For months now I've been quietly wracking my brains for a touch stone campaign setting for an October campaign coming up. Over the last few months I've been drifting between OD&D, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess as alternative Dungeons & Dragons style systems. Al Aaraaf is one of Edgar Allan Poe's least known pieces of weird poetry "Al Aaraaf". Its a strange piece of work and almost nonsensical in places making it perfect fodder for adventure fodder for old school games.The book that I love to use is my beat up 1917 copy of The Poems of Edgar Allan Poe this book is available as a free download from the Internet Archive. This book contains many of Poe's most famous weird poems but tonight I'm going to concentrate on 'Al Aaraaf' as adventure fodder. This was a very contraverstial poem when it was premeired by its author according to Wiki:
"Al Aaraaf", which Poe claimed to have written before he was 15, was first published as the major poem in "Poe's 1829 collection Al Aaraaf, Tamerlane, and Minor Poems. The book and "Al Aaraaf" in particular received mostly negative reviews for its complexity, obscure references, and odd structure. Some, however, noted the potential in the young poet, including John C. Neal, to whom Poe had shown "Al Aaraaf" prior to publication. Poe would later refer to Neal's response as the first words of encouragement he had received. Nevertheless, the negative response to "Al Aaraaf" may have inspired Poe's later poetic theory that poems should be kept short.
Years later, in 1845, Poe used "Al Aaraaf" to hoax members of the Boston literary circle during a reading. Poe claimed the poem was a new one and his audience was perplexed by it. He later claimed a Boston crowd did not deserve a new poem. He held a strong dislike for New England poets and the New England-based Transcendental movement and hoped by presenting a poem he had written in his youth would prove Bostonians did not know good literature."
So going over my past campaign notes for 'Accursed Atlantis' I was going to utilize 'Al Aaraaf' for a demi plane that is situated between Heaven, Hell, Limbo and the BeyondThe poem contains elements of Orientalism, Metaphysical elements, weird Biblical subtext and some strange fairy tale bits thrown into the background for good measure. According to wiki :
Al Aaraaf" is the longest poem Poe wrote and was inspired by Tycho Brahe's discovery of a supernova back in 1572 which was visible for about seventeen months. Poe identified this nova with Al Aaraaf, a star that was the place between paradise and hell. Al-A`raaf (Arabic الأعراف, alternatively transcribed Aʿraf or Al Orf) was a place where people who have been neither markedly good nor markedly bad had to stay until forgiven by God and let into Paradise, as discussed in Sura 7 of the Qur'an. As Poe explained to a potential publisher:
Its title is "Al Aaraaf" from the Al Aaraaf of the Arabians, a medium between Heaven and Hell where men suffer no punishment, but yet do not attain that tranquil & even happiness which they suppose to be the characteristics of heavenly enjoyment.In the opening section of the poem, God commands Nesace, a name for Beauty's spirit, to convey a message to "other worlds". Nesace rouses the angel Ligeia and tells her to awaken the other thousand seraphs to perform God's work. Two souls, however, fail to respond: the "maiden-angel" Ianthe and her "seraph-lover" Angelo (Michelangelo), who describes his death on earth and the flight of his spirit to Al Aaraaf. Ianthe and Angelo are lovers, and their failure to do as Nesace commanded results in God not allowing them into heaven.
William Heath Robinson did some wonderful illustrations and art pieces for various Poe stories over the years and for me it speaks of a place where the intersection of life and death meet with the places of dream.
Here's part one :O! nothing earthly save the ray
(Thrown back from flowers) of Beauty's eye,
As in those gardens where the day
Springs from the gems of Circassy –
O! nothing earthly save the thrill
Of melody in woodland rill –
Or (music of the passion-hearted)
Joy's voice so peacefully departed
That like the murmur in the shell,
Its echo dwelleth and will dwell –
Oh, nothing of the dross of ours –
Yet all the beauty – all the flowers
That list our Love, and deck our bowers –
Adorn yon world afar, afar –
The wandering star.
'Twas a sweet time for Nesace – for there
Her world lay lolling on the golden air,
Near four bright suns – a temporary rest –
A garden-spot in desert of the blest.
Away – away – 'mid seas of rays that roll
Empyrean splendor o'er th' unchained soul –
The soul that scarce (the billows are so dense)
Can struggle to its destin'd eminence, –
To distant spheres, from time to time, she rode
And late to ours, the favor'd one of God –
But, now, the ruler of an anchor'd realm,
She throws aside the sceptre – leaves the helm,
And, amid incense and high spiritual hymns,
Laves in quadruple light her angel limbs.
Now happiest, loveliest in yon lovely Earth,
Whence sprang the "Idea of Beauty" into birth,
(Falling in wreaths thro' many a startled star,
Like woman's hair 'mid pearls, until, afar,
It lit on hills Achaian, and there dwelt)
She looked into Infinity – and knelt.
Rich clouds, for canopies, about her curled –
Fit emblems of the model of her world –
Seen but in beauty – not impeding sight
Of other beauty glittering thro' the light –
A wreath that twined each starry form around,
And all the opal'd air in color bound.
All hurriedly she knelt upon a bed
Of flowers: of lilies such as rear'd the head
On the fair Capo Deucato, and sprang
So eagerly around about to hang
Upon the flying footsteps of – deep pride –
Of her who lov'd a mortal – and so died.
The Sephalica, budding with young bees,
Upreared its purple stem around her knees:—
And gemmy flower, of Trebizond misnam'd –
Inmate of highest stars, where erst it sham'd
All other loveliness: – its honied dew
(The fabled nectar that the heathen knew)
Deliriously sweet, was dropp'd from Heaven,
And fell on gardens of the unforgiven
In Trebizond – and on a sunny flower
So like its own above that, to this hour,
It still remaineth, torturing the bee
With madness, and unwonted reverie:
In Heaven, and all its environs, the leaf
And blossom of the fairy plant in grief
Disconsolate linger – grief that hangs her head,
Repenting follies that full long have Red,
Heaving her white breast to the balmy air,
Like guilty beauty, chasten'd and more fair:
Nyctanthes too, as sacred as the light
She fears to perfume, perfuming the night:
And Clytia, pondering between many a sun,
While pettish tears adown her petals run:
And that aspiring flower that sprang on Earth,
And died, ere scarce exalted into birth,
Bursting its odorous heart in spirit to wing
Its way to Heaven, from garden of a king:
And Valisnerian lotus, thither flown
From struggling with the waters of the Rhone:
And thy most lovely purple perfume, Zante!
Isola d'oro! – Fior di Levante!
And the Nelumbo bud that floats for ever
With Indian Cupid down the holy river –
Fair flowers, and fairy! to whose care is given
To bear the Goddess' song, in odours, up to Heaven:
"Spirit! that dwellest where,
In the deep sky,
The terrible and fair,
In beauty vie!
Beyond the line of blue –
The boundary of the star
Which turneth at the view
Of thy barrier and thy bar –
Of the barrier overgone
By the comets who were cast
From their pride and from their throne
To be drudges till the last –
To be carriers of fire
(The red fire of their heart)
With speed that may not tire
And with pain that shall not part –
Who livest – that we know –
In Eternity – we feel –
But the shadow of whose brow
What spirit shall reveal?
Tho' the beings whom thy Nesace,
Thy messenger, hath known
Have dream'd for thy Infinity
A model of their own –
Thy will is done, O God!
The star hath ridden high
Thro' many a tempest, but she rode
Beneath thy burning eye;
And here, in thought, to thee –
In thought that can alone
Ascend thy empire and so be
A partner of thy throne –
By winged Fantasy,
My embassy is given,
Till secrecy shall knowledge be
In the environs of Heaven."
She ceas'd – and buried then her burning cheek
Abash'd, amid the lilies there, to seek
A shelter from the fervor of His eye;
For the stars trembled at the Deity.
She stirr'd not – breath'd not – for a voice was there
How solemnly pervading the calm air!
A sound of silence on the startled ear
Which dreamy poets name "the music of the sphere."
Ours is a world of words: Quiet we call
"Silence" – which is the merest word of all.
All Nature speaks, and ev'n ideal things
Flap shadowy sounds from visionary wings –
But ah! not so when, thus, in realms on high
The eternal voice of God is passing by,
And the red winds are withering in the sky: –
"What tho 'in worlds which sightless cycles run,
Linked to a little system, and one sun –
Where all my love is folly and the crowd
Still think my terrors but the thunder cloud,
The storm, the earthquake, and the ocean-wrath –
(Ah! will they cross me in my angrier path?)
What tho' in worlds which own a single sun
The sands of Time grow dimmer as they run,
Yet thine is my resplendency, so given
To bear my secrets thro' the upper Heaven!
Leave tenantless thy crystal home, and fly,
With all thy train, athwart the moony sky –
Apart – like fire-flies in Sicilian night,
And wing to other worlds another light!
Divulge the secrets of thy embassy
To the proud orbs that twinkle – and so be
To ev'ry heart a barrier and a ban
Lest the stars totter in the guilt of man!"
Up rose the maiden in the yellow night,
The single-mooned eve! – on Earth we plight
Our faith to one love – and one moon adore –
The birth-place of young Beauty had no more.
As sprang that yellow star from downy hours
Up rose the maiden from her shrine of flowers,
And bent o'er sheeny mountains and dim plain
Her way, but left not yet her Therasaean reign.
You can read the poem in its entirety right over here
The thought of Poe's works put me in the mind of A Night On Bald Mountain.
I have dreams about this entity's realm howling out in the Black Void of other dimensional space chewing up realms and making one gigantic cemetery of a world. Nothing is safe, this world is all that remains of Old Earth. Each world that "Al Aaraaf" touches is invaded and taken over by the undead and its deadly dark necomatic magicks. Magic items from this realm are especially dangerous. After getting off of the phone with the artist Gennifer Bone one of her pieces of art seems to encompass this fact in spades.
When it comes to this sort of a realm we're looking at a mix of haunted reality overlapping the realms of death and insanity. This is the type of late night three am mix of 80's horror films, deep occult themes, and deadly insanity in equal measure. But it doesn't have to necessarily be entirely serious. The undead here can be completely Evil Dead or Re animator mutated and the monsters have a far more old school Disney aesthetic. Think Night on Bald Mountain from Fantasia here.Given the sort of a demi plane invasion and overlaying effect that this place has it can easily bring itself into other realms. No place is really safe at all. Any game setting or realm might be subject to the ghastly attentions of 'Al Aaraaf'. A random encounter chart from 'Al Aaraaf' might look something like this.
1d6 'Al Aaraaf' Random Encounter Chart
- 1d4 semi demonic ghostly apporations created from the wrecked spirits of departed adventurers. They are looking to feast on the souls of the living.
- A pack of 1d8 demonic ghostly highway men on nightmares looking to strip the living of all that they have including their lives.
- 1d8 ghost like imps, goblins, and least Lovecraftian horrors rippling about in a miasma cloud of horror looking to rip apart the living and violate their very beings.
- A trio of undead zombie drunkards who are actually cunning monsters out to kill anything that they run across.
- An inhuman demon veiled warrior woman on the back of something that resembles a locust with a human face looking for human souls for her dark master. 4th level warrior with demonic powers.
- A pack of undead zombie motorcycle riders with black powder guns and rifles out for prey and 'fun'. 2nd level fighters.
"Al Aaraaf"'s clutches.
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