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

Thursday, September 23, 2021

One Man's God Special: Syncretism Part 1, The Gods of Faerûn

Down to Earth Divinity
This is the start of a multi-part sub-feature of One Man's God. I am going to pull in material from older Dragon Magazines when needed, though not enough to count as a "This Old Dragon."  This series will also allow me to pull in more up-to-date material for the various gods and creatures beyond what was in the  Deities and Demigods. The D&DG will be my starting point, but I am not limited to it now.

Since I have completed all the myths in the Deities and Demigods the initial goal of One Man's God is now complete.  I might, after this, look to other editions of (A)D&D, in particular, 2nd and 3rd but for now, I want to explore some other topics that came up in my OMG posts.

One of those topics is syncretism.

Syncretism is the combining of gods or beliefs into a new set of gods and/or belief systems.  This is something that happens in the real world all the time, though maybe less so now as the prevalence of monotheism is worldwide.  We do see it more modern times in the cases of religions like Vodun and Santería.

While you typically don't see syncretism in AD&D there is at least one excellent example of it. Going all the way back to Dragon #54 from October 1981, we have Ed Greenwood's Down-to-Earth Divinity.  

I am not sure if this article lead to the later developments of what the Cleric can do with their gods or not, but it was most certainly ahead of it's time.  A quick reminder, while Greenwood has been telling us about his campaign for a bit now, the Forgotten Realms, as a product, was not due till 1987.  

I covered this in an early This Old Dragon, here is what I said about it then:

Up first in real articles we have something from Ed Greenwood. So this year (2017) I have been spending some time expanding my knowledge of the Forgotten Realms. This article is one of the earliest articles on the Realms I know of. Down-to-earth Divinity discusses how Ed has put together his Pantheon of Gods. You can easily see how this evolved into the gods of the Realms. I found it interesting that he includes the elemental gods from the Melnibonéan mythos. There are a lot of "reskinned" Deities and Demigods gods here too (which is the point of the article). I liked that Ed specifically mentions that witches worship Selûne. The article is long and seriously good.

I feel I undersold how good this article is for my purposes. So not only can use this as a One Man's God entry in the pure sense it is also the perfect place to discuss syncretism.  The insight to how the Realms gods took shape is fascinating, the implications of what is going here are much more interesting.

For the sake of today's discussion, let us just focus on the Faerûnian Pantheon as a whole.  While they have evolved much since this article (and a further point in my case here). For modern examples, I will refer to the Faerûnian pantheon at the Forgotten Realms wiki.  

Faerûnian Gods

In this article, Greenwood details how he created the Gods of Faerûn.  Many of these gods are "reskinned" versions of Earth gods.  While there is a very practical game-design reason for this there is also an implied in-universe explanation; clerics of those gods came to Toril and brought their gods with them.  We see this in books, like Neil Gaiman's "American Gods" and we see it later in the Realms itself with the Mulhorandi pantheon, which are the Egyptian Gods, not even changed all that much. 

For his Gods Greenwoodchoose to stick pretty close to the first printing of the Deities and Demigods.  Again there are very practical reasons for this.  Here is a breakdown of the "immigrant" gods to Faerûn.

Faerûn D&DG Pantheon Notes
 Azuth  Aarth  Nehwon  Direct port, concept-wise
 Bane  Druaga  Babylonian  Human form
 Chauntea  Demeter  Greek  Direct port
 Gond  Hephaestus  Greek  Direct port
 Ilmater  Issek of the Jug  Nehwon  Some aspects
 Loviatar  Loviatar  Finnish  Direct port
 Mask  Hermes  Greek  No Justice domain
 Mielikki  Mielikki  Finnish  Direct port
 Milil  Bragi  Norse  Changed
 Oghma  Oghma  Celtic  Direct port
 Silvanus  Silvanus  Celtic  Direct port
 Sune  Aphrodite  Greek  Direct port
 Talona  Kipuytto  Finnish  Direct port
 Talos  Storm Gods  Many  Combined aspects of other gods
 Torm  St. Cuthbert  Greyhawk  Concept only
 Tyche / Tymora  Tyche  Greek  Direct port
 Tyr  Try  Norse  Direct port
 Elemental Lords  Elemental Lords   Melnibonéan  Direct port
 Cults of the Beast   Beast Lords  Melnibonéan+   many sources

This is not to imply that all Gods in Faerûn are imports.  Far from it! Many of the gods discussed in the article are different enough from their sources to be considered new gods.  Which is exactly what syncretism does.  There are also plenty of brand new gods.  For example, Mystra is nothing at all like Hecate.

What About Demons and Other Gods?

One Man's God is supposed to be about gods and demons right?  Certainly, the demons of the Monster Manual ARE the demons of Faerûn.  We know that Orcus has had a lot plots and schemes in the Realms since the very start.  And in the opposite direction, One Man's Demon is another's God, Asmodeus went from the Arch Duke of the devils to a God of Evil.  The details of his rise and fall have been dealt with in many books, but the best ones for my money come from the Brimstone Angels series by Erin Evans.

Evans also shows how imported gods can work.  The Pantheon of the Untheric Gods, which were the Babylonian Gods, were re-adopted by the Abeir Dragonborn living in Tymanther. In her book "The Devil You Know" Evans shows Untheric/Babylonian gods first as human-like then as Dragonborn-like as more of the Dragonborn living in Djerad Thymar came to believe in them, in particular the God Enlil.  Is it possible then that Bane IS Druaga, just evolved through the ages that his form has changed?  Isn't that also syncretism?

Nothing Like the Sun...

I have been going over this article for a very long time. There is quite a lot here to tease out and use if you are willing to take the time.  A good example of this comes from a tiny tidbit of information found in the paragraph for Selûne, then just Selune.  We are told that Selune is "revered by witches (and a few may worship her)."  Later on, in the Deity/Character Relationships table, we are told that the witches used are the ones from Dragon Magazine #43.

Reading through the various works on the Moon Goddesses, Selûne and Shar, and the Elven Sehanine Moonbow, there is a lot of back and forth on who is an aspect of who and what not.   This all lead me to a bit of syncretism of my own to combine all three goddesses into one Goddess of the Moon with three aspects.  I detailed this years ago in my "Chanel Divinity" article Nothing Like the Sun.  Each goddess represents the aspects of the triple Goddess; Maiden, Mother, and Crone or Sehanine, Selûne and Shar respectively.  Here they are more than just the Goddesses of the Moon but the Goddess of Witchcraft as well.   The waxing crescent is Sehanine and her "moonbow."  The full moon is the Mother Selûne in her full glory.  The waning crescent is Shar and her sickles to reap the souls of the dead.  But like their Goddess they are reborn as the Maiden once more.

Maiden, Mother, Crone

Realms diehards might ask how can these Goddess exist?  Well, I also ask why does Zeus-Serapis exist when, supposedly, Zeus, Serapis, and  Osiris also still exist?  I like my Gods and Goddesses to be mysterious and strange and maybe a little contradictory.

For a little under 9 pages of text, Ed Greenwood really delivered here.  So much so that in truth this blog post was started months back.  I wanted to go back and reread posts I had made about this, posts I had made influenced by this, and more Forgotten Realms information.    In truth, I could go on much longer about this topic just in the Realms themselves, the world is much more dynamic that I had given it credit for, but I am going to stay on topic here and move on to other worlds and other gods.

So. Thank You, Ed Greenwood. This is quite a quality bit of work.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

This Old Dragon: Issue #110

Dragon Magazine #110
While this one was on my list to do, I moved it to this week for a very obvious reason, which I'll get to, but in the meantime let us looking what Issue #110, the Tenth Anniversary issue of Dragon has to offer.

It is June 1986 and what came to be known as the Dragon Wars had begun in my campaign world.  My regular DM had graduated and was preparing to go off to the Air Force.  I was concentrating on getting in as many math and science classes as I could prior to going off to college.  It was an interesting time.

I remember sitting down in the Pavilion at Nichols Park in my hometown reading over this issue. It seemed to be filled with great things.  I am happy to report that my memory lives up to reality. 

Before we get into the magazine proper let's take a moment to marvel at this cover by Kevin Davies, The Vanquished Cavalier.  Likely one of the top 10 covers in my opinion.  And it is art you can buy for your own projects. 

Kim Mohan discusses the 10th Anniversary of Dragon Magazine here, noting that there will be less hoopla now than in Issue #100.  Future anniversaries will have a bit more "pomp."

Letters cover the topics of the day, namely more revisions of the Ranger.  Seriously has anyone EVER been happy with the Ranger??  One letter asks if the Electronic Eye is ever coming back and we told that yes, a computer-based column is back in this issue.  I was quite pleased with this. I had just bought a new computer, a Color Computer 3 but they never covered games for it.  Backed the wrong horse that time, but I can't complain.  Like the Old-School Revival for D&D there is an Old-School Revival (of sorts) for old computers.  

The Forum covers the lament of the time, this too much Greyhawk in the pages of Dragon and the Unearthed Arcana.  I remember all of this. Oh to have those problems now.  

Our first article is from Ed Greenwood and it is a classic in my mind.  The Cult of the Dragon not only introduces the titular cult, it also introduces us to the Dracolich.  Re-reading it now I find it interesting that the genesis of this article comes from Dragonlance.  Well, the Realms Boxed set won't be released for a little yet. The article was an early favorite of mine and I spent a lot of time comparing this article to the classic Blueprint for a Lich from Best of Dragon Vol. II.  I really respected what Ed was doing here.  Rereading it now I am still marveling at how good it still is.  I might need to incorporate this into my games somehow.  The cult migrated from Krynn to Toril and then to the rest of the multiverse.   This is of course the best thing to use in a Dragon article; finding something and making it work for your game. 

Up next are two articles that would make up a One Man's God: Norse Mythos, Part II.  The two articles came to the Dragon offices at the same time so they decided to run them both.

The first is For Better or Norse: I Equal time for the members of the Vanir by Joel McGraw.  This one covers the Vanir gods.  Of personal interest, we get Angur-boda, Grid, and Gullveig are all described variously as witches.  There are also stats for Njord, Mimir, Nidhogg, and Utgard-Loki the "star" of the first Norse myth I ever read.  Honestly, these should be glued into my D&DG. Again none of these would really be considered AD&D demons.

Next is For Better or Norse: II New Descriptions of Some Old Favorites by Carl Sargent.  This one gives us some updates to the Norse gods found in the D&DG.  Featured are Niord (spelled differently this time), Frey, Freya, and Loki.  Loki gets the biggest change, going from Chaotic Evil to Chaotic Neutral.  I felt at the time this was a good change.  I still do, but now I have a greater appreciation of the myths and the character.  Again, I wish I could paste this one into my D&DG.

An ad for one of my favorite Near-D&D products of all time, the Arcanum.

The Arcanum

Another Ed Greenwood article is next and it is one only Ed can do; All about Elminster.  I went from being mildly annoyed by Elminster (here) to outright dislike, to rabid dislike (2nd Ed), to acceptance (3rd ed) and even a begrudging like (now).  The article is actually rather fun.  Elminster is a 26th level magic-user.  The article also includes some new spells which is expected.  I am not sure how these compare to his 3rd Edition stats.  Since my issue is falling apart anyway this will go into my Forgotten Realms boxed set.

The Role of Computers is up for it's debut.   Examples are given for the Macintosh computer, arguably the most advanced machine at the time.  

Leonard Carpenter is up with Dragon Damage Revisited.  This revises the damage done by dragons from the Fiend Folio, Monster Manual II, and the gemstone dragons.  This very conversation came up the other day online in talking about 1st Ed dragons.  You  can see how across the editions they made dragons more and more powerful.  These numbers look pretty good, I'll have to dig up the first in the series and see what their logic is. 

Our centerpiece adventure is The House in the Frozen Lands by James Adams.  I always thought this was more tied directly to the Norse myths, but I think that was only my memory.  The adventure is for 6-10 characters of 4th to 8th level.   If nothing else there are some good ideas of the types of encounters one can find in an arctic environment.  The adventure always looked interesting to me since it didn't feel like a dungeon crawl.

TSR Previews lets us know what is coming out in July and August of 1986.  I remember buying REF2 Character Sheets and then taking them to college where I ran off 100s of copies at Kinkos on different colored sheets.  In fact, I still have some.  Those sheets outlived both TSR and Kinkos.  I had never heard of some of the board games here, but I did find listings for The BROADWAY Game and The HONEYMOONERS Game.  Nothing though in my quick search for The PARAMOUNT Game.

TSR Previews July/Aug 1986

The fiction section is The Wizard's Boy by Nancy Varian Berberick. I didn't read it, but Berberick went on to write more novels and short stories including a few Dragonlance ones for Wizards. 

Moving on to the Arēs section. 

Knowledge is Power by John M. Maxstadt gives us a skill system for Gamma World. This looks like it is for 2nd Edition GW, but I will admit I am not knowledgeable on the differences between 2nd and 3rd.  

There is a bit on underwater action in Star Frontiers from William Tracy in Going for a Swim.  I am pretty sure that I never had characters go underwater ever in SF. Space yes, sea no.  BUT that all being said there are some good ideas here that are useful to most games. This includes getting "the bends" and movement and other hazards. The article really does read like a 20th-century point of view rather than a futuristic one.  I would assume that a culture capable of FTL flight had worked some of these other issues out as well. 

Piece of the Action details organized crime in Paranoia. This is another one of those articles that would later get Wizards of the Coast into trouble with the Dragon CD-ROM.  It is copyrighted 1986 by the author Ken Tovar. 

Gamers' Guide gives us our small ads. I love looking at this even if I know most, if not all, these places have long since closed up shop. 

Gamers' Guide 1986

One thing though. Lou Zocchi's ad mentions he is selling the original Deities & Demigods with Cthulhu and Elric. No shock there, but there is also a mention of the BROWN cover Monster Manuals that are the same of the current Blue cover.  What is he talking about here?  Does he mean the original 1977 cover versus the orange spine?  That is the only thing I can think of to be honest.

Lou Zocchi's ad

Convention Calendar gives us the happenings of Summer 1986.  None were close to me.

Dragonsmirth, Snarf Quest, and Wormy follow.

Gamers of a certain will go on and on about how great Dragon was in the early 80s. And to a large part I agree, it was great.  But the late 80s and even into the 90s Dragon was great as well, for different reasons.  The first 10 years of Dragon captured the hobby in its early days and its DIY attitude, which one of the big reasons people loved it AND the same attitude that drove the early days of the OSR.  Dragon entering its second decade was a more polished magazine and the article quality had improved.  DIY was still there, but not the gritty DIY of the 1970s and early 80s.  Still, I find a lot in these pages, 1986 to 1996, that I find very useful and more to the point, things I would still use today.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

One Man's God: Norse Mythos

Norse Mythos
And here we are.  The last of my regular features of One Man's God.  I wanted to save the Norse for last because in many ways it was the myths of the Norse that showed me that there was a whole other world of myths and legends beyond the Greek.  This happened, as it turned out, during a series of events that would lead me to D&D.   In many ways the myths of the Norse are the most "D&D" of them all.  The Monster Manual might be full of monsters of the Greek myths, the Norse myths run a very close second.

The purpose though of One Man's God is to talk about demons.  So let's get to it.

There are a lot of great entries for gods here and there are some really powerful monsters.  But there isn't really anything here that says "demon" as D&D defines them.   Or is there?

Among the creatures, we have the children of Loki, who here is listed as Chaotic Evil, who certainly could be considered demons.  The Fenris Wolf is variously described as demonic and is Chaotic Evil. The same is true for Jormungandr.  But they really don't fit the notion of demons. There is a type of creature from Norse Myth that does, the Jötunn.

Jötunar as Demons

There are a lot of good reasons to list the Jötunn as demons, even in the classical sense. The word Jötunn is often translated as "giant" or even "troll,"  but another translation is "devourer."  This word is also the source of the word Ettin.  

They are also described as predating the gods, coming from the primordial chaos, and the enemies of the gods.  Sounds pretty demonic to me.  It also sounds like the Titans of Greek myth, but more on that later.

The D&DG tells us that,

Giants in Norse Myth D&DG

This lives on in the 4th Edition D&D mythology about Giants, Titans, and Primordials. 

Fire Giant
Jötunn, Inferno
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1-4
ARMOR CLASS: -2
MOVE: 24" 
HIT DICE:  15+75 (143 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  0%
TREASURE  TYPE:  E, Q (x10), R
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  Flaming Sword 2d12+5 (x2)
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Fire Aura (2d6)
SPECIAL  DEFENSES: +2  or  better weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  55%
INTELLIGENCE:  Average
ALIGNMENT:  Lawful Evil
SIZE:  L  (20')
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil

The progenitors of the Fire Giants, the Inferno Jötunn are a truly horrible sight to behold.  They tower over the Storm Giants and rival the Titans in sheer size and strength.   They are surrounded by flames and even their eyes, hair, and mouths are filled with flames. They are more violent than their cousins from Niflheim and Jötunheimr, the Rime Jötunn, but leave their lands much less often. 

Inferno Jötunn all come from the land of Muspelheim, also known as Múspell which is also another name for these creatures.  Muspelheim is a land of bright, white-hot flames that only these creatures and their fire giant offspring can withstand.

Inferno Jötunn are surrounded by flames that deal 2d6 hp of damage at all times.  They wield great swords of flame and attack with their great strength (2d12+5) twice per round.  Inferno Jötunn are immune to normal and magical fire including dragon breath.  They have magic resistance at 55%.  Rare individuals can also cast spells as a 9th level magic-user.

Their king is Sutur, also known as Surt. He commands his subjects with an iron fist. 

Frost Giant
Jötunn, Rime
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1-4
ARMOR CLASS: -3
MOVE: 24"
HIT DICE:  18+90 (171 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  0%
TREASURE  TYPE:  E, Q (x10), R
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  2
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  Frost brand sword 2d12+6 (x2)
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Chill Aura (2d6)
SPECIAL  DEFENSES: +2  or  better weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  55%
INTELLIGENCE:  Average
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil
SIZE:  L (21')
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil

Rime Jötunn are the primordial Frost Giants that first rose from Niflheim.  Unlike the Inferno Jötunn, they range far and wide and are constantly battling with the Gods and other giants.

Rime Jötunn are surrounded by an aura of cold that deals 2d6 hp of damage at all times.  They wield great swords of ice and attack with their great strength (2d12+6) twice per round.  Rime Jötunn are immune to normal and magical cold including dragon breath.  They have magic resistance at 55%.  Rare individuals can also cast spells as a 9th level cleric.

These Jötunar can also adjust their size to appear as a human or elf as they need. 

Niflheim is a cold, dark place of mists, ice, and gloom.  Here the Rime Jötunn await with their lord Thrym to wage the final war on the gods in Ragnarök.  Until they will cause as much evil as they can.

--

Rereading the Norse Myths you get the feeling that the Jötunar are more elemental in nature than even the fire and frost giants of D&D. Again in this respect, D&D 4th Edition had some great ideas.

While there are plenty of supernatural creatures in the lore of the Norsemen, with trolls and giants among the more popular, they are not represented in the D&DG and indeed mainly play a lesser role to the Gods and the dwarves of Norse myth.

And here are.  The last of the regular entries for One Man's God.  I have a few specials in mind to wrap up some ideas from this series and a "Norse Mythos, Part II" in a way later this week with a new "This Old Dragon."  All in all, I am a little sorry to see it end. It has been a lot of fun.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

One Man's God: Japanese Mythos

D&DG Japanese Mythos
It's been a while I figure today is a good day for another One Man's God. A brief review of the purpose and "rules" here.

The purpose of One Man's God is to see how I can take the creatures of the various mythos as they appear in the Deities and Demigods and see how they could have been represented as AD&D demons. NOT Abrahamic religion demons, or even esoteric or occult demons, but AD&D demons as they appeared in and defined by the Monster Manual, Fiend Folio, and Monster Manual II.  

That is my first rule.  So no need to come at me saying "X culture did not have demons."  Not only are demons in D&D not real, no demons are real, so by that logic no culture has demons, but all cultures have stories of demons and stories can be retold.

Also, this is NOT a criticism of the research methods of the original authors and researchers of the Deities and Demigods.  It is easy for me to criticize sitting here in my office chair in 2021 with access to pretty every written book, scholarly article, and more in any language at my fingertips.   They had the local library.  So another rule is I can't criticize the material based on what I can research now.  I can use research from now to help inform my opinions, but that is all.

I can look a little beyond my sources here (D&DG, MM, FF, and MM2) to see what could fit into these based on the rules above.  But I am not going to add to much more beyond that. That's what Monstrous Monday is for.

Ok? Cool?  Great! 

Today I want to hit one that was HUGE back in the 80s. Japanese Mythos

Growing up in the 80s you could not help be nearly overwhelmed with references to or from Japanese culture.  Well...not real Japanese culture, a weird American version of it for mass consumption.  Ninjas, karate, Richard Chamberlain running around in a kimono on TV in Shōgun, and more than I can remember.  I even got caught up in it all and found some Japanese myths to read, in particular the tales of Momotarō (the Peach Boy). 

It was odd that almost none* of what I read connected back to the myths in the D&DG.  Now I see that their myths are too widely varied, complex, and even some had not been translated to an easily consumable English version.  Some concepts in Japanese do not have good English equivalents. My first year in grad school I took Japanese as an extra elective, I found it extremely fascinating and remarkably difficult.  The Deities & Demigods even touches on this with the concept of Kami.  We would use the word like "god" or "spirit,"  even in the Goddess Amaterasu we get the word "Omikami" or more appropriately, Ōmikami.  

*I will talk about what did connect.

The Gods and Goddesses

Despite how interesting these myths are and how much they were likely used, there are only five pages of them in D&DG and only 13 entries.  There are heroes, which is really important for the tales, most of the stories of Japan are about the exploits of the heroes. Of these, I only recall reading about Yamamoto Date.  But that has far more to do with Me not reading everything on Japanese myths.

Of the Gods the best known are the trinity of Amaterasu (the Sun Goddess, "the great august deity"), Tsukiyomi (the Moon God), and Susanoo (the God of Storms and Seas).  Now, these are the stories I know well.  I am remarkably pleased that the depictions and stats match up well with my personal ideas of what these gods are.  Amaterasu is easily the most powerful god in this book, thankfully for the mortals, she is Lawful Good.  In my games, there was no greater foe of the undead than her. And let me just say I am so pleased the authors did not take the easy way out and make Susanowo Chaotic Evil and went with the more appropriate Chaotic Neutral.

A couple of Goddesses that I remember reading about didn't make it in.  I mean I easily see why, but still, it would have been nice to see them.

Ame-no-Uzume

Ame-no-Uzume is the Goddess of the Dawn and for her role in the story of Amaterasu and the Cave she is the Goddess of Revelry.  In many ways the "darker" versions of Amaterasu and Ame-no-Uzume can be found in my "Nox" and "Syla" the goddess of the Dusk and Near Dark.

But back to Uzume.  I am not the first to point this one out and many others more read than me have done a better job.  But if you want to bring Ame-no-Uzume all you need to do is turn a few pages back to the Indian myths and bring over the similarity named Ushas, the Goddess of the Dawn. Her stats are pretty much perfect as is.  

Isshin-ryū Mizo-Game
Mizo-Game

Oh, Mizu Game. How you have vexed me over the years.

So WAY back in the day I decided to take karate lessons, their was a local place that was offering Isshin-ryū Karate and I decided to join.  I spent a couple years doing it. I was good, not great, but I felt like it achieved my then goal of getting some extra exercise.  The important part for today is the Isshin-ryū patch.  I was told that the half-woman/half-dragon goddess on the patch was Mizo-Game a Sea Goddess.  So naturally, I wanted a character that worshipped her.  But outside of Isshin-ryū I could not find out anything about her.  And you know what?  I STILL can't.  Every so often I get the idea to search for her again and I have only limited success.

Now with this post, it's going to mess with my search algorithms even more! 

I had hoped to find a goddess I could borrow from other myths, like I do for Uaume, but nothing came up.  She would be a Lawful Neutral demigoddess of the sea.  She related to dragons and to the other gods.

Mizo Game in Isshin-ryū

Demons

While this is all fantastic. There are no monsters here, let alone any demons. 

A while back I talked about the Yaoguai or Chinese demons.   The name means something like "strange ghost" or "strange devil."  In Japan, similar creatures are called Yōkai. Which also means "strange apparition."

In my games, Yaoguai and Yōkai are both different lineages of demons that are related.   There are no creatures listed in the D&DG that would count.  The closest we get is the Ogre Mage, also called the "Japanese Ogre" in the Monster Manual.  BUT that creature is obviously based on the Oni. 

Are Oni demons or yōkai?  I am going to say no. The tales of Momotarō, also known as the Peach Boy, feature many Oni, and while they are powerful and even a little supernatural, but they are not really demons.  Sadly even branching out into the Oriental Adventures does not help here.  Though there are also Ushi-oni that are very much yōkai and Oni are said to have come from the "demon gate/"

For demons and yōkai it would seem I am on my own and I have a lot more research and reading to do.

No Yōkai here.

Expect to see some Yōkai in future Monstrous Mondays. Will I reclassify Oni as demons?  No idea yet.

It's too bad that with all the material out there on Yōkai that so little to almost none made it into AD&D.

There is only one more set of myths left in this series and I am hoping it will be a big one!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

One Man's God: Celtic Myths, Part 2

Irish Witchcraft & Demonology
Lá Fhéile Pádraig sona daoibh!

Been a LONG time coming for this part 2.  I wanted to read some more myths of Ireland and Wales in particular before moving on.  One book, in particular, I wanted to make sure I read was Irish Witchcraft & Demonology by St. John D. Seymour. It is such a fun book that I could not pass up owning a copy, especially when I could buy it from the personal collection of Wednesday Mourning!

One of the things we must keep in mind when reading any Celtic myth or story is that the ones we have now were handed down to us from oral traditions and then recorded by Irish Christian monks.  While I am sure they did their best to preserve what they could they undoubtedly recorded them from the point of view of a Christian.  Even the later King Cycle of Irish myths included Christian themes. 

What does that mean to us, or more to the point, me and One Man's God?  Often it is not easy to tell if a "demon" from a Celtic Myth is a demon in their own world view OR a demon from the Christian world view.  Don't claim they all have to be Christian, we don't know and the experts are also split. But that honestly should not matter to us.  I don't care if they are a "Celtic demon" or "Christian demon,"  are they a "Monster Manual Demon?"

Thankfully we have some candidates. But first let's go back to our primary source, the AD&D Deities & Demigods

I mentioned in my Part 1 that there are not a lot of great candidates for demons in the text of the D&DG. I even disagree with the idea that Arawn is Lawful Evil. After rereading the First Branch of the Mabinogi I see the Lawful, but not the Evil.  Lawful Neutral is a better fit really. His abode, Annwn, is described as beautiful, unchanging, and without pain or suffering.  Hardly the MO of an evil god.

There are creatures though that could be described as demons.

Irish Witchcraft & Demonology and Celtic Myths

Air Demon

I did a write-up a bit ago about the Swan Maidens and the Children of Lir.  In the tale Aoifé, step-mother of the Children of Lir, turned the children into swans. As punishment, she was changed into a Demon of the Air.  We know from the tale that demons of the air are immortal.  

Air Demon
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1-4
ARMOR CLASS: 2
MOVE:  0" Fly 24"
HIT DICE:  4+4 (22 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  0%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  1
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  Wind Blast 1d6 (60')
SPECIAL  ATTACKS:  Chill (2d4) x3, Invisible
SPECIAL  DEFENSES:  +1  or  better weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  25%
INTELLIGENCE:  Average
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil
SIZE:  M  (5')
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil

Wind Demons are among the weakest of demons.  They lack physical bodies and are functionally invisible.  Detect magic, detect evil, or detect invisible will reveal the location of the demon, which will appear as a faint outline of a humanoid creature.  The creature's evil intent is dampened only by their inability to interact with physical items including people. 

They try to cause havoc as much as they can in their own limited way.  They can attack with blasts of wind that whip up items to cause damage.  Additionally, three times per day the Air Demon can cause a blast of chill wind for 2d4 hp of damage to anyone within 15' of the location of the demon.

Air Demons are pitied more often than feared.  Their blasts of wind are ineffective from a distance and their howls of rage are sounds of a gale. They are immortal but lacking substance they can never interact with anything.  Even other air demons are as mist to them.

Demon Boar

The importance of the wild boar and the boar hunt in Celtic myth and even life can't be understated. The Welsh prince Twrch Trwyth was transformed into a boar.  Diarmuid the Irish warrior and member of the Fianna goes on a boar hunt but is killed by the Great Boar of Ben Bulben who had been his transformed half-brother. There are plenty of other examples of boars as monsters in Irish my including one with Cú Chulainn about a giant boar with tusks of gold and a hide as thick as armor. 

Demon Boar
FREQUENCY:  Very Rare
NO.  APPEARING:  1
ARMOR CLASS: -1
MOVE:  18"
HIT DICE:  9+9 (50 hp)
%  IN  LAIR:  25%
TREASURE  TYPE:  Nil
NO.  OF  ATTACKS:  1 gore (slashing)
DAMAGE/ATTACK:  2d8+4
SPECIAL  ATTACKS: Cause Fear
SPECIAL  DEFENSES:  Magic weapon to hit
MAGIC  RESISTANCE:  25%
INTELLIGENCE:  Low
ALIGNMENT:  Chaotic  Evil
SIZE:  L  (8')
PSIONIC ABILITY:  Nil

The demon boar is a demonic spirit that inhabits the body of a boar and creates a true monster. 

The boar grows large and fierce. Its tusks become gold and razor-sharp.  Its hooves become iron and cause flames to erupt as it runs.   Its natural hide is thick as armor. It is immune to all but magical weapons.

The Demon Boar is intelligent enough to plan and scheme.  Some can even speak.  Its normal tactic is to encounter a group of hunters and use its Cause Fear to scatter them into smaller groups.   It then will pick off the hunters one by one.  It relishes in the death and fear it causes.    It lives only to kill great heroes.

Only great weapons such as the Gáe Bulg of Cú Chulainn or the Claíomh Solais of Nuada Airgeadlámh have any chance of bringing this fiend down.

Irish Ways and Irish Laws

I love Celtic myth and history. It is all just so fantastic and fascinates me a in way that Greek and Norse myths never did, though the Norse myths come close.

Since I mentioned the book Irish Witchcraft & Demonology I should link out to the write-up I did on Ireland's most notorious witch, Alice Kyteler.

One of my favorite bits of Irish and Celtic mythology for a game is Brian Young's Castles & Crusades Codex Celtarum.  Brian has a Ph.D. in Bythronic languages and has been a gamer even longer.  He is exactly the sort of person I'd want to write a book like this.  Sure, you don't need a Ph.D. to write game materials, but it sure helps! 

And finally here is one I just found today, but it has been up for a bit.  FilmRise has the entire 1987, 6-part BBC Studios documentary, The Celts, on YouTube.  This fantastic documentary educated many on the history and archeology of the Celts as well as introducing the world to the music of Enya.



Go n-éirí an bóthar leat!

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!