Wednesday, August 18, 2021

OSR: Psychopomps, Final Judgement and Life After Death

This is what happens after you die.  I heavily borrowed from Arnold K's post on the same subject.  He also inspired the general idea of including Psychopomps in my setting. 

The best way to do this is to have a hat or bag with strips of folded paper in it.  Have the player draw from it after you add the relevant Psychopomps.  Alternatively, assign each Psychopomp they're likely to meet, then have them roll. 

Then roll 1d6.



1- Late.  The Psychopomp sent to retrieve your soul is late or no one shows up for a bit.  If you run now, you'll probably escape, for a while.
2- Double-Booked.  Have the player draw again.  Someone else shows up as well.  It's a robbery or a clerical error, depending on who is here.
3-6- Nothing special.

Put the Psychopomps Laboring Soul, Very Specific Death, Demon into the hat, plus any other relevant ones.  Then have the player draw one.

by Raquel Cornejo


Laboring Soul
HD 1d3
Qualification: Default  

A soul from Sheol, sent to guide you.  They resemble a mortal, but insubstantial and partially translucent.  Additionally, they all have ropes of gleaming black pearls tightly knotted around their bodies.  Some are covered with pearls, laden down with these black jewels, while others only bear a few.  For every good deed or faithful year of service, one pearl falls and dissolves into the ether.

Laboring Souls are usually not that strong and should you resist them, will not fight, but will instead flee and call for back-up.  They might encourage you to flee, but most will simply ask you to come along politely.  Laboring Souls carry torches that hide them from Demons and the Servants of Chaos so even though they are weak, they can still bring you safely to the Underworld.  If you run from one, you're likely to encounter something far less pleasant.    

Very Specific Death
HD 3
Qualification: Default

A bureaucrat of Death, sent to retrieve you after your soul separated from your body permanently.  Resembles a Skeleton in somber robes and a dark hood.  Carries a book of names for all the souls he has to collect today, and a pocket watch that he is uses to keep himself punctual.  He has a very busy schedule and no time for nonsense.

Very Specific Deaths only collect certain types of souls, such as "Adventurers cannibalized by Ghouls in a Cave, Cavern or Tunnel System" or "Housewife immolated in her kitchen".  They don't like to fight and are very dedicated to professionalism, customer service and politeness.  They'll chat with you and are quite sociable, with their jobs never giving them much time to socialize.  However, they will not let you return to life, or even hint that it's a possibility.  That would be a strict violation of policy.  If you roll "Double-Booked" and two of these guys show up, they will begin arguing over who actually has jurisdiction, showing each other forms and threatening to contact supervisors.  They'll still be able to keep an eye on you while doing this.

And while they have a distate for violence, should a charge attempt to escape, they will produce a murderous looking scythe and cut down the fleeing soul.    

HD 1d6+2
Qualification: Default

An astral predator, come to prey upon the recently deceased.  Depending on who you are and what you have done, the Demon might take a variety of approaches.  It might attempt to gobble you up and devour you, allowing you to strength it while you spend the next thousand years digesting in it's stomach, in constant agony but unable to die; but if you're strong, this might not be an option.  In which case, the Demon might attempt to trick you into coming with it or offer to make a deal with you.  Most Demons have the ability to restore people to life, either through their own power or through mortal proxies.  However, the cost for doing so will be high.  Demons do not work for free. 

Demons are shapeshifters and have extremely unique appearances.  Roll on this table to determine the Demon's appearance.

Heavenly Bailiff
HD 1d6+2
Qualification: Offended the Gods of Heaven, the Lords of Law

You must have done something bad for this guy to show up.  An Angel of Law, with one or more of the following traits: glowing white wings; perfect, symmetrical body; four, six or eight arms; voice like a blowtorch; bleeding metallic blood from a persistent wound.  This creature is an Agent of Heaven sent to ensure you do not escape from them.  You will be seized and hauled down for trial in Sheol.  If you're facing one of these, you can probably assume what the verdict at your Judgement will be. 

Heavenly Baliffs are armed with chains of light and Bidents useful for pinning creature's limbs down.  They are skilled at catching escapees.  Even if you escape this one, it will continue to pursue you until it catches you. 

Archon of the Underworld
HD 8+1d4
Qualification: Seriously harmed the Cause of Law or the Lords of the same

The Archons of the Underworld are dead Law Gods who are sent below to govern Sheol, as they have no place in this world.  However, under rare circumstances, they are permitted to return to the living world.  This is one of those circumstances.  Archons come in all forms, from gray-faced children bearing the wounds that killed them, dripping glowing white-gold blood to astounding;y beautiful, inhuman sculptures of metal and bone that merge together in such a way it is impossible to tell where one begins and another ends.  Archons are generally dour figures, bitter and grim.  They will relish capturing you, but are usually not cruel, though they can be very harsh with those who refuse to cooperate.  That being said, they'll be a little disappointed if you don't fight at least a bit.

Archons do not have the ability to order Creation with their Speech as living Gods do, but they still possess great powers.  They have the powers of Superman, plus shapeshifting and energy blasts.

by Alexandr Elichev

Angel of Isfet
HD 1d6+2
Qualification: Were a Servant of Chaos in life and was actually effective

If you swore yourself to the cause of Chaos in life, the Chaos Gods marked you as one of their own.  As such, if you are dead and they would prefer you not to be, when they hear you leave your mortal coil they might dispatch an Angel of Isfet after you.  If you were actually effective in spreading Chaos and performed some valuable actions to weaken Law, take out the Demon and put one of these in the hat.

Angels of Isfet resemble Demons, but they make Demons look positively drab.  They have glorious plumage, dozens of multi-faceted eyes and/or more tentacles than you can shake a stick at.  They will offer to bring you back to life if you're willing to recommit to the cause of Chaos and revolution and will give you your next assignment, should you choose to accept it.  Of course, should you not, they will abandon you to your fate. 

Angels of Isfet can fight, but usually choose not to.  If you don't want to continue the good fight, that's your problem.  If they must fight though, they fight with their weaponized shapeshifting as well as spectral fire, lightning and acid. 

Prince of Chaos
HD 7+1d3
Qualification: Were a Servant of Chaos in life and was very effective

The Princes, or Gods, of Chaos are a fickle bunch.  The Folk are stable compared to their mercurial moods and sudden, almost bipolar behavior.  As such, the Princes do not usually come directly to the aid of their servants, who they regard as mostly expendable.  As such, if you have attracted their personal attention, you are likely an arch-villain, a prized slave who makes the Agents of Law tremble.  If you are someone who attract the forces of Law wherever you go, have killed a King or done something similarly ground-breaking, take out the Demon and add a Prince of Chaos.

Princes resemble beautiful, malformed creatures, living cascades of features that alter their size and shape on a whim.  A Prince of Chaos could resemble an irresistible hermaphrodite with lobster claws and a stallion's lower limbs or a living sculpture of glass of swirling sand hair and features of lightning or anything in between.  The Prince will offer to return you to life to continue your work, if you demonstrate your continued loyalty.  The Prince may simply resurrect you, but it may also grant you another boon, should you ask for it.  You probably shouldn't, as Princes of Chaos are known not only for their malice, but their strange and cruel senses of humor.  Asking for the strength of ten men might cause it to cause ten tiny clones of you to grow partially out of your skin, tiny hands, torsos and arms emerging from all over your body.  Each one has it's own sub-personality and they all constantly bicker.

If you refuse the Prince's offer, he might drag you off to be his personal play-thing for a couple hundred thousand years, or he might reincarnate you as a slug for refusing his generous offer.

artist unknown

Heroic Ancestor
HD what he or she had in life
Qualification: Helped your people in life

If you faithfully served your people or helped them in some significant way while you were still alive, add as many of these as you feel are appropriate to the hat. 

Your grandfather is very proud of you, even though you are separated by at least 10 generations.  He has a very unique offer for you- you should remain in this world and instruct your friends to bury your body in the soil of your homeland, then begin making offerings to you.  If enough people do, you will be able to become an Ancestral Spirit, a guardian of your kin and tribe till they vanish from this world or the world crumbles into ash, whatever comes first. 

If you choose this option, you cannot be resurrected in any way, for you will have moved beyond death in most cases.  But your friends will still be able to see you and receive your help, and your family and later descendents will be able to call upon you strength, even after all those currently alive have returned to the dust of the earth. 

Spirit of the Land

HD what it had when you last encountered it
Qualification: Had a significant involvement with a Spirit or Confederacy of Spirits

If a character had significant involvement with a Spirit or a number of Spirits, especially if he died with unfulfilled obligations, add any number of cards labeled as Spirits.  If one of these are drawn, the Spirits he has the most involvement with will show up. 

Depending on the type of Spirit and what it wants, things could go very differently.  A Law Spirit will probably demand you transfer your obligations to someone still alive then escort you to the House of Judugement, while a Nature or Chaos spirit might reincarnate you, in exchange for another favor or service. 

Alternatively, if you were hostile to a Spirit or it's goals, it might just devour your soul and enslave you to it for a million years.   

Less Specific Death
HD 5
Qualification: Reached Level 5 or have escaped death once before

Unlike the Very Specific Deaths, these guys have more lattitude and autonomy when reaping.  They are managers and administrators of lesser deaths, but also have their own souls to collect.  However, because of their expanded roles, they collect souls under much broader categories.  For example, a Less Specific Death could be assigned all "Murders motivated by sexual passion or disgust within the Kingdom of Jikal". 

Unlike their lesser counterparts, these Deaths are noble and regal in bearing, their fingers heavy with rings and necks laden with necklaces, trinkets and souvenirs taken from the dead who resisted.  Their robes are trimmed in the fur of spirit-creatures, the black fabric dark as the night.  They are quite often arrogant, but can also be cultured and charming.  They love to boast and brag, and since their minions have no doubt heard the same stories literally millions of times since they were assigned to their dead-end positions, the Less Specific Death is very eager for a new person to relay his stories to.  Expect to hear about all the famous people he has reaped, the runaways who almost escaped, the labyrthine office politics of the House of Judgement and the Order of Reapers and a bunch of other things you can't possibly be expected to know or care about.

Less Specific Deaths will not let you return to life, but they are willing to make small concessions, such as letting you see your loved ones or deliver a short message to your friends before departing.  Do not take advantage of their kindness, however, as you will regret it. 

HD 9
Qualification: Reached Level 8 or have escaped death at least twice

The big man himself.  Is this the original, OG Death?  Maybe, he's not telling.  Regardless, he's the head of the Order of Reapers and Chief Psychopomp for the House of Judgement.  If you got him out here, you must have done something really impressive.  Unlike his subordinates, he's quite reasonable, but he has a job to do, you understand?  It's really nothing personal.

If you seem sufficiently talented, he will offer you a chance to join the Death's Head, a special team of trouble-shooters that are usually deployed specifically to apprehend people like you.  He's also willing to offer you a bit of leniency with the Court, if you come quietly.  He knows what it's like, dying sucks, but it's a part of life.  If they start breaking rules now it'll just create a wound that will fester and fester until the bottom falls out and the boundary between Sheol and the Living World is torn asunder.  So really, it's in your best interest and the interest of everyone alive if you just come with him.

If you try and resist him, he'll slap you around a bit, then bring you in.  He won't take you seriously until you do some real damage to him.  Then he'll retreat and call for back-up.

Death's Head (Psychopomp Special Operations Team)
HD Each of the 1d4+4 heroes has 1d4+2 HD
Qualification: Killed a Death or attacked Old Bones himself

These guys resemble a bunch of mortal souls dressed in black robes like deaths and decked out with bone-and-silver armor with matching weapons.  Lots of chains, skulls and scythes.  So many scythes.  These guys are here to bring you and if they have to cut you into ribbons and bring you in like confetti, they will.  

Qualification: Had a mission you were primarily focused on for the majority of your life

If you died with some major obligation or desire unfulfilled, you can become a Ghost.  You can only do this if your obligation or desire was a core element of your personality.  Leaving the oven on is not sufficient motivation, but if your whole shtick was protecting Princess Miriam and you die while protecting her, but unsure of her ultimate fate, you can return as a Ghost.  And while a fresh Ghost will be mostly comparable to the person who died, over time they degrade until they become obsessives, focused only on what their driving mission is.  

They also tend to go crazy from the strain of watching the world go on without them.  For example, if the Ghost whose purpose was to protect Princess Miriam watches her die of old age, it won't be able to accept the fact that she died and he could do nothing.  So he'll start to lose it, and adopt some new girl as his "Princess Miriam" or he'll simply begin taking revenge upon those who he feels are responsible for her death, or perhaps something else equally mad.

artist unknown

The House of Judgement:

Assuming you were collected by a Death and didn't try to become a Spirit or something else wacky, you will be brought to the House of Judgement, which is the fortress of the Archons, who claim to rule the Underworld.  They don't rule it all actually, but that's a story for another time.  They do rule enough of it to matter thought. 

When you arrive here, your name will be looked up in the Book of Names, which records the names of all creatures who can die (almost all of them) and their scheduled time of death.  Yours will be there and odds are you will be late, as psychopomps are usually overworked, underpaid and not as motivated as they could be.  Regardless, you will be processed and then brought before the Court. 

You will be Judged by an Archon of the Underworld, who is aided by a number of deceased mortal judges.  These judges will be mortals who aided the cause of Law in their lives, heroes, warriors, the just and proud.  The amount will vary depending on who you are and how important you were, but it will be an uneven number.  A normal mortal can expect two judges plus an Archon, but a King can easily expect up to 6 judges plus an Archon, and the greatest of heroes are judged not only by multiple Archons, but by vast parliaments of the heroic dead. 

Your Final Judgement will be decided according to these terms:

What good actions, according to the Law engraved upon the Rock of Eternity, did you perform while still alive?

Similarly, what evil actions did you perform?

Example Good actions include fighting evil, saving innocents and doing heroic things. 

Example Evil actions include seeking to oppress others for your own gain, devouring innocents for your own purposes and perverting or violating the laws of God and King, including the Law of Nature.  Necromancy would be included under that last category, as would coming back to life without divine sanction.  

Have the players count up the number of notable actions the character performed while still alive.  Did he save the city of Au-Mar?  Did he kidnap a princess to be his wife?  Did he engage in large amounts of tomfoolery or mischief?  Did he jaywalk?

Each Good Act gives him a +1 to his Goodness.  Base Goodness is 10.  Each notable Evil Act gives him -1.  Then have the player roll a d20. 

Roll under your Goodness and you have earned a pleasant afterlife experience.  You will be escorted to the Eternal Mountain, a beautiful place of rolling hills and emerald grass, with trees constantly in full bloom and crystal-clear water, a land shrouded in cleansing mists, frozen at the moment just before the dawn, the sun always just behind the impossibly distant peak.  It is said that when the sun fully rises from behind the mountain, all truth shall be revealed and time itself shall end.  Whatever that means. 

The Eternal Mountain is a place full of other righteous creatures, lavish gardens and trees carrying plump fruits good for eating.  Those sent here, depending on their levels of goodness, are permitted to climb a certain height up the mountain.  It is said that while the bottom of the mountain holds conventional pleasures like marriage, good food that never fattens you or spoils your perfect spiritual form and endless time to labor and improve yourself, the higher reaches host the sublime pleasures.  Those who climb higher and higher up the mountain occasionally return, bearing strange knowledge and blessed with unexplainable peace.

Those who roll exactly their Goodness are sent to the Fields of Ash, where they will wander with all those who did not choose evil but could not strive to elevate themselves above their bestial nature.  They will wander in the shade of a lidded sun, rest under naked trees and eat ashes till the end of time.  But from the edges of their fields or the tops of their trees, they will be able to see the Palaces of Pain, and thus they will count themselves lucky. 

Alternatively, under specific circumstances, souls ordinarily sent to the Fields of Ash might be permitted to atone for their misdeeds, either through service after death or through reincarnation, the soul in question being sent back to the world with their memories erased. 

Those who roll over their Goodness are sent to the Palaces of Pain, a series of descending layers where the wicked are banished.  The Palaces are organized in layers and souls are sent to each depending on their crimes.  Murderers are further down then thieves, while coveters are higher than adulterers.  Some of these layers have horrible tortures for the souls who come to them, most carried out willingly by the other souls who inhabit those layers.  Some of these Palaces have no such torments planned, and the punishment is merely being trapped in a place full of people exactly as terrible and selfish as you. 

Fighting Death to Live Forever:

I already outlined how to come back to life here.  One thing this post is meant to help is the fact that you will likely be confronted by a Psychopomp when you die and should you wish to not be taken away, you might have to fight them.

Remember however that Psychopomps such as the Deaths and others attached to the House of Justice or the cause of Law will be much more motivated to apprehend you.  Psychopomps tied to Chaos will not be as motivated, as they have no duty, only a desire to help you.

by Raymond Swanland for Magic the Gathering

1 comment:

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