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.

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


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?