Thursday, 2 January 2014

The Servants of the Almighty Dragons

This merry band of madheads appear in Issaries Publications' Sartar Companion, and have made an incidental appearance in my ongoing Griffin Mountain campaign. This is what I make of them.

Why they exist

The Empire of the Wryms' Friends collapsed in spectacular fashion when the dragonewts assassinated its leading mystics, and then during the extended period of anarchy that followed the Dragonkill War broke out and there was a pretty major, if localised, apocalypse in the Dragon Pass region. Who in their right mind would want to revive the worship of dragons?

People not in their right mind of course. The coming of the Lunars has been a colossal shock to the Sartarites; bar a few diehards in the hills they are a defeated people, in awe of the sheer size, wealth, and sophistication of the invading Empire. Most have become bitter and resentful, but the Servants of the Almighty Dragons know just enough history to realise that once the hobnailed sandal was on the other foot – Dragon Pass was the metropolitan centre of a great empire and Dara Happa in the Lunar heartlands the conquered province with a puppet on the throne. Once the people of Dragon Pass embrace their past and revive the worship of the Almighty Dragons, the foreign scumbags will be massacred and Sartar will be a glorious Empire once more!

In many ways the Servants of the Almighty Dragons are like a cargo cult. Being from an impoverished culture a bare couple of steps above subsistence level, only able to sustain a few tiny market towns they have no real idea how a vast state like the Lunar Empire, the Holy Country or the EWF actually works. By simply aping what they hope are its appearances and rituals they hope to bring that military and economic power back into being, and this being Glorantha this method might just succeed...

What they do

The group meet on holy days and conduct ceremonies in their headquarters, a rather dull and anonymous circular stone building in the Scholars' quarter of Jonstown. In between times they all have conventional jobs around the city and in the surrounding villages, several are students at the Lhankor Mhy temple.

Almost no one in 17th century ST Glorantha has any idea how Wyrmfriendism actually works (except possibly Forang Forash, and since he was a mere layman of the religion with little time for mystical windbaggery he knows precious little. How many ordinary members of the public today could tell you how computers work in any detail, despite modern civilisation practically running on them?).

The Servants have taken the ceremonies of Old Pavis as being the closest thing to the EWF rituals still extant and try and copy what has been reliably observed of the dances of the dragonewts. They also have some travellers tales of what goes on in dragon-obsessed Kralorea and a few translations of inscriptions found in EWF ruins.

The holy days are also conjectural. For reasons best known to himself, Van Varion, the most accomplished reader of Auld Wyrmish, has decided that certain prime numbers are key, with blessed days occurring in cycles of three, seven and seventeen days.

The effects of these gyrations and exhortations are very variable, mostly they do no more than annoy the neighbours, but once in a while an actual magical effect is detected. The group are always trying to encourage actual dragonewts to come to their ceremonies, but none have yet shown the slightest interest in any of their activities. Toothless Tobran, the most adept speaker of Auld Wyrmish and the one with most contact with the creatures through his trading expeditions, has long since given up trying to broach the subject with them.

Their robes are pretty accurate though, copied from Forang Forash's robes and from examples in Pavis. They are elaborate, sewn with painted parchment dragon scales and the hats and helmets are gorgeous with plumes and wires, runes and serpent eyes.

Many of the group are trying to become left handed. They will walk around with their right hands heavily bandaged or in slings, or tied behind their backs, trying to do everything left handed.

Archaeology and Scholarship

The group sometimes goes on research trips to EWF sites and does a bit of digging. The sites are mostly well known and well worked over, but they are always on the lookout for undisturbed places, which have often been declared off limits by tribal priests and chieftains. They have a stall in the market in the yard outside the Lhankor Mhy Temple where they sell all kinds of EWF knick-nacks they have dug up (and bit of Kralorean porcelain and textiles that look the part, and few outright fakes made by a bronzesmith they know). Garstal Shavetop has first refusal on anything decent they come across, and they carefully record all objects before selling them.

The best sites are of course the least accessible, and Van Varion is on the lookout for adventurers to guard the expeditions. He is also wary of letting the nosey parkers from the Irripi Ontor cult know anything about where these secret sites are, and makes a point of trying to sell them the most outrageous fakes so they think he is nothing more than a charlatan. Trouble is a lot of adventurers who have come across this crap may also conclude they are full of it as well.

Van Varion and a few other members are also still apprentices and initiates of Lhankor Mhy and have free access to the library. This right may be revoked soon though, a couple of the senior priests feel that they are erring so close to heresy they may need to be definitively excommunicated, though Garstal Shavetop defends them.

Membership and Magic

Aspirant

Joining is a doddle, pay at least 10L a season to the cult and you are in. You get taught the left handed secret handshake of the cult, can have the Draconic Aspirant tattoos and get entry to the dances and rituals. You also get sent off round the streets with a collection box, get called in to help mind Toothless Tobran's market stall, badgered to pay for your own set of funky robes and to go on sightseeing trips in dragonewt country with his caravan (acting as free guards basically).

Skill and spell training is very ad hoc; essentially the senior members will put on classes and teach common magics to Aspirants who complain enough and who threaten to leave the cult and pay their money to a proper temple. Training in Meditation up to 25% is free, as is Dance, and people usually get taught the common magic spell Understanding at some point.

Student of the Draconic Way

Serious members are expected to dedicate at least 10% of their income to the cult, and though the leading lights are trying to concoct an exam of the kind used in the Kralorean civil service or a ritual challenge of the kind used in some theist cults, promotion is also pretty ad hoc. Essentials are having Meditation at 40% or above, a literacy skill of some kind at 40% or above, Lore (History of the EWF) 25% or above and a couple of other skills at 40%+ if you can persuade the cult they are useful and relevant.

Students are taught the key skills of the cult, Meditation, Speak Auld Wyrmish, Read Auld Wyrmish and the Mysticism (Way of the Almighty Dragons) skill. This last is the sum total of all the magical knowledge gleaned by the cult from their mystic exercises so far and it doesn't amount to very much; the maximum teachable is 10%, and learning the skill as a new advanced skill under the Legend rules gives you (POW+INT)/10, and the maximum gain per week training thereafter is a mere 2% - the Servants do have something mystical going on, but the best of them are merely vaguely glimpsing a higher reality, and that reality may not in fact have anything to do with dragons. Spending improvement points on this skill is only possible if the PC has succeeded in actually pulling off a mystical effect during an adventure.

Meditation is limited to 50% and Read Auld Wyrmish to 50%, though if you can persuade Garstal Shavetop or one of the Priests of Pavis to teach you this can be learned up to 75%. The script is ideographic not phonetic and there are plenty of signs that are now just squiggles to modern readers, and probably refer to concepts that mean little to a non mystic. Learning rate for this skill is halved. Forang Forash isn't much help – he worked mainly using mindspeech and other magics back in the day, and though he won't admit it was merely semi literate in his native tongue.

Speak Auld Wyrmish is limited to 20% plus the crit ranges of Dance, Sing and Play Musical Instrument. Various bells and bits of percussion are required, and gestures enhanced with fans, painted and engraved sticks and face paint. No one is very good at this anywhere in Glorantha, in Pavis and Adari they know a few rote phrases and gestures and those may have become seriously distorted over the years. Toothless Tobran has had the end of his tongue split in an ordeal/operation peculiar to Praxian snake shamen to enable him to speak it better, but it doesn't help much.

The mystical talents available are -
Augment Oratory, Augment Persistence, Augment Speak Auld Wyrmish, Magic Sense and Awareness of Reptiles (see RQ6).

The Servants are well aware of the amazing abilities of Dragonewts and though they do their best to stick to walls, change colour, spit venom, grow claws etc, the meager selection above is all they have managed so far. Some theorise that since they are all mostly pretty weedy scholar and merchant types they are not going to get to the super-warrior powers right away, but someone who is already competent with a sword and quite athletic might manage it if they could be taught the right meditative technique. Such Humakti as they have approached have threatened to cut their goolies off for heresy.

Dragon Disciples

There are only two Disciples, Van Varion and Toothless Tobran, three if you count Forang Forash - though he wasn't actually present at the ceremony, didn't even know about it, and Tobran hasn't worked up the courage to tell him about their granting of this signal honour just yet.

The two constantly bicker, but they need each other. Tobran has the money, owns their clubhouse and actually goes to Tink and Dragonewt country once in a while, Van Varion has the scholarly knowledge and gravitas and actually knows a bit of meditation technique.

Adventure Hooks


  • Turns out Van Varion is of quite noble birth, and stands to inherit a bit of property out in Torkani country. One of his cousins wouldn't at all mind if someone did him in, him being an embarrassment to the family and all, though taking out a draconic mystic might be a bit tricky if his powers do actually match his rhetoric.
  • That's it, the Servants of the Almighty Dragons are out of here, Minaryth Purple has had enough of these twits cluttering up the library, hissing and gibbering and tinkling finger cymbals at each other. The Servants would like someone to steal certain key volumes they no longer have access to from the stacks...
  • Toothless Tobran is on his way to Tink on a trading trip and wants guards. He has acquired a bit of dragonewt skin armour and is going to give it to them as a token of respect. Hopefully the inscrutable reptiles will understand that Tobran himself did not make the armour and massacre all concerned - he has every confidence in his ability to speak the lingo though...
  • The son/daughter of the PCs clan chief has been studying in Jonstown for a while, and in their last letter home asked for a quite outrageous sum to buy 'some scaley robes and a new hat', then hasn't been in touch at all for over a season. What is going on? Are the rumours that they have fallen in with a strange cult true?
  • Garstal Shavetop is worried. The Servants have been awfully quiet about their last digging trip over at the Zoo ruins. Van Varion showed him the usual old bits of pottery, a rusty windchime and the like, but their usual air of conspiracy and otherworldy smugness has been quite extreme of late, and he has divined that they have something special, possibly dangerous, hidden at their temple. Get it, before the bloody idiots rekindle the Dragonkill.
  • Burglary in Jonstown is sadly nothing new, but there has been a lot of them lately and the guards have spotted a man going up and down walls like a spider, or one of those sneaky gecko fingered Dragonewt warriors you hear about, scuttling up and down cliffs and scaring the crap of out folk who get too near their cities. Have the Servants cracked a little draconic mystery?