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.
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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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Welsh King Arthur vs Le Morte d’Arthur

Here is the first in a series of articles where I analyze various King Arthur stories and contrast them with the original Welsh stories. At first let’s start with the most famous one, Sir Thomas Mallory’s Le Morte d’Arthur as well as the related Roger Lancelyn Green’s King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. 

Le Morte d’Arthur

Le Morte d’Arthur – a tome vast in size (almost 1,000 pages) and vast in significance. It is the first novel ever printed in English on the printing press, and continues to be phenomenally popular. It could be considered the bridge between King Arthur as folklore and King Arthur as literature, collecting a wide variety of tales into a single book and serving as the defining force for all later King Arthur stories to respond to. Every Arthur tale after Le Morte d’Arthur is either inspired by it or is defined in opposition to it, the author either saying “how can I use Mallory?” or “how is my story different from Mallory?”

That being the case: “how Welsh are the Mallory stories?” The answer is a simple one: “not Welsh at all.” Mallory defines the Romance Arthur strain, contrasting with both the Pseudo-Historical Arthur and the Welsh Arthur. Any story or interpretation of the “Welsh King Arthur” is defined mainly by how unlike Mallory it is, for the following reasons:

  1. French Names: Lancelot du Lac, Mogan la Fey, Beaumains, La Cote Male Tayle, the very title itself “Le Morte d’Arthur.” As a book largely based on the French Romances, French names appear throughout Le Morte d’Arthur. As Lancelot himself is supposedly from France, “du Lac” may make sense, but Morgan was raised in Cornwall and then moved to Wales — so why exactly is she “la” Fey? The predominance of such names, along with all the courtly imagery, makes the whole thing feel like French folktales as opposed to Brythonic ones.
  2. Lancelot and other French heroes: Lancelot and Galahad are characters created by the French romancers, and are treated as the greatest knights of King Arthur’s court. Conversely, many of the early Brythonic champions, such as Kay (Cai) and Gawaine (Gwalchmai) instead become bad-tempered foils for the “real heroes,” while others such as Bedivere (Bedwyr) have become forgetfully minor figures. Having Gawaine as a savage vengeful figure is especially odd, as in the Welsh stories, Gwalchmai’s defining trait is his courtesy. Tristan and Percival are authentically Welsh and treated with respect, but they’re still very clearly second banana to the French figures – Tristan being the second greatest worldly knight after Lancelot and Percival the second holiest knight after Galahad. The Holy Grail itself is not present in any Welsh story, and so its defining role in Mallory (as well as Galahad and Lancelot’s relationship to it) moves the story in a very different direction.
  3. Courtly Chivalry: The Mallory stories are very much set in the Middle Ages. No mention is given of invading Saxons or Picts, no appearances of Ambrosius, Vortigern, or other semi-historical figures. Furthermore, there is an obsession with tournaments and courtly love, and especially champions jousting against knight after knight, causing each to declare loyalty to the champion and King Arthur. Very different from the much wilder giant-slaying and tribal wars of the earlier native tales.
  4. Lack of Fantasy: Perhaps the most surprising element of the Mallory stories is the general lack of fantasy elements. They are clearly not the focus. Though there is Merlin, most of his magic is confined to vague prophecies of doom and creating monuments to the knights’ failures. There are very few dragons and giants, barely any fey — most of the more fantastical King Arthur stories (“The Green Knight,” “The Loathley Lady,” etc.) are missing. Though Mallory does include various Christian miracles, including, naturally, the Holy Grail, he is clearly uninterested in most other flights of fancy. For him, much more drama is found in knights tilting against each other than in encountering sorcerers and monsters. This is, of course, very different from the Welsh stories. Most of the Welsh champions have super powers, and they rarely fight human adversaries — giants, dragons, werewolves, witches, fey warriors, talking animals — these are who Arthur and his court pit themselves against.

King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table.

Roger Lancelyn Green was a member of the Inklings, a close friend to J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis, and the man who most encourage Lewis to publish his Narnia series. Green is best known for his series of mythology adaptations (Greek, Norse, King Arthur, Robin Hood, etc.) and for trying to draw upon as wide variety of sources for his books. That’s why Robin Hood gets his treacherous servant Worman and battles the Witch of Papplewick while his take on Norse myths references Saxo Grammaticus and a Faroe Island folktale.

Green freely admits that his main inspiration  for King Arthur was Mallory, but he also brings in stuff from other sources, including:

  1. Saxon References. Though Green doesn’t give any focus to any of the pseudo-historical King Arthur’s Saxon wars, he does reference them at various times, clearly placing his tales in their timeline, even though he doesn’t shy away from knights, tournaments, and other medieval trappings.
  2. Welsh Romance. Green includes “Geraint and Enid,” one of the three Welsh romances from the Mabinogian.
  3. Sense of Fantasy. Green adds “The Green Knight,” “The Loathley Lady,” and a non-Mallory version of Tristan. Though none of these are based on specific Welsh stories, they are still stories of heroes wrestling with monsters and enchantment rather than jousts and tournaments. They feel more primal, inspired by old and wild folktales from an old and wild people.
  4. Less Tournaments and French.  Just the fact that Green’s book is far shorter than Mallory’s and adds a lot that Mallory doesn’t include means that a huge amount of Mallory gets cut. A lot of the repetitive jousts after jousts are removed with their variously coloured knights and many of the French names (such as “La Cote Male Tayle” and “Le Morte d’Arthur”) are gone. Tristan, in particular, feels much more like an Celtic folk hero than a Norman knight.

So Green’s book is more “Brythonic” than Mallory’s (it could hardly be less), but still firmly on the Romance side of the Romance vs Welsh divide. Next time we’ll take a look at how some more modern books compare.

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The Welsh Arthur

Culhwch meets King Arthur

When I started doing research for Wizards of Wales (which I have now renamed Enchanters of Britain), I started taking a look at a lot of Welsh folktales a lot more closely than I had done before. In exploring them, especially the bizarre romp “Culhwch & Olwen,” I discovered a version of King Arthur that I hadn’t previously known existed, despite being a big King Arthur fan ever since I was a child. Sadly, the original Welsh version of King Arthur has been eclipsed by the knightly romances of Chrétien de Troyes and Sir Thomas Mallory, and by the modern obsession with finding the “real” King Arthur, some British or perhaps Sarmatian warchief fighting against the Saxons back in the 5th century of history. Even the rpg supplement GURPS Camelot, when describing the different interpretations of King Arthur, talked about the historical Arthur, the Arthur of the Romances, and the Arthur of modern pop culture, but never mentioned the Arthur of Welsh myth.

But if you look back at the original surviving Welsh fragments, they are more fantastical than Mallory not less, presenting a folk hero in the style in Heracles or Sigurd, rather than a historical general. “Culhwch & Olwen” is the only early Arthurian folktale that survives in its (more-or-less) entirety, and it presents a court of Arthur filled with demigods, such as the fairy king Gwyn ap Nudd and Manawydan ap Llyr, and with superpowered heroes, with powers ranging from being able to stamp mountains flat to setting themselves on fire.

So what defines the original Welsh Arthurian stuff?

  1. Fantastical. Fantasy elements surround the characters. Arthur’s champions (even his dog!) have superpowers and they battle fairies and demigods. There are talking animals, armies of werewolves, dragons, numerous giants, and wide variety of wizards and magical artifacts. Not all the stories even take place in the regular world — the heroes travel into hidden enchanted valleys all the time and frequently enter Annwn, the Otherworld.
  2. Pre-Chivalry. Though the time period of the original stuff is not really defined, it is still clearly not the Middle Ages. There are no tournaments or courtly love, no jousting knights. It’s dark ages warriors going on strange personal quests, contending with the remnants of pre-Christian imagery and slaying monsters less for chivalric reasons and more for personal glory. The later pseudo-historical writings of Geoffrey of Monmouth and others has Arthur battling the invading Saxons and Angles; though not part of the original stories, it still fits very well with it.
  3. Welsh. The heroes are not English and they certainly do not have the French names and titles that appear in the Romances (Lancelot du Lac, Morgan la Fey, Beaumains, etc.). They are Brythons, the people who became the Welsh and the Cornish, and they have a strong cultural identity.

Perhaps the last is the most important point about the early Arthur stories. They were cultural stories presenting the heroes of the Brythonic people, heroes that defined Welsh and Cornish identity. Though the English later appropriated Arthur for their own purposes, in the original stories he was clearly Brythonic and Celtic. A hero of my ancestors rather than my ancestors’ conquerors.

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Welsh King Arthur

Culhwch & Olwen

I haven’t been posting much here recently, largely due to all the numerous projects I’ve been engaged with. I was working on a novel last year and thinking to myself that I really hoped to get it done soon because the thing I really wanted to work on was “Wizards of Wales,” an adaptation of Welsh myths looking at various wizards and enchanters. Then I realized “why I am I working on a book I’m not interested in when I could be focusing on the one I am interested in?” Thus I switched over from Guardian of the Garden City to Wizards of Wales. Then while researching for that book, I got really interested in the Welsh version of King Arthur, which has surprisingly little influence on later King Arthur retellings. Even stories that claim to be about the “real” King Arthur are more interested in simply moving the events of Le Morte d’Arthur into a more historical time period (Mists of Avalon) or adapting Geoffrey of Monmouth or other early pseudo-historical Arthurian works but ignoring the actual Welsh stuff (Mary Stewart’s Crystal Caves series).

This is a real shame, as the original Welsh stuff is fascinating. Its champions possess bizarre powers and strange personalities, fighting giants and monsters in mysterious quests. In Culhwch & Olwen, the only original Welsh Arthurian story to survive in its entirety, Arthur’s court includes various demigods, such as Manawyddan ap Llyr (of the Mabinogi), Gwyn ap Nudd (king of the fairies), and Morvran (son of the goddess-witch Ceridwen), as well as figures with such a range of powers as superspeed, superstrength, flight, fire-generation, and lips so long that the top lip can be curled back and worn like a hat. It feels less like a court of medieval knights and more as a more bizarre version of the Argonauts of Greek myths or the Avengers. It is crazy and awesome, full of magic and passion — truly the folktales of the Welsh people’s most famous folkhero, rather than Norman-style knights in armour.

Trying to piece together all the old Welsh stories and fragments, combining them together into a coherent narrative, has been a really fascinating experience, and resulted in what was originally going to be one book on Welsh myths splitting into two: Wizards of Wales and Arthur, King of the Brythons. It’s something I’ll be exploring further in this blog, looking at aspects of King Arthur that sadly are rarely explored.

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Core Archetypes and Adept Schools in Unknown Armies

It was a weird experience when I first read over the file of Unknown Armies 3rd edition and discovered that their basic list of adept schools was 100% new and around half of their archetypes were new as well. Though it was cool to have a lot of new weird magic stuff, especially with a couple of the concepts clearly taking centre stage in the section describing modern events in the Occult Underground, it seemed like the new rulebook had devoted itself a a little too much to throwing out the old. After all, certain magic schools such as Mechanomancy and Pornomancy still play a big part in the world of Unknown Armies. In particular, it was strange to see the Sect of the Naked Goddess be extensively discussed in the 3rd edition core rules, but have no space for Pornomancy itself. It also reminded me how strangely eclectic the core list of UA archetypes feels in the basic rulebook. A lot of eccentric concepts tossed together while some very, well, “archetypal” archetypes getting surprisingly short shift (for example, the Trickster has appeared in none of the core books, only in the Statosphere supplement).

That being the case, and because I always like tinkering with role-playing stuff, I’ve decided to figure out what I thought were the most “core” Unknown Armies avatars and archetypes – the ones I felt were either the most pivotal for the characters in the world or for their central ideas. To give myself limits, I decided to only list the same amount of archetypes and adept schools that UA 2nd edition had: 14 archetypes and 12 adept schools. In perhaps a very UA moment, I discovered that I ended up one over in both categories and couldn’t bring myself to drop any of them. So here are the 15 archetypes and 13 schools that seem to be the most important.

Avatars

I’ve always found the avatar list in the basic Unknown Armies books to be something of an oddball assortment, especially in the 1st edition book. The two most prominent investigators of the archetype concept were the psychology Carl Jung and the mythologist Joseph Campbell, who both outlined what they felt were the main archetypes – Jung from a psychological perspective and Campbell from his concept of the “Hero’s Journey” (the different archetypes that embody the roles in a heroic story). I feel that the main archetypes in Unknown Armies should link to Jung and Campbell, as well as to the stories in the game itself.

With that in mind, here are the 15 archetypes I’d identify as the “core” ones in UA, either because they were core for Jung and Campbell or because they are used by prominent characters and cabals within the game itself. There are certainly far more archetypes running around in the world, but these are the most important.

  • Demagogue. Was channelled by Randy Douglas, leader of the True Order of St. Germain/Global Liberation Society. Though his group is gone by 3e, it is also the archetype of 3e’s Ulrike Frink, agent of the Milk.
  • Executioner. One of Campbell’s main archetypes is the Guardian, who challenges the Hero at various stages of his cycle and is often an agent of the Shadow. The Executioner works pretty well as the general “villain flunky” archetype.
  • Fool. A good embodiment of Jung’s idea of the Maiden & Child, as well as an archetype used by several UA NPCs and the only archetype in the main book of all three editions. A pivotal archetype in numerous ways.
  • Guide. Though it was only recently added via 3rd edition, it is clearly the same archetype as Campbell’s “Mentor” and Jung’s “Wise Old Man,” and so certainly should be counted as one of the main archetypes.
  • Merchant. A minor UA NPC from the first rulebook and a prominent one in Postmodern Magick are both avatars of the Merchant, and an entire adventure is set around them. Perhaps more importantly, it just has so much style. Thea ability to buy and sell anything opens up so many Mephistophelian opportunities.
  • Messenger. Clearly the same as Campbell’s “Herald.” Furthermore, it’s the archetype of Dermott Arkane, one of the most prominent avatars in the game and the spark of many adventures.
  • Mother. Not only is it a prominent Jung archetype, but also the UA rulebook itself describes the Mother as one of the oldest and most potent one. It clearly should be treated as such.
  • Mystic Hermaphrodite/Sexual Rebis. The archetype was turned inside out in 3rd edition, but still remains the joining of two genders and fundamental concepts. It has elements of Jung’s Anima/Animus, and incorporates elements of alchemy that were important for Jung. Furthermore, it is the archetype of the Freak, one of the game’s most prominent NPCs.
  • Naked Goddess. Like the Sexual Rebis, this has ties to the Anima. More importantly, it is the figure venerated by the Sect of the Naked Goddess, and the focus of one of its factions.
  • Pilgrim. Jeeter, a prominent NPC, is a Pilgrim. Also, like the Merchant, this avatar matches UA’s vibe of occult exploration so perfectly.
  • Trickster. Probably the most noticeably absence from all the main books. One of the most prominent archetypes in Jung and Campbell, though relegated to one of UA’s supplements. Should be featured more prominently.
  • True King. Erica Fisher, avatar of the True King, has become one of the leaders of Mak Attax, and most of the prominent avatars period.
  • Two-Faced Man. Comparable to Campbell’s concept of the “Shapeshifter,” who no one is sure is a hero or a villain.
  • Unsung Champion. Campbell’s “Ally,” the person who assists the main character.
  • Warrior. The archetype that best captures the “Hero” that is present in both Jung and Campbell.

Both Jung and Campbell also talk about the Shadow – the nemesis of the Hero who often shares attributes that the Hero seeks to deny in himself. No Unknown Armies archetype seems to fulfill that particular element, and perhaps it isn’t needed. Arguably the Warrior with an opposing ideal would capture that the best.

Adept Schools

Unlike archetypes, adept schools do not derive from any pre-existing psychological plan which should be accommodated. Thus, these “most important” schools are based on whether they were prominently used by NPCs or cabals in the game, and/or if their concepts were in someway important to the themes of Unknown Armies.

  • Cliomancy. Dugan Forsythe was one of the most powerful and influential adepts of the 20th-century and Cliomancy plays a big role in the development of the Sleepers.
  • Dipsomancy. Practised by Dirk Allen, one of the game’s most prominent NPCs
  • Entropomancy. Practised by Jeeter, another prominent NPC. Also this school connects effectively to the “Order and Chaos” theme that the game sometimes used.
  • Epideromancy. The magick of the Freak, one of the most frightfully potent figures in the game.
  • GNOMON. The strange Internet power that derives from the new cabal Flex Echo.
  • Mechanomancy. The source of various clockwork monsters in the game, the magick school of Superconductor, and a good school for showing how definitions of magick and power change in the game – the movement from “modern magick” to “postmodern magick.”
  • Motumancy. The magick of rebellion practised by one of the Naked Goddess’ powerful new splinter sects.
  • Narco-Alchemy. Though it hasn’t prominently been used in the game yet, it is an intense magick school that shows how old occult ideas get modernized in the world.
  • Personomancy. The magick of identity is a compelling one, and practised by Dame Benedicta in the 3rd edition core books.
  • Plutomancy. An effective magick school for showing the links between magick and power, acquisition and illumination.
  • Pornomancy. Probably the most prominent magick school in the game, the teachings of the Sect of the Naked Goddess.
  • Sociomancy. One of the new magick schools. Subcultures are such a defining part of human society, especially in the Internet Age, that a magick school drawing upon this makes a lot of spiritual sense.
  • Urbanomancy. The magick of cities has been used in so many works of fiction that it feels so universal.
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Researching my novel

So I haven’t been posting a lot recently because, as usual, I’ve been insanely busy. Also, I’ve been switching gears in what I’ve been doing, trying to focus on finishing my novel, Guardian of the Garden City, instead of letting myself get distracted by other things. As tempting as it is to submit to every call for submissions that comes my way, it has really been slowing down the time I’ve been spending focusing on what really matters to me artistically.

When I hit a wall with my novel, I starting researching a lot of stuff that I felt would be relevant to helping the story flourish, both revisiting a lot of old favourites such as Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and China Mieville’s Kraken, and taking a look at new stuff such as Paul Stoller & Cheryl Olkes’ In Sorcery’s Shadow.

The big problem with Guardian is that there’s a very particular mood that I’m trying for with the supernatural — that feeling of obsession and madness, of the power that comes from looking at aspects of the world in a strange new way. A mood is the most ephemeral of things, especially because on top of that I’m trying to capture the right feel of Victoria, cult capital of the world. The book is supposed to explore Victoria’s strange history and urban legends, and — most importantly — capture part of its soul. What is written in my novel should be true, from a certain metaphorical perspective.

This is very challenging, ambitious stuff, which is why it’s taking such a long time. Frustrating yet fascinating. I think my next book project will be The Wizards of Wales, an exploration of magicians in Welsh folklore. Then I’ll be operating within an established tradition, not needing to build my own cosmology from scratch. That sounds so much easier.

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Shadow Lords Reinterpreted

Once again we look at how I’d reinterpret a tribe from the Werewolf the Apocalypse role-playing game. Now we turn to one of the most controversial tribes: the Shadow Lords.

 The Shadow Lords

Werewolf tribes generally fall into one of two categories: the “traditionalists” (such as the Silver Fangs and the Get of Fenris) try to cleave as much to the old traditions as possible, generally continuing their stewardship of a particular ethnic strain of humans while the “modernists” (such as the Glass Walkers and the Children of Gaia) embrace more progressive ideals and generally are no longer connected with any particular ethnicity – it has been many centuries since the Glass Walkers considered themselves a specifically Greco-Italian tribe, and even longer since the Children of Gaia felt any particular association to the legacy of Sumer and Babylon. But the Shadow Lords do not easily fall into either category. They do still associate themselves with a particular ethnicity (that of Eastern Europe and Western Asia – the lands below Russia), but not to the same extent as their rivals the Silver Fangs, and they do maintain their old traditions… while also being interested in new ones. In all things they stand at the crossroads, between the dark and the light, the old and the new, the devil and the deep blue sea. They claim to be pragmatists, realists, choosing whatever tools would best get the job done. Their enemies call them “opportunists,” people who would betray their own packmate and totem if they thought it would get them a little ahead of everyone else.

The history of the Shadow Lords is entwined with that of the Silver Fangs. While the Silver Fangs were the lords of northeastern Europe and northern Asia, the Shadow Lords ruled southeastern Europe and the Middle East. The border was always shifting as both tribes pushed back and forth. They defined themselves by being each other’s opposite – the grand Silver Fang chieftains and shamans who would announce their presence to the heavens, and the much subtler Shadow Lord strategists and seers, who would be as quiet and unexpected as a sudden shadow. Their totems were spiritual rivals: great Eagle who was confident in his rulership of the north and wanted the whole world to see him strike and subtle Stormcrow who took every opportunity he could find, and was never too proud to eat the eyes of the dead.

This rival continued down throughout the ages to the modern time, and it is the firm belief of many Shadow Lords that one of the big reasons that the Garou are losing is that they have relied on antiquated Silver Fang leadership for so long. Is the best tactic really to follow the orders of a tribe who gets most of their insights from insane shamans writhing and gibbering in their yurts? From a tribe who still venerates, as one of their greatest champions, Genghis Khan? This is not an age of barbarian hordes and howling berserkers. This is an age of skyscrapers and business meetings, of electronic communication and cutthroat deals. This is the future. Change or die.

The Shadow Lords also disdain the regular codes of honor. To them the ends justify the means, and to pretend otherwise is self-indulgent and foolish. If becoming the board members of a corporation can save a rain forest, if striking a deal with some local vampires can preserve the Spirit Realm — hell, if killing a mere three innocent people saves a thousand, then do it. The Silver Fangs may be willing to walk into oblivion and take the whole damn world with them rather than sully their lily-white hands, but not the Shadow Lords. They’ll save the world, from itself if necessary, and if sacrifices must be made, so be it. Do not be Eagle; be Crow. Get the goddamn job done.

The Shadow Lords do their best to work well with everyone, as everyone can be useful. In particular, they try to be supportive of all the non-Silver Fang tribes in order to get them to support the Lords over the Fangs. However, they are often despised by such traditionalist tribes as the Fangs, the Get, and the Red Talons. The Glass Walkers and the Bone Gnawers are some of their closest allies, and in fact the Shadow Lords are some of the few Garou that treat the Gnawers with respect (only a fool throws away a tool that has many uses, and besides, Crow can respect people who speak with the spirits of the streets). The Children of Gaia have a complicated relationship with the Lords, respect the Lords’ willingness to engage in alternative viewpoints, but not comfortable with their ruthlessness.

The Shadow Lords, master deal-makers, have also forged numerous allegiances with various non-Garou. Their ties to the Corax are long and respected, and they also often deal with vampires, wraiths, mages, and numerous sinister roving spirits. No potential ally is ignored. Whatever it takes, they’re going to make sure Gaia wins the war.

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