Monday, 22 December 2014

God Forgot

I first became aware of the islands of God Forgot in Glorantha when I read the Runequest Companion article on the Holy Country over thirty years ago. Since then the only substantial thing I have seen published on the place was the uninspiring Mongoose Clanking City book, which I am going to utterly ignore. So, based on snippets from the Guide to Glorantha and the ancient Companion, here is my utterly uncanonical take on the islands that God Forgot.

Where did God Forget?

The islands of God Forgot in the Holy Country are bleak, windswept and flat, with many windmills and small farming villages and a couple of small cities.

The Ingareen, as the natives call themselves, say they colonised God Forgot back in the Godtime, they came from Brithos on a giant Waertagi Dragonship to find a land devastated by wars between sorcerers who had grown too big for their boots. These sorcerers claimed to be 'deities' and demanded that lesser beings give them power in a nefarious magical pyramid scheme. The Ingareen scoffed at this nonsense (though they admired it's ingenuity) and in a mighty battle slew the contending 'deities' and incorporated the liberated mortals into their eminently logical and peaceful society, based on the Logical Laws that Malkion drew up before he went bonkers and started ranting about the 'Invisible God'.

While neighbouring theist peoples say that Chaos killed the deity of the island, the Ingareen insist it was them. The theists are uncomfortable at this and say no mortal can kill a God, must have been another God that did it, or the Devil, and living without a deity has obviously addled the Ingareen's brains. The Ingareen say bullshit, 'mortals' can become immortal if they follow the Logical Laws, and gods are eminently killable, it has happened on several occasions within time. Even that Orlanth feller you hairy hooligans think so much of has been done in on several occasions... and yup that's a nice sword you have there mate, blessed by the death god you say, we'll just be shutting up now...

The Ingareen have been on the wrong end of a crusade before. During the Second Age a good part of their population became Zistorites, operators of the so-called God Machine. It was not regarded as a deity by the Ingareen of course, it was merely a bloody great machine that they had built, but so awesome were its capabilities that the theists thought it was a God, and an evil one at that. The Iron Crusade that followed was a nasty business that left the islands devastated and the land polluted. The Ingareen have been careful ever since not to provoke another.

Culture and Caste

The Ingareen follow the old atheist Brithini way of life. In lost Brithos and in Arolanit and other colonies close adherence to the Logical Laws of Malkion results in immortality, but in God Forgot people are no longer sure just what the Logical Laws are. The Zistor business, the God Learners who helped it along and the attempt to obliterate their culture that followed have all left the Ingareen with mere fragments of the Laws, and most are convinced that they probably wouldn't work any more even if you tried, at least not on God Forgot's devastated soil.


The lowest caste are the Dronar or peasants. In accordance with Brithini laws they are illiterate, banned from using magic and using weapons and armour, wear modest identical brown smocks and flat caps and are members of craft guilds. A very few actually follow these laws to the letter, but most others consider the literacy laws to cover the Brithini language only and can read Heortlander, Tradetalk and the other 'foreign' languages of the Holy Country, regard the 'magic' referred to as being Ancient Brithini Sorcery only and make free use of folk magic and even sorcery spells that have been developed within time. The wealthiest have 'brown smocks' of expensive fur with gold collars, velvet flat caps with gold pins etc. They only use agricultural and craft tools. like wickedly sharp sickles, billhooks, heavy spiked masonry hammers, long thin chisels that look a lot like stillettos etc. and of course the bronze rings sewn into the lining of their leather tunics are an old herdsman's trick to avoid goring by bulls.


The Horals, or soldiers, are likewise banned from conducting a trade or craft or owning land, and are also supposed to be illiterate and unable to use magic, and must wear red uniforms. However there is nothing stopping the warrior families getting 'donations' from the other castes and nothing stopping them threatening violence if the donors refuse to pay up. The Horals do not 'own' lands, they just have certain territories within which other castes choose to donate a certain proportion of their income in appreciation of the soldiers performing their traditional role of protectors and also not stabbing them. The Horals have six 'legions', which are somewhat like mafia families operating a few monopolies in certain varieties of extortion while competing in others. They all also operate mercenary regiments which fight abroad. Ingareen Horals are efficient fighters, and are the only ones in south central Genertela to make use of the crossbow. They also make use of Folk magic and many have taken up Sorcery in a small way as well on the same terms as the Dronar. They do not believe in the afterlife and are experts in defensive tactics and manoeuvring enemies into well prepared ambushes and massacres. While the Humakti of neighbouring Heortlander tribes may scoff at them for their supposed cowardice they are not in the least bit keen to face their pike squares and withering crossbow fire.


The Zzaburi can use magic, though they are banned from using armour and weapons. In the far west Brithini Zzaburi disdain Folk Magic, but Ingareen wizards make free use of it and have researched lots of extra little cantrips and charms not seen anywhere else. Their use of traditional sorcery is limited though, they lost almost all their Grimoires in the aftermath of the Iron Crusade and have pieced together what sorcery they have from their own research and from half recalled fragments. They have gone on expeditions to the western lands to try and regain their lost knowledge, but have found the snooty 'real' Brithini and deluded Seshnegi and Fronelans utterly unhelpful.

The Zzaburi may not have a religion but they do have an Inquisition. Anyone dabbling in mechanisms or magic enchantments is thoroughly investigated to ensure they do not fall into any of the old Zistorite ways and unleash the Crusade again. Leonardo the Scientist, the best known dabbler in such matters, sails very, very close to the edge with many of his devices but his insistence on never making more than one of an item and avoiding mass production seems to be working so far.

The Talar

There is only one surviving Talar and he is the only true immortal left in God Forgot. He lives in a hermetically sealed glass box in the throne room of the vast Forbidden Palace at Jon Barat (Talar Hold to outsiders), where numerous ministers and wizards scrutinize him closely for omens as to what he wishes them to do in his name and what fate awaits the country. For example, a tiny amount of condensation was seen on the interior of the box, presumably from the Talar exhaling a breath (though he has sorcerously Abjured Air for centuries) and there was a terrible hurricane in the southern part of the islands the next day; when one of his mightinesses few remaining strands of hair fell out it signified that a tranche of royal forest must be felled; when his mightiness acquired a slight fungal infection above his left eyebrow and a rash appeared on his wrinkled forehead many Ingareen died of a plague. In 1312 the omniscient Talar predicted the arrival of Belintar the Stranger by dropping his scepter onto the floor from his withered hand, though it took months of debate to work out just what he had meant by this gesture, and whether it would be proper to replace the scepter in his mighty hand with aid of glue.

The Talar has not in fact moved, spoken, eaten, drunk or defecated since at least the year 917 when he took up full time residence in his box. Cynical foreigners say this seclusion coincided with the arrival of a delegation from the wronged and oppressed people of the rest of Kaethela, there to put him on trial for his part in the creation of the God Machine, but his loyal advisers say it was part of a mighty spell to preserve the nation from further devastation from the natural forces that had been twisted and abused by the Crusaders and, regrettably, Zistor's murkier mechanisms as Mistakes Were Made. 

Philosophy, Mathematics and Religion

The Ingareen may not have a god, but that doesn't mean they don't have belief. Various books of philosophical musings, hints on self-improvement and outright gibbering lunacy have been written since the disaster of the Iron Crusade, all purporting to contain true interpretations of Malkion's Logical Laws and thus the key to eternal life and ultimate sorcerous power. Their effectiveness varies considerably – usually the more erudite ones written in ancient Brithini and read by educated wizards appear to extend the lifespan by a few years, but then wizards tend to be better off and have an easier life; the common ones written in Tradetalk or vulgar Ingareen make little difference at all.

Each is still a grimoire of its own though, with sorcerous spells of varying effectiveness and often folk magic and other magical effects besides.

The Ingareen are also obsessed with luck and fate, and why theirs has been so universally bad. They say that the logical laws used to be absolutely effective in all circumstances but now there is only a chance of them working, and they have developed relatively sophisticated statistics to analyse this variability. This interest in chance has also led to an addiction to gambling, and they are vulnerable to any number of silly superstitions that will supposedly bring 'luck'.

The Dronar and Horals actually depict this luck as a lady on various casino advertisements and lucky charms available in Casino Town and there is even a shrine to 'Our Lady of Credit, she who giveth and taketh away', though it looks more like a shop full of one armed bandits with a loan sharks office attached. There are foreign shamen who claim to have summoned her as a spirit though, and a few really down at heel Ingareen gamblers have actually prayed to her – God Forgot might be acquiring a deity whether it wants one or not. Her symbol is a double-tailed coin, such is the fatalism of the Ingareen.

Creating an Ingareen character

If using RQ6 , Ingareens are Civilised, and always have the option of choosing Gambling as one of their Cultural Professional skills. If you are a Zzaburi you can learn Lore (Mathematics) on the same basis.

They roll for Social status on the following table:

01-02 Outcast – you have lost it all in the Casinos and have had to leave God Forgot before the money lenders break every bone in your body or, even worse, drop you off in the Clanking Ruins to fetch them a cursed technological artifact or die trying. Money x0.25

03-30 Poor Dronar – You grew up a peasant on some forsaken patch of infertile mud in the shadow of a Wizards tower or Soldiers fortress. Money x0.5

31 -60 Rich Dronar – You lived in a more prosperous village or perhaps in the towns of Jon Barat, Casino Town or Refuge. Money x1

61-86 Poor Horal – You are a townsman and a footsoldier in one of the legions/ protection rackets that form the backbone of modern God Forgot society. Money x1.5, if you make a Gambling skill roll x2.5

86-90 Rich Horal – You are part of the ruling family of one of the six legions. You grew up in reasonable wealth and comfort with foot soldiers at your command and maybe a fief to extort money from. Money x2.5, if you make a gambling skill roll x5.

91-00 Zzaburi – You are a wizard, you grew up in reasonable wealth and if you are male you will almost certainly have been educated in the High Brithini language and in sorcery. The wizards are not so keen on daughters and will be looking to marry you off to a wealthy Horal who can pay a decent dowry, you will still have more education than a typical Ingareen, but your father and his cronies will throw a fit if you actually practise any magic. Money x 2, if you make an Influence or Bureaucracy roll you have a job working for one of the Companies or the Talar's court and get x4.

Sample superstitions
If an Ingareen breaks one of his superstitions he will lose a Luck point, if he performs a lucky act then he has a 50% chance of gaining a Luck point, other acts may have a 50% chance of loss or gain. Tempting fate in any way will assuredly result in bad luck. Any Ingareen may take Superstitious as a Passion and may be affected by it positively and negatively as random omens appear in his environment.

1 Black cat crosses your path, gain 1 luck, if it hisses at you lose 1 luck.

2 Always give a clack to a beggar, if he wishes you well you will gain luck, if not you lose.

3 Spit at the Red Moon when you see it, it may thank you for the gift of water, or it may curse you for your rudeness.

4 Never tread on the cracks in a pavement, or break a twig under your feet. Dance ten yards on cobbles and you will have bountiful luck the rest of the day.

5 Your lucky colour is black/red/blue/green/orange/yellow etc. always wear a garment that colour and look out for others wearing it.

6 Never face into the wind when walking, choose a different, circuitous path if you have to, or tack like a ship.

7 Never whistle on a boat, never hum on land, and stop your ears if you hear someone doing it.

8 Bare your head to the sky every morning, the heat of the sun will warm your brain. If it happens to be raining you will have bad luck, don't bother going out unless you have to as you will catch a chill.

9 Never give anyone a knife as a gift and never accept such. The edge will cut the bonds of friendship.

10 Never sheathe a blade that is unblooded or it will break next time you use it.

And many more are possible. 

Example Brotherhood : Company of the Sable Star

Open to the Horal caste only, the Company of the Sable Star are one of the five controlling legions of Casino Town (the sixth legion are the Talar's palace guard). They have a straightforward approach, give them money or face extreme violence, nothing fancy, and they run their casinos, streets and fiefs round God Forgot with a brutal iron fist in an iron glove policy. The runes associated with the Company are Darkness and Law.

They also have a mercenary regiment available for overseas service, a mix of pikes and heavy crossbows that deploys in more or less static formations with a generous body of engineers to build fortifications.

The Company believes that any fight where you face into the sun will be lost and take care when setting up their formations that this is not a possibility. They will even retreat on a sunny day to avoid the possibility arising, and hire theist shamen to control the weather to ensure it is overcast on the day of battle.

They teach the Folk Magic spells Protection, Might, Bludgeon, Darkness and Shove.

Skills: Crossbowman combat style (includes Mace), Pikeman combat style (includes Mace), Lore (Strategy and Tactics), Endurance, Willpower, Athletics

Example Grimoire: Oblivion Awaits Us
'Oblivion Awaits Us', a series of meditations upon the nothingness that comes after death, how to avoid it and how to get as much wealth as possible before it comes. Written in Ingareen, many adherents memorise spells by rote learning from a 'reader' of the text. The sorcery spells are learned 'in order', so novices will learn Sense Silver first, then Bypass Armour etc. The runic associations are Death and Stasis.

The Trap Soul spell is used on souls of fellow followers of the 'Oblivion Awaits Us' philosophy to avoid them falling into utter nothingness. They are trapped in little stone figures, preferably a black stone like slate, black marble or basalt and are buried in secret unmarked locations for fear that evil sorcerers might unearth them and Tap them for power.

Special Power: Resist Discorporation – add 1/5 of the skill in Invoke (Oblivion Awaits Us) to any save vs any magical attack that tries to forcibly detach the spirit from the body.

Folk Magic: Appraise

Sorcery spells: Sense (Silver), Bypass Armour, Damage Resistance, Protective Ward, Trap Soul

Those who follow the book often believe that unless they put a handkerchief over their mouths when asleep their soul will leave their bodies and wander off in the night never to return.

The Ingareen and the Esvulari

The closest neighbours of the Ingareen are the Bandori tribe, who are Esvulari and follow the Aeolian Church. This church believes in the Invisible God and that Orlanth is his chief manifestation here on Glorantha with the many deities of the Heortish pantheon as Saints. The city of Refuge at the mouth of the Bandori River has a majority Ingareen population with a substantial Esvulari minority.

The Aeolian Church dates back to the First Age invasion of Arkat, but it got a big boost at the climax of the Iron Crusade when Orlanth himself manifested and personally slew Zistor the Machine God. Many previously skeptical Ingareen converted to Aeolianism on the spot. There was a bit of a civil war among what was left of the Ingareen population and lands on the Genertelan mainland and the islands of the eastern Choralinthor Sea were lost to the Talar, only the city of Refuge remaining out of these possessions.

Since then the Esvulari and Ingareen have both been treated with suspicion and mistrust by the theist majority in Heortland and have become more or less allies. Each suspects the other of rank heresy and probable insanity, but these days they only argue theology over a pint of ale rather than fight wars and will unite in the face of polytheist oppression.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Uncanny Threat of the Morris

In 1644 Parliament banned Morris dancing. They banned a great deal else at that point as well such as maypoles, Church Ales and the other entertainments mentioned in the 'Book of Sports' reissued by King Charles in 1633. This book listed the pastimes permissible on a Sunday after church and was intended by King James, who first published the book in 1617, to stop everyone piling down to the alehouse as soon as the service was over by giving them something else to do. 

It also berated Catholics yet again for not attending C of E services and rebuked the Puritans for not allowing any pastimes on a Sunday. It did ban the most boisterous of games – bull and bear baiting, putting on comic 'interludes' and bowling – but allowed archery, dancing, leaping and vaulting, and allowed May-games, Morris dancing and maypoles.

But all this was too much like fun for the Puritans, who were later to go on and ban Christmas and all the other traditional church feast days in favour of once monthly 'Thanksgivings' and provoke anti-Parliamentarian riots.

But what is Morris dancing anyway? Why ban it? 

We are told it is English folk dancing performed on May day by middle aged blokes with beer bellies waving white hankies, wearing floral wreaths in their hats and bells on their legs. It is all a bit silly, but being traditional and usually accompanied by lots of strong beer to give the participants the confidence to make utter fools of themselves it is kept up regardless.

The Truth!

  • Morris dancing isn't traditional. The earliest records go back to the 15th century – old but not hoary pre-Christian old.

  • It isn't English. The name 'Morris' is a corruption of 'Moorish', ie North African, and related dances are found all over Europe in the 17th century and 'Moresco' dances are still performed in northern Spain today. Some routines bear a distinct resemblance to West African dances.

  • It isn't a 'folk' dance. It was originally performed by professional troupes for such august personages as King Henry VII and at feasts of the Goldsmith's Company of London. It is still a paid job in the 17th century. Cromwell made a speech in Parliament condemning it as a form of begging, the dancers picking up tips for performing, and the 'blackface' make up worn by some dancers, while it may be reference to the Moorish origins of the dance, may well also be a form of disguise so farm workers could hide the fact they were moonlighting as Morris men from their bosses.

The Inner Secrets of the Morris Revealed!

Any of the following may be true. On the other hand none may be, or perhaps they all are in some form or other.

  • It is a bit of drunken rural fun. The dances are easy enough to do and when it fell out of fashion amongst the wealthy in the 16th century the troupes went on tour round the country fairs and it just caught on.

  • It is a form of actual sorcery which enables a group of low level magicians to combine and magnify their power. Various spells are encoded as dances including Invisibility, Summon, Sacrifice and Protection from Evil. Not every troupe can do this, but those which have been infiltrated by witches covens can. Both men and women can do Morris dancing, though sides which are are male or are all female are more magically effective, especially if they corss dress as the opposite gender.

                                  (Sinister eh? You can see why it was banned...)

  • The Morris was originally brought to Europe when the Reconquista in Spain destroyed the cosmopolitan culture of Granada and the West Africans who performed the dances were forced to move on to pastures new – initially Italy, then the Holy Roman Empire and northern Europe and England. Strange old West African gods are invoked – the blackface isn't mere make-up or a disguise, it is an invocation of African animist spirits that may take control of a 17th century English dancer in a Voodoo possession, and one or two troupes still have the wooden masks used by the original pagan priests. The 'hobbies', the dancers who wear a costume based on a mythical beast can physically transform into that creature of legend and nightmare.

  • The Catholics have always been more relaxed about festivals and celebrations than the miserable Puritans – it is noted that during Elizabeth's reign Catholics sometimes betrayed themselves with the lavishness of their celebrations of Christmas, and while the sober Protestant advisers of Edward VI and Elizabeth advocated bans on Morris dancing and maypoles, those of Queen Mary allowed them. The Morris men are in fact Catholic plotters, a cunning way for Jesuits to travel the country openly. The 'fools' in ragged motley who often accompany the dances giving out farthings and sweets are in fact priests giving out Hosts, and each festival ends in a secret mass.

  • Most of the dances and songs off the Morris are jolly bucolic tales of ploughing and chasing farmer's daughters, but not all. There are sword and 'rapper' dances that have a more martial air. One, the stately Grenoside Sword Dance, is a tamed version of a rite of human sacrifice where the leader of the troupe is decapitated by the other six members to create magic swords. This has only been used once as far as the current holder of the secret, Gilbert Earnshaw, knows, when Alan de Moulton sacrificed himself to create magic blades intended to slay King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

  • The energetic Rapper sword dances use a flexible sword and are in fact a form of martial arts training. The 'Rapper' is a blunted practice form of the Indian Urumi sword and a master of these dances could, if he so chose, mince you in nothing flat. No one in the Royalist armies take these yokels seriously as yet and think they are a bunch of Durham peasants after a bit of the King's silver for nowt. However the Scots Covenanters who occupied the north west of England lost many men to mysterious stealthy attackers in the middle of the night, and though they never made the Morris dance connection (and let's face it, who the hell would?)

  • Morris dancing is more fun than it looks. Even the Undead have been known to participate.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Black Dogs in Balazar

My last post was on the Barguests, the ghostly black dogs of Britain, and +PT on Google+ asked me do do a Runequest version.

It just so happens that I had already had the basics done, there being a lot of spooky dogs in Glorantha. They come in a wide variety of sizes; some are spirits, some are daimones there might even be essences that manifest as dogs.

In Balazar black dogs are usually nothing to be scared of. As I mentioned in the post back in August 2012 (, there are a number of dog breeds with a variety of skills.

In Balazar it is extremely common for a shaman's fetch to manifest as a dog, but dogs can also be shamen in their own right. Dogs kept by Brother Dog shamen can become 'awakened' and achieve human levels of sentience, and even become heroes.

Awakened Dog

A dog that gets the maximum score in INT, POW and CHA is considered enlightened and among the approximate 1% of Gloranthan animals that can talk. It will gain a further 1d6 in each of these stats.

Balazaring Dogs will be Primitive, gaining 100 cultural skill points. They may take Folk Magic as an addition to the Primitive Professional Skill list.

Professions available are: Hunter, Physician, Scholar, Scout, Shaman, Thief, Warrior, and dogs owned by the White Goat clan have the option of being a Herder as well.

All Balazaring Dogs may spend Bonus skill points on Binding (Brother Dog Tradition) and Trance.

Awakened Dogs do not need to use fetishes, their spirits will inhabit their teeth, which will magically acquire tiny carvings when so inhabited.

Awakened Dogs who live independently of humans will spend their time caring for stray dogs and human children, and may help a tribesman who has become lost in the wilds. They also patrol the plains looking for creatures of chaos, and will band together in a pack to hunt them down, or seek out a human tribe to inform of the danger. They are often able to smell out criminals and will hunt down those who have murdered their kin. They gather on the perimeter of tribal camps to howl when a notably evil member of a tribe dies and will pursue and hunt down his spirit in the spirit world as it flees his body. They also gather to honour great shamen, and guard their mortal remains during sky burial, at least until the funerary rites to inter the naked bones in a burial mound.

Awakened dogs do not learn the skill Obey Orders, they may follow any order they have the language skill to understand of any complexity and quite frequently come up with plans and issue orders to the humans in their hunting party.

Spirit Cult of Brother Dog


Any Balazaring, human or dog, may be a follower of Brother Dog, and bind up to ¼ of their CHA in Dog Spirits. Being a member is simple, look after your own dog (if you are a human) or look after your own human (if you are a dog). May learn Train Dog or Obey Orders, Dogspeech and Speak Balazaring. Dogs are limited to INT+POW %age in Speak Balazaring unless they are awakened.

Spirit Worshipper

Must have 50% in five of the following skills: Train Dog, Obey Orders, Dogspeech (if a human) Speak Balazaring (if a dog), Survival, Athletics, Bite attack, Track by Scent, Endurance, Folk Magic, Binding (Brother Dog). They may bind up to half their CHA in dog spirits.


Must have 70% in four skills which must include Binding (Brother Dog) and either Dogspeech or Speak Balazaring, depending on species. A Shaman may summon a Brother Dog fetch. This will always have Manifestation as one of its abilities, appearing as a dog. If it has the shape change ability in addition it will enable a dog shaman to temporarily appear as a human. They may bind up to ¾ of their CHA in Dog Spirits, and they may go on a spirit quest to bind one of the heroic powered spirits noted below.

High Shaman

A High Shaman needs 90% in three skills, one of which must be Binding (Brother Dog). A High Shaman may summon Dog Ancestor spirits, which can be bound into their living descendants to create Awakened Dogs. This is no easy task, as an ancestor powerful enough to do this is at least Intensity 4, and must be willing to lose a good part of its Power in order to become mortal again. They may bind all of the CHA in Dog Spirits.

Special Spirits of Brother Dog

These spirits may be found after quests into the spirit realm and bound there if the Shaman has the skill and the standing in the Brother Dog tradition. Most may be used by humans as well as dogs.

Detect Kinslayer, Intensity 4, Geas: Never let a kinsman down, dog or human.

This Truth rune spirit enables a shaman to detect the odour of guilt on a person who has slain a member of their own tribe. There is no obligation to take the person to task for this, though independent dog shamen often do.

Spirit Hunt, Intensity 4, Geas: Never let prey escape.

Makes Trance skill rolls one step easier when hunting down a specific spirit in the otherworld, enables the hunter to add their Trance critical range to their tracking skill as they can follow the prey's spiritual traces as well as is scent and can allow a spirit hunter to enter a trance and follow a trail as a disembodied spirit for up to 1km per point of POW. Linked to the Spirit rune.

Giant size, Intensity 2 + 2 per d6 SIZ+STR gain, Geas: Never obey a smaller creature or one with less CHA.

Can only be used by dogs, this spirit is linked to the Earth rune and enables them to grow to sizes comparable to or even larger than humans adding at least 1d6 to STR and SIZ and 1d3 to CHA. Dogs with this spirit become very assertive and will not obey anyone smaller than it is, regarding itself as a free agent and perhaps the master of any human it comes across.

Howl of Darkness, Intensity 4, Geas: Only hunt at night

This spirit is linked to the Darkness rune and makes the fur (or hair) of the shaman go jet black giving it +10% Stealth at night. It allows use of the Theist miracle Fear at an intensity equal to the Binding (Brother Dog)/10. At night the spell has +25% intensity, and if a pack of dogs joins in they add their Binding (Brother Dog) crit range to the intensity as well.

Eyes of Light, Intensity 3, Geas: Only hunt by day

This spirit is linked to the Sky rune and makes the fur (or hair) of the shaman go yellow. It enables the shaman to see twice as far with clarity by day, makes all visual perception rolls one step easier, and gives use of the Folk Magic power Witchsight at will for no mp cost. Only shamen descended from the Golden Legion of Balazar or one of their loyal guard dogs may use this spirit; roll (Cha+Pow+Str+10) or less to be such a descendant.

Telmor's Foe, Intensity 4, Geas: Never let a wolf escape

This spirit embodies Brother Dog's enmity for Telmor the Wolf. Dogs with this spirit develop a white patch somewhere on their body, since this is the colour of the sky spirits and this spirit is linked to the sky. The dog gains 4 AP vs any attack by a wolf or werewolf, reduces any dmage from attack by a wolf spirit by 4mp, may attack a wolf with its normal bite as if a magical weapon, may try and sniff out werewolves in human form using perception and gains one step easier in any task to track a wolf. Needless to say the Grey Wolf tribe of Balazar do not use this spirit, as its powers work equally well against their totem spirits. They insist that Telmor was Brother Dog's father and that Brother Dog spared the wolf after he and Foundchild hunted him down so as not to kill kin.

Two Stone spirit, Intensity 3, Geas: Hunt one reptile a month

This spirit is associated with the Storm rune and makes the fur or hair of the Shaman turn orange-red. The shaman becomes able to smell the winds and, if the wind is strong enough, tell what lies miles away upwind. The shaman also does once dice step greater bite damage to reptiles and dragonkind, any any bite against such a target has a chance of paralysing the location hit for one round. This manifests as sparks of lightning.

This spirits can only be gained by visiting the shrine at Two Stone and starting a quest from there into the frozen land of the hurricane giants of the Three Little Giant Mountains where gales mutter and curse forever through the canyons and glacier carved glens, resenting their banishment from the lowlands by Balazar.

Approaching Two Stone across Balazar's East Plain (Albert Bierstadt)

Two Stone

This sacred site is in the Brothers Hills, where the three sons of Balazar took refuge while their father went with the True Golden Horde to Dragon Pass to kill the Dragonewts. It consisted of three stones, one for each brother, but one, to the south, has fallen and shattered.

The ground within is marshy and wet and lies a couple of feet below the surrounding hill top. Above it is a permanent thundercloud, and the whole area feels tense with electricity, as if a thunderstorm is about to be unleashed. The area is closed off by carved wooden posts strung with painted bison hides to make a sacred enclosure, and is only entered by a wooden gateway to the west. Just outside this gate are a few stone beehive huts where two shamen and their families dwell, with an enclosure for a small herd of goats (the local White Goat clan are unusual in herding these animals), and shelters for a pack of red mastiffs.

The shamen warn people not to venture within the sacred enclosure beyond the stone step they have built just inside the gate. Those with Trance or Spirit Sight will be able to see why, a huge red mastiff paces beneath the ominous cloud and if anyone gets too close it will bark a warning and then savage the trespasser.

Legend has it that this spirit is Grozak, Balazar's own personal guard dog that he took to Dragon Pass with him, and the only Balazaring spirit to return from the Dragonkill war with news of the disaster. The stones represent Trilus, Elkoi and Dykene. Elkoi's is fallen; he was the first to fall out with his elder brother Trilus and was banished into the Elder Wilds, from whence he returned with a group of giants who built him a citadel of his own. The storm cloud represents the enmity of the three citadels, prophets say that when the storm finally breaks, Balazar will be plunged into its worst war yet, and when it clears there will be peace between the three citadels forever.

Scholars will note that the stones bear a remarkable resemblance to the Dragonewt plinths of Dragon Pass, though far more weathered and battered and miraculously one has actually broken; they are commonly thought to be indestructible. Getting close enough to confirm this with the bloody great dog there won't be easy though.

Grozak, huge Red Mastiff Wraith-Shaman

STR 48
CON 18
SIZ 35
DEX 10
INT 18
POW 42
CHA 12

AP 3 SR 14 Armour 3 points

Brawn 166%, Willpower 120%, Evade 20%, Endurance 128%, Howl 126%, Bite 116%, Binding (Brother Dog) 126%, Trance 128%, Perception 120%

Spirit damage 1d8+1d6
Bite 1d10+2d8
Howl – Willpower save or flee in panic, Brawn or Evade save or fall over.

Great Bite Intensity 4 Int 7 Pow 25, Dog Spirit, +20% Bite attack
Crusher Intensity 4 Int 5 Pow 30, Dog Spirit, Special Effect – Break weapon
Greyhound Intensity 4 Int 7 Pow 25, Dog Spirit, Boost Action Points +2
The Loper Intenisty 4 int 11, Pow 28, Cha 7, Guardian spirit, Spectral Combat 85%, Willpower 106%
Yipper Intensity 3 int 10, Pow 19, Cha 10, Guardian spirit, Spectral Combat 79%, Willpower 88%
Blaster Intensity 3 Wind elemental spirit
Howler Intensity 3 Wind Elemental spirit

Requires a magic weapon to affect in the same manner as a Wraith, and all wounds it causes are permanent and will not heal.

It has the abilities of a Two Stone Spirit – its bite damage is enhanced against reptiles and can paralyse and it can smell approaching enemies on the wind from almost anywhere in Balazar.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Barguest, the Dog of War

The Devil Dog

I recently discovered that Woodhouse Moor in Leeds where I used to live was the haunt of a Barguest called the Padfoot. According to William Henderson's Notes on the folk-lore of the northern counties of England and the borders (Folk Lore Society, London 1879), the Padfoot hunted the waste ground north of Leeds between Wreghorn (now called Wrangthorn) and Headingley Hill. Barguests are great ghostly dogs, and the Padfoot was supposed to be a big one – the size of a small donkey with black shaggy hair and glowing white eyes. Eyewitness Sally Dransfield saw it often, 'rolling along the ground before her, like a woolpack... sometimes vanishing suddenly through a hedge.'

The Barguest is the Dog of War, a supernatural black hound with great firey red or whit
e glowing eyes which can sometimes walk on its hind legs and carry a double handed sword. In East Anglia the dog is called Black Shuck, in Devon they are the Wishthounds or the Yell Hounds, in Wales they are the Gwyllgi, and during the English Civil War they have been spotted everywhere. There is even a black dog haunting Newgate Prison, the ghost of a witch who was killed and eaten in 1596 by his starving fellow prisoners before he even came to trial. Blasphemers must beware of being turned into Barguests for their impiety.

They manifest in a number of different ways, usually at night. At the death of a notable person a Barguest may appear followed by a procession of local dogs to stand and howl over the corpse – the Padfoot of Leeds did this on occasion, and if anyone tried to stop if it would attack with its claw and inflict a wound that would never heal. The reason why a Barguest might choose to mourn a person is unknown – some reckon its is because they were a secret witch, others that the beast is sent by God to hunt down an evil soul that might otherwise escape Hell. 

The creature can predict death too. If you go to your door at night and find a Barguest laying across your threshold then someone resident in the house will die.

And then there are others which just lurk on the moors or even near towns. There's an infamous one that kills people in the snickets in the city of York, though they are more usually found in places like Troll's Gorge near Appletreewick in the Yorkshire Dales, or the hills beyond Skipton-in-Craven on the way to Saddleworth Moor.

Barguest (LotFP)
HD 4, AC 16, Att +6, Bite 1d8 and Claws 1d6, Morale 11, Move 360' running.
Saves: Paralyze 10, Poison Immune, Breath 14, Device 11, Magic 12

First attack may knock a target over (roll 1d6 plus Dex and Str bonuses vs 1d6 +6 for the Barguest, if you beat it you stay on your feet) and it will get +4 to attack a downed target with its bite next round. It will hold onto any target it bites and shake it in subsequent rounds for an automatic 1d6 damage (Save vs Paralyze to escape the dog's grip).

Special Features and abilities
Each Barguest is unique and will have 1d4 of the features described below; roll a d12 and do not re-roll duplicates:

  1. Uses a two handed sword at Att+10 and doing 1d10+4 damage. How it manages to stand upright and wield a sword with the paws of a dog is anyone's guess, but it does it.
  2. Incorporeal. Can walk through solid objects if it so wishes and is immune to ordinary weapons, though it tends to enter buildings through the corners rather than the walls. Enchanted, blessed and silver weapons do normal damage.
  3. Blood curdling howl. All who hear must make an immediate morale check or save vs Paralyze or be shaken with fear, getting -1 on all skill rolls, -4 to hit and having a one in six chance of failing any attempt at spell casting due to gibbering in fear and the distraction of immanent painful death.
  4. Can appear by day as a large but gaunt and unkempt wolfhound and those who have been friendly to the hound when it is in such form may be spared being mangled later. 
  5. Has an alternate form of a tall headless man whose burning red eyes float in the space beneath his hat or helm and his collar. Will use an ordinary sword at Attack +10, 1d8+4, and will wear pikeman's armour for AC 16. If defeated he will disappear in a gout of black flame, reconstitute as a dog some distance off and flee into the night.
  6. Has an alternate form of a small white cat. This creature will appear to be harmless until someone gets close enough to be jumped on and bitten.
  7. Has a specific target. This hound is looking for the soul of a certain person who may or may not be in the party. Until the target is dead the Barguest will be Incorperal as above, afterwards it will be as vulnerable as it ever is.
  8. Can command dogs. It may howl and summon 1d6 hounds of large size and 2d6 lesser dogs to come to its aid. In a moorland environment these may be wolves or foxes, in a town the dogs of local residents which will throw themselves at doors and brake chains to join the Barguest.
  9. It is delivering a message. If not interfered with it will go to the house of someone recently killed in the wars or about to die violently and howl to inform the family of the death and then depart. It will not be hostile unless action is taken against it.
  10. The hound is gigantic, roll 1d6, on a 1-5 it is the size of a donkey and has 6HD and does +1 damage, on a 6 it is the size of a horse, and has 8HD and does +2 damage. These larger forms run at 480' a round.
  11. The claws of the beast cause wounds that will never heal. Anyone hit by the claws in course of a fight must save vs Paralysis or lose 1HP and 1 point of CON permanently. The injury can be cured with the 6th level Cleric Spell Heal.
  12. Lives in a transdimensional space that it can access at will by running into a solid object like a hedge or a tree. The space cannot be seen, but exists at a fixed point in mundane space and the Barguest can Dimension Door into and out of it as long as it is within 360 feet of it three times a day. Magic Users who can locate the spot may be able to open it if they know the spell Dimension Door and an additional ritual refinement of that spell, carving magic symbols onto a log and planting it in the ground and then getting a team or strong men to wrench it round like a capstan.

Secrets of the Barguests

Various scholars have tried to work out what these enigmatic monsters actually are and where they come from and why. Any, all or none of the following explanations may be true.
  • They do not really exist at all. Battlefields attract a lot of stray dogs; soldiers dogs from the camp whose masters have died and wandering dogs attracted by the smell of carrion. During a war terrified people notice more and more savage dogs wandering the roads and build tall tales around them.
  • There is a miasma caused by violence, an emotional stench that dogs pick up on and follow to hollows in the ground where it collects. A dog who smells too much of this miasma will become intoxicated and grow large and savage and dangerous. Men who inhale it become likewise; the wars have begot Barguests as soon as they have begun, they will soon spawn the kind of subhuman freebooters seen haunting the battlefields of the Holy Roman Empire these last twenty years.
  • They are the devil's dogs, the offspring of Cerebus and the Crocotta of the east which speaks like a man, described by Strabo and Pliny. When man sins by slaying other men a Barguest slips loose from the chains forged for them by St Michael from the footfalls of cats, and they slink out of holes in the ground to prey upon the unwary and to serve those who serve the demons of war.
  • They are Hyaenadonts and Arctotheres, long extinct creatures that lived in these lands long ago when it was joined to the mainland of Europe. They hunted our ancestors who huddled in hide tents and in caves to survive the never ending winter, they hunt us now thanks to foolish magicians who wantonly poke holes in reality and pull impossible things out of other times and other worlds.
  • They are always with us, shadows that wait in the darkness between the worlds and are kept at bay by the light of reason. Now that light has been snuffed out and the dark madness of war is upon us they slink closer to the Sphere of Malkuth, to clothe their dark essence in brute corporeality.
  • Blasphemers must beware lest they turn into black dogs either painfully while alive or as foul spirits excluded forever from heaven after death!
  • They are the last lost hounds of the Wild Hunt that the Old Gods let loose in the world to track down sources of evil. We no longer pay respect to the Old Gods, therefore in their eyes we are become evil, as bad as the Romans who slew their last priests and enslaved their last worshippers. The dogs have returned, and seek the scent of the worst of the sinners. The Huntsmen will follow... listen for the Horns at twilight... 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Witchmarks (and some news)

I have written this thing for Lamentations of the Flame Princess called England Upturn'd; James Raggi says it will be ready to be published some time in the new year. (Lamentations blog link).

At the moment it's being edited, and then there will be layouts and illustrations and all that jazz to be sorted, which I am really glad that James is handling – I used to be an editor myself and I know what a pain the jaxie coordinating that kind of stuff can be and I doubt I have the patience and eye for detail for it anymore.

England Upturn'd is set in the English Civil War – I blogged about it here, here and here. I tried to use the DCC ruleset, but I regretted it and was on the point of jacking it in and switching to LotFP anyway when James got in touch and asked me about taking over a project to write an ECW sandbox. DCC is a great game, don't get me wrong, but it is a zillion times more complicated to write magic for than a retroclone like LotFP, and what I had in mind involved a lot of spells.

So while all the proper professional publishing malarkey is happening here are few more odds and ends about the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. (The term 'English Civil War' is a gross and Anglocentric simplification of the complex and bloody goings on in the British Isles between 1639 and 1653, but I guess I'll have to keep using it as it is the one everyone has heard of.)


Under the floorboards of Knowle House (Gareth Fuller/PA)

James I and VI of England and Scotland stayed at Knowle House in 1605. He had recently survived the infamous Gunpowder Plot, where Guy Fawkes and a group of Catholic plotters had tried to blow him and parliament sky high. It has recently been discovered that the inhabitants of Knowle tired to make the house witch-proof by carving marks into the joists under the floor boards. (News Link).

Witchmarks like these are actually quite common in 17th century and older buildings, unobtrusively scratched into the wood to keep evil spells at bay.

In the fantasy ECW Witchmark is a 3rd Level Magic User spell, that can also be used as a 3rd Level Cleric spell by Catholic priests only.

Magic User level 3, Cleric level 3
Duration: One year per level or until destroyed
Range: Touch

The caster scratches a pattern of V and M shapes, or of overlapping circles or criss-cross mazes or nets into a piece of wood that is part of the fabric of a building, each mark having a different effect. It can be on a door, a joist, a floorboard, a window frame, anything, though it is usually advisable to cast it somewhere that isn't immediately visible. It can also be cast quickly with a bit of chalk.

The mark will affect a Magic User, undead or disembodied spirit that passes line it defends, causing the victim to stop in their tracks as if hit by a Force of Forbidment spell. It may defend up to a ten foot width of portal, passage or (where you are worried about incorporeal ghosts and demons) wall.

It will also enable any object it is marked on (and this will include entire buildings) to gain a +2 to their save vs destructive magic such as Fireball.

  • The V and M shapes invoke the Virgin Mary and will repel undead, effectively casting a Turn Undead spell on any such being passing the line. A Magic User using this form will have the same effect as a level 1 Cleric or as a level 2 Cleric if he is a Roman Catholic. Clerics have half their level in effect. Intelligent and corporeal undead may save vs Spells and if they succeed may deface the Witchmark and dispel it; if they fail they may not even look upon the mark.
  • The overlapping circles will repel Magic Users. A Magic User may make a save vs Magical Device to pass. If they fail the save they may use their Search Skill at + 1 per 2 Magic User levels to locate the Witchmark, and if they can deface it by scratching across it with an enchanted or silver implement they can permanently dispel it. If drawn in chalk it is simplicity itself to deface by splashing water on it, or even urinating on it.
  • The net and maze shapes act against summoned demons, witches familiars, homunculi and other such possessed and otherworldly creatures. They are fatally obsessed by the intricacies of the pattern and will hover over it tracing the maze out unable to pass it by. The creature must save vs Magical Device at a penalty equal to the caster's level, but may add its Intelligence and Wisdom bonuses if it has any. The creature is rooted to the spot, but may still attack physically and by magic if any target presents itself, and may of course be attacked.

If the demon is made from some outré substance such as dream stuff, shadow, flowing colours, etc then it fades into and inhabits the mark as if it was a real maze. In this case no body is left in the real world to attack, but the demon can still attack anything that gets too close to its new home. Some kind of magical ritual may be necessary to dismiss the demon; the magician may open a portal to the pocket dimension of the Mark and pursue and slay the demon in the maze he has created for it; you may be able to extract the piece of wood from the building and either bury it or burn it, damaging the demon before releasing it. Or you may just abandon the building as irredeemably haunted and tainted until the Witchmark loses it's potency in several years time and hope some bunch of hapless adventurers has stumbled on and slain the vengeful demon in the interim.

That's a pretty long spell description as it is, can you imagine the tables it would take to do it in DCC with all the tables and gradations of effect?

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

The RPSS Endeavour

I can't draw for toffee, so I decided to borrow a pic from a computer game and design a Traveller starship to fit it. 

The RPSS Endeavour
(actually the Arcova Scout Frigate from Sins of a Solar Empire)

So here is the Royal Planetological Society Starship Endeavour

PDF with deckplans and description here.

Adventure Hooks

  • The RPSS Beagle III is a national monument of the colony of New Dorset on the planet Aquila, it being the ship which made the first landing on the planet and which established the English claim to colonise it, beating the EU by three months. Marc Ducaille, a proud citizen of Merovin, the Francophone colony on Aquila, says it is all fishy - if you look at the flight plan of the Beagle III back in 2131 the only way they could have made it to Aquila before the EU expedition was if they somehow magicked up a Warp 4 engine. Marc insists the perfidious English had help, alien help... Most of the gubbins of the vessel are gone now, but if you look at these rather fuzzy lidar images surreptitiously taken while on a guided tour of the vessel you will see a strange pyramidal hole where the warp drive ought to be. No human warp engine has a component that shape, so what the hell was it, eh? 
  • Chad Baxter, a military advisor to the Orphean League army, used to be in a certain agency - he can't tell you which or he'd have to kill you - and he knows that not all the rackety old Endeavours travelling the spaceways are what they seem. A vessel with that kind of deep space endurance, that kind of 'Astronomy' gear, built by an English academic organisation which, like all such organisations, was riddled top to bottom with commies? Come on, it's a spyship, was meant to be one from the day it was built! Look out next time you are heading off to a warp point, you might see an Endeavour class floating innocuously in deep space with its solar panel out for a second or two, then poof! the ECMs kick in and its gone.
  • Szilard Geologic are a new commercial scouting company doing rather well. They started out with a second or maybe third or fourth hand Endeavour and it's been a real lucky charm for them, taking them from one mineral rich planet to another, gold, uranium, thorium, you name it, their little scout the 'Ethelred Bennett' has found them all. Rumour has it that they were on the point of going bust until they did a refit of the vessel. What did they find stuck in its innards? A lost database of planets? A dowsing rod? Who owned it before them? Jack Szilard worked in salvage for a while, is it a reconditioned wreck?
  • The English Royal family are a dull lot. It is the tradition that the princes join the armed forces, usually the Navy since it is probably the safest, and they have been doing the same thing for a good four hundred years or more. Except one, Princess Frances, has bucked the trend by a) having a brain and doing well at university without anyone having to pull strings and award her an honorary degree; b) joining the services despite being female and by tradition being limited to showjumping as a hobby and c) saying nuts to the Navy and joining the Royal Planetological Society instead. She is out there somewhere beyond the edge of Known Space and a leak has revealed that she is flying an Endeavour. What do you do with this information?
  • While delivering supplies to a forlorn mining outpost on Torch a battered old slave miner tries to sell you a bit of electronic junk. It's a survey drone, a real old one with an RPSS logo. Where is the vessel that launched it? Wrecked out there in Torch's utterly unforgiving deserts? Could there be evidence that the English have a prior claim on the planet? Or data about an undiscovered gold mine? Or even the location of the fabled haven of the 'Torch' itself?