So, the characters were sent on a quest without a map. They had to tie together the loose ends of a pretty unfocused myth. One without a central protagonist (Is it the clan? is it Orlanth? is it the Star Hero who stands guard?). The decisions made by the players would have had a long-term alteration of the clan. Hope the players didn’t mind doing “busy work” for a campaign that isn’t going to persist.
The clan had been haunted by traditional enemies using kinstrife magic. They summoned a demon who had clothed itself in the corpse of a slain dragon. The heroes drove off the Kinslayer band and the warrior, Handor, had used a cryptic birthmark on his chest as a totem for an exorcism. The elders of the clan had decided to follow Handor’s lead and take the fight right to the Kinslayers, and to bolster their chances they were to use something from their ancestral history to take on this ancestral enemy.
or, how the people persisted even when he went away.
• Orlanth won the love of one of the his brother Valind’s daughters, and tasted desire.
This first part of the myth was transposed with the second during the actual quest.
• Then he moved on to slay the Emperor to win Ernalda and learned what love is.
This was done first. Emerging from their clan’s ritual cave, the 3 heroes are urged to help with trouble at a great feasting hall. The Sun King is putting the rebellious children of Umath in line for ruining his big party.
The three heroes step to the Emperor and challenge him. He split into three, a warrior, a magician, and a poet. They all succede, and the cowering men and women are freed. Noone approached Orlanth but the poet sought Ernalda.
Meanwhile, the Kolat follower fulfilled stage #1 and dallied with the daughter of Valind.
All of the heroes expressed their opinions of what love was so I let them count as completion of the second stage.
• To heal the world he set off on his quest to recover the sun: this meant that he had to abandon his people.
This was tricky, as the heroes were setting off but had not “abandoned” the people. I set a scene where three women were lamenting the death of the sun and the coming of the cold. They refused to stay with them, but left a promise to provide them with some aid.
• In his Lord’s absence, Heort held the people together. Orlanth learned the importance of making blessed kings for his people.
Sooooooo vague. What is a heroquester to do. One of the players took the initiative and sought out a boy to lead the clan. Three boys were fighting, a weird kid was being set upon by an age mate, who was following the instructions of an older boy. When the middle child expressed remorse for what he was doing, the poet selected him as the one to be Heort while they/he/Orlanth was gone. The shamanistic dude made a promise that a holy sign would mark him out as a leader. In inscribed the kingly rune on the boys door as they departed. All the time, the honest thane laid rebukes and righteousness on the kids.
• And as the darkness got worse, Sedenor dove from the sky to drive Ves Vena and the others away from the people. Orlanth learned the need for allies.
The heroes met a bunch of drunk kin of Valind. Their sister’s shame and abandonment by the Orlanth(s) called for blood and to pay disgrace with disgrace. They included one who would become Ves Venna, patron of kinstrife, and are leery about engaging him directly. The Kolat follower with the “godspeaker ability” summoned a star down and his glow terrified the Valindir into leaving.
#Interlude#: Stepping Off of the Path
One of the characters mentioned the need to get to the underworld and thought about the Troll’s Peace ritual, a clan ability. That was my cue. Out of the ground crawled a number of huge trolls, blinded and hungry. They lamented being driven out of Wonderhome by the burning one. The warrior shaped some earth into the shapes of dwarves and elves and offered them to the trolls. A failure, which then prompted a further crisis: the trolls demanded some flesh as a payment for the deception. The godspeaker leaves his scrapbook of runes in the hands of a curious young male troll (good old Argan Argar) who holds it as security until the heroes bring back flesh as a suitable offering. [It came to me later: of the two women the heroes liberate in the underwold, one could go home bearing the message, the spark of hope, spoken of in the myth … the other would have ended up as the offering. But we never got to play out the return home).
• While his friends and allies defended his people, he had to venture in the otherworld. There, he encountered the child of his transgression with his niece. He tried to make peace with her but failed, and she went spinning off into darkness and terror.
Was only loosely framing scenes by this point of the evening. The players were pushing their agenda though, so the session didn’t fall apart. The heroes spotted three young women in the cave. One with white, frosty hair, one with red hair, and one brunette. The ask the heroes to judge which was the most beautiful. Unsure of what to do, the godspeaker spoke kindly to his daughter. Which was reconciliation. Which was not the point. So one of the other heroes pointed out that he was the one who disgraced her mother. The child sped away in revulsion, the godspeaker was cursed with “Women Do Not Trust My Words” as a flaw. But the failure allowed completion of the stage.
• Before he departed on his great Lightbringer’s quest to recover the sun, he sent a gift back with a messenger to reward Sedenor for taking care of his people. It was a light in the darkness, a spark of hope to old onto while he went further into the land of the dead.
Man, don’t write a heroquest with a vague ending. Or be prepared to improvise when the heroes break out into new directions. The warrior type remembered that they hadn’t sent a gift back to Sedenor. I immediately thought of the founding moment of the “Old Stones” and the fact that they trace their ancestry to a marriage between Sedenor and a horse-taming woman. So I gave one of the women horse hooves and the players selected her as both the messenger and the gift they would send back.
[What kind of heteronormative patriarchal biases are involved in the myths I have consumed — time and time again these narrative revolve on the exchange of women. I know that it is in genre but how to break the hold that ancient script has on our storymaking?]
#Interlude#: Stepping Off of the Path — Again
Things were getting jumbly. What was the gift, or the spark? Who was the messenger. The onus was on the players to provide some unity to fragmentary folktales. But they were getting separated and wandering off in different directions. So I just added more complications. The godspeaker talked of looking for secret runes in the cave. I put a beast rune, which opened into a dragon’s eye, and which then began communicating with the godspeaker about his desire for secret knowledge. Those old dragons, tempting mortals with forbidden illumination! The dragon promised to let the heroes out IF they were to free him of Iskandihrr, the spirit of kin betrayal that was attempting seize him and use him for her purposes. In other words, the hero was being asked to prevent the birth of the demonic/draconic spirit that had been plaguing them. He did so, and moved on to a final confrontation with his daughter.
# Stumbling Towards an Ending #
Step 7 was the Heroquest challenge: the Orlanth (whoever was in that role) had to take a failure-related flaw in order to wrest the power from Iskandihrr, who became the demon tormenting the tribe. The godspeaker did pursue his daughter and used wind spirits to overmaster her rage, burning it down to a tame blue flame. What that represented was a “Refusal to Give Up” or “Righteous Indignation in the Face of Defeat.” He wraped it up in his cap, which in the real world was a rag, but in the otherworld was really a scrap from Ernalda’s Rug of Fate.
WE didn’t get to the final moment and crossing back. Discussion of what the flame represented devolved into a back and forth between some vapid hippy-dippy stuff on my end, to dirty jokes about flaming wands and big rune sticks.
But some kind of magic to use against their traditional enemies, and exploration of the nature of kinstrife, were obtained.
Thank you James, Peter, Kole, and the original crew with Connie, Dimitri, and Michael.
And Greg Stafford, Robin Laws, Jeff Richard, Rick Meints.
And Claude-Levi Strauss, J. Dumenzil, Joseph Campbell, Northrop Frye, G. Genette, Ron Edwards, Robert Price, Mircea Eliade, C. Jung, S. Freud.