Malazan Influences on Grim Dawn

I love Grim Dawn and also love Steven Erikson’s fantasy series the Malazan Book of the Fallen, so I couldn’t help but note some similarities between the two. I would bet that some of the Grim Dawn lore creators have read Malazan and picked up some influences that got woven into the world-building of Cairn. Here are the ones I’ve noticed:

I’m only emphasizing the similarities here. Both Grim Dawn and Malazan have much more going on in their rich worlds than just these commonalities.

Minor spoilery stuff about Malazan to follow

John Bourbon = WhiskeyJack
This might be the most obvious one, but ironically it was the last connection I made, and the one that convinced me to write this post. I had wondered why I had such a clear picture of Sergeant Whiskeyjack when re-reading the Malazan series, and I realized it was because I imagined him looking and sounding just like Captain John Bourbon. Both men are gruff & grizzled yet well-respected and tasked with leading seemingly hopeless causes.

A pervasive theme in Malazan is that of Ascendancy. Normal mortals who commit incredible deeds or come into prolonged contact with elder powers may ascend, attaining a god-like status. This includes long life or even immortality, as well as superhuman powers. As they gain worshippers, their power grows even greater. Power-hungry mages, rulers, shapeshifters and aspirants of all kinds will seek a path to Ascendancy. Others simply stumble into it by circumstance or by fulfilling their own nature.

Likewise from the Affinity lore about Ascendants in Grim Dawn: “Ascendant beings have risen to godlike status through immense feats or reverence from their lessers.”

Menhir/Obelisk = Burn/Obelisk
Burn is the goddess of the Earth. Her symbolic representation in the Malazan pantheon is The Obelisk. Her chosen avatar is Caladan Brood, an Ascendant blessed with a massive 2h hammer capable of splitting the earth asunder and creating mountains where once none stood.

Menhir is the god of the Earth, a steadfast protector of Cairn. Ancient stone monoliths mark sacred grounds of Menhir. His constellation in the Celestial pantheon is the Obelisk. The Soldier skill Tremor states, “With the will of Menhir, smash the ground with a mighty two-hander and let rip devastating waves of energy upon your foes.” The Earthsplitter legendary axe states “Legends speak of a mortal who, when beseeched by the gods, cleaved Mount Menhir in two, forming Menhir’s Twins.”

Mogdrogen the Wolf = Togg the Wolf
Togg is one of the most ancient gods, an ascended beast who became known as a god of war across many cultures. For years he roamed the wilderness and Chaos wastes in search of his lost mate. Eventually he and his mate Fanderay jointly claimed the Beast Throne, thus becoming Lord and Lady of all beasts and shapeshifters. For a time, Togg spent time in the body of mortal man known as Toc the Younger.

From Mogdrogen’s Constellation: “A titan created during the war of the gods, Mogdrogen has become the god of beasts and is said to roam the wild reaches of Cairn. Legends claim Mogdrogen is a shapeshifter, usually seen as a giant wolf but occasionally taking other forms, even that of a human. Mogdrogen roams the far reaches of Cairn, guarding the wilds against the encroachment of civilization.”

Autumn Boar = Boar of Summer (Fener)
Fener, the Boar of Summer is a war-aspected god and as such his cult was well-respected in the Malazan armies. Each of his five tusks had a name: Hate, Love, Laughter, War, and Tears.

From the Autumn Boar’s constellation: “The autumn boar’s arrival in the sky marks the beginning of a celebration of the fall season and the changing of the leaves. The event begins with a great hunt and ends with a feast that lasts until the meat and beer run dry.”

I won’t belabor the connection here, since symbolically associating animals with seasons has a long cultural tradition, and these two boars don’t have even the same season (D’rek is the Worm of Autumn in Malazan). But this was one of the first connections I made, so I threw it in.

Oleron = Dassem Ultor
Dassem Ultor, who would come to be know as Dessembrae, the lord of tragedy, was the First Sword of the Malazan Empire. He was a fighter without equal, and under his leadership the Malazan army conquered many civilzations. Ultor eventually Ascended to become the Knight of Death, even participating in the Chaining of the Crippled God. His men revered and worshipped him, even over the Lord of Death himself, Hood. Eventually Hood sought to humble his upstart rival, thus he struck down Ultor’s daughter with a terrible plague. This provoked Ultor to break his vows to Hood, fake his own death, and wander the world in search of vengeance against the lord of Death. His men, thinking him dead, founded the war cult of Dessembrae.

From the lore Oleron: “Tragic is the tale of Oleron, who would come to be known as the war god. When faced with the destruction of his nation, Oleron made the difficult choice to rise to the defense of his people, but the victory cost him his wife and only child. The loss weighed heavily upon the war hero, and legends say that he would charge recklessly into battle since that day, seeking death upon a foe’s blade so that he could be reunited with his family. But the bittersweet release had never come. To this day, when soldiers charge into battle, they call upon Oleron’s name to grant them strength and courage.”

First Blade of the Empire = First Sword of the Empire
Mostly just a title similarity here. First Blade of the Empire is Ulgrim. First Sword of the Empire is Dassem Ultor. Both are Ascendants and therefore fight with superhuman skill and power.

Like most magic in Malazan, Chaos is both a type of magic and a realm. The realm (or “warren”) of Chaos has a black & silver color scheme, with a feeling of intense pressure and swirling torrents of malevolent energy all around. Creatures who reside in Chaos are intrinsically hostile to all others and resent any intruders. In the deepest reaches of Chaos lies the Abyss, a perfect black emptiness. It is from beyond the Abyss whence came the Crippled God, and upon the darkest floor of the Abyss where the Dying God was spawned. The Crippled God and his followers are skilled at using Chaos magic, chiefly due to the reckless disregard the God has for the lives of his followers. This comes at a great cost to their mortal forms, warping their bodies and causing insanity.

Chaos in Grim Dawn is both a type of magic and a realm. The realms of Chaos are characterized by obsidian, ash, and red swirling chaotic energy. Beyond the deepest realms of Chaos lies the Void, from which spawn the many vile creatures of Chaos. Chaos is the realm of Ch’thon, and his chosen followers are able to manipulate Chaos energy, often at the cost of tainting their physical forms.

Ch’thon = Crippled God / Dying God
It seems many people equate Ch’thon with Cthulhu, maybe because of the name similarity, the tentacled Loghorrean, and perhaps the classic “dead but dreaming” line from Call of Cthulhu. But honestly I don’t see much Lovecraft in Ch’thon. What I see is a mix of the Crippled God and the Dying God from Malazan (with a bit of Kingu from Babylonian mythology). And of course the name itself is drawn from the Greek Chthonic Cults (relating to the Underworld).

The Dying God was hapless mortal who became bound up with the souls of two other powerful mages all combined into one body through a potent spell, then through a subsequent rebirth & ascension ritual he was betrayed and discarded as the weakest of the three souls. There, in the abyss of Chaos, the Dying God ascended nevertheless, and was able to gain followers by manifesting his tainted blood as an addictive drink imbibed by mortals. The blood of the Dying God at first causes intoxication, then communion with the god himself, and finally a loss of all faculties as the mortal twitches and thrashes in sympathy with the god’s agony. The cultists who drink enough blood to get to this state are strung up on posts on the roadside, where they convulse like haunted scarecrows.

The Crippled God was a deity from an unknown alien realm who was brought by mages through a dimensional rift into the world of Malazan, in a desperate attempt to recruit a power strong enough to combat a cruel tyrant who had enslaved a continent. However, in the process of pulling this god through the rift, its body was mutilated and ripped asunder, destroying the entire continent as the god’s carcass crashed to the earth. Despite this, the god survived, however his now maimed and crippled remnants were as poison to the realm of Malazan. Since he could neither be destroyed nor sent back to his own realm, all the resident Gods and Ascendants joined together for an event known as “The Chaining” in which the Crippled God was imprisoned in a pocket realm, effectively quarantining him from the rest of the world. He was left there to suffer and scheme for all eternity, yet is still able to influence the minds of mortals and taint the world by harnessing the powers of Chaos.

From the Dying God constellation lore: “In an age preceding the creation of the mortal planes, an elder god was betrayed by his children; his body torn apart and drained of blood so that they could use its power to breathe life into their own creations. His remains were cast out of creation into a void but, incapable of death, the god lingered on in the darkness, doomed to an eternity of pain and madness; feeling the suffering and death of all mortal things that were given life from his blood. His name forgotten by time, the dying god is known only as Ch’thon; he who dwells below creation.” The Cult of Ch’thon strings up victims on poles to drain them of their blood, like gruesome scarecrows. Ch’thon’s followers harness the powers of Chaos and monsters conjured from the Void.

Quick note on Kingu: In Babylonian mythology Kingu was a god who tried to usurp all other gods and was slain by Marduk. His blood was then used to fashion mankind. Therefore all men and women can be said to carry the Blood of Kingu within them.

So, those are the connections I made. Are there any you noticed that I missed?


I didn’t read the thing, but from those who did I heard that like half of GD’s pantheon is inspired by Malazan, to the point when some wonder how safe it is from legal standpoint.

Wait so Crate just copied some book? :thinking::face_with_monocle::eyes::face_with_head_bandage:


But if you think about it, that means there is a Grim Dawn book! Just change some names and voila!


Brilliant. :laughing:

I wasn’t sure if was just me, I couldn’t find any discussions linking the two at all but as I started collecting examples I just noticed more and more connections.

the astronaut being held at gunpoint is the emissary, shocked at the revelation about everything. while bysmiel points the gun in her aether space suit.

does malazan have some equivalents to the aetherial faction? because i think the aetherials are one of the most significant representation of grim dawn franchise.

though its kinda funny to imagine ch’thon being some random alien god who got eviscerated into bajillion pokemon pieces when some power hungry cairn witches botched his summon.

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Malazan Influence appeared relatively late into development of GD.

GD’s setting is described as a mix of Malazan, Chthulhu mythos and Black Legion. Excluding the former two I’d look for something similar to aetherials in the latter.

Hmm, no, I can’t think of anything resembling the Aetherials in Malazan.

Nor does Malazan have anything like the Witch Gods and the Eldritch realm. Those I think owe something to the Chaos Gods of Warhammer… Nurgle/Dreeg, Khorne/Solael, Tzeentch/Bysmiel, maybe.


The thing is, fantasy breeds more fantasy. All the way back when Lovecraft started his Chthulu mythos, to Tolkien with his Middle Earth universe, to more modern novels like The Raven’s Mark series and the Powder Mage trilogy. They all draw on each other for inspiration and basic ideas. I wouldn’t call it plagiarism or stealing ideas, it’s just the nature of fantasy.


I wouldn’t either. That’s why I took care to avoid any such insinuations. I like examining art as a big connected web of ideas.
Influence, homage…“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”


Exactly my thoughts! :smiley:

True. For example Lord of the Rings is basically Nordic mythology. I guess everything was done at this point, so the best you can do is getting inspiration from various sources and change them a bit to fit your vision.


Interviewer: What do you think about young bands stealing your ideas?
Lemmy Kilmister: Good for them. Maybe one day they’ll make something I wanna steal.


If you took the ideas from one person only it’s plagiarism , if you take from many people it’s called research.


Some similar conceptual stuff that’s similar would be Shadowthrone, wanting to ensure power over the empire as well as realms beyond. Possession in Malazan is possible through soul shifting. Apsalar was possessed by a wax witch AND Cotillion. There are other instances that pop up elsewhere too.

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Also the Jade Giants, colossal green statues stuffed full of angry souls from another realm. One of them possesses a witch who happens to be delving for water nearby.

There is a lot of soul shifting in Malazan, though typically the target is an empty vessel, like a puppet, a stick figurine, an animal, or a human whose soul has already departed. And it’s usually some dire need or extreme circumstance that prompts it.

Nothing quite like the secret organized force with an “invasion of the body snatchers” vibe that the Aetherials have.

Funny thing, when I was working at Iron Lore on the Black Legion concept, a new designer we hired, asked if I’d ever read Glen Cook’s Black Company, which I hadn’t and suggested I check it out, since he said there were a lot of parallels (not least the name) with the backstory I was working on. So I ended up reading through the Black Company series and then sometime after, I found out about Steven Erikson, which is sort of a ripoff of Black Company and did read a bunch of his books, which in some ways are better written than Cook’s… but they’re so long and convoluted I kind of got burnt out at some point. I forget where I stopped.

Really though, I think a lot of similar in fantasy is due to the fact that we’re all ripping off the originals - history / ancient mythology and the reason for that is that it was forged out of the human experience and contains age-old motifs that resonate with us and are broadly relatable. That and they just were there first to lay claim to a lot of the cliché cool ideas we continue to recycle. I majored in ancient history and, like I me, I can tell Erikson really digs ancient history and myth and was heavily influenced by it. Notably the feel of it, where stuff is often a lot more gritty and messy than tolkien style fantasy, what with all the child eating, patricide, eagles feasting on livers and such.

A lot of the stuff in the original comparison came before I read Malazan, so it’s definitely not influenced by it. Other stuff, I honestly couldn’t say, sometimes you don’t directly borrow an idea but maybe you were subconsciously influenced by it? Other stuff mentioned above, Zantai came up with and he didn’t Steven Erikson or Glen Cook.

I don’t really remember where a lot of ideas came from if anywhere, but Ch’thon and all the undesirable early creations cast into the void is a total ripoff of Cronus and the titans of Greek myth, which is probably what inspired Erikson. I’ve actually not read the myth of Kingu somehow, so also a coincidence. I just was trying to come up with my own creation myth and there is more creation backstory that isn’t conveyed in GD (I feel like to create depth, sometimes you need to have supporting story and events that you never explicitly reveal but which provide coherent foundation for the story you do tell). Basically though, the origin of the gods has to do with the joining of matter, energy and spirit, and so to create life and sentience, those elements had to come from somewhere. Part of the fucked up truth of Cairn is the humanity was created from the sacrificing of Ch’thon and so part of his madness lives in all people.

Chaos - I mean, that’s in like every mythos and fantasy world. I think we only really added chaos because we needed another damage type, which originally was only meant for enemies. Not like it was a very original idea.

Mogdrogen - I think I finally got around to watching Princess Mononoke at the end of Iron Lore, because someone had a poster or something of it in their cubical and I thought “a giant wolf god would be cool”. Then came up with the titan backstory and eventually decided it should be able to change into a human form because it would be weird every trying to allow the player to talk to a screen-sized wolf.

Menhir - I kind of feel like I shouldn’t reveal some of this stuff because I’m showing too much of how the sausage is made, so to speak and maybe taking some magic out of it. However, Menhir came about because I was working on soldier and decided some skills should refer to dieties or people to add flavor and a feeling of depth. So I thought - defensive skills could be related to some earth god cuz like mountains are tough lol… So I vaguely remembered there was some word for ancient stone monoliths that was cool and looked it up - bam, Menhir. At that point, there was no backstory, existed purely to provide a cool context for skills. Honestly, a lot of GD lore came about like this - it started kind of shallow, as just some name / vague concept, then later we ended up filling a lot of it in with lore as the need arose. The cleaving mountains with mythical weapons thing was from Zantai - this is actually my first time reading it… sounds a little far fetched for my taste :shushing_face:

Oleron was actually a story I came up with working on the Black Legion concept, so it predates my having read Erikson. I then decided to recycle it for soldier mastery because I like the name / figured the story fit pretty well.

Autumn Boar - we needed a few more constellation and I don’t remember who came up with them but I think we just tossed a bunch of different animals out there and Zantai wrote up the backstories.

It’s funny because there’s a number of deities in the constellations that exist purely to provide constellations to put points into - but some of them we’re now taking to expanding on for lore / backstory in the RTS.

John Bourbon - I honestly have no idea here… I think I was just trying to come up with a name that sounded cool and grizzled?

Aetherials are basically pissed off angels. Hey, not that I say it like that, maybe it was influenced by Supernatural? I have no idea at this point.

You missed probably the biggest influence though - Demolitionists. They aren’t called that in the books and I forget the details now, its been so long but I remember they had soldiers who were basically explosives experts. This goes back to Glen Cook though and Erikson borrowed from him.

Ultimately, virtually nothing emerges from the void as a totally original idea and, consuming so much sci-fi and fantasy content, it’s hard to even know sometimes where ideas may have come from sometimes. When I try to think up important char names, I look them up on the internet to make sure I’m not accidentally subconsciously stealing some name I heard somewhere else. A lot of people also tend to have convergent ideas, just based on the influences of the time - I mean, look how often I somehow happen to embark upon a project in a previously under-served genre and bam, suddenly everyone and their mom has had the same idea and is announcing new games in that genre… :man_shrugging:


I’ll just go on the record and state that I love Glen Cook’s Black Company stories.

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aetherials are pissed off angels like in supernaturals. so… aetherials are fallen angels that also roleplay as aliens and dr. frankenstein.

thats an interesting explanation about ch’thon’s madness residing in all humans of cairn. no wonder the celestials feared and controlled the humans closely.

i find it inevitable that in this modern age of instant information deliveries, lots of ideas and inventions will be so similar even though its entirely coincidental through subsconsious means. because thats just the way the world works. originality and creativity will eventually hit true dead ends at some point, that future generation will just accept it and enjoy what they have because there’s SOOOO MANY legacies of creativity left behind by our predecessors, we all won’t have the chance to experience all of them.

i like the world design of grim dawn due to its grittiness and occult elements mixed with industrial/victorian/tribal tech and ancient mythology. the story can be summed up as a tale about cowboys-inquisitors-witches fighting against mad scientists aliens, undead, spirits, el banditos, other witches, demons and angry ancient gods with ominous black hole approaching from space.

yeah, grim dawn is unique in its own way.

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