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Friday 17 December 2021

Friday Fantasy: The Book of Gaub

The Book of Gaub is a book of power whispered of by those fear it—and those lust after its secrets, a book of terrible knowledge that is never found whole, a book of vile things unleashed when its dark spells are miscast by the unready or the desperate, the reaching into our world of a being unknowable except by his hand which stretches out, his fingers—all seven of them, together and independently scratching at the walls and behind the cobwebs in the forgotten places. In mouldering dusty libraries, beyond the edges of maps, on the inside of the flesh of patients at a hospital underbudget, under the floorboards where rats and other things run, in that pie leftover from Christmas at the back of the icebox, nowhere because it never existed, and in that moment of lost love when a tear rolls down the cheek… Here the seven fingers—detached from the Hand of Gaub—incise their spells, perhaps to last for years and years, perhaps to disappear moments after discovery… Seven spells and seven instances for seven fingers, a catalogue of catastrophes to befall the foolish and the ambitious caster, details the many known things—or paraphernalia—left behind by the Shards of Gaub, a score of things that may come about because of Gaub, and descriptions of the situations that have wound themselves around the appearance of Gaub—in any form, all may be found within the pages of The Book of Gaub.

The Book of Gaub is a book of spells, a book of minor magical artefacts, a book of magical disasters, a book of magical monsters, a book of adventure or encounter hooks, and a book—a very short book—of rules for running sorcerer-type characters. All themed around Gaub, The Book of Gaub, Gaub’s spells and more. The Book of Gaub is a book of magic and spells from Lost Pages, a small press publisher best known for Genial Jack and Into the Odd. The publisher is no stranger to spell books, having previously published Wonder & Wickedness and Marvels & Malisons, but whilst The Book of Gaub follows the format of the latter, it is an altogether stranger tome. Not just stranger, but darker too. There are spells in The Book of Gaub that embrace medical violence, eating disorders, body horror, pregnancy, decay, bugs and spiders, stalking and gaslighting, self-harm and addition, and much more. This is not a book for an immature audience, but definitely a book that requires roleplaying safety tools and consent at the table.

The Book of Gaub is a book of spells for the Old School Renaissance and the retroclone of your choice. However, mechanically, The Book of Gaub is incredibly light with barely a handful of stats—and then only for its monsters. This makes it incredibly easier to adapt and not just to the Game Master’s preferred retroclone, but almost any roleplaying game in which spells, dark magic, and horror play a role. In addition, as much as the spell book is traditionally written with fantasy roleplaying games in mind, much of the colour or ‘micro fictions’ which accompany each spell have a very modern feel and tone. In fact, very twentieth century… What this means is that the contents of The Book of Gaub are easily transposed to roleplaying games such as Dying Stylishly Games’ EsotericEnterprises: Old School Adventures in the Occult Underground, Just Crunch Games’ The Dee Sanction, or even Liminal.

The forty-nine spells in The Book of Gaub are divided and themed darkly into seven. Thus the Finger That Trails Letters, working itself into dusty tomes and the written word, its spells related to the spells and written word; the Finger That Points The Way takes the caster and sometimes the victim of its spells on journeys; the Finger On The Pulse whose spells slice at the flesh, perhaps to heal, perhaps to bring suffering; the Finger That Scratches Beneath The Floorboards and in the hidden places of your house, its spells hiding and losing its victims there; the Finger Chewed Down To A White Bone, its spells inducing hunger and purges; the finger that is not there that you have already forgotten about by the time you reach the end of this clause; and the Finger That Catches A Shed Tear and slides it into a bottle, its spells playing upon and manipulating emotions.  Thus for example—at random, Eicastise, incised by the Finger Under The Floorboards, hides the caster in a painting—although he can be seen if it is examined—and even allows him to move freely in it or to another painting, to speak or hear from the painting, and appear appropriately dressed in the painting. The Finger On The Pulse leaves the Hypochondria spell behind, which requires the caster to fill a pouch marked with his sigil with rusty nails and the unwashed clothes of the victim, and then hide it in the victim’s house. Should the victim fail his Saving Throw, then he is cursed to have every injury amplified—cuts widen, blood does not clot, shortness of breath becomes stifling, and worse… Whilst under the curse, the victim cannot heal and for as long as the curse remains, only he and caster are aware of the worsening symptoms.

Not only are the spells often vile, but so is what they leave behind. Wherever the spells from The Book of Gaub are cast, they can corrupt the area and this corruption often manifests as a bauble or trinket, known as the Paraphernalia of Gaub, again each tied to one of the seven Fingers of Gaub. For example, the Finger That Trails Letters might discard a bibliography of non-existent books or an inkwell always filled with ill-appropriately coloured ink, whilst that left behind by the Finger Chewed Down To A White Bone could be a black photograph of a child standing in an empty house, the position of the child changing each time the photograph is viewed, the child also weeping when something invisible is near, or an exquisitely fractally carved scrimshaw which can be studied to aid concentration or the study of small things, but leaves the user open to hypnotism. In many cases, a Paraphernalia of Gaub requires the user to empower it, which means a spell has to be cast upon it.

The vile nature of The Book of Gaub and its spells are only exacerbated by the Catastrophes, misfortunes which will befall the caster such as the sorcerer’s joints creaking and moaning whenever he moves, potentially becoming too stiff for him to move, if he miscasts a spell learned via the Finger On The Pulse , but there are general Catastrophes too, like all children born within the region for the next seven days having seven fingers on each hand and upon reaching puberty will know a single spell of Gaub. Under certain conditions Monsters of Gaub can manifest too, though fortunately there are not quite so many of those are there of either the spells or the Catastrophes. They also range vastly in size from the Pinmate, a white paste goblinoid thing which seeps into a house and possesses its fabric, turning every edge or potential point of friction into features which scratch and scrape, feeding upon the blood they draw, whilst the Tide of Turmoil is a swirling mass of chaos and unresolved collective trauma that always closer to the nearest source of suffering…

As well as some twenty or so manifestations of the Grip of Gaub, each a hook that pulls the Player Characters into a story which hints at the effect Gaub has upon the world, The Book of Gaub includes suggestions of how to use them in a game with rules for Sorcerers hunting for The Book of Gaub. Fundamentally, this is a Class and Level system in which the spells themselves do not have Levels and so can be learned in any order as long as a searching Sorcerer can find them and has the time. They can be learned and cast via rote memorisation or off the cuff, but if a spell is cast without learning it first, more spells are cast beyond a Sorcerer’s usual allotment, the spellcasting is interrupted, or other misjudged events occur, then a Catastrophe can occur!

Physically, The Book of Gaub is a beautiful little book in its own right. Cloth bound, it feels delightful in the hand, such that you wish that it was an actual artefact within the game world itself. The artwork is decent for the most part, whilst the writing is also good, although perhaps it does veer into the ponderous in places.

The adult tone of The Book of Gaub means that this book is not for everyone nor every campaign, and its contents will need to be carefully judged to determine whether it is suitable for a campaign or not. If it is, The Book of Gaub is a fantastically nasty book of ideas, encounters, and mysteries whose impact upon a campaign will not be obvious initially. Instead, The Book of Gaub and its contents should creep into a campaign, turning it darker and weirder, whether that is in a frantic race to prevent yet one more spell from the tome fall into the wrong hands or a desperate search to find yet one more spell incised by one of the Fingers before a rival does. Whether a fantasy campaign or an urban fantasy campaign, The Book of Gaub is waiting to reach into your campaign and creep through its shadows, and show just how a little knowledge can spread darkness and chaos…

1 comment:

  1. It is very good. We used it for snake skin scroll spells in my LotFP campaign.