Underworld Lore | Magically Altered Elements

eg. Solid water
Not ice -- not necessarily cold at all and capable of being boiling hot without visibly boiling. It is exceedingly slippery and difficult to walk across without stumbling and sliding helplessly across its surface. Can prove to be terribly effective when used in the construction of funnel-traps. Will shatter metals. Vulnerable to psionic attack -- enough psychic energy will cause it to fragment and dissolve into a smoky mist. Northern barbarians collect it from lakes found beneath dragon's caves and use it during ritual performances.

What have you heard of?

Occult Gifts bestowed upon Groups and Civilizations by Calculating Gods

Was thinking just now about Tolkien's Noldor. In the mythology presented in The Silmarillion the Noldor were a people uncommonly gifted as craftsmen -- the Elvish counterpart of Durin's Folk, the Dwarves of north-western Middle-earth. Working in earthly materials, they crafted intricate and perilous ornaments and implements that reflected the depth of their collective imagination.

When a group is favored by a particular god or pantheon, it seems likely that such patrons would bestow gifts upon them in return for their love and loyalty.

The "facts" as I know them:
  • This "gifting" awakens latent qualities within the people that were only perceptible dimly before or seen in their primitive forms. Imagine a tribe of backwater lizard-men evolving into flange-scaled and tailless cenobites who levitate above a teleportory whorl spinning at the center of primal swamp.
  • The gifts can expire as the gifting gods age and withdraw from this plane or find themselves ousted by adversarial powers.
  • Hatreds and passions can be awakened/augmented within an entire race by the atavistic gods who cultivate these emotions. 


Underworld Lore | "Red, in blue"

Frazer on the Folklore of Phylacteries

Koschei by Mike Mignola

The concept of the undying wizard (or lich, in D&D-ese) who stores his soul away in an object (phylactery) owes much to the story of Koschei the Deathless, a figure of Russian folklore. This hiding-away of one's spirit to ensure immortality is apparently a common practice among other types of magic-users as well. Sir James George Frazer tells it like this in his Golden Bough:

...[A] Russian story tells how a warlock called Koshchei the Deathless carried off a princess and kept her prisoner in his golden castle. However, a prince made up to her one day as she was walking alone and disconsolate in the castle garden, and cheered by the prospect of escaping with him she went to the warlock and coaxed him with false and flattering words, saying, “My dearest friend, tell me, I pray you, will you never die?” “Certainly not,” says he. “Well,” says she, “and where is your death? is it in your dwelling?” “To be sure it is,” says he, “it is in the broom under the threshold.” Thereupon the princess seized the broom and threw it on the fire, but although the broom burned, the deathless Koshchei remained alive; indeed not so much as a hair of him was singed. Balked in her first attempt, the artful hussy pouted and said, “You do not love me true, for you have not told me where your death is; yet I am not angry, but love you with all my heart.” With these fawning words she besought the warlock to tell her truly where his death was. So he laughed and said, “Why do you wish to know? Well then, out of love I will tell you where it lies. In a certain field there stand three green oaks, and under the roots of the largest oak is a worm, and if ever this worm is found and crushed, that instant I shall die.” When the princess heard these words, she went straight to her lover and told him all; and he searched till he found the oaks and dug up the worm and crushed it. Then he hurried to the warlock’s castle, but only to learn from the princess that the warlock was still alive. Then she fell to wheedling and coaxing Koshchei once more, and this time, overcome by her wiles, he opened his heart to her and told her the truth. “My death,” said he, “is far from here and hard to find, on the wide ocean. In that sea is an island, and on the island there grows a green oak, and beneath the oak is an iron chest, and in the chest is a small basket, and in the basket is a hare, and in the hare is a duck, and in the duck is an egg; and he who finds the egg and breaks it, kills me at the same time.” The prince naturally procured the fateful egg and with it in his hands he confronted the deathless warlock. The monster would have killed him, but the prince began to squeeze the egg. At that the warlock shrieked with pain, and turning to the false princess, who stood by smirking and smiling, “Was it not out of love for you,” said he, “that I told you where my death was? And is this the return you make to me?” With that he grabbed at his sword, which hung from a peg on the wall; but before he could reach it, the prince had crushed the egg, and sure enough the deathless warlock found his death at the same moment. “In one of the descriptions of Koshchei’s death, he is said to be killed by a blow on the forehead inflicted by the mysterious egg—that last link in the magic chain by which his life is darkly bound. In another version of the same story, but told of a snake, the fatal blow is struck by a small stone found in the yolk of an egg, which is inside a duck, which is inside a hare, which is inside a stone, which is on an island.” 
Amongst peoples of the Teutonic stock stories of the external soul are not wanting. In a tale told by the Saxons of Transylvania it is said that a young man shot at a witch again and again. The bullets went clean through her but did her no harm, and she only laughed and mocked at him. “Silly earthworm,” she cried, “shoot as much as you like. It does me no harm. For know that my life resides not in me but far, far away. In a mountain is a pond, on the pond swims a duck, in the duck is an egg, in the egg burns a light, that light is my life. If you could put out that light, my life would be at an end. But that can never, never be.” However, the young man got hold of the egg, smashed it, and put out the light, and with it the witch’s life went out also. In a German story a cannibal called Body without Soul or Soulless keeps his soul in a box, which stands on a rock in the middle of the Red Sea. A soldier gets possession of the box and goes with it to Soulless, who begs the soldier to give him back his soul. But the soldier opens the box, takes out the soul, and flings it backward over his head. At the same moment the cannibal drops dead to the ground. 
In another German story an old warlock lives with a damsel all alone in the midst of a vast and gloomy wood. She fears that being old he may die and leave her alone in the forest. But he reassures her. “Dear child,” he said, “I cannot die, and I have no heart in my breast.” But she importuned him to tell her where his heart was. So he said, “Far, far from here in an unknown and lonesome land stands a great church. The church is well secured with iron doors, and round about it flows a broad deep moat. In the church flies a bird and in the bird is my heart. So long as the bird lives, I live. It cannot die of itself, and no one can catch it; therefore I cannot die, and you need have no anxiety.” However the young man, whose bride the damsel was to have been before the warlock spirited her away, contrived to reach the church and catch the bird. He brought it to the damsel, who stowed him and it away under the warlock’s bed. Soon the old warlock came home. He was ailing, and said so. The girl wept and said, “Alas, daddy is dying; he has a heart in his breast after all.” “Child,” replied the warlock, “hold your tongue. I can’t die. It will soon pass over.” At that the young man under the bed gave the bird a gentle squeeze; and as he did so, the old warlock felt very unwell and sat down. Then the young man gripped the bird tighter, and the warlock fell senseless from his chair. “Now squeeze him dead,” cried the damsel. Her lover obeyed, and when the bird was dead, the old warlock also lay dead on the floor.
In the Norse tale of “the giant who had no heart in his body,” the giant tells the captive princess, “Far, far away in a lake lies an island, on that island stands a church, in that church is a well, in that well swims a duck, in that duck there is an egg, and in that egg there lies my heart.” The hero of the tale, with the help of some animals to whom he had been kind, obtains the egg and squeezes it, at which the giant screams piteously and begs for his life. But the hero breaks the egg in pieces and the giant at once bursts. In another Norse story a hill-ogre tells the captive princess that she will never be able to return home unless she finds the grain of sand which lies under the ninth tongue of the ninth head of a certain dragon; but if that grain of sand were to come over the rock in which the ogres live, they would all burst “and the rock itself would become a gilded palace, and the lake green meadows.” The hero finds the grain of sand and takes it to the top of the high rock in which the ogres live. So all the ogres burst and the rest falls out as one of the ogres had foretold. 
In a Celtic tale, recorded in the West Highlands of Scotland, a giant is questioned by a captive queen as to where he keeps his soul. At last, after deceiving her several times, he confides to her the fatal secret: “There is a great flagstone under the threshold. There is a wether under the flag. There is a duck in the wether’s belly, and an egg in the belly of the duck, and it is in the egg that my soul is.” On the morrow when the giant was gone, the queen contrived to get possession of the egg and crushed it in her hands, and at that very moment the giant, who was coming home in the dusk, fell down dead. In another Celtic tale, a sea beast has carried off a king’s daughter, and an old smith declares that there is no way of killing the beast but one. “In the island that is in the midst of the loch is Eillid Chaisfhion—the white-footed hind, of the slenderest legs, and the swiftest step, and though she should be caught, there would spring a hoodie out of her, and though the hoodie should be caught, there would spring a trout out of her, but there is an egg in the mouth of the trout, and the soul of the beast is in the egg, and if the egg breaks, the beast is dead.” As usual the egg is broken and the beast dies. 
In an Irish story we read how a giant kept a beautiful damsel a prisoner in his castle on the top of a hill, which was white with the bones of the champions who had tried in vain to rescue the fair captive. At last the hero, after hewing and slashing at the giant all to no purpose, discovered that the only way to kill him was to rub a mole on the giant’s right breast with a certain egg, which was in a duck, which was in a chest, which lay locked and bound at the bottom of the sea. With the help of some obliging animals, the hero made himself master of the precious egg and slew the giant by merely striking it against the mole on his right breast. Similarly in a Breton story there figures a giant whom neither fire nor water nor steel can harm. He tells his seventh wife, whom he has just married after murdering all her predecessors, “I am immortal, and no one can hurt me unless he crushes on my breast an egg, which is in a pigeon, which is in the belly of a hare; this hare is in the belly of a wolf, and this wolf is in the belly of my brother, who dwells a thousand leagues from here. So I am quite easy on that score.” A soldier contrived to obtain the egg and crush it on the breast of the giant, who immediately expired. In another Breton tale the life of a giant resides in an old box-tree which grows in his castle garden; and to kill him it is necessary to sever the tap-root of the tree at a single blow of an axe without injuring any of the lesser roots. This task the hero, as usual, successfully accomplishes, and at the same moment the giant drops dead.


Underworld Lore | Delays

Merry Xmas

UNDERWORLD LORE #3 will be late. It's a busy, stressful, depressing time of year so perhaps it's no surprise that contributors need a little more time to get stuff polished.

D&D Next | Endorsements = Empty Buzzwords?

A fairly typical thing happened over at AICN's Tabletop column:

Is it just me or do terms like "modern design sensibility" and "insanely smooth" convey nothing? 

It's interesting to see that the misguided quest to balance the character classes is apparently less of a priority this time around. 

I guess I just don't understand what's wrong with the older editions -- or the numerous clones -- that puts off so many "modern" gamers. To put it another way: What makes anything WotC has done with the brand superior to previous versions of the game? Most of the responses to these questions seem to come in the form of empty phrases that purport to mean something but are never adequately explained, as though the same ad copy is being repeated over and over.


Underworld Lore | A Turgid Oracle

Re: Hyborian Facts 
If there is no more material out there to be contributed to our weird Hyborian factoids article, then I am closing that project on Sunday, December 15. This will appear in the next issue, of course, which is dedicated to gaming in the Hyborian Age.

Art by Jeff Jones

An Index of Hyborian Gods
I don't think it's possible (or desirable) to create a complete list of Hyborian deities. Speaking on this subject, it seems to me that every fantasy milieu necessarily has two lists of gods:

  • A Cultural List of gods: Those deities who are worshiped by the various nations and groups that populate the setting; possibly including the gods of dead religions.
  • A Referee's List of actual gods: Gods and god-like beings who really exist as active forces in the campaign, either in proximity to the player characters or remote from them. Their existence can be verified by their ability to bestow spells and orisons upon their servants and devotees.

We will supply the first type of list in the Hyborian Issue with brief descriptions of their idols, worship and central tenets.

Here's what I have so far for the Cultural List:

  1. Anu (cult of Shem, Iranistan)
  2. Asura (cult of Vendhya)
  3. Atronis (cult of Corinthia)
  4. Barach (cult of Barachan Isles)
  5. Bel (cult of the Hyborian nations*)
  6. Bori (tribes of Vanaheim, Asgard, Cimmeria)
  7. Crom (tribes of Cimmeria)
  8. Damballah (cult of Kush, Zarkheba, Black Kingdoms)
  9. Dagon (cult of Zingara, Argos, Near Shem)
  10. Derketo (cult of Khoraja)
  11. Devi (cult of Vendhya)
  12. Erlik (cult of Turan)
  13. Hanuman (cult of Vendhya)
  14. Hastur (cult of Corinthia, Koth)
  15. Ishtar (cult of all Hyboria and beyond)
  16. Jhebbal Sag (cult of Pictland)
  17. Kali (cult of Vendhya)
  18. Lir (tribes of Cimmeria)
  19. Mitra (cult of Hyborian nations*)
  20. Nergal (tribes of the desert-nations south of Turan)
  21. Nug and Yeb (cult of Shem, Koth)
  22. Set (cult of Stygia, Shem, desert-lands)
  23. Shub (cult of Corinthia, Brythunia, Hyperborea)
  24. Solar Goddess (cult of the Border Kingdom)
  25. Tammuz (cult of Shem, Ophir, Zamora)
  26. Thoth (cult of Stygia, Shem, Argos)
  27. Tsathoggua (cult of Hyperborea)
  28. Yama (cult of Vendhya)
  29. Ymir (tribes of Vanaheim, Asgard)
  30. Yog (cult of Zamora, Khauran)
  31. Yun (cult and tribes of Khitai)
  32. Zath (cult of Zamora) alter. Xath
Have I missed some that you think should be on this list?


Unabashed Kickstartery [Probably NSFW]

In a fit of measured optimism the Ggmlk has decided to back two Kickstarter campaigns today:

1) Bruce Heard's (of rightful Mystara/Known World fame) ambitious and cartographically indulgent new project is called Calidar and from what I've gleaned reading over his blog it's going to hit all the right notes. Just looking over this preliminary material I can feel myself getting ready to jump in and explore.

2) Mr Satanis of Kort'thalis Publishing -- it's safe to assume that none of us have the proper vocal apparatus to pronounce "Kort'thalis" correctly, being merely human -- has been under my radar until recently. He's put out a couple neat things via RPGNow. Just look at the sweet cover on this bad boy:

Waitaminnit! Enhance.


THAT is a fine piece of brass.
Good manacles are hard to come by.

Anyway, Satanis is putting out a follow-up module to Liberation via Kickstarter that you can find out about HERE. Probably not the sort of thing Grammy and the kids will be down for, but HOT DAMN you know I like dungeons full of betentacled freaks from just beyond the edge of sanity!


Barbara Ninde Byfield's Post-Tolkienian Dwarves

The Glass Harmonica (1967) -- also published as The Book of the Weird -- is a marvelous tome. Not only because it codifies many elements of Medieval fantasy and folklore, but also because it anticipates the codification of the same elements found in Dungeons & Dragons.

The author, Barbara Ninde Byfield, was obviously aware of Tolkien when she wrote the following section on Dwarves. There are multiple clues found in the text that suggest her familiarity with JRRT's work, but none so obvious as the fact that she uses the plural ending "-ves" -- before Tolkien these little bearded fellows were referred to as "Dwarfs" in plural. The altered ending is something that the Oxford don introduced to the English language. See if you can find the other hints.

One of the things I really enjoy about Byfield's take here is that she essentially riffs on both Tolkien's interpretation of Dwarf-kind as well as the character of the Dwarfs found in the folktales collected by the Brothers Grimm. She strikes some deeply mythopoeic notes -- notes that give off a pleasing resonance. If you feel that dwarves have gone stale within the D&D milieu -- and sometimes I do -- reading these pages might inspire you to see some new possibilities.


[Music] Ghostbusters Remix Remix

Scene from Ghostbusters (1984) featuring a remix of Michael Smiley's "I Believe in Magic" track:

Sampled and remixed as Tim Koch's "Slack Magic":


(Thanks to Hill Cantons for the link!)

ENCOUNTER is a D&D zine edited by Jesse Walker. Great b/w design/layout and excellent gaming inspiration to be found in the first four issues (all FREE btw!) There's adventure scenarios, retrospectives, great blurbs from the OSR blogosphere with each issue clocking in at 24 pages.


Underworld Lore | Lovecraftian Special

CONCEPT: A UL one-off that revamps/reinvents the excised "Cthulhu Mythos" section of TSR's DEITIES & DEMI-GODS. Featuring new art & other bits and bobs. A mini-supplement of not-so-mini monsters.

Origin of the "Reptilian Conspiracy" Meme?

If you've no idea what I'm referring to, try this "expose" from VICE:

The immediate precursor that comes to mind is the show "V" from the 80s that deals with alien visitors who appear human but are secretly reptilian monsters.

Is the ultimate origin found in Robert E. Howard's Kull story, "By This Axe I Rule!" in which a conspiracy perpetrated by pre-human serpent men is uncovered? Or are the roots further back?

EDIT: The name of the REH story I mention above is "The Shadow Kingdom" -- thanks to ______ for pointing this one out!


Underworld #3 | Hyborian Issue Contents

(as of 12/3/13)
  • Hyborian Esoterica by Various Hands -- A glossography of thirty odd factoids and details pertaining to the Hyborian Age and Conan's time in particular
  • James Mishler's PETTY GOD entry for Crom with illustration by Paul Gallagher
  • The Bikini Armor Proficiency -- Rules for completely adequate types of armor by the Ggmlk
  • The Vor-Mammut -- A monsterlore article by Arnold K. Serpentspittle, Esq. with illustration by cover artist Joseph Cole
  • Brief catalog of Other Hyborian Monsters
  • What the Six Stygian Sorcerers did to the Townies (d14 Zocchi table of dooms) dedicated to Geoff McKinney
  • The Oracular Custard (letters to the editor/news/cartoons)

Want to do an illo for this ish? 
Contact Me:  flowthrakeATgmailDOTcom

PaperBackSwap is book-crack, and Ggmlk is so addicted

I've been doing the PaperBackSwap thing for a while now. Here's the latest finds en route to moi:

The cryptozoology/Forteana/paranormal section of my library is probably the fastest growing, though the vast majority of books that fall into this category are usually best avoided. I've gotten a few stinkers, sent them off, and kept all the good stuff. I'm not making any tinfoil hats over here, but I do find this "genre" (if we can call it that) to be especially nutritious to my imagination glands.

Underworld Lore | Open UL Projects

Check the sidebar to the left.

Underworld Lore | Golemic Chassis for Ghosts and Other Incorporeals

Golemic Chassis (n.)
A physical framework designed to be a conveyance for an incorporeal being (or group of such beings) as well as a means for them to interact directly with the material world. Often powered by a magnetic engine. Some chassis are created as a means of defense, posted at the gates of certain ghost-cities or deposited in some treasure-filled vault not found on any extant map of the Underworld.


Dead Lord Fylthie's Iron Juggernaut
(450 hp | AC = iron golem | attack: pummel 2d6)
Conceived by the former lord of long-vacated Weddowgwib as a means to defend his familial keep from mortal incursion, the Juggernaut is an iron sphere the size of a small cottage. Numerous shadowy holes of varying size dot its surface -- these are housings for a variety of mechanical limbs and sensory apparatus, including articulated tentacles, glass-tubed material collectors, and adamant-tipped drills for boring into the earth beneath Weddowgwib's burial grounds. Fylthie operates the construct from within a pear-sized emerald phylactery-cockpit that he may enter and exit at will.


Let's do a series of these & I'll attempt to gather art for each entry.