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Archive for January, 2008

Adventure Background

It’s been nearly two years since the Worm God Kyuss was defeated, and the prophecies of the Age of Worms were prevented from unfolding. With the destruction of the Writhing Tabernacle, and the defeat of Prince Zeech, a new ruler of Alhaster has been appointed, and life appears to have returned to normal.

Unfortunately, not everything is as it seems. While Kyuss’s plans have certainly suffered a serious blow, they have not been completely thwarted. Retreating deep into the Underdark, the spirit of Kyuss has made its way back to the plane where it was originally imprisoned and there, it has begun to reform.

Meanwhile, Kyuss’s minions have been gathering in the blighted lands of of the ancient empire of Sulm. It was in Sulm, where Kyuss was born, where he first learned the ways of magic, and where he first joined the clergy of Nerull. It was also here that he first began dabbling in necromantic powers so vile, that even the wicked people of Sulm could not tolerate his actions, and for that he was banished from the relam.

Now, Kyuss’s minions have returned to the area, to seek vengeance against the only remaining descendants of those who banished him in the first place. While they may have been transformed into horrid creatures known as scorpionfolk, Kyuss still knows who they are, and he will stop at nothing to destroy them.

Adventure Synopsis

The PCs uncover new information that leads them to believe that Kyuss has survived and that he has returned to the plane of his apotheosis. Knowing only that the plane is an alternate, Material Plane, called Zana, and that it resides somewhere in the Plane of Shadow, the PCs must travel to Magepoint to recruit the help of Manzorian. There Manzorian tells them that in order to travel to this alternate Plane, they will need to recruit the help of Shildhran, a wizard that helped in preventing the Age of Worms from coming to pass. Unfortunately, Shildhran is away on an expedition to the ancient city of Kyuss’s birth, in the hopes of finding out more information about the Worm God’s origins. The PCs must therefore travel to Sulm in order to recruit the mage’s help.

When the PCs arrive in Sulm, they discover that the city has been overrun by scorpionfolk, and that the wizard they are seeking has been enslaved by these creatures. They also discover that the scorpionfolk are battling with the vengeful minions of Kyuss, which have taken up residence in the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Nerull. Depending on how events unfold, the PCs can either agree to help the scorpionfolk defeat Kyuss’s minions in exchange for the safe return of Shildhran, or defeat the scorpionfolk and help Shildhran find the information he is seeking in ancient temple of Nerull where Kyuss was first rose to prominence.

Regardless of the PCs’ decisions, if Shildhran is ultimately freed by the PCs, he agrees to help the PCs, and by the end of the adventure are ready to make their journey to the plane of Zana.

Adventure Hook

One of the PCs has been plagued by dreams of Kyuss. In the dreams, they have seen the plane where the Worm God has been imprisoned for the last several thousand years. They have seen what will happen if the Age of Worms prophecy comes to pass. In addition to this, they have also heard the name Shalara repeated again and again. While the meaning of these dreams is certainly mysterious, they appear to be a sign that the Age of Worms prophecy is not yet done unfolding.

Understanding the Dreams

The dreams are cryptic, but there is at least one clue that opens up the investigation for the PCs. In the dream, the name Shalara is repeated again and again. The PCs can make a Knowledge (religion) check to learn more.

Knowledge (religion)

  • (DC 15) Shalara is the name of an obscure goddess, no longer worshipped, who was once associated with the movements of the sun and the moon.
  • (DC 20) Shalara is actually a contraction of the names of two goddesses, Shal (the Sun) and Ara (the Moon). The two were often worshipped together.
  • (DC 25) Shal and Ara are twin deities. Shal, the goddess of the sun, is associated with life, and light. Ara, the goddess of the moon, is associated with death, and darkness. While many worshipped these two goddesses as separate deities, others worshipped them as part of a pantheon. Still others worshipped these two goddesses as aspects of a single deity, a goddess who presided over both life and death.
  • (DC 30) Worship of Shalara did not originate on the Material Plane. Rather, Shalara is a deity from another realm, an alternate plane called Zana.

Knowledge (the planes)

If the PCs learn about Zana from their Knowledge (religion) check, they can use a Knowledge (the planes) to learn more.

  • (DC 15) Zana is an alternate, Material Plane that exists somewhere in the remote reaches of the Plane of Shadow.
  • (DC 20) Legends say that the Spellweavers- an enigmatic race that today wanders the planes in search of magic items- were originally from the world of Zana. The truth of these legends has never been officially validated, for the Spellweavers are a bizarre, and alien race that rarely communicate with outsiders. Neverthess, the scant evidence that has been pieced together from writings left behind by the Spellweavers over the last several thousand years remains persistent.
  • (DC 25) Long ago, the Spellweavers traveled from Zana to the Material Plane through a magical portal. This portal is located on the Plane of Shadow, somewhere in the vicinity of the city of Alhaster.
  • (DC 30) In order to reach Zana, the PCs must either be able to cast the spell plane shift, or travel through the portal originally created by the Spellweavers. In either case, the PCs will need a small, forked metal rod, in order to cast the spell, or activate the portal. This rod, which must be keyed to the plane of Zana, is exceedingly rare, and requires the skills of someone who is intimately familiar with the nature of the planes in order to create it.

Knowledge (nature)

If the PCs learn about the Spellweavers from their Knowledge (the planes) check, they can use a Knowledge (nature) check to learn more. This check works exactly as described in the Player’s Handbook.

Legend Lore and Vision

What the PCs are unable to glean from the Knowledge checks listed above, they can learn from the use of divination spells, such as legend lore and vision. These spells can reveal all of the information learned from the Knowledge checks listed above. However, it may take several castings to learn the full details.

If the PCs have already succeeded on previous Knowledge checks about Shalara or Zana, these spells reveal additional information, equivalent to a +5 to their previous Knowledge checks. So for example, if the PCs have previously succeeded at a Knowledge (religion) check of DC 20, the spell reveals information that would have been gained by a Knowledge (religion) check of DC 25. The casting time depends on the nature of the information already known by the PCs as described below.

  • If the PCs have not succeeded at any previous Knowledge checks, or have only succeeded at a Knowledge check of DC 15, the casting time for legend lore or vision is equivalent to if the PCs only know rumors about the subject.
  • If the PCs have succeeded at previous Knowledge checks of DC 20-25, or have made previous castings of the spells legend lore or vision, the casting time of these spells is equivalent to if the PCs had detailed information about the subject.If the PCs use legend lore or vision to learn more about the forked metal rod described in the Knowledge (the planes) section, they receive the following information. “The friendship of the mage Manzorian has proven helpful to you in the past. Go to his fortress in the city of mages, and ask him for his advice.”

Manzorian

The PCs have met many colorful characters during their journeys, all of whom have had information that has proven helpful in their investigations. However, of all the characters that the PCs have met, none have been as intelligent and as helpful as the great Manzorian.
By now, the PCs are relatively equal to Manzorian in level. Nevertheless, Manzorian still has access to resources that the PCs have only dreamed of, and therefore can still prove to be a useful ally.

Manzorian knows very little about Shalara, Zana, or the Spellweavers, and if asked, he knows as much as can be revealed by the lowest appropriate Knowledge check. Manzorian does not have the time to delve further into these subjects himself, but is willing to pull some strings at Magepoint’s Library Temple to allow the PCs to use the library’s resources without having to pay the usual fee of 100 gp. Access to the library temple grants the PCs a +6 bonus to all Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (religion), and Knowledge (the planes) checks. Research in the library takes approximately 1d4+1 hours.

In exchange for granting the PCs access to the library, Manzorian asks that the PCs keep him informed about everything that they learn from their research. If the PCs come back to him with incomplete information, Manzorian listens intently, but suggests that there may be more information to find. If the PCs are unsure where to begin, Manzorian might ask helpful questions, provide suggestions, or hint about resources that the PCs haven’t yet considered. This will give the PCs clues as to where to start looking next in their investigations.

At some point in their investigations, the PCs will eventually learn of the forked metal rod they need to travel to Zana and will have to seek the aid of Manzorian. At that point, Manzorian asks the PCs to relay everything that they have learned, nodding as he listens intently. When the PCs are finished with their recounting, Manzorian says to them, “You have done well, my friends. Your research into this matter has been exceedingly thorough. Based on what you have told me, it seems obvious that these dreams are evidence that the prophecies of the Age of Worms are not yet done unfolding. I fear what may happen if these matters are not pursued.

“Unfortunately, I do not have the knowledge necessary to create the rod that is needed to travel to Zana. Nevertheless, I do know of someone who may be able to assist you in this matter. There is a man by the name of Shildhran, who was instrumental in helping us prevent the Age of Worms form coming to pass. He is a gifted scholar, whose knowledge of the planes is virtually unmatched. Unfortunately, he is mounted an expedition to the city of Sulm, the birthplace of Kyuss, in order to understand more about the Worm God’s origins, and I do not know when to expect his return.”

When Manzorian is finished, the PCs can use a Knowledge (history) check to learn more about the city of Sulm.

Knowledge (history)

  • (DC 20) Sulm is an ancient city, whose ruins lie in the blighted region known as the Bright Desert.
  • (DC 25) Sulm was part of an ancient magocracy, known as the Flan Kingdom. Due to the decadent ways of the arcanists that resided there, the kingdom was ultimately destroyed.
  • (DC 30) The city of Sulm was ultimately destroyed when the city’s last king, Shattados, tried to use an artifact, called the scorpion crown to gain perpetual control over his people. Instead, Shattados was transformed into a scorpion, the people of Sulm were transformed into scorpionfolk, and the lands surrounding the city were transformed into a vast desert.
Sidebar
The primary purpose of this investigation is to get the PCs to start thinking creatively about how to use all of the resources available to them. After all, the PCs are now epic level, and there are very few people in the world that they can turn to who are likely to have more information about a given subject than they do. As a result, they will need to start relying more heavily on their own abilities to find information, and less on the information given to them by powerful NPCs. For purposes of experience, treat this as an EL 21 encounter.

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After writing my entry on the Age of Worms, and Elder Evils, I began thinking about what an epic campaign based off of the Age of Worms campaign would look like. This idea took hold of me, and after some preliminary musings on the subject, a story began to take shape.

The following short story is a prologue that I plan to use for my own campaign. Many of you may recognize Marzena from Encounter at Blackwall Keep. After the unfortunate death of my own character, I decided the easiest way to get back into the campaign was to start playing Marzena, and by happy accident, she ultimately became the ruler of Alhaster.

The other character in the story is Torus. He is one of the other characters in our adventuring party, a dwarven paladin and Hammer of Moradin. He and Marzena developed a sort of bond during the campaign, when it was discovered that several of the rogues in our party had joined an assassin’s guild. Not knowing whether the rogues had revealed any information to the wrong person about our party’s role in preventing the Age of Worms from coming to pass, the two put together a strategy to arrest the rogues, and to convince them to atone for their crimes.

In any event, I hadn’t initially intended to post this story, but since I missed the weekend deadline, I thought I’d put it up, along with the Introduction that I was planning to post.

***

Torus stroked his beard as he listened to the steady clop of the horse’s hooves. Above him, the carriage driver made gentle clicking noises with his tongue as he snapped the reins against the horse’s backs.

It was not an unpleasant ride. Through the trees, Torus could see the ocean, glimmering in the orange light of the evening sun; a sight that was almost soothing, even to a stodgy dwarf, like himself. Still, he felt uncomfortable sitting in the decadent carriage. It reminded him of the last time that he had ridden in such a carriage, on his way to the palace of Prince Zeech one year ago. Grimacing at the thought, he sniffed, and looked back down at the letter that he had received from his friend, Marzena.

Come to the palace, it said, in a florid script. It seemed uncharacteristic of the sorceress, whose language was usually so flowery and verbose. In some ways, it was a refreshing change. However, it concerned him, particularly when the driver indicated that he had been given special instructions to bring the dwarf in at night.

“Whoa!” the carriage driver said, bringing the carriage to a stop. Jumping down, the driver opened the carriage door for Torus.

“We’ll stop here for a few hours and wait for nightfall.” The driver said. “Come, I’ll start us a fire.”

Torus climbed down from the carriage, grumbling to himself about how the door was not made to accommodate dwarves. Outside, the driver was unwrapping some salted meat, and cheese, and was laying out various cookware.

“I was going to have some supper,” he said, laying the food out on the ground. “You’re welcome to some if you’d like.” Torus nodded, and began helping the man collect wood from the side of the road. Before too long, the two had a rather cheerful fire going.

It was getting dark, and the calls of various night creatures could be heard off in the distance. Torus sat by the fire, cleaning his gear, while the driver fried the meat in an iron skillet. Spearing a piece with his fork, he placed it into a wooden bowl and handed it to Torus.

“For you.”

Torus took it from him, and nodded. “Thank you.”

For a few minutes, the two ate their meals in silence. Then, over the fire’s popping cinders, Torus said, “We’ve been traveling together for half the day now. It would be nice to be able to call you by your name.”

The man swallowed. “I’m sorry. I should have told you. My name is Karel. Karel Greenwood. I’m a servant in the lord’s manor at Alhaster. I serve the lady, Marzena.”

“Yes, I assumed that’s where you came from. Can you tell me why your lady has sent for me, and why she has requested that I come in the middle of the night?”

The fire popped, and tiny embers, like fireflies, burst from the flames. “The lady did not say. She did, however, mention that it was a matter of great urgency.”

Torus frowned. “Of that, I was already certain.”

Karel smiled wryly, as he popped a piece of meat into his mouth with his fingers.

The two sat in silence for the rest of their meal, before packing up their things. Opening the door for Torus, Karel helped the dwarf clamber back into the carriage, before hopping up onto the seat above.

Karel lit a small lantern on the side of the carriage. “It should only be a couple of hours now before we reach the city. Hopefully, the lady will be able to answer your questions as soon as we arrive.”

As the carriage drove on, Torus soon found himself dozing, the steady beat of the horse’s hooves soothing. Slipping down upon the velvet cushions of the carriage, the dwarf soon sound himself fast asleep.

***

“Karel Greenwood, servant of Lady Marzena bids the soldiers of Alhaster to open the city gates!” Torus awoke to the announcement with a start. Outside, he could hear the sound of metal and wood groaning. He rubbed his eyes, and rubbed his face, trying to get his bearings.

The carriage started moving again. Turning to look out the window, he could see tall brick houses lining the streets. They must be in the city of Alhaster.

The carriage made its way down the main thoroughfare of the city. To his left, he could see the Scarlet Spire, Alhaster’s temple dedicated to the god, Kelemvor. He could also see the newly christened Church of Pelor- formerly the Church of Hextor- with a large symbol of the sun emblazoned on its closed doors.

Fitting, thought Torus, that the gods of death and birth should have their temples sitting side by side.

It wasn’t long before the carriage made its way through the gates of Zeech’s Palace, now renamed the Lord’s Manor. Passing through the gates, Torus couldn’t help but notice that the many statues of the terrible prince had been removed from the gardens. Still, the sheer opulence of the palace and its gardens were enough to remind the dwarf of its former occupant.

The carriage stopped at the entrance to the palace, and a servant opened the carriage door. Clumsily, the dwarf stepped out.

“Her Lady has asked that you await her in the Main Hall,” the servant said to him. Torus grimaced at this, but nodded in compliance. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small, gold purse and tossed it over his shoulder to the driver, Karel. Torus heard the coins jingle as the man caught it.

“Thank you!” Karel called out to him. Torus waved his hand absently, but never looked back.
 Torus followed the servant as he led him through the palace to the Main Hall. Standing by the doors, the servant gestured for the dwarf to enter ahead of him. For a moment, Torus hesitated, then sniffing, he stepped into the room.

Inside, the lights were dimmed. The severed heads, and the many portraits of Zeech and Lashonna that had once lined the walls had thankfully been removed. Nevertheless, the mahogany table, and the stained glass dome above were all still there to remind the dwarf of his previous visit to the palace.

Torus turned as he heard the doors into the banquet hall shut behind him, the sound echoing through the near empty hall.

“I’m glad you’ve come,” he heard a female voice say. Torus whirled around. Standing in the shadows, at the far end of the hall, was a woman, her hand pressed against the wall, as if for support. She was dressed in a long, silken gown, her head crowned by a crystal tiara.

For a moment, Torus just stood there, staring into the shadows at the figure. Then, almost apprehensively, he called out. “Marzena?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Marzena, what is going on? Why did you send for me? Why the secrecy? Why all of the clandestine charades?”

“I assure you that they were all very necessary. I couldn’t risk the citizens of Alhaster knowing that I had sent for you.”

“Why?”

“Because they have already begun to suspect that I am not well. I fear that if they knew I had sent for a paladin, they would be even more suspicious of my current condition, and that it would cause them to sink into despair.”

Torus took a step towards her. “What has happened?”

“I do not know. There are none here that I feel I can confide in, so I have had little opportunity or resources to investigate the matter. That is why I have called you here. I don’t know who else I can turn to, but I need to tell someone what is happening.”

Marzena stepped from the shadows, her body hunched as she made her way towards the chair at the head of the banquet table. Using the back of the chair for support, she found her way to the front of it before finally collapsing into the seat, exhausted from the effort.

Torus made his way toward her, watching the sorceress intently. Marzena looked up, smiling weakly as he approached.

“As you can see,” she said, struggling to catch her breath, “I am not myself lately.”

Torus took her hand. It felt frail, and cold to the touch.

“You are sick,” he said to her.

“Yes,” she said.

Bowing his head, he closed his eyes.

“May the blessing of Moradin be upon you,” he said, “May his hand heal you of all sickness.”

Marzena’s body was bathed in a warm aura of light, and for a moment, she appeared as if at peace. Then, the light faded, and her face turned ashen white. Grimacing, as if in pain, she leaned over the chair, and retched. From her mouth, green worms spilled out onto the floor.

Torus recognized the worms instantly. They were the worms of the god, Kyuss. Quickly, he pulled out his hammer, and began smashing the deadly creatures on the floor. As soon as they were dead, he returned to Marzena’s side.

“Are you all right?” he said to her. Slowly, Marzena raised her head.

“Yes,” she said to him.

“Can you stand up?”

Bracing the arms of the chair, Marzena struggled to stand, but ultimately sunk back into the seat.

“Come,” Torus said, “I’ll help you.”

Torus wrapped his arm around Marzena’s frail body, but before he could lift her, she grabbed his wrist.

“Wait,” she said, “I have not shown you everything.”

Torus stared at her for a moment, almost as if he was afraid of what she would show him next. Then slowly, he laid her back in the chair.

Marzena closed her eyes. Raising her hands to her temples, she lifted her crystal tiara from her head. Almost immediately, her body began to wither. Her cheeks sank, her arms shriveled, and her skin stretched taut over her now skeletally thin frame. Opening her eyes, she looked up at Torus.

Torus took a step back. Where the irises of Marzena’s eyes should have been, there was now nothing, except… Torus cocked his head. For a moment, he thought he had seen something; some living thing swimming in the black pools of her eyes. Leaning in closer, he squinted.

“You can see now,” Marzena said, as the horror of what was behind her eyes began to dawn on Torus, “why I have such need for secrecy.” In the black pools of her eyes, where the pupils should have been, two green worms, opened their maws menacingly. Gripping Torus’s hand, she leaned in close, until he felt as if he were drowning in the dark nothingness of her eyes.

“I have seen it,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “In my dreams, I have seen the dead rise, and the worms rain from the darkened skies. I have seen it. The prophecy… the prophecy is still unfolding. Even now, he draws power from her.”

“Who?” Torus asked.

Marzena looked at him, almost as if not comprehending. Then she whispered. “Kyuss… Kyuss is still alive!”

Marzena fell forward, but Torus caught her in his arms. “Marzena,” he said, leaning her back in the chair, “Marzena!”

Marzena opened her eyes.

“Who is Kyuss drawing power from?”

“Sha… Shalara.”

“Who is Shalara? Who is Shalara!”

Marzena eyes fluttered for a moment. She tried to say something, but before she could, her head fell forward in a dead faint.

Torus reached for her crown, and replaced it, watching impatiently for the illusion to once again take effect. He then lifted Marzena into his arms. Bursting through the doors that he had come through, he saw the servant still standing there.

“What happened?” the servant screamed. “What’s wrong with her?”

Torus didn’t answer him. He just kept walking. He didn’t know where he was going, or what he was doing. All he knew was that he needed to get her out of there. He needed to stop this thing that was happening to her.

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Update Schedule

When I started this blog, I made a conscious decision not to post a schedule for updates, because I wasn’t really sure whether or not I would be able to stick to one.  However, I’m starting to get a readership now, and having done several entries, I feel confident that I can commit to a schedule of one entry every two weeks. I don’t want to commit to any particular day, since this last one took considerably more time to compose than I anticipated, but let’s shoot for some time before Monday, and see how that goes.

As far as updating more frequently, I think anything more than what I’m doing right now will tax my capabilities considerably, since I usually spend the down time between entries reading books on feminism and mythology, and scouring the internet for information that will help me write my next entry. Hopefully, you’re all enjoying what I’m writing. Take care.

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Intoduction
“Hollow’s Last Hope” is an adventure for 1st level characters that was released by Paizo Publishing for the 2007 celebration of Free RPG Day. In this adventure, the PCs must search for medicinal ingredients in order to save the villagers of Falcon’s Hollow, who are suffering from a fatal disease, called blackscour. While the adventure takes them to many locations, this article’s analysis will focus on the mythological effect of the encounter between the PCs and the cauldron at Ulizmila’s hut. Warning: The following article contains spoilers.

Ulizmila, Baba-Yaga, and the Goddess of Fire

“Ulizmila,” the module explains, “is a wise woman, practitioner of the old ways… a monstrous hag and great, great grandaughter of Baba Yaga herself.” It is this statement that gives us a clue as to Ulizmila’s mythological origins. Baba Yaga- Ulizmila’s great, great grandmother- is actually a figure from mythology; an old woman who frequently appears in Russian folklore. Like Ulizmila, Baba Yaga is sometimes helpful and sometimes malevolent. In the story, “Vassilissa the Beautiful,” for example, Vasilisa is sent by her cruel stepsisters and stepmother to fetch a light from Baba Yaga, in the hopes that the old woman will eat the young girl. After performing several tasks for the old woman, Vasilisa is eventually released by Baba Yaga, who gives her a skull, with burning eyes, mounted on top of a post. “Here’s the fire for your stepmother’s daughters,”Baba Yaga says to Vasilisa, “Take it to them. That’s what they sent you here for, and I hope they enjoy every bit of it!” When Vasilisa returns, she finds that her stepmother and stepsisters have been living for several days in darkness, unable to bring any light into the house. Upon seeing Vasilisa, the stepmother grabs the morbid torch from her, which then chases both her, and her two wicked daughters, about the house, eventually burning them to ash.1 With this story in mind, we can begin to see the parallels between Ulizmila and Baba Yaga. Both women give gifts that come at a terrible price. With Ulizmila, it is the gift of healing to Laurel’s grandmother, at the cost of her eyesight. With Baba Yaga, it is the gift of fire at the cost of Vasilisa’s stepmother’s and stepsister’s lives. These similarities between Ulizmila and Baba Yaga, combined with their shared lineage, suggest that the two women are, in fact, the same woman, or at least the same mythological archetype.

Remaining on the subject of Baba Yaga for the moment, the literal translation of ‘Baba Yaga’ is ‘Grandmother Yaga,’ and traditionally, it has been believed that ‘Yaga’ derives from the Proto-Slavic ‘yega,’ which means ‘disease,’ ‘fright,’ or ‘wrath.’2 However, it is possible that her name may derive from another etymological source whose source is more firmly rooted in mythology. Tabiti- whose name literally translated means ‘Heating’- is the goddess of the sun and of the element of fire in Scythian mythology. She is a goddess who has gone by many names. In Indo-Aryan mythology, Tabiti is known as Agni, the god of fire, which is etymologically similar to one of Tabiti’s other Scythian names, Aga- which means ‘Fiery Cauldron.’ In Russian, the word ‘ogon’is derived from the name Agni, a word which also means ‘cauldron.’ Therefore, it seems possible that the name Yaga may actually be an etymological variation on the name Aga, and that Baba Yaga may actually be the goddess Tabiti in disguise.

In order to verify this etymological association between Baba Yaga and the goddess, Tabiti, we must again turn to mythology to see if the two have any shared, mythological traits. Unfortunately, this is difficult, since the Scythians left behind no written accounts of their beliefs. Nevertheless, they did leave behind artistic depictions of the goddess as is evidenced from the figure below.

According to Sergei Rjabchikov, this artistic representation depicts “a fiery horse, a hut standing on four chicken legs (as in Russian fairy tales) and a woman with the fiery hair. A child is seen in this fairytale hut.3 These data correspond to the Russian fairy-tales about Baba Yaga.” In other words, the images associated with Tatibi are also associated with Baba Yaga. In fact, if we turn to the story, “Vasilissa the Beautiful,” we see evidence of this. The character of Vasilissa corresponds to the image of the child in the fairytale hut, while Baba Yaga’s three riders- who, incidentally, control the movements of the sun- correspond to the image of Tatibi’s fiery horse. Rjabchikov also mentions the association of  Tabiti with the Roman goddess of the hearth, Hestia, in the History of Herodotus (Book IV), and the parallel association with Baba Yaga, who is often depicted as sleeping on or near the hearth.4 Finally, there is the fiery skull that Baba Yaga gives to Vasilissa, which further connects her to the goddess of fire. These corresponding themes, combined with the etymological associations between Tatibi and Baba Yaga, suggest strongly that the two characters are, in fact, the same, and that Baba Yaga is actually the goddess Tatibi in disguise.

Having already made the connection between Ulizmila and Baba Yaga, it is easy to see how Ulizmila is also the goddess in disguise. In fact, Ulizmila’s hut is guarded by an animated cauldron, a symbol that etymologically and mythologically completes the ties between her and the goddess Tatibi. The question then, is, what is to be understood from these connections?

In a previous entry, I discussed the mythology of the castrating womb, a symbol, which is more commonly known as the ‘vagina dentata.’ This symbol is representative not only of the patriarchal fear of feminine power, but also of the sexual act. As Barbara Walker states, “Ancient writings describe the male sexual function not as ‘taking’ or ‘posessing’ the female, but rather ‘being taken’ or putting forth.’ Ejaculation was viewed as a loss of a man’s vital force, which was eaten by a woman.”5 With this in mind, we begin to see that the encounter at Ulizmila’s hut is more than just an encounter with a metal construct. Rather, it is a mythological actually a patriarchal reenactment of the sexual act. Here, the PCs are enacting the role of the male entering the female, represented, in this case, by Ulizmila’s hut. The medicine that the PCs have been sent for- a symbol of healing, life, and restoration, traits which are normally associated with the feminine divine- takes the form of a root known as rat’s tail, which might symbolically represent the ‘vital force’of the castrated male. There is also the cauldron, a manifestation of the vagina dentata (complete with stat block), which must be physically attacked and destroyed (by phallic imagery of swords, spears, and clubs no less), before the consummation of the encounter can be said to be official. It should also be noted that the element, fire, is an element that consumes everything it touches, much like the vagina dentata, and is an element that is equally associated with the cauldron, Ulizmila, Baba Yaga, Hestia, and Tatibi. With these images in mind, it is difficult to deny the sexual imagery inherent in this particular scene, and the fear that patriarchal culture has of these female powers.

Now some might claim that the act of destroying the vagina dentata is an act that allows the girl to finally become a woman through the consummation of the sexual act. For example, there is a Native American myth of how Coyote uses a stone to grind down the teeth of First Woman’s vagina, an act that First Woman considers pleasing, for she is now capable of joining with Coyote. In the case of the encounter at Ulizmila’s hut, however, there is no sense that the act is anything other than destructive. When the cauldron is destroyed, and the rat’s tail is retrieved, the hut has no further value, either to the PCs or anyone else. As such, the act of destroying the vagina dentata seems more like an act of rape than an act of mutual consent and is therefore completely unlike the mutual consummation of the sexual act enacted by Coyote and First Woman.

An Exchange of Vital Energies

In spite of the module’s shortcomings, there is something positive that can be said about the author’s treatment of female imagery in this scene. Like the fire of the goddess, Ulizmila is written as both a destructive and creative force, one that is helpful yet harmful, a source of both life and death. She is willing to share her power with those who are respectful, even though that power may come at a price. On the other hand, the full fury of her fiery wrath is unleashed against those who attempt to violate her feminine space. In these regards, the author’s treatment of goddess imagery is superb. In fact, with a few minor adjustments, this encounter could be rewritten in a way that is highly respectful of the female goddess. Consider, for example, the following:

When Laurel first tells the PCs of Ulizmila and the rat’s tail, she says to them “I don’t know what [Ulizmila] might want for it, but I doubt it’d come cheap. My grandmother traded her sight to the old crone for a few pages of what she knew.” Later, the module describes Ulizmila as “a harsh but wise sage, willing to share her wisdom for strange and often morbid prices.” These comments are clues that the PCs must be willing to sacrifice something of value in exchange for Ulizmila’s services.

When the PCs go to Ulizmila’s hut, they find an amulet of a shrunken head hanging in the doorway. This amulet is the soulspeaker, a new magic item mentioned in the adventure module. As the PCs approach, the eyes of the stitched head stretch open, and in a raspy voice, it says to them, “A pound of flesh from your inner thigh, is all that I ask in exchange for entrance. Throw the flesh into my cauldron, and you may take one item from my stores.” If the PCs agree to the terms of the deal, and cut away a pound of flesh from their thigh, throwing it into the pot as the head asks, they may enter the hut and search for the rat’s tail. This sacrifice results in a permanent, -1 penalty to the PC’s Constitution. This penalty can only be removed by the effects of a regenerate spell.

The cauldron, meanwhile, has been ordered to attack anyone who does not cut away their flesh, and throw it into the cauldron, before entering.

1. The Anotated Baba Yaga
http://www.surlalunefairytales.com/babayaga/index.html

2. The Encyclopedia of Religion
http://www.bookrags.com/Baba_Yaga

3. Rjabchikov, Sergei V. “Remarks on the Scythian, Sarmatian and Meotian Beliefs”
http://www.anthroglobe.info/docs/Sergei/scythian-sarmatian-meotian-beliefs.htm

4. Rjabchikov, Sergei V. “The Scythian and Sarmatian Sources of the Russian Mythology and Fairy-Tales”
http://www.anthroglobe.info/docs/Sergei/scythian-sarmatian-Russian-mythology-fairytales.htm

5. Walker, Barbara. “Vagina Dentata- from The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets” (Note: Images contained on this site may not be suitable for children or work.)
http://www.goddesscafe.com/yoni/dentata.html

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