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?