Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Fury & Horror - The Formorians Ecology In Old School Campaigns

I've been doing an extensive amount of reading into European mythology this week about the Irish, Celtic & its relation to deep significance into the historical events that shaped Europe. This little tidbit on Wikipedia got me;"The monarchy of England was itself thrown into turmoil during the last phase of the Hundred Years' War to 1453, and the Wars of the Roses (1460–85), and as a result, direct English involvement in Ireland was greatly reduced." We know that the turmoil & war had the attention of England directed elsewhere but what about Dark Europe?

The Fomorians, as depicted by John Duncan (1912)

Right off the top of my head I can think of one race that would immediately come straight out of old school gaming to take full advantage of the events in Ireland. The Formorians would be marching straight out of the sea to take down their blood enemies in the form of the humans!
So what are the Fomorians ?! Basically they are chaos giants, demons, spirits of incredible supernatural power that were once gods but were displaced by the
Tuath Dé but the relationship is very complex & complicated because of the ties of  intermarriage, relationships, & familial bonds comparable to the Norse Jotun.  They also have ties to Irish royalty & this makes things very complex especially with the Formorians on England's doorstep during the Hundred Years War.
From Wiki we get just a taste of what I'm talking about;"
The  The Fomorians seem to have been gods who represent the harmful or destructive powers of nature; personifications of chaos, darkness, death, blight and drought.[2][3][4] The Tuath Dé, in contrast, seem to represent the gods of growth and civilization. It has also been suggested that the Fomorians derive from an older group of gods who were displaced by a newer group."

In old school gaming starting all the way back to Eighty Three you've got the Fomorians appearing in Gary Gygax's  The Monster Manual II & before that in the acclaimed TSR  U.K. series of modules. The Monster Manual II has some of the best statted up monster profiles for them.

The Fomorians have a very complex relationship with the Elves of both Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon rpg system. They should not be taken at all lightly & in fact should only be used with high level & experienced groups of D&D players. I'm not kidding because these monsters are litterer walking siege engines with the powers of the gods. In the Lion & Dragon retroclone they appear as chaos giants but the clay giants also make an excellent addition to their ranks. But there could also be other spirits & monsters with really strange powers & no one would bat an eyelash.

Its been suggested that during a Hundred Years Campaign set in Ireland the Formorian influence would start to be felt during the Norman decline (1300–1350).
Again I'm going to lean on Wiki here because they've got a good breakdown of events; "
The high point of the Norman lordship was the creation of the Parliament of Ireland in 1297, following the Lay Subsidy tax collection of 1292. The first Papal Taxation register was compiled in 1302–07; it was the first Irish census and list of properties, similar to the Domesday book. The Hiberno-Normans then suffered from a series of events in the 14th century that slowed, and eventually ceased, the spread of their settlement and power. Firstly, numerous rebellious attacks were launched by Gaelic lords upon the English lordships. Having lost pitched battles to Norman knights, to defend their territory the Gaelic chieftains now had to change tactics, and deal with the charging armoured knights. They started to rely on raids against resources, and surprise attacks. This stretched the resources of the Normans, reduced their number of trained knights, and often resulted in the chieftains regaining territory. Secondly a lack of direction from both Henry III and his successor Edward I (who were more concerned with events in England, Wales, Scotland and their continental domains) meant that the Norman colonists in Ireland were to a large extent deprived of (financial) support from the English monarchy. This limited their ability to hold territory. Furthermore, the Normans' position deteriorated due to divisions within their own ranks. These caused outright war between leading Hiberno-Norman lords such as the de Burghs, FitzGeralds, Butlers and de Berminghams. Finally, the division of estates among heirs split Norman lordships into smaller, less formidable units—the most damaging being that of the Marshalls of Leinster, which split a large single lordship into five.
Politics and events in Gaelic Ireland served to draw the settlers deeper into the orbit of the Irish, which on occasion had the effect of allying them with one or more native rulers against other Normans.
Hiberno-Norman Ireland was deeply shaken by four events in the 14th century:
  • The first was the invasion of Ireland by Edward Bruce of Scotland who, in 1315, rallied many of the Irish lords against the English presence in Ireland (see Irish-Bruce Wars). Although Bruce was eventually defeated in Ireland at the Battle of Faughart, near Dundalk, his troops caused a great deal of destruction, especially in the densely settled area around Dublin. In this chaotic situation, local Irish lords won back large amounts of land that their families had lost since the conquest and held them after the war was over. A few English partisans like Gilbert de la Roche turned against the English king and sided with Bruce, largely because of personal quarrels with the English monarchy.[7][8]
  • The European famine of 1315–17 affected Ireland as well. The Irish ports were unable to import wheat and other crops, or other foods, as none were available to buy. This was compounded by widespread crop burnings during the Bruce Invasion.
  • The third was the murder of William Donn de Burgh, 3rd Earl of Ulster in June 1333. This resulted in his lands being split in three among his relations, with the ones in Connacht starting the Burke Civil War, rebelling against the Crown and becoming new Irish clans. This meant that virtually all of Ireland west of the Shannon was lost to the Dublin administration. It would be well over two hundred years before the McWilliam Burkes, as they were now called, were again allied with the Dublin administration. In Ulster the O'Neill dynasty took over and renamed Clandeboye in the earldom's lands in County Down, and in 1364 they assumed the title King of Ulster.

The Black Death rapidly spread along the major European sea and land trade routes. It reached Ireland in 1348 and decimated the Hiberno-Norman urban settlements
  • The fourth calamity for the medieval English presence in Ireland was the Black Death, which arrived in Ireland in 1348. Because most of the English and Norman inhabitants of Ireland lived in towns and villages, the plague hit them far harder than it did the native Irish, who lived in more dispersed rural settlements. A celebrated account from a monastery in Cill Chainnigh (Kilkenny) chronicles the plague as the beginning of the extinction of humanity and the end of the world. The plague was a catastrophe for the English habitations around the country and, after it had passed, Gaelic Irish language and customs came to dominate the country again. The English-controlled area shrank back to the Pale, a fortified area around Dublin.
In the background the Hundred Years' War of 1337–1453 between the English and French dynasties drew off forces that could have protected the Lordship from attack by autonomous Gaelic and Norman lords."

Yes I'm doing incredibly broad strokes of history here but you can see the influence of darkness & death in the real world history. PC's would have their hands full dealing with the added horrors of the Formorians during such events.  The Fomorians are also mobile having the ability to use the sea to move from point to point during times of calamity. These are not forces to take lightly & add to this the idea of these former gods using cults, witches, & terror tactics until the
Gaelic Revival of 1350 - 1500.

This is a campaign where huge swaths of death, famine, disease, & bloodshed are at play. We're talking about a campaign that would take months or even years of play. Then the dungeon master could get into numerous threads of mythology & folklore to untangle from the Fomorians from their Elven ancestors. Yes I said ancestors. I believe that certain Elves rose to 'godhood' during the second Ice Age and didn't want to give up their ruler ship of parts of the Underworld & Fairyland. They'd been twisted by the chaos energies of Fairyland & their almost demonic some even having giving up physical existence. Many degenerated into demons & giants that we've come to know as the  Fomorians.

The Formorians are walking toxic waste dumps of chaos leaving corruption & mutation behind them. PC's are going to be cleaning up and healing the land within their wake. Anyone exposed to their wake might need to save vs wands or poison lest they gain a mutation or contamination to  poison exposure or one to the weird radiations of Fairy from a Fomorian.

This idea isn't original & appears in Glynn Seal's Midderlands setting in the form of Gloomium poisioning & the like. In fact many of the monsters & horrid lifeforms would fit right into this style of campaign! This is something he gets into even more in his new Kickstarter for the setting.
Myths and legends; the Celtic race (1910)
As time goes in Dark Europe the whole area is an ancient sink hole for the magical forces of Chaos & one of the last bastions of 'the old cults & ways of the Elves'. PC's are going to have their hands full dealing with some of the best magicians & wizards on Earth. The Elven blood is thick here allowing all kinds of adventures to take place during the Hundred Years War. In point of fact UK1 Beyond the Crystal Cave by Dave Brown, Tom Kirby, and Graeme Morris could be set during such a campaign as the waning power of 
the Tuatha Dé Danann 
gives way to events of history.

I see this entire campaign set up as something to bring a whole old school struggle against the powers of darkness in one of the Elven strongholds of Europe with the Elves stirring the pot to bring Europe to a boil during the Hundred Years War. The Formorians are about as dangerous a supernatural menace as a DM can use. From a Lovecraftian perspective its not Lovecraft here but Robert Howard whose writings have numerous Celtic & Proto Celtic pulp stories from
Bran Mak Morn to more of his later modern stories all have many elements that draw from the horrors of the Formorians as being survivals from the time beyond Atlantis. Just remember the powers of Fairy serve themselves & their connections to the Elves of Lion & Dragon are murky at best & dangerous beyond comprehension at worst.

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