The Grey Ones
Sveas is represented by the color white, cold metal, ice and the heart.
In order to enter the Prayer state, an adherent of the Grey Ones must do one of the following:
Many modern cults are centered around the worship of newer gods, contemporary evidence of miracles and prophets, or new interpretations of older ideas. But some cults stretch back so far in time and practice that it is unclear when exactly they began. Those who worship the Grey Ones claim that their worship and practice is as old as humanity itself, and that it was born of necessity. For the worship of the Grey Ones is not the act of prayers and devotions in exchange for gifts and favors – or perhaps it is more accurate to say that sometimes the favor a worshipper asks for is simply to be left alone. The Grey Ones are very old gods, and they are sacrificed to in order to appease them; to distract them; and to perhaps obtain a sliver of mercy while they are otherwise occupied. They are as harsh and impassive as the freezing winters of the north, where their worship is believed to have originated and persists to this day.
Some religious scholars have written that the gods which humanity worships are those which they identify with in some way. If the human mind cannot comprehend what the deity represents, then it cannot be worshipped. Thus, there is debate as to whether god shaped the mind of man to understand the universe and the forces within it, and thus make choices, or if man has ignored other forces that they simply could not perceive because they were not intended to. In the case of the Grey Ones, some believe that they were never intended for mankind – that humanity adopting their worship was done out of the same need to burn flammable materials for warmth; a sacrifice in exchange for one more night of survival. Others theorize that because the cruelty of nature was all the northern Forgotten Ones and their predecessors knew, their gods, in turn, reflect this. Another, perhaps more recent, theory is that the Grey Ones have always existed in order to punish mankind. It is believed by some that long ago, a great covenant was sworn between the gods and man, and it was man who broke their word. Every torment and hardship that has befallen humanity since, was the result of this sundered pact.
Despite these ominous theories, the centuries have proven that it is very difficult to turn the people of the north away from their worship of the Grey Ones. It is part of their heritage, their identity, and many are deeply fearful of the repercussions should they stop. While the pantheon has had more minor and major figures that have changed over time, and some figures have taken on different names or auspices, the figures that are at the forefront of sacrificial worship have been consistent.
Sveas, arguably the cruelest and uncaring of the gods, represents cold and death. She is truly only appeased by the most merciless offerings of death, human sacrifice, and the extinguishment of heat. Some try to find smaller ways to soften her frozen heart, such as destroying blessed, roaring fires with snow, or extinguishing all light during a long night. And those work well enough for small, routine appreciation, but everyone who knows of the Grey Ones knows that Sveas’ preferred sacrifice is the abandonment of a loved one to die of exposure in the dead of winter. It is believed that the more devastating the loss of the companion, the more likely that Sveas will be pleased. Her role is one of adversary and tyrant, and the Forgotten Ones clans of the North have many stories featuring her as a force of punishment. She dwells in a land where everything is ice and silence, and nothing living stirs. The tormented dead souls who have died dishonorably exist as frozen statues, feeling all the burning pain of their tortured frozen limbs, but being helpless to do anything about it. Only those who die bravely and without regret can hope to escape her long-fingered grasp.
Aufvalder is perhaps the most approachable of the Grey Ones. Sometimes his worship is disguised as homage to the masculine aspect of Vecatra, for there are some similarities. He is a god of wisdom, problem-solving, and survival by any means. Those who make requests of him do so with the full understanding that gifts from him are usually also damnations. Whether his listens to the letter of the request only, or the boon has unforeseen consequences, Aufvalder is always teaching that the best ways to succeed are not always by the skills alone – sometimes one needs to change the playing board and the rules to be more advantageous. The stories say that he is in a loveless marriage with Sveas, and though that union has produced god-children, the years with her have turned him ruthless and unyielding when he is crossed. Those who have earned the disfavor of Aufvalder are often cast out of villages hastily, for the god’s revenge usually involves the destruction of all the target holds dear, and his memory is long. It is his memory, though, that still tempts his worshippers to pray to him – for he is the keeper of all stories, and he remembers everything he has ever been told. His intellect is unmatched among the gods, and he sees the tapestry that all lives have woven together, as well as the influence that one action may have across generations.
Ulfrandir, the Berserker, in some stories is taught to be the result of the union between god and earliest man. His mother is Jorg, the Wolf of the Wilds, who simultaneously represents Fear and Bravery. Her only laws are Fight or Run, and Ulfrandir was born of her first encounter with humanity. Other stories, though, tell of a different origin. They teach that Ulfrandir is simply the very first human, created with all of the potence, potential, positive, and negative qualities that humanity has since diluted and spread out amongst themselves in little pieces. He is currently worshipped as the most primordial form of human – wild, instinctual and full of inherent knowledge, strong, and driven. He has all of the tools he will ever need already on his naked form. Worshippers of Ulfrandir strive to become fully connected to the purely instinctual part of their mind, and live entirely in the present. They train and pray through tests of personal endurance and strength, eradicating fear of pain from themselves. These adherents are often the most feared opponents on a battlefield, for they fight with no regard for formation, battlefield etiquette, or even personal safety. They enter a state of furious, joyous battlelust that many claim to have no memory of when it is over. In these states, they fight as if possessed, often not recognizing who is friend and who is foe – there is only themselves and the other. Some elder worshippers of the Grey Ones say that there are other secrets and abilities that Ulfrandir imparts, but too few are able to progress past the most bestial form of his worship and training.
Lastly, Ura, the dreaded Hearth Mother, is the most feared of all the Grey Ones. She is demanding, ravenous, and her signs of displeasure are the most terrifying. It is she who must be constantly fed in exchange for fertility of the soil and womb. Ura is depicted in many ways, but she is always an amalgamation of feminine features and monstrous attributes: large breasts beneath a grinning skull, open arms for an embrace which bears sharpened claws, etc. It is by her whim that babies and mothers survive the process of childbirth, and it is by her allowance that the soil bears food. She is a jealous, mothering figure who gives with one hand, but carries a rod in the other. To be in her good graces is to be provided for, cared for, and warm. To anger her is to invite starvation, stillbirths, grievous illness, and suffering. And she is never satisfied. She is the life bringer, but her worshippers must never forget that if she feels her gifts are not appreciated, she will simply take them away. Despite Ura’s brutality, at times as lacking in empathy as the freezing mountain soil, her followers crave the momentary respite that her hearth brings – a full belly, a smiling child, the feeling of being loved – however briefly any of these things may last.
The Grey Thralls, those who pay homage and worship to the Grey Ones, believe in the entirety of the pantheon, but many have a Shrine or altar to one in particular who they fear and honor. Ultimately, these old gods desire much the same things from humanity, when they are paying attention to them, and that is to be as self-sufficient, relentless, and unyielding as they are. They expect their followers to give and give again, and to realize that the cost of another day of life is often at the expense of someone or something else. Animals give up their meat and skin for fuel and warmth, human competitors must be defeated, and mercy often means that your foe remains a threat to you and your loved ones. The followers of the Grey Ones are certainly still very human, and feel love, loyalty, affection, and happiness, but they also must be as the the environment that they were born into, and survive as they know how.
Sveas accepts sacrifices of wood set aflame and smothered; the killing of beloved things, armor, furs, white stone, and potions that decrease strength.
Ura accepts sacrifices of prepared meals, eggs, placenta, milk of a mother, green stone, and potions that increase fortitude.
Ulfrandir accepts sacrifices of blood, meat, trophies from battle, red stones, henbane, and potions that increase strength.
Aufvalder accepts sacrifices of items stolen from lovers, hard liquor, stories and epic poems written upon paper or skin, tongues, black stones, and potions that increase intelligence.
Followers of the Grey Ones swear that they will always keep what they kill. This means that whatever or whoever they kill, must be utilized to its full advantage. Bodies should be looted to the fullest extent and meat and usable parts should be harvested. For the gods show no pity in the best of times, but they turn an especially cold eye on those who do not take care of themselves first. Should the follower break this oath, they must act quickly to atone for their broken Vow and make an appropriately impressive sacrifice, or else they suffer progressive Weakened states. On the first day of their broken vow, they suffer -2 Speed, on the second day they also suffer -2 Fortitude, and on the third day they also sustain -2 Strength. These states cannot be remedied through normal means, and take place over the next three event days subsequent to the broken oath, even if that spans two events.
Should a follower accept their punishment and last three event days without rectifying their broken vow, they are no longer considered a follower of the Grey Ones, and will be unable to gain a benefit from offerings until they have made amends through atonement and a precious offering. It should be noted that even if the adherent dies while so damned, the effects of the broken vow remain upon their return from the dead.
Make an Offering
The Grey Ones promise the following gifts to those who leave an offering at their shrine. Anyone can trigger the shrine by presenting the proper offering and using the prayer ability, by swearing the following Oath:
“I give this bounty to you, so that it may satisfy your hunger. I am not worthy of your attention, and I only seek to pass unnoticed from this dawn to the next. Ever powerful and unending, you could snuff out my life like a candle flame, but I ask for one more chance to prove myself, survive, and serve you. [Name of god], please grant me no additional hardships. I need nothing from you but your apathy. May this offering bring you some small measure of pleasure, and allow me to continue on my path.”
Swearing this Oath places the worshipper under the Vow of the Grey Ones.
The following must be written into the dedications book as if it was a prayer. The use of an Altar or Shrine spends the user’s daily prayer ability:
Common Offering – By presenting an offering of furs or a potion that decreases strength to Sveas; hard liquor or a potion that increases intelligence to Aufvalder; a crafted meal or a potion that increase fortitude to Ura; or meat or a potion that increases strength to Ulfrandir, the gods imbue the follower with the ability to weaken another, so that they may be more attractive prey. The follower may choose one physical attribute to be weakened by -2, and this damnation is written on a tag attached to a blackened clothespin. If the follower attaches this clothespin to another individual, that target is afflicted with the Weaken condition noted on the tag.
Rare Offering: Render Barren – By presenting an offering of at least medium quality armor or a smothered fire that burned at least two named woods to Sveas; an item stolen from a lover or a tongue to Aufvalder; an egg or milk to Ura; or a trophy from battle or 4 sanguine essences to Ulfrandir, the follower may choose one gathering resource to lower in availability at an event, making it rarer to find. This effect lasts for three event days after the offering is made.
Precious Offering: Grey Bastion – By presenting an offering a white or clear gem or the sacrifice of someone or something very dear to the follower to Sveas; A dedicated poem or story written on human skin or a black gem to Aufvalder; placenta or a green gem to Ura; or henbane or a red gem to Ulfrandir, the follower is imbued with one Divine Resist call which expires at dawn if unused. There is a downside to this boon, however, for when it is used, all companions within speaking distance, including the user, must make an Anacrusis roll. For the purpose of this roll, Sveas falls under the water element, Aufvalder under the air element, Ura under the Earth element, and Ulfrandr under the fire element.
Requirements of an Altar
In addition to offerings at a Shrine, one may make a common offering to one of the Grey Ones at an Altar dedicated to them.
An Altar dedicated to Sveas must contain fine furs, an item representing abandonment, and a dagger untouched by the warmth of human skin.
An Altar dedicated to Aufvalder must contain grey wool, an item representing a saga or story of ancestry, and a snake corpse.
An Altar dedicated to Ulfrandir must contain clay, an item representing violence or triumph, and a red stone.
An Altar dedicated to Ura must contain the placenta of an animal, a hearth or a representation of a hearth, and tailoring professional tools.
Dedicate Shrine to the Grey Ones
Build and dedicate a Shrine to the Grey Ones.
“What else could anyone ask of the gods than the power to rise above and vanquish? And this, we have already been given. It is our birthright and the song of our soul. To ask for more is to look at the gift-giver and ask, ‘Is this all?’”
~Attributed to Yrsa Yellow Eye, Priestess of Aufvalder
Focus– In a place that is harsh, forbidding, or dangerous, the Shrine may be dedicated. The Cultist begins by lining the shrine surface in fine furs.
Offering – The milk of a mother is poured into a vessel that is placed upon the furs.
Offering – The cultist then places a trophy taken in battle upon the Shrine.
Offering – A snake is sacrificed and its corpse wound around the other items in a circle.
Offering – Lastly, a candle is lit, and the Cultist offers a brief, standing prayer to the Grey Ones in order that they may see the Shrine in their honor. Traditionally, the entreaties are shouted to the heavens as a sign of bravery, strength, and a test to see if the cultist and their shrine are favored by the old gods. The candle is then extinguished.
Creates a Shrine to a Grey One that may be used to trigger offerings. Anyone can trigger the shrine by expending their daily Prayer ability, as long as they have sworn an oath to the Grey Ones to follow their vow.