Monday, November 22, 2021

Simply Liches (and d50 eerie museum exhibits)

The bony road has swerved through Ghouls, dusty gourmands wiling away in the luxury of history, and through the ORKUS, the grime of decay in every dark corner, and through a bunch of horrible tamagochi maniacs.

We were bound to get here eventually. I did think it'd take me less time, but at last we are here. 

A Lich can only walk and stand on bone. Leichenteppich, or tapis des carcasses, is the characteristic covering of skeletal remains found where a Lich has made its home.

Lichdom is older than humans. When the world was more pure and young, and the Ur-Ghast was only a small hateful pool in some subterranean locker, it was already here. Enormous beasts roamed the earth then, far larger than they can now ever be. Pteranodons flocked around fur-bearing many-limbed giants flinging spells at each other that could level mountains. The sea boiled and plants summoned magma demons that crawled out from between tectonic plates to destroy their enemies (slightly taller plants).

Compared to then, what humans do now is baby magic.

We have to go back further still. The Thaumocambrian, in the oceans, when an explosion of experimental metaphysiologies created the first protean magic. This led to the evolution of terrestrimancers: cartilage-scaled wizards left their soft-bodied and poriferous sisters behind to become the land giants' progenitors.

Liches were already among these creatures.

In the earliest dark, minuscule zooplankton critters wielded the bubbling fire from black smokers in translucent mini-wizard combat, setting protoplasmic brutes on each other that they teleported to the battle in flashes of tiny lightning. These wars left clouds of skeleton debris floating in the water of the early Earth, bearing the silica and chalk that would make the sediments of the new world. Each was like a letter in a game of scrabble, where the words were new, dark spells.

The first lich began in this littlest boneyard. It was fleeing from hex worms ridden by rotifer ice-casters, and as it cowered among the skeletons, it touched the intricate configuration of magically charged bones that had formed in the wizard wars' wake. It became connected to a kind of thing that would take a few more millenia to develop from flesh: a brain. A siliceous bone-brain-computer.

Liches must build their Leichenteppich out of bones of their own kind. Same species always works. Adjacent families are more difficult. A different group altogether is impossible.

THIS LICH IS ...
  1. ... a coral. Its Leichenteppich is an underwater three-dimensional matrix of bleached tubes and folds, a web of glass and porous stone.

  2. ... an insect. Its Leichenteppich is made of carapaces of hundreds of arthropod species. Towers made of centipede shells, millions of segmented legs and antennae, husk upon beetle husk.

  3. ... a mollusc. Though limited by the lack of true bones, these liches make their Leichenteppich out of conches and shells, leading them to produce haunting horn-blowing sounds echoing across reef islands and abandoned dockyards.

  4. ... a fish. Endless stretches of herringbones make up its Leichenteppich like spiny cables, connecting pale sea urchin-like patches of fish bones on the sea floor.

  5. ... a dinosaur. Colossal skeletons have been dragged together to build its tyrannical Leichenteppich, covering a whole valley in bones thick as tree trunks.

  6.  ... a bird. Its Leichenteppich, a construction of hollow bones and leathery sails, controls the wind with occult flute sounds. It glides through the air between barren mountains.

  7. ... an elephant. The many tusks give its Leichenteppich a horned appearance. Some elephant tribes revere their liches and give their bones to them when they die. Much dark wizardry was learned from elephants by early hominids.

  8. ... a human. Human liches are not particularly more intelligent than those of other animals, but they do have an easier time manipulating their species, because humanity is full of death cults.
Art by Tuiles

SCENES OF THE COMMON LICH:
  1. A planktonic lich has gotten stuck in the fishing nets. It looks like a glassy filamentous sponge the size of a mango and glints ominously. The fishermen throw it back, as they usually do.

  2. Photographs of an elephant lich are framed on the wall at a rangers' lodge, among trophies and other oddities. It was killed and the Leichenteppich broken apart for ivory long ago. Some of the stools are made of elephant leg bones.

  3. A mouse lich has made its home in a chapel tower, formed from the remains in owl pellets. The friars, alerted by owl carcasses found at the tower's base, trundle up the stairwell in their beekeeping garb with rakes and prayer scrolls to remove it.

  4. A large gray growth disfigured the angling pier. It turned out to be a barnacle lich, and had turned two unsuspecting anglers into crustacean abominations. The pier stays abandoned, misty and ominous, until removers come. Sometimes zombie fish crawl out, scuttling on their ribs.

  5. Factory workers clean developing haddock liches out of the fish waste containers.

  6. A tenant is found dead in his apartment, bewitched by a cockroach lich that had formed in a hollow area between the fridge and the dishwasher, after regular ineffective use of insect poison. A health and safety nightmare for the landlord.

  7. A haunted area of the beach, where terrible wails are said to echo through the night, is plagued by a conch lich that has gotten stuck in the rocks with the tide.

  8. A young woman who enjoys nightly swims actually goes out to learn occult secrets from a starfish lich, which covers the entire inner surface of a seaside cave. Her skin is rough and covered in small spikes now.

Photography by Loren McIntyre

Phylacteries are the segments of the Leichenteppich that store an informational image of the lich. The instructions to recreate the lich's body and mind, in other words. In the case of planktonic liches, these phylacteries can be quite small and therefore, it's easy for the lich to build dozens and dozens of them, giving it nigh infinite regeneration redundancy. 

As you scale up to higher animals, however, the complexity of the body increases exponentially, and so does the size of a single phylactery. This puts liches of higher animals in a bind: they have to spend a lot of the bones they gather on phylactery construction, have less to spare for occult processing power outside of that, have less redundancy if a phylactery is destroyed, and have a bigger target for foes of the lich to hit.

This causes liches of higher animals to be more cunning with their Leichenteppich design. Instead of just honeycombing in all directions, they lay thin strands of femurs and ribs down to hidden phylacteries underground, split the phylactery into co-operating parts that can each be replaced quickly, and so on and so on.

This means that if you're fighting a lich, finding its phylacteries should be a puzzle. Is there a single target? Multiple? Is it split into parts that have to be destroyed simultaneously, as otherwise the remaining parts would recreate the one you've destroyed?

This seemingly impossible task never leaves you without a thread to follow, however: all parts of the Leichenteppich have to be connected via bone, even if it's a cable of single femurs. You'll have to make sure you know what the whole thing looks like before you strike.

Fighting an advanced lich requires espionage.

Art by Zdzisław Beksiński

As they are bound to their Leichenteppich, it is typical for a lich not to work alone. Through messengers, astral projection, appearing in dreams and speaking from corpses, liches organise their minions across vast stretches of land. There are many who would serve a lich willingly, if they are well enough rewarded with power, money, or a satisfying purpose. Besides these cretins, a lich is a master of necromancy and its magical prowess allows it to summon plenty of demons and other horrible abominations from the nightosphere.

SERVANTS OF THE LICH:

Deboned zombies slither over the ground like tiger carpet flatworms. Their bones were taken to enrich their master, and now their flesh blubbers and writhes forward. They move like contortionists, clamber down the drainpipes, and slink away into the sewer grate like an octopus into a pickle jar.

By blowing bonemeal of their original skeleton into the air like fairy dust, liches can make swarms of  Dust Demons, leathery gremlinous homunculi that collect bones and eat flesh. These dust demons, the size of dogs, are a cross between a vulture and a piranha, with lots of stuff like cows, crows and bats mixed in there too. They bolster a Lich's legions and clean the Leichenteppich with their beaks to prevent the ORKUS from taking root on it.

Ghasts are half-corporeal spirits that are attracted from underground by large masses of corpses, bones and death. Their appearance is that of mummy-like emaciated humanoids with tall heads, no eyes, and large teeth. They're scavengers common to battlefields and mass graves, prowling for what they call "Urkie," possibly referring to the ORKUS. They have five stages of metamorphosis, respectively called mummy (as described), maggot, centipede, orb, and angel.

Art by John Ken Mortensen

EXAMPLE LICHES:

Calcinegra is a dark sorcerer from folk legend and children's boogeyman tales who walks on ladders made of bones that stretch across the sky. In his most well-known story, he walks all the way from Paris to Madrid in one the night, on a ladder so high that he has to sate his hunger by eating the birds that he catches as they fly by. The true Calcinegra was the Spanish king's court mage, committing a coup and filling the palace with bones during the ensuing civil war, where he was ultimately defeated by a militant priest leading the remains of the king's army into battle. The ladder stories, though, are completely true.

The Mouse Machine is a mouse lich trapped in a large metal coffer by the wizard Dolt Wiseney, who travels to courts with it, using it as an attraction and fortune telling device. Behind the wondrous sharade, Wiseney is dogged by the lich's whispering and cursing, and the dark beings it sends to haunt and torment him, biting at his sanity as he tries to edure it for the fame and gold his shows bring him.

The Hallowaite Cliffs, stately and pale, have a reputation for being haunted and appear in many a ghost story about disappearing fishing boats, travellers becoming zombies, and terrifying apparitions. In truth, these chalk cliffs are a colossal planktonic lich that lures people to it at night, enchanting them and making them part of its cult. The nearby villagers go out in white robes at night to sacrifice, chant and call prehistoric monsters from the deep sea.

Salobriel of the Evening City lives in a cavern deep in the underdark where the floor is an endless misty sunset sky. In the cavern sits an upside-down city of black spires and cathedrals, built entirely out of giant spider carapace. It is inhabited by polluted elves driven mad by the influence of the dread scarlet sky, by giant bats, and by pale carapaceless undead spiders that jump from tower to tower. Salobriel's web spans the city: she uses it to catch fairies and spin reality-bending fabric from their bodies. Though only an vain ornament to Salobriel, this fabric is priceless among wizards who use it to sail the starlight with disregard for time and space. Many seek to buy or steal it. Few return from the spider lich's Evening City alive or sane, regardless of their intentions.

All tree liches were exterminated early in evolution by all other living things, and the knowledge of their creation erased, on a common threat principle.


BONUS: D50 Eerie Museum Exhibits
  1. Set of bottled embryos. Some pig, some human. Some could be either.
  2. Pigeon's head and digestive tract, set in glass.
  3. Lampreys in tall vials.
  4. Preserved head of the last man executed by guillotine in the country.
  5. Cabinet of waxy hands and fingers.
  6. Assembly of long, hooked embalming tools.
  7. Assembly of longer, even more hooked tools for child birth.
  8. Bottled curse ointments, with ingredient lists.
  9. Old baby practice dolls for midwifery.
  10. Anomalous "vampire" skull with multiple rows of teeth, in all shapes and sizes.
  11. Illuminated manuscript in glass case, open on pages detailing ritual scalping.
  12. Large black stone coffin. Featureless. Inscribed with texts an ancient language.
  13. Sandstone sarcophagus, lid displaying a sculpted pharaotic figure with a gaunt face.
  14. Very large, nigh-comically terrifying saw for bones.
  15. Taxidermied man-ape, ghoul or hominid.
  16. Set of normal human skeletons. Spooky!
  17. Large inside-view wooden model of the human eye.
  18. Wooden anatomy dummy with removable, realistically painted stuffed cloth viscera.
  19. Old, rusted bicycle twisted in the middle, putting the front half upside down.
  20. Three mummies under glass, one's face is unbandaged and stares upwards in a silent, contorted scream.
  21. Dresses from an extremely boring fashion period, worn by skeletal wire mannequins.
  22. Antique grammophone with LP of classical music called "Carmen Decem Noctibus."
  23. Snuff boxes containing cosmetics made from human ash, grease, bonemeal.
  24. "The Long Arm," a preserved human arm with six elbows, over seven feet long.
  25. Collection of cow skulls with enormous, heavy horns.
  26. Room full of fake, ever-blooming but uncanny flowers.
  27. A donkey's jawbone, covered in blood. Its glass case is constantly guarded.
  28. Gargantuan Hieronymus Bosch-esque medieval triptych depicting giant mushroom clouds and bomber plane-shaped demons.
  29. Translation tablet, inscribed in Sumerian and another mysterious language. Contained in anti-radiation glass, surrounded by safety rope fence.
  30. Three large photo prints of a moustached man eating ghost peppers, progressively more flustered, crying, and milk dripping from chin.
  31. Crystal reliquary bottle filled with tears of the first pope.
  32. Collection of human lips, formerly owned by a cannibal serial killer.
  33. Fingernails of three feet long, in a glass display.
  34. Human skeleton coated in goopy marbled mixture of lead and gold, contorted in agony. Labelled: "Philosopher's Stone"
  35. Submarine's periscope, disembodied.
  36. Set of long, heavy plane bombs. One is bisected to reveal a human skeleton hunched inside.
  37. Rusty, dented cannister bearing the word "ORKGAZ", behind thick air-tight glass.
  38. Fighter jet pilot outfit complete with round-goggled helmet and breathing mask. The gear has gothic architecture patterns and the breathing tube goes to a ceremonial censer.
  39. Andy Warhol-like pictures, but all items and humans are turned away from the viewer.
  40. Abnormally long pitchfork. No clarifying label.
  41. Spiked carriage wheels on poles. Text plaque details their use for torture and execution.
  42. Wreckage of a 1980s car, surrounded by plastic replica cockroach people and "WAFFLE HOUSE" sign.
  43. Framed movie poster for "The Tally", displays gangsters and sunset city vista, but the sun is a large eye.
  44. Series of knives used by medieval butchers, accompanied by animal bones.
  45. Brass cubic puzzle box in thick glass case, surrounded by framed newspaper articles of mysterious slaughter.
  46. Large skeletal fossil fish with jagged menacing teeth, hung on the wall.
  47. A set of dried monkey paws, in various states of finger-curling.
  48. An airtight glass cilinder, five feet high and one foot wide, filled entirely with fleshy semiliquid mass. Labelled "Barovia Sample, Date N/A."
  49. A lateral section of a Ghoul, in a glass pane. The intestines and stomachs form near-infinite fractals.
  50. Dark crystalline orb. Paired with warning sign advising against pondering it.

5 comments:

  1. "Dark crystalline orb. Paired with warning sign advising against pondering it."- This post paid for by Big Orb. Fools. They will never stop me pondering.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Had this come out ten years ago it would have been remembered universally today as one of the greats of the OSR blogosphere. Alas we live in humbler times and its greatness must be appreciated in an occulted, Rosicrucian manner by a worthy few.

    ReplyDelete
  3. This is a post worth reading multiple times, gotta let it sink in.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Oh, this is amazing. I love the way you write about magic, it makes it feel like it really /is/ a deep, fundamental part of the natural world, that compared to our world things may have a similar gloss but the guts of them are alien and gorgeous. Nobody else really does that, and it's wonderful. Also: all these Liches and the museum table are coming with me. It's nothing personal, they're just too good. Everybody put their hands over their heads and don't make any sudden movements. I'm backing out with them in this bag.

    ReplyDelete