27 July 2023

A Quick Campaign Update - Haruspications in Hardby

Today marks Gary Gygax Day,  and what better way to honor Gary and the game he and Dave Arneson, Rob Kuntz, Lenard Lakofka, and so many others created and shaped, than to play AD&D. 

Without further ado, here are events from one of the current Greyhawk campaigns I DM:

The PCs in our online, twice-per-month Castle Greyhawk campaign (AD&D 1e, currently set in the summer of 576 CY) have been delving a bit into the meaning of the Prophecy of the Six and the Twelve, which they recovered last summer (in real life) from the Astral fastness of The Zjelwyin Fall.  

In order to try to mitigate the infernal (divine?) attentions of Nerull and to mitigate a perhaps-baleful curse that might be afflicting one or more of the PCs after they inadvertently invoked divine (infernal?) intervention while looting a hidden temple to The Reaper in Castle Greyhawk, at the recommendations of the local clergy of Celestian, the PCs journeyed south to Hardby, to seek the guidance of Wee Jas.  (After all, she too is a god of death).  

The PCs communed with the Ruby Queen with one of her Hardby cathedral-complex high priestesses acting as medium.  (Yet again, they invoked divine intervention through their fiendishly lucky---and occasionally unlucky---dice rollings:  I regularly roll a 100 on 1d100 reaction rolls every session that we play in this game!---and yes, DI rolls are roll low not high, but I digress....).  

The questions  they posed to Wee Jas were perhaps answered directly by the goddesss herself, the female voice speaking in different tone than those of her high priestess.  The PCs asked four questions:

  1. Q:  Are any of us cursed by the Reaper?  A:  Not exactly.
  2. Q:  Will placating the Reaper appease his anger?  A:  Yes.
  3. Q:  Can the priestesses here provide direction on how to placate the Reaper's anger?  Perhaps.
  4. Q:  Will you give us a sign on how to placate the Reaper?  Yes.

Part of the significance in Wee Jas' responses is based on how the commune spell works in AD&D:  "By use of a commune spell the cleric is able to contact his or her divinity---or agents thereof---and request information in the form of questions which can be answered by a simple "yes" or "no". The cleric is allowed one such question for every level of experience he or she has attained." (Players Handbook, page 49).  The fact that Wee Jas spoke directly and broke the "rules" of the divinatory exchange speaks as much as or more than the answers themselves, perhaps.

After the high priestess recovered a day or two from channelling the goddess directly, she wrote the PCs a letter, which contained the additional sign they sought, along with guidance on how to recognize further signs from the goddess, and some additional advice: 


Starday, 22 Harvester, in the year 576 Common Year

Esteemed Querants---

Enclosed please find the wisdom of Wee Jas, to aid you in your efforts to achieve atonement with The Reaper:

1.    I awoke on this morn having scribed in the night a strange and unsettling verse, which I believe is in response to your queries to the goddess.  Her riddling rede means not much to me as yet, but I shall pray for the guidance and wisdom to understand its depths.  I have enclosed a copy of her words for you.  Do not share them lightly with others, they are for your eyes and ears alone.

2.    The rede mentions “ruby roses” which reminds me of a gift that Zagig is purported to have given the goddess prior to his ascendancy.  Perhaps it is true, perhaps not, but this gift if it existed is one that his priests may be able to provide more detail about, if you can ever find one of them at temple.

3.    Your band’s explorations seem intertwined more-closely with Zagig’s schemes and follies than I would deem wise.  If you wish to pursue further learnings about the man Zagig, he was raised in Hardby, and lived here prior to his move northward to Greyhawk.  What is not as well-known is that prior to the erection of his grand castle, that Zagig crafted a manse for himself, which he later abandoned once the great edifice stood.  Perhaps it may yield some further guidance, although I would assess carefully the relevance of any such rede that you may receive from The Mad Archmage.

4.    Lastly, with respect to additional guidance that the goddess may share with you in the form of omens, portents, and other signs of her divine guidance, know that she is wont to communicate through dreams and visions; to employ as messengers and visitations the familiars of magi, and the lawful dragons and undead, cardinals and the phoenix; that she favors the hues of red, ruby, crimson, cardinal, carmine, vermillion, scarlet, and cerise; seek her in the wisdom of the dead and  the grave, and in the runes and power words that shape the motion of the world’s living magics. 

Go in the light the of the goddess, and may she guide you in this world and the next with clarity and purpose.  

Your obedient servant---

Eora Nulnivik,
High Priestess in Sable
Cathedral of Wee Jas


(The letter is scribed as a handout in the font Blackadder ITC at 13.5 font size, and fits nicely on a single sheet of paper.  I'll post a PDF of the letter in that format once I'm able, preferably using Carlos Lising's very nice parchment background, if I remember to ask him about that at the game this weekend).  

Enclosed with the letter was the "riddling rede"---however the handwriting for the poem did not match Eora Nulnivik's hand from her letter.  Its text follows, but the formatting won't reproduce well in HTML without more work than I have time to put in at the moment, so I'll post it in PDF later as well.  (For reference, the letter's hand was in Edwardian Script ITC 15.5 font size). 


Sword of Roses

There lies a scythe in Quariol
bound by ruby roses whose petals unfold---
and bleed---
when traitor Winter stalks the skies

staining the hard, frozen ground
and exhaling the souls of the soft dead

into bottomless night

Unnamed thing of demons---
forged and sheathed in bitter alchemies
of time and flesh
woe and bone
fang and shadow---

It whispers shrill, cruel secrets
in tongues that echo
and mock the brood stillness
of the woods
the worlds

Secrets rising as breaths---
upon the silence stealing
steeling the worlds for woe

There in Quariol---
beyond the black lodge of Fenris
beyond the roses-shrouded gate

in the vale of madness
of pain
of despair unending---

There lies a scythe in Quariol

(by Allan Grohe, after Eric Kimball and Robert Gould – Two Man Horse).

A day or two later, one of the other PCs invoked Zagyg's direct attention while at a much-smaller chapel dedicated in his name---but that is for another tale....  

Meanwhile the PCs are leaving Hardby to hear north to Dyvers, where they can consult at one of The Reaper's primary temples in the Flanaess.  

What could possibly go wrong?


I based the automatic writing "riddling rede" on a poem written by Eric Kimball and illustrated by Robert Gould that I first encountered in the art and prints shop of Norm Hood off of exit 7A in the mid-1980s, and adapting it to Greyhawk was a pleasure---and I hope a respectful tribute to their original work:


Sword of Roses by Eric Kimball and Robert Gould (Two Man Horse, 1976)
Sword of Roses
by Eric Kimball and Robert Gould
(Two Man Horse, 1976)


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