Friday, October 5, 2012

Arthur Machen's Green Book (Part 2)

The idea here is finding/making up game-related material inspired by Arthur Machen’s ‘The White People’ short story. The catch is that I’ll try to avoid all the legendarium built by later authors (mostly Lovecraft).

Practically 99% of everything that I write in this series is from the following paragraph:

I found this book (the manuscript began) in a drawer in the old bureau that stands on the landing. It was a very rainy day and I could not go out, so in the afternoon I got a candle and rummaged in the bureau. Nearly all the drawers were full of old dresses, but one of the small ones looked empty, and I found this book hidden right at the back. I wanted a book like this, so I took it to write in. It is full of secrets. I have a great many other books of secrets I have written, hidden in a safe place, and I am going to write here many of the old secrets and some new ones; but there are some I shall not put down at all. I must not write down the real names of the days and months which I found out a year ago, nor the way to make the Aklo letters, or the Chian language, or the great beautiful Circles, nor the Mao Games, nor the chief songs. I may write something about all these things but not the way to do them, for peculiar reasons. And I must not say who the Nymphs are, or the Dôls, or Jeelo, or what voolas mean. All these are most secret secrets, and I am glad when I remember what they are, and how many wonderful languages I know, but there are some things that I call the secrets of the secrets of the secrets that I dare not think of unless I am quite alone, and then I shut my eyes, and put my hands over them and whisper the word, and the Alala comes. I only do this at night in my room or in certain woods that I know, but I must not describe them, as they are secret woods. Then there are the Ceremonies, which are all of them important, but some are more delightful than others--there are the White Ceremonies, and the Green Ceremonies, and the Scarlet Ceremonies. The Scarlet Ceremonies are the best, but there is only one place where they can be performed properly, though there is a very nice imitation which I have done in other places. Besides these, I have the dances, and the Comedy, and I have done the Comedy sometimes when the others were looking, and they didn't understand anything about it. I was very little when I first knew about these things.

As you can see there’re a lot of strange but intriguing concepts written in this excerpt. The entire premise is that the protagonist is reading the Green Book, a strange pocket book that describes puzzling locations and tempting mystic secrets.

Actually I see the core idea of the story as ‘forbidden mysteries’, like in a mystery cult – a lore that only initiates are allowed to learn. Although never mentioned explicitly, there’s a strong feeling, or hint, of dire consequences if any of those secrets are misused or blatantly revealed. A good part of the short story’s horror is derived from this tenuous but exciting flavor.

The really cool thing, however, is that a lot is implied by Machen but never developed. This is an open invitation for any Gamemaster to customize these concepts to his games.

This specific post’s topic is Aklo Letters. Let’s try to cook something interesting.

Well, what are they? It seems to me that they’re some kind of alien alphabet or symbol set. It’s also clear that they’re a secret, an inner mystery. Why?

Aklo was used as a non-human eldritch tongue by Lovecraft for his Yog-Sothothery. Pathfinder stole this idea, making Aklo the official language of many aberrations, ancient fey and really strange or otherworldly beings. Alan Moore took the idea one step further in his polemic The Courtward graphic novel by establishing Aklo not as a language but as a doorway to an inhuman thought-process (which opens the victim’s mind to usual Cthulhoid lore that we so love).

But let’s forget all that (or attempt to evade it) and focus on Machen’s tale. ‘Aklo Letters’ for me sounds like something fairish (in a Brothers Grimm way) – perhaps because the Green Book was written by a young girl.


I. The Qlippoth Language (The First Language) – This is the first tongue ever spoken and thus it is one of the secret metaphysical pillars of the Multiverse. The Qlippoth, being hollowed creatures and living leftovers of Creation’s beginning, can’t speak Aklo, but can understand it. It drives them mad to hear it spoken by the imperfect lips of mortals.

Each Aklo Letters covers a basic and very specific word. Speaking it allows a caster to roll Spellcraft to substitute ANY other skill or ability check or to generate a minor spell effect (1st through 3rd level usually).

It also grants a limited sort of immunity or resistance against the thing represented by the Letter. For example: ‘fire’ allows you to roll Spellcraft and use ½ the result a DR against fire damage; ‘river’ allows the caster to walk over a river (use Spellcraft to substitute a Swim check) or breathe water for a number of rounds equal to the rolled number; you can ask questions to these things (like commune or an equivalent druid spell) etc.

Each time an Aklo Letter is used spoken a Qlippoth (CR equal to the character level +1d10, -1d4) is summoned for 24 hours and starts stalking the pronouncer.

Speaking Aklo even only once “taints” the pronouncer with the abyssal aura of the Qlippoths. You’re henceforth treated as chaotic and evil for all effects (though you keep your original alignment and still use to determine if you keep or not your class features).

II. The Living Language (The True Fae Tongue) – each Aklo Letter is alive and wants to be written (or manifested), but requires a special surface and a special ink.

After finding one of the Aklo Letters, it instills on the victim a compulsion of writing it on the Material Plane. Aklo Letters are found in ancient fey demesnes and havens; they appear naturally on these places – for example, an Aklo Letter can be glimpsed by the form left on twisted roots of a primordial tree.

Each Aklo Letter is also associated with one fey concept, giving to its holder power over it. Usual concepts are ‘Wood’, ‘Man’, ‘Leaves’, ‘Water’, ‘Starlight’, ‘Burrower’, ‘Feathered Beast’, ‘Stalker’, ‘Night Beast’ etc.

Once an Aklo Letter is glimpsed the reader can attempt a Will save (GM’s ad hoc) to resist its lure. If he fails, the Letters is burned in his mind and compels him to write it on the Material Plane.

The holder of a Letter can, once per day, summon it as a full-round action, making crude somatic movements of it (it requires at least on free hand and it provokes attacks of opportunity). There must be line of the sight to the target.

The Letter holder can use it to animate, communicate or dominate.

The animate function usually only work for Letters related to inanimate things (like a tree, a fallen log, a stone or group of pebbles etc). Once invoked, treat it as an animate objects with a caster level equal to the summoner’s character level.

As communicate, it simply allows the invoker to talk with an object, beast or thing. Usually one question/level is a good reference for the Gamemaster. Remember that some things or objects (like ‘Starlight’) can be potentially alien and maddening to interact with (1d4 Wisdom damage per question).

Dominate works like dominate person or dominate monster.

Aklo Letters wants to be inscribed in the Material Plane. Each requires an exotic medium and ink to be properly “manifested”. For example, the Aklo Letter for ‘Fire’ may require an ink made of the ‘ashes of passionate lovers’ mixed with ‘efreet’s blood’ and written over ‘dragon scales’.

The more Aklo Letters written in the Material Plane and their proximity to each other determines the proximity between the world of mortals and the deep and maddening world of the Fey (the deepest demesnes of the First World, if you follow the Golarion cosmology). Things start to get really strange. Dark fey start to stalk the land and the rules of physics and nature (and causality) being to crumble. Eventually, enough Letters are manifested to summon an Eldest (also called an Aklo Grammatician or Aklo Potentate). They are some of the most ancient and powerful Fey, capable of abducting entire realms (or even times or memories) from the Material Plane. Some sages ponder that the Aklo are actually the original deities of the Material Plane, banished by the present pantheons to fractured and shattered First World after losing some chthonic creation war.

III. The “Untongue” (The Language of Madness) – Aklo Letters are a living paradox, a grammatical profanity. They’re an alphabet design to communicate the incommunicable. Chaos and madness are the lore passed by Aklo Letters. They’re, thus, incomprehensible unless you’re also mad.

The ontological reason behind each insanity; the true purpose of symbols that convene no meaning at all but the innately meaningless; the true definition of a color (or of a “lost color” like Jale or Ulfire); the prosaic description of each thing that can’t be; the wordless discuss that existed in the cacophonic void that predated the Multiverse.  For each of these impossible “un-significances” there’s an Aklo Letter (or two, or a thousand or maybe just -1).

Each Letter irrevocably instills one madness and an impossible concept on its victim. A Will save may revert this, but it also erases the knowledge pertaining to that particular Aklo Letter.

After learned, the pronunciation of an Aklo Letters allows the user to confuse others, to cast wild effects (like a rod of wonders or any other table used by the Gamemaster). However, it further erodes their sanity (1d3 Wisdom drain is a good start). If wisdom is reduced to 0, the caster disappears from reality.

The crazier the Aklo student gets, the more his sense “expands” to the “True Multiverse”. The Gamemaster is encouraged to grant the student an ‘Unpercetion’ bonus, equal to the numbers of Wisdom point drained. Allow him once per day to roll this ‘Unperception’ (DC 15). If successful, the student sees something impossible and interact with it – the chaotic “under-verse” of the Multiverse. For example, he could find a parallel copy of himself that lives in a Multiverse where time and causality runs backwards. He could thus talk with himself and discover possible consequences of his future actions (or “past actions” from his copy’s point of view). The Gamemaster is encouraged to grant the Aklo student special knowledge or even minor, but useful powers. However, each interaction should cost him more Ability Score drains (not necessarily in Wisdom) or even allows stranger things “from Beyond” to manifest and start stalking him.

IV. The Arcane Language (a.k.a. “the Real Deal”) – Do you know those strange words and codes employed by spellcaster all around the Multiverse to cast spells? That’s Aklo! The incredible, kalpas-old primordial tongue of Existence. Spellcasting is just a clumsy, brute and broken way of “talking Aklo”. That’s why its pronunciation generates spell effects. Fluent speakers of Aklo can do much more.  If you doubt ask them – the True Deities. That’s where divinity comes from. The more Aklo Letters you know the closer you get to be a Power.

Trying to understand Aklo is ontologically impossible to mortals. Their limitable form can’t hold this knowledge (or The Knowledge). The clay melts, the mind shatters. However, it’s possible to learn a few Letters with “minor” consequences (though better than instantly obliteration).

Each Aklo Letter gives a caster level bonus and a floating bonus spell slot (even if you aren’t a spellcaster). To learn a Letter the seeker must experience it. Unfortunately these Letters are usually things like ‘delving into the Negative Plane and suffering its effects for a night and day without magic protection’, ‘feeling all the sensations of being disintegrated while listening the songs of the Celestials’ etc. Once a particular ordeal is fulfilled, the seeker instantly suffers 1 point of Constitution drain (permanently) and is probably aged a few years (proportionally to its life span).

Another power of an Aklo Letters is the ability to read directly from a grimoire and casting a spell from it (though this cost Con damage). Actually, once you learn one Letter you’re automatically capable of magic reading (like read magic) all times.

The Deities don’t like mortals to learn Aklo. Clerics, outsiders and forgotten and old Things – “Guardians” left by the First Divinities – will start to come after an Aklo Speaker, attracted to its supernal fire like wolves to lost sheep. If an Aklo Speaker is really smart, unscrupulous and  very very luck… he may reach the first steps of godhood before Something gets him.