The Gryphon Runs have been plagued by those titular beasts for as long as anyone can remember. The town, which occupies both the top and bottom of a massive cliff, must frequently deal with gryphon attacks, especially around the lifts that ferry goods and people between the upper and lower sections. Legend says that these attacks were once far worse than they are now, however, and the tale of how Modain the Mad saved the town was the inspiration for the annual races.
Many years ago, when the town was beginning to expand, the people began the construction of the lifts. It was a mighty undertaking of engineering made all the more difficult and dangerous from the constant gryphon attacks. The Gryphon King, an enormous beast with pitch black feathers and gleaming red eyes, led assault after assault.
It was at this time that Modain made a plan to lead the gryphons away long enough for the work to be finished. He took raw meat and the blood of the winged horses, the gryphon's most hated enemy, and covered his horse with the gore. With a whooping cry, Modain galloped into the savannah and led the gryphons away.
It is at this point that the legend gets muddy. Some say Modain managed to shake loose of the gryphon horde by dismounting his horse and slapping it on the rear. He then supposedly snuck back to town and lived to pull this trick several more times. Others say that he met his end at the black steel talons of the Gryphon King. Still, others claim that Modain rides through the deserts and badlands to this day, the emaciated black beast still following behind him.
In any case, the people of the Gryphon Runs created the Modain Races to honor his bravery and his memory. It has become a point of pride for the barbarian clans to compete in the races, and many in the area see it as a rite of passage.
The races are held once every year. Large numbers of riders paint intricate patterns on their steeds with winged horse blood and drape meat over their saddles. As the sun rises, the riders let loose a thunderous battle cry and stampede into the sands. The main objective is to get as far out as you can before abandoning your mount and running back to the town, all without being eaten by the swarming gryphons.
Many riders are lost every year, but for those who return great honor awaits them. For the first rider back, a prize of a single black gryphon feather is awarded. Winners wear their prize in their hair, on their belt, or on their wrists. The most celebrated riders have multiple feathers displayed proudly as headdresses or mantles.
To outsiders, this competition can be seen as madness, but locals are steadfast in their belief that the races honor the very spirit of the Gryphon Runs and of Modain the Mad.
Cover art by Jon Bosco