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Monday 25 July 2011

Building up a threat

After writing the last post I was looking at William of Newburgh's account of a 12th century revenant. Passages like this have an almost dreamlike matter-of-factness:
"Hastening to the cemetery, they began to dig; and whilst they were thinking that they would have to dig to a greater depth, they suddenly, before much of the earth had been removed, laid bare the corpse, swollen to an enormous corpulence, with its countenance beyond measure turgid and suffused with blood; while the napkin in which it had been wrapped appeared nearly torn to pieces. The young men, however, spurred on by wrath, feared not, and inflicted a wound upon the senseless carcass, out of which incontinently flowed such a stream of blood, that it might have been taken for a leech filled with the blood of many persons. Then, dragging it beyond the village, they speedily constructed a funeral pile; and upon one of them saying that the pestilential body would not burn unless its heart were torn out, the other laid open its side by repeated blows of the blunted spade, and, thrusting in his hand, dragged out the accursed heart. This being torn piecemeal, and the body now consigned to the flames."
I find the same effect in the opening scene of A Serious Man by the Coen Brothers, in which a man may or may not have inadvertently asked a dybbuk home for supper. Anyway, that reminded me to go digging around a little more in the Brymstone material for a couple of descriptions of the Brollachan, who was the Big Bad for that campaign. First we have this sober account left by a scholar called Edlym Whitebeard:
"Long ago, before the awakening of men's hearts to the True Faith, there was found in the far north of this land a strange being left over from the parting of Death and Life. No form had it, save what it could seize, and the men of the North Country feared it, believing it to be a god. At each new moon they sacrificed to it their goods, cattle and even their children. The demon Achferinar took it for a servant and bestowed upon it great gifts of sorcery, yet it was ever wilful and would not answer its master's call when he summoned his servants to the feast of the Breaking. Thus it was that it survived the fate of the old gods and continued to trouble the men of the North. At length Kurnac Mac Dir, whose domain this now was, sent out his heroes to seize and bind the monster. He himself sealed the enchantment by which the Brollachan was sunk in the depths of the sea, to thresh and chafe impotently there and trouble the hills and vales of the middle world no more..."
That we found in a local monk's library, but later in the campaign we received a rather more vernacular description of our adversary from a farmhand who had been sleeping off an evening at the tavern:
"I were dozin' behind this tree by the river, see, 'avin' drunk perhaps more 'an I needed, an' I woke about midnight to see these little goblins carryin' some poor chap out of a boat. Well, there were this tall thin feller on the other bank, an' 'e called across to 'em, sayin' "Bring 'e 'ere, you knows I can't cross". All them goblins started a titterin' an' a-gigglin', an' the poor feller they'd ahold of moaned somethin' fearful, when suddenly this thin wight calls out again, only this time 'e's got a voice like a clap o' thunder! The goblins all fall down in a tremblin' heap an' start wailin' for mercy, then they bundle the feller in the boat again an' row 'im over to where the other one's waitin'. Well, 'e took that poor feller's head in 'is thin hands an' the next thing - an' I swear on me good mother's grave I were sober when I saw it - he sort o' belched up all this black smoke into 'is face! I only 'eard a muffled scream, but I caught a 'orrible whiff o' brimstone right across the river. The thin feller, 'e falls down like a broken puppet, but the feller the goblins 'ad I thought he were a goner, but 'e sort o' breathes in the smoke an' then some'ow 'e's turned into the other feller even though 'e don't look no different. The goblins all start to grovel at 'is feet, but just then 'e sees me an' gives a great shout. Well, I don' need no tellin' but I'm off like a ferret in a hole, an' don' turn round till I'm 'ome and a-holdin' on to a crucifix in one 'and and an oak club in the other...."
We didn't actually encounter the Brollachan in the flesh until the very end of the campaign, but you can bet that he had been built up enough by then through hearsay and eyewitness accounts that the whole party had a healthy terror of him.


  1. It was a very cool game to play in, too. Robert Dale's knowledge of Anglo-Saxon literature and myth, and his abilities as a storyteller and gamer - along with the contribution of a highly committed group of players - all combined to make it one of those vivid RPG experiences that are almost as memorable as real life.