Monday 22 December 2014

God Forgot

I first became aware of the islands of God Forgot in Glorantha when I read the Runequest Companion article on the Holy Country over thirty years ago. Since then the only substantial thing I have seen published on the place was the uninspiring Mongoose Clanking City book, which I am going to utterly ignore. So, based on snippets from the Guide to Glorantha and the ancient Companion, here is my utterly uncanonical take on the islands that God Forgot.

Where did God Forget?

The islands of God Forgot in the Holy Country are bleak, windswept and flat, with many windmills and small farming villages and a couple of small cities.

The Ingareen, as the natives call themselves, say they colonised God Forgot back in the Godtime, they came from Brithos on a giant Waertagi Dragonship to find a land devastated by wars between sorcerers who had grown too big for their boots. These sorcerers claimed to be 'deities' and demanded that lesser beings give them power in a nefarious magical pyramid scheme. The Ingareen scoffed at this nonsense (though they admired it's ingenuity) and in a mighty battle slew the contending 'deities' and incorporated the liberated mortals into their eminently logical and peaceful society, based on the Logical Laws that Malkion drew up before he went bonkers and started ranting about the 'Invisible God'.

While neighbouring theist peoples say that Chaos killed the deity of the island, the Ingareen insist it was them. The theists are uncomfortable at this and say no mortal can kill a God, must have been another God that did it, or the Devil, and living without a deity has obviously addled the Ingareen's brains. The Ingareen say bullshit, 'mortals' can become immortal if they follow the Logical Laws, and gods are eminently killable, it has happened on several occasions within time. Even that Orlanth feller you hairy hooligans think so much of has been done in on several occasions... and yup that's a nice sword you have there mate, blessed by the death god you say, we'll just be shutting up now...

The Ingareen have been on the wrong end of a crusade before. During the Second Age a good part of their population became Zistorites, operators of the so-called God Machine. It was not regarded as a deity by the Ingareen of course, it was merely a bloody great machine that they had built, but so awesome were its capabilities that the theists thought it was a God, and an evil one at that. The Iron Crusade that followed was a nasty business that left the islands devastated and the land polluted. The Ingareen have been careful ever since not to provoke another.

Culture and Caste

The Ingareen follow the old atheist Brithini way of life. In lost Brithos and in Arolanit and other colonies close adherence to the Logical Laws of Malkion results in immortality, but in God Forgot people are no longer sure just what the Logical Laws are. The Zistor business, the God Learners who helped it along and the attempt to obliterate their culture that followed have all left the Ingareen with mere fragments of the Laws, and most are convinced that they probably wouldn't work any more even if you tried, at least not on God Forgot's devastated soil.


The lowest caste are the Dronar or peasants. In accordance with Brithini laws they are illiterate, banned from using magic and using weapons and armour, wear modest identical brown smocks and flat caps and are members of craft guilds. A very few actually follow these laws to the letter, but most others consider the literacy laws to cover the Brithini language only and can read Heortlander, Tradetalk and the other 'foreign' languages of the Holy Country, regard the 'magic' referred to as being Ancient Brithini Sorcery only and make free use of folk magic and even sorcery spells that have been developed within time. The wealthiest have 'brown smocks' of expensive fur with gold collars, velvet flat caps with gold pins etc. They only use agricultural and craft tools. like wickedly sharp sickles, billhooks, heavy spiked masonry hammers, long thin chisels that look a lot like stillettos etc. and of course the bronze rings sewn into the lining of their leather tunics are an old herdsman's trick to avoid goring by bulls.


The Horals, or soldiers, are likewise banned from conducting a trade or craft or owning land, and are also supposed to be illiterate and unable to use magic, and must wear red uniforms. However there is nothing stopping the warrior families getting 'donations' from the other castes and nothing stopping them threatening violence if the donors refuse to pay up. The Horals do not 'own' lands, they just have certain territories within which other castes choose to donate a certain proportion of their income in appreciation of the soldiers performing their traditional role of protectors and also not stabbing them. The Horals have six 'legions', which are somewhat like mafia families operating a few monopolies in certain varieties of extortion while competing in others. They all also operate mercenary regiments which fight abroad. Ingareen Horals are efficient fighters, and are the only ones in south central Genertela to make use of the crossbow. They also make use of Folk magic and many have taken up Sorcery in a small way as well on the same terms as the Dronar. They do not believe in the afterlife and are experts in defensive tactics and manoeuvring enemies into well prepared ambushes and massacres. While the Humakti of neighbouring Heortlander tribes may scoff at them for their supposed cowardice they are not in the least bit keen to face their pike squares and withering crossbow fire.


The Zzaburi can use magic, though they are banned from using armour and weapons. In the far west Brithini Zzaburi disdain Folk Magic, but Ingareen wizards make free use of it and have researched lots of extra little cantrips and charms not seen anywhere else. Their use of traditional sorcery is limited though, they lost almost all their Grimoires in the aftermath of the Iron Crusade and have pieced together what sorcery they have from their own research and from half recalled fragments. They have gone on expeditions to the western lands to try and regain their lost knowledge, but have found the snooty 'real' Brithini and deluded Seshnegi and Fronelans utterly unhelpful.

The Zzaburi may not have a religion but they do have an Inquisition. Anyone dabbling in mechanisms or magic enchantments is thoroughly investigated to ensure they do not fall into any of the old Zistorite ways and unleash the Crusade again. Leonardo the Scientist, the best known dabbler in such matters, sails very, very close to the edge with many of his devices but his insistence on never making more than one of an item and avoiding mass production seems to be working so far.

The Talar

There is only one surviving Talar and he is the only true immortal left in God Forgot. He lives in a hermetically sealed glass box in the throne room of the vast Forbidden Palace at Jon Barat (Talar Hold to outsiders), where numerous ministers and wizards scrutinize him closely for omens as to what he wishes them to do in his name and what fate awaits the country. For example, a tiny amount of condensation was seen on the interior of the box, presumably from the Talar exhaling a breath (though he has sorcerously Abjured Air for centuries) and there was a terrible hurricane in the southern part of the islands the next day; when one of his mightinesses few remaining strands of hair fell out it signified that a tranche of royal forest must be felled; when his mightiness acquired a slight fungal infection above his left eyebrow and a rash appeared on his wrinkled forehead many Ingareen died of a plague. In 1312 the omniscient Talar predicted the arrival of Belintar the Stranger by dropping his scepter onto the floor from his withered hand, though it took months of debate to work out just what he had meant by this gesture, and whether it would be proper to replace the scepter in his mighty hand with aid of glue.

The Talar has not in fact moved, spoken, eaten, drunk or defecated since at least the year 917 when he took up full time residence in his box. Cynical foreigners say this seclusion coincided with the arrival of a delegation from the wronged and oppressed people of the rest of Kaethela, there to put him on trial for his part in the creation of the God Machine, but his loyal advisers say it was part of a mighty spell to preserve the nation from further devastation from the natural forces that had been twisted and abused by the Crusaders and, regrettably, Zistor's murkier mechanisms as Mistakes Were Made. 

Philosophy, Mathematics and Religion

The Ingareen may not have a god, but that doesn't mean they don't have belief. Various books of philosophical musings, hints on self-improvement and outright gibbering lunacy have been written since the disaster of the Iron Crusade, all purporting to contain true interpretations of Malkion's Logical Laws and thus the key to eternal life and ultimate sorcerous power. Their effectiveness varies considerably – usually the more erudite ones written in ancient Brithini and read by educated wizards appear to extend the lifespan by a few years, but then wizards tend to be better off and have an easier life; the common ones written in Tradetalk or vulgar Ingareen make little difference at all.

Each is still a grimoire of its own though, with sorcerous spells of varying effectiveness and often folk magic and other magical effects besides.

The Ingareen are also obsessed with luck and fate, and why theirs has been so universally bad. They say that the logical laws used to be absolutely effective in all circumstances but now there is only a chance of them working, and they have developed relatively sophisticated statistics to analyse this variability. This interest in chance has also led to an addiction to gambling, and they are vulnerable to any number of silly superstitions that will supposedly bring 'luck'.

The Dronar and Horals actually depict this luck as a lady on various casino advertisements and lucky charms available in Casino Town and there is even a shrine to 'Our Lady of Credit, she who giveth and taketh away', though it looks more like a shop full of one armed bandits with a loan sharks office attached. There are foreign shamen who claim to have summoned her as a spirit though, and a few really down at heel Ingareen gamblers have actually prayed to her – God Forgot might be acquiring a deity whether it wants one or not. Her symbol is a double-tailed coin, such is the fatalism of the Ingareen.

Creating an Ingareen character

If using RQ6 , Ingareens are Civilised, and always have the option of choosing Gambling as one of their Cultural Professional skills. If you are a Zzaburi you can learn Lore (Mathematics) on the same basis.

They roll for Social status on the following table:

01-02 Outcast – you have lost it all in the Casinos and have had to leave God Forgot before the money lenders break every bone in your body or, even worse, drop you off in the Clanking Ruins to fetch them a cursed technological artifact or die trying. Money x0.25

03-30 Poor Dronar – You grew up a peasant on some forsaken patch of infertile mud in the shadow of a Wizards tower or Soldiers fortress. Money x0.5

31 -60 Rich Dronar – You lived in a more prosperous village or perhaps in the towns of Jon Barat, Casino Town or Refuge. Money x1

61-86 Poor Horal – You are a townsman and a footsoldier in one of the legions/ protection rackets that form the backbone of modern God Forgot society. Money x1.5, if you make a Gambling skill roll x2.5

86-90 Rich Horal – You are part of the ruling family of one of the six legions. You grew up in reasonable wealth and comfort with foot soldiers at your command and maybe a fief to extort money from. Money x2.5, if you make a gambling skill roll x5.

91-00 Zzaburi – You are a wizard, you grew up in reasonable wealth and if you are male you will almost certainly have been educated in the High Brithini language and in sorcery. The wizards are not so keen on daughters and will be looking to marry you off to a wealthy Horal who can pay a decent dowry, you will still have more education than a typical Ingareen, but your father and his cronies will throw a fit if you actually practise any magic. Money x 2, if you make an Influence or Bureaucracy roll you have a job working for one of the Companies or the Talar's court and get x4.

Sample superstitions
If an Ingareen breaks one of his superstitions he will lose a Luck point, if he performs a lucky act then he has a 50% chance of gaining a Luck point, other acts may have a 50% chance of loss or gain. Tempting fate in any way will assuredly result in bad luck. Any Ingareen may take Superstitious as a Passion and may be affected by it positively and negatively as random omens appear in his environment.

1 Black cat crosses your path, gain 1 luck, if it hisses at you lose 1 luck.

2 Always give a clack to a beggar, if he wishes you well you will gain luck, if not you lose.

3 Spit at the Red Moon when you see it, it may thank you for the gift of water, or it may curse you for your rudeness.

4 Never tread on the cracks in a pavement, or break a twig under your feet. Dance ten yards on cobbles and you will have bountiful luck the rest of the day.

5 Your lucky colour is black/red/blue/green/orange/yellow etc. always wear a garment that colour and look out for others wearing it.

6 Never face into the wind when walking, choose a different, circuitous path if you have to, or tack like a ship.

7 Never whistle on a boat, never hum on land, and stop your ears if you hear someone doing it.

8 Bare your head to the sky every morning, the heat of the sun will warm your brain. If it happens to be raining you will have bad luck, don't bother going out unless you have to as you will catch a chill.

9 Never give anyone a knife as a gift and never accept such. The edge will cut the bonds of friendship.

10 Never sheathe a blade that is unblooded or it will break next time you use it.

And many more are possible. 

Example Brotherhood : Company of the Sable Star

Open to the Horal caste only, the Company of the Sable Star are one of the five controlling legions of Casino Town (the sixth legion are the Talar's palace guard). They have a straightforward approach, give them money or face extreme violence, nothing fancy, and they run their casinos, streets and fiefs round God Forgot with a brutal iron fist in an iron glove policy. The runes associated with the Company are Darkness and Law.

They also have a mercenary regiment available for overseas service, a mix of pikes and heavy crossbows that deploys in more or less static formations with a generous body of engineers to build fortifications.

The Company believes that any fight where you face into the sun will be lost and take care when setting up their formations that this is not a possibility. They will even retreat on a sunny day to avoid the possibility arising, and hire theist shamen to control the weather to ensure it is overcast on the day of battle.

They teach the Folk Magic spells Protection, Might, Bludgeon, Darkness and Shove.

Skills: Crossbowman combat style (includes Mace), Pikeman combat style (includes Mace), Lore (Strategy and Tactics), Endurance, Willpower, Athletics

Example Grimoire: Oblivion Awaits Us
'Oblivion Awaits Us', a series of meditations upon the nothingness that comes after death, how to avoid it and how to get as much wealth as possible before it comes. Written in Ingareen, many adherents memorise spells by rote learning from a 'reader' of the text. The sorcery spells are learned 'in order', so novices will learn Sense Silver first, then Bypass Armour etc. The runic associations are Death and Stasis.

The Trap Soul spell is used on souls of fellow followers of the 'Oblivion Awaits Us' philosophy to avoid them falling into utter nothingness. They are trapped in little stone figures, preferably a black stone like slate, black marble or basalt and are buried in secret unmarked locations for fear that evil sorcerers might unearth them and Tap them for power.

Special Power: Resist Discorporation – add 1/5 of the skill in Invoke (Oblivion Awaits Us) to any save vs any magical attack that tries to forcibly detach the spirit from the body.

Folk Magic: Appraise

Sorcery spells: Sense (Silver), Bypass Armour, Damage Resistance, Protective Ward, Trap Soul

Those who follow the book often believe that unless they put a handkerchief over their mouths when asleep their soul will leave their bodies and wander off in the night never to return.

The Ingareen and the Esvulari

The closest neighbours of the Ingareen are the Bandori tribe, who are Esvulari and follow the Aeolian Church. This church believes in the Invisible God and that Orlanth is his chief manifestation here on Glorantha with the many deities of the Heortish pantheon as Saints. The city of Refuge at the mouth of the Bandori River has a majority Ingareen population with a substantial Esvulari minority.

The Aeolian Church dates back to the First Age invasion of Arkat, but it got a big boost at the climax of the Iron Crusade when Orlanth himself manifested and personally slew Zistor the Machine God. Many previously skeptical Ingareen converted to Aeolianism on the spot. There was a bit of a civil war among what was left of the Ingareen population and lands on the Genertelan mainland and the islands of the eastern Choralinthor Sea were lost to the Talar, only the city of Refuge remaining out of these possessions.

Since then the Esvulari and Ingareen have both been treated with suspicion and mistrust by the theist majority in Heortland and have become more or less allies. Each suspects the other of rank heresy and probable insanity, but these days they only argue theology over a pint of ale rather than fight wars and will unite in the face of polytheist oppression.

Thursday 4 December 2014

The Uncanny Threat of the Morris

In 1644 Parliament banned Morris dancing. They banned a great deal else at that point as well such as maypoles, Church Ales and the other entertainments mentioned in the 'Book of Sports' reissued by King Charles in 1633. This book listed the pastimes permissible on a Sunday after church and was intended by King James, who first published the book in 1617, to stop everyone piling down to the alehouse as soon as the service was over by giving them something else to do. 

It also berated Catholics yet again for not attending C of E services and rebuked the Puritans for not allowing any pastimes on a Sunday. It did ban the most boisterous of games – bull and bear baiting, putting on comic 'interludes' and bowling – but allowed archery, dancing, leaping and vaulting, and allowed May-games, Morris dancing and maypoles.

But all this was too much like fun for the Puritans, who were later to go on and ban Christmas and all the other traditional church feast days in favour of once monthly 'Thanksgivings' and provoke anti-Parliamentarian riots.

But what is Morris dancing anyway? Why ban it? 

We are told it is English folk dancing performed on May day by middle aged blokes with beer bellies waving white hankies, wearing floral wreaths in their hats and bells on their legs. It is all a bit silly, but being traditional and usually accompanied by lots of strong beer to give the participants the confidence to make utter fools of themselves it is kept up regardless.

The Truth!

  • Morris dancing isn't traditional. The earliest records go back to the 15th century – old but not hoary pre-Christian old.

  • It isn't English. The name 'Morris' is a corruption of 'Moorish', ie North African, and related dances are found all over Europe in the 17th century and 'Moresco' dances are still performed in northern Spain today. Some routines bear a distinct resemblance to West African dances.

  • It isn't a 'folk' dance. It was originally performed by professional troupes for such august personages as King Henry VII and at feasts of the Goldsmith's Company of London. It is still a paid job in the 17th century. Cromwell made a speech in Parliament condemning it as a form of begging, the dancers picking up tips for performing, and the 'blackface' make up worn by some dancers, while it may be reference to the Moorish origins of the dance, may well also be a form of disguise so farm workers could hide the fact they were moonlighting as Morris men from their bosses.

The Inner Secrets of the Morris Revealed!

Any of the following may be true. On the other hand none may be, or perhaps they all are in some form or other.

  • It is a bit of drunken rural fun. The dances are easy enough to do and when it fell out of fashion amongst the wealthy in the 16th century the troupes went on tour round the country fairs and it just caught on.

  • It is a form of actual sorcery which enables a group of low level magicians to combine and magnify their power. Various spells are encoded as dances including Invisibility, Summon, Sacrifice and Protection from Evil. Not every troupe can do this, but those which have been infiltrated by witches covens can. Both men and women can do Morris dancing, though sides which are are male or are all female are more magically effective, especially if they corss dress as the opposite gender.

                                  (Sinister eh? You can see why it was banned...)

  • The Morris was originally brought to Europe when the Reconquista in Spain destroyed the cosmopolitan culture of Granada and the West Africans who performed the dances were forced to move on to pastures new – initially Italy, then the Holy Roman Empire and northern Europe and England. Strange old West African gods are invoked – the blackface isn't mere make-up or a disguise, it is an invocation of African animist spirits that may take control of a 17th century English dancer in a Voodoo possession, and one or two troupes still have the wooden masks used by the original pagan priests. The 'hobbies', the dancers who wear a costume based on a mythical beast can physically transform into that creature of legend and nightmare.

  • The Catholics have always been more relaxed about festivals and celebrations than the miserable Puritans – it is noted that during Elizabeth's reign Catholics sometimes betrayed themselves with the lavishness of their celebrations of Christmas, and while the sober Protestant advisers of Edward VI and Elizabeth advocated bans on Morris dancing and maypoles, those of Queen Mary allowed them. The Morris men are in fact Catholic plotters, a cunning way for Jesuits to travel the country openly. The 'fools' in ragged motley who often accompany the dances giving out farthings and sweets are in fact priests giving out Hosts, and each festival ends in a secret mass.

  • Most of the dances and songs off the Morris are jolly bucolic tales of ploughing and chasing farmer's daughters, but not all. There are sword and 'rapper' dances that have a more martial air. One, the stately Grenoside Sword Dance, is a tamed version of a rite of human sacrifice where the leader of the troupe is decapitated by the other six members to create magic swords. This has only been used once as far as the current holder of the secret, Gilbert Earnshaw, knows, when Alan de Moulton sacrificed himself to create magic blades intended to slay King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

  • The energetic Rapper sword dances use a flexible sword and are in fact a form of martial arts training. The 'Rapper' is a blunted practice form of the Indian Urumi sword and a master of these dances could, if he so chose, mince you in nothing flat. No one in the Royalist armies take these yokels seriously as yet and think they are a bunch of Durham peasants after a bit of the King's silver for nowt. However the Scots Covenanters who occupied the north west of England lost many men to mysterious stealthy attackers in the middle of the night, and though they never made the Morris dance connection (and let's face it, who the hell would?)

  • Morris dancing is more fun than it looks. Even the Undead have been known to participate.