The Horned Society
Date: Thu, June 04, 2009
Topic: Power Groups & Organizations
A hidden history of the Horned Society and the most powerful members of its current hierarchy after 591 CY.
The Horned Society
Theories that the Horned Society was inspired by dark traditions preserved by the druids from the days of the Ur-Flan do have merit. The tendency toward worshiping entities from the Lower Planes has been endemic in the northlands for centuries; Castle Hart was built to help protect the border of the Shield Lands from the armies of petty bandit kings whose tendencies were very much like the modern Horned Society, in fact.
For the purposes of this article, however, the Horned Society was not founded anywhere on Oerth, but in the Lower Planes.
Ever since the Battle of Pesh, the world of Oerth has taken on magnified importance in the eyes of the warriors of the Lower Planes. It was on Oerth, after all, that the battle between Law and Chaos changed forever, and some of the lower planar "old guard" still believe that if it could do so again, it will happen there. The world has gained many defenses since those days, however, not least of which is its extensive pantheons of deities that have grown to infest the world like so many gnats. Invasions by either the demons or the devils have therefore had to proceed with great subtlety.
For a time, the lords of Hell actually believed the world would be theirs. The pact they signed with the House of Naelax seemed an unbeatable hand; they surely didn't expect a brat of Graz'zt's to become a demigod. As soon as Iuz began his conquests, they attempted to counter by sending servants - the predecessors of the Horned Society - to bribe and cajole the more southerly lords in the region to join their cause instead. Yet with Iuz's military might, their new pawns did not dare to act against him.
They could scarcely believe their luck when Iuz disappeared, imprisoned by a motley group of mortals, near-deities, and (it was rumored) an actual divinity. As Iuz's empire fragmented into quarreling groups of demon-cultists, the time was ripe for harsh Order to bring discipline to the region. This was the foundation of the Horned Society as we know it today.
Dispatches were sent. Rats with glowing eyes whispered into the ears of their ostensible masters. At crossroads, black-clad figures with broad-brimmed hats whispered to travelers they met by seeming coincidence. Over blood-stained altars, scaled horrors barked commands to fearful cultists.
The Blood Moon hung in the sky. The witches, warlocks, and infernalists of the northlands assembled before the mentors, the ones who held the eldest lore. Thirteen druids had, from the oldest of ages, worshiped the Reaper as god of winter and death, and they held the secrets of forgotten Bael Turath, whose capital (where the modern-day town of Stoink stands today) was dragged screaming into the Nine Hells long before the Great Migrations. The sigils of certain diabolic lords were still preserved on the bronze helms and cauldrons they kept in their possession.
After hours of continuous chanting, he appeared, resplendent in his scarlet robes, carrying a ranseur that flickered with uncanny flames. There, before the assembled masses, a Lord of Hell gave his instructions.
The druids melted back into the wilderness to preserve their secrets for future generations, but not before appointing nine diabolists as the leadership core of the new Horned Society: the Hierarchs. Because the predecessors of the Horned Society infiltrated Iuz's ranks in secret to undermine it from within, the first servants of the Hierarchs were spies and assassins. The unexpected binding of Iuz beneath Castle Greyhawk forced them to change strategies sooner than they expected, becoming warlords rather than sneak-thieves.
The self-proclaimed Dread Emperor was one of the first of these masters of war to be recruited by the hierarchs, and the one who began the tradition of an Unnameable Hierarch, keeping his personal name hidden. He was extremely successful as a leader of armies, but in a few decades he had gone completely insane, believing himself to be the ruler of all the world. To the relief of his fellows, he ascended to a fortress in the Ethereal Plane and seemed to forget about worldly matters. His successors retained the tradition of hiding their names.
The Society found the hobgoblins to be valuable allies. They were reminded of the hobgoblin nation that had existed in the region in the centuries past, before Aerdy's expansion destroyed it. They were eager for a chance to once again unite their feuding tribes against the hated orcs and elves.
In its first decades, the Horned Society was entirely made up of diabolists to one degree or another. This alignment shifted, however, with the involvement of the yugoloths.
It was the ultroloth Mydianchlarus, an adviser to the Oinoloth Anthraxus, who suggested that they get involved. Normally, yugoloths have little involvement with things mortal, concentrating their schemes and strategies on other fiends. Mydianchlarus pointed out that the heavy investment both of the other major fiendish races were putting in this particular region of the Prime Material Plane - the tanar'ri in the north and the baatezu in the south - practically demanded they be around to supply mercenaries and advice to both sides. Whatever would the other fiends do without them? And if there was any truth to the rumors that the demons and devils planned to fight a decisive battle on Oerth were true, their involvement was all the more crucial. In the Lower Planes, deals and accommodations were made. Jackal-headed fiends had discussions with lords of the Pit behind closed doors. So it was that, in 527 CY, an archdegog of Anthraxus joined the Hierarchs as a tenth member. Soon this priest arranged for a trio of lords representing the three lowest planes to join him, bringing the total number of Hierarchs to thirteen.
Yugoloths view divine magic with distaste - it's a contaminant, in their view, not something that would exist in their idealized version of the planes. However, they are nothing if not pragmatic dealmakers, and so a bargain was sealed between Anthraxus and Nerull long ago, agreeing that Nerull would grant spells to Anthraxus' clerics in exchange for part of the credit and all of the power the cultists' faith and sacrifice provided. That suited the Oinoloth perfectly; he wanted as little to do with the excrement that was mortal prayer as possible, desiring cultists only for their use as pawns in the complex games he played with the other races of fiends.
For decades, the Horned Society prospered, consolidating many of the former territories of Iuz the Old and engaging repeatedly with the Shield Lands, who constructed such fortresses as Torkeep on the boundary between the two nations while reinforcing older strongholds like Castle Hart. They found each other to be worthy foes, but the Horned Lords knew the Knights of Holy Shielding could not resist forever. As time progressed, ambitious warlords took the places of many of the original diabolists, foremost among them the so-called Dread Emperor. With the Dread Emperor's departure, a number of new Unnameable Hierarchs took his place, each dying in their turn as underlings managed to have them quietly dealt with. Still the Society, with its formidable body of laws and tradition for dealing with succession issues, remained stable despite the regular turnover. Even the reappearance of Iuz in 570 CY did not shake them, and they continued on with previous schemes as if the cambion was still imprisoned. In the 570s CY (the lack of names, as well as the Society's secrecy, making it difficult to pinpoint the date), an ambitious planewalking spellcaster and swordsman known only as Erac's Cousin ascended to the Unnameable Throne. Erac's Cousin had, a decade before, sold his soul to the archdevil Baalzebul after escaping from the enslavement of the recently freed demon lord Fraz-Urb'luu. As part of their contract, Baalzebul agreed that after Erac's Cousin's physical death his soul's promotion to the status of a greater devil would be considerably expedited so that he might continue his work on the Material Plane as if he had never died. Such a bargain is granted to mortals far more rarely than those foolish enough to enter into Faustian pacts are led to believe, but in this case it was genuine. Erac's Cousin had shown considerable resourcefulness in his previous adventures, and the Lord of the Flies saw that returning his new servant to the mortal world would be useful to the plans of Hell.
At last, between the years 579 and 581 CY, the hobgoblin and mercenary armies of the Horned Society, supported by yugoloth and demodand mercenaries, overran the Shield Lands, granting its territories to the eager hobgoblins and other favored military leaders. For the next few years, the influence of the Horned Society was at its peak. By early 583 CY, however, the hierarchs began to grow uneasy. Reports from the north had it that after years of consolidating his own chaotic holdings, Iuz's forces were preparing to retake Molag and the Horned Lands and add them once again to the empire of the Old One.
In the fortress of Khin-Oin on the plane of Hades, on Coldeven 11 in the year mortals in the Flanaess had named 582 CY, the ultroloth Mydianchlarus whispered into the ear of Anthraxus that Iuz had sent demons to destroy the Horned Society, and that if they were to maintain a semblance of balance among the evil of Oerth, he would have to act directly to check them. Overwhelming force was needed to dissuade Iuz from this sort of crude assault, and as there was no time to prepare an army, an appearance by an archfiend in the flesh ought to suffice.
Anthraxus nodded, seeing the wisdom of Mydianchlarus' council. With a minor effort of will he appeared in the palace of the Horned Ones in Molag, determined to squash Iuz's assassins like the insects they were. He was surprised to see the Hierarchs already dead, the assassins not mere demons but Iuz himself, accompanied by his mother, the witch Iggwilv, and a powerful aspect of the demon queen Zuggtmoy resembling a bloated fungus with four elephantine legs.
The Oinoloth cursed Mydianchlarus, realizing he had been set up.
The battle lasted for some time, and much of Molag was damaged, but the outcome was always certain. Anthraxus was banished back to Hades, now weakened and far from the throne where Mydianchlarus was even now consolidating his power. Anthraxus now roams the Lower Planes, seeking alliances with other evil gods and powers in the hope that he might once again reconquer Khin-Oin; however, with his fall even Nerull has abandoned him, and it may be some time before he is able to threaten the new rule of Mydianchlarus, who for his part has been too distracted with mastering the secrets of the Siege Malicious and his power as the new Oinoloth to concern himself with mortal cultists. On Oerth, Iuz added the lands of the Horned Society to his own.
Even so, the Horned Society was not destroyed entirely. The cleric Nezmajen was away in the Fellreev Forest at the time of the slaughter, and continued resisting the forces of Iuz using the fortress of Darkpool as his base of operations. The cleric Andrade Mirrius, too, was away from the Horned Lands, busy in the City of Greyhawk. Still, it is likely that the Society would never have grown beyond Andrade and Nezmajen's band of resisters if not for something that the triad of Iuz, Iggwilv, and Zuggtmoy had not been aware of: Baalzebul's contract with Erac's Cousin.
And so it was, after a purely nominal time as a lemure, that the soul of Erac's Cousin was refined in the Pit of Flame and reshaped into the form of a greater devil (naturally, he was made into one of the caste known as horned devils, as befit his Society). While normally a devil would be expected to serve as a least devil for at least a century before progressing to higher ranks, in Erac's Cousin's case this requirement was deferred until a later date, after such time as he his performance might be found so unsatisfactory as to earn a demotion. As yet, this has not happened, and the once and future Unnameable Hierarch has been patiently rebuilding the Horned Society as a secret cabal. Where once their schemes were concentrated primarily in a single nation, they now work behind the scenes to advance their goals across the Flanaess.
The reborn Unnameable Hierarch's first act was to contact Nezmajen, who in his absence has promoted his protege, the cleric Guiliana Mortidus, as a new Hierarch in her own right. Erac's Cousin accepted this decision as lawfully done, and Nezmajen, Andrade, and Guiliana, though more aligned with with daemonic forces than diabolic ones, were suitably impressed by their former leader's new, terrifying appearance and renewed their oaths of fealty. Erac's Cousin set about finding further recruits to help rebuild the Society.
One of his first recruits was the wandering fighter Warduke, who was in reality Damen Tyneman, a Furyondian noble, a son of Duke Bennel Tyneman of the Reach. Bennel Tyneman's wife was one of Belvor III's younger sisters, making his son a cousin of the crown prince. In childhood, Damen Tyneman spent a great deal of time with his second cousin Thrommel Fairwain.
Bennel Tyneman is the son of Gertrue, the widow of Thrommel II "the Usurper," who married the Duke of the Reach after her husband was executed by Belvor III. She attempted to groom her son by the Duke of the Reach to take the throne, but the hedonistic Duke Bennel was never interested in his vengeful mother's schemes. His son Damen, however, proved to be extremely susceptible to his grandmother's manipulations. Since Damen's own mother was Alyndra Fairwain, the youngest sister of Belvor III, he has always felt he has a real claim on the throne should something happen to his cousin Prince Thrommel.
In their youths, encouraged by his mother and grandmother, Damen was very close to his cousin, and they adventured together early on as part of a party of young nobles who disguised their names in order to travel without the burdens and dangers of association with their famous families. Calling themselves the Company of the Heartstone after an artifact for which they quested, they included Prince Peralay Brightflame of Celene, who adventured under the name "Melf;" Prince Olinstaad Corond of Ulek, who called himself "Elkhorn;" Prince Thrommel Fairwain of Furyondy, who called himself "Strongheart;" and Sir Damen Tyneman of the Reach, who called himself "Warduke." Other party members, not all of them of noble blood, included the thieves Figgen, Foxfingers and Zarak, the wizards Ringlerun, Skylla, and Kellek, and the clerics Mercion, Raven, and Zargash.
When the party finally encountered the Heartstone, it altered their personalities, amplifying the virtues in some and the vices in others and tearing their friendships apart. Damen grew to hate Thrommel for his perceived weakness, embracing his grandmother's teachings in earnest. As Warduke he became a mercenary sowing terror throughout the land, seldom seen in his father's court.
While hurt by the schism in their party, the friendships made proved vital when the demihuman peoples, still decimated and demoralized by the Hateful Wars, refused to join the humans in battling the Horde of Elemental Evil. Then it was the friendship between Thrommel of Furyondy, Prince Brightflame of Celene, and Prince Corond of Ulek that managed to bridge the gap, gaining the forces of Good the crucial alliances it needed to defeat the Horde at the Battle of Emridy Meadows. Also in attendance at the battle were the cleric Serten, whom Melf knew through his time adventuring with the Citadel of Eight, and the archmage Serten the Elder. It is believed that Warduke and his allies fought on the opposite side of that battle as mercenaries with the Horde, although they managed to escape after the Horde was routed.
Whether or not Warduke had anything to do with Thrommel's eventual disappearance has never been proven one way or the other, but as one of the strongest claimants to the throne after the anticipated death of Belvor IV, he was certainly a tempting recruit for the Horned Society's schemes. When he was approached by the Unnameable Hierarch, he readily accepted membership, and he in turn recruited some of his old companions - Foxfingers, Zarak, Skylla, Kellek, Raven, and Zargash - to join him.
Erac's Cousin also journeyed to the Ethereal Plane to renew contact with the Dread Emperor. Flattering his delusions, he convinced the Emperor to help create magical equipment for his Society in exchange for a regular tribute of live human children.
Next was Sammael, a servant of Baalzebul like Erac's Cousin, who had seized control of the prostitution and drug trades in the town of Delaquenn on the banks of Lake Whyestil.
From the debauched noblemen of the Dyvers and Hardby, Erac's Cousin recruited Gillard DeRosen and Markosian, both enthusiastic priests of Asmodeus, encouraging the cult among their respective circles of nobles, merchants, and pirates.
The half-elf Thorolf, a cleric of Dispater, runs an ancient mausoleum, mainly set aside for the use of nobles, in the town of Dustbridge in the former Great Kingdom. He has long used his power to protect his mausoleum from necromancers and others who might disturb the dead, cementing his reputation as an upholder of the Law as well as protecting the crypts as an outlet for his own unnatural lusts. Thorolf makes no secret of his reverence of Dispater, and in Dustbridge this has not been a problem as long as he continues to show deference for Prince Stychan, the town's ruler. Thorolf, who has a minor claim to nobility from his human ancestry, has become a frequent and popular guest at Strychan's parties, events so decadent that Thorolf's own predilections often seem minor by comparison. Strychan values Thorolf for his company and wit, as well as his aid in ensuring the town's security. The Horned Society, in its turn, values Thorolf's connections, and has promoted him high in their ranks.
Fox Fingers has a respectable life and a respectable career. He is a nobleman, a peer of the realm and a representative in Furyondy's house of lords. He is certainly not a thief.
Except... he is. With a compulsion that, after all these years, he still cannot resist, he continues to practice his trade in Chendl, night after night. As much as he hates himself for debasing himself with these burglaries, he hates his former adventuring companions from the Company of the Heartstone even more, for they know his secret.
The half-orc Zarak was Melf's friend. They met while exploring the ruins of Castle Greyhawk and, where most elves would not have, Melf saw the kindness and nobility beneath the thief's ugly features. Zarak, in his turn, saw that Melf truly respected him, offering friendship out of more than mere pity. They became fast companions, and when Thrommel organized the Company of the Heartstone, Melf brought Zarak along. When the Heartstone corrupted his friend, magnifying the paranoia and jealousy that had always been latent within him before, their friendship was torn apart.
While the Horned Society has many minor cultists and warriors, the following are the major power players active in the organization today.
Cryennek (= Kelek?) (mage 12) - a cowardly mage of Furyondy. The Marklands, page 39.
Thorolf (Male half-elf cleric 6/fighter 6 of Dispater) - a necrophiliac who runs a mausoleum. Book of Vile Darkness
Rosette the Bladeraver (Female halfling rogue 5/Cleric 6 of Levistus) - a traveler who tries to blend in with other halflings. BoVD
Sammael (Male human cleric 13 of Baalzebul) - rules a city of drugs, debauchery, and murder. BoVD
Gilliard DeRosen (Male human Aristocrat 6/Cleric 10 of Asmodeus) - Controls a large cult made of wealthy nobles and merchants. BoVD
The Dread Emperor (Male human wizard 10/diabolist 10) - Lives in a fortress in the Ethereal Plane with his child-slaves. BoVD
Dorban Smokestone (Male dwarf Cleric 8 of Mammon) - lives in a dwarf community and hires thieves and assassins to eliminate his enemies. BoVD
Zargash (Male human cleric 7 of Glasya) - advisor to Kelek. Fallen cleric of Ehlonna who Mercion once assisted. Former friend of Melf. Blames Ringlerun for the Heartstone disaster, and hates him for it. Has tried to kill Melf several times since the accident. Shady Dragon Inn
Fox Fingers (Male human thief 13) - treacherous ally of Kelek. Shady Dragon Inn
Kelek (= Cryennek?) (Male human M-U 7) - Partnered with Skylla. Former friend of Ringlerun. Hopes to gain control of a wizard's guild. Shady Dragon Inn
Skylla (Female human M-U 6) - Former student of Ringlerun, now partner of Kelek. Shady Dragon Inn
Raven (Female human cleric 10 of Fierna) - Lover of (and devoted to) Warduke. Former friend of Mercion. Not totally evil, but her true personality is hidden by her love of Warduke. Shady Dragon Inn
Warduke (Male human fighter 18) - Former friend of Strongheart; plans with Skylla to kill Kelek when he is no longer useful. Shady Dragon Inn; Dungeon #105.
Andrade Mirrius (Male human cleric 18 of Nerull) - Lives in Greyhawk City. TAB, 91.
Markosian (Male human sor 5/Ftr 2/Disciple of Asmodeus 10) - "The Devil Behind Thrones." Controls corrupt nobles and pirates. Dungeon #111
Guiliana Mortidus (Female human cleric 12 of Nerull) - Lives in Greyhawk City. Greyhawk Adventures, p. 49; TAB, 91.
Nezmajen (Male human cleric 15 of Nerull) - Dwells in the Fellreev Forest, resisting Iuz. Iuz the Evil, TAB, p. 91.
Zbavra the Witch-Queen (Female human cleric of Hextor 5/Sorcerer 9) - Serves in Mammon's court. BoVD, 150.
Other allies: Zbavra, the self-proclaimed "Witch-Queen" is a cousin
of King Grenell's, a lady of the House of Naelax and a cleric of Hextor
who, seeing her ambitions for greater political power stymied in the
Great Kingdom, traveled to the Outer Planes to serve her god directly.
There, she became Hextor's ambassador to the courts of Hell, and thence
fell further into the politics of the infernal lords. Serving Mammon
for a time, she impressed the Lord of Avarice so much that he appointed
her head of his palace guard with six companies of bone devils under
her command, but she secretly desires to return to the Material Plane
and seize the throne of the Great Kingdom from her cousin Grenell.
Erac's Cousin himself has approached her with offers of alliance, and
Zbavra has begun to believe her fantasies of becoming a queen may yet
come to fruition.
With a horned devil servant of Baalzebul in control over the organization and the followers of Anthraxus and Nerull sidelined, the Horned Society is more firmly aligned with the forces of Hell than it has been in decades. Even so, the current incarnation of the Society is not without its factions. There are those in the organization that believe the best path to future control is in aligning themselves with one or the other of the nobles of the North Kingdom; they seek to aid the North Kingdom to conquer its southern counterpart and thus put a Naelax back on the throne of a revived Great Kingdom; naturally, with a court full of Horned Society advisors. Others think a more realistic goal is setting Warduke upon the throne of Furyondy, bringing that mighty nation under their control, while more cautious voices believe if Warduke were to gain this much power, he would no longer need to ally himself with the Horned Society at all, and might well turn on them or, at least, limit the power they once wielded. Still others, Nezmajen and his Nerullite faction foremost among them, believe the Horned Society must work to undermine their hated enemy Iuz and reclaim the Horned Lands from the Old One's grip. The diabolists are less eager, believing the Horned Lands are part of the Society's past, not necessarily a key component of their future triumphs.