Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Sinner's Saint

We all wait agog for the Guide to Glorantha and its definitive descriptions of the various bits of the world that have received less attention over the years. Many years back I ran a few sessions set in the Duchy of Pithdaros, about which I knew next to nothing except what was in the RQ 3rd edition Genertela Book. This is an updated version of a cult I wrote about back then, the Sinner's Saint.

A Very Brief History of Pithdaros

Pithdaros is bit of the Gloranthan equivalent of Medieval Europe that was colonised by the inhabitants of its equivalent of East Africa 900 years ago. The tale is a long and peculiar one (a version of it can be found here).

Way back when the Agimori arrived in Genertela they were looking for a vile and evil god they called 'Bolongo' in their homeland, and after being taken for a bit of a ride by King Ullamal, they realised that Bolongo, or Gbaji, as the Westerners called him, was long gone and settled down to wait for him. They converted to Malkionism and over 900 years their original religion has disappeared without a trace, officially any way. But Bolongo is in fact still about, they brought the deity from Pamaltela all that time ago in the form of a weevil living in the keel of one of their ships (so the story goes) and he still has worshippers.

A Saint for all Sinners

Back in Jolar and other places on the Pamaltealan plains Bolongo is the trickster god, the Empty Mask, a scapegoat for the sins of the community. In modern Pithdaros he is the patron saint of the motley crew of troubadours, prostitutes, smugglers and ne'er do wells in the big cities and of more than a few bandits out in the countryside as well.

He is never referred to by his name, he is called the Sinners' Saint, the Great Sinner, the Saint of Masks or some other euphemism. To name him is to call him, and even his friends among the underclass of Pithdaros wouldn't want to meet him first hand.

His cult is the antithesis of the structured and logical organisation of most Rokari saintly orders or guilds. They are a loud mouthed drunken rabble who meet in low taverns and Thieves' Kitchens to drink themselves stupid, sing loud, bawdy and subversive songs, scrawl graffiti about their betters on the walls of cathedrals (and how do they get their uncannily accurate information?), pull damn fool pranks on priests and nobles, rescue miscreants from the stocks, hold up the Duke's sheriffs on the highway, and blow the purloined tax money on cheap brandy, flashy clothes and fast living.

They are either a stain upon humanity and an offence to all decency, or a bunch of larcenous comedians poking the corrupt and bloated ruling classes in their big fat bellies and puncturing their pomposity. Most of the population of Pithdaros knows at least one scandalous sirvente attributed to the Sinners' Saint and a good proportion agree with the anti-establishment sentiments. The Duke is squeezing the people hard for cash to pay off the loans he took from the Golden Monks of St Onokos and the money-mad monks themselves and the dour tithe-wrangling Rokari clergy get little respect in many quarters as well.

Joining the Cult

Anyone who hangs around with the lowlifes in any Pithdaran city and seems like a likely lad who is ready to steal and stand a few rounds can join. There is no gang boss, no priests, no scripture, just certain rakehells who are admired among this louche set for their daring, their wit and their capacity for hard living who are admiringly said to be 'Great Sinners' and 'Blessed by the Saint'. Many are also feared as dangerous lunatics whose risky antics are bound to put them on a scaffold before too long.

In rural areas the characteristic blank wooden mask of the Pithdaran highwayman and bandit is kept hidden under many peasants floors, and they will invite people they know and trust to 'take up the mask' and join them in raids and ambushes and in wild drunken parties out in the woods.

Typical spells picked up over a convivial ale are common magic such as (Legend) Babel, Bandit's Cloak, Befuddle, Coordination, Detect Silver, Entertainer's Smile, Glamour and Lucky or (RQ6) Babble, Befuddle, Bypass, Cleanse, Coordination, Curse, Dishevel, Find Sliver, Glamour, Incognito, Knock, Mimic, Polish and Tune.

At some point a habitue of these taverns will notice that some of the wildest people have tattoos of a simple shield shaped mask with two eyes and a crooked mouth that is smiling at one side and frowning at the other. If they are unlucky or fortunate depending on how you see things, they may wake up with such a tattoo after a big binge.

Getting that mark starts you on the dangerous path of the Sinners' Saint. His magics are unpredictable, and take the form of spirit possessions. Start a skill of Spirit Binding (Bolongo Mask Spirits). The person will subsequently be randomly attacked by spirits of varying intensity and effect. If possessed the person has the effects of that spirit for 1d6 days, and if a 6 is rolled, another d6 days on top of that and so on as an exploding dice. Unfortunately each spirit doesn't just confer some magic power, it has a passion associated with it as well, and these can drive the Sinner to do some pretty bizarre things.

If the person can subdue these maniac spirits there is a chance they can bind them into a tattoo and call on them at will, though of course this means the passion will affect them permanently as well. A Sinner can have up to one spirit per point of CHA, but each comes with a geas that must be kept up and Bolongo's geases can be difficult.

Sample spirits and effects

The Empty Mask
Enables the Sinner to don a wooden mask and gain a Disguise skill of 20% per intensity, or add +10% per intensity to an existing Disguise skill. People just won't notice that the person is wearing it and will see whatever features the Sinner wants them to see unless they resist the spell. The user can however get carried away, and actually believe he really is the person he is impersonating, a passion with a power of 3d6% per intensity. If bound the geas is usually tell one barefaced lie to a friend or loved one per day.

The Cunning Weevil
Has a 3d6% chance per intensity of enabling the sinner to adopt some weevil like characteristic, such as extra legs or the ability to digest wood or cotton, intensity 3 spirits enable the sinner to become a man sized weevil, and intensity 4 spirits of this kind enable a complete transformation into a tiny 5mm long beetle. Being able to turn into a tiny insect comes in incredibly handy when cornered by the authorities and are tales of sinners who were locked in the stocks and who managed to eat through the wooden apparatus over night and escape, or given short prison rations but who managed to survive by eating the wooden bowls their gruel came in. Unfortunately the user of the spirit has an urge to eat wood, and may talk to passing beetles as if they are old friends in public. The geas for keeping such a spirit bound is usually to leave bread crusts, biscuits or other hard tack every day for his little beetle buddies every day.

The Dicktheif or Boobnapper
Enables the sinner to steal penises or breasts. The victim is the target of a pickpocket attempt but the object stolen isn't their purse or personal items it is part of their body. The spirit adds 5% per intensity to Pickpocket skill in any case and any use of the skill has a 10% per intensity chance of coming away with the organ and not the valuables by accident. Deliberately using the spirit to take body parts double this chance to a maximum of the Sinners pickpocket skill. The victim feels no pain and may not notice the lack for a short period. The organ can be returned and reattached at any time and the victim can still feel sensations through the organ even if it is far away. The magic has a 1d6% cumulative chance per day of wearing off anyway. Those possessed by the spirit have kleptomania, and the geas for keeping it varies from the need to masturbate at least daily, to compulsive organ theft, to removing ones own organ and keeping it in a jar overnight. Similar spirits have been encountered than enable the theft of fingers, to detach the mouth and place it on another part of the body or another creature, detachable ears etc.

The Foulmouthed Muse
Gives the person great eloquence at making poetry, as long as it has at least one swearword in every line. Enhances the skills of Poetry, Influence, Oratory and Commerce by 10% per intensity, but also causes Tourette's syndrome with the urge to swear being uncontrollable. If anyone uses such a skill while under the influence of this spirit, their chance of a critical success goes up by half, but their chance of a critical failure goes up to the crit range as well. Example: Troy Bankoso has Oratory 50% and is under the influence of a Intensity 2 Muse. He has a 70% chance of success at the skill, throwing in the odd swear into his speech, a 7x1.5=10% chance of a critical success, and if he rolls 94-100 (a 7% range) he has a critical failure and repulses his audience instead. The geas from binding this spirit is usually to offend at least one person per day with verbal abuse, though some have had an urge to coprophagia instead.

The Bloody Juggler
Gives the ability to use two daggers as well as the sinner would usually wield one, the off hand being as good as the main hand, gives two extra combat actions as long as they are dagger attacks or parries, and raises the chance of throwing any dagger by 5% per intensity and the damage by 1, and the chance of juggling any three objects by 10% per intensity. Also makes the Sinner very tetchy, and very liable to lose his temper and stab someone for nothing, and the geas for keeping the spirit is usually to stab at least one person a week.

The Drink Demon
While under the influence of this spirit, the Sinner gains in the performance of a variety of skills while drunk and reduced in many others. The exact effects vary, so a person may have enhanced Athletics, Endurance and Acrobatics, while being so smashed they fall off their bar stool and talk in words of one mumbled syllable, other people my get enhanced Influence and Seduction. The more a person drinks the more the skill is enhanced (and the rest of his abilities suffer), and intensity determines how many skills are so affected. The person affected gets the urge to drink of course and the geas for binding the spirit is to never go to bed sober.

Other more conventional spirits enhance heightening skills, dexterity, charisma, strike rank and combat actions.

Use of Spirit Walk or Trance to go hunting for specific Bolongo spirits is not advisable, nor is it a good idea to bind the spirits into anything but a permanently inked tattoo. There are a few conventional shamen in Pithdaros, wise women who talk with spirits of the dead and of the earth and they won't touch Bolongo's spirits with a bargepole. The bloody things gang up on anyone who 'abuses' one of their brethren and the shaman can find them self possessed by a mighty spirit of insanity that makes them want to do any number of insane and dangerous things.

The mention of the Saint's true name, Bolongo, is to invite one of these spirits to inhabit your body. There is a mere 1% chance that on any single occasion the worst will happen, but there are enough tales of respectable folk, even priests who have said the word and who ended up a few months or years later a hardened criminal and layabout.

Where to find the Sinners Saint

There are a dozen or so followers in all the major towns of Pithdaros, and a few score highwaymen in the villages, but their major stronghold is Oradoros, the major port of Pithdaros, where drunken debauchery, anarchy and subversion are all the rage down in the dock district.

Despite the efforts of the authorities to paint the followers of the Sinners Saint as a major threat to the social order they are no such thing, they can and have organised piss ups in breweries, but their agenda stops there, they live in the moment and have no plans to overthrow anyone. The Sinners are however up against a major rival, the Dark Duke's Men, who are organised and who are ruthless.

This recently arrived gang of mafiosi are running protection rackets, handing out licenses to muggers, beggars and burglars and doing unspeakable things to those who defy them. They even look serious, going about their business in smart black doublets and cloaks in the Safelstran style. Many ordinary citizens are actually keen to have them set up in their town - as long as they pay their tithe the citizen really does get no trouble, they are a damn sight more effective than the real Duke's law enforcement. The Sinners are rebelling against this new regime as they rebel against any effort at controlling them, but it isn't working and they are either ending up dead in ditches or going on the run.

So Sinners can now be found in taverns all round the Genertelan coast – an entire whorehouse upped sticks and set up shop in Sog City and are doing well, while mask tattoos are become quite the fashion in the seedier dives of Rhigos in the Holy Country though the ribald songs about the Demivierge can't touch her real depravity, there's a spate of penis thefts in Fay Jee the authorities can't make head nor tail of, and the Master of the Thieves Guild of Handra himself was held up at crossbow point by a giggling madman who spoke in limericks and wore a wooden mask.

Adventure Hooks


  • The party make the acquaintance of a squad of mercs from the Army of Tomorrow. Their new sergeant is a tall dark skinned guy who the others try and rib because he comes from a Western country where people are supposedly always late. Mikkal is not ever late, he's a hard nosed bastard who marches them up and down, lays it on with a whip for the least infraction and who never, ever drinks. The guys dare the party to put a bit of Lunar gin in his tea, and thereafter things change rapidly and strangely. Mikkal is a former Sinner, and once the Drink Demon gets to work he goes very odd indeed with all his old Bolongo Spirits coming back to haunt him.
  • Pavis is always a bit on the rowdy side, but this week there is a serious party on. The Men and Half have come in off the plains and are having bison roasts in the town square downing the entire city gin supply, smoking all the hazia and running around in spear studded phalanxes singing and swearing the air blue, chasing people up dead end alleyways and not letting them out until they have shouted 'SorEel the Short sucks snake snatch sideways!'. Their chief and elders aren't impressed, all to do with this new shaman who turned up off a boat from Corflu, some crap about an ancient ancestral spirit. Had a shaman try and exorcise it, but he ended up going screwy as a jackrabbit and tried to do it with a crocodile down in the Zola Fel... Bad magic, bad times, but if the braves don't stop sodding about soon the Yelmalios will sort them out.
  • Gadda the Garrulous, trickster and court poet to the King of the Lismelder has very rarely been lost for words, but when this foreign doxy he thought he'd seduced down at the Greydog Inn stole his penis and returned it inserted in the back end of a sow he was just a bit nonplussed. When tricksters duel it can be fun, but it can also get nasty. People are waiting to see what this Sibylle the Slanderer is really capable of.