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Earth Season 1626: Into the Yellow Hills

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Gallowglass

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For our most recent session, the players took the reins and decided to visit the neighboring Balkoth Tribe. I hadn't really planned for this, but thankfully I had some good material to fall back on from Hearts in Glorantha, with the Balkoth article by Stuart Mousir-Harrison. Erindros' player could not make it for this session either, but since he had a wedding to plan, it was easy to explain his absence. 

Friendly Neighbors

I usually start off a new season by sharing the local news from passing merchants and travelers. The biggest news came from Boldhome. For weeks after the Battle of Queens, Kallyr had lain in state at the Royal Palace, her body preserved with magic. Finally, in frustration, Leika Blackspear of the Colymar Tribe decided to torch Kallyr's body, and leave the city with her entourage (these events are covered in various books, including the core rulebook). The PC's reacted with unease at this news, until a messenger from Blackmane arrived. The messenger explained that the Dundealos would stay strong even if the Kingdom of Sartar disintegrated, thanks to their close alliance with the Pol-Joni Tribe. 

Earth Season rolled through, with the harvest being meager, but free of raids or strange occurrences. The players reviewed some of the recent problems affecting the clan, and pondered their next course of action. 

  • Bandit activity in the Verge was getting worse. A gift from the Bardori to the Hyaling clan had recently been stolen. 
  • The Wozer clan of the Balkoth had successfully repelled all counter-raids after stealing cattle from everyone south of the Willow Beck river. Many Bardori thanes still agitated against them. 
  • Many Storm Bull warriors from the Valley were heading to Heortland to fight the Scorpion menace. 

Egajia meditated on the problem of the Wozer clan. They had always been troublesome neighbors, with a long history of slights, raiding, and land grabs. However because she was adopted into the clan during the Dundealos exile period, she didn't have quite the same animosity towards them as her kinfolk. Their behavior since the Dragonrise had been unusually hostile, and she sensed that something spiritual might be the cause of this. She made up her mind to speak with the Wozer's wyter spirit, and convinced Garkar and He Who Spits at the Devil to go with her.

Here are some maps to get a sense of where the Balkoth live (the left one is from the AA Atlas, which is why it still includes the New Lunar Temple). 

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None of the PC's could remember what the Wozer spirit was, or where it was kept. Egajia tried speaking with the Bardori's chief trader, Stolf Argin's Son, who visited the Wozer occasionally. He was uninterested in helping them, as he suspected that Egajia was trying to get neighborly with the Balkoth clans. He explained that the Balkoth were once the wealthiest tribe in the Swenstown confederation, but since the occupation had become the poorest, losing all of their cattle and gaining nothing but filthy goats. The Wozer were the poorest clan of the tribe, and their constant cattle raiding was because no-one would willingly trade with them from the Valley. He wanted to keep things this way, as "weak Balkoth mean strong Dundealos in the Swenstown markets."  

Egajia left in frustration, and decided to visit the Wozer chieftain without any background info. The plan hatched by the three heroes was that they would openly approach the Wozer patrols, and announce that they were investigating rumors of Chaos activity nearby. Because most clans are eager to dispel any rumors of harboring Chaos, this would hopefully get them an audience with the chieftain. They crossed the Willow Beck going north, and immediately met some hostile weaponthanes on horses, demanding to know their business. Garkar did some fast talking (unsuccessfully), and then HWSAD relied on his intimidating bluster to demand an audience with chieftain Orvengar. The patrolmen acquiesced, not wanting trouble from Storm Bull. 

The party passed through the stunted, yellow pastures of the Wozer. Gaunt herders tended to goats (gasp!), sheep, and the occasional cow. The Wozer's harvest was clearly even more pathetic than their neighbors'. Egajia was not bothered by the omnipresent goats, but I really tried to underscore the revulsion that Garkar and HWSAD would feel at confronting these beasts. I described them as "basically broos with four legs, playing with children." The PC's also noticed a lack of young men or women, with many folk being older, or just children. The chieftain's hall was located on high ground, near a rocky outcrop of sandstone. Chieftain Orvengar was a twisted old man, nearly crippled from falling off a horse many years ago. His hall was filled with cows stolen from various clans. He was in the process of milking one of them when the heroes entered. He greeted them with jeers and derision at having their beloved cows stolen. 

Egajia did the talking, while the other two fumed at the obnoxious old man. She accused Orvengar and his people of betraying all of Sartar with their raids and selfishness, and also said that he brought Chaos upon everyone with his reckless leadership. Orvengar denied that Chaos had visited his people, and said that raiding was the right of any Heortling clan. Egajia then suggested that the Wozer clan looked "sick" to her, and asked when the last time the chieftain had spoken with the clan's wyter. This seemed to catch him off guard, and after more pressing, he admitted that he had not consulted the wyter for several seasons. Egajia asked to join him in consulting the wyter, and promised to help him "overcome his clan's sickness." He agreed to this, although they were accompanied by armed thanes. 

They went further up into the Yellow Hills, to a hilltop crowned with broken sandstone. There they found a hidden statue of a grotesque-looking man, with massive hands, feet, and genitals. As Orvengar prayed to the statue, it became animated, leaping about and making faces at the chieftain. It excoriated him for not making proper sacrifices, and ignoring it's advice. After many apologies, Egajia asked the statue what troubles affected the Wozer clan that they could help alleviate. The statue grinned and said-

"Change is coming to the Yellow Hills, and our people must embrace it! But they cannot become strong again until they remove all traces of the shameful past. We must cleanse ourselves of past stains, and bring justice to the one who brought that shame unto us!"

After this, the statue went silent again. Egajia was not sure what all of this meant. Orvengar explained that the statue was talking about the Balkoth's former king, Angtyr of the Horn. While he didn't know about "embracing change," he knew that Angtyr unquestionably was the tribe's greatest shame. He was a Lunar hostage, who returned to rule the tribe during the Occupation. He brought foreign goat cults with him, along with the Seven Mothers, and lived a debauched lifestyle while his people starved. After the Dragonrise (which he managed to avoid), he became a bandit and disappeared into the hills. While Angtyr had not come from the Wozer, he had targeted them for reprisals due to their rebellious disposition. The people longed to see him brought to justice, but so far he had escaped discovery from the new Balkoth king. Egajia then offered help join the hunt for Angtyr, if it would help the Wozer. Orvengar said this would help to build friendship between Bardori and Wozer, as well as friendship between tribes. But the Balkoth had already been hunting Angtyr for many seasons, with no luck. He also said there was no chance of anyone getting their stolen cows back. 

"A Goat King, for a Goat People"

The chieftain offered the PC's hospitality for the night. They decided to ask around among the Wozer folk about Angtyr, and see if they could learn anything interesting. They didn't pick up much (bad rolls again) other than what they already knew. One bit of info that Orvengar shared was that the two "goat cults" Angtyr had introduced to the Balkoth were still going strong in his absence. These included Gerendetho, an Earth god from the Lunar province of Kostaddi, and Uryarda, the Goat Mother. Angtyr himself was a priest of Gerendetho, embodying his more violent and hedonistic traits. The Gerendetho cult had been outlawed by the new king, but Uryarda's was still going strong. The people found that the goats did well in the dry Yellow Hills, and many admired their hardiness. There were also rumors that Angtyr still had supporters among both of these cults. 

The heroes decided to try something that would get some attention. They improvised a song satirizing Angtyr, and sang it to an assembled crowd of farmers. Their rolls were successful (and their lyrics were spot-on), so after a few hours the whole clan was singing it. I can't remember the lyrics now, but they involved Angtyr's alleged flatulence, and something about "blowing his own horn." While they had their crowd laughing away, they noticed a group of women at the edge were clearly not amused, and saw them slip away into the night. Garkar successfully followed them without being seen. He observed the women entering a large stead, and hunkered down to wait for anything interesting to happen. He heard loud arguments from within, and eventually a man stormed out of the stead. He mounted a horse, and surprisingly, the horse took off into the air on it's own, galloping as if the air were solid ground. 

Garkar, as a former outlaw, recognized the signature spell of the god of outlaws, Gagarth, the Wild Hunter. He assumed this man must be a bandit, and possibly might have a connection with Angtyr, the local bandit king. He heard the women refer to the man as "Destor," and also heard mention of "Darrold's Hold". He returned to the others to share this information, and also let Orvengar know. The chieftain told them that the women they saw were of the clan's Uryarda cult, and he would question them himself. There was no-one in the clan named Destor who fit the man's description, so he was likely an outlaw. Darrold's Hold was a hill fort owned by the neighboring Daldari clan, and the current seat of the Balkoth king, Orkarl Windstorm. 

The party decided to visit Darrold's Hold and find the mysterious Destor. Orvengar offered the services of one of his thanes, an Odaylan hunter and tracker named Hiark. He would guide them to Darrold's Hold (only a day's journey), and also make an introduction to king Orkarl. The heroes set off. They were going into the Yellow Hills, which were the traditional lands of the Balkoth. Dry, dusty, and rocky, the hills make for poor grazing, and are part of the reason for the tribe's poverty. The terrain is more like Prax than Sartar. I showed the players some random googled images to give them a sense of the place.    

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After a few hours of travel on a herder's path, they entered a dry ravine (classic ambush spot). Egajia sent her fetch away from her body to get a bird's eye view of the land. She noticed two horses tied up near the edge of the ravine, and a man hiding nearby in the brush, readying a sling. Garkar noticed him as well, and warned everyone to take cover. The party cast a few spells in preparation, and then arrows and slingstones started to fly from both sides of the ravine. What followed was a short but bloody battle. HWSAD rode his antelope up the edge of the ravine, trying to close distance with the one attacker they had seen. Garkar and Egajia ran up on foot, he with his shield up, and she casting Disruption spells. Their guide Hiark stayed back and fired arrows. Her fetch continued to float above the battle, trying to locate other attackers with Second Sight. Egajia took an arrow in the arm from behind, Garkar was hit in the leg, and was forced to stop and heal himself. They noticed two other bandits, one a tall, muscular man with a bow, and the other a short woman, who began running for her horse after seeing HWSAD charge in.

The first bandit they had seen rose up, and drew a two-handed sword. He was well-armored and tattooed in Death runes, marking him as a Humakt initiate. He whispered prayers to his sword, and closed in. HWSAD caught up to him first, and cast Berserker on himself. He then prepared to leap from his steed, but the Humakti got the first blow in. He cut deeply into HWSAD's leg, and had he not been raging it would have been severed clean. The extra hit points allowed him to keep it attached, and the Bull's rage kept him from going into shock, but he was now crippled. He fell to the ground. Thankfully, he could still swing his maul from the ground, and rolled a special success against the Humakti. As usual, he dealt a massive blow and rolled well for damage. The other warrior was crippled as well, and sank to the ground screaming over his crushed leg. 

Garkar let loose a javelin and impaled the big fellow, also through his leg. He then ran up to heal HWSAD, who rose and finished off both bandits. Arrows continued to fly from the other side of the ravine. Garkar took one to the head, but his helmet stopped it from doing serious damage. Egajia meanwhile was pursuing the fleeing woman. She attempted to cast her go-to Sleep spell, but the woman had fairly strong Countermagic up. The bandit leaped onto her horse, and it took off into the air, rising quickly. Egajia sent her bound Wraith after the bandit. Before it even caught up, Hiark, who had not accomplished much up to this point, let loose a well-aimed arrow. We ruled that a ranged attack from below would most likely hit the horse, and... it did. The arrow went through the poor horse's skull, and it died in mid-air. Rather than crash to the ground, it slowly sank down. Egajia's wraith enveloped the bandit, and began sucking her very life force way. The woman screamed for mercy, and then jumped free from her falling horse. She offered herself up as a prisoner. Everyone then looked over and saw another bandit, an impala rider by his steed and stature, take off into the air from the other side of the ravine. He was heading in the direction of Darrold's Hold. 

That's all! Pretty good session, considering I improvised almost the entire thing. With our next session, we will go deeper into the wild parts of Balkoth country, in search of Angtyr of the Horn. Thanks for reading!

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