When my 13th Age collaborator Jonathan wants to blog about game-stuff, he does it here. We're in the last four days of our 13th Age in Glorantha Kickstarter, and today Jonathan wants to talk about the best bad guys: worshipers of the Red Goddess. We'll be covering them as enemies in the 13th Age in Glorantha book. Those who want deep information on the history and philosophy that Jonathan loves will probably want to add a copy of the Glorantha Source Book to their Kickstarter loot.
Glorantha has the best villains. There are fearsome, human-eating trolls. There are venomous, regenerating, octopus-headed Chaos giants. But the top villain prize goes to the Lunar Empire and its plan for universal harmony—that is, world domination. Anyone who’s known me for five minutes knows that I adore irony and ambiguity, which is where the Lunars come in. To their enemies, they’re an abomination, but in their own eyes they’re just undertaking the thankless job of enlightening the world. The Lunar Empire recognizes its chief divine enemy in Orlanth, the supreme god of the PCs’ default culture. The Lunar Empire has what I’m looking for in my villains: sophisticated philosophy, good intentions, and dangerous Chaos magic that’s terrifying to the player characters.
The Red Goddess and Chaos
The chief goddess of the Lunars is Sedenya, the Red Goddess. A few hundred years ago, she was born as a human in the sun-worshiping, patriarchal culture north of Dragon Pass, where 13th Age in Glorantha is set. She grew in power until she achieved full godhood. Unlike the old gods who existed before time, Sedenya incorporates opposites, such as life and death. She even accommodates Chaos, the otherworldly force that seems bent on destroying reality. She tames it and trains it to her will. Most Chaos monsters are hideous abominations, but the Lunar elites are neatly dressed and well educated. To the Lunars, their ability to live in harmony with Chaos demonstrates the superiority of their Way. To everyone else, their truck with Chaos proves that the Red Goddess is nothing but one more Chaos god out to pervert and destroy the world. Sedenya now floats high above her empire as the Red Moon.
The Lunar Way
Sedenya teaches her followers to rise above their traditional ways and to embrace universal enlightenment. Each subverted culture keeps its customs and power structure, but the ruling elites are Lunar initiates with a cosmopolitan view of the universe. Since the Empire can annex a land without overthrowing that land’s traditional ways, it has been able to expand continuously. In Dragon Pass, the Orlanth-worshiping people of Tarsh were converted to the Lunar way. There’s something unnerving about an enemy that wins by subversion and perversion instead of merely destruction.
We all love underdogs, so a domineering empire makes a great enemy. The Lunar Empire has been subverting and conquering other people left and right, including lands where Orlanth used to be the main deity. The Lunar armies are bigger, better equipped, and better trained than anything the surrounding lands can muster. Cadres of Lunar magicians are specially trained for battle, making the Lunar armies the most magically powerful in the world. What’s worse is that they don’t want to destroy you outright. They want to break you and your people so that you submit to their enlightened oversight. Above the Lunar armies, contingents of magicians, and subjugated rulers are the enlightened Lunar elites who think they have everything figured out and that they’re better than everyone else. What’s not to hate?
In 13th Age in Glorantha, the PCs regularly enter the world of myth, where they protect the founding legends of their people from the incursions of Chaos. It’s difficult enough when you meet a legendary hero in a myth and they’ve been corrupted by Chaos, but it’s even worse when Lunar heroquesters are hacking their way into your people’s myths in order to make them compatible with the Lunar Way. Will the PCs’ home turf advantage be enough to let them stop the Lunars and their reality-twisting magic?
The Crimson Bat
To top it all off, the Lunars also have this giant Chaos demon bat monster with a dozen major eyes and hundreds of smaller ones. A small group of devoted and merciless magicians fly it around the provinces, where they feed rebels and other unfortunates to the Bat. It’s always hungry, and the souls of those devoured live in eternal torment within the Bat. I had the Bat show up in a RuneQuest campaign back in college. It was, at the time, the most terrible monster that had ever appeared in any of my RPG campaigns.
For me the delicious thing about the Lunars is that they are similar to modern secular humanists. They just want to spread enlightened harmony across the world. They help traditional people rise above their parochial and conflicting world views to join together as one. “We Are All Us,” say the Lunars. In particular, they have helped people overcome strongly patriarchal cultures and promoted liberty and higher status for women. With this enlightened view, people can even see that things they once thought were abominations are really just fine. The modern style of the Lunar Way means that these Chaos-worshiping imperialists would also make great PCs in a campaign that plays out from the Lunar point of view. My secret hope is that 13th Age in Glorantha is successful enough that Rob and I can do that project next.
--Jonathan Tweet, October 2014