Monday, December 15, 2014

Inspirational Artefacts: Hand of Sabazius

Inspirational Artefacts

artefact/ˈɑːtɪˌfækt/ noun: something made or given shape by man, such as a tool or a work of art, esp an object of archaeological interest.

On my daily trolling of the internet, A Tumblr site has been brought to my attention that has some wonderful artefacts, that just scream out to be used in scenarios. With this in mind, I am starting what will be a new semi-regular feature on the blog, Inspirational Artefacts.

Artefacts in your game.

There are a number of ways these artefacts can be dropped into a game. It maybe that the item has been brought to a local museum on a tour, or maybe the investigators are the actual archaeologists who discover them. It could be that the item is found in the lair of the cultists the investigators raid, or even up for sale in the local occult store/jumble sale/auction. The great thing is, that just by mentioning them, and supplying a picture, the Investigators will assume they have great occult/mythos associations, but of course, this does not have to be the case.

In the first of this series of posts, I bring to you the Hand of Sabazius.

Bronze hand used in the worship of Sabazius. 1st-2nd Century AD
Roman. Source British Museum.
Sabazius is not a god I had ever heard of, but as always wikipedia comes to the rescue. Of course, the mention of Roman times immediately brings to mind Cthulhu Invictus, but then that would mean it was no longer an artefact, but just an item of modern usage. Although even by Roman times, Sabazius had been around for a while, and was indeed foreign in origin, so can retain some mystery.

Body parts seem to play a role in a number of artefacts in Call of Cthulhu scenarios, from the Head in the Auction, to the Sefelkar Simulacrum in the Horror on the Orient Express, where players are rushing round Europe collecting various parts of this artefact, before reassembling them to form the whole body at the end.  HotOE has a whole body part theme throughout, so this could easily be used on a side adventure or red herring , however that is not a campaign you want to derail too far, as it's already on a timetable (both puns intended).

There may be for various reasons for the extensive use of body parts in CoC adventures, the first being that they suggest body horror. The second being the use of the human body in the arcane or mythos happenings brings the horror back to us, it gives us a direct link to the horror, something we can all identify with, that is then warped into something we cannot comprehend. 

A quick Google image search revealed that there are a great many similar artefacts out there. It could be that this version of the hand is the only one that has a mythos connection, or indeed they all could. In a modern day scenario, finding them all would be relatively easy, just a Google search away for most. However, in a past era, there would be no way of knowing if there were more similar items, nor where they would be, except for multiple Library Use rolls.

Interestingly, in the British Museum, they have three examples of Hands of Sabazius, including this one that has a magical inscription on it! I mean, really, what more could you ask of an historical artefact?

Powers in Game

There are many ways this artefact could be used. The first that comes to mind is that it it just part of a larger artefact, like the Simulacrum from HotOE, and requires the rest of the body, or even just the arm to become active. Many of these hands had holes in the bottom, so they could be mounted on poles for processional purposes, so maybe a pole is required. Maybe it has to be a certain pole, or even of just a certain metal before the hand can be activated. Maybe the length of the pole is important (a la Raiders of the lost Ark). Or, the hand could be raised on the pole as a banner or standard, thereby allowing it to have an effect over a larger area.

Could it also be used like a Hand of Glory? These, depending on your source, have multiple uses. In a recent episode of Constantine the TV series, a Hand of Glory was used to commune with the dead. The more traditional uses of a Hand of Glory are less gory, and maybe less Cthulhuesque:
A grisly magical charm popular with thieves in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, hand of glory was a candle made from the dried hand of a hanged convict through a complicated recipe that also included herbs, horse dung, peppers, and salt. The hand would be carefully mummified, and then joined to or turned into a candle using tallow from a hanged corpse. (whether this is from the same corpse is apparently irrelevant). Set alight, the hand was reputed to have the power to render the occupants of a household insensible, making burglary a simple task. (source).
It has a similar, and even more banal use, in Harry Potter. The Laundry series of books by Charles Stross also issues a Hand of Glory as regular equipment to it's ops. In the Laundry game for the Basic Roleplay System (another of the Cthulhu family of games) therefore has stats for this version of the item. In this universe, they take the items ability to mess with light, and have it not only be able to confer invisibility, but by messing with mirrors, it becomes a 5 shot laser gun. This may indeed be taking it outwith the realms of your basic Call of Cthulhu game, but it depends on how pulpy your games are.

Tying this back to our Hand of Sabazius, it, being bronze, and not preserved flesh, a more powerful version of the Hand of Glory? Does it have the same abilities, without being limited in usage?

Maybe the hand can be worn as a glove, and is hollow to allow this. Another, more grisly way to wear it, is that the original hand must be removed, and the Hand of Sabazius can be installed in its place, whether or not the wound must be open to allow this binding is of course up to the Keeper! Once in place, the hand may allow the Investigator/NPC to be a conduit for the god in the mortal plane, or maybe just give access to powers of the god, either in knowledge, spells or other abilities. The question a Keeper must ask in this instance, is of course, what control does the player retain, and what control does the hand assert over the player?

Scenario Seeds

  • The Investigator wakes up, not so much in a bath of ice, but with her hand in a bucket of ice, numb. When she removes it, she find the Hand of Sabazius instead of what she expected. Whether it is a glove that can be removed, or her hand has been replaced is not immediately apparent. She then has to investigate to find out what the hand is, and how it can be removed. The questions as to why someone wanted her to have the hand, and the powers or knowledge it confers also have to be answered. Is she still in control of her hand, or is the hand trying to control her? what has happened to her original hand?
  • The players come up against an enemy who uses the Hand as part of their arsenal. Once defeated, the players are left with the quandary of what to do with the items the enemy left behind. Do they use them for good, do they destroy them, is destruction even possible. Maybe they put them into cold storage. What ever the players decide to do, whilst they are working it out, other groups are looking for the items, and have tracked them down to the player's abode.

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