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?