Friday, 3 February 2023

The Tall Walkers


“So the story of man runs in a dreary circle, because he is not yet master of the earth that holds him.”
― Will Durant

The Tall Walkers
When did humans come to Hepmonaland?
We presume, I assume, that they were always there. Not much mention is made of the Dark Continent in the Folio, and none whatsoever of the Olman and Tuov, focussing all its pages and energy instead on that plot of land we call the Flanaess and the peoples who trod upon it.
Migrating bands began settling the eastern portion of the Oerik Continent, Flanaess, over a millenium ago. The Flan tribesmen were hardy and capable hunters but not particularly warlike, and their small and scattered groups made no appreciable civilizing effect. The Suel Peoples, mainly fleeing from the great wars in the Suloise Empire, moved northwards through the Kendeen (Harsh) Pass of the southern Crystalmist Mountains (now known as the Hellfurnaces) and spread out in all directions. The fierce Oeridian tribes likewise moved east, thrusting aside Flan and Suloise in their path. [Folio – 5]
Indeed, if we were left with only the Folio, we might have to presume that the Suel were its only inhabitants.
The majority of the Suelites were pushed to the extreme south, into the Amedio Jungle, the Tilvanot Peninsula, the Duxchan Islands, and even as far as across the narrow Tilva Straight into Hepmonaland. [Folio – 5]
The World of Greyhawk Boxed Set was as equally mum on the subject, as it too only referred to the Suloise as inhabitants on that mysterious southerly continent.
The Suel folk are quite predominant in the island groups off the eastern coast of the Flanaess as well as on Tilvanot Peninsula, in the Scarlet Brotherhood region. Those bands that migrated into the vast Amedio Jungle and Hepmonaland are so altered as to be no longer typical of the race; they are tan to brown with heavy freckling. [WoGA – 13]

Even the first adventure module actually set on Hepmonaland was vague on who the inhabitants were.
Merchants carrying precious loads of rare goods from the jungle lands have been way laid, their goods taken and their men captured or killed. Even then, those who survived these raids had to face headhunters, brain fever, giant leeches, cannibals, and leopards. Few men ever returned.
The stories they told were fantastic and addled, surely brought about by disease and the horrors with which they had to deal. Singing snakes, twisted and deformed ape-men, men who were not men, and writhing, horrid flowers filled their tales – surely such things were not to be believed. Nonetheless, something had destroyed the caravans. [I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City – 2]
In fact, greater detail is given to the dangers explorers might encounter than those natives who might aid and give succor to the adventurers (a prudent choice given the page count, and owing to this being an adventure module and not a gazetteer).
The long journey was tilled with hardship, but fortunately, peaceful tribes and villages were found to ease the journey. [I1 – 2]
Not much else is said about them. Or their village, for that matter. Although their past grandeur is alleged, though. The Forbidden City has been overrun by Yuan-ti and bullywugs and mongrelmen, and it is on these that the adventure focusses. We can only assume that the city was once theirs, whoever grand they may have been.
I expect hardly anyone gave the natives much thought back then.

Torhoon Artifacts

It wasn’t until much later, in 1999, that the natives, the Olman and Touv were finally given name, detailed in Sean Reynold’s The Scarlet Brotherhood and Bruce Cordell’s Bastion of Faith.
So to were the Torhoon, their earliest and only appearance in Andy Miller’s Ex Keraptis Cum Amore, in Dungeon #77 (December 1999):
[A]n ancient race called the Torhoon (whose empire, based on alchemy and magic, was centered in Hepmonaland over 8,000 years ago), the mad lich [Orlysse] crafted his dungeon on their writings and style. He strove to make the dungeon seem authentically ancient, going so far as to use the ancient Torhoon language in his riddles and fill the place with Torhoon artifacts of his own. [Dungeon #77 – 33]
Only a comprehend languages spell or similar magic allows the PCs to decipher the ancient, dead language of the Torhoon. [Dungeon #77 – 34]
Who were these Torhoon? According to Andy Miller, they were human:

Shades of the Torhoon
A [7’] tall man suddenly appears in front to you. He is human, although his body is hairless and his features are slightly elongated. He wears a loose, black toga and watches you with large, unblinking eyes.
[Dungeon #77 – 48]
One such was the despotic sorcerer Kellex Zyrrinyth, who lived more than 8,000 years ago. [Dungeon #77 – 47]
Little else is mentioned. There are numerous references to Torhoon writings and pyramids and Torhoon wights and mummies and mists, of Torhoon magic and alchemy, although none of it seems to differ much from contemporary versions of the same, except that Orlysse could not duplicate all of the spells known to the ancient Torhoon sorcerers. [Dungeon #77 – 53]
Andy Miller is somewhat vague as to who and what they were, exactly. Powerful, certainly; more so than we, apparently. It’s all well and good to make references to the past, but those references ought to have some concrete anchor in canon, to my mind. One wonders – I do, anyway – whether Mr. Miller and Mr. Sean Reynolds were working hand in hand when Sean made these comments in his The Scarlet Brotherhood accessory, of the same year:
Southern Hepmonaland, Realm of the Torhoon
Onave, the youngest son of King Onatal […] found […] strange writings in the earth [in the hills of Imianme.]
[SB – 51]
The Touv have no “living” memory of the writings or writers, so they must be ancient.
[A]n oddly-constructed ruin near the [Okeo] hills is said to have been built by an ancient race of people that predate the Tuov, possibly the ones the people of Banyo call “The Tall Walkers.” [SB – 58]
The Touv
The Torhoon are ancient; so too are they tall; so one can very easily make the connection between the two.
Reports surface from time to time of unusual ships on Byanbos shores piloted by beings the locals call “The Tall Walkers.” [SB – 48]
Was there more to come, concerning the Tall Walkers or the Torhoon and their magnificence and maleficence? There was not. I have to ask: Why are there no other mentions of these mysterious Torhoon (other than their architecture and magic being duplicated in the far north by an insane lich) or Tall Walkers anywhere but in the southerly-most regions of Hepmonaland? If they were so advanced, why are their ruins not scattered across the Flanaess, then?
So, are the Tall Walkers and the Torhoon one and the same? Can they possibly be? They could very well have been in Andy and Sean’s minds.
Myself? I’m not so sure.

Let’s pause here, shall we? Ex Keraptis Cum Amore makes mention that these Torhoon were an advanced society 8,000 years ago. The Torhoon civilization apparently predates the events of Len Lakofka’s and Steve Winter’s History of the Suloise, published in the Oerth Journal #1 in 1995, which also details very early Elven society.
-4462 CY Prior to this time, Elves used no calendars. But on this date […] the Four Elven Realms of the East are founded. (1053 SD/-1 OC) [OJ#1 – 9]
-4403 CY The Wind Dukes of Aaqa, meet a gathered force of evil humanoids and drow on the Plains of Pesh (in what is now Keoland). This is the last recorded great battle between Elves and their drow cousins. The Dukes shatter the dark elven armies. (1103 SD/60 OC) [OJ#1 – 9]
-2253 CY The Flan move into Eastern Oerik. They are welcomed by the Highfolk, but the other kingdoms, remembering the disaster of the helping of the Seul, close their Realms to humans. (3263 SD/2210 OC) [OJ#1 – 9]
The Flan were the first known humans to live in eastern Oerik, and it is from them that the Flanaess gets its name. [LGG – 5]

Even were we to ignore the above LGG quote for the moment, one wonders how these Torhoon humans came to such power before the elves, or to inhabit Hepmonaland, such a widely distant local from western Oerik and the rest of humanity, without any “bridge” between them? This gap was “rectified” later in 2000 in OJ#11 by the addition of the Kersi. But the elven and Suloise calendars were pushed back as well.
-7256 CY or 1 GE (Grey Elven Calendar) The Grey Elven History is recorded in written form, as opposed to the traditional sung and spoken forms, for the first time. Their gods grant magic to the Elven clergy. (-1740 SD/ 1 GE Grey Elven Calendar) [OJ#11 – 55]
The Kersi?
-6263 CY
A group of beautiful dark skinned humans called Kersi from over the southern sea from a large island continent they called AnaKeri arrived on the southern portion of the Flanaess in large wooden platformed outriggers. (-717 SD) [OJ#11 – 55]
Did the addition of the Kersi clear anything up? Not a jot.
-5528 CY Alianor sends a large naval force to invade AnaKeri. The outriggers of the AnaKeri are no matches for the mighty warships of the Suel. As the massive armada approaches the clerics of the AnaKeri call upon the elemental princes for protection. The princes encircle the island continent with a maelstrom of wind and wild seas and much of the invading fleet is destroyed. Those that do land are met with upheavals in the land itself and, at last, by beings of elemental fire. A few of the invaders return to tell the tale. The wall of wind and water remains behind circling the continent of AnaKeri to this very day. (-12 SD) [OJ#11 – 56]
The Wall of Wind and Water
If anything, their apocryphal mention is all the more perplexing. Were the Keri a match for the Suel? They would seem to be. Were the Kersi as powerful as the Torhoon? And where was their elusive land, its lack obvious in every map included in the Folio? Who knows; it has never been included in any other published map, either. Nor will it. Such is the way with apocrypha. A simpler solution would have been that the Kersi were a branch of the Olman who colonised the archipelagos betwixt the Amedio and the motherland, and that the Suloise fleet was destroyed by a hurricane. But we like to raise mysterious long-lost civilisations where none had existed before.
It’s irrelevant whether Andy Miller was aware of the upcoming OJ#11 apocrypha; but did he have any recognition of 1995’s OJ#1 article? I suppose not. And even if he was, he was under no obligation to adhere to that timeline. The Oerth Journal is not specifically canon, after all, regardless who might have written its articles. Whatever Andy Miller was aware of, I do find the whole situation a bit of a gordian knot. Why wasn’t he? Things were in the works, as it were. Eric Mona (Iquander) was the editor of that earliest edition of the journal, the driving force of RPGA’s new Living Greyhawk campaign to be launched in 2000, and the publisher of the then in progress Living Greyhawk Gazetteer of the same year, if not Dungeon Magazine until 2004. How could it be that he and Andy were not in the same loop? I have to wonder then how the Torhoon could be mentioned in a Dungeon magazine adventure module published in 1999 and not at all in the two aforementioned Greyhawk supplements of that same year, or the upcoming Gazetteer; especially the 2000 Greyhawk Gazetteer! Not one! What are we to make of that? Nothing? Everything? The Torhoon do throw a wrench in the works, don’t they? As did the apocryphal Kersi. Why then do people add such things, these Kersi and Torhoon and Vaati when we were already given the Suel and Oerid and Flan, and indeed the Olman and Touv, to work with? Why muddy already decidedly opaque waters?

The Torhoon

What then do we make of the Tall Walkers and Torhoon?
Might the Tall Walkers, in contemporary times, presumably be the Suel, seeing that there were no other mentions of the Torhoon ever again. Likely not. The Suel are referred to as the white-skinned northerners [SB – 50] and ”white demons” [SB – 48] by the Tuov.
So, if not the Suel, who then could they possibly be?
The Tall Walkers
I shall table a theory, seeing that no other canonical writer of Greyhawk lore has chosen to address this disparity: One might imagine that the humans of the southeast, the Olman and the Tuov, and indeed, maybe even the Flan, are all descended from one stock, the Torhoon. Where did this common ancestor come from? That is lost to time. Speculate as you will, by I like to think that they were servants of a long-ago departed or deceased proto-reptilian species that tinkered with genetics. Nothing is known now of those reptilian overlords, and nothing concrete is known now of the Torhoon, either; but the very sight of their etchings and artifacts still has the capacity to all but paralyse the minds of humans and demihumans, alike.
What might we make then of the Tall Walkers’ contemporary mention? Maybe the Torhoon travel the multiverse, as the aforementioned Vaati do (if we ascribe that moniker to the Wind Dukes of Aaqa, as was done in the Rod in Seven Parts). Or maybe, if we want to keep things simple, these modern Tall Walkers are indeed the Suel, however unlikely that might seem. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Touv are applying their cultural “boogieman” to these fearsome newcomers. They wouldn’t actually know what the Walkers actually looked like, would they?
I’ll leave that to you to decide.
Because you will, as you should, without any help from me.

“Civilization is a race between disaster and education.”
― H.G. Wells
“It's like a memorial to Atlantis or Lyonesse: these are the stone buoys that mark a drowned world.”
― Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir

One must always give credit where credit is due. This History is made possible primarily by the Imaginings of Gary Gygax and his Old Guard, Lenard Lakofka among them, and the new old guards, Carl Sargant, James Ward, Roger E. Moore. And Erik Mona, Gary Holian, Sean Reynolds, Frederick Weining. The list is interminable.
Thanks to Steven Wilson for his GREYCHRONDEX and to Keith Horsfield for his “Chronological History of Eastern Oerik.” Special thanks to Jason Zavoda for his compiled index, “Greyhawkania,” an invaluable research tool.

The Art:
Mongrelmen, by Jim Halloway, from Monster Manual II, 1983 
Torhoon statue, by Stephen Danielle, from Dungeon Magazine #77, 1999
Torhoon shade, by Stephen Danielle, from Dungeon Magazine #77, 1999
Hepmonoland map detail, by Sam Wood, from The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999

1015 World of Greyhawk Boxed Set, 1983
2011A Dungeon Masters Guide, 1st Ed., 1979
9025 World of Greyhawk Folio, 1980
9046 I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City, 1980
11374 The Scarlet Brotherhood, 1999
11743 Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, 2000
Dragon Magazine
Dungeon Magazine #77
The Oerth Journal, #1, 11
Greychrondex, Wilson, Steven B.
Greyhawkania, Jason Zavoda
The map of Anna B. Meyer

1 comment:

  1. Great read! The Tall Walker-Torhoon is one of my favorite cultural mysteries left in publication. It's easy and ideal to combine the two given the scant sources like you explained. There should be more dead cultures and myths around Hepmonaland. The Flanaess has its share of mysteries after all.