Saturday, April 23, 2022

'The Charnel God' By Clark Ashton Smith & OSR Commentary Toothy Thoughts on The Charnel God

 Let's talk about what separates wheat from chaff in Swords & Sorcery literature and that's knowing the classics. In this case let's talk about the published in the March 1934 issue of Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith's 'The Charnel God'. This tale is the tale  of a married couple who stops in the town Zul-Bha-Sair, whose charnel  god is Mordiggian. The bride passes & the groom tries to stop the priests of Mordiggian from taking his bride. As well as steal her corpse back from the temple. 
 Because, 'The Charnel God' takes place upon Zothique the last continant of Earth. The worship of Mordiggian is something that has been going on for eons at this point;""Dimly have I heard of Mordiggian, as a legend that travellers tell in Xylac," he admitted. "But I had forgotten the name of his city; and Elaith and I came ignorantly into Zul-Bha-Sair... Even had I known, I should have doubted the terrible custom of which you inform me. ...What manner of deity is this, who imitates the hyena and the vulture? Surely he is no god, but a ghoul."

"Take heed lest you utter blasphemy," admonished the innkeeper. "Mordiggian is old and omnipotent as death. He was worshipped in former continents, before the lifting of Zothique from out the sea. Through him, we are saved from corruption and the worm. Even as the people of other places devote their dead to the consuming flame, so we of Zul-Bha-Sair deliver ours to the god. Awful is the fane, a place of terror and obscure shadow untrod by the sun, into which the dead are borne by his priests and are laid on a vast table of stone to await his coming from the nether vault in which he dwells. No living men, other than the priests, have ever beheld him; and the faces of the priests are hidden behind masks of silver, and even their hands are shrouded, that men may not gaze on them that have seen Mordiggian." 

"But there is a king in Zul-Bha-Sair, is there not? I shall appeal to him against this heinous and horrible injustice. Surely he will heed me."

"Phenquor is the king; but he could not help you even if he wished. Your appeal will not even be heard. Mordiggian is above all kings, and his law is sacred. Hark! — for already the priests come." 
So basically Mordiggian is Death in  Zul-Bha-Sair and there's no getting around that. Within the story even the king is not above the god of death. And we have the necromancer & 
 sorcerer named Aenon-tha who has a very curious 'arrangement' with the priests of Mordiggian.And in this arrangement that's interesting. The idea is that the necromantic spells, black rites are fine as long as the corpses don't leave the temple of Mordiggian. 
Now I think that there's a reason for this and that's simple. The priests of Mordiggian want to keep an eye necromancers just to see if their is anything new within the black arts. One of the necromancer's pupil's puts Mordiggian & his follower's position quite nicely; ""But, master," said Narghai, shivering a little beneath his robe of nacarat red, "is it wise, after all, to do this thing? Must you take the girl from the temple? Always, ere this, you have contented yourself with the brief loan that the priests allow, and have rendered back the dead in the required state of exanimation. Truly, is it well to violate the law of the god? Men say that the wrath of Mordiggian, though seldom loosed, is more dreadful than the wrath of all other deities. For this reason, none has dared to defraud him in latter years, or attempt the removal of any of the corpses from his fane. Long ago, it is told, a high noble of the city bore hence the cadaver of a woman he had loved, and fled with it into the desert; but the priests pursued him, running more swiftly than jackals ...and the fate that overtook him is a thing whereof the legends whisper but dimly." 

Mordiggian & his followers are actually quite benefitical! You've got freedom from any necromantic plagues, disposal of the corpses, and more. So in point of fact for a society that is on the Late Roman Empire scale for an OSR game Mordiggian & his cult would be a solid addition. The god & hsi cult could take care of any necromancers or black wizards threatening a city under his protection. Sure, his cult is one of chaos but its chaos with a small 'C' and its one that takes care of disease that goes along with death and funerary rites. 
But is the clerical orders & cult of Mordiggian actually one of the richest within the world. Hear me out here. All funerary rites belong to the god & his followers does this also include the treasure vaults, tombs, etc. of the kings & queens of his religion or cult?! There have to be other places on  Zothique & off world  where these rites also took hold as well. 
Here are Seven Charnel God OSR Seeds : 

  1. Ruins uncovered by a sand storm have a series of funery goods associated with them. The locals want to hire adventurers and laborers to cover them even though there are rumors of gold. There are other rumors that the order of Mordiggian may be involved. 
  2. A necromancer and his attendants want to hire adventurers to break into the temple of Mordiggian to reclaim the body of his master. 
  3. A silver mask of the order of Mordiggian has been uncovered at a nearby dungeon and no one is sure how it got there. The artifact is considered bad luck by one & all but worth 200 gold pieces to order for one who fetches it. And brings it back to the priests. 
  4. There is a small war between the cult of Osiris & the cult Mordiggian.  The body of a priest of Osisis is in the Mordiggian temple and the player's PC's are to be paid to escort the corpse  back to the temple of Osisis. The priest corpse is to be resurrected back at the temple. The priests of both gods refuse to have anything to do with each other. Can you navigate between the two cults & make a bit of coin. 
  5. A field of skeletal hands appears on a farmer's land & he was going to call the cult of Mordiggian. But many of the hands of the dead clutch gold coins. He wishes to keep the gold but not anger the god. He is looking to hire adventurers to help him for a split of the gold. 
  6. A necromancer is looking for an escort through the lands of Mordiggian and there's gold enough in his pockets to tempt fools. 
  7. Several royal corpses have gone missing & the king wants adventurers to help him locate them before the cult of Mordiggian learns of their disappearances. 

You can read Clark Aston Smith's Charnel God Here.

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