Thursday, December 3, 2015

Ecology of The Lesser Undead In Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and The Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea rpg Systems As It Relates To The T1 Village of Hommlet Adventure For Your Old School Campaigns

I finally just got home from work and I've had in the back of my mind undead or more specifically the undead of the Village of Hommlet and why the skeletons,zombies and the horrors of the Moat House.
The village has been the site of not simply one incursion by the forces of Chaos but two major incursions.Because the moat house was an outpost of the temple of Elemental Evil its left behind some major supernatural pollution.

The Moat house was once an out post to the temple of  elemental evil and has an aura of depravity and horror associated with it.This is the type of a place that seems to almost act as a magnet for the forces of  black magick and the undead. Given the machinations  that the bandits and Lareth the Beautiful  are up too its easy to see the Moat house location as a preview of coming attractions for the Temple of Elemental Evil. But its actually much more then just that. The veil between the planes is very thin in the Moat house and those undead are either adventurers who have gotten killed while exploring the place or they might be the original cultists who manned the adventure location ages ago. T1 The Village of Hommlet has a pretty damn good reason for the vermin to be there. The moat house is forever in my mind connected by a hidden tunnel to the Caves of Chaos from Keep on The Border Land because my dungeon master at the time did that. I've continued to practice this over the years. But it's really the moat house that started me on an the undead wrinkle over the years.

Where do I begin with the undead of Advanced Dungeons and Dragon? They are the both the bane of players and PC's alike. The lesser undead of course are the skeletons,zombies, and other undead horrors of the AD&D first edition Monster Manual. Going back over the Village of Hommlet got me thinking about the moat house, then the ghouls and ghasts that dwell there as well. One departure that I've taken over the years is to make my skeletons and zombies intelligence from low to average. Maybe its too many years of watching late night horror movies but my undead have been of lower intelligence and have been crafty, dangerous and nasty. Sure there are the occasional shufflers among my zombies but undead  are dangerous,  can open doors, say some limited dialogue and cause adventurers lots of headaches. This all goes back to the original Night of the Living Dead film that scared the crap out of me in the Seventies as a kid and then the VHS horror films of the Eighties.Two films series  really stand out from that era The Living Dead series  and The Army of Darkness films that  gave us some new spins on undead horror. Basically you've got demonic forces being invoked in a place where the veil between planes is thin causing the forces of the Abyss to leak into the local time space continuum. This allows lots of garden variety havoc on a small scale and unleashing all kinds of havoc on a local basis.

Undeath isn't simply a condition or a disease its a sorcerous infection of Chaos allowing the rapid proliferation of the black forces of magick across a plane prime and the spreading of Abyss demonic energies causes all kinds of horror as demonic essences and plagues continue. Both Hyperborea & Greyhawk share a similar set of disasters and weirdness as the Lovecraftian demonic forces just won't stay down. Once the door opens a crack then the forces of Chaos are going to want in and ages end as they keep on coming into a dimension. And yes adventures into dungeons can be epic at first level and the foreshadowing of world ending events can happen in the blink of an eye. In the Village Hommlet we've get just a taste of what is to come in The Temple of Elemental Evil. In games such as Lamentations of The Flame Princes where a pseudo historical context is used perhaps a demonic infection might account for the Black Plague of the Fourteenth century. Everything is being lined up for a coming demonic apocalyptic event to come to a head in the shape of  an event of Biblical proportions. To put this in context, the dungeon of the moat house is a foretaste of the events of the past that shape the future of the PC's when they cross into the Temple of Elemental Evil. Everything really begins and ends with the ghouls of the moat house.

At the very bottom of the moat house in the Villlage of Hommlet adventure are ghouls who are very happy to munch on the party. These things are at least in my games of the  Lovecraftian strain and would appear to have little to do with the other undead. Not so, when the demonic infection and dimensional incursion is let loose by the black wizards and cultists of the various Chaos incursions. Remember the moat house was an out post of  the temple. The stain is upon the land of Greyhawk and Hyperborea. The ghouls are once more roused from sleep to begin the process of letting in their demonic masters. Ghouls are a paraell species of humanity with their own culture, magick, traditions, and even gods. These things are undead but their also intelligent as we see in Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath by Lovecraft.
In Pickman's Model by HP Lovecraft  we get a  snap shot overview of  one way that the species propagates;
"There was one thing called “The Lesson”—heaven pity me, that I ever saw it! Listen—can you fancy a squatting circle of nameless dog-like things in a churchyard teaching a small child how to feed like themselves? The price of a changeling, I suppose—you know the old myth about how the weird people leave their spawn in cradles in exchange for the human babes they steal. Pickman was shewing what happens to those stolen babes—how they grow up—and then I began to see a hideous relationship in the faces of the human and non-human figures. He was, in all his gradations of morbidity between the frankly non-human and the degradedly human, establishing a sardonic linkage and evolution. The dog-things were developed from mortals!"

Robert Howard had Conan encounter some very dangerous ghouls in Hour of the Dragon which are exactly in line with Lovecraft's version of this race of undead horrors. They are strong and go toe to toe with Conan matching him blow for blow. Later there is a suggestion that they are more common then first thought especially below the Earth in the underworld. Lord Dunsany's fantasy cycle refers to those who dally with ghouls and dine with them can and might become one of them.

In the Horror At Red Hook we get an overview of a procession of ghouls, and other fantastical horrors below the streets of New York.

“ ...  In an instant every moving entity was electrified; and forming at once into a ceremonial procession, the nightmare horde slithered away in quest of the sound - goat, satyr, and ?gypan, incubus, succubus and lemur, twisted toad and shapeless elemental, dog-faced howler and silent strutter in darkness  ....    'O friend and companion of night, thou who rejoicest in the baying of dogs (here a hideous howl bust forth)....  who wanderest in the midst of shades among the tombs...”
In the Hound also by Lovecraft  we get our first real look into a wizard of the ghoul race, a very dangerous customer indeed.

“...though crushed in places by the jaws of the thing that had killed it, held together with surprising firmness, and we gloated over the clean white skull and its long, firm teeth and its eyeless sockets that once had glowed with a charnel fever like our own.”
There is also a cursed amulet that perhaps belongs to the Leng cult of Mordiggian.
“In the coffin lay an amulet of curious and exotic design, which had apparently been worn around the sleeper's neck. It was the oddly conventionalised figure of a crouching winged hound, or sphinx with a semi-canine face, and was exquisitely carved in antique Oriental fashion from a small piece of green jade. The expression of its features was repellent in the extreme, savoring at once of death, bestiality and malevolence. Around the base was an inscription in characters which neither St John nor I could identify; and on the bottom, like a maker's seal, was graven a grotesque and formidable skull....  the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia. All too well did we trace the sinister lineaments ....  drawn from some obscure supernatural manifestation of the souls of those who vexed and gnawed at the dead.”

Mordiggian was the creation of Clark Aston Smith one of the more prominent appendix 'N' Lovecraft circle writers. Ghouls are also heavily featured in the Necronomicon and of course the  Cultes De Ghoules features the monsters heavily. This all relates back to the ghouls as an intelligent race that helps and often assists magicians of the blackest natures, as well as witches, and others who dabble in ancient demonic and Lovecraftian forces. This also goes all the way back to the Necronomicon Ex Mortis which is capable of unleashing vast plagues of demonic undead horrors known as Deadites. Deadites are actually zombie like possessed beings infected with demonic essence, they are highly disfigured, extremely mutated and incredibly violent beings summoned from their own hellish dimension.
There were rumors among Army of Darkness/Lovecraft  fans that ghoul sorcerers might be to blame for releasing of the Deadite plagues in Ash Vs The Army of Darkness but as always with these rumors they remain. There was also speculation among certain circles of D20 Call of Cthulhu fans that paralyzing  abilities and black use  of certain species of ghoul are in fact related to the  Draugr. Draugr  are magic using, shape shifting undead from Norse mythology which has overlaps with the ghoul sorcerers I described earlier. Overlaps in fact to both Lovecraft and the Deadites of The Army of Darkness films.
This is from the  Eyrbyggja Saga, p. 115. ; "[T]he oxen which had been used to haul Thorolf's body were ridden to death by demons, and every single beast that came near his grave went raving mad and howled itself to death. The shepherd at Hvamm often came racing home with Thorolf after him. One day that Fall neither sheep nor shepherd came back to the farm."
These monsters also have similar abilities to the demonic essence of demons from the Armies of Darkness films in their shape shifting abilities and hunger for the flesh an souls of the living ; "
Then Thrain turned himself into a troll, and the barrow was filled with a horrible stench; and he stuck his claws into the back of Hromund's neck, tearing the flesh from his bones.."  In Gautrek's Saga and Other Medieval Tales, we get sword brothers who made an oath that if one should die, the other would sit vigil with him for three days inside the burial mound. When Aran died, Asmund brought his own possessions into the barrow: banners, armor, hawk, hound, and horse. Then Asmund set himself to wait the agreed upon three days according to Wiki and we get a very gruesome account indeed.

During the first night, Aran got up from his chair and killed the hawk and hound and ate them. On the second night he got up again from his chair, and killed the horse and tore it into pieces; then he took great bites at the horse-flesh with his teeth, the blood streaming down from his mouth all the while he was eating... The third night Asmund became very drowsy, and the first thing he knew, Aran had got him by the ears and torn them off."
The Nynorsk translation of The Lord of the Rings used the term for both Nazgûl and the dead men of Dunharrow. according to Wiki and this is where the wight of D&D fame comes from.

So what does this have to do with the zombies I mentioned earlier in this blog entry? Quite a bit actually, zombies in the original Night of The Living Dead film are called ghouls by reporters on television and the strange animating force for the zombies is caused by a weird radiation of sorts. Return of the Living Dead saw a wrench of the cinematic folklore of the zombie in the idea that zombies eat people to relieve the pain they feel from being dead. The head in certain cultures being the true resting place of both the soul and the human consciousness. This ties in quite nicely with the idea of the Deadites consuming the souls of their victims or swallowing them. Perhaps the release of these strange demonic energies of Chaos is what allows the conditions for Ghoul plague to mutate and go air borne as a disease vector.
Warning the following film clip contains bad language, disturbing images, gore, and other unpleasantness. 

Zombies do not simply have to be the slow shufflers of film legend there is far more to them then simply the conventions of the Monster Manual. Thinking outside of the rules is something to strive for in my opinion.

Could this also be why Lankhmar ghouls consume the flesh of others? This race of transparent skinned ghouls are from the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser by Fritz Leiber and they feel that the flesh of mud men as they refer to them is a delicacy. This is one of the first books I read that had ghouls coming from another world completely. But it would not be my last, Michael Moorcock's Elric character comes in contact with ghouls with the paralysis touch from a dimension dominated by Chaos. Which brings us back to 
Lareth, Beloved of Lolth who looks like if she succeeds just might open the way for not only her mistress but other demonic lords as well.

Ghasts might well the final stages of the subset of inhumanity that are the ghouls, there has been speculation among certain circles of Lovecraft fans that the ghasts of the vaults of Zin are perhaps the remains of certain Dreamland residents who have devolved in the harsh unlight of the Dreamlands underworld.

After a moment something about the size of a small horse hopped out into the grey twilight, and Carter turned sick at the aspect of that scabrous and unwholesome beast, whose face is so curiously human despite the absence of a nose, a forehead, and other important particulars.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

This whole cycle of undeath marks the underworld of Hommlet as a part and parcel for part of the cycles of both elder civilizations that preceded the current world and as a part of the underworld as the bringer of the 'other' for the adventure location. This allows both Hyperborea and Greyhawk to share some very common and exploitable connections.

All of this will come full circle for the Temple of Elemental Evil which will be coming up soon.

Please note that none of this speculation and campaign notes are a part of the main story line or Setting of Hyperborea or of the Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea game. Nor is this an attempt to violate the trademarks or copyrights of the holders of that game nor of the T series of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons modules . This is all of my own invention for a personal table top rpg adventure campaign. This post is for entertainment and educational purposes only.

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