Monday, February 24, 2014

Horror Vacui


They say the universe abhors a vacuum. In truth it is mankind that abhors the vacuum, mankind that cannot look into the emptiness and not be shaken. Staring into nothingness reminds us of our own emptiness, reminds us of the not-so-secret truth hiding beneath the congerie of complexity that decorates every surface. We surround ourselves with calcifications, the encrustation of centuries to convince ourselves that the screaming wild, the howling void is not lurking behind every fa├žade.

Use the Table of Dark Truths however you desire; perhaps when a wizard goes mad from magic exposure, or when you're designing your setting, or just to add something awful to an already-designed one.

Table of Dark Truths
1. The gods are dead. Whatever magic is enacted through priests comes form a far different source, though the secret may never be known. Drawing power from these upsetting and evil places strengthens them. Worship sent to the nonexistent gods only makes the slimy crawling things at the base of the universe stronger.

2. Men and goblins are united in one horrific circle. The wretched beast called man is the host of a vicious and endemic parasite which can only bloom within the bodies of goblins. Thus, the two races are intrinsically linked at a vile and biological level; the parasite drives men to find and be slain by goblins, and is the root cause of all adventure. As the parasite matures it encourages more and more reckless behavior until the host is slain, hopefully in a dungeon. Exposure to the damp dungeon atmosphere encourages parasite growth.

3. Elves feast upon the flesh of man and dwarf. This dark secret is one of the keys to their immortality. They never let anyone outside their realms know of this secret if they can help it, but the hunger is necessary; whether by dark curse or black magic. Elves, of course, were once goblins or men but elevated themselves above their station in ancient time-before-time with this hideous trick.

4. The womb of the earth is nightmare. Far from being the source of fecundity that most farmers think of, crops are grown by the sun and rain. The earth births horrors; the buried dead feed it, and from their tombs there grow monstrous spirits of all kinds that are released through the soil as gaseous vapours into the night. Treading in a graveyard past sundown is foolhardy at best, as the beloved mother earth is a corpse which grows only cancers.

5. Magic rots the body of the magician. This secret is one kept by all powerful wizards. They perfume themselves with pomanders and incenses, dress their horrific bodies with sweet-smelling linens, and slowly creep towards lich-hood. Those who survive the hideous process assuredly never tell their apprentices that they shall one day become walking corpses, animated only by their own deathless will. Every level of wizard or magic user achieved beyond 9 causes the wizard to lose 1 point of charisma as the rot spreads; if their charisma ever reaches 0 for any reason they die, though magic may mitigate this and those who die in this fashion may return as NPC liches.

6. This has always been your fate. The world is a hollow sham, manipulated by dark forces behind the shadows. The choices you thought were your own were someone else's. You cannot avoid the fate in store for you, for every deception you think you uncloak is merely a mask for another layer of deceptions. This malignancy goes down unto the very root of the world and behind the smiling faces you think of as your friends lurk unhuman things that know more about you than you do yourself.

7. The world is peopled with whispers. The nightwhispers, they are called, and they can only be heard in certain secret and lonesome spots where the sounds of nature and man both fade to naught. Squatting on the dark of night in a place where there is no sound whatsoever save your own breathing will allow you, after a time of fervent concentration, to listen in on the whispers. The longer you listen, the more you focus and strain, the louder the whispers will become. It is said that the first magicians were men who listened overlong to the unintelligable ramblings of the night. Listening to the whispers for more than an hour requires a system shock check or the listener goes mad. If they succeed, they may immediately make a learn spell check to learn one spell of any level that they have access to OR, if thye are not a wizard or magic user, a spell of level 1d8 which they can prepare once a week as a wizard of the minimum required level.

8. Reflections show more than they appear. Did you ever wonder why a cloned copy tries to kill its mate? It is because it burns to live, to be in a sense real. These shadow worlds that mirrors reflect are peopled with half-real phantasms that desire life. If someone dies within visible range of their own reflection, there is a 30% chance that the phantasm crosses the boundary and assumes their position, name, and station in life.

9. Something is always listening. No matter what you say, no matter where you say it, no matter who you say it to... something is listening to you. There are ways of getting in touch with this something, of finding out what others have said, or striking bargains with it for knowledge. None of these bargains ever work to your benefit in the long term.

10. All that glitters. Dwarves will kill for gold, though they don't want any other race to know the depth of their hidden depravity. Whenever a dwarf feels cheated of his due in gold, he must make a system shock check or attempt to murder the cheater. Whenever a dwarf sees a quantity of gold equal to 1,000gp x the dwarf's level, he must save vs. paralyzation or immediately attempt to acquire it through any means necessary.

11. Gnomes are not alive. Not in the traditional sense, that is, in that they are cohesive individuals. They are the eyes and ears, the hands and fingers, the protrusions of a cosmic thing more ancient than elves or dwarves or mankind that has inscrutable purposes in the world. Any PC gnome that dies may immediately roll up a new gnome that has half the experience of the dead character and seems to inexplicably know things that the dead gnome knew.

12. Horror Vacui. The mind may never be at rest, lest it ingest itself. It cannot comprehend how bleak and awful the universe truly is. Any PC who is idle for more than an hour without amusements and things to do and has an intelligence of 13 or greater is at risk for this madness. Waiting in dark dungeon rooms without dicing or chatting is one way that this horror can sneak in. Those who have a wisdom of 15 or better are double susceptible. There is a 25% chance each hour (non cumulative) with an additional 25% chance for those of 15+ wisdom, to develop an insanity either at the DMs choice or by rolling on this chart—the roll may or may not, at the DM's discretion, indicate something that is true.

2 comments:

  1. 1, 3, 5, 8, and 11 are my favorite.

    I'd probably modify Gnomes in 11 to something else. I feel like a similar explanation was offered somewhere for how Nyarlathotep had so many different aspects : unfathomable being breaking through into our reality with different "bits" of itself.

    Elvish immortality achieved through cannibalism is just plain brilliant.

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