U is for Ubume – Monstrous Mondays

An image of an ubume created by Toriyama Sekien in the 18th century

The first of the Japanese ones, it seem to be that if you’re looking for something starting with a odd letter u or x or o look outside Europe and you’re more likely to find something – transliteration of foreign alphabets can result in unusual spellings.

 

History

A monster that been part of japanese myth since about the twelfth century, in tales of a ghost twisted cronefaced woman that died in childbirth. The haggard woman appears on stormy nights carrying her baby, crying for help asking passersby to hold the baby, once they take it she disappears and the baby becomes heavier and heavier then turning into a boulder crushing the person. A ghost born out of the story of a woman who had an untimely tragic death, there are many of them cross the world.

The lady in white and La Llorona are a few more close-to-home ghosts of this type. The lady in white is a type of ghost found in  rural areas across the world but most commonly in the UK and the New England part of America, it is said that she has had a tragic death just after and due to the death of her child (or sometimes betrayal by her husband) but roads, cars and horses can sometimes be involved too. She is seen on her own in the middle of nowhere, and causes anyone that communicates with her to die shortly afterwards – sometimes seen as a hitchhiker and whoever picks her up crashes and dies.

La Llorona is a Mexican story of a woman who lost her children in the river and cries while is looking for them. One version tells of her doing this after she has drowned them herself in a fit of rage, after finding her husband in the midst of an affair. It is said that she will try to steal children away to drown with herself now and again, or sometimes simply that she causes misfortune to those who see or hear her due to her extremely cursed natured.

I find La Llorona a lot more scary than the white lady but comparison between these two and Ubume is interesting – they all show how a ghost is born from pain and how misery loves company.

In media, whichever of these beings they use is usually just treated as a ghost story – but sometimes in TV shows like Grimm and Supernatural she is shown as some kind of monster that people need to be saved from because she is trying to kill them, which is tragic in that if someone had saved her from her pain then she would not be a ghost in the first place.

 

Ubume Physiology

  • A crone faced woman, with long wet black hair and crying eyes.
  • A woman body wrapped in red silk, carrying a babe in her arms.
    • Sometimes she is instead heavily pregnant.
    • Or her body is covered in blood and she is carrying her underdeveloped fetus, since she miscarried and died in the process.
  • She usually wears no shoes but sometimes she has no feet at all since she is a ghost and a lot of them don’t.
  • She some shown to have bird like features, like a beak on her face and feathers on her and/or bird like feet, if so it said she has come to steal a baby away. These two very different image of her are because of some linguistic coincidences (baby-snatching bird and birthing mother being somewhat similar) and the conflation of the original japanese myth with a chinese bird-woman who could shed her feathers to appear human.

She is found on stormy nights near where she had the baby which is often depicted as near a river or woodland. And she and other ghost like her are always found on there own just wanting a bit of help, just reminding you how much helping a stranger can hinder you sadly.

Ideas

  • The hero could be there and find the baby if it alive give a home, it dead lead it and the mother to rest. It shouldn’t be too hard as the ghost only appears near where she gave birth.
  • The boulder/baby she gives could be a spell component for many a transmutation spell, a death curse or a necromantic ritual. Where an ubume baby is needed you would have to stop it becoming the boulder, while if you want the boulder you have to stop it killing you.
  • Now this one really cheesy – a time traveler how chooses to go back to try help all these ghosts when they’re still alive so they don’t die tragically so they don’t become these ghost.

 

If want to read more about any of these monster feel free to look at the  links below.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Lady_(ghost)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_Llorona

http://yokai.com/ubume/

https://hyakumonogatari.com/2010/12/29/two-tales-of-ubume/

https://hyakumonogatari.com/tag/ubume/

http://matthewmeyer.net/blog/2010/10/23/a-yokai-a-day-ubume/

Edo Kabuki in Transition: From the Worlds of the Samurai to the Vengeful female ghost

 

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V is for Vampires – Mythic Mondays

Isabella Livingston photographed by Lana Lee

Vampire

They’re everywhere today, usually as some teenage girl’s love interest, if we knew their history would we find them so attractive?

History

Though the concept of blood-drinking corpses is an old one, the exact forms have varied over time – and the modern vampire concept owes its shape to a surge in encounters in Eastern Europe during the “Age of Enlightenment”.

Whispers of vampires became louder in the late 17th century in the Balkans and most of Eastern Europe, with mass stakings of corpses to pin them into their coffins. From there the stories spread to the rest of Europe in tales of the ugly, pale creature that comes in the night to drink your blood – a vampiric human that lives forever, as long as they stay out of the sun, and looks like a corpse but never rots.

Over the years many stories have been told, they’re one of the best known monsters in pop culture and they feature prominently in YA and urban fantasy. But it is the stories of Carmilla and Dracula that gave birth to the vampire we know today, the killer that we fall in love with because they are always beautiful, that hypnotise us and change into animals at will. Taking humans as their partners turning them and loving them forever or killing them slowly in a state of ecstasy.
Those stories may well have drawn not just from the Eastern European vampire but from the Daemonologie written by King George, in which corpses could be inhabited by incubi and succubi, with properties similar to those of vampires but with more beauty and lust.

 

But what caused these stories of vampire to start, what are they really? Well many aspects of the physiology of vampire can be explained by diseases.

Porphyria is one of them, it is an inherited disease which comes in a few different forms – one of them is that the skin becomes sensitive to sunlight, if sufferers go out in the sun they blister and burn far worse than normal. This not only explains the idea that vampires don’t go out in the day it also provides their pale skin and the idea that they burn up in the sun.

Tuberculosis (TB) may be another disease from which the theories of vampires spawn. It is an airborne bacterial infection, that mostly affects the lungs of it victims – it often makes them turn very pale, with swellings in their neck, tiredness and fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss and can cause them to cough up blood because of the damage to their lungs. All these symptoms have been mentioned as a sign that someone has been fed on by vampire in a lot of the old stories.

Catalepsy is a nervous condition that makes the body go rigid, it could be connected to the idea the vampire could stand so still. It also slows down someone’s heart and breathing rate meaning they may appear dead, and after some time they would be able to move again and the heart rate and breathing rate return to normal, so they may get back up after someone thought they were dead.

People understood less about how the body broke down after it died back then, how the body decomposed and the form that decomposition took, like how the hair, nails and teeth sometimes appear to grow for a few days after the death, as the skin covering their roots peels back, and how the decomposition of the body takes some time to set in, especially in cold places like the Balkans. After death gases in the body build up, these gases can make the body make noise and muscles move which means they sit up, move arms, legs or roll over when they are dead, and these gases also inflate the abdomen which makes the body look like it has gorged on something, and if you were to stab that inflated abdomen then it would rupture and fluids would drain out.

 

In a more mystical vein the reason they can’t be seen in mirrors is because it was once believed that mirrors allowed you to see people’s souls and vampires have no soul therefore they cannot be seen. The same applied for cameras when they were invented which is why they cannot be seen in a photograph or video in some stories.

 

Physiology

Head to toes

  • Human undead
  • They sometimes have glowing eyes and/or pointy ears
  • Fangs – sometimes just the top 2 canines, sometime all 4 of them and other have nothing but fangs – no teeth that aren’t sharp.
  • They feed on blood, or sometimes on life essence such as the chinese ones, the Jiangshi, that feed on chi – and hop everywhere which is just funny, although potentially horrifying for ones that are half-rotten.
  • Humanoid chest and arms.
  • Humanoid hands sometimes with sharp claws.
  • Human legs and feet.
  • They’re sometime veiny all over, but usually pale.
  • Sometimes they’re stunningly beautiful, other times gaunt and unattractive – it’s rare for vampires to be of average appearance.
  • They have no soul.
  • Superhuman strength and speed
  • Some can turn into animals
  • Unaging, they can only be killed by a few things
    • Decapitation
    • Fire
    • The Sun
    • Silver
    • A stake through the heart – but in some stories this only serves to nail them into their coffin, so if it is ever removed the vampire may wake again.
      • Sometimes this is the preferred method as the vampire is possessed by a dark spirit – and destroying the body completely would allow it to possess another, while trapping the body traps the spirit.
  • Some vampires can make ghouls which are partly turned people, they eat bugs and the leftovers the vampire make like body parts and bones, sometimes these ghouls can be controlled by the vampire that created them.
  • Some vampires can make thralls which are hypnotised humans, whose wills are slaved to the vampire. They usually drink from these thralls, and some may use them as a source of power within mortal governments and the like.

 

Ideas for your story and games

You could write a story or game from the thralls’ or ghouls’ point of view, how they see the vampires.

What if the reason vampires never look the mirror is not because they can’t be seen but because they can truly see the nightmares in it instead – forcing them to regard their own monstrousness.

Since they can turn into an animal can they become stuck in that form, how do they feed in that form, is that where the first vampire bats came from?

If they lose their soul when they’re turned, what happen to their soul? Does it die or disappear, or does it become a ghost linked to the vampire forever seeing all the hell that they bring about?

Could you give a vampires a soul – and would they get their own back or a new one? This could be done as a curse of remorse, or maybe a vampire would quest for their return to humanity, or perhaps their lover could give them it – if so, did they go on a great quest to find a new soul or is it a heart shaking story where they give the vampire part of their own soul, so they are forever connected, in some ways the two are one. Perhaps a marriage ceremony might have this effect – possibly even surprising a vampire who was getting married to help hide their nature.

 

p.s. There’s three days left on our Jigsaw Fantasy Kickstarter – take a look before it’s too late.

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W is for Wendigo – Monstrous Mondays

 

Photo of a caged Wendigo from the Wendigo Woods – taken by Greyloch

 

The first time I came across the Wendigo was in “Charmed” which had an interesting take on the concept – combining it rather strongly with werewolves. I have since learnt more about them.

History

Wendigo are a human eating monster of the Native Americans of the Algonguian tribes, dating from long before europeans ever set foot in their land.

The story tells of how people can be transformed by eating human flesh into a monster that lives only to eat more humans and yet is never full. Some say it is the unthinkable deed of cannibalism that transforms them, while other stories say it is a demon or evil spirit that does so, able to possess those who have engaged in the act. Many of the stories also tell about how they hurts and kills people out on their own in the northern forest but some talk about how it can be hunted and killed – the only way is with fire.

Because of its connection with evil spirits its image is sometimes changed in media to something more demonic, with horns and a ghastly grin.

 

Physiology

They tend to look humanoid in both shape and facial features but are sometime depicted with the head of a deer or just the antlers of a deer.

Red or yellow eyes – in more demonic interpretations they may glow.

They have sharp yellow teeth.

Very long arms – as long as their whole body.

Human like hands with long bony fingers and claw-like nails.

They generally have gaunt bodies which can be covered in grey, decaying skin or thick matted hair – with a long bony chest, akin to that seen in an emaciated corpse.

Big long legs with have been depicted as human or the hind legs of a deer.

Feet are normally human with long sharp claws, but they may be hooved – particularly in media where they’re associated with christian demons.

The have superhuman strength, move faster than any human can and are effectively immortal.

Questions

  • Could the demon or evil spirit be removed from the body somehow like when the body is hurt?
    • And if so could it be moved into someone else and harnessed to grant a host immortality or superhuman strength?
  • Does the human meat need to be fresh?

 

Story ideas

  • A good person who becomes a Wendigo but only eats the long dead and use the superhuman strength, speed and endurance to fight crime.
  • Some have taken over the town and you need to clear it out before it can be lived in again.
  • The Wendigo spirit could be the god of the forest or the underworld and it must be fed to keep it happy.

 

p.s. If you enjoy our thoughts on integrating myth and fantasy, check out Jigsaw Fantasy on Kickstarter or Patreon

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Using Jigsaw Fantasy 4: A Question of Rules

What we write is system and setting independent. While this means that things need to be adapted to your games, that is true of any published material – you know your games, your world, and your players better than anyone else after all. On the plus side this means what we write is applicable to a wider range of people and we are not tied to another company’s release schedule or edition changes.

There is one noteworthy issue in system-independent material, and that is the question of rules. If we were to publish rules for a gyik as, say, a level 8 monster in Pathfinder it may be useful for a few levels either side, but the range would be limited meaning that you would have to adapt it if your players are not in that range when you want to send them into the Sivatag Desert – and it would be almost completely useless to players of Savage Worlds. So how do you turn that gyik into a monster for your players to fight, or the giant sundew from Samudtratat Beach into an interesting terrain feature?

Well of course that depends on your game system. Most systems nowadays have advice on how to create the stats for something, and (unless you’re playing high level D&D 3.5) they’re generally pretty quick, if relatively basic. For something like Fate Accelerated (or even more so Risus) you can often just pull a few key lines out of the text and chuck a few numbers which feel right at the page and it’s sorted. Something like D&D or Gurps is more involved, but again between the guidance for creating monsters and NPCs in the book and the ideas it can certainly be done. If you find yourself struggling to create something within the guidelines given the simplest solution is often to look in the “Monster Manual” “Creature Compendium” “Baddy Book” or whatever else your chosen game calls its enemies section – look for creatures with similar abilities and just tweak them and change the description (and damage types if applicable).

When reading a description of a person, creature, plant, or anything else, look for the key parts of the description which would involve mechanics. For example the various characters in Red Lock Bay include descriptions of what they do best and what they are known for, as well as their history. That information should inform their key skill levels. The twins Daniel and Alan Herbert are skilled chefs, but just as much they are excellent showmen. It is fair to suggest they would be highly dexterous and charismatic (despite their appearance – many games unhelpfully conflate physical appearance and social ability) – many games have a stat called dexterity and another called charisma, but those which don’t will have analogues (such as agility, or charm). They also need high skills in cookery, butchery, fishing and whatever other related skills are in your game. As they are generally well respected it would be good to give them some degree of contacts, allies, or similar if your game uses them.

Ultimately, I believe, the rules should get out of the way and allow a good story to be told. Some things can be fudged , or things adapted into other things – for example Red Lock Bay’s Seaborne Ponies could use any regular pony stats with the addition of a swim skill (unless you were to take the suggestion of making them kelpies, in which case they are something altogether more complex). Sometimes, however, the mechanics are a good way to tell part of the story and there we have called out rules ideas – the Royal Panoply of Annem Ka is the only place I have felt a real need to do this. There I have made suggestions of what the various items and artifacts might do as they are awakened as their process of awakening and growing power is a key part of the story. Even here, though I have left the specifics to you – should the bonus to leadership skills that the Crown of Annem Ka provides be +2 or +5? Or should it grant proficiency in the skill?

These questions, and others, are ones that only you can answer because they depend on your world, your stories, what will help the players shine equally, and what you and your players will enjoy.

After all, is enjoyment not the entire reason we are here?

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Third Thursday Freebies: A Giveaway and a Beach

Third Thursday Freebies are generally a free digital short in the Jigsaw Fantasy style, but this month we have something special.

First, the normal:

Samudratat Beach is home to a mysterious hermit and some dangerous flora and fauna. Small though it may be, it manages to be touched by both the ocean and the sandy desert – tying in to the Oceans and Deserts Kickstarter

The Giveaway

We’ve partnered with The Giveaway Geek to run a special freebie this month – we’re giving away two full sets of Location Cards.

Check out the giveaway, and make sure to share it (it even gives you extra chances to win if you do!)

-Ste

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Using Jigsaw Fantasy 3: The Links

The setting material we write is not intended to be a joined up world – we’ve always written with an eye to modifying already existing worlds, whether published or homebrew. Between Jigsaw and Concept Cards, we’ve written enough that there could be a whole campaign setting in there – but that’s not their purpose.1)Using them in lieu of a structured campaign setting on the other hand is a perfectly reasonable option – it’s simply that each person doing so will end up with a different world

So Jigsaw Fantasy provides “Jigsaw Links” to help with this. How best can you use the Links in the appendix of each piece? In the Floating City, we describe the worship of Uzhangya, Goddess of the Sea. But she’s really specific – and whatever world you play, there will almost certainly be a deity of the sea already. So Uzhangya could be another sea-deity, or an aspect of an existing one, or you could swap her out with one of her fellow deities.

Continue reading →

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References   [ + ]

1. Using them in lieu of a structured campaign setting on the other hand is a perfectly reasonable option – it’s simply that each person doing so will end up with a different world

Using Jigsaw Fantasy 2: Cultures

Over the last year, between the Mythic Monday blogs, Death Rites Jigsaw piece, and elements from The Floating City; Emberek Tribes 1)coming soon on Kickstarter and more, we’ve sketched out details from dozens of cultures. What use are they? How do they fit into your stories?

Somewhere to visit – most adventurers are wanderers. Each week a new planet – ahem, location. Where are we today? What strange customs do the locals follow, and what kind of trouble will the heroes get into by not observing them? Is today the feast of the God of Silence, and the travellers get no replies to their queries for bed and board? Are men forbidden from speaking to anyone outside their family? Are all the undead in the fields not a plague but a workforce?

Origin stories – every hero needs one. Why become an adventurer – no home, probably no family, no community, no job security. Robbing tombs and killing vermin isn’t high up the desirable career choices of anyone. Is your hero an outcast? Seeking revenge? Desperate?

Is the reason Our Hero left home to do with the customs common at home – assuming home still exists at all. Think of Atalanta, who in at least some versions is left on a mountainside to die as an infant, because her father wanted a boy. We gave you the passengers on the Elkeru river – dead to their homeland, even if they survive the voyage.

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References   [ + ]

1. coming soon on Kickstarter

Using Jigsaw Fantasy 1: Environments

Environments-21-cave
The environment is nature trying to make your life interesting. Or difficult, whichever you prefer.

Unless your entire travel segment goes “it takes three weeks, and you arrive in the next city”, you are going to need something about where you are travelling through. Even in the city, the local environment has an effect – on architecture, on clothing, even on the demeanor of the inhabitants. Compare Alexandria with Venice with Oslo. The ancient versions, not the skyscraper forests. Any era before air conditioning and central heating, where you live affects you.

But the environment is particularly relevant to those who leave the city and explore the wildernesses – notably adventurers. Hacking through a forest, isn’t quite the same as punting through a swamp, sailing a boiling sea, or trekking through the desert.

Continue reading →

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Epic Environments – Deserts

Photo by Loggawiggler

Deserts

The desert is a harsh mistress… No wait, that was the moon. Anyway, deserts are harsh places. A desert is defined as anywhere that receives less than 250mm of rain a year, which means that technically parts of Antarctica are deserts. What we usually mean, though, is an area of rock and sand with very little water and even less life.

 

Death

They say you can survive 3 weeks without food, 3 days without water and 3 minutes without air (so I guess the moon really is harsher than any desert on Earth!). This means water management is extremely important if you wish to travel in the desert. What life there is tends to congregate around oases, the rare water sources which do appear in many deserts, or it lies dormant until the rare rains. In the Atacama Desert, in Chile, there is a phenomenon called the Flowering Desert – generally the area receives less than 12mm of rain a year, making it one of the driest places on the planet but every so often it receives heavy rain and the seeds germinate – for a few days the entire region is covered in thousands of species of wild flowers, and teeming with life which takes advantage of them. It is said to be absolutely beautiful.

The other problem with deserts is temperature – everyone knows deserts are hot (well, except for Antarctica), but the temperature drops rapidly at night, often falling below freezing. Many a traveller has frozen to death because they were unaware of that.  

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Epic Environments – Life on the Water

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Thomas Quine (Reed Islands of Lake Titicaca) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

The world’s land is limited, and the Earth’s surface is 70% water, so finding a way to live on the sea is a very attractive proposition, but truth be told it is actually very hard to do.

There a few ways to do it – you can island hop, live in a big ship and dock occasionally, or you can build a floating village. This week we’re looking at how floating villages can work, to go with last Thursday’s freebie.

 

Floating Villages

There a few of these around the world, Ha-Long Bay: in Vietnam Lake,  Stilt Village: in Ganvie in Africa, Tonle Sap: in a lake in Cambodia, Floating Islands of Uros: Titicaca Lake in Peru and Sama-Bajau which are found in the sea around the Philippine.

Most of these places are in stationary water, and are built on stilts which support the house. Despite all being called “floating villages” few of them are actually floating on the water unsupported – but although it’s rare it is possible. Two places where this unusual feat has been managed for centuries are the Uros whose homes are made completely from reeds which are found growing in the shallows of the lake and Ha-Long Bay where they live in house made of wood on top of either bamboo rafts or (in more modern times) empty metal or plastic barrels.

People living in these villages will generally eat mostly fish, seaweed and seafood like clams and crap, this mean they get a lot of water from their food means they have to find less clean water to drink. Drinking water can be made by boiling the lake water which will kill of most of the harmful bacteria, but more often it, along with vegetables, flowers and clothing will traded for from the mainland in exchange for the fish.

People that live in such places tend to have long lean bodies, can swim before they can walk and have deeply tanned skin since they are out fishing most days and there no shade from trees that far out in the water.  

Why Do They Live There? Continue reading →

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