Wednesday, February 28, 2018

The Chaos & Horror of Italy's Myths, Monsters, & Madmen For Your Old School Campaigns

"The honeymooning king of Damascus, Norandino, and his wife, Lucina, are shipwrecked on an Ogre's island and taken to its cave. When they try to escape, Lucina is discovered."

Work has been really busy lately but I wanted to take a moment to talk about one of the more ignored countries of Europe for OD&D games, Italy. Early Dragon magazines covered lots of undead, ghosts, etc. but many of the mythological origin points for various monsters simply got a gloss over. With so many monsters  in the OD&D wood grain books, B/X Dungeons & Dragon sets & the  Monster Manual 1st edition creatures  there were just too many creatures to cover. During the D20 daze of the early 2000's I kept expecting Italy to get a D20 Italy setting book or small series of articles. I ran plenty of Norse, D20 Conan, etc. but there was never a Dragon magazine article or anything on Italian folklore. Sure the ancient Roman Empire got plenty of coverage in Dragon in its heyday but that was it. The Roman Empire gets all of the glory here; "
The history of the Roman Empire covers the history of Ancient Rome from the fall of the Roman Republic in 27 BC until the abdication of the last Western emperor in 476 AD." So let's dive right into the deep end of Italian folklore & talk about one of the more ignored & often overlooked dangers of  Chaos of the urban city environs the fairy godmother.

The fairy godmothers are perfect NPC foils & foibles for dungeon masters to use for adventure hooks. Not only do they grant wishes, but they've been the source of quests in some Arthurian legends in Italian legends. They have the abilities of a tenth level wizard but are answerable only to their Elven royalty or overlords. But should their fairy glamor disguise be compromised they become AD&D hags of dangerous aspect.
Befana is a  St Nicholas or Santa Claus like figure with haggish aspects active from Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) throughout the Feast of the Epiphany.
This creature might be a fallen goddess whose cult still has agents throughout the city & country regions.
In Italian folklore, Befana (pronounced [beˈfaːna]) is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus.[1]
A popular belief is that her name derives from the Feast of Epiphany or in Catholic La Festa dell'Epifania. Epifania is a Latin word with Greek origins meaning "manifestation (of the divinity)."[2][3] Some suggest that Befana is descended from the Sabine/Roman goddess named Strenia.[4]
In popular folklore Befana visits all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. In many poorer parts of Italy and in particular rural Sicily, a stick in a stocking was placed instead of coal. Being a good housekeeper, many say she will sweep the floor before she leaves. To some the sweeping meant the sweeping away of the problems of the year. The child's family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana.[3]
She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children's houses through the chimney. She is often smiling and carries a bag or hamper filled with candy, gifts, or both.[citation needed]
She is also referred to as the Christmas Witch."
Seemingly a "good" aligned cult Catholic church officials might take umbridge with the cult's origin  should it be discovered right in the heart of the Italian countryside. But they might be taking on far more then they bargained for. Santa Lucia is another partial ghostly fairy god mother with some very weird overtones in her folk lore. A potential hook for all kinds of strangeness for adventurers. "Is a holy woman who delivers gifts to children of Bergamo and province on 13 December, in a similar way to Saint Nicholas or Santa Claus."

Leon Bakst design for the costume of Carabosse in the ballet The Sleeping Beauty.
The drawing is signed "Bakst 1921".

The rhyme, festival, & satirical plays of the Badalisc (also Badalisk) of Val Camonica, in the southern central Alps might hold far deeper Pagan meanings for the region. "The Badalisc (also Badalisk) is a mythical creature of the Val Camonica, in the southern central Alps.[1] The Badalisc is represented today as a creature with a big head covered with a goat skin, two small horns, a huge mouth and glowing eyes."

"According to legend the Badalisc lives in the woods around the village of Andrista (commune of Cevo) and is supposed to annoy the community: each year it is captured during the period of Epiphany (5 & 6 January) and led on a rope into the village by musicians and masked characters, including il giovane (the young man), il vecchio (the old man), la vecchia (the old woman) and the young signorina, who is "bait" for the animal's lust. There are also some old witches, who beat drums, and bearded shepherds, and a hunchback (un torvo gobetto) who has a "rustic duel" with the animal. Traditionally only men take part, although some are dressed as women. In ancient times women were prohibited from participating in the exhibition, or even to see or hear the Badalisc's Speech; if they did so they would be denied Holy Communion the following day.
In the village square (formerly in a stable) the Badalisc's speech (la 'ntifunada) is read, in which the mythological animal gossips about the community. The Badalisc itself is a dumb creature, so the speech, nowadays written in rhyme, is read by an "interpreter". Once improvised, now written in advance, the speech reveals all the supposed sins and scheming of the community. During the speech the hunchback bangs his stick rhythmically at intervals.
The speech is followed by singing, dancing and feasting. In the evening the community eats the "Badalisc polenta" (a commercial version of this traditional food was launched in 2010).[2] Until recently, village children would beg from house to house during the Badalisc celebrations for cornmeal to make the polenta; a Badalisc salami was also specially made for them. The badalisc has a place of honour at the feasts.[3]
On the second day, at the end of the exhibition, the Badalisc is set free and allowed to return to the woods."
So is there a link between the legendary the Badalisk of Andrista and the mythical Basilisk? 

Adventurers might be the only ones to find out.  Well as a DM in my campaigns there certainly is and perhaps more.

One thing that we seldom think of in connection to Italy is dragons! That's right there are two famous legends of dragons including one that fits the profile for a classic black dragon of AD&D lore. I'm speaking of the Thyrus, the dragon of Terni.
"One of the most famous dragons of Italian folklore is Thyrus, a wyvern that besieged Terni in the Middle Ages. One day, a young and brave knight of the noble House of Cittadini, tired of witnessing the death of his fellow citizens and depopulation of Terni, faced the dragon and killed him. From that day, the town assumed the creature in its coat of arms, accompanied by a Latin inscription: "Thyrus et amnis dederunt signa Teramnis" (English translation: "Thyrus and the river gave their insignia to [the city of] Terni") , that stands under the banner of the town of Terni, honoring this legend."

Thyrus seems to be a classic AD&D black dragon straight out of the Monster Manual first edition. Could there be a chaos  cult connected with the monster? Perhaps in Lion & Dragon the cult seeks to resurrect its dark glory once more.

Black dragon from the AD&D Monster Manual first edition

There is also the legend  of the seven headed dragon near Oltre il Colle (in the province of Bergamo), which might be in fact an allegory of a nasty chaos cult guarding  a fountain of immortality. Or it could be in fact a true hydra or seven headed dragon.

"It was a dragon with seven heads who lived near Oltre il Colle (in the province of Bergamo), devouring livestock and drinking of water that would provide immortality, was attacked by farmers and hunters, in vain, then he was attacked by an army composed of the best soldiers of the armies of the small states of Italy and fled, defeated, in the water, which became muddy and undrinkable water of Oltre il Colle.
It is not the only monster in the area of Oltre il Colle: there is also a wicked maga (sorceress in Italian) to threaten it."
Heracles and the Lernaean Hydra by Gustave Moreau:
The Hydra is perhaps the best known mythological multi-headed animal,
also popularized in many fantasy settings.

There are perhaps micro leaks of chaos from Fairyland into the "real world" from dimensional sieves that let chaos energies into the most unexpected places perhaps even depositing prehistoric or ancient animals of legend into unexpected places. There is a 60% chance that during certain astrological events weird doorways open in ancient pagan temples, dungeons, & ruins. This brings me to the
ferocious beast' of Milan.
The 'ferocious beast' of
Milan legend  from  the 1790s sounds like a werewolf or dire wolf straight out of the AD&D Monster Manual first edition.
"It was an enormous animal similar to a wolf. It ate pets and children and terrorized Milan during the 1790s and the Milanese organized a hunt against it. After months they killed the Ferocious Beast and displayed its body at the University of Pavia. Today it is no longer there and has been missing for decades. Informal sources claim it was stolen, destroyed during WW2 or removed specifically by German actions during WW2."
There were some indications from friends of mine that perhaps there was something very special about the coat of the 'ferocious beast' & that perhaps it was "enchanted" retaining some of the enchanted powers from the beast's chaotic mutation.

'Wolves Attacking a Horse' by Pauwel de Vos and Jan Wildens

The Egg of Coot has its alternative version in the form of the chaos cult in  the Egg of Columbus which has been quietly manipulating its members for its own diabolic ends within the bowels of the catacombs of Rome.
"Refers to a brilliant idea or discovery that seems simple or easy after the fact. The expression refers to a popular story of how Christopher Columbus, having been told that discovering the Americas was no great accomplishment, challenged his critics to make an egg stand on its tip."

One thing that Italy's always had is a long tradition of witch's covens going back to the days of ancient Rome. The Striga has its roots in the Corsican myth of the Stegge & in the AD&D chaos monster of the Stirges.

"A demon or creature, derived from the Corsican myth of the Stegge. It is a witch or sentient beast of mammalian features, and like a woman, bat, dog and rat. It is not an omen but rather a bringer of harm and fear. It is said be a female thing that feeds on the blood and often parasites men and children. It is in a way, a type of bogy beast, like vampires in Slavic mythologies and lore."
Theses horrid things are often found around gateways to Fairyland where they are often used as guardians by the blackest of wizards.

David Sutherland from the AD&D Monster Manual first edition

Finally the fool Giufà, or Giucà makes an excellent NPC as a source of occult country wisdom for  adventurers. He might have been an adventurer himself whose spent way too much time within the bowels of fairyland.

"Giufà, or Giucà as he is referred to in some areas of the country, is a character of Italian folklore.[1] His antics have been retold and memorized through centuries of oral tradition. Although the anecdotes from his life mainly revolve around the southern Italian and Sicilian lifestyle, his character traits are visible in the folk characters of many Mediterranean cultures. In fact, scholars suggest that the character Giufà developed from stories of Nasrudin, a Turkish folk character. It is believed that during Islamic rule of the island of Sicily,[2] stories of this man (known in Arabic as Juha) were absorbed into the Sicilian oral tradition, transformed to exemplify cultural norms and eventually transmitted throughout southern Italy. Although Giufà is most often recognized as the "village fool", his actions and words usually serve to provide a moral message. It is his peers' reactions, rather than Giufà's outrageous behavior, that are judged at the end of each story"
This NPC jester might appear to adventurers during times of extreme stress at pivotal points to offer help & moral support in the form of outrageous behavior.

These pieces of folklore prove that even in the most 'civilized' area the influence of chaos leaks into the most urbane works of mankind. Adventurers & outlaws of the deepest stripe may be the only fools able to deal with the machinations of the darkest and most dangerous of supernatural influences.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Corruption & Chaos Of The Welsh Underworld For Old School Campaigns (Otherworld Commentary Part II)

"tseemed to him that the little man had becometransformed into a very beautiful and giganticfigure, with a face that shone like the sun,and opalescent colours gleamed round him.Then music sounded again through the quietevening air, and Fionn saw that Cnu Deireoilwas still before him. But ever after thatFionn believed that the little harper was oneof the children of Dana, and that for somepurpose of his own he had chosen to showhimself to Fionn, and become one of his men. The next day the Fians returned to theirhome on the Hill of Allen, and Cnu Deireoilaccompanied them. Nor would Fionn evermake any journey afterwards without hislittle harper, and in stormy weather, or whenCnu Deireoil grew tired, Fionn would pickhim up and carry him under his mantle; forthe chief of the Fians possessed a very nobleand kindly heart, and always showed a greatgentleness and courtesy to any one smallerand weaker than himself. Cnu Deireoil was a great wonder to thegiant warriors of Fionn, who had never seen"
Heroes of the Dawn 1914

The last couple of days has been incredibly hectic & with work taking a bite into my writing I've had to take my cues where & when I can. So I dug out my notes for one of my most successful Arthurian games. Today we're going to take a moment to talk about Clark Ashton Smith, Irish mythology, & Celtic literature. In this case the connection between Arthurian literature, Welsh mythology, and the possible heart of pure corruption sitting right in the heart of England. The Otherworld is quite distinct from the realm called Annwn. 

"In both Welsh and Irish mythologies, the Otherworld was believed to be located either on an island or underneath the earth. In the First Branch of the Mabinogi, it is implied that Annwn is a land within Dyfed, while the context of the Arthurian poem Preiddeu Annwfn suggests an island location. Two other otherworldly feasts that occur in the Second Branch of the Mabinogi are located in Harlech in northwest Wales and on Ynys Gwales in southwest Pembrokeshire."

While I've been planning a sea crawl the fact is that the more I've dipped into the mythological connections of the realm of Annwn.  The more I find deep connections to Arthurian literature & folklore in the Welsh tradition. All of this is a part of the
Four Branches of the Mabinogi.

"The Four Branches of the Mabinogi or Pedair Cainc Y Mabinogi are the earliest prose stories in the literature of Britain. Originally written in Wales in Middle Welsh, but widely available in translations, the Mabinogi is generally agreed to be a single work in four parts, or "Branches." The interrelated tales can be read as mythology, political themes, romances, or magical fantasies. They appeal to a wide range of readers, from young children to the most sophisticated adult. The tales are popular today in book format, as storytelling or theatre performances; they appear in recordings and on film, and continue to inspire many reinterpretations in artwork and modern fiction.
(The Mabinogi needs to be disentangled from The Mabinogion which is the modern name for a larger collection of British/ Welsh mediaeval tales. Published versions of The Mabinogion[1] typically include the Mabinogi. The name The Mabinogion first appears in print 1795,[2] based on a single medieval mistake, but the name then became firmly established in modern usage for the larger collection.)"
The realm of Annwn is a virtual paradise on Earth & a point at which the chaotic realm of Fairyland overlaps over the classical Greco Roman Underworld.
"Annwn, Annwfn, or Annwfyn (in Middle Welsh, /ˈænn/ Annwvn, Annwyn, Annwyfn, Annwvyn, or Annwfyn) was the Otherworld in Welsh mythology. Ruled by Arawn (or, in Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd), it was essentially a world of delights and eternal youth where disease was absent and food was ever-abundant. It became identified with the Christian afterlife in paradise (or heaven)."

There are places where the traditions & gonzo weirdness of Welsh legend cross right over into original Dungeons & Dragons ruins & adventure turf . The first Gods, Demigods, & Heroes by  Rob Kuntz, &  James M. Ward came out in 1976 & I've had multiple copies of this classic OD&D. The gods of the Celtic race feature predominantly at the heart of the book. The Celtic material is especially helpful when designing dungeons associated with the twisting and branching subject of Arthurian literature & legend.

The realm of Annwn is a gateway of adventure right in the heart of England's backyard. Here the gods have faded off, the Elves of ancient legend have gone deep into Fairyland and the realm has become much darker as time has rolled on. The ancient king of a dangerous cult & the head of a race of child snatching Elven monsters.
Gwyn ap Nudd the king of the Tylwyth Teg or "fair folk" and ruler of the Welsh Otherworld, Annwn, and whose name means “white son of Nudd”. Described later on as a great warrior with a "blackened face", Gwyn is intimately associated with the otherworld in medieval Welsh literature, and is associated with the international tradition of the Wild Hunt.

This all goes back to the earliest roots of Arthur's predecessors in myth & legend. There are backbone legends that play merry havoc with the occult traditions of the seasons similar to the legends of the Roman god Hades. There is a deep connection to Chaos here and it belies the dangers of Annwn laying just below the realm's surface.

"Annwn plays a reasonably prominent role in the Four Branches of the Mabinogi, a set of four interlinked mythological tales dating from the early medieval period. In the First Branch of the Mabinogi, entitled Pwyll, Prince of Dyfed, the eponymous prince offends Arawn, ruler of Annwn, by baiting his hunting hounds on a stag that Arawn's dogs had brought down. In recompense he exchanges places with Arawn for a year and defeats Arawn's enemy Hafgan, while Arawn rules in his stead in Dyfed. During this year, Pwyll abstains from sleeping with Arawn's wife, earning himself gratitude and eternal friendship from Arawn. On his return, Pwyll becomes known by the title Penn Annwn, "Head (or Ruler) of Annwn." In the Fourth Branch, Arawn is mentioned but does not appear; it is revealed that he sent a gift of otherworldly pigs to Pwyll's son and successor, Pryderi, which ultimately leads to war between Dyfed and Gwynedd.
The similarly mythological epic poem Cad Goddeu describes a battle between Gwynedd and the forces of Annwn, led again by Arawn. It is revealed that Amaethon, nephew to Math, king of Gwynedd, stole a bitch, a lapwing and a roebuck from the Otherworld, leading to a war between the two peoples. The denizens of Annwn are depicted as bizarre and hellish creatures; these include a "wide-mawed" beast with a hundred heads and bearing a host beneath the root of its tongue and another under its neck, a hundred-clawed black-groined toad, and a "mottled ridged serpent, with a thousand souls, by their sins, tortured in the holds of its flesh".[3] Gwydion, the Venedotian hero and magician successfully defeats Arawn's army, first by enchanting the trees to rise up and fight and then by guessing the name of the enemy hero Bran, thus winning the battle.
Preiddeu Annwfn, an early medieval poem found in the Book of Taliesin, describes a voyage led by King Arthur to the numerous otherworldy kingdoms within Annwn, either to rescue the prisoner Gweir or to retrieve the cauldron of the Head of Annwn. The narrator of the poem is possibly intended to be Taliesin himself. One line can be interpreted as implying that he received his gift of poetry or speech from a magic cauldron, as Taliesin does in other texts, and Taliesin's name is connected to a similar story in another work.[4] The speaker relates how he journeyed with Arthur and three boatloads of men into Annwfn, but only seven returned. Annwfn is apparently referred to by several names, including "Mound Fortress," "Four-Peaked Fortress," and "Glass Fortress", though it is possible the poet intended these to be distinct places. Within the Mound Fort's walls Gweir, one of the "Three Exalted Prisoners of Britain" known from the Welsh Triads,[5] is imprisoned in chains. The narrator then describes the cauldron of the Chief of Annwn: it is finished with pearl and will not boil a coward's food. Whatever tragedy ultimately killed all but seven of them is not clearly explained. The poem continues with an excoriation of "little men" and monks, who lack various forms of knowledge possessed by the poet."

The connections to the Holy Grail here are obvious within the Welsh mythological tradition. There are still darker connections more modern horror writers especially HP Lovecraft, & Clark Ashton Smith.

Image by Ernest Wallcousins, 1912.
"In Caer Pedryvan, four its revolutions; In the first word from the cauldron when spoken,
From the breath of nine maidens it was gently warmed"

The Tylwyth Teg are another cross point monster  for the dungeons & realms of Annwn.
"Tylwyth Teg (Middle Welsh for "Fair Family" [1] Welsh pronunciation: [ˈtəlwɪθ teːg]) is the most usual term in Wales for the mythological creatures corresponding to the fairy folk of English and Continental folklore and the Irish Aos Sí."

These are child snatching monsters of the highest order & very dangerous horrors to cross in the English & Welsh countryside. But these horrors are very familiar creatures to many dungeon masters & players.
"In later sources the tylwyth teg are described as fair-haired and covet golden-haired human children whom they kidnap, leaving changelings (or "crimbils") in their place. They dance and make fairy rings and they live underground or under the water. They bestow riches on those they favour but these gifts vanish if they are spoken of, and fairy maidens may become the wives of human men.[1] These fairy wives are however still bound by traditional taboos. They must be careful to avoid touching iron or they will vanish back to their realm never to be seen by their husbands again.[4]
As the Bendith y Mamau they are sometimes described as stunted and ugly.[1] They ride horses in fairy rades (processions) and visit houses where bowls of milk are customarily put out for them. A changeling story tells of a woman whose three-year-old son was stolen by the fairies and she was given a threefold instruction by a "cunning man" (magician) on how to get him back. She removed the top from a raw egg and began stirring the contents, and as the changeling watched her do this certain comments he made established his otherworldly identity. She then went to a crossroads at midnight during the full moon and observed a fairy rade in order to confirm that her son was with them. Lastly she obtained a black hen and without plucking it she roasted it over a wood fire until every feather dropped off. The changeling then disappeared and her son was returned to her.[1][5]
According to the folklorist Wirt Sikes the Tylwyth Teg may be divided into five general types: the Ellyllon (elves), the Coblynau (fairies of the mines), the Bwbachod (household fairies similar to brownies), the Gwragedd Annwn (female fairies of the lakes and streams) and the Gwyllion (mountain fairies more akin to hags). The ellyllon (singular ellyll) inhabit groves and valleys and are similar to English elves. Their food consists of toadstools and fairy butter (a type of fungus) and they wear digitalis bell flowers as gloves. They are ruled by Queen Mab and bring prosperity to those they favour.[6]"

Wrapped up in the legends & literature of the Welsh mythology is the origin point for ghouls in Europe for my purposes this is an especially useful adventure point for the Lion & Dragon retro clone system. Here these monsters filtered down with the Romans and before them with various traders to the shores of Britain. These monsters have always been around & have been the servants of the Elves going back to the earliest days of England and the myth of the changling as monster within proves more evidence of this.
"In the Anglo-Scottish border region it was believed that elves (or fairies) lived in "Elf Hills" (or "Fairy Hills"). Along with this belief in supernatural beings was the view that they could spirit away children, and even adults, and take them back to their own world (see Elfhame).[20][21] Often, it was thought, a baby would be snatched and replaced with a simulation of the baby, usually a male adult elf, to be suckled by the mother.[20] The real baby would be treated well by the elves and would grow up to be one of them, where as the changeling baby would be discontented and wearisome.[21] Many herbs, salves and seeds could be used for discovering the fairy-folk and ward off their designs.[21]
In one tale a mother suspected that her baby had been taken and replaced with a changeling, a view that was proven to be correct one day when a neighbour ran into the house shouting "Come here and ye'll se a sight! Yonder's the Fairy Hill a' alowe." To which the elf got up saying "Waes me! What'll come o' me wife and bairns?" and made his way out of the chimney.[20]
At Byerholm near Newcastleton in Liddesdale sometime during the early 19th century, a dwarf called Robert Elliot or Little Hobbie o' The Castleton as he was known, was reputed to be a changeling. When taunted by other boys he would not hesitate to draw his gully (a large knife) and dispatch them, however being that he was woefully short in the legs they usually out-ran him and escaped. He was courageous however and when he heard that his neighbour, the six-foot three-inch (191 cm) William Scott of Kirndean, a sturdy and strong borderer, had slandered his name, he invited the man to his house, took him up the stairs and challenged him to a duel. Scott beat a hasty retreat.[21]
Child ballad 40, The Queen of Elfan's Nourice, depicts the abduction of a new mother, drawing on the folklore of the changelings. Although it is fragmentary, it contains the mother's grief and the Queen of Elfland's promise to return her to her own child if she will nurse the queen's child until it can walk"

The connections between HP Lovecraft's Ghouls & Changlings are fairly obvious especially when we look at his story 'Pickman's Model'.
"There's no use in my trying to tell you what they were like, because the awful, the blasphemous horror, and the unbelievable loathsomeness and moral foetor came from simple touches quite beyond the power of words to classify. There was none of the exotic technique you see in Sidney Sime, none of the trans-Saturnian landscapes and lunar fungi that Clark Ashton Smith uses to freeze the blood. The backgrounds were mostly old churchyards, deep woods, cliffs by the sea, brick tunnels, ancient panelled rooms, or simple vaults of masonry. Copp's Hill Burying Ground, which could not be many blocks away from this very house, was a favourite scene.
The madness and monstrosity lay in the figures in the foreground—for Pickman's morbid art was pre-eminently one of demoniac portraiture. These figures were seldom completely human, but often approached humanity in varying degree. Most of the bodies, while roughly bipedal, had a forward slumping, and a vaguely canine cast. The texture of the majority was a kind of unpleasant rubberiness. Ugh! I can see them now! Their occupations—well, don't ask me to be too precise. They were usually feeding—I won't say on what. They were sometimes shown in groups in cemeteries or underground passages, and often appeared to be in battle over their prey—or rather, their treasure-trove. And what damnable expressiveness Pickman sometimes gave the sightless faces of this charnel booty! Occasionally the things were shown leaping through open windows at night, or squatting on the chests of sleepers, worrying at their throats. One canvas showed a ring of them baying about a hanged witch on Gallows Hill, whose dead face held a close kinship to theirs.
But don't get the idea that it was all this hideous business of theme and setting which struck me faint. I'm not a three-year-old kid, and I'd seen much like this before. It was the faces, Eliot, those accursed faces, that leered and slavered out of the canvas with the very breath of life! By God, man, I verily believe they were alive! That nauseous wizard had waked the fires of hell in pigment, and his brush had been a nightmare-spawning wand. Give me that decanter, Eliot!

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 showing 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!"

The chaos cults of the Arthurian  past might have been both a boon & a bane during the time of Arthur with the connections to ghouls both problematic & downright dangerous. The night was prowled by Wild Hunts & worse. Ancient rites & traditions were practiced in the darkest of dungeons. Those of ghoul's blood could cross into the chaos filled dream worlds of Fairyland in the small hours of the night in the most dangerous dungeons.  Perhaps there were other Roman mystery cults of very darkest aspect where the rites of an ancient prince of the dead and undead were remembered. The hellish mindless ghouls of AD&D might well be the lap dogs of cults of the darkest occult stripe.

Ghoul AD&D Monster Manual First Edition

It was when I had read Clark Ashton Smith's Empire of the Necromancers that Orcus came into focus;
"Unbroken before them, through fields devoid of trees and grass, and across the channels of dried-up rivers, there ran the great highway by which travelers had gone formerly betweea Cincor and Tinarath. Here they met no living thing; but soon they came to the skeletons of a horse and its rider, lying full in the road, and wearing still the sumptuous harness and raiment which they had worn in the flesh. And Mmatmuor aad Sodosma paused before the piteous bones, on which no shred of corruption remained; and they smiled evilly at each other.
'The steed shall be yours,' said Mmatmuor, 'since you are a little the elder of us two, and are thus entitled to precedence; and the rider shall serve us both and be the first to acknowledge fealty to us in Cincor.'
Then, in the ashy sand by the wayside, they drew a threefold circle; and standing together at its center, they performed the abominable rites that compel the dead to arise from tranquil nothingness and obey henceforward, in all things, the dark will of the necromancer. Afterward they sprinkled a pinch of magic powder on the nostril-holes of the man and the horse; and the white bones, creaking mournfully, rose up from where they had lain and stood in readiness to serve their masters.
So, as had been agreed between them, Sodosma mounted the skeleton steed and took up the jeweled reins, and rode in an evil mockery of Death on his pale horse; while Mmatmuor trudged on beside him, leaning lightly on an ebon staff; and the skeleton of the man, with its rich raiment flapping loosely, followed behind the two like a servitor."
It doesn't matter your station or social standing the power of undeath & necromancy makes a mockery out of the afterlife. Todd Lockwood's Orcus from 1981's Dragon takes all of the grayness of the demon prince's realm & brings it into sharp focus. There's a certain mocking black magick something about this piece that has the same effect on me as the Ray Harryhausen skeleton fights. You can almost see the movements of the skeletons bringing the poor sacrifice before the bloated demon prince.

The world of the far future is not immune to the mockery & weirdness of the chaos induced fairy glamour of the cousins of the Elves. Clark Ashton Smith's
Charnel God, The (1934) goes into the rites & rituals of Mordiggian which are very similar in point of fact to
Arawn (or, in Arthurian literature, by Gwyn ap Nudd).

"All who die in Zul-Bha-Sair are the property of Mordiggian," insisted the taverner sententiously. "Outlanders are not exempt. The dark maw of his temple yawns eternally, and no man, no child, no woman, throughout the years, has evaded its yawning. All mortal flesh must become, in due time, the provender of the god."

Wild Hunt Artwork  AD&D 1st Edition Deities & Demigods

Once again the cross point exists right in the heart of England perhaps in a hidden valley long from the providence of man. Adventurers are more likely to run into the remains of such cults at the fringes of Europe's ragged and haggard history during adventures. History & warfare are most likely to have erased any & all traces of such cults or have they?

Sunday, February 25, 2018

The Dangers & Weirdness Of The Celtic Otherworld For Old School Campaigns

" IT THE ENCHANTMENT OF TARA 33 shield firmly with his left. Then through thedarkness came a shaft of flame, blown from theenchanters mouth, and Fionn raised his shieldto catch it. But the shield changed to a four-folded impenetrable mantle—woven from theblue of air, the green of earth, the crimson offire, and the purple of ocean—which caughtthe magicians fire-blast and scattered it on o every side in showers of sparks which did noevil. Again and again Aillen mac Midnablew his venomous shafts, and each time themantle diverted them and rendered them harm-less. At last Aillen knew that some one, whopossessed a greater magic than his, was defend-ing Tara that night, and full of baffled fury heturned and fled. When Fionn saw that the enchanter wasput to flight, he descended from the high bankof the rath and pursued him. Many miles hewent, and when he splashed through therippling waters of the Boyne he was close on the heels of the magician. At length Fionncalled out : O Aillen mac Midna,"

Artwork From
Heroes of the Dawn 1914 

I've been rereading a lot of Clark Ashton Smith, Irish mythology, & Celtic literature over the weekend & thinking about doing a sea crawl for my players. There's often a fine line between mythology & the gonzo weirdness of old school original Dungeons & Dragons. In Celtic mythology the Otherworld is often associated with the realm of the gods & the land of the souls of the dead. There is a clear distinction within Arthurian legend as well of the Otherworld.
"The Otherworld is usually called Annwn in Welsh mythology and Avalon in Arthurian legend. In Irish mythology it has several names, including Tír na nÓg, Mag Mell and Emain Ablach. In Irish myth there is also Tech Duinn, where the souls of the dead gather."

For my purposes of 'The Otheworld' is another aspect of the realm of Fairyland that reflects the weirdness & the dangerous occult chaos of the other dimensional realm of the Elves. It washes against our own reality taking bits & pieces of the real world where & when it wants to. The portals & doorways are most often found in dungeons, the ruins of burial mounds, & other places of adventure because the realm feeds on the hopes, dreams, & fears of those that tread these places of danger. The fact is that the occult chaos energies of these places bleed into our world causing madness & mutation where they will.
"The Otherworld is usually elusive, but various mythical heroes visit it either through chance or after being invited by one of its residents. They often reach it by entering ancient burial mounds or caves, or by going under water or across the western sea.[1] Sometimes, the Otherworld is said to exist alongside our own and intrudes into this one; signaled by phenomena such as magic mist, sudden changes in the weather, or the appearance of divine beings or unusual animals."

The strong connections with the realms of the dead make adventuring in these places especially dangerous. Undead or worse can be encountered when sailing in these waters as adventurers journey close to the edge of the planes of the dead. There has always been a strong Arthurian aspect to these types of Celtic legends;
"Graeco-Roman geographers[who?] tell us about Celtic belief in islands consecrated to gods and heroes. Among them were Anglesey (Môn), off the north coast of Wales, which was the sacred island of the druids of Britain; the Scilly islands, where archaeological remains of proto-historical temples have been found; and some of the Hebrides, which were, in the Gaelic tradition, home of ghosts and demons: on one of them, Skye, the Irish hero Cúchulainn was taught by the warrior woman Scathach.
Byzantine scholar Procopius of Caesarea described the Otherworld of the ancient Gauls. He said it was thought that the land of the dead lay west of Great Britain. The Continental Celtic myths told that once the souls of the dead had left their bodies, they travelled to the northwestern coast of Gaul and took a boat towards Britain. When they crossed the Channel, the souls went to the homes of the fishermen, and knocked desperately at their doors. The fishermen then went out of their houses and led the souls to their destination in ghostly ships.
There are still remains of those beliefs in the Breton and Galician traditions. In Brittany, the name Bag an Noz is used to denote those ships who carry the dead to their goal: Anatole Le Braz describes in his book La légende de la mort chez les Bretons armoricains the existence of souls' processions which make their way toward coastal places like Laoual, to start their last travel from there."

In original Dungeons & Dragons islands of Celtic 'Otheworld' have always offered adventure opportunities for my own home campaigns going back to the Eighties when the first Gods, Demigods, & Heroes by 

Rob Kuntz, &  James M. Ward came out. Since time works very differently in the Otherworld it enables a DM to encounter warriors & other travelers from 1d200 years ago or even future alternative timelines. More on that later. D&D Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976), by Rob Kuntz & James Ward, is the fourth of four supplements for the OD&D game. It was published in July 1976.

Here the PC adventurers, knights, etc. are treading on the realms of the gods, fairies, & Elves & they are often at the mercy of the whims of powers of both good & evil in equal measures. There are treasures from ancient times & very alien artifacts from the wars of the gods at the dawn of time.There are various islands & lost countries that have been swallowed up by the realm of Fairy & the Otherworld. 

Here is the cross point with the OSR retrocclone titles especially Dark Albion & the Lion & Dragon retroclone rpg systems.The Elves of legend were the conquerors of the old world & had challenged the gods themselves & had subplanted the old gods for a time. But events overtook them and the world moved on. There old territories such as Avalon & Tech Duinn (the "House of Donn" or "House of the Dark One")

enabled the Elves to hold onto their dreams of retaking Europe well into the War of the Roses & beyond.

"The Coming of the Sons of Miled", illustration by J. C. Leyendecker in
T. W. Rolleston's Myths & Legends of the Celtic Race, 1911

The Otherworld was also seen as a source of authority. In the tale Baile in Scáil ("the phantom's ecstatic vision"), Conn of the Hundred Battles visits an Otherworld hall, where the god Lugh legitimizes his kingship and that of his successors.[1]
In Irish myth there is another otherworldly realm called Tech Duinn (the "House of Donn" or "House of the Dark One").[6] It was believed that the souls of the dead travelled to Tech Duinn; perhaps to remain there forever, or perhaps before reaching their final destination in the Otherworld,[7] or before being reincarnated.[6] Donn is portrayed as a god of the dead and ancestor of the Gaels. Tech Duinn is commonly identified with Bull Rock, an islet off the west coast of Ireland which resembles a portal tomb.[8] In Ireland there was a belief that the souls of the dead departed westwards over the sea with the setting sun.[9] West-ward also being the location of the phantom island, anglicized as, Hy-Brasil."
These phantom islands & countries of the Otherworld are places that have been wrestled from the existence of reality. These lands when washed in the Chaos of Fairy often suffer from the pain of the Wasteland of Arthurian legend.
In the Arthurian Grail material, the Wasteland's condition is usually tied to the impotence of its leader. Often the infirmity is preceded by some form of the Dolorous Stroke, in which the king is injured tragically for his sins but kept alive by the Grail. In Chrétien de Troyes' Perceval, the Story of the Grail, the Fisher King has been wounded in a misfortune that is not revealed in the incomplete text, and his land suffers with him. He can be healed only if the hero Perceval asks the appropriate question about whom the Grail serves, but warned against talking too much, Perceval remains silent. In the First Continuation of Chrétien's work, the anonymous author recounts how Gawain partially heals the land, but is not destined to complete the restoration. Over the course of time romances place less emphasis on the Wasteland and more on the king's wound. In the Lancelot-Grail Cycle the link between the devastated land and the wounded king is not absolute, and in the Post-Vulgate Cycle much more emphasis is placed on King Pellehan's injury by Sir Balin than on the devastation this causes to his kingdom."

"Finn heard far off the first notes of the fairy harp" -
The High Deeds of Finn and other Bardic Romances
of Ancient Ireland, by T. W. Rolleston, et al, Illustrated by Stephen Reid

This same condition & ideal of Arthurian the Wasteland is something that we see in Clark Ashton Smith's  Empire of Necromancers 1933;
"So, after a short interval, Mmatmuor and Sodosma were driven forth by the anger of the inhabitants, and were compelled to flee toward Cincor, a desert of the south, which was peopled only by the bones and mummies of a race that the pestilence had slain in former time.
The land into which they went lay drear and leprous and ashen below the huge, ember-colored sun. Its crumbling rocks and deathly solitudes of sand would have struck terror to the hearts of common men; and, since they had been thrust out in that barren place without food or sustenance, the plight of the sorcerers might well have seemed a desperate one. But, smiling secretly, with the air of conquerors who tread the approaches of a long-coveted realm, Sodosma and Mmatmuor walked steadily on into Cincor
Unbroken before them, through fields devoid of trees and grass, and across the channels of dried-up rivers, there ran the great highway by which travelers had gone formerly betweea Cincor and Tinarath. Here they met no living thing; but soon they came to the skeletons of a horse and its rider, lying full in the road, and wearing still the sumptuous harness and raiment which they had worn in the flesh. And Mmatmuor aad Sodosma paused before the piteous bones, on which no shred of corruption remained; and they smiled evilly at each other.
'The steed shall be yours,' said Mmatmuor, 'since you are a little the elder of us two, and are thus entitled to precedence; and the rider shall serve us both and be the first to acknowledge fealty to us in Cincor.'"

The wasteland is timeless & borders the realms of the Underworld lending an air of the dangerous & horridly weird to any brushes with the 'Otherworld'. There are always hints & tells of Chaos lying at the borders between life, death, & the realms of the gods. Adventurers are never in control when they make the crossover into these realms.

 Frères Limbourg - Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry - mois de mai

The 'Oherworld' is a perfect reflection of the conquests & weirdness of the Fairy interaction with humanity throughout history. There is a deep connection  the race of Ghouls from HP Lovecraft's writings have with Elves of mythology. Ghouls are a deep reflection seen as the  messengers of death especially in Pickman's Model where the connections of ghouls & witch cults are clear.

Because HPL's ghouls connections between dream & the otherworld they were the remains of an occult race  created at the dawn of time during the days of Babylon & perhaps even older. Ghouls perhaps bargain for the most ancient of souls to sorcerers of the blackest stripe. Wizards are another link in the chain of the 'Otherworld' in the blackest parts of  history & perhaps the future fate of Europe but this is a blog entry for another time.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Blood, Passion, & Horrors of The Legend of El Cid For Your Old School Campaign

A fallen hero, strange alliances, magic swords,mercenary warlords, violent triple crosses, & the fate of nations in the balance! The latest Hollywood thriller with a budget of millions?!  No one of the legends of the real world legends steeped in the blood shed of history.

Jura de Santa Gadea

Peeling back the pages of bloodshed & ancient history last night I came across my campaign notes on El Cid. The history, mythology, & legends of the Cid were something that grew up with. For me he's the arch type of the AD&D paladin without the baggage. Over the years I've heard El Cid's history compared to King Arthur's legends & mythology. A kingdom gained & lost along the trails of time. This is one national hero I've used time & again in my adventures & games. But who really was El Cid?

This simple blog entry can't go into the multi demensional history of the warfare & times that spawned the El Cid. He came from a time when the sword arm & warhorse were the tanks of their time. The heads of enemies decorated pikes outside of nation city state's walls. Wiki has a compact  breakdown but there are literally entire histories of the Cid as thick as a New York phone book;

"Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar (c. 1043 – 1099) was a Castilian nobleman and military leader in medieval Spain. The Moors called him El Cid, which meant the Lord (probably from the original Arabic al-Sayyid, السیِّد), and the Christians, El Campeador, which stood for Outstanding Warrior or The one who stands out in the battlefield. He was born in Vivar, a town near the city of Burgos. After his death, he became Castile's celebrated national hero and the protagonist of the most significant medieval Spanish epic poem, El Cantar de Mio Cid.[1]
Born a member of the minor nobility, El Cid was brought up at the court of King Ferdinand the Great and served Ferdinand's son, Sancho II of León and Castile. He rose to become the commander and royal standard-bearer (armiger regis) of Castile upon Sancho's ascension in 1065. Rodrigo went on to lead the Castilian military campaigns against Sancho's brothers, Alfonso VI of León and García II of Galicia, as well as in the Muslim kingdoms in Al-Andalus. He became renowned for his military prowess in these campaigns, which helped expand Castilian territory at the expense of the Muslims and Sancho's brothers' kingdoms. When conspirators murdered Sancho in 1072, Rodrigo found himself in a difficult situation. Since Sancho was childless, the throne passed to his brother Alfonso, the same whom El Cid had helped remove from power. Although Rodrigo continued to serve the Castilian sovereign, he lost his ranking in the new court which treated him at arm's length and suspiciously. Finally, in 1081, he was ordered into exile.[2]
El Cid found work fighting for the Muslim rulers of Zaragoza, whom he defended from their traditional enemies, Aragon and Barcelona. While in exile, he regained his reputation as a strategist and formidable military leader. He repeatedly turned out victorious in battle against the Muslim rulers of Lérida and their Christian allies, as well as against a large Christian army under King Sancho Ramírez of Aragon. In 1086, an expeditionary army of North African Almoravids inflicted a severe defeat to Castile, compelling Alfonso to overcome the resentments he harbored against El Cid. The terms for the return to the Christian service must have been attractive enough since Rodrigo soon found himself fighting for his former Lord. Over the next several years, however, El Cid set his sights on the kingdom-city of Valencia, operating more or less independently of Alfonso while politically supporting the Banu Hud and other Muslim dynasties opposed to the Almoravids. He gradually increased his control over Valencia; the Islamic ruler, al-Qadir, became his tributary in 1092. When the Almoravids instigated an uprising that resulted in the death of al-Qadir, El Cid responded by laying siege to the city. Valencia finally fell in 1094, and El Cid established an independent principality on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. He ruled over a pluralistic society with the popular support of Christians and Muslims alike.[3]
El Cid's final years were spent fighting the Almoravid Berbers. He inflicted upon them their first major defeat in 1094, on the plains of Caurte, outside Valencia, and continued resisting them until his death. Although Rodrigo remained undefeated in Valencia, his only son, and heir, Diego Rodríguez died fighting against the Almoravids in the service of Alfonso in 1097. After El Cid's death in 1099, his wife, Jimena Díaz, succeeded him as ruler of Valencia, but she was eventually forced to surrender the principality to the Almoravids in 1102."
In old school adventure terms there's a ton of potential adventure hooks from taken treasures to the ruins of dungeon locations. El Cid's wrath knew bounds for he made warfare across the pages of history. There have been rumors of the treasure of King Sancho Ramírez of Aragon centuries. The cup of the Islamic ruler, al-Qadir was lost in the uprising of the Almoravids &  is still out in the Spanish countryside. There are literally tons of mini dungeons & other adventure ruins scattered in the wake of the Cid & the armies of his adversaries.

In  Lion & Dragon terms El Cid might be from a very long tradition of knights & warlords who were the resistance to the Elves of old. The demons from the Underworld & Hell have a long tradition in the Spanish countryside. There have been numerous legends & a rich tradition of Christian & Pre Christian heresies in the area enabling a DM to create mixed parties of adventurers to deal with monsters of Chaos & other horrors.
Over the years I've used a number of time lost warriors & knights from the court of El Cid in Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea second edition.

The +3 two handed sword Tizona, of El Cid has been passed into a national museum where its intelligent essence still sleeps.
"A weapon traditionally identified as El Cid's sword, Tizona, used to be displayed in the Army Museum (Museo del Ejército) in Toledo. In 1999, a small sample of the blade underwent metallurgical analysis which confirmed that the blade was made in Moorish Córdoba in the eleventh century and contained amounts of Damascus steel.[13]
In 2007, the Autonomous Community of Castile and León bought the sword for 1.6 million Euros, and it is currently on display at the Museum of Burgos."
El Cid's other sword Colada is still lost or according to legend has been passed down the bloodline of Martín Antolínez one of the Cid's knights. This +2 sword of sharpness has a thirst for the blood of demons & dark wizards. There have been instances of these swords being used against monsters that could be straight out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.

 There several instances when various knights of El Cid according to legend fought a cult that seems to have been very similar to the cultists of A. Merritt's Dwellers in the Mirage.

The knights under the command of the Cid were violent, vicious warriors from a time when thrones made from the skulls of one's enemies were still the norm. The fact is that this was a time with plenty of room for both mythology & legend to mix into the paradoxes of history. The perfect frame work to add in your own party of adventurers or to take from the legends a bevy of opportunities for campaign elements or NPC's.