Coping with Mental Issues: Making Batman’s Enemies Insane

I feel that to have an effective criminally insane villain, certain things are necessary:

  1. The writer should have a clear idea of the character’s mental issue, how their perceptions and thoughts are abnormal (more so than simply “they are chaotic”).
  2. These mental issues make the person not responsible for their actions as they are perceiving the universe too differently.
  3. There’s a tension in the story because of the character’s unreliability. It is hard to deal with this character because the villain’s perspective is so displaced from what’s real. If he has henchmen, then there probably should be a moment where the henchmen are uncertain how to interpret their boss’ commands (unless the henchmen have bought into the issue).
  4. The hero’s confrontation with the villain must have internal tension, a sense of “how do I deal with this person?” The villain is ultimately not responsible, but still must be stopped. The story must feel a sadness that such a violent response against the villain is necessary.
  5. Whatever the villain’s final fate, there must be a sense of tragedy. If the villain cannot be cured, then there must be sympathy for the villain, that he or she is basically a prisoner in their own head.

For many people (myself included), Batman the Animated Series from the 1990s is considered one of the greatest takes on the character, a revolutionary cartoon that reinterpreted previously lame villains (such as Mr. Freeze and Mad Hatter) and added several compelling new characters (such as Harley Quinn and Renee Montoya). It did, sadly, carry on many issues from the comics, including numerous characters classified as being insane when they had no right to be, Arkham Asylum as almost more of a prison than a hospital, etc. But that said, it did feature a few characters who were legitimately criminally insane, and they were some of the most compelling episodes.

Ventriloquist

He was created in the late 80s, and has the interesting distinction of being the most intriguing Batman villain created when I was alive. Arnold Wesker is a shy withdrawn man who has repressed all his anger, frustration, and aggression. An accomplished ventriloquist, he expresses his negative thoughts through a dummy named Scarface, who Wesker is convinced is a totally different person. Scarface becomes a ruthless gangster who treats Wesker as his pathetic valet, constantly denigrating him in public, and Wesker believes that they are two entirely different people.

He’s got a clear mental issue – dissociative personality disorder brought on by repressed anger, and he clearly his consciousness is not responsible for his actions. As far as his consciousness is concerned, the Ventriloquist is an innocent man held hostage by a villain, and whenever anyone confronts him, he sincerely announces that (“It wasn’t me! It was Scarface! He’s the one you want!”). After being persecuted by Scarface, Catwoman attacks the Ventriloquist and is about to claw his face, and when the Ventriloquist begs for his life, our sympathy is with him – he think he’s innocent. There is also a perfect moment of unreliability in his first appearance on the cartoon, where Batman convinces Scarface that Ventriloquist has betrayed him, and Scarface demands that his goons execute the Ventriloquist. The goons, of course, hesitate, as they know that killing him would also kill their boss, and Scarface is enraged at this “betrayal.”

Perhaps most tellingly, the doll Scarface is destroyed in the climax, and then we see Ventriloquist at Arkham Asylum some time later. The doctors are happy that he seems to be making a full recovery. But then we see he is secretly making a new Scarface doll. Usually when there is a scene at the end of a Batman episode that shows the villain will return, the emotion is menace – the villain will escape and cause suffering. But here the emotion is tragedy – not that the Ventriloquist will hurt someone (though he likely will do that too) but that he is not free of his mental issues.

Maxie Zeus

One of the most peculiar of Batman villains – Maxie Zeus thinks that he is the Greek god Zeus and he fits everything into this delusion (such as thinking of Batman as Hades). Probably no villain is as disconnected from reality. He is often ignored in the comics or treated as a joke because his delusion is so ludicrous – but that’s what makes him truly insane.

The Animated Series episode with Maxie (“Fire from Olympus”) is a powerful and strange story because it truly explores what makes an insane villain so dangerous and yet so sympathetic. Maxie Zeus is accompanied by two henchmen and his girlfriend Clio. Clio is a compelling addition because she is his loved one viewing his fall from insanity, begging him to return to lucidity. She stands in for numerous people who witness their loved ones fall from reality, and desperately try to help them without knowing how.

Maxie’s most prominent crimes are ones that seem so reasonable in his own world. He destroys police zeppelins that get close their tower merely because “mortals are not supposed to approach Olympus,” attempts to murder people who renege on deals with him because they have “shown disrespect to the gods.” His actions are so divorced from reality that it is impossible not feel sympathy for Maxie and for Clio. And tellingly, Batman convinces her to help defeat Maxie because Batman claims he can get the man the help he needs.

Then, when Clio tries to make him see reason, we have the perfect moment of unreliability. He believes her actions are because she is “merely” a demigod. He chains her to his lightning machine so that the “lightning of Zeus” will purge her of her mortality, making her a full goddess at Maxie’s side. His goons start to question him, just like the Ventriloquist’s men did.

And then, we have the ending – which manages to be both funny but also very sympathetic towards Maxie Zeus. He’s in a straight jacket, being rolled through Arkham, and is utterly happy, because he mistakes the Joker for the trickster god Hermes, Poison Ivy for Demeter, and Two-Face for Janus, and is convinced that finally he is in Olympus. The final image is not a villain who we can be happy is incarcerated but a poor victim trapped in his head.

Other Villains

There are a few other villains in Batman that are clearly insane. For example, Killer Croc is often so animalistic he seems almost entirely motivated by instinct; it’s hard to blame someone for his actions when he just starts screaming “Hungry! Pain!” Humpty Dumpty is a savant great at taking apart machinery and fixing it, and he eventually decided that the reason his grandmother was so abusive was that she must be broken – so he took her apart to fix her. But they’re rare. Certainly most of the more prominent characters do not feel insane at all.

What would they be like if they were actually crazy?

Two-Face

Two-Face is almost there. He clearly has an issue that takes away control of his actions, he often recognizes he has issues, and he has loved ones grieving for him, and Batman clearly considers him to be a damaged person to be helped rather than a criminal to be punished. However, he falls apart a little because of the lack of specificity of his mental problem. He’s frequently referred to as having multiple personalities, but that is very rarely represented – and seems more like an attempt to just add more duality imagery to him than a thought about how he should be perceived. Perhaps more importantly, insanity means being so separated from reality that you cannot judge right and wrong, and Two-Face’s issue is he feels a need to flip a coin to decide his actions, but the coin flip is always between “good” and “evil” actions – if he is able to separate what makes an action good and evil, and he uses definition that regular people do, then he clearly does understand right and wrong – he just chooses to ignore it.

For Two-Face to be truly insane, his coin flip should not be about whether to be good or evil, but about deciding what the “good” choice actually is. Studies have shown that any choice we make is ultimately with our emotions, our “gut” — if the emotional part of the brain is damaged, then no matter how much reasoning the person is still capable of, they will be unable to make proper choices. If part of Two-Face was damage in whatever scarred them, then he could potentially have no ability to judge his own actions. That would present someone highly sympathetic and clearly dysfunctional, a person robbed from any internal sense of meaning.

One problem with that is that it does separate Two-Face from the iconic-ness of his coin, which represents the choice between good and evil. It is possible that it could still often represent the violent vs non-violent choice (“do I shoot this person or not”) — but frequently which choice should be made with the scarred side is arbitrary (“do I rob this store or the other?” “Do I shoot Batman or Robin?”). It would dilute the purity of Two-Face’s iconography, but would make his situation more philosophically compelling, and ultimately make him a more sympathetic and accurately insane character.

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is a seductive woman with an affinity with plants, and an eco-terrorist ideology. She is an iconic Arkham inmate, but what exactly is her insanity? Caring about the environment is not insane – neither, for that matter, is killing people over it – though it is, of course, criminal. To be insane she would need a harsher separation from reality, and more confusion on why others don’t see things her way.

Giving her a warped sense of empathy could work. She has an easier time feeling empathy for plants than for humans. She thinks back in sadness at when her grandparents’ house burned – not because the grandparents died but because their rose bush did. Ivy can’t understand why other people are so cruel to plants. If one goes this route, it would make sense for Ivy to only eat the parts of plants that doesn’t harm them – she eats fruit and nuts, but never roots. She feels about eating carrots the same way that most people feel about eating human flesh (or at least monkeys). Ivy is earnestly baffled why she’s considered a villain for murdering a CEO whose company clear-cuts.

Harley Quinn

Harley suffers from the association of chaotic behavior with insanity. Of course she’s insane; she’s so weird! But then what exactly is her craziness? Harley is at her most frightening when she is bubbly and goofy while doing terrible things. There’s a bit where she has Catwoman strapped to a conveyor belt, and is about to turn her into catfood. Harley is joking, and seems to honestly think that Catwoman will appreciate that in death she’ll be helping some cats.

Harley does not take life seriously. She treats it like a game. What if that’s what she literally thought life was? That it was just fun, with no serious consequences – like an old Bugs Bunny cartoon. People may fall off buildings, be set on fire, but in the end no one is really hurt. There are no consequences. It would make her bubbling personality very dangerous.

Mad Hatter

Few Batman villains have changed more dramatically than Mad Hatter. First he was just a villain who looked like the Alice in Wonderland character, then someone obsessed with hats, then someone obsessed with Lewis Carroll, then someone whose obsession moves between hats and Carroll depending upon the author. He often feels like a character who was declared insane by the authors simply because he has “Mad” in his name, and then made to giggle and quote Alice more in order to feel crazy without any real thought to what exactly his issues are.

Of Mad Hatter’s two obsessions, the Carroll one is far more interesting than hats, and easier to build an insane outlook on. The Alice books are full of bizarre outlooks, logic puzzles, and weird philosophy, and it is easy to build an insane perspective from them. The most effective Batman stories with the Mad Hatter play up the dreamlike subjectivity of the Alice books, producing a character who doesn’t really believe that the world is real – it’s all just something dreamed by the Red King (or possibly Mad Hatter himself). A world full of all sorts of backwards logic, including that the best way to go over a gate is to stand on your head and that words can mean whatever you want them to mean. The Mad Hatter is a person who believes he has stepped through the mirror into Looking-Glass Land, a realm where flowers talk, rabbits have waistcoats, and everything is a dream. When he becomes a man suffering from delusions, hallucinating his dream realm, he becomes a far more compelling figure.

Riddler

Riddler is a man obsessed with proving he is smarter than the smartest man (who he thinks is Batman), and so he constantly leaves riddles, forcing Batman to try and solve them. In later stories, they have played up the riddles as a compulsion, that he finds himself unable to not leave them behind. This can clearly mark him as abnormal, but crazy? No. It’s the sort of thing that might get a psychiatrist to visit him in prison but not get him sent to a hospital.

It would be hard to reinvent the Riddler to make him actually insane, as his defining trait beside riddles is his total lucidity. He very clearly understands his environment, and knows the laws, and how they can be played with. The only way to make him insane while keeping that cunning is to make him some sort of solipsist who believes that no one is actually real except him and Batman. It would explain why he is so obsessed with Batman, and why he doesn’t care if other people are hurt as part of the schemes. Unfortunately, it would also make his issues pretty similar to Mad Hatter’s – a genius who basically believes the universe is a dream operating under its own logic. Honestly, I feel Riddler would be better served as being reclassified as abnormal but sane.

Scarecrow

The Scarecrow. A psychologist who dresses up like a Halloween decoration and is obsessed with spreading fear. In some stories, he is spreading fear just for the hell of it, but in others he seems to be doing some psychological experiments. What is his insanity? It’s something that is never really established. He is creepy and obsessed, but besides that there really isn’t much.

Is it some extreme megalomania combined with delusion? Sometimes the way he talks, he almost sounds like he thinks he’s some sort of god of fear. Is it that he prioritizes scientific research so much that he cannot understand why people are shocked by his actions? That sort of mad scientist approach could be a direction to go. Possibly he might even think that people facing their fear, even if they die, is what they need to do. Though admittedly all of these move him away dramatically from his normal personality. He is so clinical and yet sadistic that it is difficult to reinvent him in a way that seems legitimately crazy.

Joker

Batman’s arch-enemy. When one asks “Is the Joker crazy?” Most people would answer “Of course, he is. He’s the Joker!” What then is his mental issue? Sure, he’s weird and wild, and does all sorts of funky things, but what exactly is his problem? It’s something that surprisingly few people are interested in exploring – probably partly because one big element of Joker’s appeal is how mysterious he is. However, I feel that if you are going to present an insane character, then it is important to explain how he is insane. Otherwise, go another direction with him

Grant Morrison suggested that Joker’s brain has difficulty processing sensory information, so that he is constantly interpreting it in a different way. That’s used to explain why different stories have dramatically different takes on him – joyless assassin, goofy thief, giggling serial killer, etc. Others (including Alan Moore) have suggested that Joker is such a complete nihilist that not only does he feel the universe is one big pointless joke, but he believes then that the only moral imperative is to teach others of this cold hard fact. The world is chaos, and everyone should know it. Or, in a more light-hearted way, he just sees everything as a cartoon, just like Harley does. In this case, the one moral imperative is to get everyone to laugh.

Unfortunately, a lot of people also like to think of the Joker as one of the DC Universe’s ultimate embodiments of pure evil. If he is insane, then by definition he can’t be that. Then Batman is an unfeeling brute beating up a man not responsible for his actions. This is an interpretation many people are not comfortable with. Fair enough, but in that case don’t call Joker and his ilk crazy.

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Coping with Mental Issues: Batman’s Enemies

“What interests me…is the fact that he functions as a lightning rod for a certain breed of psychotic. They specialize in absurdly grandiose schemes, and whatever the ostensible rationale–greed, revenge, the seizure of power…their true agenda is always the same: to cast Batman in the role of Nemesis.”
–Henri Ducard, Batman

Comics sadly have a bad history of treating people with mental issues respectively. This is especially true in superhero comics, where insanity is often used as a villain’s motivation, and especially especially true in Batman comics, where most of his villains are considered insane and sent to Arkham Asylum as opposed to prison.

This is actually a relatively recent addition. Originally Batman’s enemies were considered no more or less insane than any other villains. In fact, there was an early comic strip in which the Joker faked insanity in order to be transported from prison to a hospital (so he could escape on route). It was only in 1974 (35 years after Batman was created) that Arkham first appeared in the comics, and was in the 80s when it was decided that most of Batman’s enemies were crazy rather than being merely eccentric, and so it became the go-to place for their incarceration.

Presumably this was an attempt to give more depth to the villains, an explanation for their bizarre crimes and actions. Why does Riddler always leave riddles? He’s obsessive-compulsive. Why does Joker tell jokes all the time and commit bizarre crimes? He’s lost touch with reality. However, this decision has some pretty deep problems. Firstly, making insanity the main motivation of the rogues gallery for the world’s most popular superhero results in further demonizing an already derided minority. If you think of crazy people in popular culture, Joker, Two-Face, and other miscreants spring readily to mind. Secondly, it shows a serious ignorance of what insanity actually is.

To be classified as psychologically abnormal, a person must have behaviour and/or thoughts that are very different from regular people and which hamper the person’s ability to interact with themselves or with others – to function well. Thus, if you fill several rooms in your house with dolls that you talk to but you also hold down a good job, feel good about yourself, and have positive relationships with others, then you are not abnormal, just eccentric. But if you yell at people about what the dolls are saying and are unable to interact with people in a comfortable way, then you are abnormal. Now, insanity is actually more of a legal than psychological term – to be criminally insane means that you committed a crime but your mind is such that you were incapable of realizing that what you were doing was wrong – thus, you are ultimately innocent of your actions. You’re not criminal, you’re sick. That’s why you’re in a hospital rather than a prison.

In this context, only a few of Batman’s enemies would be considered properly insane. Maxie Zeus thinks he’s the god Zeus, the Ventriloquist has so repressed his anger that it manifests in his wooden dummy – which he thinks is a living person, sometimes Killer Croc is written so that his thoughts are more like an animal’s than a man’s. But most of the prominent villains are merely abnormal – Riddler is obsessive-compulsive about leaving cues, Poison Ivy kills to protect plants, Scarecrow is a megalomaniac with delusions of grandeur, but they still understand that their actions are wrong – or at least will be so judged by society. They are responsible for what they do.

Indeed, it is a trope of the Batman franchise to constantly remind us that the villains are responsible for their actions. Often a psychologist or other concerned citizen will accuse Batman of being a brute for mistreating people who are mentally ill, that these poor individuals are victims rather than criminals. This happens in the regular comics, in Batman the Animated Series, in The Dark Knight Returns… and every single time, the villains attempt to kill the psychologist, either resulting in that individual’s death or in a last-minute save by Batman that makes the individual realize that Arkham’s inmates are monsters that need to be controlled, not victims deserving our sympathy.

Now, many of you might take offence to the idea that Joker or Scarecrow are merely misunderstood victims. Is that really fair considering how many people they’ve murdered? Plus, then it makes Batman seem like a villain, beating up the mentally ill who are ultimately innocent. Fair enough. I think there’s a lot of problematic elements in treating people like Joker as victims – but if you don’t want to do that, then don’t classify them as being insane. By definition, someone with criminal insanity is a victim – a victim of their trauma, of their lives, of their own brain.

There is a lot of stigma towards people with mental issues, and a lot of people complain about criminals being declared legally insane and sent to the hospital rather than prison. Stories like Batman, where people who are clearly villainous but still classified as insane, encourage this perception – that being declared insane is a way to “cheat the system.” In reality, very few lawyers use it as a defence for their client, and even less cases end with that being the sentence. And, interestingly enough, when a person is declared insane, he is generally sent to the hospital longer than he would be in prison (as he is not there for a set time but until cured).

Some would claim that the Batman comics do not demonize the mentally ill because the heroes have issues as well. Don’t people often think of Batman himself as being crazy? Okay then, what is his craziness? It’s not that he dresses up like a bat and drives a bat-shaped car – Catwoman is considered one of his few sane enemies and she basically has the same animal shtick, to say nothing of various “sane” superheroes who have costumes equally strange. Is it that Batman’s obsessive-compulsive, utterly driven in his war on crime? Well, once again that could fit numerous superheroes, who are not considered crazy. Besides, even if that were true, it would at most make him abnormal but certainly not crazy – by definition he knows what right and wrong are. But more importantly, Batman’s sanity is almost never engaged with by the writers in a serious way, just hand-waved as an explanation for why he’s so intense and usually used to simply make him seem more badass (“he’s not human!”). If Batman’s sanity is questionable, then clarify in what way, and treat the topic with understanding and sympathy. If you don’t want us to pity Batman, then don’t pretend he’s crazy.

The mentally ill are a prominent minority and one that, virtually by definition, suffers a lot. Pop culture should be used to help us understand these people and feel sympathy for them, not encourage us to treat them like criminals and punchlines. Storytellers have a responsibility.

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Coping with Mental Issues: King Arthur’s Men

Howard Pyle, “Geraint”

“Ah, Geraint,” said Gwalchmai, “is it thou that art here?”
“I am not Geraint,” said he.
“Geraint thou art, by Heaven,” he replied, “and a wretched and insane expedition is this…. Come thou and see Arthur; he is thy lord and thy cousin.”
“I will not,” said he, “for I am not in a fit state to go and see any one.”
Thereupon, behold, one of the pages came after Gwalchmai to speak to him. So he sent him to apprise Arthur that Geraint was there wounded, and that he would not go to visit him, and that it was pitiable to see the plight that he was in. And this he did without Geraint’s knowledge, inasmuch as he spoke in a whisper to the page. “Entreat Arthur,” said he, “to have his tent brought near to the road, for Geraint will not meet him willingly, and it is not easy to compel him in the mood he is in.”

– “Geraint ap Erbin,” The Mabinogion

The stories of King Arthur is one of those funny things that have conjured so many cultural tropes and images that a lot of people think they know more about it than they actually do. For example, I’ve heard people comment that they prefer characters who are more complicated and flawed, and so perfect heroes such as King Arthur and his knights are not interesting.

But King Arthur and his knights are so deeply flawed. One of the most regular themes in the Arthurian Romances is how great ideals and moral codes crumble and break eventually. The whole arc of Arthur is that he created the perfect kingdom but it was inevitably destroyed – not by an outside force, but rotting from within due to the sins and weaknesses of the knights. Infidelity, petty jealousy, incest, betrayal, feuds, vengeful murder – all of these help to shatter the Round Table. So does madness.

It is fascinating to look at how older cultures viewed mental issues, especially things like anxiety or depression, where it is often ambiguous whether the person is suffering from a disorder or if that’s just their personality. In King Arthur stories, characters are frequently pushed to the breaking point by traumatic events, when their views of themselves are destroyed.

Innes Fripp, “Sir Lancelot in his Madness”

The most famous break is with Lancelot. He is seduced by the princess Elaine when she’s disguised as Guinevere, and once Lancelot realizes that she wasn’t the woman he thought she was, he leaps out of a window and runs screaming into the forest. It’s an ironic scene, for if he had had sex with Guinevere, that would have been the supreme betrayal of his vows to King Arthur, and yet it is having sex with Elaine that shakes Lancelot to the core. He feels he cheated on the queen, sullied himself with someone he didn’t love, and so he lives like an animal in the wild for several years.

The theme of trauma reducing a man to an animal shows up in several Welsh Arthurian stories as well. In the Welsh version of the “Lady of the Fountain,” the hero Owain temporary leaves his fairy wife, the Lady of the Fountain, to return to King Arthur’s court. He becomes so wrapped up in Arthurian adventures that he forgets to return to her, and after waiting months for his return, the Lady eventually discards him as he discarded her – appearing to him in court to deride his faithlessness and then using her magic to hide her valley from him forever. Owain goes mad with the guilt and loneliness, and he spends the next few years living naked in the forest, eating raw meat. Similarly, the semi-historical Myrddin (who the Arthurian Merlin was partly inspired by) in “The Life of Myrddin” was traumatized by his involvement in a great battle, and so fled naked into the forest, where he ate moss and apples, befriended the beasts, and refused to return to human society, snarling like a wolf whenever someone tried. It is perhaps problematic to identify someone in the middle of a nervous breakdown as akin to a wild beast, but a storm of emotions causing someone to flee into their head and into the wilderness is a feeling I can strongly identify with. Sometimes so much force is exerted on the self that one wishes for the self to be blotted out.

“Geraint ap Erbin” is another Welsh Arthurian story in which the warrior suffers from mental issues, but in a dramatically different way. The first half of the story is about Geraint winning the lady Enid by impressing her in a tournament, a pretty traditional Arthurian Romance. The second half involves Geraint being forced to leave Arthur’s court to take charge of his father’s domain in Devon, giving up his adventures to instead become a ruler and bureaucrat. Geraint hates this, constantly yearning for Arthur’s court, and eventually shuts himself in his room, too depressed to deal with any part of the court. Geraint believes that since he can no longer be a warrior and adventurer, he’s a failure as a man, and so he starts to suspect his wife Enid of infidelity – deciding that there’s no way that she could ever love a failure like him. In a storm of envy and depression, he drags Enid with him out of Devon, determined to fight battle after battle in order to prove to her and himself that he is still a man… or die in the attempt.

Geraint’s suicidal obsession and his verbal abuse of Enid ring much more realistically than the other characters’ descent into animalism, which makes it especially shocking to read. There’s an intense moment where Arthur finds Geraint almost dead from numerous wounds, both he and Enid dressed in tatters, and the king is angry and frightened – demanding to know why Geraint is putting himself and Enid through hell. It is very hard for people who don’t suffer from depression or anxiety to understand exactly why we who do are acting the way we are – it seems illogical, bizarre, and self-destructive (and often is); this moment in the “Geraint” Romance is startling for its psychological realism.

There are various examples in stories all over the world of characters struggling with mental issues. What makes the Arthurian stories that struggle with this topic especially striking is that King Arthur and his knights are supposedly archetypes of masculine heroism and strength, perfect paladins pure of thought and deed. By showing them being undone by their guilt, self-hating and self-destructive because they fall short of their ideals, it reminds us that depression can strike down all of us. All of us are vulnerable, even the greatest knights of the world.

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Coping with Mental Issues: Frankenstein’s Monster

“The fallen angel becomes a malignant devil. Yet even that enemy of God and man had friends and associates in his desolation; I am alone.” 
-Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

To honour Mental Health Month and my own struggles with anxiety and depression, I will be exploring various examples of characters with mental issues throughout literature and popular culture, starting with perhaps the most gut-wrenching: Frankenstein’s Monster.

Arguably the greatest horror novel ever written, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein produced the most compelling horror icon of all time. The Monster himself is terrifying — a huge and hideous product of an unnatural birth — but also someone who we feel such empathy for. It is telling that the two most iconic version of the story (the Mary Shelley novel and the James Whale movies with Boris Karloff) initially envisioned Dr. Frankenstein as being the protagonist and named the story after him, but most people think of the title as referring to the Monster rather than the scientist because the Monster is far more memorable, and it is he who feels like the real protagonist.

His suffering is anyone who has suffered from mental issues such as depression or anxiety can sympathize with. The Monster feels different, unnatural, wrong — he knows the population of the world is divided between himself and everyone else, that he has been made imperfectly, falsely. When I am at my darkest, I myself often feel like a “patchwork man,” a bunch of pieces that don’t seem to quite fit together, a soulless automaton rather than a real person.

When in the depths of depression, one feels unloved, incapable of being loved, which is the great curse of the Monster. He has been defaced by the Mark of Cain, though unlike Cain, it’s not a punishment for any crime he did. He is desperate for a place in the world, but cannot find it anywhere he goes. The more the Monster is rejected and persecuted, the more his hope is consumed by desolation and rage. Many people who experience mental issues feel intense frustration for who they are, that they are fighting against themselves, against pieces of their mind that don’t seem to quite fit together. The Monster knows why they don’t fit — because he was made improperly by a person who thought himself God.

Dr. Septimus Pretorius: Do you know who Henry Frankenstein is, who you are?
The Monster: Yes, I know… made me from dead… I love dead… hate living.
Bride of Frankenstein

Speaking for myself, I have always found Karloff’s interpretation of the Monster to be even more compelling than the original. His treatment in James Whales’ Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein is one of the most emotionally intense performances in cinematic history. Perhaps it’s because the Monster here feels closer to me. He’s not just broken in body as Shelley’s Monster is, but broken in head.

Karloff’s Monster has a hard time understanding the world, a hard time communicating. He has impulses he cannot understand, which often take control of him (here derived from a murderer’s brain that he was cursed with). Shelley’s Monster is always very cognizant of all the damage he caused, coldly striking in vengeance against a humanity that rejected him, but Karloff’s Monster is confused. He drowns a girl under the mistaken belief that she’ll float as happily and prettily as the flowers that he and she were tossing into the water. He happily follows Dr. Pretorius when the mad scientist suggests that he can make a friend for the creature, and then howls in frustration and betrayal when that doesn’t happen. Karloff’s Monster was brought into the world unable to understand it, and remains baffled and pained by whatever’s going on. He is us as we try to claw our way through life, seeing other people who find it so much easier than we do. He is us living in a world that seems to be built for other people.

I have screamed at the sky, demanding the universe tell me why I was built this way, why my brain seem to respond to things differently from how other people do. Why does this storm of negative emotions seem to crash through my body? Why do I feel false, broken? The Monster knows why. Because his creator built him not knowing what exactly he was, then tossed him into the cold, leaving him unable to know how to cope with existence.

In a weird way, he fulfills a strange fantasy I’ve had — wouldn’t it feel nice to punish the God that made you such a broken person? Who decided that you should have a mental storm most other people don’t? Wouldn’t it feel good, just for a little bit — to drag that being down to the depths of depression that you regularly god? Of course, it wouldn’t make anything better. In the novel, the Monster tortures Frankenstein, murders everyone he loves, and then forces Frankenstein into a long and tortures death in the snows, and seeing the corpse just makes the Monster sob, makes him rant about how pitiful he is, and decide to burn himself to death with Frankenstein’s corpse at the North Pole. In Bride of Frankenstein, the Monster does the opposite, deciding that Frankenstein and his wife should go and live because he is “alive,” whereas the Monster and his bride are “dead…. We belong dead.” I feel that the Monster saving Frankenstein has less to do with any real forgiveness and more him wanting someone to remember him positively — to get some satisfaction as he kills himself.

The Monster: We belong dead. 
Bride of Frankenstein

The horror of Frankenstein is not that we will be attacked by the Monster, but that deep down we are the Monster. That we are soulless automatons who have been “made wrong,” beings damaged and then discarded by our creator. We have bodies that don’t do what they’re supposed to, minds that don’t do what they’re supposed to, impulses that drive us mad, and there is no one else like us, and if there were, they would reject us too (as the Bride rejects the Monster), for who could truly care for us — even fellow freaks would try to be with normal people. We are, as Karloff’s monster succinctly said, “dead.”

If the Monster can be a metaphor for mental issues, that feeling of lonely brokenness that frequently haunts our brains, then what is it ultimately saying about those issues? It is how they can possess the person who feels them, take over their lives. How it leads to fear, to frustration, to rage. How it can make us lash out against those we blame for our pain. How in the end, when it takes us over, the person we most lash out against is ourselves.

Though certainly not the most empowering image of depression and mental issues, perhaps nothing better captures the isolation and imagery that it produces than Frankenstein. We are all Frankenstein’s Monster, but unlike the Monster, we cannot punish our creator. We can only hurt ourselves. At the end of both the novel and Bride of Frankenstein, the Monster commits suicide — either burning himself alive along with Frankenstein’s corpse in a funeral pyre or pulling a convenient switch in the lab to blow him to atoms. Are the stories saying that this is the only possible ending for those who feel dominated by mental issues?

The ultimate motivation for the suicide is desolate loneliness. The Monster feels no one cares about him, he is truly alone. However, we in the real world who deal with these issues are not alone ourselves. There are other people out there who suffer from similar issues, and we can reach out to each other. We can tell each other that we are not dead, we are not automatons, robots, or zombies. We are human, we are people. We are not broken. We are merely different. And we are not alone. Maybe often we with mental issues feel like we cannot save ourselves, but we can save others who are similarly touched — we can save them because we understand what they’re going through, because we can show them they are not alone. Unlike Frankenstein Monster, we are not alone.

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Welsh King Arthur vs Seven Soldiers of Victory

One of my favourite comic book authors is Grant Morrison. He writes with so much energy and creativity, such a sense of fun, that so many of his comics are a psychedelic thrill ride exploring so many crazy ideas. One of Morrison’s most ambitious projects was DC’s Seven Soldiers of Victory, seven interlocking miniseries about seven different DC heroes who independently fight against an invasion of demonic fairies known as the Sheeda.

One of these heroes is a reinvented version of the Shining Knight, a champion of King Arthur’s court who reawakens in modern times. While the original version of the Shining Knight was from the Dark Ages and the pseudo-historical King Arthur, Morrison’s version instead comes from a fantastical “ur-Arthur” thousands of years before recorded history. Basically, the archetypes of King Arthur and his champions appear over and over again in this world, each time in a different form.

This prehistoric fantasy Arthur first appears in Shining Knight #1, which retells the famous Taliesin poem “The Spoils of Annwn”: “before the spoils of Annwn woefully he sang, / And thenceforth till doom he shall remain a bard. / Thrice enough to fill Arthur’s ship we went into it; / Except seven, none returned from Castle Revolving.” In the comic, Arthur’s army is at war with the Sheeda, and they battle to the Sheeda’s capital of Castle Revolving to steal their enchanted cauldron which is the Castle’s heart. Of Arthur’s men, none but seven return.

Shining Knight #1 starts off powerfull and mythic: “From the far, unspeakable land of the Vampire Sun they came, from Eternal Summer’s End on Sheeda-Side….” It is clearly not some faux historical tale in the remnants of Rome nor a stiff and courtly Romance. It’s old myths, wild and fantastical. Sadly, beyond the basic premise of the poem (Arthur’s men go into Fairyland to steal the cauldron heart of Castle Revolving), Morrison is not especially interested in engaging with the original folktales.

It feels like he skimmed the poem, but never Welsh prose — didn’t actually take a look at the Mabinogian. Firstly, the fairies are called the “Sheeda” — a clear derivative from the Irish “Sidhe” — instead of the “Tylwyth Teg” or the “Fair Folk.” Merlin gets referenced as “royal were-dragon from Celtic mythology” whose name is also “Gwydion,” which is utter nonsense (Morrison’s earlier idea of Merlin being a renegade Sheeda sorcerer would have felt much more authentic). The warriors dress like knights, when having stranger, more primal costumes would suit the Welsh folklore and the pre-historic narrative far better. Morrison’s list of Arthur’s champions is especially telling:

“Against the Sheeda, Gawain, the Silent Knight, attended by his wondrous hawks. And Lancelot, defender of the faith so long with such a broken heart. Mighty Caradoc, who loved peace most of all. Peredur, blinded by the light of the Holy Cup, yet possessed of celestial senses unknown to ordinary men. Bors, the Laughing Knight. And Galahad next. Galahad, the Giant Killer. The Perfect Knight. Warriors all, of the Shattered Table. But first… Lancelot.”

The idea that each knight has his own special power or trait is straight out of “Culhwch & Olwen,” of course. There are some other Welsh touches here. Gawain’s hawks probably reference his Welsh name, Gwalchmai (“Hawk of May”). “Peredur” is the Welsh name for Percival, the star of one of the Welsh Romances. The name “Caradoc” is very Welsh, though I haven’t heard of any prominent members of Arthur’s court called that. Olwen later shows up in the story.

However, in folklore Gwalchmai’s defining trait is his politeness, whereas this Gawain is silent. This Peredur is obsessed with the Holy Grail (a Romance invention). Perhaps most prominently, Lancelot, Bors, and Galahad were all creations of the French Romances, and thus utterly alien to Welsh myths. Conversely, the comic has no references to Cai or Bedwyr, Arthur’s most devoted companions in the Welsh cycle.

Morrison’s Shining Knight is a lot of fun, and its description of Castle Revolving and the epic raid has a lot of strength to it. Certainly it captures a lot of the fantastical spirit of Welsh folklore, that is sadly missing in most Arthurian retellings. That said, it would have been more compelling and much more mythic if it engaged more with the original Welsh folktales. If the scene were to feature a fully Welsh retinue of warriors, I would describe them thusly:

“Against the Teg, Cai, defender of the faith so long with such a broken heart. Owain, attended by his black lion and his wondrous ravens. Mighty Bedwyr One-Handed, wielder of the Living Spear. Gwalchmai the Golden-Tongued, whose strength waxed and waned with the sun. Geraint the Seafarer. Menw, son of Three-Cries, the Warrior-Wizard. And Peredur next. Peredur, the Monster Killer. The Perfect Champion. Warriors all, of the Shattered Table. But first… Cai.”

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The Magician in Middle-Earth

Denethor

I have always found the archetype of the “magician” compelling and empowering. The idea that someone, through their own introspection and hidden lore, could access supernatural power – could gaze into the future, turn into a bird, do all sorts of things – that always captivated my imagination. For that reason, as a child I always preferred fantasy stories in which magic could be good as well as evil, and disliked tales in which magic was mainly the province of villains (such as the Conan stories, Macbeth, or Faust). That being the case, Gandalf the utterly benevolent wizard was always my favourite character in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, with the runner-up being Beorn, the man who can turn himself into a bear (and thus something of a magician himself).

Thus, I felt a profound sense of betrayal when I discovered, many years later, that Tolkien had written his five wizards (Gandalf, Saruman, Radagast, and the two Blue Wizards) not as magicians as I defined the term (mortals who had unlocked supernatural power) but instead as angels (maiar spirits) disguised in mortal form, emissaries from the Undying Lands sent by the gods to confront Sauron. For me it turned Middle-Earth inside out, for now it seemed that the only truly human magicians of that world were evil sorcerers (such as the Witch-King and the Mouth of Sauron) – which was not the sort of fantasy I wanted at all.

As an adult, I am much more willing to recognize the problematic aspects of the magician archetype, its bad as well as its good, and am far more accepting of stories in which all mortal magic is corrupt. That said, it is still a peculiar element of Middle-Earth. After all, modern high fantasy is usually filled with benevolent wizards, and to many, Lord of the Rings is the ultimate archetypal high fantasy story. Thus, I returned to the world of Middle-Earth, reading between the lines to see if it indeed had any magicians as I define the term (regular people who learn non-malevolent supernatural powers).

In Tolkien, the term “wizard” is only used with the Five Wizards, who are secretly angels, while “sorcerer” is entirely a negative term for humans who have made pacts with Sauron in return for power. No one who falls into neither of these categories gets a general magic-using noun (magician, enchanter, etc.) applied to them. But does that mean they don’t exist?

Many elves clearly possess supernatural powers. Elrond summons up a flood in Fellowship of the Ring, while Galadriel has a scrying pool; furthermore, it is implied that their respective powers are what stops Sauron’s forces from invading their homes. There are elves in The Silmarillion who can change their form and control the weather. The wood elves in The Hobbit have magic. Characters such as Frodo and Sam talk about “elf magic” in ways that they never reference “human magic” or “elf magic.” That said, I don’t quite feel that the elves match my magician archetype. To me, a magician has always meant someone who, through skill and will, has unlocked powers beyond the grasp of others of their ilk. They are mortals who have stepped a little closer to the gods. However, Tolkien’s elves are basically demigods themselves, immortal beings who seek to be reunited with their divine “big brothers” and who just naturally possess numerous powers that humans lack. In fact, various elves become confused when hobbits ask to see their “magic,” as for elves this is all just regular talents that they possess, no more magical then their skill with a bow.

Things become far more interesting for me when I look to see if any mortals (humans, dwarves, or hobbits) can possess supernatural abilities without making pacts with Sauron. The aforementioned Beorn is the most prominent example, a being who Gandalf theorizes is either a bear who learned how to turn himself into a man or a man who learned how to turn himself into a bear – and who becomes the patriarch of a whole group of humans (the Beornings), who also possess a certain ursine kinship. Other mortals it seems have learned to access particular powers – Bard and many other people of Dale can speak with animals, certain dwarves know the corvid language, certain humans (such as Aragorn) are capable of prophecy, there is even a seer referenced once or twice; “seer” is the only official term ever given to a benevolent human magician.

Interestingly, Aragorn seems one of the closest things to a magician the story has, both due to his aforementioned fortune-telling and his mastery of certain herbs. Beorn is another figure of course, who actually expressed scorn for wizards. These two people, despite their supernatural powers, come off as being more as warriors than traditional wizards – they have magic, but spells and staves do not define their identity. Probably the most “magician-esque” human to appear in Tolkien is Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. He is described as a sagacious and powerful figure who Pippin feels looks like a wizard more than Gandalf does, and whose will is so great that he can communicate telepathically, read minds, and possibly psychically attack. The novel is surprisingly brief about his abilities, quickly mentioning them but not dwelling too long. They’re not treated as too unusual. In Middle-Earth, it simply seems that especially strong-willed humans can have psychic abilities. It’s part of nature.

Which is, interestingly, the role the “magician” takes in Tolkien. Wizards and sorcerers have supernatural powers because wizards are supernatural beings and sorcerers have bound themselves to a darkly supernatural force. If a mortal wishes power but does not want to taint himself, he must turn to certain techniques that are supernatural to us but which seem to be simply the specific functioning of Tolkien’s world – a sort of occult science. Anyone with enough lore can learn how to speak to animals or unlock almost magicial abilities in healing herbs. One can even learn telepathy or prophecy if the will is great enough. These people are not called “magicians” or “enchanters” because they don’t flaunt their abilities as supernatural. They perceive them as simply talents or skills. The only such magician treated as something strange and other is Beorn, but he seems to be the obsession rather than the rule.

I think the child within me is satisfied that “magicians” do exist in Middle-Earth. They are subtle rather than flashy. Though they don’t even consider themselves to be magicians, they are still mortals able to access wonderful things. That’s good enough for the archetype and good enough for me.

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Welsh D&D 1: Races

Here are three (or rather four) different races for a version of Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition based in Welsh folklore. Though these are the most obvious ones, other races could be selected as well with the DM’s will. For example, the triton from Volo’s Guide to Monsters could work well as merfolk and the shifter from the D&D website could be a good fit for werewolves and even Saxon werebears and strange Annwn wereboars.

Note that the language “Annwn” is that of the fey of the Otherworld, and thus replaces the normal D&D language “Sylvan.”

Half-Giant

Before humans ruled, Britain and Ireland belonged to the giants. Then the Picts came, but these folk saw the wisdom with allying with the lords of the land. Even marriages were made, with giant chieftains taking Pictish brides and Pictish chieftains taking giant brides. Then Brutus the Trojan brought his people to the island and warred against giants and Picts alike until he conquered the giant king Albion and claimed the island for his people – who became known as the “Brythons” in his honour. However, there are still giants in Britain – especially in the far north above Hadrian’s Wall. Most despise the Brythons, though are content to be left alone in the wild places. Still, some do make they wrath known.

And then there are the half-giants.

Between Human and Giant

Though many half-giants are the product of a human and a giant parent, the bloodlines of Picts and giants have been so intermingled that it is not uncommon for a half-giant to have two Pictish parents or two giant ones. Though much shorter than regular giants, half-giants are still tall, imposing figures with powerful bodies and long limbs. Their hair and eyes can be a variety of colours, but are most often black or dark brown. Though not as prone to mutation as regular giants, some are still born with a single eye or leg, huge tusks, or unusual coloration. They often dress like the community they’re trying to fit in with – like a giant when with giants, like a Pict when with Picts.

Hermits and Tribesfolk

There are not enough half-giants to form their own communities, so if they wish the company of others, they must associate with either giants or humans. In some tribes they are welcomed, though in others they face derision – this is especially true among giants, who value physical strength so highly. Scornful giants call them “half-breeds” or “runts.” They frequently receive more respect among Picts – Caw, one of the greatest Pictish kings, was a half-giant. It is often easier to be perceived as an unusually large, powerful human than an unusually small, weak giant. Occasionally a half-giant gets raised by humans who are not Picts – for example, King Arthur’s wife Gwenhuvar was raised a Brython by Lord Cador despite being the daughter of Ogrfran the Giant.

Like many giants, many half-giants become hermits. In some ways they can do it far more effectively, for the smaller half-giants can disappear into the wilderness much better than their larger cousins can. They adapt well to heights and the cold, and so are most often found in mountain ranges, though they also make their homes in dense forests and hidden valleys.

Half-Giant Characters

Barbarian is by far the most common character class for half-giants, as it is not only common in giant and Pictish cultures, but also gives them useful wilderness survival skills and voice to the rage and frustration that often dwells within them. Certain half-giants who develop a more spiritual approach to the natural world may become rangers instead; these often befriend creatures of great physical power: boars, bears, and giant serpents. Not surprisingly, an unusually large proportion of giant-soul sorcerers are half-giants. Druids and warlocks are not uncommon either. The druids will often be shamans in the Pictish tradition that follow the Circle of the Shepherd, but mountain or forest Circle of the Land are frequent too. Warlocks will usually have pacts with the Archfey or the Undying (spirits of dead giants and Picts). Other character classes are rare and often involve contact with other cultures.

HALF-GIANT TRAITS

Half-giants share a number of traits in common with each other.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Strength score increases by 2, and your Constitution score increases by 1.
  • Giant: Half-giants are giants not humanoids.
  • Age. Though not as long-lived as many other giants, half-giants can still live longer than humans. They reach maturity at 15 and often live to at least 200 years.
  • Alignment. Their raging spirits and solitary natures means that most half-giants tend more towards chaos than law. Chaotic evil half-giants are pitiless raiders who attack others to get what they want, whereas chaotic neutral ones are usually either solitary recluses or wanderers. However the more tranquil hermits among them are often true neutral.
  • Size. “Runts” compared to regular giants, half-giants are generally between 7 and 9 feet tall and weigh between 280 and 400 pounds. However, certain ones (such as Queen Gwenhuvar) are even shorter, perhaps a mere 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Menacing. You gain proficiency in the Intimidation skill.
  • Savage Attacks. When you score a critical hit with a melee weapon attack, you can roll one of the weapon’s damage dice one additional time and add it to the extra damage of the critical hit.
  • Long-Limbed. When you make a melee attack on your turn, your reach for it is 5 feet greater than normal.
  • Powerful Build. You count as one size larger when determining your carrying capacity and the weight you can push, drag, or lift.
  • Mountain Born. You’re acclimated to high altitude, including elevations above 20,000 feet. You’re also naturally adapted to cold climates, as described in chapter 5 of the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write either Brythonic and Giant or Brythonic and Pict (depending upon which culture you were raised in). Many learn both Pict and Giant.

Ellylon

There exists a world beside the moral one, a world often reached through mysterious mist and hollow hills, across the ocean and deep under the earth. This world is Annwn, the Otherworld. It is not above Earth like Heaven or below it like Hell – it is beside it and through it. It is the realm of the fey.

The lords of Annwn find the words “fey” and “fairy” offensive (as well as the Saxon term “elf”), so various euphemisms are used instead: the Good Neighbours, the Fair Folk, the Shining Ones, the Lords and the Ladies, or most commonly the Tylwyth Teg – the “Beautiful Family.” Their term for themselves is the “Ellylon.” They are often curious about humans, and so cross-over to the mortal to visit them, while others prefer instead to draw mortals into their own world.

The Fair Folk

Ellylon appear as tall, lithe humanoids of unearthly beauty. In their natural form, their hair is always yellow (though depending on the ellylon, it may be a shining gold, the rich colour of wheat, or a paler platinum) and their eyes are hypnotic and golden. Their skin is pale, often almost white, and their features are angular and pointed, including their ears. Ellylon clothes are usually rich and elegant, coloured white and gold. However, they all possess the power to appear perfectly human, and often will wander among mortals in that form.

Lords of the Otherworld

As befits many of their titles, the ellylon are the lords of the fey. Their mightiest include Arawn, Gwyn ap Nudd, Morgen and her sisters, and other rulers of Annwn. Lesser ellylon are the courtiers, warriors, and hunters of the courts, following the dictates of their masters. They are known for their whimsy and for their pride, for most ellylon consider other beings – giants, humans, goblins – to be their clear inferiors. Many grow bored of the Otherworld, and seek to enter the mortal plane for sport. Most will only engage in brief sojourns but some choose to remain among humanity. These are usually the least influential ellylon, who believe they will be prominent among mortals than among other fey.

Ellylon Characters

Ellylon are masters of magic, and produce many powerful fey-born sorcerers, fey-pact warlocks, and bards of all sorts. Those more martially inclined are generally ancient-oathed paladins or rangers, or fighters that become arcane archers or eldritch knights. However, they are ruled by whim, and could end up taking on almost any class. However, no ellylon can become a mystic or a devoted-0athed paladin. They do not have souls as mortals do and cannot comprehend the ways of God.

ELLYLON TRAITS

Ellylon share a number of traits in common with each other.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Charisma score increases by 2, and your Dexterity score increases by 1.
  • Fey: Ellyllon are fey not humanoids.
  • Age. Ellyllon reach physical maturity at the about the same age as humans. As fey, they will never get old or die of old age. An ellyllon 1000 years old is just as healthy as she was at 20.
  • Alignment. The lords of the fey have little concept of good and evil and their moods can be as changeable as a breeze, compassionate at one moment and cruelly vengeful the next. Most are chaotic neutral and they are almost never lawful.
  • Size. Ellyllon are tall, usually from under 6 to over 7 feet, and with slender builds. Your size is Medium.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
  • Darkvision. Accustomed to twilit forests and the night sky, you have superior vision in dark and dim conditions. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.
  • Unnatural Beauty. You have proficiency in the Persuasion skill. Whenever you make a Charisma (Persuasion) check that takes particular advantage of your physical attractiveness, add double your proficiency bonus to the check instead of your normal proficiency bonus. Though you always possess the Persuasion skill no matter what form you take, the second option can only be employed in your natural ellyllon form.
  • Human Form. You can at will change your form to appear human. Whenever you use this ability, you take the same unique human form – it resembles you though with all fey traits replaced by human ones and your beauty is no longer unnatural (though still striking). The only thing that you can vary when you transform is your coloration – eye, hair, and skin colour. You can stay in your human form as much as you wish, but it is a magical transformation, and so is affected by dispel magic and similar effects.
  • Age Immunity. You are immune to any aging magic.
  • Cantrips. You know two cantrips of your choice from the bard and/or warlock spell lists, as well as the cantrip Otherworldly Door. Charisma is your spellcasting ability for them.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Brythonic and Annwn.

Goblin

While the ellylon rule and hunt, the goblins serve. By far the most populous kind of fey, they perform all the various tasks that the Fair Folk consider too degrading or dull to perform. The two most prominent kinds are the hearth goblins (“booka”) and the mine goblins (“coblynau”).

Rough and Crude

In appearance, the goblins are the opposite of the ellylon. Instead of being tall and graceful, they are short and awkward. Instead of being inhumanly beautiful, they are inhumanly ugly. Their faces are wide, their mouths huge, their voices high-pitched, their eyes large and goggling. They look like caricatures of humanity, and even though they are actually very dexterous, when they move it often seems animalistic, like a scurrying rat or lopping rabbit. Some have animal features, such as horns, fangs, or tails. Their behaviour is generally blunt and unsophisticated, with a strong liking for practical jokes.

Many goblins seek self-expression through their costumes, wearing garish outfits that combine particular clashing styles. Those who live around mortals will frequently combine the looks of those individuals they admire.

Fey Servants

In Annwn, the goblins are menial servants. Booka are house servants – maids, butlers, cooks – while coblynau are miners. Many are content to serve their ellylon masters, but others flee to the mortal realm. After all, though their magic is considered insignificant in the Otherworld, it can produce respect and fear among mortals.

Goblins in the mortal realm generally fall into one of fours categories. There are goblins being sent on missions by their fey masters. There are those (especially booka) who seek to serve humans as they did ellylon, believing that these masters will give them more respect. There are those who instead toy with mortals for their own amusement, playing tricks on them. And there are those goblins that instead strive to be treated as equals, such as the warrior-bard Eiddilig, who joined King Arthur’s court.

Goblin Characters

Goblins favour classes that reward stealth and cunning. They are frequently rogues and bards, and sometimes rangers or fey-pact warlocks. Though in theory they could be almost any other class, they cannot be mystics or devoted-oathed paladins. Like all fey, they cannot channel the power of God.

GOBLIN TRAITS

Goblins share a number of traits in common with each other.

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
  • Fey. Goblins are fey not humanoids.
  • Age. Goblins reach maturity surprisingly early, often at 10. As fey, they never die of old age. Very old goblins (such as 500 or 600 years) will often be very wrinkled and wizened, but they are still just as healthy as they ever were.
  • Alignment. Goblins are often less whimsical than ellyllon and can be neutral as often as chaotic neutral. Those who travel to the mortal realm frequently form a bond with humans, either helping them in the home (for booka) or in the mines (for coblynau) – these goblins are most often neutral good. However, others realize they can toy with humans like the ellyllon toy with them, becoming chaotic neutral or even chaotic evil.
  • Size. Goblins are between 3 and 4 feet tall and average around 40 pounds. Your size is Small.
  • Speed. Your base walking speed is 25 feet.
  • Age Immunity. You are immune to any aging magic.
  • Naturally Stealthy. You have proficiency in the Stealth skill.
  • Languages. You can speak, read, and write Brythonic and Annwn.
    Subraces. Two subraces exist: booka (hearth goblins) and coblynau (mine goblins).

Booka

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Wisdom score increases by 1.
  • Cantrips. You know the Mending and Otherworldly Door cantrips. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for them.
  • Dark Vision. You can see in dim light within 60 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.
  • Tool Proficiency. You gain proficiency with two artisan’s tools of your choice: brewer’s, carpenter’s, cobbler’s, or cook’s. If you then acquire one of these proficiencies a second time (such as through a background), add double your proficiency bonus to the check.
  • Speak with Small Beasts. Through sounds and gestures, you can communicate simple ideas with Small or smaller beasts.

Coblyn

  • Ability Score Increase. Your Constitution score increases by 1.
    Cantrips. You know the Mold Earth and Otherworldly Door cantrips. Wisdom is your spellcasting ability for them.
  • Superior Dark Vision. You can see in dim light within 120 feet of you as if it were bright light, and in darkness as if it were dim light.
  • Tool Proficiency. You gain proficiency with mason’s tools. If you then acquire this proficiency again (such as through a background), add double your proficiency bonus to the check.
  • Stonecunning. Whenever you make an Intelligence (History) check related to the origin of stonework, you are considered proficient in the History skill and add double your proficiency bonus to the check instead of your normal proficiency bonus

Half-Demon

Some times demons or the Evil One himself will seduce mortals for their own dark purposes. Such unions will sometimes produce children, beings generally known as “half-demons.” Such wretched creatures are treated as tieflings from the Player’s Handbook with the following exceptions:

  • Depending upon their demon sire, the exact nature of the half-demon varies. You can use any of the tiefling variants from Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes
  • All half-demons are proficient with the disguise kit.  
  • Half-demons look much more human than conventional tieflings, and will generally only have one or two demonic traits that can be hidden with a successful disguise kit proficiency roll. Such traits might include small horns, reddish skin, pointed ears, fangs, a forked tongue, or other small yet disquieting features.

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Fantasy Writers’ Cardinal Rule on Fantasy

I love fantasy fiction for numerous reasons, and one of the big ones is that it has no set rules. You can create whatever stories you want — stories with dragons and wizards, time running backwards, conversations with God, whatever you could possibly imagine. As this is such a diverse genre, it’s fascinating to read fantasy authors talk about why they like fantasy and what they feel is most important when writing a good fantasy story. As I mentioned previously, there are no set rules for fantasy. Any time someone says “fantasy must have this” or “fantasy must not have this,” I can think of numerous good tales that break those rules. That said, looking at each person’s personal “do’s and don’t’s” can give a lot of insight into each author’s thought patterns and help to give aspiring writers some ideas of what direction they want to go. I do not look on these as “must have” or “must not have” but “perhaps” or “perhaps not.” They are rules that have certainly worked for the people in question.

H. G. Wells
Creator of such classic SF as The Time Machine, The Island of Dr. Moreau, War of the Worlds, and The Invisible Man. Though he is generally considered a science fiction author instead of a fantasy one, Wells in contrasting himself to Jules Verne certainly considered his work fantasy. He was not interested in exploring real scientific possibilities but in using a thin veneer of science to give his fantasy stories slightly more plausibility (The Invisible Man is basically about a sorcerer cursed by his own spell, only making it a potion to help suspend the reader’s disbelief).
Well’s Rule: That anything in the story not the fantastical part should feel very normal, mundane. Even boringly so. If everything else seems so conventional, it makes the fantasy elements seem more fantastical in contrast.
Commentary: Contract between the natural and the supernatural certainly helps to make the supernatural seem stranger. However,  I wonder what Wells would have said about stories set entirely upon alien worlds (such as Dan Simmons’ Hyperion) or within mythopoeic stories about realms entirely created by the author (such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth). That said, even they have elements of normalcy — habits and routines in their characters, mundane needs — that we can relate to, and are necessary for grounding the events and thus making the fantasy believable.
The Message: There should have some elements of the normal and the mundane to ground the supernatural elements. Moments of mundanity can make the fantasy elements more fantastical by comparison.

H. P. Lovecraft
One of the most prolific (though disorganized) world builders of fantasy; in his case he built an entire universe. His most famous creation is the monstrous proto-god Cthulhu (and indeed, the “Cthulhu Mythos” is the most common term for the setting of his stories), but Lovecraft created a whole dark pantheon of gods and demigods, demons and monsters, and a history of the universe that stretches deep into the prehistoric past and cosmic future — a history in which humanity plays an infinitesimal role.
Lovecraft’s Rule: Paradoxically, Lovecraft was a devote and committed atheist who saw fantasy (or “weird fiction,” as he called it) as a way to achieve a feeling of numinous wonder and awe. Though he is mainly known as a horror author, he actually felt producing this sense of awe, that the reader was touching some new deeper reality, was more important than terrifying people. Just that Lovecraft found it easiest to produce awe through fear, and thus most of the stuff he wrote was horror. This desire influenced his ideas of how fantasy should be written. He felt that often the best fantasy writers were atheists like himself, who did not believe in the paranormal — because then they choose supernatural elements for their story based on what they feel would be the most dramatically relevant, not what they feel is “real,” and furthermore, the supernatural then feels strange, unreal, and incomprehensible, whereas a practicing occultist would often perceive the supernatural as matter-of-fact and even mundane. Lovecraft conceded that many of his favourite fantasy authors, such as Algernon Blackwood and William Hope Hodgson, were believers and even practitioners of the occult. but Lovecraft also felt that these people’s writings were better when they were bringing things from their own imagination rather than from their spiritual beliefs.
Commentary: One can certainly see Lovecraft’s point. Fantasy is at its most powerful when it is engaging the reader with its emotional intensity, moving the reader into a different realm. Someone’s spiritual beliefs can certainly get in the way of that, resulting in something that seems dull or pedantic, rather than strange. For example, when Hodgson’s stories start to approach real occult beliefs, they lose a lot of their strength, and appear more mundane. That said, authors incorporating their own spiritual beliefs have also added a lot of depth and intensity to their work. It is impossible to imagine C. S. Lewis’ SF without its ascendant Christianity or Grant Morrison’s graphic novels without his bizarre chaos magick. But then, in their works the supernatural is never mundane or conventional. Lewis’ angels are just as numinous and unknowable as Lovecraft’s dark gods (though more supportive of humanity) while Morrison’s magick is as weird as anything in Lovecraft (weirder in most cases).
The Message: Do not be bound by your own beliefs when creating fantasy. You certainly can draw upon them, and that can give your writing a lot of depth. However, you should not be restricted by them. Ask yourself how should the supernatural be displayed in the way that best serves the story.

Montague Summers
A highly eccentric clergyman at the dawn of the 20th-century, Montague Summers was most famous for his various books on occult subjects such as vampires, werewolves, and witches, and for his belief that such being exist and form the Devil’s army. Summers was also one of the few people of the 20th-century who spoke in favour of Europe’s various witch-hunts and did the first English translation of the witch-hunter’s manual Malleus Maleficarum. He also adored horror literature and compiled three anthologies of supernatural stories.
Summer’s Rule: In sharp contrast to Lovecraft, Montague Summers argued that in order to  write a good supernatural story, one must believe in the supernatural. If the author does not believe in it and take it seriously, then its presence in the story will lack any depth, believability, or energy, “the spell will be broken.”
Commentary: This is a bold claim and one that Summers quickly walks back just after he says it. He felt the best fantasy author was Sheridan Le Fanu (most famous for “Carmilla”), but as Le Fanu had no real belief in the paranormal, Summers shifts his claim slightly to say that even if the author does not literally believe in the supernatural, he must still respect it on some unconscious level — which Summers argues that Le Fanu does. Though Summers raises an interesting point, there have been numerous potent fantasy pieces by staunch atheists. The aforementioned H. P. Lovecraft wrote some of the most influential weird fiction of all time, and numerous other atheist authors have written powerful pieces and evocatively believable words, from Michael Moorcock to Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett to Warren Ellis.
The Message: Every author must take his world seriously. It doesn’t just apply to fantasy or science fiction authors. If you are writing a romance or a western, the characters, their struggles, and the story need to matter to you. They need to seem real. A fantasy author must believe in his world; that’s very important. That said, he doesn’t need to  believe that all the elements of his world exist in ours as well. Discworld clearly mattered to Terry Pratchett on a fundamental level; Dirk Gently’s encounters with the impossible were important to Douglas Adams. The fact neither of those men believed in the paranormal didn’t change that. H. P. Lovecraft’s uncaring universe is powerful because it is fueled by his atheistic existentialism just like C. S. Lewis’ strange angels are powerful because of his own nervousness of gazing at God’s face. There is certainly room for both in the genre.

J. R. R. Tolkien
The fantasy author who needs no introduction. For many people, The Hobbit was their introduction to fantasy novels and The Lord of the Rings is their defining fantasy tale.  Tolkien is the whole reason why many people think elves, dwarves, and goblins are necessary for magical worlds.
Tolkien’s Rule: J. R. R. Tolkien coined the term “mythopoeia” (“myth-making”) to refer to the process of creating your own fictional world with its own geography, history, mythology, etc. He believed very strongly in this idea, which encouraged him to produce Middle Earth, certainly one of the most detailed and believable fantasy worlds. As part of this drive to myth-make, Tolkien felt that a fantasy world needs to be internally logical and self-contained, where everything fits together thematically and seems true to itself. As part of that, he felt fantasy fiction is more effective if it was free of any explicit supernatural elements that match what the author believes in. For example, Tolkien was a Catholic and believed in literal angels and demons, and so he went out of his way to have any good or evil spirits showing up in his stories be very different from “real” ones, instead appearing as ancient demigods and giant animals. He disliked the explicit Christian elements in King Arthur stories and hated Narnia for its very prominent Christian imagery, its mixing of creatures from numerous mythologies (Greek satyrs standing side-by-side with Norse dwarfs and a Babylonian-esque man-headed bull), and most of all its presence of Santa Clause, a being from modern Christian folklore.
Commentary: Tolkien had some very specific ideas of what he wanted a fantasy world to be. He wanted it to be totally different from our own, with not just its geography and history but its cosmology and mythology quite unlike ours. But one does not need to create everything to tell a powerful story. I think having a lot of focus is really important in your own writing — you should have very specific ideas about what you want your fantasy world to be. However, there are big differences between the specific ideas you have about the stories you want to write and the world you want to create and the specific ideas you have about the stories others should write. There is a lot to be said for Lewis’ modern supernatural fiction (such as Screwtape Letters and That Hideous Strength), which draw upon his own beliefs, as well as numerous fantasy stories that a world that combines the sensibilities and myths of numerous cultures (such as Peter S. Beagle’s The Last Unicorn or Neil Gaiman’s Sandman). No author should feel compelled to model his or her writing process after Tolkien.
The Message: Think about the reality of your fictional world and think about the rules that govern it. Do not bring in elements that break the rules of your reality, but also do not feel bad about developing the world your own way. The Last Unicorn remains one of the most powerful fantasy novels ever written, despise the fact that it has a character who claims to be the historical basis for Robin Hood and who name-drops John Henry, because that fits the strange timelessness of the world. Write what makes sense to your world, not someone else’s world.

C. S. Lewis
Most famous for the Chronicles of Narnia, though C. S. Lewis also wrote a wide variety of strange tales of fantasy and science fiction for grown-ups, including his Cosmic trilogy, the Screwtape Letters, and ‘Til We Have Faces. A phenomenally well-read person, Lewis was intimately familiar with a wide variety of fantasy literature, and incorporated a wide variety of influences into his own work.
Lewis’ Rule: He felt that any fantasy or science fiction story should focus primarily on the fantasy elements — they must be front-and-centre to what is going on. He had no interest reading a romance that just happened to be set on another planet or a murder mystery on a parallel universe. The focus should be on the protagonist exploring this strange reality.  Thus, he was very interested in the first visit to a planet, but not the second visit — for with the second visit, the experience would not be fresh and strange for the protagonist, and thus not for the reader. This can be seen in Narnia, where in each story the characters find themselves either in a totally different country or after a long period of time (such as a 1000 years), so that each appearance is fresh. Likewise, in the Cosmic trilogy, each planet is only visited once. On a similar note, Lewis feels that fantasy protagonists should be relatively simple psychologically, with not much time spent exploring a lot of deep internal struggle – for that moves the focus away from the exterior fantasy world.
Commentary: One can certainly see where Lewis is coming from. Like Lovecraft, Lewis is perhaps most interested with having fantasy produce a particular “feel,” creating a potent numinous experience. Though Lewis’ characterization and plot may sometimes feel a little flat, nothing beats his description, the mood and imagery of his scenes. One can definitely see the important of keeping the fantasy front-and-centre. If your story does not concern itself too much with the fantasy elements, then why make it fantasy at all? And, of course, there have been numerous marvelous works of fantasy literature that feature characters with relatively little interiority: Lemuel Gulliver of Gulliver’s Travels, Alice of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis’ own Elwin Ransom of the Cosmic trilogy. They exist mainly to be the eyes of the reader in exploring the fantasy world. That said, the “Guards” series in Discworld are some of the best fantasy ever written, and are police procedurals in a fantasy city with much of the conflict internal person vs. self, and which is a world and even a city that Pratchett returns to again and again, but still somehow always feels fresh. The comic Elfquest Wendy and Richard Pini also engages in deep psychological exploration, and in that case the same community is returned to again and again over numerous generations, but in a way that never makes it feel mundane.
The Message: The fantasy elements must be important to the story and the story should feel magical not mundane. That said, there are numerous ways that this fantastical element can be maintained, whether it is about a person exploring a new fantasy world or about someone trying to live their life in a strange place we have met before. Always think about how you want to present it in your own story.

Fantasy is an amazing genre because you can do literally anything you want with it. Everyone has their own idea about what fantasy is and what they like about it. Understanding an author’s reasons behind their own fantasy ideas can be very insightful in learning why that author makes the choices that they do, and it can give other authors insight into their own fantasy. That said, perhaps the most important piece of advice for writing fantasy or anything else is that you must make it your own — write it your way, whatever is comfortable to you. Don’t write it the way someone else wants it written.

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Welsh Folklore in “Call of Cthulhu”

Call of Cthulhu is the role-playing game based on H. P. Lovecraft’s series of famous short stories of nihilistic dark gods and monstrous aliens. Here’s how I would link the various forces of Lovecraft’s universe with Welsh mythology.

THE GODS

CTHULHU

There are references to the gods Llyr and Dylan ruling undersea kingdoms off the cost of Britain, likely linked to the deep ones and Cthulhu, and specifically to Ahu-Y’hloa, the mighty deep one city off the coast of Cornwall. The fact that Bran the Blessed, mightiest son of Llyr, was a giant in folklore suggests not entirely human blood – perhaps he was an unusual deep one mutation.

GWYN AP NUDD, Great One. It is not possible to hunt the boar Trwyth without Gwyn, the son of Nudd, whom God has placed over the brood of devils in Annwn, lest they should destroy the present race.
– “Culhwch and Olwen,” The Mabinogion

Gwyn the son of Nudd, Gwyn the White, Gwyn the Hunter, Gwyn the Master of the Wild Hunt, Gwyn the Lord of Castle Revolving. Of all the rulers of the Tylwyth Teg, it is said the Gwyn ap Nudd is the mightiest, save perhaps for his brother Arawn the Gray. In his true form he looks like an especially beautiful fey, with hair of shining silver and skin of purest white. He often wears a crown of flowers and stag’s antlers, and war will blacken his face with charcoal.

Though, like all Tylwyth Teg, Gwyn pursues numerous schemes in a desperate attempt to escape boredom, his favourite diversion is always hunting. On certain dark nights he will lead the Wild Hunt across the sky, pursuing any poor mortals he finds, but Gwyn prefers mightier, more monstrous prey. He claims to be the son of Nodens (“Nudd”), the greatest hunter of them all, and dedicates many of his kills in that elder god’s name. None know for sure if King Gwyn is telling the truth, but he does seem to have great mastery over the nightgaunts.

Nyarlathotep often takes Gwyn ap Nudd’s form, so it is very dangerous to have dealings with the fey king. Though it is often hard to tell if an encounter with Gwyn was truly with him, it is generally assumed that the Gwyn ap Nudd who stole away Creiddylad and join King Arthur in his hunt for the boar Trwyth was the real being.

CULT: Few worship Gwyn ap Nudd as such, but offerings are still often left for the fairies in various parts of Britain. Certain sorcerers do invoke him in the hopes that he will lead the Wild Hunt against their enemies.

THE WILD HUNT: When vengeful or just bored Gwyn ap Nudd will often gather a great hunt to pursue someone who has angered him or to bring to heel some glorious quarry. The Wild Hunt usually happens in the Dreamlands, but if King Gwyn’s quarry is on Earth, he will pursue it then.

The Wild Hunt is led by Gwyn himself and generally includes 2D10+10 hounds of Annwn in dog form, 1D6+3 mounted Tylwyth Teg, and 2D6+3 Tylwyth Teg hunters on foot. However, sometimes other beings are drawn into the hunt as well, such as ghosts, nightgaunts, or hounds of Tindalos. Viewing the Wild Hunt causes a Sanity loss, as does even just hearing the terrifying wails, howls, and hooves across the sky.

ATTACKS: Gwyn ap Nudd acts with his weapons. He prefers not to use magic in combat, instead giving his prey a sporting chance. If he is facing a more dangerous foe, then Gwyn will use special arrows that cause madness (1/1D8 Sanity points with each hit). Then if things become especially dangerous, he can summon hounds of Annwn and Dreamlands monsters for protection.

GWYN AP NUDD, King of the Fairies
STR 21 CON 53 SIZ 12 INT 25 POW 25
DEX 25 APP 25 MOVE 12 HP 31

Damage Bonus: +2D6
Weapons: Sword 90%, damage 1D10 + db
Spear 90%, damage 1D10 + db
Arrows 90%, damage 1D8 + db + Sanity loss

Spells: Gwyn ap Nudd can summon Hounds of Annwn at the rate of one hound per magic point expended. In addition, he can summon any creature native to the Dreamlands that is either not connected to another deity or is loyal to Nodens by expending 1 magic point per SIZ point of the being summoned. He also knows all Contact Spells for any Tylwyth Teg Great Ones, Contact Nyarlathotep, Contact Nodens, and Summon Nightgaunt.

Sanity Loss: 0/1D10 Sanity points to see Gwyn ap Nudd in his true form. Seeing the Wild Hunt costs 1/1D8 Sanity (may be higher if the Hunt includes other Mythos creatures or entities). Just hearing the Wild Hunt costs 0/1D2 Sanity.

NODENS

Among the humans of Earth, probably none worshipped Nodens as much as did the Celts. As the great hunter of monsters, slayer of dragons, there was much to recommend Nodens to them. In fact, the mainland Celts worshipped Nodens under his real name, though the Brythons more often referred to him as “Nudd.” The relationship between him and Gwyn ap Nudd is open to debate.

NYARLATHOTEP

The messenger and soul of the Outer Gods has numerous avatars, some of which are of particular prominent to the British.

  • Black Man. A Satanic figure that is often the leader of witches’ sabbats, including many in the British Isles. In this form he is frequently referred to simply as the “Evil One.”
  • Dark Demon. This black pig-faced demon sometimes appears at the sabbats if Nyarlathotep wants something a little more dramatic than the Black Man.
  • Gwyn ap Nudd. Though the king of Caer Sidi is a separate being, Nyarlathotep also will sometimes take his form as a personal avatar (enjoying the irony of pretending to be the self-proclaimed “son of Nodens”). It is often to know if one is talking with the real Gwyn ap Nudd or Nyarlathotep in disguise.
  • Horned Man. Known as Herne the Hunter by certain cultists in east England, as well as the Wild Huntsman and Master of the Wild Hunt. A relatively recent persona created to mock Gwyn ap Nudd (as Gwyn was the traditional Brythonic commander of the Wild Hunt).
  • Wicker Man. The embodiment of pagan sacrifice, who sometimes appears as part of certain rituals.

Note that he will frequently appear attended by Our Ladies of Sorrow, or sometimes they will be his heralds and messengers, delivering his commands.

SHUB-NIGGARATH

Numerous fertility cults have built up around her, and in various forms she was a favoured source of veneration for druids and Pictish shamans. As a result, many of her dark young have walked the island and some still remain in hidden forests.

  • Green Man. Contrary to some reports, this is an avatar of Shub-Niggarath, not Nyarlathotep. Like the Great God Pan, the Green Man is Shub-Niggarath’s fertility embodied in a male form. He appears as a man made of leaves, vines, fruits, and other plant material all mixed together to form a humanoid figure. An ancient god of the druids, the Green Man has proven surprisingly tenacious despite Britain’s official Christianity. For example, his face is still carved in numerous churches and displayed on the sign of numerous inns, and his effigy (as “Jack-in-the-Green”) is danced around at May Day. The Green God, a Great Old One worshiped in the British village of Warrendown, is linked to the Green Man, and certain individuals worship them as the same being.
  • Modron. The “Mother,” her most common avatar in Britain and the spiritual head of her ancient fertility cult. She appears as a large, voluptuous heavily pregnant woman whose features have a disquieting resemblance to the viewer’s own mother. As Modron Shub-Niggarath is relatively benign, content to receive worship and savour her sacrifices, and be served by her most beloved child, Mabon ap Modron (“Son, son of the Mother”). However, if she is ever angered or threatened, she will quickly transform into a more monstrous form.

SHUDDE M’ELL

King of the chthonians, called the “Great Dragon” or the “God of the Mound” in ancient texts. He was long worshiped by Picts, giants, and Little Folk, an embodiment of the wrath of the Earth and the powers of the tunnels. Numerous cairns, dolmens, and standing stones all over Britain are dedicated to the Great Dragon, many inscribed with various runes.

YOG-SOTHOTH

The Brythons have traditionally identified Yog-Sothoth not so much with a being but with a concept: the Awen. This is the spirit of inspiration that is the source of poetry, prophecy, and magic, but also madness, which can enter anyone at any opportunity to fill them with visions. Some scholars have related to this to the Christian Holy Spirit, but it has a far older origin. There are certain mountains, especially in Wales (such as Cadair Idris), that are considered close to the Awen, and it is said that any who sleep there come down either a poet or a lunatic. Some who sleep there also become pregnant with the “soul of the Awen,” — the most famous of these children of Yog-Sothoth were Merlin and Taliesin.

OTHER GREAT OLD ONES

  • Byatis, Glaaki, and Eihort are all imprisoned in England’s Severn Valley and written about in the Book of Black Earth. Certain cultists enter Eihort’s labyrinth in the hopes of gaining occult power. Few return.
  • Lilith, as the “queen of the witches,” is frequently worshipped alongside the Black Man at sabbats.
  • Our Ladies of Sorrow. They often accompany Nyarlathotep, but also appear independent of him. They are always together and frequently spinning and weaving some strange design as they speak cryptic words to their guest. Our Ladies of Sorrow enjoy the fear and uncertainty that their prophecies cause.
  • Saaitii the Hog, lord of the swine folk, has sometimes been summoned to Britain and is spoken of in certain rituals.
  • Tru’nembra. The so-called “angel of music” that appears as a living sound, is also sometimes identified with the Awen.

THE MONSTERS

DRAGONS

Though the term “dragon” has been applied to numerous creatures, the most common ones are the chthonians and the lloigor. The chthonians are monstrous centipede-like monsters that burrow deep into the earth and cause numerous earthquakes. In ancient times, their worshippers often erected dolmens and burial mounds over the entrances to the chthonian tunnels, burying their greatest champions beside them so that their ghosts would be alongside the dragons forever. This connection with the cairns of ancient warriors (buried with their treasure) as well as the general link to the underworld with its minerals and gems, was what inspired the stories that dragons would guard great treasure troves. Indeed, certain gemstones seemed to have powers or ritual significance to the chthonians, and they would guard them jealously. They also known as the “worms of the earth” or the “black serpents of the barrow,” and are still worshipped by certain tribes.

Confusingly, the lloigor also inhabit their own tunnels underneath the earth, nursing their fading energies there, hoarding various minerals that they feel would help recharge their fading energies and taking humans are slaves. Many of them are found under the mountains of Wales, and as their physical form (when it manifests) resembles a great reptile, they have also contributed to many dragon tales. In fact, in pre-Roman times, many lloigor (who called themselves the “Dragon Kings”) demanded blood sacrifices be given to their stone oracles and statues. Some believe that Merlin’s vision of two dragons battling was actually a chthonian wrestling with a lloigor for control of a mountain.

Other reptilian monsters have also added to the stories, such as the hunting horrors of Nyarlathotep (presenting the image of dragons as flying predators).

GIANTS, Lesser Independent Race.

He is not smaller in size than two of the men of this world… and he has a club of iron, and it is certain that there are no two men in the world together who could lift that club unburdened. And he is not a comely man, but on the contrary he is exceedingly ill-favoured, and he is the woodward of that wood.
– “The Lady of the Fountain,” The Mabinogion

It is said that before the first humans came to Britain, the giants ruled. Some say in ages past they were human, but that somewhat caused their size to swell. Others believe that the giants are the descendants of blasphemous cross-breeding between humans and gugs or that they are the descendants of Atlantis or originally came from the Dreamlands or were indeed the figures mentioned in Genesis: “There were giants in the Earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men…” Whatever their origins they have been living alongside humans, and warring with them, for many ages. Of course, not every encounter with a “giant” is with an actual giant. Gugs, trolls, voormis, and many others have been confused for them.

Though millennia ago they were the masters of all survey, humanity has pushed back giants to the edges of civilization. Those few that remain on Britain are found on isolated islands or the mountains and hidden valleys of Scotland and Wales, or have moved to subterranean tunnels. They have ancient pacts with the Little Folk and the Worms of the Earth, and many giants worship the Mother (Shub-Niggurath) and the Great Dragon (Shudde M’ell), and some even the Piper (Nyarlathotep). Most dream of a day when they can drive humanity from Britain and reclaim it for their own.

The “average” giant appears as a rough and savage figure twice the size of a regular human, though it is a species prone to mutation. Some giants are much bigger, others have a single eye and/or a single leg, some have horns, etc. They breed true with humans and their bloodlines have been so mixed with humanity that many giants give birth to humans and some humans will give birth to giants.

ATTACKS: most carry giant clubs, though some have metal weapons. Many also throw stones.

GIANTS, Original Lords of the Island
char.   rolls         average
STR     3D6+20  30-31
CON    3D6+8    18-19
SIZ       5D6+10  27-28
INT      3D6         10-11
POW    3D6         10-11
DEX     3D6         10-11
Move 12 HP 23

Av. Damage Bonus: +2D6
Weapons: Club 50% 2D6 + db
Punch 50% 1D8 + db
Thrown Rock 40% 2D6 + db
Armor: 2-point hide

Spells: Giant wizards known 1D10 spells
Skills: Hide 30%, Spot Hidden 40%
Sanity Loss: 0/1D8 Sanity points to see a giant.

GOBLINS

These are more properly known as the “gof’nn hupadgh Shub-Niggurath” — the blessed of Shub-Niggurath, or as they are called in Welsh, the Bendith y Mamau (“Blessing of the Mothers”). They are beings who have been sacrificed to Shub-Niggurath and then “birthed” again from her body. Though conventionally most goblins have goatish features, those birthed by Modron are more likely to have pig or deer traits (tusks, curly tails, antlers, etc.), but others have other strange deformities. The goblins are sometimes accompanied by the “treeherds,” which are in fact the dark young of Shub-Niggurath.

HOUNDS OF ANNWN, Lesser Servitor Race.

He heard the cry of other hounds, a cry different from his own…. Of all the hounds that he had seen in the world, he had never seen any that were like unto these. For their hair was of a brilliant shining white, and their ears were red, and as the whiteness of their bodies shone, so did the redness of their ears glisten.
– “Pwyll, Prince of Dyved,” The Mabinogion

A species of shape-shifters that hunts through the Dreamlands was domesticated by the Tylwyth Teg. In their true form, they appear as a shifting mass of white mist in which various body parts form at random moments. These beings have been domesticated by the Tylwyth Teg, who have them transform into both the Teg’s hounds and their steeds, and they are utterly devoted to their fey masters.

The howl of the hounds of Annwn on the hunt is incredibly disturbing and reverberates across the sky. The strangest thing about the sound is that it actually gets quieter the closer the hound gets, so that if you are right beside one, the howling sounds only like a murmur.

INVISIBILITY: Hounds of Annwn can turn invisible at will by spending only a single magic point. However, they can only attack when visible.

SHAPE-SHIFTING: Hounds of Annwn can make themselves appear as any beast (never a human-like form). The Tylwyth Teg find them most useful as horses or dogs, so they will generally appear as such. No matter what form they take, they are always white with red eyes and red in the insides of their ears.

TRACK: When they scent their prey, they can follow the scent to any part of the Dreamlands or Earth. The only way to escape the scent is to travel to another planet. Or to either kill the hound or convince its fey master to call off the hunt.

TRAVEL: A hound can run across the sky as easily as on land, and can at will move between Earth and the Dreamlands, taking its rider with it.

ATTACKS: A hound of Annwn uses whatever attack is appropriate for its form, but always inflicts the same damage. If in dog form when facing an especially dangerous foe, the hound will often grow to horse-sized but still keep its hound appearance. If panicked, it will take its natural form.

HOUNDS OF ANNWN, Fey beasts
char.  rolls          average
Str       3D6+20   30-31
CON   3D6+12    22
SIZ      2D6+1      8
(4D6+12) (24)*
INT     3D6          12
POW   4D6          14
DEX    4D6          14
Move 20 / 20 flying HP 15 (23)*
*The number outside the brackets is when dog-sized, inside is horse-sized

Av. Damage Bonus: +2d6
Weapons: Bite/hoof 90% 1D10 + db
Armor: 2-point hide
Skills: Dodge 50%, Hide 70%, Spot Hidden 80%, Track by Smell to the Ends of the Earth 120%
Sanity Loss: 0/1D2 Sanity points to see it disguised or to hear its howl upon the wind; 1D3/1D20 Sanity points to see it in its true form.

MEN OF THE BARROW

Certain warriors, shamans, and other devottees to the Old Gods, especially Shudd M’ell, are buried in tombs and barrows. Because they have been “blessed” by their deities, they are not dead, but merely sleeping. If their tombs are broken into, the men of the barrow will attack. Treat as mummies.

MERFOLK

The merfolk from the sea seducing mortals and leading them to their doom comes from stories of the deep ones. In fact one of the three major cities of the deep ones is Ahu-Y’hloa, off the coast of Cornwall.

SWINE FOLK

These subterranean piggish humanoids make their home in some parts of Wales, dwelling under certain of the mounds and worshipping Saaitii.

TYLWYTH TEG, Lesser Independent Race.

While he sat there, they saw a lady on a large pure white horse, and with a garment of shining gold around her, coming along the road that led from the mound. The horse seemed to move at a slow and even pace… and he followed as fast as he could [but] the greater was his speed, the further was she from him.
– “Pwyll, Prince of Dyved,” The Mabinogion

The Tylwyth Teg or the “Fair Family” — beings later known as the “fairies” — are a civilization of human-like beings who inhabit the Dreamlands (which the Brythons call Annwn – the “Otherworld”). Some believe that the Tylwyth Teg were original human thousands of years ago, but if they were, they are not quite human anymore. They do appear, in their natural form, as beings of almost impossible beauty with thin, graceful bodies, shining golden hair, golden eyes, and pure white skin. So strangely beautiful are they that it is difficult on them. Each Tylwyth Teg also has a specific human form they can take, which they use to walk among mortals.

The Tylwyth Teg never grow old. As the centuries go by, they merely become more powerful and more jaded, with their leaders being Great Ones (the gods of the Dreamlands). Though the Tylwyth Teg pretend to not worship any gods besides themselves, as lords of the Dreamlands they are ultimately subservient to Nyarlathotep and also venerate Hypnos, the king of dreams, and Nodens the Hunter (whom they call “Nudd”). It amuses Nyarlathotep to sometimes masquerade as Teg rulers, especially Gwyn ap Nudd.

Pride and boredom are the two defining traits of the Fair Family. They are all very old and very powerful, and have done so many things many times that to do almost anything again would be a horrible burden. Thus they are obsessed with novelty. The Tylwyth Teg scorn regular humans as their inferiors but they also seek to play games with them in order to try new things. The Tylwyth Teg often kidnap humans and force them to entertain them or will develop complicated schemes that they ensnare humans in, just to see what they will do. The Tylwyth Teg are too far-gone from any mortal perspective to fully comprehend why encounters with the Mythos cause humans to go mad, but many of the fey do find such reactions amusing, and so sometimes lead victims into a monster’s web. However, just as many Tylwyth Teg are hungry for hunting, and battling alien monstrosities to the death is one of the few things left that gives a certain zest to existence.

ANNWN: Though the name “Annwn” can refer to the entire Dreamlands, it can also refer to the domains of the Tylwyth Teg in particular. There are entrances to Annwn all over Britain, often marked by a hill, a cairn, a standing stone, or a ring of mushrooms. Any Tylwyth Teg who stands at one of those entrances can open it with a magic point, allowing him and his companions to enter the Otherworld. He can also return from Annwn to that place with a magic point as well.

The cities of the Fair Folk can look like whatever they want, but often appear white and gold. Time runs differently there, so sometimes a mortal might spend a day in Annwn and return to find a hundred years have passed or spend a year in Annwn but no time has passed on Earth.

ATTACKS: They attack with various regular weapons, favouring elegant swords, spears, and longbows. All Tylwyth Teg known sorcery, and they are not afraid to use it against their enemies. Many of them dip their weapons (especially their arrows) into a certain poison that can bring madness to those it infects (0/1D6 Sanity points with each hit).

TYLWYTH TEG, the Fey Folk
char.   rolls      average
STR     2D6+6   13
CON    2D6+6   13
SIZ       3D6       10-11
INT      2D6+12 19
POW    2D6+12  19
DEX     2D6+8   15
APP      2D6+12 19
Move 8 HP 11-12

Av. Damage Bonus: +1D6
Weapons: Sword 40% 1D8 + db
Spear 40% 1D8 + db
Arrows 60% 1D8 + db + potential Sanity loss
Armor: none natural, but they may carry armour

Skills: Hide 60%, Listen 40%, Sneak 60%, Spot Hidden 40%
Spells: all know at least 1D6 spells. Furthermore, any Tylwyth Teg can spend 1 magic point to appear human – each Teg has a very specific human form that they can take.
Sanity Loss: 0/1D6 Sanity points to see a Tylwyth Teg in their natural form.

OTHER FEY

At various times other beings besides the Tylwyth Teg have been confused for fairies:

  • Little People. A stunted humanoid race that has been pushed back into the edges of the wilderness (especially the mountains and valleys of Wales). Contrary to some claims, these are not the Picts, but they have shared the island with the Picts for a very long time and there has been a certain amount of interbreeding. They worship a pantheon that has the Mother (Shub-Niggurath) at the head, but also includes the Piper (Nyarlathotep), the Hunter (Nodens), the Seer (Yog-Sothoth), and the Dragon (Shudde Me’ll). They often kidnap human children for their dark rituals. Some are halfbreeds with the serpentine worms of the earth.
  • Worms of the Earth. Though this is a term frequently applied to Chthonians, it can also refer to remnants of the serpent people who turned to worship Tsathoggua and so were cursed by Father Yig. These “worms of the earth” or “children of the night” still worship Tsathoggua and a mysterious Black Stone, and are responsible for many of the curses identified with the fairies in folklore. Like the Little People, they also kidnap children for their rituals.

VOORMIS

Though many wild men are humans who have gone insane, there are also voormis prowling the wilderness, mistaken for men who have gone made and animalistic.

WEREWOLVES

Shub-Niggarath in her avatars of Modron and the Green Man, as well as Nyarlathotep as the Horned Man all enjoy punishing mortals by transforming them into ravening beasts. Fey lords such as Gwyn ap Nudd also enjoy this. They in particular enjoy unleashing their victim upon his friends, so that the werewolf (or werebear, wereboar, etc.) destroys those closes to him. Some also seek to become werewolves willingly, such as Gurgi Rough-Grey and his pack, who dedicated their victims to Shub-Niggarath and then devoured their hearts.

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Welsh King Arthur vs Mary Stewart

 If you told people you were looking for a modern retelling of the original version of King Arthur, they’d likely assume you meant a pseudo-historical one and would most likely direct you towards Mary Stewart’s Arthurian series: The Crystal Caves, The Hollow Hills, The Last Enchantment, and The Wicked Day. The first three star Merlin while the final one focuses on Mordred, and they’re the most famous Arthur stories that are grounded in the actual 5th century rather than Mallory’s pseudo-middle ages with knights and tournaments and whatnot.

So, how “Welsh” are they? Most “historical” takes on Arthur (such as Jack Whyte’s Dream of Eagles series, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Mists of Avalon, or that abysmal 2004 King Arthur movie) have utterly no interest in incorporating the original sources, instead either just placing the Mallory stories in a more historical context or going off in their own direction – basically just telling a piece of historical fiction and then slapping the “Arthur” tag on it. However, Mary Stewart’s jump-off point actually is a medieval text, though not really a Welsh one: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain.

The Crystal Caves is a pretty faithful adaptation of all the Merlin parts from the History, with various extra bits that explore Merlin’s childhood and education, presenting a compelling figure who is basically a proto-scientist. As with the History, basically Merlin’s only supernatural abilities and all his other “magic” is accompanied through knowledge of engineering and herbalism, and the occasional exploitation of superstition. Its various references to Welsh culture and folklore feel valid, and its reliance on pre-Romantic sources does mean that even if doesn’t always feel quite mythological, it doesn’t usually feel very Mallory.

The later books do move away from the History (mainly because they are about Merlin’s relationship with Arthur, even though Geoffrey never had them meet), and thus draw more on the later Arthurian Romances, though Stewart also incorporates elements from Welsh folklore, such as the idea of there being more than one Guinevere, that Mordred was not entirely villainous, and that King Arthur’s sword was previously Emperor Macsen’s (an interesting choice, especially because “The Dream of Macsen Wledig” is actually the one native tale from the Mabinogion that normally has nothing to do with King Arthur). However, some of the Welsh elements are merely window dressing, such as Stewart changing Lancelot’s name to “Bedwyr,” so that she can still have the Lancelot-Guenevere-Arthur triangle but feature a warrior with a more authentically Celtic name.

Though reading Mary Stewart’s books won’t give you a good feel for early Arthurian mythology, it does a good job exploring the culture of that time period and adding various tidbits of folklore when it suits her purpose. In fact, with the exception of direct adaptation of folklore, such as Dr. Gwyn Thomas’ marvelous Quest for Olwen, Mary Stewart’s works is probably the most authentic stuff out there, and certainly some of the most well-written.

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