Runequest Thursday #20: Cult of the Bloody Tusk!

Clint Staples

One of the old school organizations of Glorantha are the Tusk Riders. Bestial and savage, they charge their equally bloodthirsty mounts into battle for blood and sacrifice. They are often viewed as Runequest Orcs, and are generally depicted as tusked like their giant boar mounts, and are thought to be an improbable crossbreed of human and troll.

One of the old school organizations [perhaps dis-organizations is a better term in this case] of Glorantha are the Tusk Riders. Bestial and savage, they charge their equally bloodthirsty mounts into battle for blood and sacrifice. They are often viewed as Runequest Orcs, and are generally depicted as tusked like their giant boar mounts, and are thought to be an improbable crossbreed of human and troll.

I never liked that interpretation. But Tusk Riders are WAAAAAY too good a threat and monster type to toss out with the trash. They do not make good neighbors, but they are a terrific threat to the ambitions of player characters everywhere. So I reworked them for my game. So I present the first in a short series on the Tusk Riders - this time the write up for the Cult of the Bloody Tusk, which tells you everything you need to know if you want to become one of these psychotic maniacs.


The Cult of the Bloody Tusk
The Tusk Riders worship Dagor [Bloody Tusk], a demon. The cult functions as a spirit cult, and doubtless would have collapsed long ago as such cults often do, but for the special bonus that Dagor makes available to all Tusk Riders when they become initiates – A Tusker to ride.

Runes: The Cult of the Bloody Tusk is associated with the Runes Death, Disorder and Beast.

Lay Membership: There are no lay members of this cult. Those without sufficient dedication for initiation are sacrificed, their corpses thrown to the Tuskers.

Requirements for Initiation: Initiates, henceforth known within and without the cult as Tusk Riders, must have a weapon attack skill, and Riding at 60%, plus three other skills at 60%, none of which may be knowledge skills. They must undergo the painful and prolonged Sigil Rite than includes the burning of the Tusker binding sigil into their flesh. This may be accomplished with a successful CONx2 + POWx2 or less on d100. Further, the prospective initiate must prove their dedication to the cult by formally severing any ties to other cults that they may already have. If this incurs the wrath of spirits of reprisal [as is often the case when abandoning initiate status in another cult], Dagor will lend his aid to the initiate if they are brave throughout the Sigil Rite, and abandon those who fail to the tender mercies of whatever spirits they have betrayed.

Duties of Initiates: Initiates must devote 75% of their time following in the horde of their ranking Chieftain [see below]. 50% of any plunder or pay their receive must go to the cult and ultimately to Dagor. Tusk Riders must strive to display the savage bloodthirstiness of their patron demon whenever possible, and must participate in blood sacrifice to Dagor at least once per season.

‘Benefits’ of Initiation: Initiates may begin as human or troll or any other race, but bonding with the Tusker alters them. Over the first few months a rider’s skin darkens becoming leathery and tough, granting 1 point of armor. Their eyes lighten to a pale yellow, and their upper and lower canines lengthen, their ears become more pointed and bestial. They gain +2 STR and +2 CON at the expense of -2 INT and -2 CHA. It is possible that there is an attendant personality change, but since most who undergo the ritual of Initiation were psychopaths and murderers beforehand, it is difficult to say with certainty.

A tusker is a demon that is bound to the rider. If the rider is killed, the tusker dissipates in a cloud of oily smoke. Each initiate bears an elaborate mark permanently incised and burned into their chest that acts as the binding sigil – a stylized symbol of interwoven tusks and fangs. If a tusker is slain and the rider survives, in addition to brutal mistreatment and derision from his companions, a rider must go through lengthy rituals of penitence to be granted another.

Tusk Riders may take training, and use any cult credit as payment, in Weapon Skills, Riding, and the Cult Skills of Torture and Appease Dagor. The degree of discount a Chieftain might grant a hordesman or woman is dependent on their savagery and their recent deeds [which may be abstracted as equal to POW as a Percentage, +/- 20% depending on whether their recent deeds have been sufficiently bloody, as determined by the chieftain].

Dagor grants battle magic to Tusk Riders at the cost of 1 Permanent POW per spell point learned. When a Tusk Rider wishes to learn a spell he must appease Dagor with a successful skill check [modified by +20% if she has included a blood sacrifice in the attempt]. If the skill is a success, Dagor is appeased and teaches the initiate the spell for the requisite POW cost. If the skill is a failure, Dagor takes the POW and does not teach the spell. The following spells are always available, and Appeasment rolls are unnecessary, though blood sacrifice is still appreciated: Bestial Enhancement, Demoralize, Fanaticism, Vigor, and the special cult spell Agony [see below].


Requirements for Rune Level:
A prospective Rune Level of Dagor [called a Chieftain], must have been a Tusk Rider for five years, must possess 5 skills at 90%, which must include a weapon attack skill, Riding, Appease Dagor, and Torture, and may not include any other knowledge skills.

Duties of a Chieftain: Chieftains must epitomize the bloody, savagery of Dagor whenever possible, and must personally torture or sacrifice a sentient creature in Dagor’s name at least once per season. Finally, the Chieftain must provide for his horde to the best of his ability. It is considered perfectly acceptable to the cult to use the 50% of their loot or earnings that initiates must contribute to the cult to aid in doing this. Finally, Chieftains ensure regular sacrifices to Dagor. Often, Tusk Riders hire out to employers that are not concerned about collateral sacrifice and bloodshed in order to accomplish these aims.

Benefits of Chieftainship: In addition to mastery over a horde of maniacal killers, Chieftains can attune Iron armor or weapons if they can find them. In addition, the bond between Chieftain and tusker becomes stronger. In addition to the Tusker acting in all ways as an allied spirit to the Chieftain, the Chieftain’s death does not result in the Tusker being banished, as is the case with normal Tusk Riders. In such a case, the spirit of the chieftain infuses the Tusker, and may be placed back into the corpse of the Chieftain with a successful blood sacrifice and attendant Appease Dagor check, through a limited form of Demonic Intervention [See Cult Magic]. Select hordesmen, known as the Deathbringers, are sworn to collect the body and arms of the Chieftain, and return them and the Tusker to a place where the ritual can be performed. 

Relations with other cults, and non-Tusk Riders: The cult is extremely bloody, requiring regular brutal sacrifice and torture. This often makes Tusk Riders the enemies of any other folk in a region, hunted and feared by turns, but they will eagerly work as mercenaries for anyone who can provide them with regular victims. Many beastmen are particular enemies of the tusk riders, hating them for their perversion of the beast rune and the fact that their behavior turns so many against beastmen generally. Of course any Humakti will do their utmost to destroy an undead Chieftain.

Cult Magic: Other than special Demonic Interventioin for the Chieftain, the Cult of the Bloody Tusk does not confer Rune Magic. It does offer the following Cult Special Battle Magic spell:


[Instant, Magnitude 1, Progressive, Caster must dedicate a single Action per round to further its magnitude]

If the target’s POW is overcome, it suffers an immediate 1d3 damage to a random location [1d20], and loses the use of that location for his or her next action. Each Magnitude subjects the target to another contest of POW and the listed effects on following rounds. Thus a Magnitude 4 spell would cost 4 POW and last for 4 rounds, subjecting the target to 4 POW vs. POW rolls to avoid the Agony.

If the Head, Abdomen or Chest is rolled, the character is overwhelmed by the pain and loses his action.


Chieftain Demonic Intervention: During any blood sacrifice, a Chieftain may select one of his hordesmen [almost always some of his most favored and experienced killers] as a Deathbringer. The Chieftain then grants 1 permanent POW to the new Deathbringer, and casts another permanent POW into the Abyss to Dagor. Each Deathbringer selected and desecrated in this way immediately gains 5% in a chosen weapon attack skill and in the Appease Dagor Skill. Henceforth, they may paint their faces with the white skull of the Deathbringers.

Deathbringers have the duty to retrieve the Chieftain’s body from wherever it lies, and take it and the tusker in which the chieftain’ spirit is now resident, to a place of sacrifice. Then, all Deathbringers may work together to cast Appease Dagor [at the highest level of the skill, +10% per additional Deathbringer, and +10% per blood sacrifice]. If they succeed, each Deathbringer casts the permanent POW point granted from their Chieftain to Dagor, imploring him to return the Chieftain to this world. If the rite succeeds, the body rises with the chieftain’s spirit in place, at which time the Chieftain must roll POW x3. On a success he has returned undiminished by his death. If she fails, she returns to an undead body, but otherwise unaffected by her time incorporate. The body has all of the same attributes that it had previously but detects as undead, and can be repulsed by the Death Rune.


Next Time: Stats for Tusk Riders and Their Mounts