Thursday 26 April 2012

Welcome to Balazar

 Had a few new people turn up in my Griffin Mountain game recently and I realise I need a very quick intro to the setting and the rules.  

The Short Version

Stone age wilderness with Mycenaean outposts, plus Roman/Hindu – esque conquerors, Celto/Saxon – ish exiles and lots of spaced out shamen with weird tats. Long walks in the (sandbox) country meeting sabretooth tigers, trolls and dinosaurs. And ducks.

The Longer Version

The game is set in a backwoodsy corner of the world of Glorantha where the locals (you) are at a stone age level of technology. A few hundred years back a great hero, Balazar, invaded with a bunch of bronze age hoplites and built towns out of stone connected by roads. He went off to fight in the Dragonkill War, leaving his three sons in charge, and their descendants have been fighting each other ever since.

The Kings of the three vaguely Mycenaean citadels have groups of stone age tribes following them, but having a couple of dozen guys with bronze spears and few nags for light cavalry does not mean they have an easy ride of it. Controlling a population who can up sticks and hide in another part of the vast and trackless forest and prairie is almost impossible.

There is a back to this beyond, the Elder Wilds, an even more wild and woolly place inhabited by Trolls, Elves, Giants and a whole bunch of other dangerous critters, not least the Griffins.

The outside world is intruding. The Gloranthan equivalent to the Romans, the Lunar Empire, has invaded Elkoi, one of the three citadels, and are building a temple to their Red Moon goddess. A group of refugees (the Lunars say criminals and terrorists) from Dragon Pass have arrived in Trilus, the second citadel. And lurking in the background are the non-humans, the Dwarves, Elves and Trolls who once ruled this land, and might do again.

At the moment the party are followers of the King of Trilus, a heroic and charismatic hunter called Yalaring, who had traded in his flint spear for a crown. Follow him faithfully and promote his authority and you will be rewarded with real bronze weapons. The citadel has had a tough time of it of late though, and Yalaring might be hankering for the simple but harsh routine of the hunters life.
 The D&Ders version

Forget classes, forget XP points and forget alignment. Under the Legend rules, as with any BRP derived game, anyone can theoretically do anything. Your PC will start with a tribal background, a job (Hunter, Shaman, Warrior, Bard, Witch, Herder (if you live in a town)) and will have a mix of skills and a bunch of minor spells on top. If you want to get good at something then specialise, and get in with a local religion, they will give you access to all kinds of improved magic and special abilities.

Forget the 'generic fantasy' stereotypes for the various creatures as well. Gloranthan Dwarves, Elves and Trolls have their own quirks, and be ready for anything and everything to be intelligent and to have the equivalent of the old 3.5 'character levels', even the trees.

What kind of adventures do we do?

There are no dungeons, there is instead the Wilds, forests full of bickering tribesmen close to home but with ever more dangerous beasties the further away you get. Adventures so far have included fighting Trolls, werebears and zombies, settling tribal wars by ritual wrestling matches, finding abandoned cave-temples inhabited by weird and vile chaos monsters, traversing an elf-wood where the spirits have gone mad and the trees hate you, being chased by trollkin riding giant blowflies and rescuing ducks from the rotting interior of a dead bronotsaur, discovering ancient mysteries, fighting in a full scale battle, kidnap, murder, police work and becoming sporting heroes.

This is a sandbox, you can do whatever you like and go wherever you want, but don't expect bloody great signs saying 'dungeon here' and nor should you expect unambiguous 'baddies'. It is possible to make it to be a King or the greatest Shaman in the land, but it won't be easy.

Sunday 22 April 2012

The Strix

The Glorantha material for MRQ II did not include anything about the Red Moon, since they were all set on the Second Age, so I'm going to have to write my own Lunar lunacy.

by Rebecca Ryals Russel, borrowed from

The Strix is a uniquely Lunar type of were-creature or demon. Most of the time it is a human, but on nights of the full moon its monstrous true form emerges, a semi avian creature with a bird's legs and feet and feathers running along its arms and on its head, with a pinched beak-like face and huge owl-like eyes. They are believed by many to be were owls, but the true Strix is monster that lives on the Red Moon.

Str 3d6+6                   16-17

Con 3d6                     10-11

Siz 2d6+6                  13

Int 2d6+6                    13

Pow 3d6                    10-11

Dex 3d6+3                13-14

Cha 1d6                    2-3

CA 3, SR 14

Claws size S range S Dam 1d6 + 1d4

Armour 1 point

Skills: Persistence 30%, Resilience 30%, Evade 40%, Perception 30%, Stealth 75%, Spirit Attack 50%, Flying 50%, Seduction 30%, Transform 75% 

It is not a strong flyer, but where possible it will swoop and grab onto a target and pull them down, trying to keep them cowering and disoriented. It is not a strong flyer (roll against its flying skill to get airborne for any meaningful distance) but its squawking and flapping are confusing and can be hard to handle. It can also be stealthy, lurking in the lower branches of trees and swooping silently behind its prey ready to strike. As with any were-creature once slain its spirit will try and covertly possess a new host and gradually turn it into a new Strix. 

Strix can, allegedly, mate with humans in their beast form. They can spend 1 magic point to use their Seduction power, opposed by the target's Persistence. They are not very good at it though, and use every trick they can such as aphrodisiacs and very dim lighting to get their way. If they survive the night the target has a % age chance of themselves subsequently turning into a Strix.
Strix will be able to use any Common Magic they know as humans, and if they are members of of a Lunar cult they will be able to use Moon Spirits, Divine Magic or Sorcery as well.

Strix are bloodthirsty beasts and generally not tolerated even amongst the Lunars themselves, though some of the bloodier Lunar cults such as Yara Aranis will have a few flapping about as temple guards. Strix can be restored to human form by rituals known to a few Lunar cults such as Jakaleel, Deezola and Rufelza.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Were-Creatures in Griffin Mountain

In some areas of Glorantha there are tribes that have no problem with blurring the line between man and beast and people like the Rathori and Telmori celebrate those members of their tribes who can change forms. Not so in Balazar, where prevailing opinion is that men should be men and beasts, beasts, and while the clan totem spirits are admired and emulated and called on for aid, no one in his right mind would want to be an actual animal, even for a little while.

Nonetheless it does happen. Shamen can use spirits by binding them into fetishes, using them as fetches, as guardian spirits or incarnated by taking them temporarily into their own bodies. They are usually pretty careful about what spirits they use for which purpose, but once in a while someone is tempted to incarnate an animal spirit rather than the more usual ancestor spirits.

This might look like a good idea; a fetish of a bear spirit might be used to give extra strength, OR maybe a bears toughness OR skill at wrestling; incarnating it gives all of these at once and many other bearish talents besides. But the bear spirit might not leave the shaman's body completely when the magic is over, and bit by bit such a residual spirit takes over. The bear-spirit gradually asserts itself, the human host becomes addicted to honey and fish, becomes bad tempered, grows slightly larger and hairier and becomes lethargic in the winter. He will insist nothing is wrong, but one Wild-day he will take the final step and transform into a bear (or wolf, or sabretooth tiger or whatever animal spirit he has unwisely taken on board). He can only be cured by exorcism.

The animal is apparently a normal one of its species, but has the intelligence and charisma of the human host, and the ability to use all his common magic, though spirit magic fetishes usually fall off or are destroyed with the clothes during transformation. This transformation is always complete. Halfway forms might exist in other parts of the world, but not in Balazar.

If a were-beast is slain the now homeless beast spirit will attempt to possess a new victim, having got used to the idea of parasitism on humans.

The Grey Wolf clan are considered especially prone to this problem. Back in the God Time Foundchild and Brother Dog had many confrontations with Telmor the Wolf. During the First Age the Telmori and Votanki lived side by side, and fought many battles. It was Jarzangai Cleareye of the Black Dog clan who finally solved the problem, capturing the entire Telmori tribe and offering them a choice; have the wolf spirits driven out of them by exorcism or die. Many escaped to foreign lands, but many others accepted and were purified at a now lost location called 'Last Howl'. The clan were renamed the White Dog clan and banned from contacting wolf spirits, but over time they returned to their old totem, but without the curse and without any overt enthusiasm for transformation. The other clans have not forgotten the origins of the Grey Wolf clan and are sure they still freely break the taboo against animal incarnation.

Shamen are sure that many creatures in Balazar originated in a similar way – the Trolls were a tribe that became possessed by night spirits, Elves were men who unwisely incarnated tree spirits, Dwarves are men possessed by stone spirits and giants and giant animals are possessed by mountain spirits. It is therefore theoretically possible to turn all of these back into men with an appropriate exorcism, but Balazar's shamen do not know the rituals.

Saturday 7 April 2012

The Crow Stone

I am changing the ruleset of my Griffin Mountain G+ game over to Legend, a very impressive looking iteration of the old RuneQuest/BRP rules which I am assured by a couple of my players works very well in practice too.

This does mean that I am going to have to rejig a fair chunk of my background notes on religion to tally with the new ruleset, so here is a document laying out the basics of the three major Great Spirits worshipped in Balazar - Foundchild, Votank and Grandmother Sky. I'll do another one for Balazar himself, Brother Dog, Rigtaina and Tharkantus at some point soon, and will probably come back and re write this odoc with a few more details as I cook them up.

UPDATE: Did the update already, and threw in some stuff on Hearth Spirits and Osentalka. Here is the new version.

The rules bits are in this free Legend ebook: Spirit Magic. 

The Balazarings are stone age spirit worshippers. Their religion is very flexible, with a whole range of powerful spirits available for worship.

Amongst these are the Hearth Spirits, powerful ancestors associated with a particular location. According to Shamanic lore there were at one time 25 hearths. Ten are well known. The locations of another three are known, the citadels, but their spirits have not been contacted by shamen for centuries, and no one now knows the rites. The others are more of a mystery. Firepoint is almost definitely one, Lookhill almost certainly another, some shamen are almost sure certain earthworks in the Dangerground must relate to another one at least, others may lay in lands now controlled by Tarsh, Holay and Imther. A shaman who recovered one of these ancient sites would wield unusual spirits that no other had access to, a matter of much status amongst the Balazarings.

There is a straight 50% chance that a given Hearth Spirit may be counted amongst a Balazaring's ancestors. No living Shaman, not even Blueface, has gained the friendship of all ten known Hearths. A sample Hearth Spirit cult is given below.

Crow Stone

Legend of the Crow Stone
The Sun was killed, dragged out of the sky by jealous enemies and stabbed with the black knife called Death. The world became dark and the Trolls came and killed many, including Morak. Crow was hungry and came across Morak's body, and to the horror of his mourning children pecked out his eye. They cursed him and he turned black as the night he had flown out of, and as he fled he called out 'This isn't Morak, he is dead! His soul yearns to be free, let me have the body if you don't want to eat it yourself.'
But they didn't, and they buried Morak under a great mound. Many more died and their stinking bodies lay strewn across the plain making hunting impossible, so many other clans listened to Crow and put the bodies of their dead high up in the trees, where he could collect them.
Crow grew greedy and he went about the plains whispering tales in the ear of each chief and in the ears of the sons of chiefs and caused many fights and rebellions and many battles. Eventually Foundchild caught him and asked him why. 'You told men to hunt beasts for food only not pleasure, and the scraps they leave for me are tiny. War is different, war makes a lot of carrion, war is good for the crows. Its good for men as well, stops bickering and clears the air. If it wasn't for war each man would sit and curse at all others and all would be miserable.'

Foundchild was not impressed by this argument and slew Crow on the spot and had Votank bury him under a tall spire of rock. Those with long standing feuds come to this stone and fight under the eye of the Crow, leaving the bodies to lay under the open sky on the surrounding plain. And Crow tells them the secrets of making war, to encourage more to do so.

A long time ago there was a Crow tribe, but legend says most of the men went away to fight as mercenaries in foreign lands and their women joined other tribes, voluntarily or by capture.

Crow Stone is a carved rock like a huge flint knife sticking out of the ground on a flat plain a couple of miles wide. The plain is littered with bones and flint arrow and spearheads, though every so often a shaman will come and pick them up and make a pile and cover it with turf and a rock. There are a thousand of these tumuli littering the area, witnesses to the warlike nature of man. No one lives at the stone itself, but nearby, in a cave overlooking the river, you will find a cave with a hermit shaman named Tazaring Squinteye who will tell people the lore of the Crow Stone, and there is usually a camp of one or other of the clans (75% Crocodile, 10% Great Bison, 5% Red Sable, 5% Impala, 5% two camps, roll again) within a mile of the site.

The shaman will organise ritual battles, where the chiefs and men of two feuding tribes can meet and work out their differences in blood. He then adjudicates who has won and once he has spoken the feud is supposed to be over, but the last fight here, between the Sables and the Great Bisons, was unsatisfactory, not enough men of each clan turned up to make it a true contest. Tazaring is trying to organise a rematch. Individual duels are fought here as well, always to the death, and this does not count as murder under tribal law. The relatives of the deceased will often seek more direct revenge though, and this suits the Crow spirit very well.

There is a 50% chance of the Crow Stone not responding to a given person simply because he is not counted amongst their ancestors. If he does listen the petitioner must sleep, alone and unarmed, by the Stone itself. He is woken by the spirits of those slain on that plain and has to fight his way to safety, a Heroquest of resonance 40%. First he must stand his ground and not flee at the sight of the dead (Resilience 40%), then he must grab a weapon from the many broken ones on the ground (Evade 20%), and fight at least three foes (Close Combat 20%, 40%, 50%), finally falling to a wound, and realising that death is not to be feared and giving himself to the crows (Persistence 20%). Those already allied to the Crow's enemies and rivals Morak and Redwyrm have +20% resonance, those who bring a herd beast to feed the crows get -5%, those who bring a dead sentient get -10%.

The broken weapon is tied into a medicine bundle and as long as the petitioner has this he will get +5% Resilience while fighting in a duel or battle under the shadow of the Crow Stone.

If a follower brings part of the body of a slain human, dwarf, troll, broo or elf enemy to the stone he is allowed to learn the common magic Fanaticism. The shaman here also teaches Bladesharp and Bludgeon to followers, and will teach Axe and Shield or Warclub and Shield combat for a suitable consideration and Lore (Tribal Warfare). The follower can now see Crow spirits, bloodthirsty, angry and hungry, but they are still hostile to him and if they speak to him at all it is to deride his warrior prowess and urge him to kill more enemies.

Crow Warrior (Votary)
Crow's cult skills are: Any close combat, Unarmed, Resilience, Evade and Lore (Tribal Warfare), and any warrior with 50% in any five of these and who has the Fanaticism spell can become a Crow Warrior. Crow warriors are known mankillers and may be shunned by the more peaceable tribesmen. They have the geas 'Always try and slay hyaenas', the great enemies of the Crow.

They may seek the blessing of the Crow on a personal feud (Another quest of Resonance 60%) getting +10% to hit and +1 damage bonus step against that individual target.

Those who slay a man and bring his hand to the stone can learn one point of Bladesharp or Bludgeon and gain the right to put black feathers on their weapon, those who slay a man and brings his eye to the stone gains Detect Enemies and a Crow tattoo on his cheek.

May only bind one Crow spirit, which he may bind himself or receive from a master. Crow spirits are neutral to him. Crow Warriors must kill one sentient creature per year as a sacrifice to their bound Crow spirit, and must kill one herd beast and leave it to rot on the plains for the Crows.

Crow Master (Seer)
Must have 75% in five cult skills, must know Fanaticism, Bladesharp 2 or Bludgeon 2 and Detect Enemies. There can be only five Crow Masters, the Master of the West Plain, The Master of the East Plain, The Master of the Woods, The Master of Rodi's Gap and the Master of Eyes. The master may not actually dwell in these areas, but the titles fall to whoever kills their current incumbent. When a potential master presents himself at the Crow Stone a crow files to each of the masters to warn them, and the candidate has to track one of them down and kill him. Any means fair or foul are permissible, but any Master has the gains the geas Never refuse a challenge. Masters try and see to it that any candidate gets stabbed in the back and left to rot long before they get close enough to speak.

Can command and bind the Crow spirits, the usual fetishes involve human bone, broken flint weapons, crow feathers and desiccated eyes. Crow Masters are dangerous opponents and as well as the cult skills are often talented at Craft (Traps), Perception and Stealth. Many have died without knowing a Crow Master and his band were on their trail. A master can bind up to half his CHA worth of crow spirits (he can have others through any connection to other spirits) and these spirits are now friendly to him. One of the most common spirits bound are those allowing the master to command crows, which make excellent scouts and messengers.

He may quest for the right to bind curse spirits, which he can send to haunt cowards and those who refuse summons to fight at the Stone (Resonance 90%), may create a Crow Blessed weapon (Resonance 70%) with extra armour, hit points and damage, and may acquire the Heroic Ability Battle Fury.

The most well known Crow Master is Longstride Stormcrow, Master of the West Plain and also a High Shaman of Votank. He should have been made Crow Shaman last time the position came up, so they say, but he somehow persuaded the dying incumbent to nominate someone else instead. The Master of the Forests, Tollor Blackbeard, is a Black Lion and has been blamed for a number of incidents of banditry on the territory of the King of Trilus; the Master of Eyes, Hangazar the Cruel, is allegedly in the pay of the Lunars; the Master of the East Plain, Challa the She Bear, has trolls in her warband and has a price on her head at Dykene, and the Master of Rodi's Gap, Uzar Tall-as-a-Pine, has left Balazar for parts unknown.

Crow Shaman (Shaman)
Any Master may challenge the Shaman for his position, but few do. The Shaman must stay at the Crow Stone and be neutral in any Clan feuds and most Crow Masters only became such as they were warlike, vengeful and loved a good fight. A dying Shaman may however just command one of the Masters to take up the post and threaten dire curses if he doesn't comply. There follows a series of bloody duels at the Stone as the Crow Warriors sort out who gets the vacant Master place, and the feuds deriving from them often spark a tribal war a couple of years down the line.

The main power of the Crow Shaman is to adjudicate battles and feuds. When sufficient lives have been lost through ambush and attrition out on the plains, the chiefs of the warring tribes will come to the shaman and ask him to decide how many duels or how large a formal battle will end the fight for good. They are not bound to accept his judgement, but they often do. The Crow Shaman has a standing offer to end the conflict between any Citadel Kings who care to consult him, but only Yalaring has ever entertained the idea, and he knows the Kings of Dykene and Elkoi would never accept the outcome. Some Dykeneans say it is because he is afraid he will be asked to face Skilfil Heartpiercer in single combat and he knows he will lose.

The current Crow Shaman, Tazaring Squinteye, is in his sixties and was a member of the Crocodile clan before taking up this clan-neutral post. He fought a famous feud with Rantarra of the Great Sables, a warrior devoted to the Redwyrm spirit, and is certain that the Lunars are plotting to subvert Crow Stone as they subverted Redwyrm. This has made him something of a pacifist, wanting to conserve the blood of true Balazarings against the Lunar threat. He has looked on the introduction of Shield Push with interest, having seen Trollball played up in the Dangerground and seen how such sports reduce conflict without quite as much blood spilled. Starting a Shield Push league will be weird and foreign, hard to sell to the various bloody-handed Crow Warriors round Balazar and and harder yet to persuade the Crow spirits.