of the act from fathers worried about being supplanted by their sons to uncles;

The giants were Genert, Lord of the Earth; Kalt, the Renewing God; Lodril, lord of Fire; Magasta, the Sea giant; Dehore, Darkness-keeper; and some others whose names are not known now. These were all uncles of the child gods, so although they hated them they could not kill them. Instead, they decided to destroy them without having to take responsibility for the deed. They lied to the children, and said that they had prepared tests for each of them, and that afterwards they would be gods. In truth, they took the children to various wicked places that they could not understand, and they put a child in each. 

These places are pits of various kinds, where each of the Sons of Umath undergo a terrible ordeal. Notice here the promise that these rites would make Orlanth and his brothers gods. This was very likely the same promise the *kóryos boys were given. Vadrus, Orlanth, Storm Bull, and Humakt all pass through their ordeal triumphant. The Other Brother, likely the mad Chaos god Ragnaglar, was driven mad by his. While it is widely believed that "dog warriors" from ancient India to the Viking berserkers used alcohol or drugs to attain their fearless, frenzied state, it has also been suggested that the ordeal of undergoing these rites traumatized some of the boys to the point of sociopathic behavior as well. Like the Other Brother, not everyone made it through these initiations sane and whole.

The Sons of Umath emerge from their ordeal only to find that Umath has been killed by the Red God. They no longer have a father. They no longer have a place in this world. Again, this is exactly the position the *kóryos were in after their ordeals. The boys in both cases are on their own. And it was this myth that first inspired Six Seasons in Sartar, which begins with initiation and ends with being cast out into the world.

*   *   *

The figure of Orlanth mirrors the core of the *kóryos myth. As a fatherless and rebellious youth he leads a band that wars and raids and gets into a number of misadventures. Eventually he wins and woos Ernalda, settles down, and becomes a figure of authority. More significantly, he leads his followers away from the lands of this father to claim new territory for himself;

The Sons of Umath lived upon the Great Impenetrable Mountain that is now called The Spike. They lived high up on its slopes in great hidden valleys. Many other peoples lived there too, some more numerous than the Storm Tribe.

“Now is the time,” said Orlanth, “that we go.” 

As mentioned in the previous article, the *kóryos are one of the models of Indo-European expansion. These warbands left the borders of their ancestors' land to explore and claim new territory all their own. In the same way, Orlanth takes his entire entourage away from the Spike, the cosmic mountain of the gods, in search of new lands he can tame and rule.

Of course, this could really just be a metaphor for any adolescent, couldn't it. You leave your parents and make a life of your own. None of this is specific to the *kóryos. But it is the Sons of Umath collectively we need to observe to see the total picture. It is in Orlanth and Humakt and Storm Bull together that we see the full representation of the *kóryos practice.

*   *   *

Wait. What about Vadrus?

The reason we have excluded Vadrus (Umath's third son) from this study is that he does not have a published cult of his own. Storm Bull and Humakt date all the way back to Cults of Prax, and are major portions of the Gloranthan gaming experience. Vadrus, by contrast, is more of a peripheral character. Having said that, he is a perfect representation of the *kóryos myth as well. In fact, he represents some of the darker, harsher aspects. 

Vadrus was the first to open hostilities against the Golden People. He led a band of his men from the above and took wives from among the people who followed the Emperor. The tribe is called the Vadrudings and were a terrible scourge upon the Golden Empire when they invaded.

In the *kóryos model of Indo-European expansion, we do not see armies of Indo-Europeans sweeping across Europe and south central Asia conquering as they go. Instead, we see these warbands of young men, exiled from their tribe, who start raiding neighbors. Not numerous enough to conquer these neighbors, they raid and steal and terrorize. Some evidence suggests the neighbors being raided tried to appease them with offerings of food and cattle and even women. Or, unfortunately, that these warbands took women by force. Often they fathered children upon these women and settled amongst them. In this way the Indo-European culture, language, and genes crept across Europe. The Vikings, the descendants of the *kóryos closest to us in time and therefore the best attested, are prime examples of this.

Just as Greg Stafford wisely toned down the sheer brutality of warband initiation (though with Ragnaglar was see him acknowledging the potential trauma), he also played down this unfortunate aspect of the *kóryos. He didn't ignore it entirely, however, because we see it with Vadrus.

When Vadrus was fighting against the Sea People they often forcibly took their foes’ women. Aerlit took one named Warera, and she was a royal of the Neliomi Clan. She escaped from her captor and went back among her people and gave birth. The child was nursed on her resentment and anger, and he was trained in the ways of the Westerners. The child was named Malkion

Vadrus is more associated with the rapacious elements of the *kóryos than is Orlanth or his other brothers. As a game designer and myth-maker for modern audiences (and yes, I am counting the late 60s and 70s and 80s as "modern"), Stafford walked a fine line of presenting the wholeness of the myths he was drawing on and making them playable. Vadrus didn't get a cult, but just as much as Orlanth, Humakt, Storm Bull, and even Ragnaglar he reflects an aspect of the myth the Sons of Umath draw upon. He is an element of the Indo-European warband as much as the others.

*   *   *


One of the most important aspects of the *kóryos--and perhaps the most difficult for modern audiences to understand--is their association with the Dead.

In the initiation rite that separates the boy from his childhood and his people, he was also being separated from "life." The adolescent dog-warrior was counted amongst the Dead. Until he proved himself, taking a wife and starting a family, he was not yet a man and not yet "alive." He was now an instrument of Death, associated with violence and killing, but a representative of the ancestors. For being himself Dead, he walked alongside those who had gone before him. Thus there was something holy about the warband. They were agents of the Otherworld and the Dead.

There is strong evidence that the warbands painted their faces and wore animal skins to mask themselves. Masked, their identities were removed. They were not members of this clan or that tribe, they were the troop of the Dead. All across the Indo-European world, we find vestiges of the "Halloween tradition," where masked youths come to your door demanding beer or food or sweets. You either give this to them, or face the consequences. Again, this could well be a memory of the  *kóryos.

In Humakt we see this facet of the *kóryos brilliantly exemplified. In joining the cult of Humakt, the individual severs their ties to kin, family, and life to become a member of a mercenary company, a warband sword to the god of Death. They stand as gatekeepers between the living and the Dead, and are instruments of death itself. 

Of course in the*kóryos tradition, the warband would eventually settle down, take wives, and rejoin life. But Stafford already assigned the "settling down" aspect to Orlanth, leaving the Humkati to maintain that status throughout their careers. As mentioned earlier, not all members of the warband did chose to settle down, some continuing their liminal status throughout their lives. These men were particularly feared--and respected--as terrifying warriors and champions of the Otherworld. We see shadows of the Swords of Humakt here, but also, I think, our final brother.

Storm Bull.

*   *   *

I'll ask of the berserks, you tasters of blood,
Those intrepid heroes, how are they treated,
Those who wade out into battle?
Wolf-skinned they are called. In battle
They bear bloody shields.
Red with blood are their spears when they come to fight.
They form a closed group.
The prince in his wisdom puts trust in such men
Who hack through enemy shields.

-Haraldskvæði Saga, 9th century AD

In the monument erected to the Emperor Trajan's conquest of the Dacians (101-106 AD), one relief depicts Dacian warriors wearing bear and wolf skins. 700 years later, Norwegian skald Þórbjǫrn Hornklofi--in writing of the battle of Hafrsfjord, Norway--described the terrifying Úlfhéðnar and Berserkir, the wolf warriors and bear warriors. These two recorded instances are seven centuries and 3000 kilometers apart, but there is evidence of these warriors as far afield as ancient India in the Rigveda (1500-1000 BC). These warriors were not considered strictly human, but somewhere between man and beast, tied to the invisible forces of the Otherworld.

The *kóryos warbands were associated with the dog or the wolf. Later, in Europe, the bear seems to be embraced as well. As the archaeological evidence suggests, in their initiations they consumed dogs to become them, and wore wolf or dog skins. They were no longer humans, leaving the settled lands of humanity to haunt the woods and the wilds. They were viewed as between man and beast. Fearless, ferocious, and terrifying, they were said to fight in a trance-like state or berserker rage.

Theoretically, the tradition predates the concept of a full-time warrior caste. For early Bronze Age Indo-Europeans, the *kóryos were the "necessary evil" of violence, keeping a settled community safe by terrorizing those all around its borders. When the warrior caste innovation occurred, and the community now had more permanent defenders, the role of the *kóryos evolved somewhat into the concept of "shock troops," which seems to have been the role they played right up into medieval times.

It is crucial to understand here that the *kóryos (and their descendants) were permitted to act in ways that were taboo. They were not human, they existed beyond human rules and behaviors. They were tolerated because they were useful. This tradition lasted in Indo-European societies well after they became settled and civilized. Among the ancient Greeks, for example, young males (the Athenian ephebos and Spartan krypteia ) who passed through their adulthood initiations were allowed to fight in ways no honorable warrior would, which traps, night attacks, and ambushes. All of this was part of their traditional status as being somewhat outside the human sphere, between animal and Otherworld...

Urox was the oldest son of Umath.
When he was young he was never sure if he was an
animal or a god.

Urox, or the Storm Bull, embodies this final facet of the *kóryos, their status between man and animal, their legendary berserker fury, and the fact that they are tolerated as a necessary evil. The three lines quoted above describe exactly the status the *kóryos held, somewhere between animal and divinity. 

The Storm Bull is one of the oldest manifestations of Umath the god. Umath was the primal Aer who tore apart the sky and the earth to make room for himself and his children. When Umath provided the world with his children the Storm Bull contained mostly that which was bestial in nature: violence, and raw unthinking strength, guided by instinct and the sensitivities of a god.

-Cults of Prax

This inhumanity, this bestiality, is at the very core of the *kóryos and their identity as "dog" or "wolf" men, as is their liminal status and the breaking of taboos. The following passage, also from Cults of Prax, might have been written about them; 

Socially they are unacceptable. They characteristically act with total disregard for any tribal taboos or manners, even to the extent of occasional murders which will go unavenged. Normal people consider all worshippers of this cult to be mindless brutes, barely human, certainly deranged, and absolutely dangerous. These opinions are correct. But the necessity of the warrior overrides the temporary discomfort which people must suffer...

Broadly speaking, this sort of behavior and status was reserved for adolescent males in Indo-European societies. But as mentioned, we know there were those who never returned to human society. The beast never released its grip on their souls. Their role was to continue to teach and train the young to become dog warriors (or wolf, or bear). In these full time and "professional" berserkers I think we see the Storm Bull the most clearly.

*   *   *

So what is the point of all this?

I think what makes Glorantha distinctive from other richly developed settings (like Tékumel) is that its foundation is wholly myth, not linguistics or culture. Generally speaking, the cultures of Glorantha arise from myths that transcend culture. The Praxians and Pentans are "nomads," but that could be Scythians or Huns or Mongols or Turks (etc). The Lunar Empire is any dream of empire, from Star Wars to ancient Persia. The Malkioni are the mythical "West," with its materialism, humanism, monotheism, and atheism. They are not so much cultures but ideas of cultures, myths of cultures, and this makes it impossible to identify them with any specific people in human history.

The Orlanthi are another kind of myth, the mythological "proto Indo-European." When we look at cultures as diverse as the Indo-Iranians, the Irish, the Greeks, Latins, and Norse, we see commonalities both linguistic and religious that lead us to imagine some distant proto ancestor. That is the myth-space I think the Orlanthi occupy. The thundering chieftain god, the clan, and the central significance of the warband are not specific to any one Indo-European culture, but buried in the DNA of them all. And this of course means the *kóryos are as well.

But what makes Glorantha particularly fascinating is that it is not a "copy." If the Orlanthi had warbands of dog warrior youths running around they would simply be a clone. By breaking this tradition up amongst various gods and cults, the mythological inspiration remains intact, but now in a more playable and original fashion. We can look at the Sons of Umath collectively and see the shadow of the *kóryos, but individually they remain original and unique. Aspiring GMs take note!

For me, the *kóryos were the model for Six Seasons in Sartar and The Company of the Dragon. But following the lead of Greg and others, I followed the broad outlines of the idea (adulthood initiation, going out into the world to form a warband, eventually coming home) but reworked it to try and pay homage to the original myth but still do something different with it. I think it is very useful to go back and look at how Greg did the same in the design of Glorantha.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

The Kóryos, Orlanth Adventurous, and the Myth behind the Six Seasons in Sartar Campaign

IMAGINE WITH ME, if you will.

In the dark of a central Eurasian night some five thousand years ago, under the light of a full moon, a group of adolescent boys are taken from their homes and their beds and brought to a sacred enclosure. Stripped naked, their faces are painted with a mixture of charcoal and fat. After a night of ritual ordeals that test their courage, their strength, and their stamina, the boys are pronounced "dead." They go into the Underworld and meet their ancestors, who bring them back to life not as boys but as young men. The holy men of their clans wrap them in the skins of wolves (and in a descendent of the tradition later on, bears), and banish them. They are now landless, clanless, and must go into the wilderness--perhaps for a year, or maybe even five--to survive by raiding, stealing, and their wits. They are permitted, even expected, to perform lawless acts like murder, rape, and theft. When the ordained period of time expires, they are expected to set aside these ways, settle down, and either return to their communities or establish their own. No longer outlaws, they are warriors of the clan who enforce the peace.

These lawless wanderers are called the *kóryos, or in simple English, the "warband."

I have long maintained that while we can draw on historical cultures to help us imagine the peoples of Greg Stafford's Glorantha, it is probably a mistake to think there are any actual parallels. The Orlanthi barbarians are not ancient Germans, or Norse, or Greeks. The Lunar Empire is not Rome, or Persia, or the Hittites. Rather, Glorantha is (in the words of its own creator) based on mythology. The Lunars are therefore the mythological "Empire," with all that entails. Their invasion of the Orlanthi nation of Sartar could be seen as the Romans invading Gaul or Germania, but it just as easily--and accurately--could be read as the British in Afghanistan, or the Soviets in Afghanistan...or yes, even the Americans in Afghanistan. Glorantha is based on mythological currents, themes...not historical details or (gods preserve us) the modern obsession with "accuracy."

The Orlanthi are based on the myth of the "barbarian," but it is important to note not just any barbarian, a very specific kind. The Pentans are the mythological "horse barbarian." The Hsunchen are sort of Mesolithic and Neolithic "primitive barbarians," etc. The Orlanthi, by contrast, clearly embody the Proto-Indo-Europeans or PIE peoples, who are themselves completely mythological. Scholars have hypothesized their existence, and contructed bits of their language, based not on any real archaeological record, but on linguistics and mythology. There is a general feeling that they existed, but the debate rages on over where they originated and who they originally were. The ancient peoples of the Caucasus, of Anatolia, or the southern Russian steppes are the usual suspects, but I just prefer to think of them as the Orlanthi.

The reason it is so easy to imagine the Orlanthi as Celts, Germans, Greeks, or ancient Indians is because of this PIE connection. There is enough linguistic evidence that we can identify a vast Indo-European language family that stretches from Ireland to the Indian subcontinent. Both the names "Ireland" and "Iran," for example, likely derive from the same PIE root meaning "the people." Again, this is itself a kind of myth because it cannot ever be proven, but the evidence is there. As Gloranthanphiles however we are much more interested in the mythology, and here again among the descendants of the PIE peoples we find surprising consistency. The clearest example of course is the chieftain god, the thunderer. Indra. Zeus. Thor. Tarhunna. Et cetra. All the linguistic and mythological evidence paints the picture of an ancient people organized into clans, who saw cattle as wealth and worshipped a thunderbolt wielding chieftain god. 

But there is another feature of PIE culture that brings us back to Glorantha and to the topic at hand.

The *kóryos.

*  *  *

19th century scholarship imagined the spread of the Indo-European languages through the vehicle of invasion. Under this model, the ancient PIE were a sort of hyper-martial warrior people who poured forth from their homeland in a ceaseless tide of conquest. The idea was so pervasive that the PIE word *arya ("the people," and again the root word of the names Ireland and Iran mentioned above) became embraced by the Nazis as a sort of mythological justification for their own land grabs.

Today, it is all widely regarded as nonsense.

Instead, many scholars point to the *kóryos to explain the spread of Indo-European languages and religious practices across Europe and the Near East. It works a bit like this: a group of young men are banished from their tribe or clan in the form of a warband. Landless, without a home or a people, they are encouraged to raid, pillage, and plunder...but only other peoples, not "the people," not your people. And so the wild *kóryos head out (originally, we think they rode out and that being on horseback gave them the tactical advantage, but the model applies just as easily to their descendant vikings who sailed out) to terrorize other people. But these are not armies. They are bands of young men. They went out amongst neighboring cultures that often appeased them with offerings to avoid bloodshed. The *kóryos mingled with these people, fathered children amongst them, and many times settled there. They then raised these children in their ways, and when the time came these boys went out and repeated the cycle. After thousands of years, it spread a myth, a language family, and a tradition across much of the Eurasian continent.

Shadows, memories, and remnants of this practice long out-lived the practice itself. The civilized and settled Athenians practiced the ephebos tradition, where adolescent boys lost their familial status and where given the role of guarding the borders of their society. They wore black tunics in times of war, with "blackness" (the Underworld, the ancestors, and masking) being a common*kóryos theme. Among the Spartans they were called krypteia, encouraged to raid cattle and plunder amongst their neighbors. It is said that Taras was founded by such Spartan young men. In ancient Ireland, the fianna were young men expected to spend half the year in the forests and wilds raiding and hunting. The Vikings, of course, fit the model closely. Many scholars believe the*kóryos often had an older and more experienced leader guiding them through the process, and this we see in the Viking practice of sending young men out on three-year raiding voyages under an experienced guide. In ancient India, boys were sent out into the forests to survive on their own and their leader was selected by a ritual dice match...something any reader of the Mahabharata will immediately recognize as the exile of the Pandava. All these traditions--the persistent stories of cattle-raiding and the like found from the Indus to northern Europe--are speculated to have their origins in the ancient *kóryos.

*  *  *

The Orlanthi are a mythological re-imaging of the PIE. More heroic. More idealized. But in Greg's stories of Orlanth, the pattern is clearly there, albeit missing some elements.

The *kóryos, for example, were associated with the dead. During the time of their exile, they were "dead" to their people. We believe they masked themselves because of this, painting their faces black or wearing wolf or bear skins (wolves and dogs are associated with the Underworld in numerous Indo-European cultures). Being "dead" they rode with their ancestors, and the widespread Celto-Germanic tradition of the Wild Hunt has its roots in the idea. Being "dead" they had no fear of dying, something evident in later berserker traditions. Conversely, because they rode amongst their ancestors and were roving bands of young men, they were also powerfully associated with fertility and lineage. The Roman tradition of lupercalia, an orgiastic festival with animal sacrifice, men roaming the streets looking for women to assault, and associated with wolves was believed to be necessary to ensure fertility the upcoming year. There is a tension between the*kóryos--the young unmarried men--and the older, married, established men. The latter embody "society," while the younger are in a liminal transition space, not children but not men. They are outsiders, wild, sowing their oats, and a threat to the establishment. Their energies are necessary to continuing the line and ensuring the next generation, but at the same time they pose a threat to the men running the show.

Many of these elements are softened somewhat in Greg's Glorantha by necessity. No one really wants to play a roleplaying game where you get brutally kicked out of your village and need to go out killing and raping...and if you do, well, I will leave that there. But looking at the stories in works like The Book of Heortling Mythology and elsewhere, the*kóryos wink back at us. Orlanthi and his brothers undergo a harrowing initiation ceremony. Their father is killed. They go out into the world living by their own wits, fighting, raiding, attacking the settled empire. Eventually, Orlanth makes the transition from wild and rebellious youth to settled farmer-king. He goes from being a liminal outsider to the very embodiment of order and tradition. This is exactly what we see with the *kóryos.

Those of you who have read or played Six Seasons in Sartar and/or The Company of the Dragon probably know exactly where I am going with all of this. Way back in primary school, learning long division, my teacher drummed into my head the value of "showing your work." I suppose I am doing that now and tipping my hand.

In these books I am retelling the myth of the*kóryos, modified of course for modern sensibilities and Glorantha. Under the hood it is the exact same engine. A group of newly initiated young people--male, female, and non-binary this time--are rendered landless and clanless in Six Seasons in Sartar. They go out into the mountain wilds of Sartar and form a warband, living by their own wits, raiding, fighting, and warring in The Company of the Dragon. Again, because we are talking mythology here and not accuracy, they are doing it to overthrow an "evil empire," but they are a roaming warband nevertheless considered bandits and thugs by many.

The Seven Tailed Wolf is about the end of the *kóryos tradition, the part where the warband returns home and builds a new community. The company comes home (or builds a new one) and finds themselves thrust into the position of running and defending it. Of course, because this is heroic fantasy, there will be a twist, but I am still following the myth.

Which I suppose would be my word of advice to those starting to GM or write for Glorantha. Always stick to mythology. Avoid the pitfalls of modern "fantasy" and look back at the classics instead. I am proud of the fact that Six Seasons in Sartar is the Jonstown Compendium's best selling title, and that The Company of the Dragon is nipping at its heels, but I cannot take credit. My suspicion in sitting down to write these stories was that Glorantha fans would respond to them because they were rooted in myth...even if they were not familiar with the exact myth I was retelling. The currents run so deep that no one needed to be familiar with the *kóryos to resonate with them. Shadows of the story remain in so many myths and stories that we know the story before it is told. It resonates in our blood. Sure, the word "novel" means "new," but we are not writing novels here. We are gaming. In gaming, and especially Gloranthan gaming, it is fruitful to reach back into the past.

As the old adage says, everything old becomes new again.