Tuesday, 15 December 2020

The Realm of the Dead: Further Adventures in Entheogeneering

In Pariah, Volume 1 seven different realms are described — very briefly — as both a home to non-human intelligence and as a source of magic. One of these seven realms is the Here and Now of the world understood by human senses, with the other sixth realms existing in parallel to this but beyond the limits of ordinary perception. Ritual, magic and—most importantly—drugs enable pariahs to alter their perception and explore the worlds unfolding before them.


Still from Altered States

Though there's clear parallels here with the planar adventures of D&D, I really wanted to capture the otherworldliness somehow, so implored pariah players to come up with alternative approaches to play including swapping character sheets or playing completely different games all together.

Of course, the secret plan was to write an adventure/setting book for each realm, and I alluded to some experiments in a previous pariah post involving a trip to the realm of the dead

Procedurally Generated

Long-term readers will know that when I'm not ripping-off Goblin Punch (and the aforementioned's ascended acolytes) I'm generally plagiarising Cavegirl of Dying Stylishly Games. Together Gardens of Ynn and Stygian Library represent my favourite RPG material since returning to the hobby, and from those two esteemed sources I intend to borrow and re-purpose (aka detourne) the "depth" mechanic for generating the adventure.

Both Ynn and Stygian Library consist of tables of 34 locations and 35 details, each rolled for using 1d20. There are thus a possible 400 initial combinations of location and detail (20x20), with the roll augmented as the party travel deeper into the gardens/ library (my maths isn't good enough to work out how many total combinations there... remember modifying the roll raises the floor as well as the ceiling!)

(Okay I think there are 20+19 new combinations for each point above 20... so 39*14 + 400? 996 total. It can't be a flat 34*35 as it's not possible to generate Location "34" and detail "1". Oh, I also need to add in 20 possible combinations with detail "35"... so 1016 in total?)

(please correct me in comments)

The Realm of the Dead

Glory be to God by Georgiana Houghton

My concept for the Realm of the Dead replaces discrete locations with "vignettes"—smalls scenes which the pariahs encounter, which may or may not repeat and loop if they do not intercede.

The intensity and complexity of these vignettes increases with depth.

The environment is also randomly generated, but may represent climate conditions or vast terrains. This may present additional obstacles in the path of the pariahs as they embark on their journey.

The third randomly generated element is an ancestor. These will (initially) be recognisable to a member of the party as a friend or family member. As the party travel deeper, the ancestors become older, transforming into archetypes, before finally arriving at primal consciousnesses denied rebirth by some other more powerful spirit.

The ancestor will be linked in some way to the generated vignette.

The ancestor element will also be tied to the depth in some manner... I'm mainly thinking of "collecting" ancestors (or indeed other random spirits) but I'm very much open to suggestions (comment below?).

Still working also on how the characters negotiate this world: do they have items? Are they corporeal? But wanted to get some ideas down for the 15th Day of Advent.

Time in the realm of the dead corresponds exactly with game time in the real world. Thinking more about how o fit this in with the time dilation caused by sorcerer's sage and whether setting hard limits is fun or not.


0: The Half-World

After a powerful hit of sorcerer's sage the world drains of colour. Sound becomes dull and starts to echo, or becomes muffled and barely intelligible. The air seems somehow.. thicker: the pariah's movements are laboured and uncoordinated.

Otherwise this is the Here and Now just... slower. With sufficient will, however, the pariah can stand up and attempt to explore.

If beside the grave/place of internment/ancestral shrine/corpse of the recently dead, that person's spirit will be visible, communicative and confused. It will follow the party unless it can be given a good reason not to do so. 

Travel is peculiar and artificial: to a modern spectator the pariahs appear to be walking like poorly animated cartoons, the background moving at a different rate to the pace suggested by their legs. When they look back to where they were, they can see themselves sat cross-legged, perhaps salivating. Bonded spell-spirts will be visible, flitting about the motionless body of the pariah in whatever form the GM thinks is appropriate. 

Exploring the half-world for a period of ten minutes automatically leads to the generation of a new vignette. Add 1 depth.

1: Heads on Spikes

Heads on Spikes by Richard Ellis/ roboellis

1d6+1 10' bamboo spikes are fixed into the ground, atop which a human head is skewered. The heads are conscious and uncomfortable but apparently not in pain. All of them are convinced they are still alive and are desperate to be reunited with their body . One of them is an ancestor of a randomly determined party member.

1d6 Characteristics of non-ancestral severed head: 
1. Can't speak, spike holding mouth shut. Mumbles.
2. Eyeless- totally blind. Can sense pariahs in some other way.
3. Nasal voice, plaintive.
4. Enormous, nearly twice the size of a typical head. Looks heavy.
5. Open-top skull, visible brains.
6. No teeth, hard to understand.

1d6 Personality Quirks
1. Ill-mannered and indignant.
2. Plaintive.
3. Wise-cracking and humorous (right up until it's not chosen).
4. Talks about all the food it plans on eating as soon as it's body returns.
5. Unable to lie.
6. Incapable of telling the truth.

1d6 Special Powers the Severed Head will Manifest Only when Freed
1. Lie detection.
2. Can swallow spells and spell like effects.
3. Spits fire.
4. Can float in mid-air, also carry things in its mouth at the same time.
5. Can unfold over the top of pariah's head as a disguise.
6. Petrifying gaze. 

1d6 Special Boons it will grant the Pariahs Once United with its Body
1. Will bind a spell-spirit to favoured party member.
2. Will improve an appropriate ability score by 1d3 points.
3. Grant its special power (see above) to favoured pariah.
4. Pariah's head can be detached at will.
5. A forgotten piece of lore.

The pariahs can only free one head: as soon as one is detached, the others will disintegrate. This includes snapping the bamboo or removing it from the ground. The head must be carried (unless it can float) by a party member. This requires two hands most of the time (large heads ALL The time). However, the head does possess a special ability that will manifest when the pariahs uncover the next vignette.

In each further vignette, there is a 1-in-6 chance that the head's body is present. Once reunited, the spirit will thank the pariahs and vanish. They will receive their reward once they have returned to the Here & Now.

The pariah's ancestor does not possess any special power, nor grant any boon if reunited with its body. In fact, as soon as the pariahs move on to the next vignette, their body will re-appear. They will continue to follow their descendent throughout their time in the realm of the dead.

The party are able to bypass this vignette if they wish. The GM should generate to further vignettes that will be visible to the party in some way (perhaps just the environment or weather?). They may also return to where they came from at any time.


1: The Fog

Thick white mist. Odourless and with no apparent temperature. Visibility is barely a foot in front of the pariah's faces (do they have faces? They look like they have faces... but they definitely left their bodies behind, right?). Sound seems unaffected at first, though after a few moments it's apparent that the party have been separated: they are experiencing the same vignette, but can't seem to locate one another.

Blind Light Anthony Gormley

The party can attempt to locate one another by calling out and listening: as long as they are not interacting with the ongoing vignette, they will be able to locate one another within 1d4 minutes. Anyone interacting with the vignette will not be found until they actively disengage and attempt to find the rest of their comrades.

A pariah engaging and resolving or otherwise moving on from the vignette will be separated from the other pariahs: they will tread a different path through the realm of the dead, only to be reunited if they return to the fog at the same time as the rest of the party.

Once all together they will be able to locate the vignette and attempt to resolve it before progressing.

2. The Misty River

The pariahs' feet begin to get wet, then their calves, until they are wading through a grey-black river, mist crawling across its surface. A simple barge floats by, atop which the current vignette is taking place. It floats by too quickly for the party to intercept.

Their is a gentle current: walking with the current takes them back to their previous vignette; walking upstream will start to become tiresome. Fortunately, boats seem to float by every minute or so, piloted by [insert spooky boatperson here... giant frog-folk? Cloaked ferryman (yawn)? Jocular skeletons?] They can be boarded without too much effort, and the gondolier will not mind taking passengers, but if they want to catch up with the vignette, there is a price:

1d6 Prices to Pay the Frog Skeleton in a Cloak
1. A story. Make it a good one.
2. A song. You will never sing it again.
3. Your smile. Never smile again. Lose 1d4 charisma (on your return).
4. A memory. Lose an ancestral spirit.
5. A hit die/level.
6. Half your health/con/life force.

Once they have resolved the vignette, they may pilot that boat (or the one they borrowed) to shore and a new scene (or choice of vignettes).

Drinking water from the river also has the effect of exacting the boatman's price (roll 1d6, 1s have no effect).


0: Nearby Dead Person

See Vignette 0, above

1: Dead Comrade

The party witness a deceased ally as they were in life. Their disposition and temperament will depend largely upon the vignette in which they are currently engaged, and the circumstances in which they parted ways with the party.

Since their death they have gained no additional knowledge or insight. They retain all the memories they had before their death, and may be able to impart hitherto unspoken knowledge from their former life.

If their former player is present, let them roleplay them if they wish. Please note that despite their dearest wishes, the dead comrade is not coming back unless they can cut a deal with the Lord of the Dead.

2: Sibling I

When identifying an ancestor, GM's should get used to feeling like a stage medium:

"Umm, okay.. has anyone's pariah lost a sibling?" 

If anyone speaks up, ask them to describe who it is and what they see, and whether they seem different to when their character last saw them.

If no-one bites, tell randomly determined player that their character sees someone they vaguely remember, perhaps an age-mate or friend from their childhood who has perished since they were cast out from their tribe.

The sibling is mostly happy to see their family, having forgiven whatever came between them in life, though their disposition is largely dictated by the vignette in which they find themselves. They can identify the location of any immediate ancestor (comrade, sibling, parent) being sought by the party (the next vignette).


Definitely more of these to follow. Will flesh out how navigating the realm actually works, and just how many game mechanics make it over to the other side (clue: not many).

Also: I have never written the word vignette so many times. I no longer consider it the firs-class choice I thought it was when I started writing this.


  1. Recently found your blog and have been reading it religiously the last couple of days. "Pariah" is such a cool concept, and I can't wait to see more from you!

    1. Thank you Janet. There's going to be quite a bit more over the next few days, tuck in!

  2. pretty sure this is one of the definitive works of neo-OSR genius happening rn

    1. The compliment is appreciated and I thank you but please have a look at the blogs to the right --->

      ...and you will see there is some incredible creativity on display throughout this weird hobby right now, of which this post is but a smidgen.

    2. The way this lines up as of right now, on my screen, that ---> points directly to my blog. Cool! :D

  3. I know it's good when I start thinking about stealing/adapting it straight away and want more when it's done... Very cool.

    Thoughts: ancestors are a good chance to bring up family greivances/ancestors of those you've killed... Or uncomfortable ones- once ancestors are removed enough they may be dismissive/hostile/ashamed of the PC's or vice versa. Think how many must be 4-5 generations removed somehow from Vlad the Impaler, Hitler or Ghengis Khan...

    Wouldn't it be interesting if PC's were very limited in navigating the realm effectively but Deaths/ Necromancers/ powerful undead can navigate up/down/sideways at will to really harrass/stalk/pre-empt/trap/confound & terrorise PC's...

    1. Hi Reason, thanks! Meant to reply to your comment with the comment below!

  4. > Deaths/ Necromancers/ powerful undead can navigate up/down/sideways at will to really harrass/stalk/pre-empt/trap/confound & terrorise

    This is very cool- I think it's the random encounters that really have the potential to make each trip into the realm of the dead unique, and some of the entities will definitely be able to navigate this realm in a way incomprehensible to the party.

    I've also been thinking about linking encounters to party HP/health/life-force etc. WIP but something like creatures coming to claim them if the linger in the realm too long.

  5. Well my base idea for that was life= freedom, choices & movement; death should be limiting, stultifying & oppressive/restricting.

    Imagine being able to move up/down & any 4 cardinal directions at first. But losing one of those for each part member injured... discovering that & wondering whether your path was now being directed toward... Or after half are injured, having to make a save to stop being swept in the direction you DON'T want anytime you leave a vignette... Normally reducing agency is "bad" but in the realm of the Dead to show things are changingas they get closer to death...

    "I've also been thinking about linking encounters to party HP/health/life-force etc" more frequent random encounters after injury is cruel but might do it. Or you could put certain creatures in the higher number brackets & roll with advantage or roll 2 dice to release the nasties at the top of the list...