Monday, January 23, 2017

Faiths of Sublanarya: Goddess of Witchcraft Part 5: "Grandmother" Baba Yaga and Hylda Fairer-than-a-Fairy

The final part in our series on the "Goddesses of Witchcraft" is the fairy tale of Baba Yaga and a young girl named Hylda.

The daughter of a merchant's first wife, little Hylda was a small girl when he mother became very ill and was confined to her bed. Hylda cared for her mother while her father was away on business but Hylda did not mind. She was a sweet child, doting on her mother and caring for her without a complain, and her mother loved her so that she called her "Hylda Fairer-than-a-Fairy". As her mother lay in bed, wasting away, Hylda would sit with her and, in turn, the girl's mother would tell her lessons and stories from her home. Some of the stories were so fantastic that they were difficult to believe. Hylda's mother had come from a far away place that was very different than the land of her father and the stories she told were fairy tales of fairy kings and queens, the lessons she taught her were of the old ways and traditions and manners too, and Hylda hung off of every word.

Eventually, Hylda's mother passed away but not before giving her a gift: a small wooden doll. Her mother told Hylda to give the doll a little to eat and drink every day, to care for it as she had cared her own mother, and that when she needed it most, it would help her. Hylda fed the doll and gave it a little to drink and it did give her comfort.

After a time, Hylda's father remarried: the new wife had two daughters and all three were very cruel to Hylda. Hylda and her father moved into their home, where they made her do all the cooking and cleaning, but with the doll to comfort her, Hylda managed. One day, the stepmother demanded they put out all but one light in the house. When the older daughter put it out, Hylda was told to go to fetch a light from their "grandmother" in the woods.

Hylda was not from this land and did not know that the the "grandmother" was Baba Yaga or that the stepmother intended to rid herself of the girl. She knew that there was something sinister about her stepsisters smiles and yet, the doll advised her to do as told. And so she did.
They told her the direction to go and she set out for the old woman's house.

She walked for hours and, just as dawn arrived, she saw a tall white rider followed by another rider dressed in red. The doll told her to wait for them to pass and they continued. Eventually, she found the old woman's house.

Baba Yaga's house, or hut, stood upon a pair of large posts that to the girl looked like a pair of chicken legs. The hut was surrounded in a fence and, upon each post, a skull was set staring outwards from the hut. Hylda was so terrified that she wanted to run, but the doll advised she stay. And so she did.

As night approached  a black rider, like the ones in white and red, passed her by and the eye sockets
of the skulls lit up. Hylda wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't move. That was when Baba Yaga returned, flying in on a giant mortal and rowing it with a giant pestle, before landing in front of the girl. She cackled as she approached, landing with a loud thud, before climbing down from the pestle and looking over the girl. Despite her age, the old woman stood tall and had a terrifying strength about her.

Before the witch could speak, Hylda spoke up, "Good evening Grandmother. My stepmother has sent me to you to borrow a light."

The witch paused at being called "Grandmother" when, for a moment, it seemed she was about to kill Hylda.

Maybe Baba Yaga liked the girl or maybe she just wanted to draw out her end.

Baba Yaga told the girl that she could borrow a light but would need to complete some tasks or be killed: Hylda was to clean the house and yard, wash the laundry, and cook a meal. Also, before Baba Yaga returned, she was to separate the good from the bad corn and to desperate poppy seeds from grains of soil in the yard.

The girl toiled while the witch was away, collapsing from exhaustion and despair, but the doll offered hope again: it told her that she would complete the tasks and the girl should sleep. And so she did.

When she awoke, at dawn, she saw the three riders pass the house, the black chased by the white and red, and Baba Yaga was messing about in her hut. She seemed pleased with the girl's completion of the tasks, sets of invisible hands preparing the corn, as she greeted Hylda. She then told Hylda she could take a light home but first asked Hylda about herself. Hylda told her everything and the women seemed to be in a dower mood by the end. She then asked Hylda if she had any questions.

Hylda asked about the three riders and Baba Yaga seemed to like that, explaining that the white rider was the Sun, the red rider was the Day and the black rider was the Night, and that all three were in her service. She asked Hylda if she had another question and, when Hylda considered asking about the invisible hands preparing the corn or the skulls on posts, the doll begged her not to. And so she didn't.

Upon hearing she had no further questions, Baba Yaga asked her how she completed her tasks and, upon hearing "my mother's blessing", the witch seemed to have no further questions either. She told the girl she had no desire to spend any more time with any blessings about her house and so she gave the girl a skull lantern as payment, filled with glowing coals, and bid her "Goodbye Granddaughter" and "Good luck and give my gift to your stepmother and her daughters!"

And so, Hylda walked home through the woods, and to her stepmother's home. She opened the door, stepping inside, and when her step family saw her, the glowing coals exploded from within skull, striking her step family...

...and burning them to ashes.

The doll told her to sweep the ashes out into the yard and to bury the skull. In some versions of this story, a prince comes upon the house and marries Hylda, but that's not how witches tell it. In some versions of the story, she returned to Baba Yaga, who may or may not be her grandmother, and the witch teaches her the Craft and in others the doll teaches her but, in the end, the two became opposing forces.

 Baba Yaga the Bad Witch and Hylda the Good Witch 

Baba Yaga is a potent political force among the Fey Court, though she is as often found in the material plane as the outer planes, and is rarely turned away from the Seely or Unseely courts when she comes a-calling in her flying mortar or in her walking house. Her daughters are the gorgeous Veela, powerful fey, and serve her in any number of ways alongside her more famous champions, the Three Horseman of Baba Yaga.  She is a serious contestant against the likes of Morgana La Fey and even tiptoes in the shadow of Hecate herself in her mastery of the Craft.

As for Hylda, she has become a patron saint for all "white witches" or "good witches" that wish to use the craft to help people, carrying for the poor, the sick, the old and the downtrodden, using a mix of folk wisdom, arcane power and divination to fix the problems. She is a popular character among little girls and is often painted or carved in artwork meant for children. As for her presence in the world, it is much less prominent as Baba Yaga but she is invoked by any witch who fights against the dark and demons of the world and from within themselves.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Faiths of Sublanarya: Goddess of Witchcraft Part 4: Morgana La Fey the Terrible and Magnificent

Our next story begins not directly with the goddess but with her people:

When an animal dies in Sublanarya, they move onto the afterlife just the same as any other sentient life forms, usually finding an immortal resting place in the Heavens. When animals die in the Feywild, they instead become spirits until they can reincarnate. Being touched by the fey changes these animals and, after many generations, a tribe of these animal spirits became sentient and known as the Yenna-goshi.

Yenna-goshi are one of the most mysterious species of shape-changers since they have a non-corporeal spirit form, an animal form, and a humanoid like form. They are strange primal entities that, in their humanoid form, having a mix of nondescript animal traits obscured by a cloak of animal hides with great glowing eyes looking out from under the hood.They usually watch over special places of nature in the Feywild and material plane. They are the spirits often responsible for the creation of Hengeyokai, sentient animals, born from normal animals, with the ability to transform into a human-like form. They are responsible for other yokai such as giant beasts, "animal gods", that serve as paragons of their kind and protectors of nature. There are also responsible for the Tuath De Yenna or Tuathans.

Thousands of years ago, there was a tribe of humans. They were known to be a peaceful and friendly craftsmen with use of bright colors, ornate patterns and unusual materials that create designs that were somehow both natural and unnatural. They were a simple people, living in harmony with the land, and did not seek war. They once had a homeland but were chased out by invaders. They became lost on a foggy morning and found themselves in a strange land, having crossed over into the Feywild, and it seemed there was no escape.

The tribe was lost in a strange and dangerous place, but they soon found friends. They had found themselves in a secluded forest, deep in the Dawn realm, protected by the yenna-goshi. Usually anyone foolish enough to step into or, much worse, damage the lands of the yenna-goshi would be scared off or meet some misfortune. It is said the yenna-goshi were bewitched by the colorful garments and tents of the people, the aroma of their tea and food, and the songs played by the young and old. Rather than scaring off the tribe, the yenna-goshi helped the humans and befriended them, allowing them to make the woods their home.

And, as the humans spent time in the Feywild, they changed as they were touched by the spirit of the animals. They gained the ability to shape-change into animals, they learned fey magic and knowledge, and helped protect the forests of the yenna-goshi. In time, they became known as the Tuatha de Yenna-goshi or "tribe of the animal spirits" or tuathans ("the tribespeople") for short.

Some tuathans eventually discovered a way to return to the material plane and, with their knowledge of fey magic, shape-shifting, and other gifts they had obtained abroad, they became a powerful small empire that stood for a thousand years. And then, mysteriously, the empire collapsed. Today, descendants of the tuathans can be found in the material plane and it is still believed they live hidden away in the forests of the yenna-goshi. They do not advertise their shape-shifting or heritage to avoid the superstitious fear of humans but also other enemies.

A survivor of the tuathan empire, some even believe her to have been the daughter of a yenna-goshi, attained an unusually long lifespan, and the powers of a lesser god. She had many titles: the Morrigan, the Raveness, the Temptress, and the Kingslayer. She is Morgana La Fey and she is the enemy of all tuathans.

Most people of Sublanarya have never heard of the Tuathans but they have heard of Morgana La Fey the Witch of the Blackened Heath. She appears in many stories and tales, as an enchantress, as a monster, and as an archetypal "wicked witch". There are too many stories for all too be accurate but the most popular story is the fairy tale of Prunella and the Witch's Son.

Once upon a time, in the little kingdom of La and Lang, there was a girl named Prunella.

Every day Prunella would walk home from the girl's school and pluck a plum from a particularly beautiful tree along the road that housed a host of friendly pixies. She did not know that tree belonged to Morgana la Fey and, one day while picking a ripe treat, she was caught in the act by the witch. Morgana threatened to eat a pixie for each plum the girl had stolen but Prunella pleaded for a chance to pay Morgana back, pledging to serve Morgana until her debt was fulfilled, and Morgana agreed. She forced the girl into her service and the girl grew up as the witch's captive, serving as a servant in her black tower, where she endured great cruelty at the hands of the witch.

Morgana took great pleasure in holding beautiful things against their will, collecting them like trophies, and tormenting them. Morgana would trip the girl, pull at her hair, and hex her to trip, causing her to break things and spill her water bucket, and threaten to punish the pixies or other servants for her clumsiness.

One day, when Prunella had grown to her teenage years, Morgana told the girl to fetch a pail of water from the well and, if she did not return, the witch would make her cry enough to fill it. Prunella went to the well but no matter how much she tried, the pail would not hold water, as if bewitched. She sunk to the floor by the well, weeping in defeat and misery at her fate, when she was approached by Morgana's son Sea-Bell.

Sea-Bell had always been forbidden to talk to the servants but, having reached the age when a boy notices a girl, he had taken an interest in Prunella. He made her an offer: in exchange for a kiss, he promised to fill the bucket. The girl had known the boy to play tricks just like his mother and refused the offer. He shrugged, walked to the well, and, without another word, filled her bucket and handed it to her. He then walked away.

Prunella walked into the tower and gave the witch the water. Morgana was angry. She did not know how the girl had managed to overcome her witchcraft but she would never admit to her trickery. And so she set the girl to another impossible task.

Morgana pushed the girl into the kitchen and gave her some wheat to make bread before the witch returned from a trip to town. If the bread was not made by the time the witch returned, she threatened to make her bake a pie with the pixies instead. The girl knew that it was another trick but tried her best. It was no use, the dough was like rubber, and she was soon in tears again.

Sea-Bell appeared and made another offer: a kiss for the bread. She refused. And, again, he helped her anyway before hurrying off.

When Morgana returned and saw the perfectly baked loaf of bread she was furious. Furthermore, her son's attentions towards the girl had not escaped the witch and she sought to separate them. The witch told Prunella that she had left her hat at her house in town and the girl was to go to town and retrieve it for her.

Sea-Bell knew that his mother meant to keep the girl there, by force of the cursed servants of that house, and, before Prunella left, offered to save her for a kiss: she refused. And yet, again, he gave her a gift. This time he gave her a basket with a can of oil, a beef bone, a rope and a broom. He told her to oil the gate, give the beef bone to the guard dog, give the rope to the girl pulling buckets of water from the well, and to give the broom the woman cleaning the fireplace with her tongue. She did as she was told, going into the townhouse and retrieving the hat and, the woman, girl, dog, and even the gate were so grateful that they disobeyed their mistress and let her leave.

When she returned to the tower, Morgana was so enraged that she decided enough was enough. She told the girl that she had been having trouble sleeping and wished to know which roosters crowed in the surrounding farms. She wanted to know what color they were and how many times they each crowed. She said if Prunella failed, she would turn her into a plum tree but, if she succeed, Morgana offered to release her from her debt.  To ensure her failure, the witch made her clean and cook and perform so many chores she would be exhausted.

That night, she sat beneath the plum tree and Sea-Bell came to her, knowing that the task was impossible. He asked for a kiss and, a third time, she refused him. At first, she tried to listen but she grew wearier and wearier from the day's labor and fell asleep. Before his mother awoke, Sea-Bell stirred Prunella and told her each time the yellow, the blue and red roosters crowed that night and morning, making sure she knew exactly the right amount. Prunella was so overwhelmed with his goodness that she gave Sea-Bell a small kiss on the cheek, leaving him there stunned under the plum tree as she hurried to prepare his mother's breakfast.

When Morgana came downstairs, smugly, assuming she had bested the girl, would soon be rid of her and would soon have a new plum tree. When the girl told her the exact numbers and colors, she realized that somehow the girl had cheated. Lividly, Morgana grabbed the girl and dragged her to the yard. When Sea-Bell heard the girl crying and begging, he leapt from the tree and sprang on his mother to save the girl.

Prunella watched as the two transformed into a pair of feathered beasts-- Morgana into a midnight black dragon and Sea-Bell into a pearlescent white dragon-- and fought in the sky above. The two tumbled and fought, crashing into the nearby tower, and, when the dust settled, the Sea-Bell stumbled forward, returned to his human form, and as she caught him, he collaped, dead in her arms.

This time, when Prunella broke down into tears and wailed, her misfortune was worse than ever before. Her anguish was heard by the pixies for whom she had suffered all those years and they rushed to her side. As she wept heavy tears, holding the boy to her, the fairies gathered around them and began to cry as well. As she did, she leaned down and laid a kiss upon his lips.

As Prunella gave the boy the token of affection, the pixies hummed a spell and, when she broke the kiss, the boy's eyes opened. Together they left the broken tower, going to town where they were greeted as heroes for defeating the black dragon that had terrorized the land, and moved into Morgana's townhouse. Eventually, the two did fall in love and got married.

For the rest of their lives, whenever Prunella needed help, Sea-Bell was there to lend a hand without any mention of compensation. And yet, she never again hesitated to reward him with a kiss. Witch's son or not, he was hers and she was his.

And that's as happily ever after as could be imagined. Or so it seems.

Sometimes, when near the wood, out of the corner of their eye, they could swear they saw a hooded woman but, before they could turn around to look its way, it was replaced with the flapping of a crow's wings.

Morgana la Fey may have been defeated, she may have even lost her most precious treasure to a girl she hated, but it would take more than the love of a mere mortal to quench the persistence of the Mistress of Black Wing.

Faiths of Sublanarya: Goddess of Witchcraft Part 3: Caecillia the Sea Witch

We continue covering goddesses of witchcraft by looking at a powerful and dangerous practitioner that rose to legendary prominence through her cruelty. The tale starts at the bottom of the sea...

Caecillia was the princess of an ancient merfolk empire and, upon her brother being chosen to take the crown, she tried to usurp his throne with magic. With the help of Delphina and his own power, the king managed to fend off the witch and cast her down into the deepest depths of the ocean, banishing her from the kingdom, and condemning her to be consumed by the darkness.

In the darkness, she was transformed from a mermaid into a horrific creature, with the tentacles of a squid or octopus, and any poor soul unfortunate enough to seek out her power was quickly pulled into her "embrace". Usually, she offers assistance to the desperate and pitiful souls of the sea, but her assistance is a double-edge sword that always cuts those that take it.

The cruel witch even set sights on her own niece. The mermaid princess had fallen in love with a human prince after saving him from a shipwreck. She wished to have legs to walk and lungs to breath on land. She sang her sorrow until she got an answer in song and, following the second voice, she found her long lost aunt who she had never heard of.

"Aunt Caeci" told her that she could grant her wish in exchange for her beautiful voice and, without hesitation, the princess agreed. The only downside was that if the prince fell in love with and married another, she would be reduced to sea foam.

She came ashore, finding the prince and, while she failed to recognize her as his vision had been blurred before by a blow to the head and she now lacked that sweet voice, he still befriended the charming and strange girl. Though he loved her dearly, he wanted to marry the girl who had saved him, unaware it had been a mermaid-- what was now his new mute friend. Then a strange girl appeared, Aunt Caeci in disguise with the mermaid's voice, and the prince mistook her for his savior and planned to marry her.

The mermaid princess was doomed but her sisters found a way to save her. If she were to kill the prince before his wedding night, she could be saved. They gave her a dagger and begged her to sneak into the bedroom of the prince. As she looked upon his sleeping form, she could not bare to kill him and instead took her own life. When he awoke to find his friend had died, his heart was broken, and he leapt into the sea.

This foiled Caeci's plans to marry the prince but she still survived to sow more suffering...

The Sea Witch, Auntie Caeci, Queen of the Deep,

New Gods

Power Level
Lesser Deity

Chaotic Evil

A coiled tentacle

Sea creatures, storms, curses and hexes, witchcraft, piracy

Nature, Tempest

Pirates, slavers, sea hags and witches, merfolk, kuo-toa and other evil sea creatures
Favored Weapon
The trident

Monday, January 16, 2017

Faiths of Sublanarya: Goddess of Witchcraft Part 2: Angrboda, The Witch of the Iron Wood


While Hecate is the most infamous of the witch gods, none play a bigger part in the stories of the gods than Hecate's daughter, Angrboda, the Witch of the Iron Wood.

Angrboda was the daughter of Hecate and some unknown but undoubtedly worthy partner. After all, Hecate has had many affairs and relationships with gods and men but few have born children like the terrible Wolf-Mother herself, Angrboda. Tall and strong, with red hair stained like dried-blood, Angrboda is a striking primal figure, often depicted with a a shield and spear or short sword and staff, with war make-up on her body. She was raised in a realm called the Iron Wood and, with her mastery of powerful knowledge granted to hear by her mother as well as her own ferocity as a warrior, Angrboda became the chief of Iron Wood clan. The Iron Wood clan were some of the first shape-shifters, living among and taking the shape of great wolves, and were a powerful force in the ancient world. Infamously, she is called the Wolf-Mother for the terrible beasts she bear with her consort, Puck Darkheart.

She is said to have given birth to the world serpent Jormungandr. The mighty serpent threatened to devour all so, in a show of incredible power, Grimnir grabbed it by the tail and threw it so that the serpent became lost in the clouds around Ginnungagap. To this day it circles the material plane, dizzily, chasing it's tail but is destined to take part in the end of the world. After the serpent, their second child was Hela.

Hela is an analogue to Nergal and has a kingdom of her own, Helhome, nestled in Terra Nada with a great blasted castle, Nifflbolga, sitting upon a great mountain of petrified dead bodies. She is a strange, mysterious and often mirthful goddess who takes pleasure in getting visitors from the world of the living. Hela is considered an enemy of evil necromancers, seeing abuse and misuse of necromancy as cruel perversion of a greater purpose, for the dead to find closure, and her servants are "grey necromancers" who specialize in fighting evil undead, evil necromancers, and helping the dead come to a rest.

She also has an unfortunate association with plagues and, in art, she is depicted as a giantess with a rake. The rake represents the sweeping death with the gaps between the teeth of the rake allowing some to escape it.

Unlike Nergal, who seems to have not but scorn for his subjects, the neutral dead, Hela feels pity and allows those lucky enough to find their way to spend their time there indefinitely in the hopes they can find purpose in their service to her as undead. These servants, called Grey Revenants, are often set on missions meant to redeem them for crimes during their lives.

Her most infamous story comes from the death of Baldric. Her abilities to bring the dead back from death were unmatched and, much to even her own surprise, it seemed that there was a chance she could even resurrect the dead god. Desperately, the gods pleaded with her to tell them how to bring back the princely god and, after some thought, she did think of one spell. If every mortal and immortal, on heaven and earth, were to weep for Baldric, she could somehow use all of that grief to power her resurrection. The gods implored all to weep, even the skies, but one giantess (believed to be Puck in disguise) refused, and Baldric still lays dormant in a chamber of Castle Nifflbolga protected by an army of undead soldiers.

Last of Angrboda and Puck's children is Fenrir the Wolf who, it is said, is destined to devour the sun and bring about the end of the world.

Angrboda is the patron goddess of tribal wise women and her way is the way of survival, strength and family. She has little sympathy for the weak, is picky about choosing her allies and, if she doesn't like someone, will reject them immediately. Those who worship her are impulsive, fierce and protective of their "pack".

Faiths of Sublanarya: Goddesses of Witchcraft Part 1: An Introduction and Hecate, Queen of the Night


In Naryan legends, there are many powerful female spell-casters that have attained enough power and longevity to stand toe-to-toe and spell to spell with the gods.

Queen Tytanya, for instance, has attained supernatural longevity for even a high elf, has assumed mastery and control of both the domains of ward and mirror magic in Sublanarya that give her, and her subjects, protection from outsiders and incredible awareness of all magical activity in the realm, and is a supreme monarch to her people. Her decisions have not only shaped the material plane but the immaterial as well-- as the militarization of the iaurdin has changed their patron god Iaur to better reflect their more imperialistic nature. That is the power of a great witch. And yet, Tytanya's power in firmly drawn from her mastery of the arcane. She is a wizard. She is not a witch.

In the world of Narya, a witch is a female spell caster that not only uses arcane magic, but also taps into the spheres of the divine and the natural.

Usually, witches are fenale humans whose magic sensitivity is higher than normal, drawing them towards it instead of away, and are often eccentric by nature. In places like Thule, magic and druidism are discouraged, especially for women. This makes it difficult for these magically gifted people to seek proper magical education and thus they turn to "The Craft".

The Craft of Witchery, witchcraft, is what some elitist spell-casters would call "common magic" or even "country magic". The most common witch practices a mix of medicine, fortune telling, and, for a price, putting hexes on people. A witch does specialized jobs from midwifery to exorcism. In many communities, such women have learned the trade from an older witch, even passed down from mother to daughter, and are respected cornerstones of country living. While reclusive, some witches form small groups called Covens. It is generally considered bad luck to gather more or less than three witches at a time: the Elder, is the oldest and is usually childless (called the "Crone" in evil covens), the Mother, has children and may even have a family, and the Maiden, a childless youth. They generally gather at special meetings to discuss local occurrences and collaborate on solutions to problems too big for a single witch.

These "good witches", according to those that call themselves such, help people. This doesn't mean, necessarily, doing what people want. Good isn't nice. Good does what's needed. Sometimes this means witches manipulate people, often relying on their knowledge and cunning over actual magic application, but always for the greater good. A good witch is a welcome member to any community in need. And yet, witches have a bad reputation in places, such as Thule and, perhaps, this is a mix of superstition and misogyny. After all, most spell-casters and those who seek and use power are at risk of being corrupted. But still, the prevalence and infamy of bad witches in folklore is indisputable.

There are plenty of reasons for a witch to go bad: they live alone, they are touched by magic, they are eccentric, they are persecuted and they meddle in the affairs of the outer planes. Some witchcraft relies upon drawing upon patrons, like demons or devils, for magic and that takes a toll. Their interests in the community turn from helping to hurting; they give potions with bad effects, they steal away livestock and children for dark purposes and, generally, become crazier and crueler. They basically become hags. And then somebody has to stop them.

Bad witches give their good counterparts such a bad reputations that, generally, good witches don't advertise their talents widely. After all, nobody wants to be burned at the stake.

The most famous and powerful witches attain godhood and today I'm discussing the first goddess related to witchcraft. (Expect more in part 2 and so on).


Hecate is a goddess as old, if not older, than Grimnir himself-- which is appropriate given her status as his only rival in the realm of magic. She is a contemporary of the Titans, descended from Primordial Asteria the Star, and has dominion over magic that is only rivaled by Grimnir. Oddly enough, despite having opposing goals, their relationship is oddly amicable and she is often depicted in the company of the other gods.

When Corona was stolen away by Nergal, in some version of the tale, it is Hekate who lends Terra her torch to search the night for the missing girl. She also helped Bellerophon and the  storm brothers in their quest to find Brigid and defeat Mal Dorig. She even was said to have shown particular pity for Puck, granting him a torch for light when he was imprisoned in the darkness, and from the shadow of that light Darkheart was born.

Also, famously among religious scholars, considered apocrypha by the stuffiest shirts of Grimnir and the crankiest crones of Hecate's cult, there are several tales of friendly wagers between the two gods in time:

They once held a magic duel, each taking turns at taking various animal forms in combat, until one came out a victor. When one took the form a mouse, the other took the form of a cat, and then mouse became a dog, and then the cat a snake and the dog a mongoose and then the snake a hawk and then the snake a leopard and then the hawk an elephant and then the leopard a mouse and so on and so forth they went back and forth. The story goes that the gods watched this battle rage on until, finally, a victor was crowned when one of the two became... a germ of a deadly disease. Some say it was Grimnir who came out the victor but others say only a master of medicine like Hecate would've come up with such a clever ruse.

Hecate is said to meet with mortals in the oddest of places; sometimes, found where the road splits, under the light of the moon on a foggy evening, a strange party is held. Often accompanied by a black hound and a company of ghosts, the dark mistress waits on company. With a head full of dark hair, eyes like stars, and wearing a gown of midnight, the queen of the knight is beautiful and terrible sight for ill-prepared mortals to behold. And yet, her true nature is even more impressive.

Hecate is said to be a tri-fold goddess. She has three heads or forms that she takes separately and all at once: the torch-bearer guides those lost in the dark of the night and reveals the truth to seekers of fate. The key-master reveals doorways to new possibilities and the means to open them. The dagger-maid is said to give the wronged a means for revenge and helps those who seek power. In a way, each of these forms is similar to the witches that make covenant with Hecate: the dagger-maid is the maiden, the key-master is the mother and the torch-bearer is the crone.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Character Crunch: Tirikujin, the Bright Elves

And just like that, after something of a hiatus, I want to make my racial options from my setting open to you guys! Rather than hitting up all the classics, we're skipping to the latest addition to the roster, let's talk about tirikujin or, more palatabley, "bright elves".

Bright Elves (Tirikujin)

Thousands of years ago, during the waning of the Titanic Age, the moon goddess Tsukihime left the mortal world behind to broker a peace between the warring factions of the moon. But she did not leave the world without leaving an impact. Her many children, fathered by a human noble, Prince Mikado, conquered, united and created a new empire around Kaguya mountains. Their descendants became known as the tirikujin or "bright elves" as the common folk call them.

Bright elves resemble their elven counterparts with their fair features, pointed ears, long lived lives, living for three centuries, and even share a similar language, though the tirikugo dialect has distinctively Kaguyan flavor but many believe the likenesses are superficial. They lack any known fey ancestry, as opposed to the elves, instead inheriting their longevity and supernatural qualities from the Lunari or "moon people". Whether or not the Lunari are a long-lost fey people or even an elf tribe is also of debate, so, at the very least, the bright elves are not lacking in the mysterious nature of the fey folk.

Culturally, they are distinct and have set the standards for cultures around Kaguya: bright elves, with the inherited gifts of Tsuki-hime, from their beauty-- with extremely fair features and hair and eyes in a variety of bright colors from silvery white to pale blues to mint greens to vibrant reds and so on-- to their natural affinity for magic, believed they are uniquely blessed. Descended from a goddess and a prince who would become the first emperor of Kaguya, they are a proud race, earning them a reputation of arrogant self-importance from their enemies, and further the ire of their rivals due to their believe that they are duty-bound to rule and maintain order in the land of Mugen. They are a honor-bound culture and bright elves are taught a strict adherence to laws, traditions and duty from birth. There are three types of elves in tirikujin society:

Every bright elf is born with tattoo like markings on their body, some less or more than others, but all tirikujin have the "mark of the moon" on their brow. This moon-mark is passed from parents to child and is a symbol of their role in society. It separates tirikujin into three classes.

Jade elves, the noble class, are born with a full circle, representing the moon, on their brow. Males have a single circle and females have two circles. The "jade" of their name refers to their special status: they are born to the aristocratic families and inherit titles, lands, and duties that are tied to these families. Either being directly related to the imperial family or serving them, jade elves are the major land owners and feudal lords ("daimyo") of Kaguya. They are oligarchs who hold economic, political and even military power over their provinces.

From birth jade elves are educated to administrate their holdings, serve in the court of the emperor if called to do-so, and to manage contracts and alliances the samurai warrior clans that are bound their families. With immense wealth, education and more diplomatic interest than their "lessers", jade elves are also educated in history and the fine arts. The closest thing to hard work that a jade elf of good standing experiences is through the careful study and practice of magic: most jade elf families practice some forms of magic and talented magicians from these families often are called to serve in the court of the emperor of themselves as advisors and tutors. A powerful jade elf mage may also sell their talents to the highest military builder.

Ultimately, jade elves rule Kaguya with a divine manifest but, due to separating themselves from the masses, often lose sight of the bigger picture.]

Steel elves, the warrior class, are born with a half-circle, representing the half-moon on their brow. Females usually have a marking cut horizontally and males have a marking cut vertically. The "steel" of their name refers to their rights-- in most provinces, only steel elves are allowed to carry bladed weapons. Steel elves often own small holdings of land within the provinces of their daimyo lord and serve under the jade class as both a police force locally & military asset abroad.

As a police and administrative force, their primary goals are to collect taxes from the rice class, uphold traditions by serving as paragons of cultural value, deal with minor disputes among farmers, labrorers and merchants, enforce the imperial and provincial law within their borders and to hunt down threats from bandits to monsters. While many carry out their duties in an official and respectable manner, by right, many administer justice as judge, jury and executioner.

After their public duty, comes the military duty of the steel elves: while jade elves are educated in subjects diplomacy and economics, steel elves are taught the way of the blade or "bushido". This is an unwritten code of the warrior that advocates for loyalty, courage, determination, compassion and honor above all else. A true samurai trains his body and mind in the ways of war, focusing on the swordsmanship, archery and horse-riding, while also instilling discipline through meditation, poetry, flower arrangement and other hobbies meant to instill inner-peace. These skills come in handy during times of war.

Civil war is common between the feudal lords, who constantly jockey about for control of profitable regions, respond to personal insults to honor with oaths of war, and seek better standing within the empire. As such, samurai are expected to be ready for war at a moment's notice as a single feudal lord's dispute with another can result in a bloody feud between dozens of provinces. Often, these petty wars are often politically motivated and, ultimately, most wars are resolved from intervention by the emperor. After all, the emperor is considered a divine power and, even against their own families and lords, samurai are honor bound to protect the emperor. Several attempted coup de tats by powerful feudal lords and upstart shogun (samurai lords) have been foiled by an alliance of samurai who put the empire above their own differences.

While jade elves are the ultimate rulers of Kaguya, the steel elves are the ones responsible for maintaining order and protect the realm from threats inside and out.

Rice elves, are the lowest and numerous caste of tirikujin society, consisting of commoners from the poorest farm laborer to the wealthiest merchant in Kaguya. While in Kaguya, steel elves and jade elves are held in higher regard than any human, and in fact hold many more rights such as to own land, rice elves hold no more special privileges or rights than their human neighbors.

Rice elves are born with crescent moon symbols on their brows: females usually have a moon facing horizontally and males have a moon facing vertically. From birth, they are vassals or subjects of daimyo lord or servants of a samurai family. Traditionally, they have no family names, instead introducing themselves as "servant of [insert daimyo, samurai or important family". The lowliest rice elves are sharecroppers, from which they earn their name, but also take on other unseemly and common jobs. They are the laborers, craftsman and merchants of Kaguyan society and do so with a steady good humor and pride. Their low quality of life has made them especially hardy after their ancestors toiled in the toxic volcanic mines of the empire. And yet, today, some achieve important status or wealth, but ultimately are at the whims of their samurai and daimyo betters. A steel elf can cut down a rice elf in the streets for any offense and a rice elf that insults the dignity of a jade elf will quickly find themselves in irons.

The cheapness of rice elf life means they also have a knack for criminality, such as lowly organized crime-work for the yakuza, but especially for work as assassins, specifically as ninja. The existence of ninja lies somewhere between confirmed fact and myth, and the ninja clans prefer it that way, since being unseen, unheard and unknown by all but potential clients is preferable. Specialized rice elf families jealously guard the secrets of the ninja, from the location of their strongholds to secret techniques, but it is well known that if you have the coin and make your request known, ninja will come to visit you. They specialize in reconnaissance, theft and, of course, assassination.

In the end, the tirikujin are a class society in which a person is born with special rights and privileges but that doesn't mean there is no mobility up or down. Criminal or unseemly behavior is punished from above, families losing their titles and land through dishonorable acts, and having to work to maintain their place. Furthermore, individuals can increase their family standing through impressing superiors and marrying up. A rice elf who marries a steel elf, after earning the right to do so through noble and impressive feats, will have steel elf children and their descendants will be steel elves, and a steel elf and jade elf have jade elf children. Only through years of breeding lower will a family lose their birthright. When a child with less than the moon-mark of their forefathers is born, it is said to be an ill omen of tidings come.

Ability Score Increase.  Your Dexterity score increases by 2.
Age. Although tirikujin reach physical maturity at about the same age as humans, the understanding of adulthood is related to familial duty. A bright elf typically takes on adult responsibilities and titles in their family when they reach 50 and 150 years of age, based on the needs of the family, and can live to be 300 years old.
Alignment. Tirikujin value personal and family honor above all else and therefore tend to focus on following societal expectation such as: upholding their clan's standing and improving their personal reputation of courage and discipline. Bright elves tend to be lawful, since they value tradition, and/or tend towards neutrality since they seek a balance between their own ambitions and their rivals.
Size. Tirikujin range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall and have slender builds. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet.
Darkvision. Home to the tall pines of Kaguya under 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. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Kaguya's Eyes You have proficiency in the perception skill.
Moon Blessing. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magic effects.
Languages. You can speak, read and write Tirikugo, Elven, Kaguyan and Common. Tirikugo is a distinct dialect of Elven in which the syllables collide rapidly like wind against the upper branches of a sea of trees in an exacting way that might seem harsh in business. Despite the speed and monotone associated with Tirukugo, the language has a certain frankness that lends itself to poetry and Tirikujin folk and theater songs are popular cultural exports.
Subrace. Every bright elf is born with distinct facial markings of various colors that are passed down from parent to child that separate the race into three castes: one full moon in the center of the forehead for males and two for females in the noble or "jade" class, consisting of the imperial family and the aristocratic families, a half moon oriented vertically for males and horizontally for females of the warrior or "steel" class, consisting of the warlord factions, and a crescent moon oriented vertically for males and horizontally for males of the commoner or "rice" class, consisting of peasants, laborers and merchants. Each caste has some unique traits.

Bright Elf of Jade
Ability Score Increase.  Your Intelligence or Charisma score increases by 2.
Educated. You gain proficiency with two of the following skills of your choice: Arcana, History, Nature, Religion, Persuasion or Performance.
Extra Language.You can speak, read, and write one extra language of your choice.

Bright Elf of Steel
Ability Score Increase.  Your Strength scores increases by 1.
Like the Wind. You add your proficiency bonus to your initiative. Your base movement speed increases to 35 feet.
Disciplined. You gain proficiency with the athletics skill.
Martial Training. You gain proficiency in two martial weapons of your choice and light armor.

Bright Elf of Rice
Ability Score Increase.  Your Constitution scores increases by 1.
Unseen, Unheard. Your base movement speed increases to 35 feet. You also gain proficiency with the stealth skill.
Persistent Fortitude: You have advantage on saving throws against poison, and you have resistance against poison damage. You also gain proficiency with the survival skill.
Like their elf counterparts, bright-elves can breed with humans and produce viable offspring:

 Half Bright-Elf
Ability Score Increase.  Your Charisma score increases by 2, and two other Ability scores of your choice increase by 1.
Age. Half-brights mature at the same rate as their human parent, but age more graciously and often live much longer.
Alignment. While half-brights often feel the need to prove themselves to one or both of their parental races, often making them seek to become the ideal version of the lawful and traditional nature of their tirikujin heritage or follow in the footsteps of their human parentage, many half-brights reject the expectations of society. Their charming but sincere nature, while sometimes call "childish" by tirikujin or "extreme" by humans, often pushed them toward chaotic alignments just as easily as lawful. Regardless of their ideals, half-brights are not known for subtlety.
Size. Half-brights share the fair features of their tirikujin heritage and range from under 5 to over 6 feet tall. Your size is Medium.
Speed. Your walking speed is 30 feet
Darkvision. Half-brights inherit the intense eyes of their tirikujin ancestors. 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. You can’t discern color in darkness, only shades of gray.
Moon Blessing. You have advantage on saving throws against spells and other magic effects.
Skill Versatility.  You gain proficiency in two skills of your choice.
Languages. You can speak, read and write Tirikugo, Elven, Kaguyan and Common.
Thanks for reading. Please give some input on balancing and suggestions for flavor.