Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Octhorrorfest: Possession and Obssession For Your Old School Fantasy and Horror Campaign

Let's get right to it and get into the nitty gritty of these things. The idea of possession has been fairly well understood since the release of The Exorcist in 1973. Possession, of course, is the act of a spirit (demon, ghost, etc.) dominating and controlling an individuals body. Obsession is an attack by a spiritual entity or magical creature from without the individuals body. This is often a form of mind control in which the entity holds sway over the victim. Often the obsessed will become literally "obsessed" with it's attacker, often falling into to cultus of said entity doing the entities bidding by accomplishing tasks that the obssessor cannot accomplish by itself.. This features prominently in many of the Hammer Horror Dracula films. In literature the character R. M. Renfield, from Bram Stoker's Dracula,  is an obsessed follower of Dracula.

Klove, an obsessed servant of Dracula - from Hammer Films Dracula, Prince of Darkness

It has always struck me as odd that these things are so often either neglected in D&D and it's simulacra, or simply cast aside by the use of similar spells (obsession, in the vampiric sense, being typically attributed to a charm person spell.) Here I present you with my house rules for possession and obsession.

Any spirit, demon or devil may attempt to possess a victim. To do so the spirit must first make a saving throw with a penalty of the charisma bonus (if any) of the victim. If the roll is a success the victim is allowed a saving throw to avoid the possession with a penalty equal to the spirit/demon's hit dice. Protection spells already in place may modify these rolls at the referee's discretion. If the possessor succeeds and the victim fails his save, the possession is successful and the spirit has full control of the victim's body. Once per hit die per day the possessed may attempt to stop his body from taking an action attempted by the possessor spirit. This attempt suffers are cumulative penalty of -2 for each week that passes. This does not break the possession. Only an action denoted as an exorcism by the referee may break the possession. The spirit may relinquish control as it sees fit, but after gaining control, may always take control again at any time, presuming that a successful exorcism is not performed.


An obsessed vampire cultist helps a new vampire rise - from Hammer Films The Brides of Dracula

Many creatures, from demons to greater vampires and any other entities that the referee deems may cause an individual to become obsessed. Obsession may be attempted in various ways dependent upon the individual entity. In some cases obsession is caused by a gaze, in others telepathic communication (powerful vampires and demon princes have this ability) or something as simple as a touch. An entity attempting for cause obsession in a victim  must first make a saving throw with a penalty of the charisma bonus (if any) of the victim. If the roll is a success the victim is allowed a saving throw to avoid the obsession with a penalty equal to the entities hit dice. Protection spells already in place may modify these rolls at the referee's discretion, just as in the case of possession. If successful the creature causing the obsession gains a telepathic link to the obsessed by which it's suggestions can be made, even over a great distance. In the early stages the obsessed can attempt to fight the suggestions. This is done by making a saving throw, modified by a penalty of the obsessors hit dice. This may be done once per day per hit die of the obsessed. An attempt to break the obsession may be made a number of times per week per hit die of the obsessed. Success is determined in the same manner as attempts to fight suggestions Each failed attempt adds an additional penalty of -1 to the next attempt. If the total penalty reaches the hit dice of the obsessed character, they become an utter thrall of the obsessing entity, unless exorcised.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Octhorrorfest: Appendix Nspriation, Michael Whelan, Lovecraft's Nightmare

Not a lot of time to get a post up this week, but the week isn't done. To ensure something for Octhorrorfest this week, I figured I would share one of my favorite Michael Whelan pieces, Lovecraft's Nightmare parts 1 and 2. When looking at weird fiction and weird fantasy, I find these macabre images highly inspirational. The tree in particular has produced many similar trees in my campaign worlds, one being the center piece in an adventure that some readers are familiar with called "Fear of the Dark.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Octhorrorfest; Curing Characters Afflicted With Vampirism For Old School Fantasy and Horror Games

Vampiric Affliction; How It Works

It is well known that those bitten by a vampire, shall rise as a vampire. There is often confusion about how this works. From a folkloric standpoint, the affliction/curse can be transferred from a bite or drinking the blood of a vampire. In many games, especially D&D and it's derivatives, anyone killed by a vampire will become one, under the Master's control. But how do the metaphysics of the affliction actually work?

When a vampire bites someone an unholy "venom" enters into the victim's  bloodstream. If the victim dies while this "venom" is still active, they will rise as a vampire under the control of the vampire who had originally cause the wound. This is what gave rise to the idea that a victim will become a vampire after being bitten a given number of times (typically three.) In these cases the vampire feeds upon the same victim night after night until they are drained of blood and die, then rising as a vampire themselves. Of course, dying in any way while the "venom" is in the victim will cause them to rise as a vampire.

Curing the Affliction

There are at least two ways to cure the affliction, if caught before death. In either case, a saving throw or constitution check (referee's discretion) to overcome the affliction. The first way to remove the affliction is to apply a poultice made of 3 parts garlic to 1 part silver to the wound every hour until the "venom" is neutralized. This would require a save/check each time the poultice is applied.

The second cure requires holy water. This method is demonstrated by Van Helsing in the film "The Brides of Dracula" from Hammer Horror.  First, the bite must be cauterized with hot steel. Following this holy water should be poured over the wound. The holy water instantly removes the affliction when this ritual cure is performed.


Friday, October 9, 2015

Octhorrorfest: The Elder Sign, Turning the Outer Dark For Old School Fantasy and Horror Games

We all know that the original cleric's "turn undead" ability comes directly from the famous scene in Hammer's Horror of Dracula in which Van Helsing creates a makeshift cross to drive the count back into the sunlight, destroying him.
Turning undead has become a staple in D&D starting at the very beginning. But there is something else, directly from the horror inspirations of Appendix N itself, that allows protection and, possibly turning. I am speaking, of course of the Elder Sign. At the moment, I am only going to focus on the hand gestures and the version of the sigil as referred to by H.P. Lovecraft himself. I am ignoring Derleth's pentagram version outright.

We know that some Elder Signs (yes there are likely multiple) are used to ward of the terrors presented in Lovecraftian fiction.

"In some places they was little stones strewed abaout—like charms—with somethin’ on ’em like what ye call a swastika naowadays. Prob’ly them was the Old Ones’ signs." H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth

"At another house, where people were stirring, he asked questions about the gods, and whether they danced often upon Lerion; but the farmer and his wife would only make the Elder Sign and tell him the way to Nir and Ulthar." -  H.P. Lovecraft, The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath

Here we have a case for the ability of  an Elder Sign, or THE Elder Sign being able to ward off "evil" in some way. One of these is obviously a mark of some sort. It is referenced as being like a swastika. I believe that this means that it is runic in nature, as opposed to a more stylized sigil. The second is obviously a hand sign, and is mentioned as such in other works, though not in a protective manner. This again leads me to believe that there is more than one Elder Sign, but I digress.

One such Elder Sign, and I believe it to be a protective one, is actually drawn by Lovecraft himself in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith.

“Again thanking you in Tsathoggua’s name for the recent shipment, & hoping to see more items from your pen ere long, I append the Elder Sign & the Seal of N’gah, given in the Dark Cycle of Y’hu.”

He then signed his name as “Ec’h-Pi-El” and drew both of the figures mentioned above. We are here only concerned with the Elder Sign. Which he drew this way:

Interestingly, Lovecraft's Elder Sign, IS a way of writing a specific rune! See the chart of FUTHARK Runes below.
The 18th Rune, Berkanan/Bjarkan, when written as "tree script," is a clear depiction of the elder sign. This cipher makes hatch marks denoting the row of the rune on the left side of the "trunk" and the column of the rune on the right. This rune means "Birch" and as such is often related to birth, healing and protection/sanctuary. That's right. The rune that looks like the Elder Sign is a protective rune. Interesting, no? It is no stretch of the imagination to see this Elder Sign as one which can ward of eldritch horrors.
The hand sign (also due to the rune's placement in the FUTHARK "alphabet") is one, I believe which holds three fingers downward (row) and two upward (column.) There is, again, a real world parallel to this. This parallel is the Mano Cornuto, or "Sign of the Horns," which many will recognize as the "Metal Sign." In folklore this has long been believed to ward of evil and curses, such as the evil eye.
Turning the Outer Dark

So, we have this little bit of folk magic to drop into a game. How does it work and what is the ruling on using the Elder Sign for turning creatures of the Outer Dark? Very simple. Any character of any class may attempt to turn the outer dark. Use the cleric's turning table from your chosen game for this. 
When a character attempts to turn and eldritch horror they must first make a "fear save" (use save vs. magic with no modifiers) to pull it together enough to accomplish the task. If they succeed they make the Elder Sign (hand sign) To determine what level the turning is at, take the number that the save is made by and divide it by 2, rounding down. The turn attempt is made at this level. Example, a Shoggoth shambles down the hall toward your thief. The thief makes the Elder Sign and rolls her saving throw. Her save is 13 and she rolls 17. This is 4 higher than the required save. Dividing the result in half, we get a turning level of 2. Roll a D20 on the turning table to see how many hit dice are turned, just as a cleric turning undead. The thief in this instance rolls a 13, allowing her to turn 3 HD worth of eldritch horrors. The Shoggoth has far more hit dice, and is thus unaffected. Very unfortunate for your thief. Hope you had the will on your character sheet filled out.
 Graven Image: The Elder Sign
Now, on to inscribing the sigil form of the Elder Sign. Anyone can create this charm in exactly the same fashion that anyone can use the hand sign. Engraving stone, wood etc, with a successful check of course, will make the amulet effective for 1 day per level of the character who creates it. The Elder sign can be inscribed upon anything. If carried, no eldritch horror (of designated hit dice) may  attack the bearer (unless attacked first, thus negating the properties of the sign.) Additionally, if hung over a threshold, eldritch horrors may not enter into it. A magic-user capable of crafting amulets may also create such a talisman, but the hit dice affected are not rounded down, and the effects of the amulet are permanent unless dispelled.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Octhorrorfest: Lycanthropy Without Tears, A Rite of Lycanthropy For Old School Fantasy and Horror Games

It's that time of year again folks. To kick off the Hallows season, I'm going to give you something vile for your villains! The Rites of Lycanthropy! Where statistics are needed, Swords & Wizardry rules are used.
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright. -The Wolf Man (1942)
Now it is well established in lore that one can be come a Were(insert animal here) through a curse or through infection, typically through the bite of a lycanthrope. What happens if a character (pc or npc) seeks in insanity, vengeance or greed, to become a lycanthrope through choice? Is it possible? Of course it is. Most things are possible through ritual magic, in a fantasy game.
If a character is so driven, and discovers this method, the ritual is quite simple, though there is a price to be paid. The desire to become a lycanthrope is, in itself a chaotic inclination. The Taint of Chaos is upon any who undertake such a rite. The ritual entails a magical ointment, a Demon Prince or Duke of Hell willing to offer their "help" as a patron in the transformation and an age old incantation. Needless to say, any undertaking this rite become chaotic in alignment.
First, the candidate must gather all of these ingredients and heat them in a cauldron to produce the ointment. How easy these herbs and other ingredients are to obtain is up to the referee. The gathering of the first ingredient itself is a vile and chaotic act.
* fat from disinterred children
* hemlock
* aconite
* poplar leaves
* soot or cowbane
* sweet flag
* cinquefoil
* bat's blood
* deadly nightshade
* oil
*a belt of the skin of a wolf (other animal) to be worn as the only article of clothing during the ritual
The candidate must then draw a thaumaturgical circle upon the night of the full moon and petition the dark patron that they have chosen to call upon, once the ointment has boiled. An offering appropriate to the patron should be used to entice the demon/devil. Then the incantation is given:
"Make me a werewolf! Make me a man-eater!
Make me a werewolf! Make me a child-eater!
Make me a werewolf! Make me a woman-eater!
I pine for blood! human blood!
Give it to me! Give it to me tonight!
(name of demon/devil)! Give it to me, and heart, body, and soul, I am yours!"
A saving throw is made. If successful the patron hears the plea. It is the referee's decision as to whether or not the otherworldly being actually appears and aids the candidate. If successful, at this point, a pact will be made between the candidate and the patron. If the patron accepts, it shall bestow the "gift" of lycanthropy upon the candidate.