Tag Archives: fluff

May of the Dead: Hungry Hungry Vampire

Vlad the Impaler, Inspiration for DraculaMay is winding down, but we’ve got time for one last May of the Dead post. I’ve really enjoyed writing these, and if you’ve enjoyed reading them I hope you’ll decide to stick around. Papers & Pencils updates regularly, and it’s difficult for me to go too long without writing something about the undead. They are so much more engaging than other types of fantastical creatures.

I’m going to make a bold leap, and assume we’re all familiar with the traditional vampire. The one which stays out of the sun, doesn’t show up in mirrors, and sustains itself off of people’s blood. That last point is what I’m going to focus on here: blood as vampiric sustenance. Aside from being dead, feeding on blood is perhaps the most consistent element of vampire lore. Some stories will dismiss vampires being invisible in mirrors, others disregard their weakness before religious relics, but even the greatest bastardizations of the vampire concept maintain the idea that vampires must consume blood to survive.

So…what happens if they don’t consume any blood?

There doesn’t seem to be any definitive agreement on what happens if a vampire doesn’t consume blood. For living creatures the answer is simple: if we fail to consume sustenance, we die. But vampires are already dead, so the consequences for them seem far less certain. I haven’t found any primary source that could provide an answer to this question either. I’m not exactly a scholar, but my limited knowledge of folklore and classical literature has not provided me with an answer. Probably because those traditional stories are not told from the vampire’s perspective, but rather from those desperately hoping they don’t become the vampire’s next meal.

Lacking any definitive answer to the question, we have the opportunity to fill in the blanks ourselves. And I’ve got a few ideas.

Strahd, Vampire of Ravenloft

The Official Explanation As a Pathfinder GM, I still rely on a lot of my old D&D 3.5 sourcebooks. And on page 9 of Libris Mortis, there is a table which categorizes and quantifies the various undead, how their hungers affect them. It indicates that Vampires are “Diet Dependent” on Blood, and have an “Inescapable Craving” for life force. These terms are defined thusly:

Inescapable Craving: Some undead have no “bodily” requirement to feed, and could continue to exist solely on negative energy, but are driven to their diet all the same by inescapable cravings.  These cravings, denied too long, could turn even a sentient undead to mindless hunger. Once the feeding is accomplished and the hunger sated, the intensity of the craving drops back to tolerable level, but it is a cycle doomed to repeat itself.” -Andy Collins & Bruce R. Cordell, Libris Mortis, Page 8

Diet Dependent: Some undead must feed on the living to retain either their mobility or some of their other abilities. The link to the Negative Energy Plane for undead of these sort grows increasingly tenuous the longer they are denied the necessary food. At some point, their mobility or one or more specific abilities are suppressed until they can feed again. However, no matter how enervated by lack of feeding, undead cannot be starved to the point of permanent deanimation. A fresh infusion of their preferred food can always bring them back to their full abilities. Most diet-dependent undead can go for 3d6 months before losing all mobility.” -Andy Collins & Bruce R. Cordell, Libris Mortis, Page 10

I cover some of these ideas in more detail below. Personally I don’t find them very satisfying.

le Vampire by Burne JonesRe-Death: I see no reason why there shouldn’t simply be a point at which lack of blood to feed upon causes a vampire to be destroyed. Part of what makes vampires such intriguing villains is that they are notoriously difficult to kill. Take them to 0 HP, and they’ll just turn into a cloud of mist and escape through the cracks in the walls. The only way to kill a vampire is to outsmart them in one way or another. Fool them into entering an area of sunlight, for example, or find their (no doubt well hidden) daytime lair and drive a stake through their heart. Depriving a vampire of blood for a year fulfills the same criteria: it requires the players to outsmart the vampire by first constructing a prison which will hold it, then figuring out how to get the vampire inside of it. Though if you could do that, I’m not sure why you wouldn’t just expose it to direct sunlight.

Insanity: Each month a Vampire goes without blood, they permanently lose a little more of their grip on reality. After one month, it’s just little things. They forget minor details, like where they left their favorite candelabra. After two months, they occasionally forget larger things. Whole years of their existence disappear from memory, only to be recovered later. Three months without feeding causes the Vampire to occasionally depart reality entirely, and they suffer vivid hallucinations. After four months the vampire lives constantly in a disconnected state. It knows to avoid that which is dangerous to it, such as sunlight, but it otherwise seems to have no connection to reality. After five months, the vampire becomes like a feral creature, constantly hunting for blood, with no thoughts or concerns beyond finding more and more blood to feed upon. Finally, after six months, the vampire loses its understanding of danger, and will most often wander into the sunlight and destroy itself.

This insanity is cumulative throughout the vampire’s existence. Feeding on blood only prevents the process from continuing forward for another month. Nothing can help a vampire regain lost sanity.

The Vampire Uncle from The Munsters. I don't remember his name. Blood is an Addiction: Vampires are blood junkies. They don’t need it to survive, but they crave it with a desire more intense than they can possibly resist. If they don’t drain at least one victim a week, the cravings become unbearable and drive the vampire to take greater and greater risks in order to get their fix. If, by some miracle, they manage to resist the urge to feed on the blood of the living, there is no amount of time which will free them from their addiction. They will begin to suffer withdrawal pains, and will continue to experience agony until the end of time if they can’t feed.

Blood is Power: Perhaps there are no real ill effects for failing to consume blood. If a vampire never leaves their mark on another neck, then they can continue to exist as they already do for as long as they like. However, it is only through consuming blood that a vampire learns, and grows, and becomes powerful. Immediately following a feeding, the vampire feels a rush of power which slowly fades after about ten minutes. But a small sliver of that power remains. After draining 100 living victims, the Vampire gains 1HD.

Less Blood is Power: Assuming blood is an addiction, as stated above, then what if vampires grew in power the longer they were able to exist without blood? Perhaps the pains of withdrawal are simply the pain which is inherent to being a vampire unencumbered by narcotics. The longer a vampire avoids dulling their mind and their body with Blood, the stronger and smarter they become. The greatest vampires have gone without blood for centuries, and exist in a state of constant pain.

Demotion: Vampires are the highest form of undead creature, rivaled only by the lich. They retain all of their knowledge, their self-awareness, their willpower; everything about who they are remains intact. Even their appearance is unchanged! The only real drawback is that in order to retain everything that they managed to keep from their living existence, they must constantly feed upon blood. If they do not, then as time goes on they will begin to forget things. They will become less self aware, and their willpower will fade. After too long, they will be nothing but a ghast, or perhaps even a lowly zombie.

Nosferatu 1922Blood is Youth: Each week a Vampire goes without blood, their physical body decomposes about the same amount that a corpse would normally decompose in a given day. So vampires who wish to intermingle with human society (as Dracula did) must feed frequently. While those who care less about whether or not they can pass for alive do not need to concern themselves with feeding regularly. The effects of this decomposition would be cumulative, so once you miss your weekly feeding, you’ll never be able to return to a less-decomposed state.

Coincidentally, this would explain the large variance in vampire appearances. In the original novel, Dracula was able to pass for a living human. Whereas the classic silent film, Nosferatu most certainly cannot. Strahd is somewhere in between, as he is often depicted with deathly blue skin.

Last Blood: About six years ago, I started reading a webcomic called Last Blood, which was about a group of vampires attempting to help some humans survive the zombie apocalypse. Its been some years since I stopped following the comic, but it was quite good. And the catalyst for the story was a vampire who went for too long without blood. You ought to read the comic’s explanation, but the short version is that if a vampire goes too long without blood, then they become a kind of “alpha zombie,” which is able to create other zombies, and control them. Not too frightening in a high magic world where zombies are commonplace, but in a low magic world where the the very thought of walking dead is still enough to send a shiver down an adventurer’s spine, this could be an interesting method to use.

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May of the Dead: Crypt of Ancient Wisdom

Ivan's Ivory ThroneThis week’s May of the Dead post is partially inspired by an idea for a novel which I’ve been toying with for a few years.

The Tragedy of the Gorovik Family

It began when a warrior named Toman Gorovik led his followers to an untamed piece of land. There they settled, establishing the Kingdom of Gorvikar. Toman found a high, defensible ridge with a sweeping view of the forest, and began to build his castle there. He would never live to see the massive structure completed, but to honor her father, Yehne Gorovik had a crypt built into the castle behind the throne. When she lay her father to rest, she decreed that the monarchs of Gorvikar would always rest upon the wisdom of their forebears.

An unintentionally prophetic statement.

Three generations later, the Gorovik Family Castle came under siege from a violent army of southern men, eager to gain a foothold on the northern frontier. Anotar Gorovik, a skilled diplomat, was at a loss against his intractable foe. His military advisers tried to help, but each suggested a different course of action, and Anotar felt unqualified to pick between them. In a moment of frustration, he ordered everyone out of the great hall so that he could think. He paced the room for fifteen minutes without making any progress. Desperate for guidance, he pushed the stone door behind the throne open, and descended the short spiral staircase into the family crypt.

Anotar knelt beside his father’s shelf in silence for long moments. When he finally spoke, he told his father of the trials he was facing, and his lack of preparedness for them. He outlined the potential dooms he predicted if he were to follow any of his advisers’ council. He begged for his father’s guidance. He did not expect an answer, but his dead father’s mouth moved slightly, and with dust filled lungs he whispered “Harron,” the name of one of Anotar’s advisers. The young man stared with mouth agape for long moments, not sure if his father’s advice had been real or imagined.

Resolving that a decision he was wary of was better than no decision at all, the young king sealed the crypt, and ordered his soldiers to follow Harron’s plan. They did, the siege was broken, and the southerners were sent running back to their distant homes. Anotar was hailed as a military mastermind, and he humbly tried to divert the praise to Harron, fearing the backlash from his people were they to learn he had received advice from the dead. He returned again to the crypt many times throughout his rule, and found he could seek guidance from each of his ancestors buried there. By taking advantage of each of their wisdom, Anotar’s rule became the most prosperous in the history of Gorvikar. The nation’s territory and influence expanded greatly.

The secret of the Crypt of Ancient Wisdom was passed from monarch to monarch for a century before it was given to young Queen Byan from her father as he lay on his deathbed. Byan was a scholar, and shortly after her father’s internment, she began interrogating the corpses there about how the crypt functioned. When she found that none could answer her, she brought in necromancers from around the world to study the phenomena. They discovered that the castle had been built on a small fissure in the prime material plane, which intersected with the Negative Energy Plane. The fissure was very small, and the negative energy which filtered through it acted like a permanent Speak With Dead spell upon the whole castle.

The effect was so unique that Byan had no difficulty recruiting the greatest necromancers in the known world to help her study and refine the effect. Over the years she became quite a necromancer herself, and was personally responsible for many of the major breakthroughs in understanding and manipulating the fissure. As knowledge of the fissure spread, she comforted her people by telling them only that the gods had granted the Gorovik line a gift, by allowing them to seek advice from their ancestors who had passed on to the heavens. The reality wasn’t quite so celestial, but no one needed to know that.

Thanks to Byan, the fissure’s energy was focused so it only affected the crypt itself. And the fissure’s shape was refined, allowing the ancestors interred there to offer more than one-or-two word answers. They could converse with those who came to seek their wisdom, and even offer suggestions of their own. Byan also established a permanent, and secret, school of necromancy within the castle. It was her hope that research and refinement of the fissure would continue long after her time had passed. Though, since she herself would be interred there, she hoped to continue her research even after her life had ended.

Byan’s daughter, Gwyndolin Gorovik, trained every day at her mother’s knee. She became a powerful necomancer herself. When it came time for her to take the reigns of power, she already had great plans for how she would contribute to her mother’s legacy. She hired agents, graverobbers, to go out into the world and bring her the remains of history’s wisest. Philosophers, tacticians, scholars, and wizards were all brought to her, and she personally placed each one in the quickly-filling crypt. The collective knowledge of the crypt grew tenfold during Gwyndolin’s reign. Guided by the crypt, Gorvikar embarked on an expansionist war of conquest against its neighbors. The day Gwyndolin accepted the unconditional surrender of the nation of Thoreon, she declared herself the first Necrarch of the New Gorvikar Empire.

For a thousand years, the unbroken line of Necrarch’s ruled the Gorvikar Empire ruthlessly, easily out-thinking and out-maneuvering all who challenged them. An open bounty on the remains of anyone wise enough to contribute to the Crypt caused an endless stream of fresh perspectives to be added to the ever-expanding catacombs. The rift which caused the effect repeatedly had to be widened to cover a larger and larger area of the castle, as the crypt was expanded to accommodate more bodies. By the reign of Ophelia Gorovik, all that remained in the castle was the throne itself, and thousands upon thousands of bodies. When Ophelia died on her throne without an heir, it was thought that the Gorvikar empire would end with her.

Weeks passed. Many of the nations which had been conquered over the ages began to secede, thinking the threat of the Necrachs had passed.  Even those who hoped to seize the throne of Gorvikar for themselves agreed that the Gorovik Family Castle must be destroyed. As they stood outside the castle gates, planning the demolition, they began to hear an indecipherable whisper. As they listened, the whisper grew more confident, and was joined by other voices. Soon, thousands upon thousands of voices joined together in a booming, unified chorus:

“We are Gorvikar. The nations to the south have seceded. This is unacceptable.”

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May of the Dead: Variant Zombies

Classic Zombie Imagery - Source UnknownI’ve always had a passion for the macabre. In particular, I am very fond of all things pertaining to undeath. My preference tends towards the unsettling majesty of gothic fantasy, but I’m not above enjoying a B horror movie or two. So when I was asked to participate in May of the Dead, I didn’t hesitate. I don’t exactly need an excuse to fill this site with my darker imaginings, but since I have one, I thought it would be a good opportunity to work on a number of undead-themed posts in a row. Each Friday during the month of May, I’ll be animating a new undead-themed post. And if you’d like to read more, there are many other websites participating in this little carnival.

For this first post, I’d like to discuss zombies. Though they lack the elegance of an animated skeleton, and are currently suffering from their severe overexposure in recent years, the zombie is none the less a fundamental fantasy foe. And while the classic shambling cadaver will never go out of style, it is diminished by its own omnipresence. What is a GM to do? How can we inject a sense of danger back into a creature which players have faced so many times that they know the creature’s statblock and abilities like the backs of their character sheets?

We reinvent it.

Part of the reason zombies are so enduring is because they are the most fundamental kind of undead we can imagine. They are dead bodies, which none the less are capable of moving on their own, and want to hurt the living.  You might say that a zombie is a blank slate, waiting to be given the kind of unique attributes which can turn it into a truly memorable monster. Pathfinder has already done this, somewhat. In the Bestiary, the zombie entry contains a small section titled “Variant Zombies” on page 289. Detailed therein are the “fast zombie,” and the “plague zombie,” both of which are pretty self explanatory. The former are faster than normal zombies, and the latter can infect victims with a zombifying disease.  Here are a few other ways I’ve come up with to reanimate your player’s fear of zombies:

Exploding Zombies These have become popular in zombie-centric video games which need a way to ramp up difficulty without straying too far from their core theme. The idea makes a certain kind of sense: when a person dies, their decomposing body creates a lot of gas. Normally this gas is expelled gradually, but if we can stretch our imaginations far enough to accept walking dead in the first place, then we can certainly imagine that all of these gasses somehow end up trapped inside the corpse. Perhaps inside a bloated and distended stomach. This state could be an accidental byproduct of the reanimation process, causing perhaps one in every ten or twenty zombies to become an exploding zombie. Particularly sinister necromancers might create these undead bombardiers intentionally, and unleash a horde of them on an unsuspecting adventuring party.

AD&D Monster Manual ZombiePungent Cloud Zombies Speaking of gasses, why limit ourselves to something as ostentatious as an explosion? I find undead are always the most enticing when they’re a little mysterious, and subtle. Those same gasses produced by decomposition could form an oppressive miasma. A single zombie would only effect those standing in adjacent squares, but each zombie reinforces the cloud of fear and despair which surrounds them. A large enough horde might affect anyone standing within a mile of them. Those affected would have their intellects clouded, and their bodies made sluggish. Wizards would find they could not recall their most powerful (read: highest spell level) incantations, and fighters would seem to miss a lot more than they normally would (-5 to attack rolls).

 Slightly Intelligent Zombies Traditionally, zombies are mindless. That’s almost part-in-parcel of what it means to be a zombie. If a necromancer needs a servant which can think, they create a ghoul. A zombie is created when a necromancer needs a large force which will obey them without question. But lets say that a group of zombies is created by an erratic necromancer, or perhaps has no master, but has managed to avoid destruction for years or even decades. Why not give them an intelligence of 2? That’s not enough that they could learn speech, or form any kind of society. But it is enough that they could communicate on a very basic level, and even form simple tactics to better defeat their enemies with.

Somewhat-to-Highly Intelligent Zombies Zombies created by a downright insane necromancer, or who have lived for a century or more, might become as intelligent as you or I. It is unlikely that they would recall, or care to recall, anything about their life, but their intelligence would provide them with a unique advantage in their un-life. It is doubtful that any such zombie could ever be anything but evil, since their continued life depends on negative energy and consuming the flesh of the living. But as villains, they might be truly formidable.

Necrotic Bite Zombie The dangerous nature of a Zombie’s bite is an important element in most zombie fiction. For some reason it’s never really made the leap to game mechanics, leaving Pathfinder zombies to rely on their slam attack. Necrotic Bite Zombies gain a +0 bite attack which deals 1d6 damage. Anyone who is hit by the zombie’s Necrotic Bite must make a fortitude save (DC is equal to 10 +  half the zombie’s HD + the zombie’s cha modifier). If the fortitude save fails, roll 1d10 to determine where the victim has been bitten. A result of 1-2 is the right leg, a result of 3-4 is the left leg, a result of 5-6 is the right arm, a result of 7-8 is the left arm, a result of 9 is the torso, and a result of 10 is the head. The skin around the bite becomes black and flaky, like skin which has been severely burned. This effect slowly spreads throughout the day. After 24 hours, it grows enough to spread to an adjacent part of the body. The spread can be stopped either with magical healing, or by amputating all affected body parts. Aside from severe discomfort, the necrotic zombie bite has no negative mechanical effects until it has fully spread throughout both the torso and head of the victim, at which point the victim dies and rises as a necrotic bite zombie 1d6 minutes later.

Zombification Zone A particular dungeon could be enchanted in such a way that anything which died within it would be raised as a zombie within 1d6 minutes of death. This would include any creatures which the players slay, or any players which die within the dungeon. Just as the players leave a room after clearing it, they would be accosted from behind by the very creatures they thought they had just destroyed!

Boneblade Zombie Zombies are often covered with jutting bones. It can be an exposed ribcage, a broken femur, or just a forearm without a hand. Boneblade Zombies have been specifically crafted to maximize the number of jutting bones, and to sharpen those bones to razor points. The slam attacks of these zombies deal 1d8 +6 piercing damage, and they gain +2 natural armor bonus to AC.

Half Orc Zombie - Source UnknownMinion Zombies When I was first learning about 4th edition, the concept of minion NPCs was one of the first things to really turn me off to the game. As a rule, I don’t like the inclusion of enemies which functionally exist for the purpose of being defeated easily. As an option, however, I think it could be a flavorful alternative to the zombies presented in the bestiary. When a level one party is fighting a necromancer, and 5 zombies enter to assist him from the next room, the players are in pretty serious trouble. While zombies are not particularly difficult to hit, they are capable of doing a fair amount of damage. And since each one has 5 damage reduction on top of 12 HP, the party is going to need to devote at least a few turns to each one. If, on the other hand, you remove the damage reduction from each zombie, and reduce their HP to 1, the necromancer could call 30 zombies into the room to help him! Since Zombies are cannon fodder anyway, it makes sense for them to be easy to destroy. And since they don’t lose any of their ability to harm the players, they still pose a serious threat.

Plant Zombie Rather than being animated by negative energy, zombies could functionally be created by a flower which grows in the skulls of dead people. The roots weave throughout the brain, and stimulate it to produce movement. The blood and flesh of the living are used as fertilizer, allowing the plant to sustain itself, and a puff of pollen on the corpses of the dead would allow it to reproduce. Functionally this would be no different from a normal zombie, but don’t discount the value of fluff in making something old feel new again.

Parasitic Zombies Did you know that zombies are real? There are a variety of real life parasites which take control of their host creatures. One such parasite, the lancet liver fluke, was featured by The Oatmeal, and its life cycle serves as a good example of other similar parasites. Insofar as I’ve read, all of these parasites take control of a specific type of organism, then do their best to get that organism eaten by one of its natural predators. The parasite then reproduces in the colon of the new host, and its eggs are released into the world when the creature poops. In reality, I’ve never heard of these parasites taking control of anything larger than a small fish, but in fantasy such a parasite might be used to take control of humans. Once controlled, the brain-dead humans would function essentially as zombies. They would attack anything in their path, sustaining themselves on the flesh of others, with the ultimate goal of being devoured by a dragon, or other large human-eating creature.

Beloved Zombie These zombies are sometimes created by experienced necromancers with a particularly sadistic bent. Each zombie is under the effect of powerful illusion magic, which causes anyone who sees the zombie to believe it was created from the remains of a deceased loved one. Any attack roll made against such a zombie is made at a -1 penalty per HD of the zombie. Low level beloved zombies might simply appear to be the viewer’s long dead grandparent who was kind of a dick. Whereas a high level zombie would appear to be the recently deceased son of the viewer, crying while he plays with all of the viewer’s dead childhood pets.

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Cultural Oddities

Dance is an important element of culturePart of creating an immersive world is creating a wide variety of people to live in it. Variety which extends beyond accents and alignments. If you’ve ever had any kind of significant encounter with another culture, you begin to understand how very different humans can be. Things which you take for granted, things which seem fundamentally true, simply do not occur to someone raised on the other side of the world. Your fundamental beliefs about society and identity might even seem ludicrous to them. You may feel as though your way of thinking is the correct way, you may even be right to think that. I, personally, refuse to accept the profound sexism which is inherent to many cultures as a simple difference of opinion. But whether or not I accept it doesn’t mean jack shit to the ten million, or two hundred million, or two billion people who were raised in that culture. The fact is that culture defines us in ways that we cannot even comprehend. It’s something I’ve touched on before.

We're all elves, yet we're so different!When creating a unique culture for a game world, it never hurts to throw in a quirk or two which will help the players connect to just how different these people are. It’s not too terribly hard to come up with this kind of stuff, as sources for inspiration are plentiful. If you watch Star Trek (and lets face it, you do) there are plenty of episodes where cultural oddities are a plot point. This is a good source for inspiration on genetic oddities which would influence culture as well. You can also look at lists of wacky laws. The Internet has been in love with these since the earliest days of elderly folks forwarding emails to everyone they’ve ever met, so it should be no trouble to find them on google. And, as always, reality is a wonderful sourcebook. I just finished explaining how unusual human culture can get, and ten minutes of research will likely turn up a dozen things your players will find pretty damned unusual. No need to limit yourselves to humans either! Animals have their own cultures, and the mating habits of the angler fish would make a wicked awesome cultural quirk.

To get you started, here’s a list of some stuff I came up with. Some of these are inspired by reality, others are straight up lifted from science fiction. Anybody who can guess where I lifted the third one down from gets a cookie.

  • Either as a baby, or during a coming of age ritual, a child is bitten/stung by a poisonous animal which is sacred to the culture. The poison is allowed to fester, and the pain is seen as a spiritual test. The oddly shaped mark left by the experience will be interpreted by a religious figure within the culture. Generally the meaning will be derived from the scar’s shape.
  • Each member of a culture has a riding creature with which they form a special bond. If the two go into battle together and the riding creature is slain, but the rider is not, then the rider is sent alone into the wilderness. If they bond with another companion, then that creature is said to be the original creature, reincarnated. If the deceased companion instead wants its rider to join it in death, he or she will be unable to find a new companion creature.
  • A culture believes it is arrogant to use personal pronouns, because using one implies that everyone should know who you are. Instead, each creature uses its personal name whenever it needs to refer to itself. If a member of this culture is ashamed or embarrassed, they may seek anonymity by using their surname to refer to themselves (or in extreme cases, their clan, or even species name.)
  • The dead are buried in graves, but a small hole is left in the ground so that relatives may reach into it and touch the forehead of their loved ones.
  • This culture prefers dirt floors. Even if their civilization is advanced, with paved roads, and high towers, the floors of their homes will be dirt and plantlife. Even floors above ground level will have high enough ceilings that a couple feet of dirt can be piled onto the floor.
  • Most of a culture’s males are eunuchs. Depending on the size of the group, different numbers of breeding males will be allowed. Once a year, all males of a certain age gather for some form of contest. Either they fight for the right to breed, or the breeding males are selected by the culture’s females.
  • Male and female members of a culture live completely separately, coming together only occasionally to trade, and mate. As an example, the women of the culture build cities, and represent their culture to others, whilst the men of the culture are nomadic, and spend their lives hunting and patrolling the culture’s territory. The males return to the city perhaps once a year.
  • Certain tasks which are necessary are considered taboo, and cannot be performed in a direct manner. For example, a cleric can only examine a patient’s back by looking at it in a mirror, because the back is considered taboo.
  • Children are married to one another within the first few months of their lives, and one child is given to the parents of the other child. The “married couple” are then raised together by a single set of parents. Their upbringing focuses heavily on learning to function together as a unit.
  • A culture’s leaders are brought back as a special type of undead which exists primarily to give advice to the current leader. The leader of a small tribe might have a small council of 5-10 previous leaders to call upon. While the monarch of a long-standing kingdom might have an elaborate crypt filled with former rulers extending back dozens, or even hundreds of generations.
  • A certain day of the year is considered extremely unlucky, and any children born on this day are killed.
  • The wedding ceremony is a ritual combat between the bride and groom. The victor is the “head” of the relationship, and the other must swear to obey them.
  • While a mother is engaged in labor, the father must leave to search for a precious stone. This stone will be fashioned into a piece of jewelry which the child will wear throughout their entire life. He must return either before sundown, or before the child is fully born (whichever comes last), or the child will be given a simple piece of stone. Purchasing a stone, receiving help in finding the stone, or hiding the stone away before labor begins, is grounds to execute both father and child. The value the stone holds within the culture will determine the child’s social standing for the rest of their life.
  • One gender owns all property, but is not allowed to govern it themselves. The other gender may own no property, but governs over the property of their mates. The property-owning gender is at liberty to switch mates at any time if they are unhappy with their partner’s ability to govern.
  • All crimes are punishable by death. With such a steep cost, who would break even a simple rule? You’d have to be stupid to do something like step in somebody’s flower garden.
  • Ears, teeth and scalps are common “trophies” for savage races, but why stop there? Hands, tongues, noses, big toes, even internal organs like kidneys could be dried out and made into keepsakes.

Any thoughts of your own?

Negune: The Nation of Regalia

Continent of Negune, Nation of RegaliaThe nation of Regalia is by far the largest of the five nations on the continent of Negune. Founded eight centuries ago by the legendary bard Horatiana The Beloved, Regalia is a benevolent monarchy, so named because Horatiana was fond of wordplay, but lacked any talent for it. Regalia controls the entire eastern coast of the continent, providing it with the easiest access to the only other known landmass, the continent of Kalimesh. Regalia also boarders every other nation on the continent, except Ribanko, which has become completely isolationist and refuses to engage with the other nations; and Stekett, which, despite not sharing a boarder with Negune, is still most easily reached from Regalia rather than any of the other nations. Given these two significant advantages, Regalia has become the center of culture and trade on the continent.

Regalia is comprised of seven provinces: Centralia, Volpan, Pyensal, Sextent, Shield Haven, Garvain, and Tonshire. One for each of the seven adventurers who united the peoples of Negune eight hundred years ago. Though the seven continents are not explicitly named for one of the companions, each of the seven capitol cities has a bronze statue of one of the heroes just inside the town gate, along with an inscribed plaque penned by Horatiana herself.

Regalia is a monarchy guided by the traditions put forth by Queen Horatiana. Though no formal constitution has ever been drafted, in true Bardic style, Horatiana had every wall of the sprawling royal palace engraved with lessons she had learned, and her philosophies for leadership. These engravings do not legally bind the monarch. In fact, Monarchs often ignore certain engravings when they do not suit their needs or plans. However, the engravings are respected, and on three separate occasions, monarchs have been removed from power for violating the spirit of these philosophies. The wisest of Regalia’s monarchs, it is said, spend their lives strolling through the halls of the royal palace, carefully studying the engravings left by their ancient forbear. So respected is this wisdom, that it has been disseminated throughout the seven provinces, and “Take wisdom from the walls” has become a common saying among Regalians.

The current monarch, Queen Byethen, is particularly devoted to these teachings. In accordance with them, she has established a council of seven advisers–one from each of the provinces–which are drawn from the town mayors, and cycled out after one year to make room for a new adviser. She has also assembled a council of 33 scholars, wizards, clerics, soldiers, and government clerks whose primary duty is to argue with her. To “Play Asmodeus’ Advocate,” if you will. They may respond to her ideas only with argument, or silence. Though they have no power to overrule her, the walls discourage her from taking any action she cannot defend. Queen Byethen also spends one week of each year living and working in a random town within her kingdom, so that she might never forget the hardships her people face.

Something which the walls are most emphatic about, and which no ruler has yet ignored, deals with the royal succession, and the separation between the nation of Regalia, and the seven provinces which constitute it. At any given time, there must be seven potential successors to the throne. Each of these successors is made the ruler of one of the provinces. The monarch may replace a successor at any time, based on any criteria, or completely arbitrarily. However, so long as the successors have the confidence of the monarch, they should be allowed to rule their provinces as they see fit. When the monarch has died, or otherwise cedes the throne, whatever advisory councils they formed during their reign gathers, and selects one of the seven to take the crown of Regalia.

Regalia is a fantastically wealthy nation. In terms of resources, it has an ample amount of forested area, plentiful fishing, rich mining, and expansive farmland. Regalia is so rich in natural resources, that no necessary commodity needs to be imported from any other nation–though the provinces themselves do need to trade with one another. The surplus of resources has also made Regalia rich in the gold and platinum of other lands through trade. Regalia’s prosperity has reinforced the native legend that Negune was blessed by the gods to make it a place worthy of heroes. That legend has even spread across the sea, to Kalimesh.

Though the specific culture varies from province to province, a few common themes unite Regalian culture as a whole. Despite being governed by a monarchy, Regalia fosters a meritocratic culture. The nation’s wealth has allowed education and other opportunities to be offered to most of the people. At present, two of the seven provinces are ruled by people who were born on the lower rungs of society: one a farmer, the other a miller. And as province governors, these two will both be considered as potential monarchs when Byethen leaves power.

Reality is my Sourcebook: The Phylactery

Jewish Encyclopedia PhylacteryI learned something the other day.

The concept of a lich’s phylactery is taken from Judaic mysticism. In reality, phylacteries were a complex kind of ‘magic underwear’ which were apparently quite common in Jewish communities at one time. Jewish Encyclopedia.com has an absolutely fascinating article on the subject, written in the early 20th century. There’s an impressive amount of detail there, much of which I think I would need to know a lot more about Jewish tradition to fully understand. But enough of the article is written in plain English for me to learn a lot about the beliefs surrounding this tradition.

As I mentioned in my post titled Succubi Deserve More, I like to explore the mythology behind fantasy tropes. Not only does it result in me becoming a more educated and historically aware person, but the real-world mythology always offers fascinating insight into the fantastic possibilities. Whoever first decides to take some cultural or mythological element and include it in a fantasy story takes what works for them, and leaves the rest. That’s how fantasy writing works. But who is to say that the elements they left behind aren’t sometimes just as interesting as the elements they chose to keep?

For clarity’s sake, lets start with the explanation of what a phylactery is in Pathfinder, pulled from The Pathfinder Bestiary, page 188. For those curious, this excerpt is functionally identical to the same excerpt in the Dungeons and Dragons 3.5 Monster Manual.

A Lich Raises Undead Minions by Jeff EaslyAn integral part of becoming a lich is the creation of the phylactery in which the character stores his soul. The only way to get rid of a lich for sure is to destroy its phylactery. Unless its phylactery is located and destroyed, a lich can rejuvenate after it is killed. (See Creating a Lich, below).

Each lich must create its own phylactery by using the Craft Wondrous Item feat. The character must be able to cast spells and have a caster level of 11th or higher. The phylactery costs 120,000 gp to create and has a caster level equal to that of its creator at the time of creation.

The most common form of phylactery is a sealed metal box containing strips of parchment on which magical phrases have been transcribed. The box is Tiny and has 40 hit points, hardness 20, and a break DC of 40.

Other forms of phylacteries can exist, such as rings, amulets, or similar items.

Not a lot to go on, really. I also seem to recall very distinctly that the process of becoming a lich (and so, presumably, creating the phylactery) is supposed to be profoundly evil. To my knowledge, that is the sum of official material on what a phylactery is within the game world. There are probably a few dragon magazine articles, and sourcebooks from the 70s and 80s which contain further tidbits of “official” information, but for now the basic definition will do.

Before moving any further, I would like to again remind my readers that I am not a credible source on the topic of Judaic history and lore. The sources for this post, which have far more information on this topic, are the Jewish Encyclopedia.com article on Phylacteries, and the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.

The historical phylactery, by comparison, was considered a very holy thing. In fact, if you look at the word’s etymology, the Greek root words suggest that it was intended to protect the wearer from evil. The Jewish custom is based on a number of passages in the Torah, most notably this excerpt from Deuteronomy:

And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on they gates.

The ‘words’ this passage wants the reader to spend so much time talking about are, as best I can determine, God’s laws. Variations of this passage show up in a number of places, since repetition is an essential element in an oral tradition. The important part, though, is the bit I emphasized. That’s the origin of the historical phylactery. The exact means of how these devices were worn is somewhat unclear to me. The image at the start of the post demonstrates how complicated they appear to be–and every element was important. Even the way the knots were tied was meant to symbolize specific Hebrew lettering. Essentially, however, historical phylacteries are small boxes or pouches which are worn on the arms and between the eyes. Within the pouches are a specific arrangement of passages from the Torah, written on tiny scrolls of paper. This is likely where the idea of a lich’s phylactery being a metal box filled with tiny magical scrolls came from.

One of the archetypical things which liches do is hide their phylacteries. Common ideas are to hide it in a fortress somewhere, or to give it to a powerful dragon to protect. I’ve been involved in discussions on /tg/ and elsewhere which focus just on coming up with the most outrageous, funny, and clever ways to hid a phylactery. And I’ve heard some positively fantastic ideas. But the historical phylactery was a thing which had to be worn. You couldn’t leave it at home and continue to rely on the spiritual protection it provided.

Of course, if every lich was wearing their phylactery dangling between their eyes, the monster would loose all of its flavor. But what if there was a limit to how far away the phylactery could be from the lich? Say, it must be within 1 mile of the lich’s location. For each additional mile away, the lich suffers from 1 negative level, and if the lich reaches 0, it dies and re-forms at the location of its phylactery. Perhaps the lich might even get some kind of bonus if its phylactery is within 100ft, say, plus one caster level? Adding a mechanic like this takes nothing away from the the fun of hiding the lich’s phylactery, and in fact may end up being a great deal more fun for the players. Looking for a hidden item can be fun, but if that item is in an adamantite box which shifts to a random location in the multiverse every 30 seconds, the players are simply going to get bored. Adding limits gives the players somewhere to start their investigation. Plus, this adds a fun element to the game of a lich needing to actively manage their phylactery’s location in order to avoid negative levels.
A Lich King condemns you to die!
Also interesting is that the wearer of a historical phylactery was not supposed to enter a cemetery, or “any unseemly places” whilst wearing it. Again, this suggests some interesting possibilities for the lich’s phylactery. Since liches never have their phylactery, it wouldn’t make sense for certain places to only be accessible when the lich didn’t have it, but what if there were certain places a lich couldn’t enter UNLESS it had its phylactery with it? Such as an area which is consecrated, or perhaps they cannot go within 10 miles of their original birthplace without their phylactery. It might even be interesting to say that a lich could never enter a cemetery without its phylactery. Though, given a lich’s frequent need for necromancy reagents, this could make things difficult.

There are a number of rules for historical phylacteries…actually there are a plethora of rules. There is an entire pantheon of rules. This is, after all, Judaism. The rules range from the spacing on the letters on the little scrolls, to the attention span of the chap scribing those letters, to even the color of the case. Largely, I don’t think these have much application. They could be fun if one was trying to come up with a good ritual for creating a phylactery, but unless a character becoming a lich is the focus of a campaign, I don’t think it’s particularly useful to go into the creation process too much. Although that would be a kickass campaign.

However, this rule caught my eye: “The straps (Yad. iii. 3) were made of the same material as the boxes, but could be of any color except blood-red.” Perhaps I’m shooting in the dark, here, but what if blood were harmful to phylacteries? What if, perhaps, blood was the ONLY thing which could harm a phylactery. The blood of a goodly person–or perhaps even the blood of a fallen hero. The phylactery must be coated with it, and then it becomes as brittle as a twig.

I encourage you to read up on the historical phylactery yourself, and comment on your own ideas for making a lich’s phylactery more interesting!

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