Sunday, August 19, 2018

OSR Commenntary - A More Mythological Take On Necromancy & A New Necromanctic Ritual Fror Your Old School Campaigns

Now when it comes to one aspect of original Dungeons & Dragons,B/X Dungeons & Dragons, or even Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition including third edition there's one subject that drives me up a wall & that's necromancy! Since I've cracked open Dante Alighieri's  Divine Comedy once again this particular gaming issue has come up as it crops up in Shakespeare's Mac Beth as well.  The modern view of the  necromancer is something like this guy. An insane occult  loner & black wizard psycho who lurks out in graveyards & creates undead hordes for his demonic masters!  Well the mythological necromancer could be anything but this socially maladjusted demonic throw back wizard. The necromancer of the mythological antiquity had a far different form & vital function in the society of the Greeks & Romans from where I'll be drawing some of this blog post conclusions. First let's take a look at the where & when of the word necromancy & for that I lean heavily on wiki for a bit;
"The word "necromancy" is adapted from Late Latin necromantia, itself borrowed from post-Classical Greek νεκρομαντεία (nekromanteía), a compound of Ancient Greek νεκρός (nekrós), "dead body", and μαντεία (manteía), "divination by means of"; this compound form was first used by Origen of Alexandria in the 3rd century AD.[5] The Classical Greek term was ἡ νέκυια (nekyia), from the episode of the Odyssey in which Odysseus visits the realm of the dead and νεκρομαντεία in Hellenistic Greek, rendered as necromantīa in Latin, and as necromancy in 17th-century English"


So the practice of Necromancy was relevant all through the Greco Roman empire of antiquity ;"

Necromancy was prevalent throughout Western antiquity with records of its practice in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome"  In fact is Homer's Odyssey that we get one of the best overview of the practice.

"Early necromancy was related to – and most likely evolved from – shamanism, which calls upon spirits such as the ghosts of ancestors. Classical necromancers addressed the dead in "a mixture of high-pitch squeaking and low droning", comparable to the trance-state mutterings of shamans.[7] Necromancy was prevalent throughout Western antiquity with records of its practice in ancient Egypt, Babylonia, Greece and Rome. In his Geographica, Strabo refers to νεκρομαντία (nekromantia), or "diviners by the dead", as the foremost practitioners of divination among the people of Persia,[8] and it is believed to have also been widespread among the peoples of Chaldea (particularly the Sabians, or "star-worshipers"), Etruria and Babylonia. The Babylonian necromancers were called manzazuu or sha'etemmu, and the spirits they raised were called etemmu.
The oldest literary account of necromancy is found in Homer’s Odyssey.[9][10] Under the direction of Circe, a powerful sorceress, Odysseus travels to the underworld (katabasis) in order to gain insight about his impending voyage home by raising the spirits of the dead through the use of spells which Circe has taught him. He wishes to invoke and question the shade of Tiresias in particular; however, he is unable to summon the seer's spirit without the assistance of others. The Odyssey's passages contain many descriptive references to necromantic rituals: rites must be performed around a pit with fire during nocturnal hours, and Odysseus has to follow a specific recipe, which includes the blood of sacrificial animals, to concoct a libation for the ghosts to drink while he recites prayers to both the ghosts and gods of the underworld.[11]
Practices such as these, varying from the mundane to the grotesque, were commonly associated with necromancy. Rituals could be quite elaborate, involving magic circles, wands, talismans, and incantations. The necromancer might also surround himself with morbid aspects of death, which often included wearing the deceased's clothing and consuming foods that symbolized lifelessness and decay such as unleavened black bread and unfermented grape juice. Some necromancers even went so far as to take part in the mutilation and consumption of corpses.[12] These ceremonies could carry on for hours, days, or even weeks, leading up to the eventual summoning of spirits. Frequently they were performed in places of interment or other melancholy venues that suited specific guidelines of the necromancer. Additionally, necromancers preferred to summon the recently departed based on the premise that their revelations were spoken more clearly. This timeframe was usually limited to the twelve months following the death of the physical body; once this period elapsed, necromancers would evoke the deceased’s ghostly spirit instead."

The necromancer is essentially taking the spirit from 'the realm of the newly dead' &  its deeply connected with the Greco Roman Underworld. Screw up the necromancy of the Underworld & not even Hades himself can save your  PC not that he would.  One of Cerberus's litter may come for the PC to drag him or her before the Judges of The Dead.
"Minos, Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus are the judges of the dead. They judged the deeds of the deceased and created the laws that governed the underworld. However, none of the laws provided a true justice to the souls of the dead, and the dead did not receive rewards for following them or punishment for wicked actions.[37]

Aeacus was the guardian of the Keys of the Underworld and the judge of the men of Europe. Rhadamanthys was Lord of Elysium and judge of the men of Asia. Minos was the judge of the final vote."
The Judges of the Dead are key to bridging the gap between the Inferno & the Greco Roman Underworld. These three figures have governance over the fate of the dead even in Dante's Inferno & PC shaman's & necromancers should tread lightly around their affairs.

By the time of early & high middle ages then the practice of Necromancy begins to aqquire its more unsavory reputation among the Catholic Church;

"Many medieval writers believed that actual resurrection required the assistance of God. They saw the practice of necromancy as conjuring demons who took the appearance of spirits. The practice became known explicitly as maleficium, and the Catholic Church condemned it.[22] Though the practitioners of necromancy were linked by many common threads, there is no evidence that these necromancers ever organized as a group.
Medieval necromancy is believed[by whom?] to be a synthesis of astral magic derived from Arabic influences and exorcism derived from Christian and Jewish teachings. Arabic influences are evident in rituals that involve moon phases, sun placement, day and time. Fumigation and the act of burying images are also found in both astral magic and necromancy. Christian and Jewish influences appear in the symbols and in the conjuration formulas used in summoning rituals.[23]
Practitioners were often members of the Christian clergy, though some nonclerical practitioners are recorded. In some instances, mere apprentices or those ordained to lower orders dabbled in the practice. They were connected by a belief in the manipulation of spiritual beings – especially demons – and magical practices. These practitioners were almost always literate and well educated. Most possessed basic knowledge of exorcism and had access to texts of astrology and of demonology. Clerical training was informal and university-based education rare. Most were trained under apprenticeships and were expected to have a basic knowledge of Latin, ritual and doctrine. This education was not always linked to spiritual guidance and seminaries were almost non-existent. This situation allowed some aspiring clerics to combine Christian rites with occult practices despite its condemnation in Christian doctrine.[24]
Medieval practitioners believed they could accomplish three things with necromancy: will manipulation, illusions, and knowledge:
  • Will manipulation affects the mind and will of another person, animal, or spirit. Demons are summoned to cause various afflictions on others, "to drive them mad, to inflame them to love or hatred, to gain their favor, or to constrain them to do or not do some deed."[25]
  • Illusions involve reanimation of the dead or conjuring food, entertainment, or a mode of transportation.
  • Knowledge is allegedly discovered when demons provide information about various things. This might involve identifying criminals, finding items, or revealing future events.
The act of performing medieval necromancy usually involved magic circles, conjurations, and sacrifices such as those shown in the Munich Manual of Demonic Magic:
  • Circles were usually traced on the ground, though cloth and parchment were sometimes used. Various objects, shapes, symbols, and letters may be drawn or placed within that represent a mixture of Christian and occult ideas. Circles were believed to empower and protect what was contained within, including protecting the necromancer from the conjured demons.
  • Conjuration is the method of communicating with the demons to have them enter the physical world. It usually employs the power of special words and stances to call out the demons and often incorporated the use of Christian prayers or biblical verses. These conjurations may be repeated in succession or repeated to different directions until the summoning is complete.
  • Sacrifice was the payment for summoning; though it may involve the flesh of a human being or animal, it could sometimes be as simple as offering a certain object. Instructions for obtaining these items were usually specific. The time, location, and method of gathering items for sacrifice could also play an important role in the ritual.[26]
The rare confessions of those accused of necromancy suggest that there was a range of spell casting and related magical experimentation. It is difficult to determine if these details were due to their practices, as opposed to the whims of their interrogators. John of Salisbury is one of the first examples related by Richard Kieckhefer, but as a Parisian ecclesiastical court record of 1323 shows, a "group who were plotting to invoke the demon Berich from inside a circle made from strips of cat skin" were obviously participating in what the Church would define as "necromancy".[27]
Herbert Stanley Redgrove claims necromancy as one of three chief branches of medieval ceremonial magic, alongside black magic and white magic.[28] This does not correspond to contemporary classifications, which often conflate "nigromancy" ("black-knowledge") with "necromancy" ("death-knowledge")."
Still one could find among the clergy those priests & bishops who not only know the practice of Necromancy but how to effectively put it to use among the world the best possible use of the demonic spirits conjured. This is where to best use Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Dark Albion & it Cults of Chaos for the demonic spirits profiles especially the fire & 1st level Summon spell from Lamentations. But then things change around for Necromancy by the time of John Dee & Edward Kelly. Your hireling necromancer might have in fact looked like this.

"In the wake of inconsistencies of judgment, necromancers and other practitioners of the magic arts were able to utilize spells featuring holy names with impunity, as any biblical references in such rituals could be construed as prayers rather than spells. As a consequence, the necromancy that appears in the Munich Manual is an evolution of these theoretical understandings. It has been suggested that the authors of the Manual knowingly designed the book to be in discord with ecclesiastical law. The main recipe employed throughout the Manual used the same religious language and names of power alongside demonic names. An understanding of the names of God derived from apocryphal texts and the Hebrew Torah required that the author of such rites have at least a casual familiarity with these sources.
Within the tales related in occult manuals are found connections with stories from other cultures' literary traditions. For instance, the ceremony for conjuring a horse closely relates to the Arabic One Thousand and One Nights and French romances; Chaucer’s The Squire's Tale also bears marked similarities.[29] This becomes a parallel evolution of spells to foreign gods or demons that were once acceptable, and frames them into a new Christian context, albeit demonic and forbidden. As the material for these manuals was apparently derived from scholarly magical and religious texts from a variety of sources in many languages, the scholars who studied these texts likely manufactured their own aggregate sourcebook and manual with which to work spells or magic."

So what does all of this actually mean for the PC's? It means that there is far more to the necromancer then the traditional fantasy table top pop culture reference. The necromancer can be both an outsider occultist, a respected expert of the clergy, or even a pagan shaman helping to easy the passage of ghosts to the Underworld. Yes there are the rare raging outsider necromancers who want to raise the hordes of the damned for their demonic masters but there also those who help to resurrect the dead.
Those who wish to venture into the 'realm of the newly dead' which is an off shoot of Purgatory & Limbo. This is done via a new necromancy spell called Doorway to the Devil's Hour.

Doorway to the Devil's Hour
4th level Grey & 3rd Level Black magic spell
Casting time: one hour
Duration:5 hours
Area of Effect: Self & 1d8 others
This spell must be cast between the hours of three & four A.M. on New Moon. The caster must have a grounding in the arts of necromancy & have over 2oo gold pieces worth of ceremonial garb & set pieces ready for the act including a brass door fashioned with the names of the chief angels of Purgatory & Death on its top. The names of the Judges of the Dead on the bottom of the door overlaid in tin & silver. The door must be erected inside a crypt or ancient barrow.
There will be a knock on the door after the ritual of the spell is cast. A spiritual guide will appear after the spell is cast & escort the party  into the realm of the newly dead to escort the spirit back to the material world. There is no guarantee that the guardian spirits & demons will want to see the resurrected spirit back on Earth before they are assigned to their final reward. The PC's may have to fight their way back to Earth & there could be unforeseen side effects of having visited the realms of the newly dead.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

OSR Commentary- A More Mythologicial Approach To The Doppelganger For Your Old School Campaigns

I'm trying to recall when I first stumbled upon the original Dungeons & Dragons Doppelganger? I know that way back in 1980 I had a PC wizard snuffed out by his double in a lonely little dungeon room. The knife was wedged between the vertebrae of my character what a gusher. The Doppelganger was first introduced in Greyhawk (1975). But it was in the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual that we were formerly introduced when my fighter Hans Gurm bit the dust at the shape shifting claws of another doppelganger. But there are far more to the mythological origins of this alien shape shifter including a deeper & far more deadlier Hellish creation by Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy.

So let's dive right into the deep end of this mysterious double with its mythological origins according to Wiki;


English-speakers have only recently applied this German word to a paranormal concept. Francis Grose's, Provincial Glossary of 1787 used the term fetch instead, defined as the "apparition of a person living." Catherine Crowe's book on paranormal phenomena, The Night-Side of Nature (1848) helped make the German word well-known. However, the concept of alter egos and double spirits has appeared in the folklore, myths, religious concepts, and traditions of many cultures throughout human history.[6]
In Ancient Egyptian mythology, a ka was a tangible "spirit double" having the same memories and feelings as the person to whom the counterpart belongs. The Greek Princess presents an Egyptian view of the Trojan War in which a ka of Helen misleads Paris, helping to stop the war.[citation needed]. This is depicted in Euripides' play Helen. In Norse mythology, a vardøger is a ghostly double who is seen performing the person's actions in advance. In Finnish mythology, this is called having an etiäinen,[7][8][9] "a firstcomer".[10] The doppelgänger is a version of the Ankou, a personification of death, in Breton, Cornish, and Norman folklore."
The concept of the Ankou, a personification of death, in Breton, Cornish, and Norman  
mythology that we will concern ourselves with. The  Ankou  is a personification of Death from the negative material plane. Ergo the doppelganger as a monster is a literal a piece of the angel of death ;
"There are many tales involving Ankou, who appears as a man or skeleton wearing a cloak and wielding a scythe, and in some stories he is described as a shadow, often atop a cart for collecting the dead. He is said to wear a black robe with a large hat which conceals his face.[1] According to some[who?], he was the first child of Adam and Eve. Other versions have it that the Ankou is the first dead person of the year (though he is always depicted as adult, and male), charged with collecting the others' souls before he can go to the afterlife.[citation needed] He is said to drive a large, black coach pulled by four black horses; accompanied by two ghostly figures on foot.[1][2]
One tale[citation needed] says that there were three drunk friends walking home one night, when they came across an old man on a rickety cart. Two of the men started shouting at the Ankou, and then throwing stones; when they broke the axle on his cart they ran off.
The third friend felt bad and, wanting to help the Ankou, found a branch to replace the broken axle, and then gave the Ankou his shoe-laces with which to tie it to the cart. The next morning, the two friends who were throwing stones at the Ankou were dead, while the one who stayed to help only had his hair turned white. He would never speak of how it happened."

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, How They Met Themselves, watercolor, 1864
"This character is reported by Anatole Le Braz, a 19th-century writer and collector of legends. Here is what he wrote about the Ankou in his best-seller The Legend of Death:
The Ankou is the henchman of Death (oberour ar maro) and he is also known as the grave yard watcher, they said that he protects the graveyard and the souls around it for some unknown reason and he collects the lost souls on his land. The last dead of the year, in each parish, becomes the Ankou of his parish for all of the following year. When there has been, in a year, more deaths than usual, one says about the Ankou:
War ma fé, heman zo eun Anko drouk. ("On my faith, this one is a nasty Ankou.")"
'Every parish in Brittany is said to have its own Ankou.[1] In Breton tradition, the squealing of railway wheels outside one's home is supposed to be Karrigell an Ankou ("The Wheelbarrow of Ankou").[4] Similarly, the cry of the owl is referred to as Labous an Ankou ("The Death Bird").[4] The Ankou is also found on the baptismal font at La Martyre where he is shown holding a human head.[5]
In Ireland the proverb "When the Ankou comes, he will not go away empty" relates to the legend.[1]
The seventh album of the Spirou et Fantasio comics series, named L'Ankou, also relates to the legend'

"It is said that the Ankou is a death omen that collects the souls of the deceased. The Ankou is the last person to die in a parish during a year. The last deceased person will assume the duty of calling for the dead. They describe the Ankou as a tall, haggard figure with long white hair. It is also perceived as a skeleton with a revolving head able to see everything everywhere. The Ankou is said to drive a cart and stops at the house of someone who is about to die. It knocks on the door, this sound is sometimes heard by the living, or it could give out a mournful wail like the Irish Banshee. The Ankou has also been reported as an apparition entering the house, it takes away the dead who are then placed in the cart with the help of two ghostly companions"

In Hell there are the soul doubles of living people so evil that there are demonic soul reflections already being tortured. Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy has several examples of these. There are also such beings with reflections within the Underworld of Hades.

The realm of Perdition is going to be one of the realms of these doppelgangers. They are merely a  facet of the larger being of Death. The monster is another alien life form going about its existence & its presence & function can be found within the description of the thing;
"In Dungeons & Dragons, doppelgangers have long, gangly limbs despite their above-average strength and agility, and pale gray skin. Their eyes resemble those of an octopus, yellow with slitted pupils, and they have no hair on any part of their body. Their facial features appear to be half-developed. They are cunning and patient, and will wait as long as it takes for an opportunity to present itself. They have the ability to Detect Thoughts, which helps them to mimic their target almost flawlessly by imitating their mannerisms and discovering information that only their target would know. Because of this, they are feared and regarded as natural spies and assassins. " Below the surface of society there is going to a large amount of secret societies & cults because these monsters know all kinds of secrets because of their strong association with Death. 
Cults of chaos & their necromancers are going to be summoning these monsters for their secret & forbidden knowledge. They are shape shifting around the halls of power & these monsters are constantly forced to take advantage of their natural resources. There is a deep connection to the Celtic Otherworldusing one of the classic pieces of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy  as its background we find ourselves with a wholly different monster whose fangs will not be consuming my adventurers likeness anytime soon. Used carefully the Doppelganger is one of the most dangerous customers that the PC's could run into on any world. A simple monster  summoning spell can in fact create destruction for a classic old school campaign.

Retro Campaign Commentary - X4 Master Of The Desert Nomads By David "Zeb" Cook For Expert Dungeons & Dragons With A Clark Ashton Smith Campaign Twist

If you were playing Expert Dungeons & Dragons back in Eighty Three then one of the more dangerous modules to get your PC's embroiled in was the  second sword and sorcery style adventures that came from the pen of David "Zeb" Cook. X4 Master of the Desert Nomads. This adventure puts your PC's right in the cross hairs of two armies on their way to defeating 'The Master'.

"Everything seems to start off with a war and the PC's are caught right in the middle of the action in the Sind desert.

"To arms! To arms! The battle lines are drawn as desert men and inhuman tribes wait poised to strike on the fertile and rich lands of the east. The call has gone out through the civilized lands. The armies have been raised to match the invading foes from the west. Nobles and peasants have joined swords to greet the foes.
But Fate or Chance has decreed another role for a small few. No glorious banners will wave on their march. No squadrons of knights will charge at their word. Instead, they will fight the war through stealth, secrecy, and cunning. The risks they will take are great, but the fates of both armies lie with them.
It begins one night for your party far from the fighting. Suddenly you are entrusted with the most dangerous missions of the war. Can you cross the Sind Desert, occupied now by enemy armies, to find the Great Pass? Can you find the one known only as The Master? What will you do if your do find him?""

But how can this classic be adapted into a fully functioning campaign adventure, we'll with a bit of help from Clark Ashton Smith its a perfect vehicle to open the door to a whole cloth Sword & Sorcery  campaign set within Zothique or the far future of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition. But why Zothique at all? According to a letter written to Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953;
" Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days."
This sounds exactly like the sort of desert weirdness that the PC's encounter in Master of the Desert Nomads. The master is simply another in a long line of cult leaders & lost kings who have come across the trackless wastes of the Diamond Desert erm the "immense unexplored deserts" which bound Zothique to the north. As per usual I've already heard from friends that Empire of The Necromancers is a perfect frame work in which which this classic of the B/X era should dropped into? Actually X4 fits the campaign frame work of CAS's The Weaver In The Vault.  The idea of the ruined kingdom with  mercenary scouts doing dirty deeds in the desert fits the rough & tumble ideals X4. It fits the sardonic humor of CAS.
"Three of the king's roughest henchman began losing their nerve as they descended into the dark catacombs of a long-forsaken, earthquake-ruined burial site in Chaon Gacca. Their assignment, to recover the remains of an ancient king, was detestable enough. However, nothing could compare to the horrific sights and sounds....of the weaver!"

X4 The Master Of The Desert Nomads is one of those adventures where the classic wilderness crawl is full effect. The PC's can wander where & when they need to within the frame work of this hex crawl as the adventure take them. The village on the border of the Republic of Darokin there is a priest  looking for scouts to seek out the Master a mysterious figure who is uniting the various tribes of humans and humanoids in the Sind desert.
  1. The PCs are presented as mercenary scouts in almost but not quite Robert Howard Conan fashion in the X series. This is a perfect set up for adventurers & fits the rough & tumble nature of Sword & Sorcery adventures. 
  2. The wilderness crawl presents the opportunity to introduce other side quests for the party & allows the DM to customize X4 as their own. 
  3. The various desert locations are the perfect place to add in the adventure locations of  necropoli, abandoned ruins, epidemics & more that  fit the  far distant future of Zothique. 
  4.  X4 is the perfect vechile for the that typical CAS vivaciousness! 
  5. Master of the Desert Nomads has a bit of that Pulp weirdness we love already but with a bit of a push can be inverted into a hard core campaign. 
  6.   Because the set up is a classic sword & sorcery adventure the X series of modules could be used to frame work around the Ghost Ship of the Desert Dunes as a lost world style mini campaign. 

Within a pseudo historical setting X4 Master of The Desert Nomads could be used in an alternative dark fantasy Egypt or North African style adventure set around the Fourteenth or Fifteenth century. The dungeon master might want to draw from the Robert Howard well of dark fantasy literature with Solomon Kane and “The Fire of Asshurbanipal". This adventure will also work on the Chinese Gobi desert style Silk Road setting  which pulls from the Oriental and Middle Eastern mythological traditions. This plugs directly into the ideals of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique & yet keeps the adventure from becoming overly stale.
X4 remains a very different feeling adventure with its encounters wrapped around the central wheel house of  dark fantasy encounters, odd supernatural encounters, dangerous pieces of old school sword and sorcery action. This was one of the adventures that I've run over and over again with PC's coming face to face with weird monsters and becoming hooked on the desert series.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

1d15 Random 'Witch Fated' Treasures & Relics of Occult Power Table

"I utter in words my thanks to the Ruler of all, the King of Glory, the everlasting Lord, for the treasures which I here gaze upon, in that I have been allowed to win such things for my people before my day of death! Now that I have given my old life in barter for the hoard of treasure, do ye henceforth supply the people's needs, — I may stay here no longer. Bid the war-veterans raise a splendid barrow after the funeral fire, on a projection by the sea, which shall tower high on Hronesness as a memorial for my people, so that seafarers who urge their tall ships from afar over the spray of ocean shall thereafter call it Beowulf's barrow."
Line 2795 of Beowulf

There are relics & treasures that have fallen from the hands of kings that they are wreathed in destiny. Songs are sung of their stories but they have gone into the claws of dragons, demons, & monsters in lairs under the Earth. These relic are the lost pieces of another age claimed by monsters. PC's who find these treasures are often caught into the skein of fate & may find themselves on an adventure regardless.

Any of these  items  often of legend & myth find their way into the claws of some seriously dangerous dragons or monsters. They are often 40% chance cursed or worse 'witch fated.' Witch fated relics & treasures bare the mark of  occult power or supernatural influence. Covens, cults, & groves of witches of the most dangerous stripe desire these items. They are often part & parcel of the complex supernatural relationships that arise between dragons & covens of local witches. Any time that one of these items of power leaves a hoard there is a 70% chance that a cell of witches or their agents with the 'sight' will seek the person who has possession of it.

There is a 20% chance of these items having some odd supernatural quirk or power that has been soaked up over the hundreds of years laying next to a sleeping dragon. Consult the appropriate type of dragon for possible powers or abilities of these items. Dragons may go on the war path to recover such a minor relic because it has gone missing. Villages may burn, crops turned to ash, and places of power may feel their Hellish wraith.
Those possessing such items may be troubled by horrid dreams & visions of impending doom & depravity. The dragon may supernaturally become aware of the owner of the item through their dreams & may be able to track them across the Astral planar dreamscape.

1d15 Random 'Witch Fated' Treasures
& Relics of Occult Power Table
  1. The Golden Cup of ARA - This cup has been carved of golden wood & has an interior of gold overlay. The cup is a sacred relic & able create a healing drought for 1d6 people every new moon. The goddess ARA watches over the relic but its been missing since a dragon stole it after having infiltrated a coven to claim it as their own. The cup is worth a cool thousand gold pieces to the right collector. 
  2. The Ring of the Doppelgangers - This ring now belongs to a treasure hoard of a powerful witch whose been cursed to become a red dragon of the most dangerous aspect. The ring allows one to summon the fetch of another & the evil soul twin must answer any questions put to it truthfully. The ring was originally used for an ascension ceremony of power within a local coven. But its been missing for over two hundred years.  Worth about 600 gold pieces to a local lord who wants it for  nefarious reasons.
  3. Eye of the Chaos Goddess - This strange crystal gem allows the owner to gaze into the nearby dimensions & planes. The eye will allow one to know the names of power of these creatures making summoning them far easier. The owner has an 80% chance of summoning them depending upon planar weather conditions. Originally this was a military item used in a war on the forces of law. But the coven to whom it belonged to was ransacked by a dragon of incredible occult power. The goddess has been trapped within for centuries. 
  4. The Wands of The Fetches - This wand allows one to summon their shadow self from the plane of death & allow it to show the pathways to hidden destinies & treasures. The wand originally was used by a dragon to test the occult potential of new witches & wizards in its area. The wand was stolen by an evil witch who used it to amass a hoard & turn herself into a dragon of unstable power. Since then it has not been seen in three hundred years. 
  5. The Golden Plate of Ra - This plate of purest gold comes from the depths of Fairyland & allows one to gaze into the pits of the Old Gods where Ra was trapped during his death cycle. The plate allows one to find the occult paths of power allowing a witch or wizard to cast one level higher spells their PC's actual level. The plate has a price in the form of a temporary wisdom point each day which take the form of gold tears. The plate has been in the hoard of a dangerously evil wizard who has a pet dragon with the plate as the centerpiece of his hoard. The witches of Ra want it back however. 
  6. The Casket of Power & Destiny - This casket contains the soul of a powerful witch & her occult power. The casket can be used by anyone to create 2nd level witches spell like abilities but its real power is the ability to heal even the most grievous injuries each full moon. A dragon has been guarding it for two centuries until the chosen one comes. 
  7. The Puzzle of Tears - This set of finely wrought puzzle pieces allows one piece together the soul of a person whose had their soul torn apart. The puzzle must be used by a 6th level witch in a place of power under the waxing moon. A swamp dragon has been guarding it against a local group of dangerous witches who belong to the goddess of black tears. They will pay handsomely for it. 
  8. The Hand of Despair - This ancient withered & decaying piece of flesh once belonged to one of the white witches of Fairyland until she was cursed by a dragon of dire aspect. The crone that resulted was a hag of the first order & rampaged across parts of the countryside. Her evil was contained in her hand after a knight cut it off. A dragon of power took the hand for safe keeping but recently she has returned as an undead demonic thing & has begun killing mystics trying to track down her hand. The hand allows one to use many of the minor abilities of a hag but the owner must kill every seven days. 
  9. The Agates of the Gods - These jewel encrusted stones are the gem covered gal stones of a dangerously murderous dragon taken from his gut by a witch whose husband slayed the beast. They are said to have the power to kill a minor god. But they are very pretty items & worth 60 gold pieces each. There are ten of them each of them pertaining to the ten fingers or miracles of the minor gods. Only the witch's coven knows their secrets & they will murder the owner to get the stones back! 
  10. The Crown of the Ancient Swords Woman - This strange crown once belonged to a minor princess of Fairyland & it allows the owner to harm demons when wielding a sword. The crown was used to slay an ancient demon after it was taken from its owner by a dragon. He seduced its previous owner & enchanted it with the ability to once a day create a door into Fairyland. The ancient Coven of the Swords Woman has been trapped in Fairyland ever since. Now they wish to return home. They have a small treasure to give the party who saves them. 
  11. The Glass of Looking - This ancient mirror allows the owner to gaze into nearby occult realms of power & triple the effects of any spell they cast while tapping the mirrors power. The mirror however holds an evil  dragon within its depths & it is currently owned by a coven of witches who use to plan the kidnapping of local children to sell into slavery in Fairyland. The parents of one of the children wants revenge on them. 
  12. The Knife of Decay - This occult relic of power is often used to cut the cords of the soul allowing the owner to experience the realms of death without dying. They can visit with the recently deceased one last time and find out some vital piece of information. But the knife is currently owned by a death dragon of dire aspect. She has twelve witches of Death after her & they will do anything to get the knife from her clutches. The knife can also cause anything it touches to decay & melt when struck by it within 1d8 rounds. Death itself would also like the knife back but is amused by the antics surrounding it. 
  13. The Casket of Is - This casket contains the soul of a demon called 'Is' a creature of no great importance whose name is used to keep it trapped within the relic. The relic allows the owner to access its power to see twelve possible visions of the future. Each vision is governed over by the soul of a witch but every twelve visions a dragon astral stalks the owner to eat their souls. The casket is currently in the possession of a dying witch who wants to pass it on to another but her circle wants it. The demon on the other hand will send 1d6 minor demons to torment the PC's because it can to attract their attention. 
  14. The Ark of Lu - This ark once belonged to a witch goddess named Lu whose power was vast & dangerous. Lu used her abilities to steal the souls of the newly dead for her spiritual slave ship of power. The gods found out about her project & locked her away in the ark where she waits & preys on any covens foolish enough to own the ark. She now has a dragon in her clutches who is in human form to find the Ark. The ark allows the owner to access the deep magicks & can take on some of the goddesses power for 1d8 hours. The owner gains the ability to charm, cast 1st level spells, & has access to the witch goddess clerical magic. The owner however will want & become addicted to the ark's power. 
  15. Splinter of the True Coffin - This strange piece of wood drips with the blood of a moon goddess whose power comes from her true coffin. The coffin now holds her undead remains & it allows the owner to find her. A dragon is after the splinter & his witches want the power of the moon goddess for themselves but a cleric of Law is after them. The splinter will find the PC's & involve them in its tapestry of blood & mayhem. There is a 600 gold piece emerald in the top of the coffin.

OSR Commentary - Classic Dungeons & Dragons Player Character Races With A Mythological Twist

I take a far more mythological progression with the iconic Dungeons & Dragons fantasy races in my home campaigns. There are far more to them then meets the eye & its actually a form of rebellion on my part against the usual Dungeons & Dragons expectations. When dealing with many of the OSR worlds this approach has been far more rewarding by allowing the players to have more of a hand in their characters.

Let's start with humanity is the single greatest occult resource for the supernatural & occult world. The abundance of the human race means that its going to be widely available for millions of years to come. But its also the race that provides the greatest number of heroes. This could be form of occult natural selection or simply that this race provides its own supernatural immune system in the package of adventurers. The sheer variety of humanity provides an endless supply of food & amusement for the occult powers. But it also on occasion provides their death as well. 
Neither the Dwarves nor the Elves seen in Dungeons & Dragons are the true powers or royals of those semi divine breeds. The Dwarves of my own home campaigns are taken straight from Germanic & Norse mythologies & their pivotal to humanity's future;
:The modern English noun dwarf descends from the Old English dweorg. It has a variety of cognates in other Germanic languages, including Old Norse dvergr and Old High German twerg. According to Vladimir Orel, the English noun and its cognates ultimately descend from Proto-Germanic *đwerȝaz.[2]
Beyond the Proto-Germanic reconstruction, the etymology of the word dwarf is highly contested. Scholars have proposed theories about the origins of the being by way of historical linguistics and comparative mythology, including that dwarfs may have originated as nature spirits, as beings associated with death, or as a mixture of concepts. Competing etymologies include a basis in the Indo-European root *dheur- (meaning 'damage'), the Indo-European root *dhreugh (whence, for example, modern English dream and German Trug 'deception'), and comparisons have been made with Sanskrit dhvaras (a type of "demonic being")"
The Dwarven peoples that we see in various settings are in fact the Dweorg, races created by the Dwarven 'gods' eons ago to survive the harsh conditions of various planes & worlds for mining, & other worldly activities.

Elves or huldra ("hidden being") are in fact humanoids bred to be the slave race of wizards & gods from the magical rich chaos laden realm of Fairyland. These beings have for millions of years been used as labor, military, work force, etc. in our world. Many ancient other dimensional gateways still exist under mounds & other historical sites of occult importance. Elven gods & powers are some of the most evil & dangerous beings that players can run across. Humanity once worshiped these beings but rebelled in ancient times before the Biblical flood.

Half Elves were a latter development for magically deleted environments & for use as traders with humanity often where valuable resources  & occult sites of power are still found. These beings look very human but display a wide variety of mythological racial traits that sets them apart. These beings often have individual tribal or racial identities depending upon the region or country they are found in.

The half orc has a deep & abiding connection to Orcus & the classic Underworld of Greco Roman mythology. The half orc is a product of war & chaos due to the influx of the Orc warmachine from from the Underworld. The Underworld is the passage of warfare between the gods of Hell & humanity. The half orc is a product of its background of violence & hatred but many rise beyond it. These beings are rare but not unheard of throughout Europe & the known world. Orcs, goblins, & ogres are far too common it would seem.

"Old English glossaries record the word orc corresponding with Latin Orcus (deity of the Underworld), and synonymous with þyrs/ðyrs "ogre" (cognate to Old Norse: þurs), as well as "hell devil". The Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal defines ork in the very closely related Old Dutch language as a verslindend monster ("devouring monster"),[3] and points at a possible origin in the Old Dutch nork "petulant, crabbed, evil person".[4]
The Latin: Orcus is glossed as "Old English: Orc, þyrs, oððe hel-deofol"[a] as given in the first Cleopatra Glossary (10th century), and on this entry Thomas Wright wrote, "Orcus was the name for Pluto, the god of the infernal regions, hence we can easily understand the explanation of hel-deofol. Orc, in Anglo-Saxon, like thyrs, means a spectre, or goblin."

With a bit of mythological adjustment a dungeon master can mold the classic Dungeons & Dragons player character  races to suit their players & their own needs for a campaign. The DYI nature of Dungeons & Dragons allows the dungeon master to take full advantage of the blank spots left in early editions of the; grand game.' Old & tired races that players have seen a million times can take on a far more 'Weird Tales' aspect with a bit of research & time.

Ten Reasons Why A Mythological
Twist Works For PC Racial Classes 
  1. Each of the PC races mentioned in this blog post have some strange connection with Alchemy & this can easily be exploited by the dungeon master for all kinds of harrowing mayhem. 
  2. The classic Greco Roman depiction of Hades & his connection with the creation of the orc  race is never used in adventures. 
  3. Elven gods are dangerous & the Elven races connection to its Fairyland origins points to a far more alien view point then we traditionally see in Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. 
  4. Dwarves have often been the lynch  pins in the affairs of the gods & should be exploited often. 
  5. Half Elves are the perfect stand ins for many 'lost world' races in campaigns. They can be exceedingly rare. 
  6. Don't count out humanity for being the perfect ancient plot device for old school adventures. 
  7. Don't be afraid to make up stuff as needed to bridge gap your home campaigns when it comes to the cracks in mythology. 
  8. The Underworld is a dungeon master's friend & a crack in the Earth is the perfect excuse for a PC to simply show up in an adventure. 
  9. Screw with player expectations! While many gamers are familiar with the classic Dungeons & Dragons books. They often are not that well versed in the actual mythological  origins of their favorite monsters leaving plenty of room for dungeon master customization. 
  10. Use mythology to breath new life into classic old school adventures using mythological resources. Play the unexpected and don't be afraid to exploit it for the game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

1d10 Random Strange Caravans & Weird Merchants From Beyond Table For Your Old School Campaigns

In a lost land, that only dreams have known,
Where flaming suns walk naked and alone;
Among horizons bright as molten brass,
And glowing heavens like furnaces of glass,
It rears with dome and tower manifold,
Rich as a dawn of amarant and gold,
Or gorgeous as the Phoenix, born of fire,
And soaring from an opalescent pyre
Sheer to the zenith. Like some anademe
Of Titan jewels turned to flame and dream
The city crowns the far horizon-light
Over the flowered meads of damassin ....
A desert isle of madreperl ! wherein
The thurifer and opal-fruited palm
And heaven-thronging minarets becalm
The seas of azure wind....
(Note: These lines were remembered out of a dream, and are given verbatim.)
The City in the Desert  (1922)
by Clark Ashton Smith

They come from out of the wasteland sands on alien creatures changing & metamorphosing to fit the local time & space. There are so many names but they all have come to sell their wares. The merchant princes, the queens of the road, the travelers, & many others. They come from all walks of life & places unknown. The folk are an amalgam of many of the exotic, the alien, the unwanted, & the list goes on. But they are also the dreamers & the dream. There are powerful half blooded Elven princes among their ranks & dreamers of the first order. Assassins of 2nd level guarding the wiles of  alien escorts of the most dangerous & erotic aspect.
When these caravans come to call the merchant princes will come to call on the rulers & authorities of the local cities. Ancient contracts promising horrid curses are sited & pacts made every two hundred years are shook over a small pile of gold pieces.

He is not what he appears to be

Ilusionists are some of the most valuable members of these mysterious caravans providing cover, creating distractions, & providing shows that attract people by the hundreds. This in turn provides the caravan marketplace with lots of customers. Wares are traded, soul pacts are made, & hundreds of pieces of dreams flow into the golden vessels of the caravans. The ancient powers of the Elves continue to ply their trade as they do in the modern day.
Going to a caravan market place may provide a party with a key book, occult treatise or other rare supernatural item forty percent of the time. There are certain forbidden tents where the erotic & exotic arts perform. But there are one or two 'special tents' that have late night or early morning performances at 'the hour of the soul.' These performances will drain one point of wisdom per customer & are by invitation only.
The merchant princes use these pieces of the human soul to perform black miracles back in their own lands far beyond the realms of dream.

There are often opportunities for adventurers to hire on to such caravans are paramount with them offering one  gold piece a day for grunt work &  six pieces for guard, military, & cargo duties. But there often powerful spirits & other supernatural predators among the 'acts' of these merchant princes. Those who hire on can be seen as potential fuel as well & should regard their tenure among these caravans as temporary at best. But there are valuable 'fairy gold' to be had & many an adventurer has been tempted by rumors of it. There is only death waiting for them however unless they are very careful. There will be a 20,000 to 2,000 gold piece treasury used by the caravan but there will be a efreet or genie guarding it of the most vile aspect. These 'treasures' will often turn to leaves or other debris when the characters exit the holding wagons. Changelings are often exchanged for strong human children who are considered a valuable treasure in their own right.
The various princes are often huldra ("hidden being") Elven blooded beings able to exist in the human world while powerful Elven wizards equip their caravans from Fairyland. These are seen as investments by their masters for the power of pure human souls is a value among the supernatural powers of incredible occult potential.
These caravans move across time, space, & dreams taking the relics from a million worlds but they are seldom what they appear to be.

1d20 Random Strange Caravans & Weird Merchants From Beyond Table 
  1. Prince Albrus & his cohorts are a merchant train of incredible potential that is looking for a heir to a throne in Fairyland. His ties to the court of Hell allow him to sell medical miracles & occult secrets from across the planes. He is sardonic & very vein however & this can be used to the advantage of adventurers but his wraith is very dangerous. 
  2. The Princess Truse & Prince Rous The Justice are two of the most devious & dangerous of the merchant princes. Their caravan is the cover for a Fey thieves & assassins guild of the most vile kind. Every two hundred years they follow a route that allows them to snatch & grab human babies for  changelings. Assassinate heads of state & then for good measure steal candy from children. These two however sell a wide array of occult components & artifacts to royalty from Fairyland. 
  3. The Caravan of Wonders - This traveling troupe of magicians & performers is actually the cover for a lawfully aligned group of Fey & Elves who are hunting down the pawns of Hell & Chaos. They have many among their ranks who act as illusionists & wizards while their knights & paladins move across the land. There are twelve ranks of thieves who spy & steal from the wealthy patrons of cults & temples of depravity. 
  4. Deacons of Depravity & Malice this caravan offers many different medical cures & a wide array of pleasures of the flesh. But in fact they have among their ranks some of the most dangerous necromancers ever to walk out of Fairyland. They seek the souls of the unwary and trade them for magick and illusionary treasures.
  5. Trades of Nature is a group of traveling druidic priests & priestesses who help farmers & the like with crop issues & problems all the while being a cover for Fey. These spirits of the Earth actually are looking for an ancient temple of theirs across the planes but help farmers. Occasionally they trade for the soul of a child to help restore a particularly bad area.  They use the miracle of the Wicker man to restore the land.
  6. Those Who Restore The Balance - This large caravan trades minor occult miracles, shows, & odd relics as they repair farm implements, address crowds with minor farming information, sell seeds, & are greatly regarded. These merchants are looking for a minor chaos cult whose sins have caused a disruption in the fabric of time. They have made a deal with an Elven wizard to sell his wares for the right of murder when they find them. That was two hundred years ago & they continue to travel. 
  7. The Seekers of Lom - A troupe of traveling druids & seekers of wisdom who often come to predict the coming harvests & crop rotations. These traders are actually monster hunters and seek the abominations of Chaos to root out & destroy. They trade in information & seeds for their services while providing cover to seek out the destroyers of their master Lom. Occasionally they will take on an apprentice & use a changeling his or her place. 
  8. The Caravan of Ull - This troupe of Elves is one of the most prolific in Europe & uses a wide variety of circus & faires to cover their activities. They serve the ancient Greek Muses & are often used to seek out aspiring artists to take with them back to Fairyland & the Underworld. 
  9. The Tattered Ones - A Fall troupe of traders & acrobats whose performances hide the activities of one of the most dangerous occult witch hunters seen from Fairyland. Their hatred of covens & other pagan cults is widely known but their agenda is not. They leave a tattered doll after a hunt & murder of a coven at the site of a grove. There are rumors of twelve assassins guilds offering them up a child or two for apprenticeship every seven years. 
  10. The Dark Ones in Shelter - This Spring group of Dark Elves comes to trade with human settlements in the most remotest corners of the world. They offer wisdom, food, farming advice, medical help, & worship. They are actually dark Elven paladins & knights who travel among humanity searching for the Devil's cults to murder & after centuries have gotten very good at it.

Monday, August 13, 2018

OSR Commentary - A Very Hellish Take On The Lich For Your Old School Campaigns

I've been thinking about 'The Divine Comedy' which for me is one of the seminal & cornerstone  works of Dungeons & Dragons. "The Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia [diˈviːna komˈmɛːdja]) is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321 The Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia [diˈviːna komˈmɛːdja]) is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered to be the preeminent work in Italian literature[1] and one of the greatest works of world literature"

Artwork from the official Dungeons & Dragons coloring book with artwork by Greg Irons (Illustrator) whose artwork is great in this book! Love this version of the lich.

So what does the Divine Comedy have to do with lichdom?! Well a bit of everything in the original Dungeons & Dragons rules the lich was quote, " lich introduced in its first supplement, Greyhawk (1975).[2] It is described as a skeletal monster that was formerly either a magic-user or a cleric in life. The lich was further developed in Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry (1976)."'
The soul of any priest, wizard,bishop,etc  is destine for Hell & to gain the occult or supernatural wisdom of those who came from before end of the age of mythology & legend takes some very cunning means. Lichdom is one such route. Since Dragon Magazine #75 with Ed Greenwood's article 'The Nine Hells' the planes of Hell have always been a bit static. But Dante added in the planes of  Perdition  & Purgatory respectively which puts a whole different spin on the alignment issue. For me being a young player & playing in an old school  campaign with mythological focused this was a big thing. The plane of Perdition  had undead, demons, devils, fallen angels, & lich kingdoms. Purgatory had angels, demons, & devils just waiting to kill off  PC's stupid enough to make the quest to claim the souls of their friends for resurrection by the spider goddess cults.

But we're really given a wide variety of options in the Seventies through Nineties when the varieties & options on liches  were expanded. 'In AD&D 1st edition, the lich appears in the first edition Monster Manual (1977),[3] where it is described as having been created with the use of powerful and arcane magic, formerly ultra powerful magic-users now non-human and non-living."
"Len Lakofka's article "Blueprint For a Lich," in Dragon #26 (1979), describes a formula for transforming a spellcaster into a lich." "The D&D Basic Set included its own version of the lich, in the D&D Master Rules (1985), in the "Master DM's Book".[7] It was also later featured in the D&D Rules Cyclopedia (1991).[8]"

Its not simply Hell nipping at the heels of clergy  & wizards. The race for wizards to gain lichdom makes perfect sense especially if you begin seeing the price of magick in Dungeons & Dragons & Advanced Dungeons & Dragons first edition. All of those wonderful magic items have a price & are completely dangerous for a wizard to create. The sheer cost of those items on the wizard's age, health,etc. are all within the rules that no one uses especially in AD&D first edition. Lichs help to spread magic practices far & wide in the world as they can. Because they often enslave hordes of wizards to help in the production of magick items,relics, & more. for their own exploration of  'the Other World'.

Could the AD&D Hells, evil planes, & the Abyss merely be the smaller stages of  Dante's 'Inferno?' I think that these planes also include Perdition & Purgatory. The Underworld connects up with both planes respectively. And where are souls of these various liches in the Inferno? They're roasting uncomfortably in the tombs of the Sixth circle. Quests for certain witches, wizards, etc. are going to be some of the most dangerous & difficult that a group of players can undertake. Note that this whole campaign commentary is very Europecentric & its supposed to be. After all its using one of the classic pieces of Dante Alighieri's 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy  as its background.

Ten Unexpected Occult & Dangerous
Supernatural Adventure Connections to a Dantian Lichdom
  1. A lich hires the PC 's to journey into the Otherworld & retrieve a magic item of legendary importance. A rival lich has other plans however as another party of adventurers comes to call. The powers of Hell watch from the background taking bets on the outcome.
  2. Death is not mocked & hires the PC's to assassinate a lich but the kingdom is actually growing & prosperous under the rule of this undead king. 
  3. The Scholomance is taking on pupil & one of the party's wizards is up for recommendation by the local lich. Can the PC's save the soul of their friend & get rich in the process?
  4. A succubus hires the PC's to break the soul of a lich out from Hell so it can come back  part of minor plot of Hell. 
  5. A minor relic is secreted on Earth & only a lich knows its significance to key member of the local church. How good are the PC's bargaining skills? 
  6. The Devil willing to cut a deal with the PC's for the soul of a very nasty lich but the gods have other plans & it looks like a trip into the Underworld might be on the books. 
  7. The party is hired to take letter to minor official in a local village. What they actually have is a diabolical contract for the soul of said official from Hell. He's been murdered & only the powers of a local seer ( the lich) can help find the murder. 
  8. A damned soul has escaped Hell & a group of demonic bounty hunters is on his trail. He's heading straight for the local powerful prince of the undead. But now the party has to deal with the other things coming out of Hell.
  9. The ten treasures of Zeus have been stolen by a lich in his quest for godhood but the unholy imbalance has caused a local dragon to awaken! Now the PC's have to find a powerful relic & stop this monster from waking up! 
  10. One of the PC's is the perfect soul vessel for a lich to transfer his essence into it. The Devil has other plans for the party.

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