Initiates and Status

In which the small, socially vivisecting, GM says some stuff about status and Initiation.


I recently had a player ask what their status as a Pigwife meant at a feast. Laika is the woman to go to to talk about pigs in her home village, and possibly Clan, but she’s not so good with cattle, which are a higher status matter. However, there are two things she has going for her. One is that she’s an Initiate of Ernalda, and the other is that she is an Initiate of Ernalda.


Ernalda, the goddess to whom Orlanth is married, is married to him in all1 of his aspects. So, she’s the wife of a farmer, the wife of a warrior, and the wife of a King. She herself has many different aspects, but most people talk about ‘Ernalda’ instead of Ernalda Weaver, or Ernalda the Fruitful, or Ernalda the Queen. As such, I see her as a sort of social equaliser. Although a noble is still a noble, and a farmer is still a farmer, as husbands they will be in different subcults but as wives they will be in the same cult, with different roles. An Ernaldan noble wife’s duty is to see that her Clan is fed, like an Ernaldan farmer wife’s duty is to see that her house is fed. Bringing harmony among them, finding another way that is not violence, and keeping the community as a community are big parts of her life, no matter what her social status is, whereas a warrior Orlanth Adventurous Initiate will have a very different set of roles to a farmer Orlanth Thunderous Initiate.

So, while Orlanth is always Orlanth, sometimes he has a variety of different attributes. Ernalda has more variety in dresses and where she might be found, and that means that a good Ernalda can be found at the lower or upper tables, and a noble’s wife could easily perform the offices of cottage Ernalda. The choice to have Laika Pigwife down at the lower end of the hall is less about the social status of warrior vs farmer, and more the status of having to keep a lot of other nobles happy.


Let’s think of a cult as a company, for a bit. Worshipping their god and doing the work of their god is their mission statement.

The Core Rulebook says nearly every adult is initiated into a Cult, but it does the word a disservice there, using ‘initiate’ to mean a different thing to how we use it in play. This is a bit like joining a company as an intern. Everyone gets to join one of the monolith companies. Not everyone gets promoted. In Sartar, as I run it, most adults DO become Initiates of gods, and this is a big difference to elsewhere. Even if they stick at one Rune Point all their lives, they have it. In Sartar, therefore, I assume that ‘Initiate’ means to some degree you are favoured by the cult or goddess, but this is my Sartar, and yours (and the core game’s) are probably different.

In my head, Initiates are the management level of cults and the powers that are given by the gods. Many, many people are members of cults, and Initiates understand enough of their inner workings that functionally, they can be trusted to oversee others. They don’t get to make the big decisions, but they may hear about them first, and may understand why they are done, or they may not be privy to those deeper mysteries. This works whether Initiates are those who are obviously blessed by their gods (adventurers in my Sartar) or those who have taken the deeper step to understanding (anywhere outside Sartar, or potentially other games).

When a manager arrives at someone else’s company, you treat them well. Depending on their level of management and whether your companies are rivals or not, you’ll give them more or less help, but you don’t tend to leave them at the door when they have an expectation of coming in, and socially you know when you’re likely to have that expectation. An Ernaldan arriving at a stead can expect to be treated well if there is an Orlanthi or another of her husbands magically in charge of it.

I use the word ‘magically’ because socially this might be awkward when there is already a full home and the husband’s ex appears asking for hospitality… But the role of the husband-protector or the male fertility god here is to put a roof over Ernalda. Similarly, if he were to arrive at a place that she owned, he would expect the same.

Laika can prove pretty easily that she is middle management. She has three Rune Points, which in game terms means a good connection to the goddess. Although this can’t be worked out directly, it would, IMO, be easy to work out in the sort of way that when someone says they are the Vice-President of Marketing you know they have been with the company a while and you know how to treat them. There will be social cues for this, even if there are no direct ways of asking.


The tie-breaker here is that Laika is a guest in the hall where she asked that question, and arrived as part of a noble’s companion-band. This definitely gives her a step up towards being treated specially. Here, the hospitality would probably be that she would be high on one of the many tables in the lower hall, if she arrived on her own. She is an Ernaldan with obvious tattoos and marks of her trade. She smells comfortingly of pig leather and animal manure, and she is a hefty woman who will have strong children. As a farmer she is socially above a hunter or fisher. She may have her own land, although nobody would be so rude as to ask. She is several steps above a stick-picker, and even they are invited in to this party.

So, she will probably find herself at the table of honour, but given that she has arrived without her best clothes, and the Lord of the place is already married, she is not going to be sitting next to him. She’ll probably be put next to someone who is good with animals or plants, and she might be offered a dress to wear, if anyone can find one in her size.

1. For the purposes of this discussion, enough == all

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