Showing posts with label OMG. Show all posts
Showing posts with label OMG. Show all posts

Thursday, February 25, 2021

One Man's God: Nehwon Mythos

Closing on one of the last of the named mythos for One Man's God.  I go to one that has a lot of importance for the creation of the D&D, the Nehwon Mythos of Fritz Leiber's Lankhmar series.

Nehwon Myths

You can now get Lankhmar RPG products for both 1st and 2nd AD&D as well as for Savage Worlds and Dungeon Crawl Classics.  To say it has left its mark on our hobby is a bit of an understatement.  Yet I find I really know very little about the stories.  I remember reading one of the books. It was either in late high school or my early college days, in either case, it was the mid-late 80s.  I recall reading the book and not really caring for the characters all that much.  I have been planning to reread them someday, but they keep getting pushed lower and lower on my to-be-read pile.

For this reason I had considered not doing these for One Man's God.  But the more I thought about it the more I realized it was a perfect chance to "level-set" what I am doing here.  Seeing if another culture's god can be redefined as AD&D Monster Manual Demon. 

Now I am certain that others with far more knowledge than me will have opinions one way or the other and that is fine.  They are welcome to share them.  A key factor of "One Man's God" is just that, one man's opinion on the gods. And that one man is me.  

So strap on a long sword and dirk and let's head to the City of Lankhmar.

Nehwon and Lankhmar in particular seems to have a lot of Gods.  I kind of lank this to be honest.  But how many of them are "Demons?"

We know there are demons here.  Demons and witches are described as living in the wastes. The wizard Sheelba of the Eyeless Face is said to be so horrible that even demons run from it.

Astral Wolves

These guys are great! Love the idea, but they feel more like undead to me.

Gods of Trouble

Ok, these guys start to fit the bill.  They are semi-unique, chaotic-evil, and have 366 hp. But they also have a lot of powers that demons just don't have.  They have worshipers, but no indication that any spells (for clerics) or powers (for warlocks) are granted.   They just seem to be powerful assholes.

Leviathan

There is a demon Leviathan and this guy looks a lot like him.  But this one is neutral and does not have any other powers except for being huge.

Nehwon Earth God

This guy appears to be an actual god, even if evil and non-human. 

Rat God

AH! Now we are getting someplace. Non-human, cult-like worshipers, described as the manifestation of men's fears, and chaotic evil.  I see no reason why the Rat God here could not be a type of demon with a larger power base.  At 222 hp he is actually pretty close to Demongorgon's hp.

The Rat God has some personal relevance for me.  I was riding the bus home in high school one day and there was a group of kids that were playing D&D. I listened in and guess in their game if you wanted to make boots that aided in your ability to move silently they had to be made from the pelt of the Rat God!  I always wondered what their other games must be like.

rat demon
Rat Demon (Prince of Rats)

FREQUENCY: Very Rare
NO. APPEARING: 1
ARMOR CLASS: 2
MOVE: 18'
HIT DICE: 222 hit points
% IN LAIR: 50%
TREASURE TYPE: P, S, T
NO. OF ATTACKS: 2
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 4-40
SPECIAL ATTACKS: Nil
SPECIAL DEFENSES: See below
MAGIC RESISTANCE: 20%
INTELLIGENCE: Supra genius (18)
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic Evil
SIZE: L (10' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY: I

The Demon Prince of Rats is nearly powerful as other demon princes but he saves his interests and attention only for his rat and wererat followers.  He desires to overrun the Prime Material Plane with his children and feed on the bodies of all the living.

Spider God 

Same is true for this one.  I mean if rats are a manifestation of human fears then spiders are as well. This creature is also CE and at 249 hp that makes it more powerful than Lolth at 66!

Tyaa

Could be a demon, but had more goddess about her.  Again though, Lolth is both Goddess and Demon.  We will later get a demoness of birds in D&D during the 3e days in the form of Decarabia.  Tyaa requires her cult to sacrifice a body part, Decarabia cut off her own legs so she would never touch the ground again.

Bird Goddesses and Demons
Bird Goddesses and Demoness, separated at birth?

Obviously there a lot more here that could be done with these and the monsters/gods/demons that were not featured in the D&DG.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

One Man's God: Chinese Mythos

Chinese mythos from Deities & Demigods
I stated in my post about the Yaoguai that I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on Chinese mythology.  But even I know there is no way for the Deities & Demigods to cover all the mythological figures, gods, demigods, heroes, and monsters of Chinese myth.  The editors of the D&DG agree.

Instead what we have here are a few select gods and monsters for D&D fare.  I am quite certain that anyone that knows more about this than I do will notice some glaring issue, but for the moment let's look at it for what it is rather than what we wish it to be.  This is good because "what it is" is a fascinating, if sometimes problematic, read.

There are a few gods and creatures here that not only would make for great demons (in the Demon category of the Monster Manual) they are creatures that made many appearances in my games. Again this is taking them "as is", not "as they should be" but I will detail that in a bit.

An issue I should address is spelling.  Translating between Chinese and English is often half linguistics and half art.  Even when the spelling is agreed on it can change later, "D" and "T" are notorious.  What does that mean to us?  Well, it makes the research a bit harder on some creatures.  To get into the myths and stories behind these creatures would take a lot longer than this post and outside of the scope of One Man's God, but as always I will try to pull in the research when I can. 

One of the better sources for these myths is  E. T. C. Werner's "The Myths and Legends of China" whose earliest publication date appears to be in 1940.  The book is in the public domain and would have been available to the authors of the D&DG.  While there are other books, I am going to go to this one for confirmation on what is here. Now Werner could have a bunch of issues all on his own. I am not qualified to judge those either.  

Finally, I want to give credit to the artist of this section of myths, Darlene.  I don't think she gets the credit she deserves half the time (outside of her FANTASTIC map of Greyhawk).  Her art really captures the feel of these myths for me. 

Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya

This guy typifies the problem I speak of.  A search for him online reveals only sources that were obviously taken from the D&DG.  The only other mentions are people asking where he is from.  Now I have no issue with making something up whole cloth for a game (I do it every day) but does that make him a part of Chinese myth?  In any case, Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya looks and acts more like a Monster Manual devil than he does a demon.  My feeling is this guy was made up for the D&DG.

He does not appear in Werner's book.

Ma Yuan

Ma Yuan
So Chih-Chiang Fyu-Ya is the punisher of the gods, that is someone the gods send out to punish, much like Erinyes. Ma Yuan is the Killer of the Gods. He kills the gods.  He is also a unique beast and fits our definition of a demon well. He is Chaotic Evil, 70's tall, and has 300 hp.  He could mop the floor with Demogorgon! Well...maybe not mop.  Ma Yuan also appeared in many of my games back in the day as a giant monster of destruction (and ignoring his "High" intelligence rating), his sword is one of just a few fabled weapons in my world that can kill a god. 

In Gods, Demigods, and Heroes for 0e he is called Ma Yuan Shuai. This is very interesting since Tian Du Yuan Shuai is a figure of Taoist myth (though he could have been a real person) and he is associated with Okinawan Gojū-ryū karate. This was interesting to me because I studied Isshin-ryū karate in college and grad school, they are similar in many of their katas. But going done that rabbit hole was a dead end despite how interesting I found it. 

"Yuan Shuai" is also a rank in the Chinese military rank that is equivalent to Marshall in other militaries.  Ma Yuan Shuai could mean something like "Horse Marshall."

Going with this name I head back to Werner's book, I find this:

Ma Yüan-shuai is a three-eyed monster condemned by Ju Lai to reincarnation for excessive cruelty in the extermination of evil spirits. In order to obey this command he entered the womb of Ma Chin-mu in the form of five globes of fire. Being a precocious youth, he could fight when only three days old, and killed the Dragon-king of the Eastern Sea. From his instructor he received a spiritual work dealing with wind, thunder, snakes, etc., and a triangular piece of stone which he could at will change into anything he liked. By order of Yü Ti he subdued the Spirits of the Wind and Fire, the Blue Dragon, the King of the Five Dragons, and the Spirit of the Five Hundred Fire Ducks, all without injury to himself. For these and many other enterprises he was rewarded by Yü Ti with various magic articles and with the title of Generalissimo of the West, and is regarded as so successful an interceder with Yü Ti that he is prayed to for all sorts of benefits.

Doing research on this guy reveals that I was not the only one taken with this character (not a surprise really). Here Spes Magna Games updated his stats to 5e D&D.  

Ma Yuan though is a great being. I would say that he is a great sleeping demon (though his "in lair 10%" seems to preclude this) that is only roused when needed.  Werner's description seems to favor demon really.

Lu Yueh

Some success?  Lu Yueh appears as a figure using a magic umbrella to spreading plague in a 1922 painting by an unknown artist. 

He also appears in Werner's The Myths and Legends of China.  Called Lü Yüeh here he seems to be more of a hermit than a demonic god. Also, he only has one head.  He still causes plagues though. 

Tou Mu

Yikes. 

I am prone to be forgiving in cases like Chih-Chian Fyu-Ya; creatures made up to serve a purpose or a niche for a game.  Or even Lu Yueh and Ma Yuan; myths extended and/or changed to fit into D&D a little better. But what they did to Tou Mu?  No. This is just terrible research at this point.  I have avoided being too critical of the D&DG because I know the authors did not have the same access to materials I have now and, not to be a dick about it, but I have been trained to do Ph.D. level research. I have had 30+ years of professional research to draw on. They did not.  But this case really goes to the critics of the D&DG.  

Background.  Tou Mu was something of a celebrity back in Junior High among the people I played D&D with.  First she looks way freaking cool, secondly, she had a Charisma of 5! She had a ton of great and unique magic items and some DMs even gave her the dancing sword of lightning (as if she didn't already have enough).  She was an Endgame Boss.  

In actual Taoist mythology, she is Dǒumǔ (斗母) the 'Mother of the Great Chariot' or the Big Dipper.  she would not be a "Chaotic Evil Lesser Goddess" but most likely be a Lawful Good Greater Goddess, though a Lesser (but powerful) Goddess would also be acceptable.  Though I am not sure what I find worse, the evil alignment, the 5 Charisma or the 3 in Wisdom.

Here is how she looks in the D&DG,

Tou Mu from D&DG

versus how she is depicted in the real world, 

Dǒumǔ (斗母)Dǒumǔ (斗母) fan art

Seriously, how could they have messed this one up so bad? Turn a beloved goddess into a monster?

Again, let's see what Werner has to say about her:

Goddess of the North Star
Tou Mu, the Bushel Mother, or Goddess of the North Star, worshipped by both Buddhists and Taoists, is the Indian Maritchi, and was made a stellar divinity by the Taoists. She is said to have been the mother of the nine Jên Huang or Human Sovereigns of fabulous antiquity, who succeeded the lines of Celestial and Terrestrial Sovereigns. She occupies in the Taoist religion the same relative position as Kuan Yin, who may be said to be the heart of Buddhism. Having attained to a profound knowledge of celestial mysteries, she shone with heavenly light, could cross the seas, and pass from the sun to the moon. She also had a kind heart for the sufferings of humanity. The King of Chou Yü, in the north, married her on hearing of her many virtues. They had nine sons. Yüan-shih T’ien-tsun came to earth to invite her, her husband, and nine sons to enjoy the delights of Heaven. He placed her in the palace Tou Shu, the Pivot of the Pole, because all the other stars revolve round it, and gave her the title of Queen of the Doctrine of Primitive Heaven. Her nine sons have their palaces in the neighbouring stars.

Well, in many ways I supposed that is what OMG is kinda based on; One Man's God is another man's demon.  Still, it doesn't feel right to turn Dǒumǔ into Tou Mou.  I also suppose this also is part of the criticism landed at TSR/WotC's feet back in July of 2020 about the Oriental Adventures book. which, by the way, despite what all the Chicken Littles were saying back then you CAN still buy it in it's unedited form. 

I said at the outset I know far less about Chinese myths than I like and far less than I do about other mythologies.  What I do know there are SO MANY great stories about gods, demigods, monsters, and human heroes that doing this one right would fantastic.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

One Man's God: Syncretism and the Gods

Hermes Trismegistus
Hermes Trismegistus
In the pages of the Deities & Demigods (or Gods, Demigods, and Heroes) the Gods and their Pantheons are fairly clean-cut affairs.  Greek over here, Egypt over there, Mesopotamia over there a little more. Norse WAY the hell over there.

In real-world mythology and religion, it doesn't work like that. Zeus was, and was not, exactly Jupiter. Ra was Ra, unless he was Amun-Ra or Aten.  Dumuzid was Tammuz, except for the times he was his own father. This is not counting the times when religions rise, fall, change and morph over the centuries. Today's God is tomorrow's demon.  Ask Astarte or the Tuatha Dé Danann how things fare for them now.

Gods are messy. 

It stands to reason that gods in your games should also be as messy. 

Now, most games do not have the centuries (game time) and none have the real-time evolution of gods in their games. We use simple "spheres" and give the gods roles that they rarely deviate from.  The Forgotten Realms is an exception since its published works cover a couple hundred years of in-universe time, but even then their gods are often pretty stable.  That is to make them easier to approach and to make sales of books easier.  The Dragonlance books cover more time in the game world, but their gods are another issue entirely.

While I want to get back to my One Man's God in the proper sense I do want to take this side quest to talk about Syncretism.

Syncretism

According to the ole' Wikipedia, "Syncretism /ˈsɪŋkrətɪzəm/ is the combining of different beliefs, while blending practices of various schools of thought."  For our purposes today we are going to confine ourselves to just gods.

For game purposes, I am going to use Syncretism as the combination of two or more gods into one.  The individual gods and the syncretized god are considered to be different and separate entities.

Now years ago when I proposed the idea that gods can be different than what is stated I go some grief online from people claiming that gods are absolute truth. For example, you can cast a Commune spell and speak to a god and get an answer.  But a commune is not a cell phone. It is not email. It is only slightly better than an Ouija board.  You have no idea who, or what, is on the other end.  If you are a cleric all you have is faith.

So what is a syncretic god like? Some examples from the real world and my own games.

Hermes Trismegistus

Our poster boy for syncretism is good old Hermes Trismegistus or the Thrice Great Hermes.  He is a Hellenistic syncretism of the Greek Hermes and the Egyptian Thoth.  Now, the DDG has these as very separate individuals.  Thoth is a Neutral Greater God of Knowledge, Hermes is a Neutral Greater God of Thieves, Liars, and more.  From this perspective, there does not seem to be an overlap.   But like I say above, gods are messy.  This figure is believed to have written the Corpus Hermetica, the collection of knowledge passed down to the various Hermetic Orders that would appear in later antiquity and during the Occult revivals.   Even then the Thrice Great Hermes of the Hellenistic period could be argued to be a completely different personage than the Thrice Great Hermes of the Hermetic Orders.

But is Hermes Trismegistus a God?  If you met him on the street would that mean you also met Hermes, Thoth, and Mercury? Or can all four walk into a bar together and order a drink? That answer of course is a confounding yes to all the above.  Though this is less satisfactory than say having stats for all four in a book.

The Triple Moon Goddess Heresy

Back when I was starting up my 4e game and deciding to set it in the Forgotten Realms I wanted to make sure I had a good grasp on the gods and goddesses of the world.  I was also already mulling some thoughts that would become One Man's God, so I decided to go full heretic.  I combined the moon goddesses all into one Goddess.  I also decided that like Krynn, Toril has three moons, but you can't see one of them.   I detailed that religion in my post Nothing Like the Sun... and I did something similar to Lolth and Araushnee in The Church of Lolth Ascendant.

Sehanine Moonbow, Selûne and Shar
Sehanine Moonbow, Selûne, and Shar by Ben Honeycutt

As expected (and maybe a little wanted) these tended to shuffle the feathers of the orthodoxy.  Thanks for that by the way.

This is all fun and everything, but what can I actually *do* with these?

Syncretic Gods make FANTASTIC witch and warlock patrons.

Witches in many pagan traditions in the real world believe that their Goddess is all goddesses.  That is syncretism to the Nth degree.  I already have a case with Hermes Trismegistus and the Hermetic Order. 

Here are some syncretic gods from antiquity and potential roles as patrons.

Apollo-Belenus, Patron of the sun and healing.  From the Greco-Roman Apollo and the Gaulish Belenus.

Ashtart, Patroness of love, marriage, and sex. Combines the Goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Athirat, Ishtar, Isis, and Venus. Sometimes depicted as the consort to Serapis.

Cybele, or the Magna Mater, Patroness of Motherhood and fertility. She combines many Earth and motherhood-related Goddesses such as Gaia, Rhea, and Demeter.

Serapis, the Patron of Law, Order, rulers, and the afterlife.  He is a combination of the Gods Osiris and Apis from Egypt with Hades and Dionysus of the Greek. Besides Hermes Trismegistus, he is one of the most popular syncretic gods and the one that lead archeologists and researchers to the idea of syncretism. 

Sulis Minerva, Patroness of the sun and the life-giving power of the earth. She is chaste and virginal where Ashtart is lascivious. 

And one I made up to add to this mix and smooth out some edges,

Heka, the Patroness of Magic. She combines Hecate, Cardea, (who might have been the same anyway), Isis, with bits of Ishtar (who has connections to Isis too), and Ereshkigal with some Persephone.

In my own games, I have always wanted to explore the Mystra (Goddess) and Mystara (World) connection.  

This also helps me answer an old question.  Why would a Lawful Good witch be feared or hated?  Simple that Lawful witch is worshiping a god that the orthodoxy deems as a heresy. 

A Witch (or Warlock) of the Tripple Moon Goddess in the Realms is going to be hated by both the followers of Selûne and Shar, even if they are the same alignment.  Cults are like that.

I am planning on expanding these ideas further. 

Another thing I want to explore is when a god is split into two or more gods or demons.  In this case I want to have some sort of divinity that was "killed" and from the remnants of that god became Orcus and Dis Pater, or something like that.  Orcus, Dis Pater (Dispater), and Hades have a long and odd relationship. This is not counting other gods that have floated in and out of Orcus' orbit like Aita and Soranus.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

This Old Dragon Retrospective: The Gods and Goddess of the Suel

World of Greyhawk books
Something a little different today.  I had always wanted to combine two of my regular features, "This Old Dragon" and "One Man's God" into a series of the gods and goddesses presented in the pages of Dragon Magazine.  I can think of a few examples off the top of my head without cracking the musty pages.  I had always wanted to start with the Suel Pantheon, but I wanted to wait till I was done with the Deities & Demigods.  

Well, last month we all learned about the death of Len Lakofka and I wanted to mark it in some way.  I thought maybe this would be a good way of doing that.

Introduction

A little bit of background here on This Old Dragon. I had purchased a couple of large gaming collections over the last few years. My brother also gave me a box of Dragons in really bad shape. After combining, keeping some, selling off others, and tossing (yeah, had too) ones that were in terrible shape I was left with about 100 or so Dragons that were in pretty bad shape. Most were missing covers, many are missing pages and maybe one or two are fully intact. In This Old Dragon, I am grabbing an issue out at random and reviewing them. I can only review what I have, so if it is missing I won't talk about it. The only exception I make is the covers. If I feel too much is missing or something important is missing I'll check my Dragon-Magazine CD-ROM. 

One Man's God is my feature on the various mythos, gods, and goddesses as presented in the AD&D 1st Edition Deities & Demigods.  Here I look through the various gods and monsters and see which ones would be better classified as AD&D 1st Ed Demons as defined by the Monster Manual.  When there is nothing I look to the original myths to see what we can find.

Today I am going to do both features for the Suel Pantheon.

This Old Dragon: The Suel and their Gods

This feature began in Dragon Magazine #86 from June 1984 to #92 in December 1984. Or in my prime AD&D time.  The feature was authored by Len Lakofka and had Gary Gygax's official stamp of approval on them.  Len had also created the L Series of modules and the Lendore Isles.  So in my mind, that meant there was still active Suel worship in the Isles and that the wizard on the cover of L1 The Secret of Bone Hill was a worshiper of Wee Jas.  But I am getting ahead of myself. 

The Suel made their very first appearance in the pages of the first The World of Greyhawk folio as an ancient empire whose language was still used. The Gods would get names, but not information blocks in the boxed set World of Greyhawk Fantasy Game Setting.  Soon after we began to get the gods in Dragon.

Before I get into the Gods proper, there are a few other issues we should cover.

Dragon Issue #52

This issue gives us a very new looking Leomund's Tiny Hut from  Len Lakofka. This is so new in fact that I think this might be the first-ever Tiny Hut article.  There is an introduction by Gary himself.  This installment covers giving more depth to the humans and languages of the Flanaess.  Cool article and one that every Greyhawk DM should have handy.  Actually, it is good for most DMs. The article is pretty long, longer than most Tiny Hut articles in my memory.  

This is the article that lets us know that Suel are very near albino looking save with shades of violet for eyes.  Given that these were the forerunners of the Lawful Evil Scarlet Brotherhood then it was kind of obvious that the Empire was some kind of a cross between the Melnibonéans and the Nazis.

Dragon Issue #55

In his From the Sorcerer's Scroll Gary gives us some more details on the Suel and how they moved across the continent to the Snow, Frost, and Ice Barbarian lands and how these peoples are the purest strains of the Suel bloodline. If the picture being painted is these are not particularly nice people then consider the painting done.  Still, there are some interesting tidbits and it made me want to find out more and it made me want to find an offshoot of the Suel that weren't such xenophobic dicks.

I think Len made a lot of that possible in his series.

Dragon Issue #86

Dragon #86 was one of those issues that punched way above its weight class. I mean there was just so much in this that one would be excused if Len's article, Presenting the Suel Pantheon, was ignored.  Here we are introduced to Lendor (the chief god) and Norebo (the god of thieves).  The gods are presented in the same format as the D&DG gods; which sadly in the early 80s meant these were creatures that could be fought and could be killed.  But I want to ignore that for bit and instead focus on what is really one of these first full (A)D&D pantheons.  In the 3e era some of these gods would be folded back into the "Greyhawk" pantheon, but here they are on their own with their fellow Suel.  

Lendor has a solid Odin feel to him and Norebo (maybe one of the most popular gods during my AD&D years) is like a slightly less evil Loki.  This trend is going to continue.

A box of old Dragon magazines

Dragon Issue #87

This issue covers the gods Kord and Phaulkon.   Kord is the son of the lesser gods Phaulkon and Syrul, though he himself is a greater god.  He is also one of the most popular and worshiped Suel god.  He is the god of battle, swordsmanship, and berserk rage. He has thousands of semi-mortal/semi-divine children, any of which who meet his challenges can claim demi-god status.  If you are thinking Thor with a sword mixed with Conan then you are not too far off.  Since this issue also featured the Ecology of the Dryad, I figured that Kord had a particular affection for them.  In fact I am going to say that the Korreds, who would later appear in the Monster Manual II, began as the offspring of Kord and the multitude of dryads he..uh.seduced. Sure let's go with that word. 

Phaulkon is the winged god of air, flying and archers. If Kord is the superior melee combatant, then Phaulkon is the superior missile combatant. He can speak with any bird or any creature that uses wings to fly, including demons and devils.  He is Chaotic Good so I always felt there would a natural rivalry between Phaulkon and Pazuzu, both striving for control over the air and air creatures. 

Wee Jas by Jeff Butler
Dragon Issue #88

Here we get Syrul, Fortubo, and Wee Jas the unrequited love of my life (circa age 14).  Wee Jas, of course, grabbed my attention like nothing else in this issue. She was a gorgeous goddess of magic known as the Witch Queen?  How in the hell was I supposed to ignore that?  For years I thought this art was a Larry Elmore piece, but it is actually Jeff Butler.  I think the wide eyes are what really sets this piece off. Bella Donna indeed.

Of all the Suel gods it is Wee Jas that has had her best life in the years following this publication. What do we learn about her?  Well at this point she is still a greater goddess of magic and death.  She knows every magic-user spell and all other spells to 5th level (why only 5th??).  She can cast up to 9 spell levels worth of spells each round; so 1 9th level spell or 9 1st level or any combination.  She has 90% magic resistance and a globe of invulnerability that floats around her. She is attractive (Charisma 20) and always appears so.

If she is anything she is very lawful.  To the point where good and evil are mostly meaningless to her just as long as you are not chaotic.  In fact, she pretty much hates anything chaotic except for the chaotic neutral god Norebo; who is her brother (or half-brother) and occasional lover.  Gods. Go figure.

In the letters section in a couple Dragons later it is mentioned that Norebo's entry mentions Wee Jas, but Wee Jas' doesn't.  The editors reply that it is because Wee Jas is loathed to admit it and Norebo could also be bragging.

Also, have a look at her name "Wee Jas" or "Wee" and "Ja" or "Oui Ja".  She is the goddess of the Ouija board as well. Magic. Death and Spirits. Clever Gary.

Syrul is the evil goddess of lies and false promises.  Fortubo is the dwarf-like god of mountains, stone, and metals. Neither are half as interesting as Wee Jas.  Well, Fortubo was interesting on his own, but not compared to my 1984 girlfriend here. 

To stretch out Norse analogies a bit Wee Jass is a bit of Hel and Freyja combined. But there is also a good amount of Hecate in her.

Since Len also created the Death Master NPC class I figured at least a few Death Masters were aligned with Wee Jas instead of Orcus.  This was part of their strong rivalry for the dead. 

Dragon Issue #89

This issue continues those wonderful Denis Beauvais "Chess" covers.  So therefore the Suel Empire invented chess on Oerth.  

In this issue, Len features Pyremius, Beltar, and Llerg.  It is interesting to see which of these gods survived to today. These gods made it to the 3.x Living Greyhawk Gaz and Complete Divine. Pyremius is the God of Fire, Poison, and Murder. He looks like a conehead to be honest.  The next goddess, Beltar, just has a Conehead sounding name.  She is the Goddess of Deep Caves, Pits, and Malice.  She appears as an old crone, a beholder or as a Type V, or Marilith, demon.  I would say she has a few of both types of creatures under her command.  Llerg is the God of Beasts and Strength and appears a bear-like man. He seems like a decent enough god. He prefers to live on his own in the woods and deals more with animals and other beasts. I was half-tempted back in the day to also make him the God of Bears, in the sub-culture sense. Now I am fully tempted. 

This issue also gave us the first Creature Catalog from Dragon. Here are a number of creatures that could easily be re-classified as demons; at least in the OMG sense. These include the Fachan, the Ghuuna (already has a demonic origin), and the Utukku.  Beltar in particular would have Utukku under her control. I went back to the original myths and did my own Utukku and Umu demons for Ghosts of Albion and a completely different version was created for Pathfinder.

pages from the Creature Catalog

Dragon Issue #90

Before we get to the Suel article proper, Out on a Limb covers the seemingly impossible relationship between chaotic to the core Norebo and hard-line lawful Wee Jas.  Kim Mohan makes two suggestions. First, opposites attract and Norebo has a big mouth.  Second, they goofed.   I like the idea of them being together, to be honest.  Gods need to be complicated.  Though given that Norebo and Wee Jas are also half-siblings, I guess really complicated. Well, no one bats an eye when it happens in Egyptian and Greek pantheons. 

You can also go with Mike's take on it over at Greyhawkery.

On to the article proper we have a collection of sea gods. Phyton, Xerbo, and Osprem.    Phyton is the God of Beuty and Nature, he is our ersatz Baldur.  Xerbo is our God of the Sea, Money, and Business, so a cross between Nord and Poseidon/Neptune.  Osprem is the Goddess of Sea Voyages. Our two sea gods Xerbo and Osprem both have tridents.  I guess there is a rule that sea gods must have one. They only have cool relations with each other.  They try not to fight each other and when a threat challenges the seas they are allied. But otherwise, they do not get along.  Osprem is in particular worship in and around the Lendore Isles.

This issue also featured the Incantatrix. Under normal situations, I would figure out a way to bring her into the fold with the Suel gods, but the write-up is not only so Realms specific, the Incantatrix has a history in the Realms.  So she stays where she is. 

Dragon Issue #92

Here again, we come to the end. Not just of 1984, but of this series. 

This issue also covers some new rules and ideas for clerics. Since I played a lot of clerics back then I rather enjoyed this issue.  Gary offers up some advice ("Clerics Play by Different Rules")  and a few others. This issue also gave us installment III of Pages from the Mages, but that was covered in a previous retrospective

Out Suel gods are Lydia, Bralm, and Jascar.  Lydia is the goddess of light and song. Bralm the Goddess of Insects and Industriousness, and Jascar the God of Hills and Mountains. No mention of his relationship to the other mountain god, Fortubo.  These gods and their write-ups were a nice working model of what Gygax was saying above about how clerics need to be different.

That is all the Suel gods from the World of Greyhawk.  These gods all survived to the 3rd Edition Living Greyhawk Gazetteer with some edits.  I guess the Suel Empire is not so forgotten after all!

One Man's God: The Demons

The nature of these articles did not include demons or even demonic creatures. They were very focused on the Gods themselves.  For demons that fit into this pantheon, I would suggest we go back to the source, the Monster Manual.  Here are the demons of this pantheon.  

Of the ones mentioned above, I think Orcus, Pazuzu, and Yeenoughu are the obvious choices.  

The Demihuman Mythos from the D&DG is another good source.  The Oerth gods though do have their own "devil" in the form of Tharizdûn.  He is a god, or was, or still is, but a fallen one. 

The Suel were a people of such xenophobia that any non-lawful god, godling, or monster would have been considered a demon. The Suel in fact would have more in common with devils and the 4e lost empire of Bael Turath.  In fact there could even be a link between Bael Turath and the Suel Empire.

In my own games, the Suel Empire were still the xenophobic dicks they always are, but they also had a special hatred for demons. The great artifact sword "Demonbane" was of Suel manufacture.

There is always more to hear about the World of Greyhawk and the Suel. Sadly one of the voices is now no more.   Gonna miss you Len!

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

One Man's God: Finnish Mythos

Suomi Neito the Maiden of Finland
"Suomi Neito" the Maiden of Finland.
She is in the shape of Finland.

Seems like a good day to talk about fallen gods and demons.  We are also getting into mythos I know less and less about. So let's begin our tour in a country I have always liked, Finland.

I don't think it is too much to say that the myths and characters presented in the Deities & Demigods for Finland are largely, if not exclusively taken from the Finnish national epic, The Kalevala.  I have a copy of the audio-book I had been meaning to listen to before this, but since I no longer drive to work it has been taking a bit longer to get through my backlist.   I have had some exposure to the myths in comparative mythology books and of course, every D&D gamers knows that Gary Gygax was also a big fan of these stories.

The Mythos of the Finnish people are maybe some of the most relatable to long time D&D players since so much of them have been adopted into D&D proper.  Goddess Loviatar and Mielikki have been adopted wholesale into the Forgotten Realms campaign and remained unchanged from the D&DG counterparts. Mordenkainen sounds like he could have been a traveling companion to Vainamoinen and Lemminkainen.  Let's also not forget the Louhi, the Witch Queen of Pohjola is also an alternate name/guise for Tasha/Iggwilv.  

It is hard to say if the Finnish Mythos have a more D&D feel to them because of how they are presented in the D&DG OR is because so much of D&D has strands of Finnish/Kalevala DNA in it.  Those ties only got deeper as the development of D&D from the early 70s to the 80s went on.  So it would then reason that any Finnish "demons" would convert over to AD&D demons fairly well.  

Except there is one little problem.

There are no monsters listed in the D&DG Finnish mythos that could even be considered demonic, with maybe one exception.  The mythos are filled with Gods, but they are more background to the stories of the heroes.  The Kalevala is a Heroic epic.  So it has more akin with the stories of Gilgamesh and Heracles than it does with say the neighboring Norse myths which tend to be more about the exploits of the Gods.

So let's look at what we have and expand it out.

Page from the D&DG featuring Louhi, Loviatar and Mielikki
Louhi, Loviatar and Mielikki
Loviatar/Louhi
There is not a single male D&D player aged 40 and up that doesn't know Loviatar from the D&DG. Expand that outward and there isn't a single Forgotten Realms player of any age that doesn't know Loviatar.  She is the beautiful, cold, and strikingly topless, Goddess of Pain.  She is the intersection of D&D Dungeon Masters and S&M Dungeon Masters. she has been sexed up and everyone knows her.

Or do they?

In the Kalevala Loviatar is the blind daughter of Tuoni/Tuonetar.  The part about the cold wind blowing is spot on, but she is also the mother of the Nine Diseases.  Back in my AD&D witch playtests (late 80s) I had a witch of Loviatar who specialized in disease spells. So I do recall reading that much then in this comparative mythology book. 

There is also some conjecture that in the earliest tales Loviatar and Louhi were the same characters. Called Louhi in some areas and Loviatar in others. Though I think you would have trouble telling a Forgotten Realms fan that their Maiden of Pain is an ancient wrinkled crone. 

At one point I wanted to stat out the nine sons (or in my mind, eight sons and one daughter) of Loviatar as demon-like monsters.  But I never got it to come together in a way I liked.  I may try again after reading the Kalevala. 

If Loviatar went in one direction, Louhi went in the opposite.   Loviatar might be more popular with the D&D crowd, but it is Louhi who is more well known.  A lot can be said about Louhi and maybe one day I'll devote some more time to her. We do know that she was the model/alternate name for Tasha/Iggwilv. Which brings up an interesting idea. We know she has a son and she is the main antagonist of the Kalevala, though she also sometimes helps the heroes.  

Side note: I am sorry, the whole time writing this I keep hearing "Bring me the Sampo!" from the 1959 movie "The Sampo" or better known here in the US and to MST3k fans as "The Day the Earth Froze."  It has been my tradition to watch an MST3k movie while decorating for Christmas ever since I first saw this one. 

I do find one thing about the whole Louhi/Iggwilv connection interesting.  You have a Finnish girl (Louhi) essentially kidnapped and raised by a Russian witch, Baba Yaga.  Allegorical of the Russian occupation of Finland from 1809 to 1917? Maybe.  OH! here is an idea.  The PCs need something from Iggwilv's past BUT her past is in Russia and Finland during the Victorian era.  Would give me a chance to play some Ghosts of Albion.  It would work well since the "Suomi Neito" or the Maiden of Finland is a concept similar to "Britannia" or "Éire / Ériu" and what the Protectors are. 

In the D&DG Louhi has 45 total levels of spell casting, she is certainly a very powerful character. She stole the sun and the moon for example. 

Edvard Isto The Attack
Edvard Isto "The Attack" 
The eagle of Russia attacks the Maiden of Finland.
Again her shape is the shape of the country.

Hiisi and Lempo
The closest thing we have to a demon is Hiisi the God of Evil.  I say closest, but the entry in the D&DG does not lend itself to being a demon.  Sure he is Chaotic Evil, but he seems to be more human or at least a giant. 

When doing my research I found that much like "The Devil" and "devils" Hiisi is both the name of a god of evil, evil beings in general and the place name where these beings are found.

We know from the D&DG that no evil creature can cause Hiisi damage.  Could it be that these evil creatures are his?   The plural of hiisi is hiidet. It usually translates to "malicious creature " or even demon.

Hiidet
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1 (1-3)
ARMOR CLASS: 5
MOVE:  12"/24"
HIT DICE:  10+30 (60 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  95%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil, Special
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2 fists or 1 weapon
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  2d6 x2 or 2d8
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  None
SPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +1 or better weapon to hit, hide 90%, Immune to cold and fire
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  10%
INTELLIGENCE:  Animal (savage)
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil
SIZE:  L  (12' to 18' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil

Hiidet are often confused with hill giants, ogres, and trolls.  Each one is unique in that it takes on the coloration and form best suited to its chosen lair.  A Hiidet of the stoney mountains will appear to made of stone with moss-like hair.  One living in the forests will have brownish or greenish skin and leaf-like hair.  This camouflage is part of their demonic heritage and is set once they find a lair to settle in.  It does not change though as they move around.  It does confer a 90% chance that they will remain unseen in their lairs. 

Hiidet attack with their fists or a weapon. They are immune to the environmental effects of cold and are immune to both fire and cold effects including magic and dragon breath.

Hiidet are something of a cross-species between elementals, giants, and demons.  They are quick to anger and will lash out at anyone invading their lands, but they are also cowards who will avoid attacking large parties.  Their lairs are natural areas such as caves, or holes in the ground that would fit them.  They keep nothing of value, preferring to eat their victim whole.  Every so often though a rare magical item will be found in their lairs (10%). 

Lempo is a similar case.  There was a god (sometimes goddess), Lempo, of love, but of the irrationality of love that causes people to make bad decisions.  Lempo seems similar to the god Pan in many respects including his "demonization" by Christians.  Another character, Paha, is also mentioned. 

Lempo
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1
ARMOR CLASS: -1 or 9
MOVE:  24"/48"
HIT DICE:  6+6 (42 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  0%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  NA
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  NA
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Cause chaos
SPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +1 or better weapon to hit, invisible
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  25%
INTELLIGENCE:  Average
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil (Chaotic Neutral)
SIZE:  L  (12' to 18' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil

Lempo are nature and fertility spirits that have been corrupted by evil.  Their former function was to ensure fertility and crop growth, they became corrupted and now sow lasciviousness and chaotic behavior.  They cause faithful couples to stray and young people to behave in an erratic manner.

As spirits, they have no physical presence in the world. Though any weapon that can target ethereal creatures can strike them (AC -1).  Likewise they have no physical attacks save their corrupting influence.  The tactic of a lempo is to rest on the roof of a home to cause all inside to come under it's influence. Characters and creatures under 4 HD have no save and act in a chaotic manner.  Creatures 4hd and above are allowed a save vs. spells.

A priest of 4th level and higher can see the lempo, it appears as a humanoid shape (male or female) with a crow's head, feet, and wings.  The priest can "turn" this creature as if it were a wriath.  A result of T means the lempo has fled but is not destroyed.  A result of "D" means the lempo has been forced out of the spirit realm into the physical.  Here it may be attacked with magic weapons (AC 9), but it has no attacks to counter. 

If the lempo has fled or has caused enough damage in one village it will move on to the next one.

Lempo–Hiisi is also a trans-Neptunian trinary object along with Paha. Like many of these planetoids, they are named for creatures and characters from the underground, afterlife, and chthonic gods/creatures. 

Depending on your read, Hiisi, Lempo, and Paha could be three unique characters or one with two lesser cohorts, or the name of all such creatures.  

Finnish Maiden
I have mentioned her a few times above, but the personification of Finland is the Finnish Maiden.  I am not sure if there is any relation between them and Ukko's Air Maidens from the D&DG, but it does seem like there could be a thread connecting them.

"Suomi Neito" the Maiden of Finland with map of Finland
Finland and her maiden

She joins the others from nearby lands, Lady of the Mountains (Iceland). Ola Nordmann (Norway), Holger the Dane (Denmark), and Mother Svea (Sweden).

My feeling is there is a lot more to these myths and stories and like always the D&DG is just scratching the surface.  Again, this is not a bad thing.  The D&DG is not a textbook on mythology. 

ETA: I am also submitting this as part of November's RPG Blog Carnival.




Friday, September 18, 2020

One Man's God: Melnibonéan Mythos

Elric by Jeff Dee

Getting back to the mythos in the Deities and Demigods proper I want to take a look at one filled with demons, elementals and other creatures of the multiverse.  The Melnibonéan Mythos of Michael Moorcock.

The Melnibonéan Mythos is one of the two expunged mythoi from the D&DG, the other being the more popular Cthulhu Mythos.  I talked about those myths and some of the controversy around them in a previous installment of One Man's God.  I'll also talk a little more about that at the end, but first, Gods and Demons.

Elric of Melniboné was my gateway to Cthulhu.  I had done all the high fantasy that was popular in the 80s and Tolkien in particular.  But I was looking for something a little darker, something that also appealed to my same frame of mind that loved horror films.  Elric then was the logical next step.

Maybe as much as Tolkien, the works of Michael Moorcock laid down the foundation that was going to be the lens of D&D.  The alignment system, the multiverse, champions of Law and Chaos, all these things came to D&D via Moorcock.  Though in truth for this piece I could also just say Elric since these are the mythos we are discussing today.


Melniboné and Demons

The tales of Elric and Melniboné are overrun with creatures called demons. Everyone from Arioch on down is referred too as a demon in fact.  Elric's own ancestor, Terhali, also known as the Green Empress, ruled Melniboné for 605 years a thousand years before Elric. Her long life was attributed to her mother, who was a demon.  Other creatures in the books are also called demons. Arioch himself appears in many Medieval grimoires as a demon and in Milton's Paradise Lost, Book VI, Line 371.

Whether or not these meet the AD&D Monster Manual criteria for a demon is to be decided.  Let's explore some other details first.

Law & Chaos, Good & Evil

The battles in Elric's world(s) are not just of Good vs. Evil but of Law vs. Chaos. Chaos is shown to be a destructive, and often evil force.  Elric and his kin are all dedicated to the Lords of Chaos and have pacts with many of these lords.  So the "alignment" system of Elric's world view is the same as that as D&D really.  It's where we get it in fact.  So this does free up one issue; creatures described here as being Chaotic Evil are likely appropriately described in their own world and an AD&D one.  We are not going to run into issues here of Chaotic Evil creatures that also protect mothers like in the Aztec myths for example.

Lords of Hell and Demons

The Elric saga takes a "multiple hells" view on the cosmos.  There is more than one hell and they ruled over by Lords of Chaos.  Some of these Lords are also explicitly demons. They are called such in the text.  In many ways, One Man's God and my own games have evolved to be more like this point of view. 

Demons vs. Elemental Lords

There are many creatures of power in the Elric tales (and Moorcock's books as a whole). Some are explicitly demons. Others though are classified as Elemental Lords. These creatures do not see to differ very much the Princes of Elemental Evil first seen in the Fiend Folio.  In the 4e cosmology they would be called Primordials and the Titans and Giants are their offspring.  This also fits in well with the mythology Gary was building in the GDQ series.  So there are at least some relationships between these Elemental Lords and the Demons.  But that is for another day.  Though all of this leads me to two conclusions:

  1. Many demons/creatures/lords of the Elric saga are very much like the demons of AD&D. Or maybe it is the other way around.
  2. Elric might be listed as a "Magic-user 19th level" and "Cleric 10th level" but what he really is, using the current term, is a Warlock.  In fact he might be the exemplar from which we draw from.

But more on that later.

Elemental Lords & Animal Lords

Before I get to the Demons, let's look at the various Elemental Lords Elric has pacts with or is able to summon. We can compare them to other examples in other AD&D works.

In the Melnibonéan Mythos, we have Darnizhaan (NE, Earth), Grome (N, Earth), Kakatal (CN, Fire), Misha (N, Air), and Straasha (N, Water).  Generally speaking, these creatures are more powerful than the Princes of Elemental Evil found in the Fiend Folio. Which would track if these are the "Kings" and the others are just "Princes."

Elemental Lords are not the only creatures Elric encounters. There are also the various Animal Lords, or Master Types.  These are almost taken verbatim for the Monster Manual II Cat Lord and in the later editions of AD&D/D&D.  Among the Animal Lords are Fileet (Lady of Birds), Haaashastaak (Lord of Lizards), Meerclar (Lady of Cats), Nnuuurrr'c'c (Lord of the Insect Swarm), Nuru-ah (Lord of Cattle), and Roofdrak (Lord of Dogs).  Back in the 80s we treated Meeclar as the Cat Lord before the "current" Cat Lord and Bast as the one before Meeclar.  Gary would go on to support our claim in the 90s when he made Gord the new Cat Lord.  all of this fit into our worlds very nicely.

The Demons

Let's get to the demons.  There are lot of creatures in these myths are weird and Chaotic Evil.  BUT, does that make them an AD&D demon?  Well, some fit perfectly, others, we might need to file off some of the edges to make them fit.

Arioch (and Xiombarg)

Let's address the Chaos Lord in the room.  Arioch.  In the books he is Elric's patron.  I believe he is even described as a Patron Demon.  He often referred to a Lord of Hell, a Lord of Chaos and it is said he is worshipped as a god in many worlds.  But is he a god? He is certainly very powerful. On the side of a God is the fact that he can have many avatars on multiple worlds (though in D&D 3 and beyond this would be called an Aspect), on the side of Demon is the fact that he can be summoned, sometimes even against his will. It is possible that Arioch (Knight of Swords), as well as Xiombarg (Queen of Swords) and Mabelode (King of Swords, and not in the D&DG) are Demons, they are just very, very powerful ones on the level of the Arch Dukes of Hell.  

I am inclined to make them powerful Demon Lords/Princes.  Their power is such that would disrupt the hierarchy of Hell (the AD&D Hell), but in the Abyss they can plot and scheme all the like.  Again they have never been described as anything but Chaotic Evil.  I would also argue that their stats in the D&DG might be a touch high. Elric did kill Arioch in the end.

Assassinator of the Gods

Back in the AD&D days we always combined this creature with Ma Yuan of the Chinese Mythos. Though they were not exactly the same.  In this case, I am inclined to make this a completely unique creature. 

Clakar

Chaotic Evil winged apes that can be used as guards.  A bit like a summoned demon, but nothing about them screams demon to me.

Elenoin & Grahluk

These two are in a perpetual race war against each other. Not demons. I always thought of them as the female and male of the same species in a division that has gone very, very wrong.  I say every few years both races have a "pon farr" like time where both are compelled to mate.  While both can be summoned I took this more as they were responding to some other pact made. So they are not demons, but likely commanded or ruled by demons.

Kelmain

Humanoids from Limbo.

Mist Giant

More of a monster than a demon.

Mordagz

Now here is an interesting character. A former Lord of Chaos, he has been "demoted" to a Storm Giant. He could qualify as the classical definition of a demon; a former god reduced in power and status.  His alignment though is Chaotic Neutral.

Pyaray

Now this guy. Lord of the Ocean Abysses. Looks like a demon. Commands a flotilla of sunken ships manned by undead sailors. his soul is stored in the blue crystal on his head like a demon amulet.  Yeah, this one fits the demon description rather well.  His 250 hp makes him a bit more powerful than Demogorgon, but otherwise he is a good fit. We also know that Pyaray and Straasha are bitter enemies. so if Straasha is an Elemental Lord, we can have Pyaray be a Demon Lord.

Quaolnargn

Ok. This one is explicitly called a "demon from the Abyss."

There are more creatures in the tales, but these are what appear in the D&DG.

Elric as a Warlock

The big surprise here is not that there are demons and elementals in this mythos, but that Elric might be better represented as a warlock rather than a wizard, or as he is described in the book, a sorcerer.  We see Elric using magic, but mostly we see him summoning creatures to do his bidding. We rarely see him use the sorts of magics that one might expect of a 19th level magic-user/10th level llusionist/10th level cleric/5th level druid. However, all this magic can be used by a warlock. 

I did a quick build with Elic for the 5th Edition warlock. I made him a tiefling to cover his demonic ancestry and it worked out well.  But a better choice might be a Demonic Pact Warlock using some old-school rules.


My Warlock book for Swords & Wizardry would be a good fit here since I also re-classified the various demons to work with multiple "hells" and planes.

Elric of Melniboné

19th level Warlock, Demonic Pact (Melnibonéan)
Tiefling Male 

Strength: 6
Intelligence: 18
Wisdom: 17
Dexterity: 17
Constituiton: 3
Charisma: 20

Invocations: Arcane Blast, Agonizing Blast, Arcane Mastery*, Arcane Mastery (Greater)**, Arcane Mastery (Superior)***, Beast Speech, Eldritch Sight, Minions of Chaos, Pact Blade, Thirsting Blade

Spells:
1st: Black Fire, Charm Person, Command, Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Obedient Beast, Spirit Servant
2nd: Agony, Burning Gaze, Cause Light Wounds, Clothes of the Emperor, Grasp of the Endless War, Magic Circle Aganist Spirits, Share my Pain
3rd: Astral Sense, Circle of Respite, Clairsentience, Fiend's Shield, Lifesteal, Summon Winged Steed
4th: Arcane Eye, Call Imp, Divine Power, Fear, Spell storing
5th: Blade Dance, Conjuration of Elementals, Extend Spell (Greater), Song of the Night, Ward of Magic

*6th: Invisible Stalker
**7th: Conjuration of Demons
***8th: Symbol

I rather like this. 

And Arioch would fit rather well in my Warlock book too.


And finally,

The "True" Story of the Melnibonéan and Cthulhu Mythos in the D&DG?

Up first an article from DM David.

https://dmdavid.com/tag/the-true-story-of-the-cthulhu-and-elric-sections-removed-from-deities-demigods/

And a video from Seth Skorkowsky on "The Notorious Deities and Demigods (Ft. Sandy Petersen)"

Both are worth the time to go over.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

One Man's God: Basic Demons (BECMI Demons, Part 2)

Last week I cover the topic of Demons in BECMI D&D and Basic Era D&D in general.  I want to expand on that a bit today. Again, this is a bit of a different tone for One Man's God, but it does get at the heart of what OMG is about.

One of Basic D&D's features vs. Advanced D&D is its alignment system of Law vs. Chaos with Neutrality in the middle.  Now a lot of ink and pixels have been spilled over the pros, cons, and everything else about alignment. I am not going to go into that here.  Although I am currently rereading Søren Kierkegaard for the first time since college and he is "still stuck on Abraham," so I wonder if I am going to do a proper talk on demons I might need to go back to the basics and address alignment someday.


So my discussions on demons in BECMI were covered in my Immortals Set Review and One Man's God: The Immortals and Demons of BECMI

Writing so much about witches you can't help but have to read about and write about demons.  The two subjects have been conflated for so long that "witchcraft" and "demonology" are either synonymous in some circles or so tied up together that separating them is difficult. 




Demonic Families and "The Usual Suspects"

Succubus
One of the Usual Suspects. ePic CG
For the "Basic-Era" demons were introduced in the classic D&D (OD&D) Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry.  Here we get what I call "The Ususal Suspects" of demons; Type I to Type VI, Succubi, Orcus and Demogorgon.  The same group appears in the AD&D Monster Manual (with some additions and some names) and then again in the D&D Immortals Set under new names again.  The AD&D game introduces Devils as a separate type of fiend.  Though it should be noted that D&D 4 looked over all the fiends and moved some around.  Notably, the Succubus became a type of devil, due to some machinations of Asmodeus in the "Brimstone Angels" novels.  They became an "independent" type of fiend in D&D 5.

Despite all of that, there is a good reason to include Demons (a chaotic evil fiend) into the milieu of D&D and its cosmic struggle of Law vs. Chaos.   Devils?  Let's save them for AD&D.  Besides, the division is artificial at best.

This division became more pronounced in the AD&D 2nd ed era when TSR caved to the Religious Right and pulled demons and devils.  

Tanar-what? Baate-Who?

One of the Unusual suspects, ePic CG
Demons and Devils would return in Planescape with the bowdlerized names of Tanar'ri and Baatezu respectively.  I remember at the time I was very disappointed in TSR for caving to the pressure of what I felt was a fringe group of religious nutjobs.

While I disapprove of why TSR caved, I approve of what became of it. "Demon" became a generic term to describe any evil outsider.  The "Tanar'ri" were now a specific group of Evil Outsiders that also happened to be chaotic and inhabited the Abyss.  They certain features, such as resistance to various magic and other attacks and certain vulnerabilities too. They were a family of creatures related by certain phenotypical descriptors. Now we have different demonic "families" of fiends. Add Yugoloths/Daemons and Demodands to the official rosters.  We don't have to be limited by "demon" or "devil" alone.  
Sometimes the constraints force us to be more creative.

Later in D&D 3rd Editon era we would get the official Obyrith and Loumara families of chaotic evil demons.  In Green Ronin's Armies of the Abyss and then later Paizo's Pathfinder then added Qlippoth, the OGC version of the Obyriths. Mongoose Publishing gave us the Tzaretch family.  Back at the end of 2nd Edition, I made the Lilim family.  In my Eldritch Witchery (use the link to get it at 50% off!) I introduced the Calabim and Shedim families and the Baalseraph, which is sort of like a family.  In my various Warlock books, I also added Eodemons, or dawn demons. My take on the first of the demonic families.

The scholars can then argue who belongs where.

Spend any time reading demonology text you will soon figure out that these "learned scholars" were just pulling things out of thin air. Sure sometimes you see the same names or even some descriptions that are similar, but otherwise, there is no more validity to the Ars Goetia of the Lesser Key of Solomon than there is to the Monster Manual II when it comes to naming and categorizing demons.  For me, the "key" to unlocking this was the demon Astaroth.

Astaroth and Astártē
What really got me going was what Christian demonologists did with the Goddess Astarte.  Astarte, also known by many other names including Astoreth, was Goddess of love and lust (sex), fertility, and war.  She was obviously connected to Ishtar, Innana,  Isis, and maybe even Aphrodite. She appears throughout the Middle East and even makes an appearance in the Hebrew texts and even in later Christian writings.  But her transformation from fertility goddess to nature goddess to a demon is odd, but not uncommon.  Early Christian writers saw any other god or religion as demonic or even devil worship.  Early Jewish scholars usually never had an issue with other gods. So it is conjectured that when Christian writers and scholars saw Astarte/Astoreth and her crescent moon horns she became a demon.  And a male demon, Astaroth, at that.  It is the primary example for me of how "one man's god is another man's demon." 

Often who was on what list of demonic entities depended on who was writing it and when. One can claim to "go back to the research" but when you are researching what is essentially a completely made-up topic it is not difficult to find something to support your claim.   

For me, that leaves only one satisfactory conclusion.  
Classify these creatures as I like. 

Demons In Basic-Era Games

Do demons belong in (my) Basic-era games?

I figure I have witches, vampires, all sorts of fey creatures, and other monsters.  So yeah there is no good reason to keep them out. 

So there are "demons" in the sense as the world defines them. And there are "demons" as I plan to use them here or, more to the point, have been using them here.  
Translation: Some devils are now demons in my game. 

I have been doing this with the lesser devil types like the barbazu, cornugon and gelugon.  They are all part of the Shedim or demons of rage.   Erinyes remain fallen angels, so technically I suppose that makes them Baalseraphs.

One thing that came up in my review of the Immortals set was how powerful the BECMI demons are vs. their AD&D counterparts.  My idea is to scale them back down.  I like to think of all creatures as being Normal Human focused since that is the world they are in. Player Characters are the rare exceptions. So when a succubus drains life levels with her kiss then it needs to be scaled so that if she chooses a normal human the kiss can still be deadly, but not always so.  I mean someone needs to survive to tell their priest/cleric so it can be written down in a demonology somewhere.

Every version of the game has translated these creatures somewhat differently.  Though there are more commonalities between them than say Medieval demonologies from the so-called experts.  
Demons are legion and defy classification attempts, but that is exactly what I am trying to do.  Essentially make my own "Demonomicon of Iggwilv."


I think if I pursue this idea more I would have to come up with my own demonologies and groupings.  I like the ones I have been using so far, maybe a couple of others might be nice too.   Could be a fun exercise.

Maybe even come up with a witch to do the authoring of it.  I can't really use (nor do I want to use) "Demonomicon" or "Iggwilv." Plus someone new would be fun for a while.

What do you do? Do you have Demons in your Basic, not advanced, games?

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

One Man's God: The Immortals and Demons of BECMI

Ok. So it is July. June is over and so should BECMI month.  The trouble is I find I still have a little more to say.  Plus it would be difficult to properly end BECMI month without a good look at the Immortals themselves.

So far we have run into six named Immortals; Koryis, Kersy (more on her later!), Vanya and Alphaks from Into the Maelstrom and Orcus and Demogorgon from the Immortals DM's Book. None are mentioned (too my knowledge) in the module The Immortal Storm. Of these five, three are demons.  Not just demons in the general sense, but demons in the AD&D (and now D&D) sense. 

One thing made clear in the Immortals game was that Immortals are not gods.  They are powerful beings, with near unlimited magical powers, who occupy the outer planes, and are worshipped by clerics...what was my point here? Oh not gods. Right, totally not gods. Nope.

Except they are.

Alphaks aside (he is a special case), Orcus and Demogorgon are immortals, and demons, and (let's be honest here) minor gods.  Essentially what OMG is all about. 

In the D&D Rules Cyclopedia Immortals are discussed, but specific Immortals are rarely mentioned.  Ka, Odin, and Atzanteotl are mentioned by name and have appeared in other BECMI products over the years.  The conversion notes for D&D to AD&D 2nd Ed in the Cyclopedia gives us this little tidbit:
The Immortals of the D&D system and the deities of the AD&D system should not be converted between the game systems.
They were real set on the whole Immortals ≠ Gods thing.

I wanted to review The Wrath of the Immortals.  But I don't have a copy and DriveThruRPG also doesn't have it.  I have managed to piece together some of the immortals from other products and from the Vaults of Pandius.  A couple of them stick out, Immortals and Faith and the Codex Immortalis by Marco Dalmonte

A few of the "demonic" Immortals mentioned in other products are, Bagni Gullymaw, a demonic troll and the immortal of canibalism and Stodos, a cold-blood Type II/Hezrou demon.  Bagni could be another name of the Other Side favorite Vaprak the destroyer.

What BECMI lacks, and really should have been a major contributor to, are new demons.

So instead of looking to the Gods and Immortals of this "mythos" like I normally do, I should look at the monsters and see which ones make for good demons.  

Demons of BECMI

I should start this part off with a note about another post on Demons in BECMI from Mystara Sage in Residence, Bruce Heard.  He posted about demons earlier this year and it is worth taking a look at.

 Moving away from the Immortal-level rules I look back at the various monsters.  To make my life easier I am just going to look at the D&D Rules Cyclopedia and D&D Creature Catalog.


The Plane of Nightmares was introduced to us in the X series of modules and would then later be expanded on in later Companion and Master books.  There are a few creatures from this plane that certainly qualify as demons.

Diabolus
The devilish Diabolus appeared in the Immortals Set.  They are described as looking like devils essentially but were in most ways human. They could take any human class and were their dimension's equivalent of humans.  The BECMI rules even state they can be played as humans. They were updated in Dragon Magazine #327 as a character race.  
Essentially these are Tieflings. You can play Chaotic or what 5e called demonic tieflings. I'd argue they can only choose "Chaotic" alignment, so Chaotic Good (their default in 2e), Chaotic Neutral or Chaotic Evil.  

Malfera
Few creatures fit the description and general attitude of a demon better than the Malfera.  Let's get into some details.  In the Rules Cyclopedia, we learn they are chaotic. can only be summoned to our plane by a powerful magic-user or Immortal. They are a planar monster. They have massive physical attacks and special attacks. Can open doors as per knock and has higher than normal saves.  Plus they are described as a literal nightmare creature.  If not a demon, then "demon-adjacent."

There are stats for them all over the web.  Here are some from the Vaults of Pandius for 2nd Ed AD&D3rd Ed D&D4th Ed D&D, and 5th Ed. D&D.  A 3.5 version for the Forgotten Realms based on the Dragon #343 version.  The Piazza also has a Malfera and there is another 5th edition version.

Here is the version from the Piazza linked above. They make it a large monstrosity, but they don't give it the extra-planar tag.
And there may be a Malfera / Maelephant connection.  I am going to say related creatures from the same plane. Given that maybe there is a larger creature, a Masdaemon.  sure, Why not. 
Actually, it is close to an idea I was playing with back when I was writing Ghosts of Albion. 

Hellephant
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1-2 (4-9)
ARMOR CLASS: 0
MOVE:  18"/36", special stampede 24"/48"
HIT DICE:  12+36 (90 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  95%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil, Special
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2 + 2 special
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  2-24 (2d12) trample, 2-12 (2d6) gore, 4-48 (4d12) swallow
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Breath Weapon, Swallow whole
SPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +2  or  better weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  10%
INTELLIGENCE:  Animal (savage)
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil
SIZE:  L  (20' tall)
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil, immune to Psionic attacks

Deep in the pits of the abyss roams the monstrous Hellephant.  Believed to be related to both the Malfera and the Maelephant, these creatures are roaming, ever-hungry nightmares. 
They appear to be Mastodons, only twice as large. Their fur appears to be black, but in truth soaked in blood. Their tusks come out from their bottom jaw and curve downward.  This allows them too run their prey down and scoop them up into their terrible maw.  The hellephant is a voracious carnivore and their preferred prey is anything warmblood that will run from them. Their attacks are a trample or a gore. On a successful gore hit the victim must make a saving throw vs. Paralyze or be scooped into the hellwphant's maw.  Once there they are bitten by the monster's rough teeth, still in the shape of the teeth of a plant-eater, and then they are swallowed whole.  The digestive acid causes 4d12 points of damage per round. Resistance to acid attacks can reduce this to half.  The hellephant's digestive system though is not adapted to eating meat so living creatures are exited out in the way of all digested food in 1d4 rounds. The expelled victim, if still alive need to make another save vs. paralysis in order to get up and move out of the way.  The Hellephant, still ravenous, returns to scoop up any victims that are too slow to move and the eating and digestion process begins again.
If a group of 6 or more Hellephants are present they may stampede.  They will run in one direction for several minutes causing maximum trample damage. They will not return to eat any victims left behind.
Hellephants have no treasure, but their ivory is prized through-out the multiverse and is, pound for pound, 10x the price terrestrial elephant ivory. 

Tabi
These small, winged-ape like creatures are chaotic.  They are somewhere between an imp and a flying monkey. 

There are a lot of Chaotic Evil monsters in Post-BECMI Mystara that have appeared that would make good demons.   I think these are the most likely candidates. 
I also think, given the mythos of the world and the roots of it, that demons are fine, but devils (as defined by AD&D 1st Edition) are not.   But hey, that is only for my games.