The Salt Man — MOTM #22

Hey all, this month’s issue managed to come out a bit early for once—early enough that it’s still October when writing this post! Huzzah!

October’s issue of Monster of the Month is titled The Salt Man. Like last year’s October issue, The Salt Man presents a horror-themed monster for the gamemaster.

The Salt Man is a creature which should be impossible. It is the birth of a barren womb. It is the seed of an impotent sire. It is dryness and drought, a walking extinction which pretends to live. This issue of MOTM describes a Praxian horror, its legends, and the rites performed to appease it.

You can check it out over on the Jonstown Compendium.

The Salt Man began germinating in my mind while reading Luka Rejec’s Ultraviolet Grasslands & the Black City, published by Exalted Funeral Press. This psychedelic tabletop Oregon Trail put my Glorantha-brain to work thinking about Prax. In particular, I felt intrigued by how UVG handles travel; it emphasizes the time between locations, rather than the distance. This made my brain itch.

When I’ve previously done travelogues in RuneQuest, I’ve started from the distance traveled table in the Homelands chapter of the core rules, and then gone to the Argan Argar Atlas to roughly work out distance traveled, and days of the journey. This can be tiresome, especially if you’re working with these tools right at the table. What my mind imagined instead was essentially a time-oriented map of Prax. One goal was to basically do the footwork for travel time in advance, making it simpler for adventurers to move around the chaparral “game board.” Add in short descriptions of the oases and other points of interest, and what you’d have isn’t exactly a Praxian “campaign,” but the scaffolding for one.

But I’d need a few more detailed locations to work with too—something so that the gamemaster could pick up this hypothetical book and actually play right away, rather than build their own content upon the scaffold. That’s what led me to the Dead Place. It’s a location which just screams “adventure!” for me. The Dead Place also has the advantage that I couldn’t find much more about it beyond the blurb in The Guide to Glorantha. Figuring out how to fit something with the Dead Place into my workflow, though, meant slotting it into Monster of the Month. That meant I needed a monster.

Enter the Salt Man.

One powerful image which helped me here is that of the thunderclast in the novel The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson. In that book, an evil spren—a type of spirit in the novel’s setting, Roshar—enters into the stone landscape, and pulls a physical form up out of the rock. That image, of moving stone pulled out of the land, led me forward. Using terrestrial analogues to Glorantha, I leaned on the desert of the American Southwest. The heat of Death Valley, combined with the salt pans of Utah, and some additional “walking dunes” out of the Sahara melded together in my vision of the Dead Place’s sunken, arid valley.

I wasn’t worried about specific geology. Rather, I tried to focus on what I felt the paradigmatic fantasy desert required. Then, it was time to toss my imagination into the Glorantha blender, and see what popped out.

The key myth already established about the Dead Place is that it’s where the Storm Bull fell, while fighting against the Devil, Wakboth. Storm Bull’s wife, the animal goddess Eiritha, gave him power to recover and keep fighting, drawn from the ground where he fell. This part of the land was drained of magic and fertility, creating the desert later known as the Dead Place. Another important myth about Prax is that it was once a lush and fertile land, the “garden” of Genert, the great Land God which Glorantha’s northern continent is still named after, even following his death.

What idea emerged from this blender? Basically, a ghost of Genert. Something left behind, a warped piece of fertility tied to the Dead Place’s nature. I knew its physical form early—a creature which pulls itself up in a new form out of a salt pan—but it took me a few drafts until I discovered that the Salt Man is in essence an “anti-spirit” or an “un-spirit.” It’s like the spren and the thunderclast, but without a spren.

I liked this. What made the “horror” of this creature feel especially “Gloranthan” to me is that the Salt Man let me fiddle around with notions of life, anti-life, and Chaos. In Glorantha, Chaos is sort of this rabid, anti-existence force (at least, in most versions—but I don’t want to go into that rabbit hole right now). The Salt Man feels like it is a creature which should be Chaotic, because it breaks the normal rules. It doesn’t have a soul, a source of movement—yet it still moves. That’s when I knew it must not be Chaotic.

To quote the issue:

The Salt Man is the echo of dead Genert … Just as when a person shouts down a deep canyon, and the rocks throw back their voice, so too the Salt Man is the Dead Place’s response to the turmoils of the God Time.

This concept of an “echo” is the heart of the Salt Man. This combination of natural and unnatural, of myth and memory, is what made the monster’s concept become concrete in my mind.

The Salt Man was the first notable casualty of my choice to trim down the size of MOTM. Originally, I planned to write a simple Dead Place sandbox as part of this issue, back when I was looking at about 20 pages per issue, like with the Rune Masters mini-series. Later, I’d take The Salt Man and use its content as part of that larger Praxian project, perhaps revised and expanded. However, I felt I couldn’t justify continuing to put that level of energy and length into MOTM, as I’ve discussed before. Thus, I cut the Dead Place sandbox, and revised the text to publish The Salt Man in its current state.

My working draft of a Dead Place hexcrawl map, traced from Chaosium’s Argan Argar Atlas. The terrains were my own invention.

Cut content included ruined locations from the days of Genert’s civilization, rules for exploring the Dead Place, adventure seeds to chuck players into the desert, and a table of strange treasures or discoveries.

1A gigantic carving of a Praxian herd beast. Only part emerges from the desert; just the head, or a pair of legs, showing.
2The wind blows sand away, revealing a weathered frieze of herd animals grazing. They seem to move each time the wind blows. If the adventurers visit the frieze multiple times, its animals aren’t in the same place. Should someone risk studying the relief for three days, with a successful INT×5 roll they gain +3D6% to their Homeland Lore (Prax) skill.
3Strange tools of purple glass hidden among the rocks, shaped the same as the stone knives and grindstones used by the nomads. Beautiful.
4An ancient corpse, mummified under the arid desert. Its clothes are unfamiliar, but its face is like that of an ancient member of the Oasis People.
5One viridian scale from a lizard or serpent, or maybe even a wyrm. Animal Lore or Draconic Lore might tell the adventurer more.
6Here the sand turns black. If collected and brought out of the desert, it will generate the Dead Place’s magical effects if sacrificed blood. This costs points of CON from one of the adventurers. The black sand’s unnatural aura fills a radius of 10 meters, and lasts for one day per point of CON sacrificed. This characteristic damage can’t be healed, although the adventurer can increase their CON through training.
The Treasures of a Forgotten Time table, from my first draft of The Salt Man.

Ultimately, I don’t plan to abandon this incomplete work forever. The Dead Place was interesting to explore, and I still like that idea of a Praxian “scaffold” book to help gamemasters connect adventures together. But, I already have a full plate of project ideas, so haven’t the foggiest clue when I’ll explore the idea further.

What’s Next?

First of all, I’m doing a flash sale today on last year’s Halloween issue of MOTM, The Troupe of Terror! This issue presents a gang of six mystic murderous clowns to screw with your adventurers. They’re traveling entertainers, which should make them plenty easy to slot in if you’re looking for a quick one-shot session to celebrate the holiday! The issue is 50% off, but you’ll need to use the above link to get the discount code—if you just go to DriveThruRPG’s site without it, you’ll see the normal price.

Second, I’m happy to share that November’s issue of MOTM will be another collaboration. Without revealing all the details, I’m working with a friend to publish his version of a maniacal Mostali machine. Titled Burning Engines, this issue should give dungeon-loving gamemasters a few fun toys.

Finally, when not working on monthly issues I’ve been working on… the end-of-the-year issue! Like last year’s The Quacken, this one’s going to be a doozy. I’m still hammering away at the first draft, and I’m looking forward to what y’all think of it. It will probably include a longform cult writeup, the description of a temple where Animal People and humans worship in sort-of-Harmony, and a full-length adventure tentatively titled To Hunt a God.

Until next time, then!

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