Friday, 20 September 2019

Plait the Hair – An Erythraean spell

"One day a raft appeared with an image of Herakles the Dactyl on board, halfway between Chios and Erythrae. A tug of war resulted as the men of Chios and the Erythrean men both struggled to draw it to their own shore, but neither could prevail. Phormion, who - like Stesichorus - was blind, dreamt that the Thracian women of Erythrae, by plaiting their hair into a rope, could draw the image ashore, which they duly did. Afterwards the rope was laid in a sacred house; Phormion visited it and was cured of blindness." 
Encyclopaedia Goetica, Volume 2 - Geosophia - The Argo of Magic, Jake Stratton-Kent

This spell weaves a magical rope of legendary strength out of ten people’s hair. The rope can be directed towards any visible target upon sea or land (not air), though the further it goes, the harder it is to control and the greater the toll it takes upon the caster. Secluded settlements have been using the spell to pull ships (and their cargo) upon rocky coasts.

Apart from the main caster, the spell requires ten long-haired persons (each called Clotho during the ritual), two aides in charge of braiding (each called Lachesis), and one person (Atropos) who holds the sacred scissors with which the hair are cut when it is time for the spell to end. 

Ritual Procedure: The Clotho aides are hang upside-down in nets, their hair dangling. The caster moves to a spot that provides a line of sight towards the target, and sleeps there by use of potion, herb or magic. Then the Lachesis aides start braiding. 
The spell begins to work as soon as the first braids are completed, slowly but steadily extending the length of the hair. As soon as all braids are united, the rope is ready. It is then that the dreaming caster starts guiding the rope with her will. Once the rope finds its target, it starts coiling around it. If the target is animate, or controlled by animate beings, a grappling battle begins (treat the rope as a sea serpent or a kraken tentacle immune to non-magical damage). Otherwise, the rope is wrapped tightly around the target and starts pulling it where the caster directs it.
When this is over, the Atropos must cut the hair of all the Clotho people with the sacred scissors, at which point the spell ends and the caster awakes, alas bereft of vision for one month per kilometer traveled.
The rope is coiled by the Clotho aides, and transferred and stored to a holy place (a house of gods in the case of Erythrae). During the months of the main caster’s blindness, all other blind people who touch the rope are cured.

Notes:
-The rope is unnaturally thick, roughly two meters in diameter.
-The rope can pull any item as long as it isn't part of the earth. Thus a huge ship can be pulled, while a stone lying half-buried in the earth (that has not been excavated by human hand) cannot.
-The rope’s speed is roughly one kilometer per turn/10 minutes.
-For each five kilometers (beyond the first five) traveled by the rope the caster is required to make a suitable test, spell check or saving throw with a steadily increasing difficulty. If she fails it, the control is broken and the rope swiftly coils back to its source, where it unravels, each braid trying to suffocate the person it originates from. If the Atropos aide is not fast enough with the scissors, the Clotho ones die in a matter of minutes.
-Due to the risk involved, most casters do not guide the rope beyond 5 kilometers.
-Cutting the hair without the Atropos scissors is not an easy task. For the duration of the spell they are hard as steel wire.
-After the spell's completion, the rope loses its extraordinary flexibility, though it gains the power to heal blindness as mentioned above. Also, it can be used as a fishing net in times of need, if the braids are sufficiently loosened. This can happen only once for each rope; afterwards it becomes useless. Fish and other sea beings caught in the hair provide unnatural sustenance but also tend to whisper long after they have been eaten – they may reveal sea secrets but they also make concentration and sleep hard for a month.

Friday, 6 September 2019

Found in a forest clearing



Here are three tables I created some months ago, to be used in forests with a folk/mythological atmosphere (Dolmenwood is the obvious choice, ideally with a hint of Siberian shamanism).

Friday, 23 August 2019

Of hearth infants; an elven origin



For a number of nights after giving birth to Achilles, Thetis kept passing him through the hearth flames so as to burn away his mortality. Unfortunately, she was unable to complete her work, because of her husband, Peleus, who stumbled upon the (gruesome to his eyes) scene one night; thinking that his wife was trying to incinerate their son, he interrupted her. Thus Achilles was left an (undoubtedly mighty) half-mortal, with a glorious albeit short lifespan.
 
When the goddess Demeter roamed the earth in mourning for her daughter’s (Persephone) abduction, she visited the palace of Celeus, king of Eleusis, in the guise of an old crone. He welcomed her and asked her to nurse his newborn son Demophon. Wanting to reward the king for his hospitality, Demeter passed the infant through the hearth flames each night, in order to burn away his mortality and turn him into a god. Alas, as in the case of Achilles, one of the boy’s parents (the mother this time) chanced upon the night scene and interrupted the ritual. To make things worse, in this case the infant wasn’t powerful enough to survive the ritual’s interruption.


The idea that mortality can be burnt away in the hearth flames is a memorable one and has long fascinated me. Stumbling once more recently upon the Demeter myth in Martin Persson Nilsson’s Greek Folk Religion, I thought about how this removal of mortality can be distilled and transmuted in game terms. What I ended up with is a rough take on elves and half-elves; how these races come into being and what sets them apart from humanity.

The core idea:
Infants that are passed through the flames of the hearth by their otherworldly wet-nurses or mothers for a number of nights (3 or 7 or what reasonable magic number suits you) become elves – this is how elves come into being. If the process is interrupted and the infant survives (5% chance), it becomes a half-elf.

Concerning the process itself:
-The power of the ritual does not solely lie in the hearth fire or in the person manipulating the infant. Rather, it is the combination of the two aforementioned elements that makes the magic work.

-The caster of the ritual must be a full-blooded elf or a divinity, and the hearth fire must have been burning continuously for at least a whole week (that is why people are over-protective of winter-born children and cold autumns). For the purposes of this text, a hearth fire is any fire around which people gather to warm themselves and tell stories: a fireplace, a stove, a campfire, even the oven if people usually gather beside it in winter while food is cooking. [Note 1: If a human/half-elf/other pushes an infant through the hearth flames, the child will be burnt. In the case of the half-elf there may optionally be a very small chance (1% or less) of it working – but then there is the matter of how the half-elf will find the way to the Elfland (see below), for only true elves have been taught the way.]

-Upon the ritual’s completion the caster takes the newly-transformed elfling and departs for the otherworld/Elfland/beyond-the-hedge/wherever it is that elves dwell in your world (preferably in a place that reeks of otherness and myth). [Note 2: As a side-note, they may leave in its stead a changeling, which becomes a half-elf. This fits nicely with changeling folklore, the kidnapping of infants by elves, etc.]


Parenting:
There are people that consider their child’s immortality a great gift that overshadows its being raised far away from them. As a result, they try to attract elven midwifes and caretakers; a task rarely successful, for elves work in mysterious ways. Of course, there are creatures (wizards, hags, shades, pregnant ghosts, intelligent cuckoos, the new moon) that try to take advantage of the situation, passing themselves as elves in order to snatch the baby.

How to attract an elven midwife (aka adventure seeds):
  1. Burn the last corn of the year in the hearth at midnight, and douse it with snow from the highest mountains (above the permanent snow line).
  2. Carve the baby’s true name on an eagle shoulder bone and hang it above the threshold.
  3. Recite a prayer in front of a mirror that has seen a basilisk or medusa.
  4. Leave a plate of wooden/earthen fruits (found in dense forests and deep underground respectively) on the windowsill.
  5. Fill a gown with twigs stepped upon by criminals on their way to the gallows.
  6. Count the grains of sand in a blessed hourglass and plant each, separately, in the garden.

Most parents, however, tremble with the idea of their child being taken and raised apart from them. That is why they are extremely suspicious with autumn and winter visitors, and snuff out the hearth fire at least once per week.

Concerning the races:

Half-elves: They grow among humans but they usually feel slightly out of touch with them. Half-elves have the potential of living longer than humans, though they usually die young and tragically: they all have a mortal weakness; their mode of death, or a condition pertaining to it, is always foretold in prophecy. [see table] If they are doing a deed that requires prolonged activity and is heroic in conception, then not only are they not tired or need sustenance, but they show superhuman resilience and skill; the deed must be something that verges on the heroic in spirit (run for a whole night in order to save someone, stand guard at a passage fighting off enemies, etc).  Half-elven children do not have a proper elven mien (see below, in the elven section), though distant echoes of it may appear as a flickering flame in the eye pupils or whispers in an unknown language. They are mightier than both humans and elves, akin to mythological heroes.

Table of Preordained Half-Elf Banes & Dooms:
  1. Will die by a wound in a specific body part (heel, ear, left palm, tip of the finger, etc).
  2. Will live until a particular piece of firewood burns completely (usually, this log is kept in a safe place by the half-elf and/or its family).
  3. When a bird knocks three times thrice upon the stone on which the half-elf was born, the half-elf will fall.
  4. A river will not tolerate the half-elf’s bloodlust and rise up to drown it.
  5. A traveler both known and unknown, relative and lover, foe and friend, will be the bane.
  6. Will die when forced to speak its true name in complete silence.
Elves: They are the stuff of legend, immortal otherworldly beings. They know the way to Elfland. They may eat and drink, though they need not to. They cannot be truly killed. However, they can be defeated at which point they are banished (their body gone, leaving behind ashes and clothes/equipment); their return to the world may take hours or years, as they nurse their wounds in the Elfland (where time is a mysterious thing, having nothing of the inevitability and single-mindedness of our world’s time).

In almost all of cases, elf babies are taken by their mother or nurse to the otherworld/elven place. This is because their grandeur may literally kill mortals; having no control over their glamour, even their sole presence may immolate a mortal gazing upon them. In game terms, elven children may (especially when angry or blissful) manifest a flaming mien accompanied by unnatural sounds that causes fire and divine damage to all nearby mortals. Elven adults have managed to control the mien, but as a result it has been rendered dormant; the power is at odds with any sort of control.

Both races have a special relationship with hearth fire: Elves are invulnerable to it, while half-elves are resistant (other kinds of fire may damage both races normally). Both races can make people take vows upon the hearth, which vows become binding. Elves can manipulate the flame in subtle ways, creating shadows, lessening or heightening its light. They can draw sustenance (eliminating their need for rest) and power (empowering their magic) from it, though they must serve the people of the hearth for a time if they do so.



Mortality ashes:
Mortality is a fleeting, immaterial thing which, surprisingly, leaves material ashes after each ritual night. These ashes are treasured. They can be made into potions that accelerate or delay old age. If scattered in a field anything that grows in it has blood inside. If used as fertilizer for mandrakes, the plants will initiate a cult or coven.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Velkeres - Lords of the Frigid Breath



Velkeres were part of the folklore of the villages of eastern Pelion mountain until roughly the start of 20th century. Wintry spirits, they were alien personifications of snow and weather, shepherds of clouds that provided the people's ancestors with sustenance in the deepest winter; all that until the coming of Christianity which forbade the consumption of such heavenly flesh.

Here is my expansion upon the fragmented original material. Velkeres could be used as a whole race of weather spirits (even players could be Velkeres, especially those that have been forced into human skin), or as a lone demented and utterly hostile creature, the last of its kin. They could also be tied to an ongoing war with a celestial cult or religion, or their draconic ancestry could be emphasized (the awakening of the dragon sleeping under the earth (an enormous creature of whom the mountain itself is just a part) is a distant (or not so) menace).

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Varypnas (Vrachnas/Mora)


Paradoseis [Fables, or Folk Beliefs] is a collection of folklore (mainly of a supernatural hue) from all over the Greek and Cypriot world (as well as several Turkish places also), published by the folklorist N. Politis in 1904. It spans two tomes, the first being the main work, organized in thematic chapters, and the unfinished second being the notes to the entries of the main tome (notes of extreme length, including a lot of material).

This corpus of folklore has a lot of potential for gaming purposes. As a result, the idea is to kick off a series of posts concerning creatures from this book, gameifying and expanding the source material, all the while enriching a folk setting that I have been working on. The first entry draws from chapter 33 (Vrachnas) and deals with a well-known motif, namely a creature that smothers sleeping people.