Monday, September 24, 2018

What is that Heinous Idol for?

Mayan Cthulhu Totem by FoxH

The Pem-Pah people of Khaitam-po are positive dystheists who worship against a vast pantheon of malicious spirits which run amok across the world. In addition to offering prayers to confuse and confound the oftentimes nameless evils, they craft idols embodying them and their abstract, harmful concepts. These idols are then damaged and defaced over time to harm and weaken the concept embodied within it. This is believed to weaken the evil's power over the world by extension, offering temporary reprieve from it.

Normally they are located securely within village sanctuaries or pious, well-to-do households, but occasionally misfortune can land an idol in the wild, able to be found and picked up by passersby.

Perhaps they don't even stay in the right world for long.

Very rarely does an evil have an anthropomorphic identity. More commonly, they are identified by what they do or cause in the world. They are almost never named, especially not on their idols, even if such a label would be very useful helping the uninitiated in identifying just what a given mass of deliberately hideous carved wood and stone is supposed to represent.

Because of the nonstandard, highly individual way in which the idols are crafted, identifying a given idol can be relatively straightforward, or exceptionally difficult. Gut feelings, hunches, and intuition can lead to just as accurate an answer as a guess born of lifelong arcane study, so any member of a group of adventurers which might encounter an idol should have an equally unlikely shot at identifying it, regardless of skill training or ability score.

Special rituals appropriate to each evil are used to further debilitate them, either in the face of terrible fortune related to the evil, or in the hopes of improving one's circumstances further. In essence, cowing and tormenting an embodied evil "blesses" certain endeavors by removing a bit more of their eldritch taint from the area. This can translate to a small (+1 or +2) bonus on appropriate rolls for a period of time.

It is imperative that an idol never, ever be the subject of a ritual meant for an evil which is conceptually opposed to it. Nor should it ever be deliberately, completely destroyed. Doing so would empower or even release the evil essence embodied within it, and their mindless gaze rarely travels much farther than those who have released the evil. Such a mistake could result in penalties to relevant rolls as high as -5 or -10, or lead to disastrous events to be determined by the referee.

A set of example Pem-Pah Idols, their areas of affliction, and the rituals meant to deal with them, can be found below:

Pem-Pah Idols
Name of the Embodied Evil
What the Evil does
What You should do


The Lapping of Fire
Causes the start and spread of errant fires, which burn and consume indiscriminately.
Wrap it in scrolls of birch bark or paper. Ignite a fuse of human hair. Douse it in water before it catches fire.


The Bloody Lungs of Saltwater
Capsizes rafts and sailing vessels far from shore, destroying goods and drowning sailors.
Leech the moisture from it by hanging it over a fire. Bind it to a bowl floating in a tub of water.


An Unhealing Wound
Prevents fresh injuries from healing properly, or causes older wounds to open up and fester anew.
Cut a gash across the idol and immediately “cauterize” it with fire. Then pack the cut with gauze or bandage.


It Which Deceives
Fosters resentment among allies and tempts strangers and new faces to betray one another.
Place the idol in front of a small mirror facing its own reflection.


The Creeping and Slithering
Sneaks rare and deadly reptiles or other marshland creatures into places they don't belong.
Place it before a brazier in which a handful of reptile scales are burned.


Grinding Iron and Snapping Steel
Breaks or degrades metal of all types with use, not least of which being weapons and tools.
Ritually sharpen a blade under the idol's gaze, then us it to mar it.


The Thirst of Drought
Stagnates and spoils collected drinking water, causes local crop failure.
Plant it in soil and “water” it with sweat or saliva.


Howling from the Dark
Sends large, predatory animals to hunt far beyond their normal ranges.
Fix a collar around the idol's “neck” and shower it in tooth fragments or fingernail clippings.


Foolish Gibbering
Increases the likelihood that a person will announce themselves with a blunder, or be obliviously talkative.
Adhere a strip of material around the idol's approximation of mouth to gag it.


The Writhing Within
Unbalances one's gut fauna or compromises immune systems until the body is prone to diseases and massive parasites.
Bore a hole through the idol if one does not already exist, then flush it out with milk and animal blood.


Emptiness of the Gyre
Instills constant, gnawing hunger despite any and all food eaten, causing crippling starvation as well as gluttonous bloating.
Burn offerings composed of, or made to resemble, a healthily balanced meal.


Flesh's Fancy
Seeds the subconscious with growing carnal urges which a person would normally be averse to.
Seal the idol in a case full of purported anaphrodisiacs (real or otherwise) and lay it on its head.


The Lying Light
Conjures up deceptive lights and other mirages in far-off places to lead travelers astray.
Blindfold what passes for the idol's eyes using sap as an adhesive.


Luck's Blind Vexations
Influences mundane, day-to-day events to appear highly unlucky when it comes to random chance.
Nail a set of loaded dice or similar crooked game pieces to the face of the idol.

That Which Scrapes at the Dividing Wall
Provokes extreme paranoia and auditory hallucinations, eventually causes insomnia.
Bore a pair of “ear” holes into the idol and fill them with cork.

Lonesome Cries as if from Orphans
Inspires alternating periods of melancholy and gut-wrenching episodes of loss and grief.
Fashion a set of wax figures resembling a family unit and then melt them together to coat the idol.


The Crawling Fingers of Multitudes
Manipulates and harasses loose objects in a wide area, as well as causes pinching, grabbing, or crawling sensations across the skin of everyone therein.
Bind the idol in cord tightly, going counter-clockwise from the front. Then wind a differently colored cord opposite.


The Consuming Cold
Hampers sources of heat, including living bodies, and promotes unseasonable frosts.
Bundle the idol in a fur-trimmed blanket while ladling boiling hot broth over its face.


Wisps of the Tides
Summons up motes of the Killing Tides' suffocating embrace, starving the area of oxygen or fostering respiratory disorders.
Fan the idol vigorously while burning pungent incense around it.


Death-Rattle's Spite
Empowers the destructive, vengeful aspects of a dying wish or curse spoken by the dying.
Bury the idol in a symbolic grave with full honors and an accompanying song of soothing platitudes.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Hope is a Rat.

In the early morning of the fourth day in which we camped at the roadside during our gradual procession south, several of the draft animals were startled from where they had been improperly tethered, promptly running away. According to one of our guides, the upset had been caused by one of the ornery mustelids of the region stumbling into the animal area and attacking a workhorse. It was seen snarling and clinging to the animal's flank even as it galloped out of the area.

Fortunately however, no lasting damage was dealt to any of the panicked animals, they were all rounded up, and almost no more was seen of the badgering marten. The good fortune did not extend to Ciudo, however. Our linguist was one of the volunteers who went out in search of the animals--or more accurately, to be used as a blundering sheep dog meant to scare them back into the arms of their handlers--and while doing this, he apparently encountered the animal, which bit him. As he shook it off, he stumbled back and fell off of the sheer side of a short knoll and cut his shoulder up on the way down.

He wished to shrug the injury off when he returned to camp, I think because he was already considerably embarrassed by his behavior and treatment over the past few days of our expedition. I can sympathize with the feeling, and I should keep in mind not to coddle or patronize him. But Sarq insisted on making a full examination of the wounds and cleaning them up accordingly, having come to take his role very seriously.

It was routine, and the injury would not be harmful, I am happy to say, but Ciudo complained when Sarq insisted on washing the cuts out with one of the liquids given to him by Elrusyo. He remarked that it seemed entirely pointless except to make the cuts hurt more, and burn. Sarq explained that it was indeed unpleasant, but that it was necessary to the prevention of infection.

Ciudo and a few others began to give Sarq a look now like he was suddenly talking about esoteric ritual, but I vouched for him by stating that an increasingly popular theory nowadays was that inflammation, fevers, or disease can take hold when their motes enter a body through any opening, cuts included. I explained that this was the latest learning to be accepted by the ITU, after having disseminated from Serminwurth over the past several decades. My intention was to add an air of authority to the theory by dropping that name, but it only seemed to increase Ciudo's incredulity.

He remarked that it did sound like something from Serminwurth- macabre, hopeless, and wealthy in new ways that you can die or be killed.

And while I cannot entirely disagree with that sentiment, given the genuinely reprehensible actions of certain alumni of the city's less ethical colleges, I did tell Ciudo that the people of that city can be very passionate and hopeful at times.

Hope in Serminwurth, I explained to him, is a rat.

You can find rats everywhere in that labyrinthine city, particularly on the streets of the ground-level where the poor tend to dwell. But they live in all districts and at all heights of the dark grey city, sometimes without much molest so long as their numbers are within a prescribed "safe" range. Food is even tossed to them in and around areas dominated by statues of rats.

The city owes its independence to those scrabbling heroes, after all.

Once upon a time, in the early years of the Haraalian succession wars, Serminwurth--as the westernmost center of the empire--came under the hegemony of a particularly infamous grandson of the Ersuunian god-chieftain. He was a man named Seddah, and he was known for his ruthlessness on the battlefield, as well as general cruelty off of it. His army was comprised of personally loyal elements of the now thoroughly divided and decimated imperial army, as well as mercenaries and bandits, or former soldiers who had turned to brigandage before being welcomed into Seddah's somewhat morally lax chain of command. While the old guard liked to put on airs that Seddah was going to eventually expand and save the empire from itself, it seems more likely in hindsight that he was just staking his own claim while the world burned.

The army besieged Serminwurth after negotiations broke down between it and the governing body of the city. The siege was protracted, lasting between six and nine months depending on the source referencing it. It had been somewhat of a hopeless one from the start, because the army's encirclement and the city's lack of allies in that harsh time meant that supplies would not be coming. But it the effort had been made because it was possible--almost likely--that another roving group of successors would pass through in the interim and dislodge or disrupt Seddah enough for the city to repulse what was left. Such a thing had happened in Meroth two years earlier, when Rhotil the Last swept in from the north with an enormous cavalry army and drive his half-brother Olfeer southeast. Rhotil continued to pursue the other army south past the borders of the empire, eventually resulting in the Avalanche of Raan and all of its hilarious comeuppances, leaving Meroth relatively unscathed.

Fortune did not favor Serminwurth, however. Food and water dwindling, the governor eventually renegotiated with Seddah and opened the gates to the army to prevent the wholesale slaughter and sack of his people and city. To Seddah's credit, the slaughter and sack which did follow was restrained, and relatively in line with all of the other violence occurring in that time.

The horsemen marched in on top of the bound body of the governor as they entered the city in a classic expression of victory, slowly rendering him a pink stain across the cobblestones of the city's gate-street. Today you can still see a long line of rosy cobblestones adding a splash of color to the dour streets, though contrary to popular belief these were put in place specifically as a memorial to the man and others who died during the occupation.

The people of Serminwurth simply had to endure this at the time. Food grew scarcer, the wealth of the city was seized, and the compromised bodies of those who had survived the siege were now faced with an outbreak of diseases, chief of which was Nambarish Pox.

The disease is not in any way identifiable as Nambarish- the name merely comes from the coloration of the blotches, spots, and welts formed on the body of a person infected by the pox, which are supposedly similar to some of the small, rindy citrus fruits grown in east-central Nambar to the west.

The pox is transferable through a distressingly wide range of vectors, but the one most commonly remembered today is by contact with rats who carry it. The disease appears to be endemic to the area in and around Serminwurth, because the people of that city were quite used to it, and had adopted ways of combating the disease. A particularly creative servant of Najis is credited as having developed the local form of inoculation, in which the spittle of the ill was collected, boiled, diluted, and then poured into a cut in an otherwise healthy individual to force them to face and overcome a less severe form of the pox.

Here, Sarq interrupted to assure Ciudo that this was not what he had been washing his wounds with. The group laughed, uneasily.

To those with no access to what was considered at the time (though still somewhat today) an insane procedure, they simply endured to the point that their descendants developed something of a resistance to the disease. Outsiders, on the other hand, were highly vulnerable, and experienced the full gamut of symptoms which could often result in fever, coma, and death.

When the pox again flared up in the occupied city, its population did nothing to halt it.

And then, the people worked to deliberately propagate it.

Rats began to be caught and bred, ostensibly as food for the starving masses, but in secret to infect them with the pox, which was harmless to the rat and did not even manifest in the animal, and then to release them into the portions of the city most heavily populated by Seddah's soldiery. When the higher ranking members of the army demanded treatment of the local doctors, the surgeons and herbalists dressed their cures up in pomp and mystic circumstance, all while ensuring that the infected material introduced to the officers was not diluted or treated in the slightest. Many ended up being beheaded when their wards grew sick and died, but they reportedly walked up to the chopping blocks content with the damage they'd done to their oppressors.

Eventually the army grew sick and disorganized enough that a general revolt became possible, and the dour city-dwellers pushed them out of Serminwurth. There is no official record of Seddah's death, but there is no shortage of possibilities offered up by the city's culture today. One popular play focused on the end of the occupation involves a pit of rats, and an apocryphal torture device obliquely referred to as a "juicer".

The city was slow to recover, and to the reckoning of some--particularly the elite in Deneroth--it still has not reached the height it once occupied. But the people had reclaimed their self-determination, and almost as a side effect their academics developed the practical knowledge they'd gained from the weaponized disease to inform many future medical discoveries and innovations.

Hope is a rat in Serminwurth. Never truly dying no matter how hard you might try to root out all of its nests and warrens, always demanding attention in the back of your head with its constant scampering and gnawing. And, if you're not careful, its stinging bite can infect you with the drive to overcome all hardships.

Or a horrible inflammatory disease.

One of the two.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Goblin Watch, Episode 2: Mythology 1.

((I really should devote myself to a maxim other than "promise little, deliver less" one of these days. But no matter! Goblin Watch is officially not dead, and with luck I was able to get this embedded audio player to work rather than hyperlinking to SoundCloud for every episode.

Enjoy, if you are able!))


Goblin Watch, Episode 02.

Hello, and welcome back to Goblin Watch! The mini-series dedicated to the origins and iterations of everyone's favorite tricksters and diminutive knaves!

Here today we have the first installment in our sub-series looking at goblins and their kin in mythology. We also have the beginnings of titular colon cancer, knowing how often I like to sub-divide and create tangents to my own work.

When we left off last, we had laid down a basic framework how this series is supposed to work. Now, we're going to see if I can't maintain that system by looking at the some of the earliest bits of information related to etymologically-linked goblins in mythology. Mind you, I won't be glossing over or ignoring all of the different goblin-like beings of other, non-European mythologies- this is just an easy way to dip one's toe into the whole thing. If there's a creature similar to (or not so similar to) a goblin in another belief system, rest assured I will try to find it. Or, if you'd like, prompt me to home in on a particular topic in a comment down below!

To recap, the word "goblin" and its equivalents are found in many Indo-European languages. English and Welsh got its goblin and coblyn from French gobelin, which existed alongside German kobold, and both of those descend from Latin cabalus. Ultimately, or at least as far as language experts can tell, that comes from Greek kobalos, plural kobaloi.

Kobaloi came in two forms in the myths of ancient Greece, as recorded by several slightly less ancient scholars. The first is as a class of spirits in service to the god Dionysus, the traits of whom they exhibited in addition to being tricksters and mischief-makers among mortals. The second is a use of kobalos in a pejorative sense, referring to a person as a kobalos because they are a knave, thief, or general rogue. This sense of the word is still informed by the meaning of the first however, because a roguish kobalos was believed to be acting like--or even invoking--the kobalos spirits. There is also a considerable amount of overlap between kobaloi spirits and two other classes of beings, called the kabeiroi and the Kerkopes. The kabeiroi were mystery cult deities of possibly non-Greek origin popular in the Anatolian peninsula, often depicted as dwarves with massive phalluses.The Kerkopes were a pair of vaguely simian forest spirit brothers and consummate tricksters. Both sets will be included in this discussion for the sake of applicability.

Perhaps the most popular mythic episode involving kobaloi comes from the exploits of Heracles, or perhaps more precisely the exploitation of Heracles, in which the Kerkopes totally yoinked his stuff while he was sleeping.

Take that, demigods!

Of course Heracles, being Heracles, soon woke up and discovered what the brothers were doing, so that he could defeat them and seize them in a heroic fashion. But the brothers had as much charm and wit as they did physical ability and sneakiness, and they made good use of their punishment when Heracles slung them both upside down from a pole laid across his shoulders.

As he walked and they swung back and forth, they started cackling at something. When Heracles finally set them down to ask what was so funny, they explained that they were laughing at his backside, which was apparently quite bare and very darkly tanned. He decided to be a good sport about it and, laughing at the jokes at the expense of his own bronzed butt, Heracles released the Kerkopes.

Speaking of butts, or at least an area not too far from it, the name Kerkopes is of significance. It means "tailed ones", and suggests that the brothers actually possessed tails like an animal. A different myth attempts to explain this name by presenting the Keropes as the result of a terrible curse. Zeus, being Zeus, for whatever frivolous reason decided to transform the brothers from their more human appearance into the first monkeys. This gives an explanation for the perceived capriciousness and trickiness of humanity's little primate cousins. It also reminds us that of the hundreds of geographic variations on goblins present throughout tabletop RPGs, Pathfinder's monkey goblins are among the least far-fetched!

... Alright, maybe still a little far-fetched.

The kabeiroi are less attested to in legends, and have more enigmatic origins. It appears as though the name is derived from a different source as kobaloi. One theory, popular since the 16th century, has been that kabeiroi (also transliterated as cabeiri, cabiri, or kabiri) is derived from the ancient Semitic root word kabir (kbr), meaning "great". Other than a few suggestions over the centuries that the word might be of Hittite, Sumerian, or Indo-Aryan origin, this theory seems to have held up until the drop in debate interest which I found while researching this topic today.

Evidently the most current and complete source on the kabeiroi and their connection with other Hellenic deities is a poorly scanned 2004 reprint of an 1877 tome written by one Robert Brown. But Brown seems to have thoroughly acknowledged and addressed earlier scholars in his two-volume work, such as preserving an earlier assertion that the kabeiroi were treated as being the same in ancient times as the kobaloi, and that they were the companions of Dionysus. This makes sense given the kobalic bent toward mischief and the phallic nature of the kabeiroi, because Dionysus, as a god of wine and revelry (among other domains) was very much involved in party antics. Brown also presents the word or name "choroimanes-aiolomorphus", which to the best of my understanding means something like the power of shape-shifting, supporting the association between kobaloi and skillful trickery. Small, sneaky shapeshifters are a feature of countless different mythologies and folklores across Eurasia to this day, including creatures which might be more readily identified as elves or dwarves.

The kabeiroi, despite being stereotyped as droll little pricks, were venerated as gods or potent spirits in their own right, thanks to a cult which had once spread outward from the islands of Samothrace and Lemnos. In a more formal setting they were associated with craftsmanship and with Hephaestus, or even made to mirror the Olympic pantheon in general. Considering that Samothrace was once Phoenician, this might be a case of early syncretism. The kabeiroi's numbers varied from depiction to depiction, and their names were hardly ever recorded in favor of being referred to as the "great gods", but there seemed to be at least two, often seven or eight, and as many as an entire race of them with varying ratios of males and females within. Sometimes they came in pairs, but other times every kabeiroi was male.

We begin to see here early hints of the surprisingly effective artifice and almost nonexistent women which would become prominent features of goblins-as-orcs in the legendarium of J. R. R. Tolkien.

As the kabeiroi cult spread, it became a part of broader Classical Mediterranean religious practice, and was gradually subsumed within Greek and later Roman traditions. The famous tragedian Aeschylus wrote a play named The Kabeiroi, which apparently involved the Argonauts becoming privy to their sacred mysteries, though it only survives in fragmentary or referential form today. The historian Herodotus was also initiated into the cult at some point. But like almost all of the mystery cults from the period, worship of the kabeiroi eventually declined in the face of newer or stronger movements in the region.

But this was not before the kobaloi were able to find a place in the mythology of other parts of the European continent. And so, perhaps in a flanderized form, the mischievous spirits survived their Aegean origins and were allowed to continue their process of transforming to suit the mythological niches which they would encounter, going forward. They would no longer be worshiped as gods, but we couldn't hog the limelight for too long, could we?

Next episode, we will look into some of those European proto-goblins more deeply.

I am the Furtive Goblin, this was Goblin Watch, and I thank you for listening! Yes, listening and not watching, as I mistakenly said last episode.

If I made any mistakes in this episode, or I didn't explain something to your satisfaction, please leave a question below and I will gladly address it.

Brown, Robert. The Greek Dionysiak Myth, Part 2. Kessinger Publishing, 2004 [1877].

Burkert, Walter. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age. Harvard University Press, 1992.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Patreon Is Go!

I guess even with baby steps, you cross a threshold eventually...

After months and months of deliberation over whether it was worthwhile, merited, or sleazy to do, I've finally decided to just go ahead and launch a Patreon page.

You can view it here or on the main page of my blog once I figure out the widget.

This is also an appropriate time to mention that I am not dead! Another long apathy hiatus is ended, and I will be publishing my overdue Episode 2 on Goblin Watch within the next few days- not to mention the half-dozen empty drafts which have been sitting around on my post list.

It all starts with a title, sometimes.

Anyway, I am going to use Patreon to fund any future ideas I have for the Burrow, as well as open it up as another source of CuPosts, if you prefer that site over Ko-fi. My Ko-fi will be staying up too, however. And I am always eager to write about any sort of prompts you can think of.

My goals aren't concrete at the moment, other than commissioning a higher definition image for the page. But rest assured, I will find a way to give back to all of you for reading my stuff for this long, dear Burrowers.

Have a good end of the summer, and to my fellow East Coasters, stay dry and out of the storm!

Yeah, that was all a terrible mistake and I canceled the whole thing a few months after it started. All I was doing was sapping five bucks a month from a handful of people who like or wanted to help me. It did nothing for my ability to produce content, and I am embarrassed I ever tried.

Maybe someday when I have something resembling quality and consistency here, I might try again, but it's unlikely. You can still buy posts from me on Ko-fi, at least.