Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Bloody & Painful Legacy of 'The Sword In The Stone' - An OSR Commentary For Old School Campaigns

So last night I was prepping out for my OSR hybrid game of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition while simultaneously working on my Arthurian/Thirty Years War campaign. This campaign setting draws very heavily upon classic original Dungeons & Dragon game sources while plunging the knife of campaign setting game play squarely into Dark Albion & especially the Lion & Dragon retroclone system.
Today I want to address three ton monster in the room of Arthurian legend, 'The Sword in The Stone'. The 'sword in the stone' is the lynch pin of the Arthurian legend that gets overlooked by nearly every DM. The sword in the stone supposedly sets up Arthur as the rightful king of Britain & as a true seeker of the Holy Grail. Make no mistake that it is but its more then that. It marks a legacy going back thousands of years into European history.

"In Arthurian romance, a number of explanations are given for Arthur's possession of Excalibur. In Robert de Boron's Merlin, the first tale to mention the "sword in the stone" motif, Arthur obtained the British throne by pulling a sword from an anvil sitting atop a stone that appeared in a churchyard on Christmas Eve.[12][note 1] In this account, the act could not be performed except by "the true king," meaning the divinely appointed king or true heir of Uther Pendragon. As Malory's writes: "Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born."[13][note 2] This sword is thought by many to be the famous Excalibur, and its identity is made explicit in the later Prose Merlin, part of the Lancelot-Grail cycle.[14] The challenge of drawing a sword from a stone also appears in the Arthurian legends of Galahad, whose achievement of the task indicates that he is destined to find the Holy Grail"

I highly doubt that the sword in the stone is Excalibur but instead the sword of the Pendragons. This is sword of ruler ship that served Uther Pendragon legendary king of sub-Roman Britain who fought the forces of Chaos to a stand still.  If we look deeply into into the legacy of Uther Pendragon then it becomes readily apparent that there are once again two three different characters from European history. What we know  from standard Arthurian legend is as follows:
"Uther Pendragon (/ˈjθər pɛnˈdræɡən, ˈθər/;[1] Welsh: Uthyr Pendragon, Uthyr Bendragon) also known as King Uther, is a legendary king of sub-Roman Britain and the father of King Arthur. A few minor references to Uther appear in Old Welsh poems, but his biography was first written down by Geoffrey of Monmouth in his Historia Regum Britanniae (History of the Kings of Britain), and Geoffrey's account of the character was used in most later versions. He is a fairly ambiguous individual throughout the literature, but is described as a strong king and a defender of the people.

According to Arthurian Legend, Merlin magically disguises Uther to look like his enemy Gorlois, enabling Uther to rape Gorlois' wife Lady Igraine. Thus Arthur, "the once and future king," is an illegitimate child (though later legend, as found in Malory, emphasizes that the conception occurred after Gorlois's death and that he was legitimated by Uther's subsequent marriage to Igraine[2]). This act of conception occurs the very night that Uther's troops dispatch Gorlois. The theme of illegitimate conception is repeated in Arthur's siring of Mordred by his own half-sister Morgause in the later prose romances; it is Mordred who mortally wounds King Arthur in the Battle of Camlann."

Where did this mystic +3 sword come from? We have more then a clue in the Welsh legends; " Uther appears in these fragments, where he is associated with Arthur and, in some cases, even appears as his father.

He is mentioned in the circa-10th-century Arthurian poem "Pa gur yv y porthaur?" ("What man is the gatekeeper?"), where it is only said of him that Mabon son of Modron is his servant. He is also memorialized with "The Death-song of Uther Pen" from the Book of Taliesin.[6] The latter includes a reference to Arthur, so the marginal addition of "dragon" to Uther's name is probably justified. "The Colloquy of Arthur and the Eagle," a poem contemporary with but independent of Geoffrey, mentions another son of Uther named Madoc, the father of Arthur's nephew Eliwlod.[4]
In Triad 28, Uthyr is named the creator of one of the Three Great Enchantments of the Island of Britain, which he taught to the wizard Menw.[7] Since Menw is a shapeshifter according to Culhwch and Olwen, it might be that Uther was one as well. If this is so, it opens up the possibility that Geoffrey of Monmouth's narrative about Uther impregnating Igerna with Merlin's help (see below) was taken from a Welsh legend where Uthyr changed his own shape, Merlin possibly being added to the story by Geoffrey.[8]"

This basically places the sorcerer's order of Merlin & 'Uther' center stage following in the wake of the Roman Flight from England. This details draws to the Eight One film Excalibur's character  of Merlin & the Chant of  Making.
"Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha."
" The Charm of Making, an incantation repeatedly uttered by both Merlin and Morgana, is in an Old Gaelic dialect that translates to "Serpent's breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making."
When the Roman Empire left England it created a vacuum of power that the forces of  the Pagan gods & Chaos were quick to take full advantage of. The results of this can easily be seen in Dark Albion. This same succession events of power & rulership can also be seen during the events of the the political chaos of the Thirty Year War.

The symbolism of the 'Sword in the Anvil' is also key to understanding the whole of the legacy of  Camelot & the occult overtones. The sword is the legacy of Uther and anvil is the whole of England as well as the bloodline of the Red Dragon of the Pendragon family.
Uther is best known from Geoffrey's Historia Regum Britanniae (1136) where he is the youngest son of King of Britannia, Constantine III. His eldest brother Constans succeeds to the throne on their father's death, but is murdered at the instigation of his adviser Vortigern, who seizes the throne. Uther and his other brother, Aurelius Ambrosius, still children, flee to Brittany. Vortigern makes an alliance with the Saxons under Hengist, but it goes disastrously wrong. Aurelius and Uther return, now adults. Aurelius burns Vortigern in his castle and becomes king.

With Aurelius on the throne, Uther leads his brother in arms to Ireland to help Merlin bring the stones of Stonehenge from there to Britain. Later, while Aurelius is ill, Uther leads his army against Vortigern's son Paschent and his Saxon allies. On the way to the battle, he sees a comet in the shape of a dragon, which Merlin interprets as presaging Aurelius's death and Uther's glorious future. Uther wins the battle and takes the epithet "Pendragon", and returns to find that Aurelius has been poisoned by an assassin. He becomes king and orders the construction of two gold dragons, one of which he uses as his standard.
He secures Britain's frontiers and quells Saxon uprisings with the aids of his retainers, one of whom is Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall. At a banquet celebrating their victories, Uther becomes obsessively enamoured of Gorlois' wife Igerna (Igraine), and a war ensues between Uther and his vassal. Gorlois sends Igerna to the impregnable castle of Tintagel for protection while he himself is besieged by Uther in another town. Uther consults with Merlin who uses his magic to transform the king into the likeness of Gorlois and thus gain access to Igerna at Tintagel. He spends the night with her and they conceive Arthur, but the next morning it is discovered that Gorlois had been killed. Uther marries Igerna and they have a daughter called Anna (in later romances she is called Morgause and is usually Igerna's daughter by her previous marriage). Morgause later marries King Lot and becomes the mother of Gawain and Mordred.
Uther later falls ill and the wars begin to go badly against the Saxons. He insists on leading his army himself, propped up on his horse. He defeats Hengist's son Octa at Verulamium (St Albans), despite the Saxons calling him the "Half-Dead King". However, the Saxons soon contrive his death by poisoning a spring which he drinks from near Verulamium.[10]
Uther's family is based on some historical figures; Constantine on the historical usurper Constantine III, a claimant to the Roman throne from 407–411, and Constans on his son. Aurelius Ambrosius is Ambrosius Aurelianus, mentioned by Gildas, though his connection to Constantine and Constans is unrecorded."

The bloodline connection between the Pendragon family its line of wizards, the fight with chaos going back to the beginnings of England all make the events of Avalon the lost country all that more dark & murky as Fairyland takes Arthur.
"The days of our kind are numberèd. The one God comes to drive out the many gods. The spirits of wood and stream grow silent. It's the way of things. Yes... it's a time for men, and their ways."
Merlin Excalibur 1981

The Sword in the Stone' is also a potent symbol of the Celtic Otherworld as draws forth on the  symbolism of the Roman god Hades keys to the Underworld. A remnant of the inner workings of the Roman mystery cults which is also deeply tied into the classic alchemy symbolism. Alchemy being a key part of the Lion & Dragon retroclone wizard's arsenal against the forces of chaos. The sword in the stone might be one of the twelve treasures of  Clark Ashton Smith's
The Averoigne stories. Because of the of the deep connection of Lancelot family with  Averoigne. The sword could be a potent weapon against the forces of the toad god & his frog forces within Europe.  The sword in the stone has disappeared into the mists of history & would make a fine quest for a group of adventurers especially in Castle Amber. The Amber family's blood connections to the Pendragons might mean that the sword is in some long lost familial crypt in X2 Castle Amber.
We'll get into the deeper parts of the Chaotic fight with Fairyland next time

Friday, March 16, 2018

Forbidden Underworld Themes In Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition Campaigns

Today I've spent a good deal of time delving in & out of Robert Howard's Conan story "The Man-Eaters of Zamboula" (or, as it was renamed, "Shadows in Zamboula") as well as Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition.
This is mostly due to the upcoming Kickstarter launch for Corey Walden's AS&SH adventure "The Anthropophagi of Xambaala" this is an adventure with lots of extended campaign adventure play. Corey is well known among the OSR crowd & has done a number of OSR projects over the years. "Shadows in Zamboula" is pure Appendix N Weird Tales material & most likely this adventure will follow closely in the stories foot steps with Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's own twist.

The cover artwork for  "The Anthropophagi of Xambaala" reminds me of an adventure  events continuation of B4 The Lost City classic adventure  by Tom Moldvay. If you haven't seen the 48-page "B4 campaign source book", a collection of mostly new material celebrating Tom Moldvay's "The Lost City" by Demos Sachlas.

The sourcebook contains some of the free amazing  following material : 
Retrospective: The Lost City
Memories of Tom Moldvay
About the Artist, from “The Art of Jim Holloway”
Printing History, with notes from the Acaeum
Origins of the Lost City
Worship of the Ancient Gods
The Cynidicean Mosaics
Holmes and the Lost City
Notes on the Underground City
Expanding the Adventure
New Monsters
The Emirates of Ylaruam
The DM’s Guide to Cynidicea
Review: “Mystara: Return to the Lost City”
Review: “Masque of Dreams” (including some previously unpublished artwork by Michael Kaluta!)
Review: “Elder Evils”
2013 Gen Con Championship

B4 The Lost City is a B/X Sword & Sorcery classic adventure and this source book only adds a bit more old school shine to it.

"Shadows in Zamboula"has its own merits with story events seemingly happening around Conan as well as too him. Much of this also happens to take place with adventuring parties within campaigns. Baal-pteor, the Strangler of Yajur is just the sort of an NPC character that a party of adventurers might run into if they're not careful in the seedy side of this incredibly dangerous  desert city. But something about Zamboula itself reminds me of the far future tales of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique.

 Maybe its the emptiness of the Empire of the Necromancers, The (1932) story or the deadly weirdness of Charnel God, The (1934). But something about AS&SH's adventures have always held a bit of the old school Weird Tales darkness about them.

Cover of Weird Tales (November 1935): The feature story is Robert E. Howard's "Shadows in Zamboula".

These desert regions in pulps often guarded entrances to the Underworld of mythology. Often the rivers of the dead were featured in many pulp stories certainly there are echoes of this in CAS's Zothique & echoes of it in Jeffrey Talanian AS&SH' s Underborea. Is there such a region in this underworld location? I think so. Especially given some of the hints we've seen in the campaign world &  monster section of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition game.
"In Greek and Indic mythology the waters of this river were thought to wash away sins or memories whereas Celtic and Germanic myths feature wisdom-imparting waters, suggesting that while the memories of the deceased are washed away a drinker of the waters would gain inspiration.[3] The wayfarer will commonly encounter a dog either in the capacity of a guardian of the Otherworld or as the wanderer's guide.[3] Examples of this are the Greek Cerberus, the three-headed hound of Hades, and the Indic सर्वरा "sarvarā, one of the hounds of Yama, whose names may derive from an Indo-European *ḱerberos meaning "spotted".[3] In Indo-European mythologies the Otherworld is depicted in many ways, including peaceful meadows, islands and buildings making it hard to determine how the original Proto-Indo-European Otherworld was viewed.[3] However the ruler of the dead was possibly Yemo, the divine twin of Manu the first man."

There may be darker hints to the fate of 'Old Earth' in AS&SH's underworld then first thought. Many of the most alien aspects of the game echo distant eons of the past as well as the future of Earth. Time is a very fluid concept to the gods & horrors of Hyperborea especially seen in CAS's Ubbo-Sathla (1933) &
Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan, The (1932).  Most likely "The Anthropophagi of Xambaala" is going to double down on these concepts and keep up the tradition of AS&SH modules. I look forward to the results of today's kickstarter.
You Can Back The Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea Second Edition Beasts & Cannibals Kickstarter Right Here

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Weapons of War & Fortune Within The Arthurian Mythology For Your Old School Campaigns

There drew he forth the brand Excalibur,
And o’er him, drawing it, the winter moon,
Brightening the skirts of a long cloud, ran forth
And sparkled keen with frost against the hilt:
For all the haft twinkled with diamond sparks,
Myriads of topaz-lights, and jacinth-work
Of subtlest jewellery.
"The Passing of Arthur", one of the Idylls of the King

Excalibur is the sword that seemingly defines the Arthurian legend but there are actually several weapons that Arthur wields throughout his career as king of Britain. Excalibur or Caliburn have many names throughout the series of Arthurian literature stories. I'm not going to concentrate too much on the 'Sword In The Stone' because that is a separate blog entry given its history, linage, and importance in ancient Arthurian literature & mythological tradition.
"Sometimes Excalibur and the Sword in the Stone (the proof of Arthur's lineage) are said to be the same weapon, but in most versions they are considered separate. Excalibur was associated with the Arthurian legend very early. In Welsh, it is called Caledfwlch; in Cornish, Calesvol; in Breton, Kaledvoulc'h; and in Latin, Caliburnus."

Excalibur itself has had many incarnations across the countries that the Arthurian literature appeared and its sigificanance in Athurian literature including Gawain's sword Escalibor ;
" The name Excalibur ultimately derives from the Welsh Caledfwlch (and Breton Kaledvoulc'h, Middle Cornish Calesvol) which is a compound of caled "hard" and bwlch "breach, cleft".[1] Caledfwlch appears in several early Welsh works, including the poem Preiddeu Annwfn (though it is not directly named - but only alluded to - here) and the prose tale Culhwch and Olwen, a work associated with the Mabinogion and written perhaps around 1100. The name was later used in Welsh adaptations of foreign material such as the Bruts (chronicles), which were based on Geoffrey of Monmouth.
It is often considered to be related to the phonetically similar Caladbolg, a sword borne by several figures from Irish mythology, although a borrowing of Caledfwlch from Irish Caladbolg has been considered unlikely by Rachel Bromwich and D. Simon Evans. They suggest instead that both names "may have similarly arisen at a very early date as generic names for a sword"; this sword then became exclusively the property of Arthur in the British tradition.[1][2]
Geoffrey of Monmouth, in his Historia Regum Britanniae (The History of the Kings of Britain, c. 1136), Latinised the name of Arthur's sword as Caliburnus (potentially influenced by the Medieval Latin spelling calibs of Classical Latin chalybs, from Greek chályps [χάλυψ] "steel"). Most Celticists consider Geoffrey's Caliburnus to be derivative of a lost Old Welsh text in which bwlch had not yet been lenited to fwlch.[3][4][1]
In Old French sources this then became Escalibor, Excalibor, and finally the familiar Excalibur. Geoffrey Gaimar, in his Old French L'Estoire des Engles (1134-1140), mentions Arthur and his sword: "this Constantine was the nephew of Arthur, who had the sword Caliburc" ("Cil Costentin, li niès Artur, Ki out l'espée Caliburc").[5][6] In Wace's Roman de Brut (c. 1150-1155), an Old French translation and versification of Geoffrey's Historia, the sword is called Calabrum, Callibourc, Chalabrun, and Calabrun (with alternate spellings such as Chalabrum, Calibore, Callibor, Caliborne, Calliborc, and Escaliborc, found in various manuscripts of the Brut).[7]
In Chrétien de Troyes' late 12th-century Old French Perceval, Arthur's knight Gawain carries the sword Escalibor and it is stated, "for at his belt hung Escalibor, the finest sword that there was, which sliced through iron as through wood"[8] ("Qu'il avoit cainte Escalibor, la meillor espee qui fust, qu'ele trenche fer come fust"[9]). This statement was probably picked up by the author of the Estoire Merlin, or Vulgate Merlin, where the author (who was fond of fanciful folk etymologies) asserts that Escalibor "is a Hebrew name which means in French 'cuts iron, steel, and wood'"[10] ("c'est non Ebrieu qui dist en franchois trenche fer & achier et fust"; note that the word for "steel" here, achier, also means "blade" or "sword" and comes from medieval Latin aciarium, a derivative of acies "sharp", so there is no direct connection with Latin chalybs in this etymology). It is from this fanciful etymological musing that Thomas Malory got the notion that Excalibur meant "cut steel"[11] ("'the name of it,' said the lady, 'is Excalibur, that is as moche to say, as Cut stele'").

The quest for the sword is partially the quest of Arthur through the unknown wilderness of adventure hearkening the same sort of an adventure that PC's would get into in original Dungeons & Dragon's Vol 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, written by Gygax and Arneson, TSR, 1974. The quest into the unknown wilderness & dungeon for the artifact of ruler ship or the treasures of the ancients. Down into the underworld of the dungeon to delve into the unknown. Vol 3: The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures puts the PC's into the cross hairs of the mystical & the unknown of the wilderness.

These swords & other weapons are ancient beyond the ken of humanity. They represent an older & more dangerous order of humanity & they are weapons of the gods taken to Fairyland eons ago. Excalibur is one of the most important but Arthur carried other weapons that are more then capable of cutting down the forces of chaos.

The Lady of the Lake offering Arthur Excalibur, by Alfred Kappes (1880)

The Lady of the Lake's origin & power are closely tied with Arthur's weapons of war;
"Lady of the Lake is the title held by a sorceress character in the Matter of Britain. She plays a pivotal role in many stories, including giving King Arthur his sword Excalibur, enchanting Merlin, and raising Lancelot after the death of his father. Different writers and copyists give the Arthurian character the name Nimue, Nymue, Nimueh, Viviane, Vivien, Vivienne, Ninianne, Nivian, Nyneve, or Evienne, among other variations.[2] In some versions and adaptations, at least two separate characters bearing the title "the Lady of the Lake" appear since the Post-Vulgate Cycle and Le Morte d'Arthur."
The powers of the sword Excalibur are closely tied to the Lady's own;
"In many versions, Excalibur's blade was engraved with phrases on opposite sides: "Take me up" and "Cast me away" (or similar). In addition, when Excalibur was first drawn, in the first battle testing Arthur's sovereignty, its blade blinded his enemies. Thomas Malory[23] writes: "thenne he drewe his swerd Excalibur, but it was so breyght in his enemyes eyen that it gaf light lyke thirty torchys."
Excalibur's scabbard was said to have powers of its own. Loss of blood from injuries, for example, would not kill the bearer. In some tellings, wounds received by one wearing the scabbard did not bleed at all. In the later romance tradition, including Le Morte d'Arthur, the scabbard is stolen from Arthur by his half-sister Morgan le Fay in revenge for the death of her beloved Accolon and thrown into a lake, never to be found again. This act later enables the death of Arthur at the Battle of Camlann."

Make no mistake The Lady of the Lake is of the goddesses of Fairyland & perhaps even the Elves of Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon retroclone system;
"The Lady of the Lake began appearing in the French chivalric romances by the early 13th century, becoming Lancelot's fairy godmother-like foster mother. The Lancelot-Grail cycle provides a backstory for the Lady of the Lake, Viviane, in the "prose Merlin" section, which takes place before the Lancelot Proper, though it was written later. She refuses to give him her love until he has taught her all his secrets, after which she uses her power to trap him either in the trunk of a tree or beneath a stone, depending on the story and author.[citation needed] Though Merlin, through his power of foresight knows beforehand that this will happen, he is unable to counteract Viviane because of the "truth" this ability of foresight holds. He decides to do nothing for his situation other than to continue to teach her his secrets until she takes the opportunity to entrap and entomb him in a tree, a stone or a cave.
The Post-Vulgate Cycle's second Lady of the Lake is called Ninianne, and her story is nearly identical to the one in the Lancelot-Grail, though it adds her bestowal of the magic sword Excalibur to Arthur. Sir Thomas Malory also uses both Ladies of the Lake in his Le Morte d'Arthur; he leaves the first one unnamed and calls the second one Nimue (Nymue). Malory's original Lady is presented as an early benefactor of King Arthur who grants him Excalibur when his original sword is damaged. She is later beheaded by Sir Balin as a result of a kin feud between them (she blames him for the death of her brother and he blames her for the death of his mother) and a dispute over an enchanted sword.
According to the Vulgate Merlin, it was the goddess Diana's enchantment, given to Dyonas, that caused Viviane to be so alluring to Merlin.[6] The Vulgate Lancelot tells us that she was the Queen of Sicily, but considered a goddess by her subjects. The continuation Post Vulgate Merlin describes how she killed her lover to be with another man, but then she was beheaded by this man as a murderess. This story was later transferred to a lake in France, and was later called the Lake of Diana.
The Middle English romance Arthour and Merlin, casts Morgan herself in the role of the Lady of the Lake and residing near a town named Ninniane. The Italian manuscript Tavola ritonda (The Round Table) makes Morgan both a daughter of Uther Pendragon and a sister of the Lady of the Lake."
Once again we see the goddess Diana associated with the cult of the Elves from Fairyland & the origin for the Lady of the Lake;
"Chrétien de Troyes's Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart, the first story featuring Lancelot as a prominent character, was also the first to mention his upbringing by a fairy in a lake. If to accept that the German Lanzelet by Ulrich von Zatzikhoven contains elements of a more primitive version of this tale than Chrétien's, the infant Lancelot was spirited away to a lake by a water fairy (merfeine in Old High German) and raised in her country of Meidelant ("Land of Maidens", an island in the sea inhabited by ten thousand maidens who live in perpetual happiness); the fairy queen and her paradise island are reminiscent of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Morgen of the Island of Avallon in his Vita Merlini."

It would be these same Fairyland forces that would come to act through their cults during the Thirty Year War at "The Battle of White Mountain" when king Arthur's spear Rhongomyniad ("spear" + "striker, slayer") is also first mentioned in Culhwch was supposedly recovered from an ancient crypt!

"Excalibur is by no means the only weapon associated with Arthur, nor the only sword. Welsh tradition also knew of a dagger named Carnwennan and a spear named Rhongomyniad that belonged to him. Carnwennan ("little white-hilt") first appears in Culhwch and Olwen, where Arthur uses it to slice the witch Orddu in half.[1][24] Rhongomyniad ("spear" + "striker, slayer") is also first mentioned in Culhwch, although only in passing; it appears as simply Ron ("spear") in Geoffrey's Historia.[1][3]
The Alliterative Morte Arthure, a Middle English poem, mentions Clarent, a sword of peace meant for knighting and ceremonies as opposed to battle, which Mordred stole and then used to kill Arthur.[25] The Prose Lancelot of the Vulgate Cycle mentions a sword called Seure, which belonged to the king but was used by Lancelot in one battle"
"In Welsh mythology, the Dyrnwyn ("White-Hilt"), one of the Thirteen Treasures of the Island of Britain, is said to be a powerful sword belonging to Rhydderch Hael,[27] one of the Three Generous Men of Britain mentioned in the Welsh Triads. When drawn by a worthy or well-born man, the entire blade would blaze with fire. Rhydderch was never reluctant to hand the weapon to anyone, hence his nickname Hael "the Generous", but the recipients, as soon as they had learned of its peculiar properties, always rejected the sword.
There are other similar weapons described in other mythologies. In particular, Claíomh Solais, which is an Irish term meaning "Sword of Light", or "Shining Sword", which appears in a number of orally transmitted Irish folk-tales."

So why would any of these potent weapons so effective against the forces of Chaos be given to a champion of good such as King Arthur or the PC's for that matter? Because each of the Fairyland forces of Chaos must act through proxies. The gods & the Elves all have their little rules to make victory all that much sweeter. Wizards in the Lion & Dragon retroclone know that the symbolism to the people of Europe is just as potent as the mystic powers of these swords & weapons of Arthur. These cycles of hope & tragedy are eternally being acted out in both Arthurian literature & within the confines of old school adventures. This is something we see time & again in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith including his award winning poetry.
Scene: a cemetery, by moonlight. The Ghoul emerges from the shade of a cypress, and sings.
The Song
The Pestilence is on the wing!
Behold! the sweet and crimson foam
Upon the lips of churl and king!
No worm but hath a feastful home:
The Pestilence is on the wing!

Even now his kiss incarnadines
The brows of maiden, queen and whore;
The nun to him her cheek resigns;
Wan lips were never kissed before,
His ancient kiss incarnadines.

Good cheer to thee, white worm of death !
The priest within the brothel dies,
The baud hath sickened from his breath !
In grave half-dug the digger lies:
Good cheer to thee, white worm of death!

The Seraph appears from among the trees, half walking, half flying, with wings whose iris the moonlight has rendered faint, and pauses at sight of the Ghoul.
The Seraph
What gardener in crudded fields of hell,
Or scullion of the Devil's house, art thou—
To whom the filth of Malebolge clings,
And reek of horrid refuse? Thou art gnurled
And black as any Kobold from the mines
Where demons delve for orichalch and steel
To forge the infernal racks! Upon thy face,
Detestable and evil as might haunt
The last delirium of a dying hag,
Or necromancer's madness, fall thy locks
Like sodden reeds that trail in Acheron
From shores of night and horror; and thy hands,
Like roots of cypresses uptorn in storm
That still retain their grisly provender,
Make the glad wine and manna of the skies
Turn to a qualmish sickness in my veins.

The Ghoul
And who art thou ?— some white-faced fool of God,
With wings that emulate the giddy bird,
And bloodless mouth for ever filled with psalms
In lieu of honest victuals ! . . . Askest thou
My name ? I am the ghoul NecromaIor:
In new-made graves I delve for sustenance,
As man within his turnip-fields; I take
For table the uprooted slab, that bears
The words, "In Pace;" black and curdled blood
Of cadávers is all my cupless wine —
Slow-drunken, as the dainty, vampire drinks
From pulses oped in never-ending sleep.

The Seraph
O, foulness Born as of the ninefold curse
Of dragon-mouthed Apollyon, plumed with darts
And armed with horns of incandescent bronze !
O, dark as Satan's nightmare, or the fruit
Of Belial's rape on hell's bIack hippogriff !
What knowest thou of Paradise, where grow
The gardens of the manna-laden myrrh,
And lotos never known to Ulysses,
Whose fruit provides our long and sateless banquet ?
Where boundless fields, unfurrowed and unsown,
Supply for God's own appanage their foison
Of amber-hearted grain, and sesame
Sweeter than nard the Persian air compounds
With frankincense from isles of India !
Where flame-leaved forests infinitely teem
With palms of tremulous opal, from whose tops
Ambrosial honies fall forevermore
In rains of nacred light ! Where rise and rise,
Terrace on hyacinthine terrace, hills
Hung with the grapes that drip cerulean wine,
One draught whereof dissolves eternity
In bliss oblivious and supernal dream !

The Ghoul
To all the meat their bellies most commend,
To all the according wine. For me, I wot,
The cates whereof thou braggest were as wind
In halls where men had feasted yesterday,
Or furbished bones the full hyena leaves.
Tiger and pig have their apportioned glutt,
Nor lacks the shark his provender; the bird
Is nourished with the worm of charnels; man,
Or the grey wolf, will slay and eat the bird,
Till wolf and man be carrion for the worm.
What wouldst thou ? As the elfin lily does,
Or as the Paphian myrtle, pale with love,
I draw me from the unreluctant dead
The rightful meat my belly's law demands.
Eaters of death are all: life shall not live,
Save that its food be death: no atomy
In any star, nor heaven's remotest moon
But hath a billion billion times been made
The food of insatiable life, and food
Of death insatiate: for all is change—
Change, that hath wrought the chancre and the rose,
And wrought the star, and wrought the sapphire-stone,
And lit great altars, and the eyes of lions—
Change, that hath made the very gods from slime
Drawn from the pits of Python, and willing
Gods and their builded heavens back again
To slime. The fruits of archangelic light
Thou braggest of, and grapes of azure wine,
Have been the dung of dragons and the blood
Of toads in Phlegethon: each particle
That is their splendor, clomb in separate ways
Through suns and worlds and cycles infinite—
Through burning brume of systems unbegun,
And manes of long-haired comets, that have lashed
The night of space to Fury and to fire;
And in the core of cold and lightless stars,
And in immalleable metats deep,
Each atomy hath slept, or known the slime
Of cyclopean oceans turned to air
Before the suns of Ophiuchus rose;
And they have known the interstellar night,
And they have lain at root of sightless flowers
In worlds without a sun, or at the heart
Of monstrous-eyed and panting flowers of flesh,
Or eon-blooming amaranths of stone;
And they have ministered within the brains
Of sages and magicians, and have served
To swell the pulse of kings and conquerors,
And have been privy to the hearts of queens.

The Ghoul turns his back on the Seraph, and moves away, singing.
The Song
O condor, keep thy mountain-ways
Above the long Andean lands;
Gier-eagle, guard the eastern sands
Where the Forsaken camel strays:
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The Iardered graves of lout and lord.

Oh, warm and bright the blood that Iies
Upon the wounded lion's trail !
Hyena, laugh, and jackal, wail,
And ring him round, who turns and dies !
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The lardered graves of lout and lord.

Arms of a wanton girl are good,
Or hands of harp-player and knight:
Breasts of the nun be sweet and white,
Sweet is the festive friar's blood.
Beetle and worm and I will ward
The lardered graves of lout and lord.

The Ghoul and the Seraph  (1922)  by Clark Ashton Smith
This poem pits the very forces of decay & the forces of Heaven within an allegorical struggle amid the very circumstances of myth & legend something that seems to get all too lost in the adventures of the OSR. Players should be aware of the level of forces that are sometimes at work in old school games. Smith evokes the early echoes of the Arthurian wilderness adventures without falling into the traps of the wilderness. The potent symbol of the ancient artifact or weapon within the dungeon echoes the wilderness & ruins so often associated with the Arthurian mythology & legends

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Use & Abuse of Dark Wizard games Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Monsters of Mayhem #1

When it comes to getting in original monsters  for Dungeons & Dragons or its retroclone systems its always a bit of a struggle to insert into an on going campaign engaging & innovative monsters for destroying PCs. But thanks to Mark Taormino & Dark Wizard games Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Monsters of Mayhem #1 has hit the shelves. 

So what's in Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Monsters of Mayhem #1, well Mark has actually done a video with all of the contents of his first monster book and there's a very interesting point that he brings up.The blue maps that he has as inner covers are actually lairs & encounters that can be dragged & dropped into existing campaigns.

Even though its only forty eight pages, this book is wall to wall monsters many of which have a classic Dungeons & Dragons or Sword & Sorcery flavor. These are not lower tier monsters but either boss or mid point villain monsters capable of messing a party of adventurers up. This is where the lair aspect comes into play. Many of these mad bastards make excellent side quest monsters for on going campaigns.

Yes I totally stole this from Mark. Let's not tell him.

Here's a small sampling from the book:
FACERIPPERS: These wicked beasts have  a human like torso and a horrible mouth for a head! When they attack they rip your face off and it it mutates onto theirs so you don't know who are your friends or enemies!  

BLUE TROLL: Very rare and little is understood about them. No one knows how they reproduce or if there is even a female Blue Troll (maybe the term 'blue' has a different meaning until they find those female ones, but for now they are viciously mad and deranged). They have amazing regenerative abilities and can heal most wounds within a few seconds. Cut off parts can be reattached or regrown in hours. They are very intelligent and industrious but only when constructing a good con job to get the players to give up treasures. They will usually appear at times and places of great suffering and despair in order to capitalize on the misery in some way.

SHADOWFIENDS: Dark and mysterious beings are these wicked and evil creatures of the night. Nobody has ever see one of their faces and lived to tell the tale. There are rumored to be seven of them, each representing: pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Each of them has a nightmarish black steed that is their familiar that breaths fire and smoke.

Just from flipping through the pdf I've come to a few conclusions about these monsters, many of them would make excellent mercenary troops or adversaries for a party of experienced adventurers. The majority of them could be used in a variety of Sword & Sorcery games where the players are not quite sure what they're going to encounter. The monster is really the focus of the adventure plot. A good fit for several of these foes would actually be Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition adventure.
Another area that I thought about using these enemies & monsters is actually within a post apocalyptic old school game such as Gamma World first or second edition or its retroclone Mutant Future.

My own working & table top copy of AS&SH has seen a lot of use.

Dark Wizard games Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Monsters of Mayhem #1 

has several things going for it. The monsters are actual individual personalities such as 
DEMONIA GIGANTICA and they're actually flexible for use inside of an existing campaign. There are several race monsters that can be fitted into the back door & not wreck havoc with the world. The 'treasure as monster' creatures are interesting & very dangerous but are not full TPK party wreckers unless the players are dumb. The monsters are actually useful not simply malevolent window dressing. Overall
Dark Wizard games Maximum Mayhem Dungeons: Monsters of Mayhem #1  looks really good and actually useful on the table top level.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Manipulations of the Toad God - More OSR Commentary On D&D Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975), by Dave Arneson

"In that secret cave in the bowels of Voormithadreth . . . abides from eldermost eons the god Tsathoggua. You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally. He will rise not from his place, even in the ravening of hunger, but will wait in divine slothfulness for the sacrifice."
—Clark Ashton Smith, "The Seven Geases" (1933)

There has always been a connection between the toad god
Tsathoggua & the Temple of the Frog from classic OD&D. "D&D Supplement II: Blackmoor (1975), by Dave Arneson, is the second of four supplements for the OD&D game. It also gives a deep look into the depravity of St. Stephen & his crew of miscreants at the Temple of the Frog. St.Stephen of the Rock is a master manipulator whose faction has been spreading the cult of the Frog throughout  the multiverse. Mark my words this is a cult that has the means & power to spread its chaos far & wide across the dimensions. Mark my words when it comes to the Temple of the Frog, the cult is one of the most underrated power blocks in original Dungeons & Dragons. I've mentioned how he's been expanding his power base into other universes last week.

Yes this is straight out of the classic Clark Ashton Smith "Captain Volmar" stories but there was mention of another Lovecraftian  toad god called Stodos of the Icy Wates in the Mystara Setting. Is there a connection between the icy deity of Coming of the White Worm, The (1941)? I believe so as the Hyperborea cycle of CAS bares out some of the same disaster laden Lovecraftian or is it Smithian details:
The cycle of the old world ending & the new one being made way for by the very forces of Chaos seems to cycle through all of the Lovecraft circle. This is a similar theme of an almost fairy tale like take on that we find in much of the Arthurian lore. The idea of the old order being toppled & replaced with a newer order of reality one is something we find again & again. Blackmoor has its own pseudo pulp themes as well. There are several frog princes within the literature of Arthur in the Welsh. There seem to have always been shadowy warfare among the powers of Fairyland using Arthur & his knights as stand in forces at times.

In the Lion & Dragon retroclone the frogmen forces don't have as much of a European presence as they do in Dark Albion. They've had defeats, set backs, & are on the wane to some degree. They're still dangerous but the roiling influence of the Elven forces & Pagan gods seems to me much more evident.
The Elves work through evil proxies spreading their corruption through the dark favors of Fairyland. As I said this is a 'shadow war' fought through factions in Europe. This is where St.Stephen & his toad god master have an in.

But don't think that during the Thirty Year War that Tsathoggua wasn't hedging his bets at all.
"Frederick V (German: Friedrich V.; 26 August 1596 – 29 November 1632)[1][2] was the Elector Palatine of the Rhine in the Holy Roman Empire from 1610 to 1623, and served as King of Bohemia from 1619 to 1620. He was forced to abdicate both roles, and the brevity of his reign in Bohemia earned him the derisive nickname of "the Winter King" (Czech: Zimní král; German: Winterkönig)." This is nick name for the Lovecraftian  toad god called Stodos of the Icy Wates in the Mystara Setting.
Another aspect of  Tsathoggua who by the time of the defeat at the Battle of White Mountain on 8 November 1620 – a year and four days after his coronation after his favors with the god had run out. 
"After this battle, the Imperial forces invaded Frederick's Palatine lands and he had to flee to his uncle Prince Maurice, Stadtholder of the Dutch Republic in 1622. An Imperial edict formally deprived him of the Palatinate in 1623. He lived the rest of his life in exile with his wife and family, mostly at The Hague, and died in Mainz in 1632."

Frederick wearing the Crown of Saint Wenceslas, other Bohemian regalia and the collar of the Order of the Garter.
On the table is the Cap representing his separate
office as Elector Palatine. Painted by Gerrit von Honthorst in 1634.
Fredick's fall from favor was a long & bloody one.

Time & again during the events of the Thirty Year War we see this fickleness of the forces of the gods & the interference of adventurers. The favors of Fairyland are easily gotten but keeping them is another thing especially when working through the wiles of a royal patron's wizard advisors  in the background of historical events.

During the Thirty Years War both sides were looking for any advantage & perhaps the temptations of royal favors, titles, family honor, position, & perhaps riches might entice even the most ardent adventurer in to a position of horror. Adventurers during Thirty Year War campaign might be able to turn the tides but the heavens & hells of Fairyland might have other ideas. St. Stephen's roll during the Thirty Year War isn't done yet.