Selkana's Saga #3: “Help I’ve Joined a Cult": Practical Advice For the New Initiate
Selkana’s Saga is a new Chaosium blog series by Ellie and Scott Akers, following a long-format roleplaying campaign using the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha system.
Also see part one, Telling Diverse Stories with Role Playing
and part two, How setting drives the story, and a crash course on Esrolia
Scott: At the start of our adventure Ellie and I were not entirely sure who the characters of Selaka’s Saga were going to be. RuneQuest’s family history generator, and selecting runes told us a lot about the histories and personalities of our characters. However, in Glorantha no trait is as influential as one’s cult. Understanding Glorantha’s cult structure is vital to visualizing your character’s roles and place in this society.
Ellie: So why does your cult matter so much?
Scott: Your cult matters partly because it provides extensive practical benefits, partly because it supports certain social roles, and partly because it marks you out for cultural stereotypes. When you meet someone in Glorantha, the first thing you notice is their cult, followed by their nation, tribe and clan. Being a cult initiate just shouts at people that “this is the sort of person I am.”
Ellie: Kitha is the best example here because she is in the most extreme cult. As a worshiper of Humakt, the god of death and severance, everyday people simply don’t want to interact with her. They respect her skills as a warrior, but might also cross the street to avoid meeting her. In game, this has interesting effects. It socially isolates her and makes her even more dependent on Selkana.
Scott: It’s also a direct expression of Kitha’s tragic past. Kitha’s entire clan was wiped out in the wars that wracked Dragon Pass. Before that, she was was on the path to join her clan’s warriors, probably as an initiate to Orlanth (via the goddess Vinga). She still would have been a fighter, but she would have had kin and comfort. When Kitha initiated to Humakt her last ties to her family were cut, both socially and magically. It must have been a bittersweet release to let go of that deeply painful connection.
Ellie: So Kitha’s cult affects her narratively, but there are some mechanical things that can crop up too. We give her bonuses to intimidate people, and her dedication to honor makes it harder for her to resist some fights.
Selkana gets the complete opposite reaction from people. Where Kitha is shunned, Selkana is greeted with open arms. As an assistant priestess to the earth goddess Ernalda – one that can directly trace her lineage to the goddess herself – Selkana is viewed as the walking embodiment of harmony and fertility.
Scott: They make an interesting pair. There’s a tension there. On one hand, it’s very proper for an Ernaldan to have a dangerous person at their beck and call. Ernalda is up to her eyebrows in protectors. Having Kitha, a top-tier warrior, affirms Selkana’s authority. On the other hand, Ernalda is a goddess of life and abundance, and is naturally at odds with Humakt, the god of death. Just the proximity inherent in Kitha’s role as Selkana’s bodyguard is socially uncomfortable. Much more serious is that Kitha and Selkana are lovers. The same-sex relationship isn’t a problem; it’s their opposing cults that makes it taboo. Kitha in particular is fighting an uphill battle against her cult’s values.
Ellie: The social implications of their relationship are so complicated that it probably deserves it’s own post. It’s a wonderful metaphor for real life too, but in the interest of brevity, just know that they have some real problems to work past.
While Selkana and Kitha’s cults have strong story implications, Laak’s cults have really interesting things to say about him as well.
Scott: Laak probably would have been a ranger in other settings. Stealthy? Shoots things with bows? Animal companion? Yeah, he’s a ranger. In RuneQuest, however, there are no less than four different gods suited to that role.
Ellie: But he’s more than just a ranger. He’s not your local reliable hunter. He’s exploratory, a playboy and not tied to any specific community.
Scott: The choice of Yinkin, god of hunting, cats, and rootlessness, has practical benefits for Laak’s career, to be sure, but also reflects his outlook on life. In many ways Yinkin is a god of animalistic detachment and emotional immaturity. Laak, disaffected from his family and adrift in a world in crisis, has relied on that detachment to keep himself safe and fed. But his unexpected involvement with Selkana’s party pulls him out of that isolation. As play goes on, I expect that Laak will find himself more and more drawn to the other cult that he’s initiated to, that of Yinkin’s more responsible older brother, Orlanth the Storm King.
Ellie: So the choice of cult is far more than selecting a character class. It’s not just their job. It defines who they are, their personalities, their opportunities, and how the rest of the world views them. That can provide wonderful story opportunities during play. Next time we will dive into the campaign proper and begin our journey to Boldhome!
Character Portraits by Kalin Kadiev