To put it simply, Karun is the Etruscan Mythology equivalent of Charon of Greek Myth.But it's really not that simple. Their names are nearly identical, and they appear to the dead, but that's about all they have in common. It seems likely that Karun was originally an Etruscan deity that got sort of misappropriated and misidentified via Interpretatio Graeca. We don't know if Karun was his original name, or just a title borrowed from the Greeks in the later days of the Etruscan civilization.1
Karun is much more menacing and active than Charon. Karun carries a huge hammer or mattock, and in several works of art he's seen actively attacking those who are otherwise already dying in battle. This may make him some sort of scavenger or opportunist claiming souls of the fallen, or perhaps it's just a metaphor for death. He's certainly no passive ferryman. In fact, there's only one existing piece of Etruscan artwork showing Karun anywhere near a boat. He's at least as likely to carry the dead on horseback, and much more likely to smack them over the head with his hefty maul.
Karun is also not the solitary figure that Charon is. Karun almost always appears in tandem with a goddess named Vanth. Sometimes they together guide or claim the souls of the recently dead, and sometimes they guard the gates of the underworld together. Karun is almost never shown without Vanth, but Vanth frequently appears alone. The details of their relationship, partnership, or rivalry has been lost to the ages.
Karun is horrifying.
In his most flattering and "normal" of depictions, he's a muscular man with a bestial and awful face, carrying a huge hammer. His ears are large and deformed, and he has a thick and wild beard and head of red hair.2
It gets worse. Much worse. Sometimes, Karun isn't presented as human at all. He's still humanoid, but with blue or gray skin, wings and a bizarre head. His face has the tusks of a boar peeking out from below the hooked beak of a vulture. His brow is thick and heavy like a neanderthal, and he has snakes for hair like a gorgon. His lips are enlarged, his eyes fiery, and his ears are pointy. Sometimes snakes curl around his forearms. Sounds like he looks a lot like Tuchulcha3 except worse.
Game and Story Use
- An alternate take on Charon to keep the players on their toes.
- The nature of the relationship between Vanth and Karun could be a source of characterization or plot development. They could be close friends, lovers, coworkers, master and servant, bitter rivals, or some combination of several of the above.
- Tuchulchu is a mysterious and monstrous figure that shares many physical traits of the more bizarre form Karon is known to take. So Tuchulchu could be Karun and Vanth's child. Or, more bizarrely, ambiguously-gendered Tuchulchu could be some sort of "combined form" where Vanth and Karun become one.
- It's believed the Etruscan rituals of death included lightly striking the dead on the head with a silver hammer, in honor of Karun. After reading that, I can't help but picture Karun as a big Beatles fan. Maxwell's silver hammer came down upon his head…
- For more ideas, see Etruscan Mythology.
Building This Character
- Probably high. He's either a god or a major demon. He looks like a bad-ass, and he hangs out with Vanth, whose clearly powerful and important.
- Strength or Body is his highest.
- Social Attributes will be low, except whichever one is used for Intimidation.
- Poison snakes? Special attacks of some sort are likely, but they should do less damage than his big hammer.
- Flying, at least when in his more monstrous form.
- Some sort of a fear aura or effect for looking so bizarre and horrifying.
- Possibly enhanced senses due to the pointy ears and face of a vulture. If not improved hearing and olfactory senses, then a "death sense" maybe?