Sunday, 29 June 2014

Ghosts and Ghouls

Things that go bump in the night, monsters in the wardrobe and those moments that raise the hairs on the back of your neck and then the ones everywhere else!

If you play any RPG you will at some some point run into or through something that we could call a ghost. Possibly some sort of monster or crypt dwelling being might be lurking around the corner. A clutch of skeletal warriors might be lurking in wait or perhaps the shades of long forgotten teachers lurking with malice aforethought.
They give us the shivers and line up as fodder for our adventuring characters.

For some reason though they very rarely seem to make it into fantasy. Well, normally.

Vampires have taken over a corner of the horror and fantasy overlap and wont be evicted, not even by a man with a big stick, flame thrower and a script full of one-liners. So I'm not going to get into vampires, not yet.

Instead I'm going to look at the other beings that inhabit the dark and mouldering corners of Fantasonia.

Mogmush looked around and squinted down the dark tunnel, absently brushing cobwebs out of his hair as he did so. 

"Why're we doin' this again?" His voice carrie donly a hint of his usual slur and Gudguff felt reassured he had done the right thing in hiding the barbarian's supply of booze.

"There's a chamber at the heart of this barrow that..." Gudguff was interrupted as the huge man pushed the Wizard out of the way and ran down the length of the tunnel.

"Never mind!" Mogmush yelled as he headed toward the small square of light that marked the door.
A dry clacking sound filled the tunnel and drowned out the barbarian's fleeing footsteps.

"Oh...yes..." Gudguff hurriedly held his staff out power in front of himself and began to summon his magic.

Hold on, I know all about this. I've played Skyrim.
Oh, well! Why didn't you say so? I don't need to to explain about the Banshee, the Revenant or the Kobold then do I?

Err...the what now?
We'll start with Revenant's then shall we?

William of Newburgh wrote the following in the 1190's:
"It would not be easy to believe that the corpses of the dead should sally (I know not by what agency) from their graves, and should wander about to the terror or destruction of the living, and again return to the tomb, which of its own accord spontaneously opened to receive them, did not frequent examples, occurring in our own times, suffice to establish this fact, to the truth of which there is abundant testimony"
Revenants appeared throughout the folklore and fireside stories of western Europe throughout the Middle ages. These stories were especially popular in England. Revenants would typically die, be buried and then rise again to spread misery.
Consistently they would terrorize their former neighbours and families (much like a clingy ex) and would be stopped with the removal of the head and possibly a sprinkle of holy water, the removal of the heart and a light garnish of Rosemary.

Well alright...I didn't know that. But it sounds a lot like a vampire!
Of course it does! The roots for most of our modern horror "Heroes" can be seen in all sorts of ancient tales. Mostly because the people who made such creatures famous, I'm looking at you Stoker, had heard the English versions of the stories as children and were introduced to the Eastern versions of the stories as they grew up. It was only a matter of time before the most chilling aspects of the various tales were merged together.

The major difference with Revenants (aside from the lack of blood sucking) is that they tended to prey almost exclusively on people they had known during their former lives, much like politicians. And, also like politicians, once they have inflicted an arbitrarily determined amount of woe of suffering they crawl back under their tombstone without the need for any passing Hero to banish them.

The Banshee

Known to the Irish as: Bean Si, the Banshee is a spectral female who appears to curse the living with the knowledge of their imminent death, often wailing in a hideous manner to speed said death. You will have seen a Banshee or two if you have had the misfortune to be out on the town and in the proximity of a Hen Do.
For US readers:
A Hen Do is a collection of cackling women who hunt down lost and injured men before devouring them, alive, through phallic shaped straws.

Banshees pop up throughout various tales and myths and never with a good outcome. They cannot be stopped, merely avoided and once their proclamation has been made there is nothing to be done about it. Much like a mother-in-law at a wedding.

But...I've seen horror films! What about the zombies and the Werewolves!?
Oh, you want Werewolves do you?

Werewolves, in the original myths, were most often created by the implementation of a single curse. This curse could not be passed on by the cursed and was limited to that person. The phases of the moon seem to have little sway over the original Werewolves and much of what is now gospel for Lycanthropes is in fact thought to be latter additions.

The original Lycanthropes were more likely a wide spread warrior cult of ancient standing. Copying wolves has always been a trait that sets humans aside and in the early years of our species we learned a lot from these apex predators. Pre-historical societies may have held strange initiation ceremonies in which men wore the pelts of the most dangerous animal of the woods and shambled around a fire in a laughable and drunken imitation of said animal's grace.
As time wore on and fashions changed, these ceremonies would have become increasingly rare and more villified as newer and more interesting temples opened up.

But, for Fantasy's sake there is nothing wrong with people being bitten or the full moon or curses or whatever else you fancy putting in there. Just remember that Werewolves are not actual Wolves. Real Wolves, quite sensibly, have as little to do with people as possible these days and really don't condone the sort of mindless slaughter that Werewolves get up to.

Riiiiiight... but what about the other one? The Cuphold?
Kobold. It's pronounced Kobold.

Right, yeah...them.
Kobold's are a hangover of Germanic Paganism. Most often they are described as house spirits. Now hold on a second before you start banging on about Poltergeists!
Kobold's are not overtly malicious. In fact, mos of the time they are quite handy to have around the place, doing chores and so on. If they are forgotten or insulted then they get peevish and play pranks, like hiding your keys or quietly shaving half an inch of one chair leg. Kobold's have been reported to look after whole towns or mines and are creatures imbued with strange and largely underrated powers.
In an interesting twist they do have a relative in England. The Boggart.

Boggarts are the same as Kobolds in all respects. They might help you or hinder you at their will but they tend to have a slightly malicious sense of humour about it. Boggarts are also almost entirely confined to Yorkshire (For non Englanders- Yorkshire is a very strange and very insular part of Britain that was once an independent Viking kingdom and has never really let the idea go). As such they are often imbued with the bitter and cutting wit of said county and have a robust sense of humour. For example:

Boggart: Where's my spice? Translation: Prithee sir, where is my recompense for mine hard work?
House owner: Bugger off. Trans': I'll have none of you, away foul Homunculus.
Boggart: Right then. Thy's for it! Trans': By God's wounds thou shalt regret this insult!
House owner: Aargh! Where has my liver gone? This hurts! Trans': Aargh! Mine Liver has absconded from the premises! It is as if the fires of hell were poured into my trunk.
Boggart: Joke's on thee! Trans': Such is thine reward!
House owner: What joke? My liver's gone! This isn't funny! Trans': I see not the humour in the black cloud of this day. 
Boggart: It's pretty fucking funny from where I'm sitting! Trans': In time you shall see the joy.
House owner: Gurgle. Trans': Gurgle.

The somewhat laboured point is that there are dozens and dozens of legends and myths to be chosen from and used. You can cherry pick all of the mythology of the world to fill your world with terrifying creatures and ghastly wails. Or, better still, you can combine what you find into some new thing to brown the trousers of your Hero and their band.
Speaking of which.

Gudguff swung his staff around and bellowd the words of power.
"Clap on! Clap off!" A blinding sheet of light flooded the tunnel at the words and revealed the spectre that had been rushing towards the Wizard.
It reared up and filled the tunnel. Vile, palid patterns wreathed across it's carcass and a rope of cold pearls coiled about it's neck.

Gudguff raised his staff over his head and breathed deeply as he wove the spell in his mind, giving the power that thrummed through him a lattice to give it form. It was quickly finished and only needed releasing. 

"You!" The tunnel shook. "Shall Not!" Gudguff felt the spell taking form around him, only one word remained. He drew breath again to complete the spell.

"Don't you tell me what to do, young man!" His mother's voice cut through the half formed spell like a hammer through custard. His concentration shattered, Gudguff sagged against the wall and stared at the flowery hem of his mother's nightie.


"Don't you mum me, young man." She placed her hands on her hips for a moment before brandishing her feather duster at him. "Three hundred years I've been here and never once have you visited or done the cleaning!"

"But, Mum! There's this Dark Lord and...and..." Her eyes bored into Gudguff and his excuses dried up. "I'll get the mop then?"