Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Gods, Gnomes, and Ghouls

Depending on exactly how one defines a god, there are anywhere from dozens to hundreds of Gods that are known to intervene in the affairs of all-that-is (if only to the extent of granting spells to their worshippers). Some of these "Gods" are more like extremely powerful nature spirits, the ascended might of once-mortal heroes that have themselves become objects of worship, or puissant spirits of the undead, like arch- and demi-liches.

The greater deities are somewhat smaller in number, and count among their various characteristics an Aspect - something they are specifically worshipped for. Usually this is some metaphysical ideal -, Justice, Mercy, Duty, Death, etc. - but can be nearly anything. Most gods have a primary Aspect - some, particularly the more powerful/well-known ones, may have one or more secondary Aspects  as well. These are usually - but not always - related to their primary Aspect. They also have one or more Attributes - unique, or nearly so, powers or artifacts they wield, usually related to their Aspect(s). These gods are broken up into a small number of different groupings, roughly as follows -
  • The Courts - the Seele and Unseele Courts are two of the major factions of deities, and have between them absorbed some number of gods formerly of other pantheons between them (and many more pantheons have, in fact, been comprised in whole or in part with members of the Courts, sometimes wearing slightly different guises). 
  • The Unaligned - some gods - and pantheons - are more or less unaligned with respect to the Courts - they are powerful enough, minor enough, or important enough to be able to stand to one side - or cunning enough to play the Courts off against each other, never really committing to either. 
  • The Old Gods - it is exceedingly difficult to kill a god with any great finality - and even after a deities' worshippers have passed on, some power echoes evermore, granting them some (comparative) sliver of might. (even these worshipless gods are still far greater than all but the mightiest of mortals, however). Some of the Old Gods are still worshipped, having existed before the Courts came into being. Others have faded into near-senescence or even the death-that-is-a-god's - which is not entirely like the-death-that-is-man's. Some of these gods are dark and bitter, others merely desperate and seeking. Many are mad, to one degree or another. 
  • The Wild Ones - there are gods that were in Malaster before the coming of explorers from the Old Country. Some of them were merely guises of Court members, or the Unaligned, but others were legitimate Powers in their own right, with Aspects of their own (sometimes overlapping with those of members of the Courts - but this is far from unknown, even within the Court). 
  • The Dead Gods - although gods can die, this loose grouping refers not to those who have actually undergone what is sometimes called "final death" - but rather to a grouping of deities, dark and malefic, that seek for reasons of their own to undo what AO wrought. Few in number, little is known of them, and littler still said, for it is written that even speaking their name can draw their attention - and worse still, sometimes their affection. These horrible beings have few worshippers - and most would desire that they have fewer still. 
Gods grant power to their worshippers - this is part of the definition of being a god, and is not entirely a conscious act (although the greater the power granted, the more discretion the god has regarding it). In exchange, gods measure their power - in part - by the number (and devotion) of the worshippers they can count as theirs. This is, again, not an entirely conscious act, nor are their hard rules about how this works - that anyone has been able to discern, anyways. 

Some gods are highly active in all-that-is. Others are more restrained in their behavior. It is known that most will intervene when some great threat to their worshippers is extant - but the exact nature of that intervention is variable. 

Although originally amusing, the image of gnomes as half-competent mechanical and alchemical tinkers has increasingly annoyed me over the years - in part because of the fact that it is often played for laughs. In Tolkein's material regarding elves, the Noldor were called gnomes - and they were far from played for laughs! 

In Malaster, although gnomes can be known as pranksters, they are far from inherently comedic in nature. Although they can be skilled craftsmen (not just with clockworks and other technological devices, or alchemy, but in any craft that requires precision and a deft hand rather than raw strength - although not great blacksmiths, they can be exceedingly renowned white (silver, copper, etc) smiths), their devices are usually more practical and workmanlike - if well-crafted - than the flights of fancy that are sometimes represented in some versions of D&D. 

They are adept with illusions and similar magics - but this makes them as feared as they can be amusing, for a gnomish illusionist with a grudge to settle is a terrifying thing. And while not naturally skilled in the more direct arts of magic, when working in conjunction with a wizard or magus they can produce artifacts and devices of rare power and cunning. 

In battle they are more likely to be combat engineers, sappers, siege architects and experts in munitions and field weapons than front line fighters - but those who choose to work with "reconnaissance" units are often cunning warriors or clever thieves as well as spellcasters of some puissance. 

Physically, gnomes strongly resemble the version found in D&D 3.0/3.5 - somewhere between halflings and dwarves in height, with a slender, elfin build (and slightly pointy ears). They are prodigious of appetite (although not as gluttonous as halflings tend to be), and resistant to most magics - illusions most of all, given their near-instinctual command of them, but enchantments and evocations of all sorts find little traction against gnomes, if they are unwilling targets. 

Ghouls are the eaters-of-the-dead. While some claim that anyone who partakes of the deceased - for any reason - will become a ghoul - in death, if not in life - others dispute this claim as nothing more than superstition and myth. Certainly, however, it is true that many - if not most - ghouls were once living souls who ate the flesh of those-who-would-be-man and became thereafter cursed to gain sustenance only from the dead, but the particulars are generally not known - those who have undergone this hideous transformation are rarely able to speak of it, and those who know how it was undertaken - mostly necromancers - are usually geased from speaking of it. 

Although the common ghoul is a near-mindless being that hunts in packs, not all ghouls are without wit - greater ghouls (sometimes called ghasts) retain some semblance of intellect and cunning, and the great ghûl lords - thankfully rare - retain nearly all of their mental prowess - which can include spellcasting abilities, if they had them in life. 

Although inimical, ghouls are not necessarily hostile. When they attack the living, they do so at the behest of some greater power, or because of starvation (they are clever enough, in general, to know that a living body becomes a dead one - and thus, eventually, food - if properly bludgeoned). Ghouls that are feeding, or have recently fed, will generally leave trespassers alone unless provoked - although what, precisely, will provoke a ghoul pack is sometimes unclear. 

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