The Free and the Dead
This is part of a series of pieces for Death Comes To Wyverley, a playset for Beyond the Wall inspired by Garth Nix’ Old Kingdom series. This should be considered a fan work.
An OSR game is nothing without “monsters”. In DctW there are four types:
- Human antagonists
- Wild Animals
- The Dead
- Free Magic Elementals
I’m not going to bother with stat blocks, because at the very least anyone reading this will have the excellent BtW bestairy (and probably plenty of other resources, too). Instead I’ll just suggest the different resources you might want to use for each category.
There are two different types of human antagonist. From North of the Wall there are Necromancers and other Free Magic users. South of the Wall, human antagonists could be bureaucrats from Corvere who have Ancelstierre’s security at heart; they think they’re heroes and protectors, but their ignorance and zeal makes them monstrous too.
Mechanically, Free Magic is no different from Charter Magic, although it feels wrong to anyone who isn’t Free Magic aligned; it’s like a sharp metallic odour in the air, and can cause nausea in anyone who isn’t Free Magic aligned (saving throw against Death or Magic is required to not be at some kind of functional penalty).
Necromancers and others will probably threaten by being the source of some ritual magic or change in the landscape (most obviously the Dead rising). Bureaucrats may work a little differently, being able to enter Wyverley itself and upset the various relationships there, restricting access and imposing curfews, etc.
Wild animals who are territorial, hungry, or otherwise hostile to people and cannot be reasoned with.
Wyverley’s surroundings are rural farming land with a lot of natural space and places for animals to make dens. Wild animal populations will not be controlled as effectively as they are today, and a lot of this rural area will be unlit at night. Animals will pretty much only form threats when the characters are travelling, unless something very odd happens like wolves appearing on the Wyverley grounds.
Note that the Dead can be forced into the bodies of animals (e.g. Gore Crows), so animals behaving strangely may turn out to be animated corpses with a Dead spirit providing impotus.
The Dead are one of the two classes of true “monsters” in the setting. Dead creatures — whether Greater or Lesser Dead — originate from human souls who refuse to accept Death, or from Necromancers who have called those souls into a body in Life. There are a number of different Dead described in the books. The main resource for these are the Sabriel page on Wikipedia and the Old Kingdom Wiki.
- Greater Dead — a spirit (usually a necromancer) with enough power to pull themselves and others our of Death.
- Lesser Dead — dead that refuse to pass on but aren’t powerful enough to get back to Life without the help of the Greater Dead.
- Dead Hands — animated corpses.
- Shadow Hands — dead spirits with no body.
- Gore Crows — one spirit animating a flock of crow corpses.
- Mordaut — a controlling spirit that directs a living host.
- Mordicant — appears to be some kind of golem.
- Fifth Gate Rester should probably be regarded as synonymous with Greater Dead
Stat blocks and special powers can be drawn from any undead bestiary — the ghoul, spectre, lich, sluagh, spirit, wight, vampire and the Nameless One and various demons from the Beyond the Wall main book should do well for lesser and greater dead with a bit of cosmetic tweaking. The common feature of all these monsters is they were once human, even if they’re horribly misshapen.
Free Magic Elementals
Creatures of Free Magic (elementals and such) are weird and alien, and frequently dangerous to humans. There aren’t many descriptions of Free Magic elementals — here are some from the books (courtesy of the Old Kingdom Wiki):
- Ferenk, a creature of stone and mud
- Stilken, an attractive woman with hooks for arms
- Hrule, described in the Creature in the Case
- Aziminil and Baazalann are described in Clariel
- The summoning of two Hish “impossibly thin, vaguely human things with flesh of swiftly moving mist and bones of blue-white fire” is described in Lirael’s prologue
Some common features of Free Magic elementals:
- They’re alien creatures that pre-date (and escaped) the forming of the Charter. They are not the same as the Dead, who were once human and now twisted by Death.
- They are frequently summoned by Free Magic sorcerors.
- Charter mages tend to do the reverse, that is to seal them up in artifacts or different forms (e.g. a cat).
- In general they don’t die, they can only be rendered immobile.
- Many of them are of humanoid appearence. There a hint in Clariel that they can choose other shapes, and before the Charter they did have many other shapes (such as that of a dragon). Whether they choose to reflect the shape of humans, or appear the way they do for another reason isn’t clear.
- Their touch is often corrosive and inimical to life.
- Frequently they are immune to mundane weapons.
- They have various magical powers.
- Many appear as breeds of certain types (the Hish, Hrule, Ferenk and Stilken), but some others are named and may be unique (Aziminil).
Plenty of fantastic creatures from the BtW or other bestiaries can be re-purposed — possibly changing the shape of the creature as the GM sees fit. Clearly there’s a precedent for mythical beasts such as dragons, cockatrices, unicorns and others to have existed, so a mythology that refers to these creatures is reasonable. Other resources you could try include the vast and detailed Summon spell in Lamentations of the Flame Princess Rules and Magic book. In general:
- give all such magical creatures an individual personality
- make them hard to kill (non-spelled weapons do no or less damage)
- make them hazardous to be near (requiring saving throws, crossing off hit points, etc.)
Stilken fan-art added to Wiki by user FandomMemorandum