The Black Dog
Name: Basker Type: Animal Nature: Caregiver Background Value: 4 Mage: Michael Gasparutti
Strength (Burly) 4, Dexterity 2, Stamina (Tough as Nails) 4
Charisma 2, Manipulation 1, Appearance 0
Perception 2, Intelligence 2, Wits 2
Alertness 2, Athletics 3, Awareness 1, Brawl 2, Dodge 1
Stealth 2, Survival 3
Fear, Healing, Illuminate, Night Vision, Paradox Nullification, Read and Write, Sharp Senses (Hearing, Smell), Soak Aggravated, Speech, Teeth, Tracking
Merit: Acute Sense (Smell) 1
Backgrounds: Certification (Emotional Support Animal) 1
Adversarial Backgrounds: Notoriety 2 (phantom hound),
Flaws: Witch-Hunted (vengeful next-of-kin) 4, Bard’s Tongue 1
Willpower 7 Essence 7
Health: OK x1, -1 x2, -2 x2, -5 x1, Incapacitated x1
Fear: Spend X essence to strike X targets with fear (targets resist with Willpower [difficulty = Basker’s Willpower]). The affected creature is unable to ack for 1 turn, and suffers a +1 difficulty modifier to all rolls for the next 10 turns.
Healing: Spend 1 Essence to heal a level of Bashing or Lethal damage, or 2 Essence to heal a level of Aggravated damage.
Illuminate: The familiar can give off an ambient glow or light its eyes like flashlights. The light is enough to read by or serve as a lamp for others in a small area.
Night Vision: Can see in any poor lighting condition other than total darkness.
Paradox Nullification x1: Can negate 1 point of paradox per game session.
Read & Write; Speech: Basker can speak, read, and write one language (probably Latin?)
Sharp Senses (Hearing, Smell): The animal can make Perception rolls for things that humans cannot, such as tracking by scent or hearing ultrasonic noises.
Soak Aggravated: the animal can soak aggravated damage with Stamina.
Teeth: Basker’s bite inflicts Strength +1 Lethal damage.
Tracking: Basker can track any being, so long as he can sample its Resonance (such a Resonance can be duplicated with Mind 2/Prime 2). The roll is Perception + Alertness (base difficulty 6)
Expanded Merits, Flaws, and Backgrounds
Acute Sense (Smell) 1: Reduce the difficulty of all related Perception rolls by 2.
Certification (Emotional Support Animal) 1: Basker is legally certified as Michael’s Emotional Support Animal, meaning he is permitted in most public spaces, such as in restaurants or on public transit.
Notoriety 2 (phantom hound): Basker is a well-established local legend among the sleepers, as a ghost dog whose appearance presages death or ill fortune. Obviously, most people who meet him on the street do not make the connection, but whenever he is out at night, the legend becomes more obvious.
Witch-Hunted (vengeful next-of-kin) 4: Basker is pursued by a crafty mortal witch hunter, the next of kin of some mortal whose death Basker “predicted” and who holds him responsible.
- Bard’s Tongue 1:* Basker is not quite the death omen that his legend proclaims (he lacks the appropriate Charms) but he speaks uncanny truths sometimes. Once per session, he will say something that uncomfortably predicts or reveals something about the current situation.
What People Know
What people “know” about Basker depends on the circumstances in which they meet him. In the University, the following is generally known.
- Basker is Michael Gasparutti’s dog.
- Basker is a certified emotional support animal.
- Who’s a good dog? You are! Yes you are!
- Despite this, the dog is a tad off-putting.
When encountered on his own elsewhere, the following might be known.
- Some kind of ghost dog is said to haunt the neighborhood, and seeing him is bad luck.
- The ghost dog is most often seen around churches and graveyards.
- This dog looks an awful lot like the descriptions of the ghost dog.
Michael Gasparutti met Basker years ago in a desanctified church. Animal control had received several calls about the baying, massive stray in the area, and been frightened away, to the point that rumor and magic attracted Michael’s attention. Eventually he found the spirit he nicknamed Basker (his truer name is not for casual conversation) and had a long conversation with him. He learned that the black dog had been somehow left behind when the church was closed. Deprived of his purpose and the holy Resonance which normally sustained him Basker was wasting away, destined for Slumber and dissolution. With some cajoling and effort, Micheal convinced the dog to come with him. Basker Materialized and Michael made the effect permanent (see Forged By Dragon’s Fire, p. 80) and then prevailing upon his aunt to the binding, making Basker his familiar.
- In addition to appearing as dogs, church grims may appear as other animals such as rams, horses, roosters, or ravens, or even as swarthy dwarves. They may also appear as pale ghosts.
- One version of the Church Grim involves the idea that when a churchyard is established, a black dog is buried in its northern end to create a church grim. This is a Swedish legend, originating from the belief that the first man buried in a churchyard had to remain to protect it from the Devil. The black dog was an attempt to spare a human soul from this burden. The difficulty I see here is that we’re talking traditions within Catholic orthodoxy, and they seem rather iffy on animals having souls, and I kind of doubt the clergy would engage in this type of rite, nor cotton kindly to some random villager trying to bury an animal in their brand new churchyard to fulfill some heretical local custom.
- This also doesn’t jive with the methodologies of animal sacrifice I’m familiar with (most Christian sacrifices I’m aware of seemed to focus more on propitiation or scapegoating, not necromancy), but as the benandante theme I’m playing on demonstrates, a whole lot of folk magic, local custom, and pre-Christian tradition ends up folded into doctrine, so I’m not going to say it’s false, just that its seems a tad out of place.
- Certainly, there is an older or broader tradition of laying sacrifices under or in the cornerstones of major constructions; both the Eastern Orthodox and (pre-Vatican II) Catholic Church have elaborate cornerstone rituals, some involving placing holy relics in the cornerstone or burying similar things of significance beneath or within the altar stone.
- Regardless, per White Wolf rules, a dog spirit is not the ghost of a dead dog; only humans and the phantom steeds of the Equitaes get to be ghosts, unless you’re in Australia. I’m thinking a church grim is probably a more typical genius loci or other Umbral guardian spirit.
- Also, I’m not sure that any churches in northern Virginia (where my character came up) nor in California have black dogs buried under them — but if they did, it would certainly make for an interesting twist!
- Church Grims seem to enjoy ringing church bells to amuse themselves, but may also ring them when a member of the church is going to die, making them another example of black dogs as death omens.
- Like other black dogs, church grims can terrify intruders to drive them away.
Black Dogs in Lore: Most “Black Dog” legends originate in northern England, though they are thought by some to have Germanic roots, claiming that names like “Barghest” derive from the german “Berg-Geist,” though it’s likely that the local legends are also somewhat associated with the Scottish Cù Sìth or Irish Cú Sídhe (and the Welsh Cŵn Annwn) with a palette swap (such legends portrayed these mystical beasts as green or white, though they were often still death omens). The proper “Church Grim,” however, is Scandinavian.
- Black dogs tend to be huge, shaggy, and terrifying.
- Usually they have glowing or flaming eyes, though sometimes they are headless. At least one black dog is a cyclops. Obviously a familiar to be taken as an Animal rather than a Bygone lacks these fantastical qualities.
- Black dogs are often death omens, with their appearance or howl warning of (or causing) imminent death.
- Almost all black dogs, even the friendly ones, seem to have the power to inspire pants-wetting terror in witnesses.
- Some of them seem fiery in nature. Burning eyes, flame breath, or even glowing auras of flame, are all within type. Some sites of black dog attacks still bear scorch marks.
Inu-Gami: You didn’t think I was going to do this much writing without including some Japanese lore, did you? The themes of live burial and headlessness weirdly connect the black dog and the church grim to the inu-gami, or “dog spirit/dog god.” Technically, inugami is a broad classification, which can include any canid spirit, such as the beloved tanuki. But there is also a more specific formulation of the inu-gami, which is also far darker.
- The inugami is commanded by a family or household known as an inugami-mochi. Inugami-mochi traditionally marry into other inugami-mochi. Presumably this means they accumulate a kennel over time.
- This is part of a broader tradition of using animal spirits as familiars. A more prominent example are the kitsune-tsukai (not to be confused with kitsune-tsuki) and kitsune-mochi, who use foxes to similar (often equally immoral) effect, though the process of gaining a fox’s service is far less brutal.
- The inugami is loyal and servile, but its loyalty is not absolute, and it may turn on an unwary or obnoxious master.
- An inugami is created by decapitating a starving dog (in some versions, the dog is buried up to its neck with food just out of reach) and the head is buried at a busy crossroads to prevent it from rest. The head and/or body is later preserved and enshrined, after which it is treated as a member of the family.
- An inugami is a tsukimono (possession spirit), and can take over the bodies of others. Those who die possessed by a dog are often found with scratches and bite marks on their bodies.
- Because of the intense cruelty involved in creating an inugami, the wicked purposes to which it is put, and the general viciousness of the starved-dog spirit, wielding an inugami is frowned upon.
- Such animal spirits are often associated with fire as well: both the kitsune and tanuki are known to conjure balls of fire. It’s not a specific part of the inugami legend, but it is kind of a general yokai thing.
Some Specific Black Dogs and Church Grims:
- The Yeth Hound of Devon: is the ghost of an unbaptised child who appears as a (sometimes headless) dog. It wanders the woods, wailing, and is generally more of a tragic figure.
- Padfoot, the Black Dog: Sirius Black, in the Harry Potter series, adopted the title of this legendary phantom hound. Despite its fearsome appearance (coal-black, fiery eyes, big as a bear), one of the two primary legends of Padfoot (phantom dogs by this name appear in two distinct parts of England) is considered a benevolent, protective creature.
The Black Dog of Lancashire (variously known as Barguist, Gytrash, Padfoot, the Grim, Shag, Trash, Striker or Skriker) is considered far more malevolent.
- The Black Dog of Newgate Prison is the result of a sensational tale of one Squire Richard Cabell, convicted of witchcraft and sentenced to said prison. Shortly after his death, the spectre of a headless dog began to appear on the bridge. After being spotted, it would howl mournfully and leap off the bridge, and is generally seen as a death omen, like a banshee.
- The Church Grim of Denmark actually appears as a “grave-sow.”