Friday, July 25, 2014

Euryale and the Deck of Destiny

Wheel of Fortune
Pompeii Mosaic from Naples National Archaeological Museum
I've been thinking about Euryale for a couple of weeks, but it was only last night while incubating upon my bed that the pieces came together for me.  In the ancient world, the decrees of Fate where absolute.  Even the head of the pantheon was subject to Fate's decree. Thus Fortuna or Fate's rule over the destinies of gods and men was absolute.  That Gygax (and Kunz?)'s inspiration for the Deck of Many Things comes from the Tarot as well as the general idea of a magic deck of cards is obvious. What then do we find when we look at the symbolism of the cards?  Archetypal human figures, heavenly bodies, two elements, two states (I note, aligned neutrally and chaotically), four objects, one location, and two with mythological personages.  The latter two cards are the Fates and Euryale.  The only specific individual, the only proper name among the cards, is Euryale.

In thinking mythopoeically about this magical item, this provides me with a key.  The history and meaning of the deck within the gaming world will revolve around the one figure named in it.

Euryale, the gorgon, is one of the two sisters of the better-known Medusa.  And if you only known the word gorgon from D&D, you also might want to take a look at this post from Paizo's Wes Schneider.  The name itself means "far-roaming" or "far-springing" according to most, although it could be "open sea." The latter view seems to be taken by the maker of my Kickstarter deck pictured above (by Analog Games), perhaps following Hesiod.  It's tempting to take "eu" as the common prefix for "good" and then look for some source for ρυάλη, but I cannot find any likely candidates for so simple a derivation.  If such an origin could be found for the name, it would be make me think of the times that complimentary names are given to fey creatures in an attempt to appease them, such as "the good folk."

The fact that Medusa and "gorgon" were both made species of monster in D&D, it is interesting that sister Euryale was made into one of the figures in of the Deck of Many Things.

The only deck that is commercially available currently, to my knowledge, is the deck in the Madness at Gardmore Abbey.  It has the best art and is my favorite deck.  The Analog Games website leads one to believe that their deck will be available eventually to others than the original KS supporters, but that has not happened yet.  I do love their size and the design on the back of the cards, though I find the quality of the illustrations on the faces inconsistent.  They will probably be my default use deck, since I want to keep William O'Connor's wonderful cards (pictured below) in good shape for years to come.  Finally, I have the Dragon magazine deck from years ago.  It's the devil to try to trim those to the same size.  That deck is available in online versions here and here.  (A variant version for Labyrinth Lord using the Tarot is available here.)  It certainly seems like Wizards could do more with the Deck of Many Things than they have heretofore.  Tarokka made a nice bit of Ravenloft ambience, and canny Paizo made the best of both ideas in the creation of their Harrow cards.  UPDATED! Analog has created an online Deck of Many Things, here  (8/24/2014).

As rules for using the deck now stand, drawing Euryale is bad luck indeed:  One is cursed to a -1 penalty on all saving throws thenceforward.

Let's take all of this material back to the question of who Euryale is.  She is one of three sisters, who, according to disparate sources, were either human and divine or semi-divine.  These sisters are involved in a conflict with a goddess, and they get the short end of the stick: they are turned into monsters.  These monsters are given a variety of appearances even in the antique mythology of Earth, before D&D turned Medusa into the iconic female snake monster that she is and her species into the bull monster.  I recommend making hay from this mistake.  Nobody who is not Greek can really say Stheno anyway.  Make the sisters Medusa, Euryale, and Gorgon.  Two sisters then were punished by being made eponymous progenitors of the medusas and the gorgons.  What happened to the third?  Why were they punished and by whom?  The answers are in the cards.

Think first about what he cards do.  They change the player-character's life drastically and magically, merely by being pulled.  They bring weal and they bring woe.  They can cause a major change of identity or even bring death.  The magic of the deck fits the classical theme of metamorphosis, as does the different depictions of the forms of the three sisters and their punitive transformations.

Euryale is the person behind the deck: she either escaped punishment and retained her individuality or she was literally made into the magic that imbues the DoMT.  But the Fates are also represented.  The magic of the deck itself could be taken as an affront to the Fates, so now I know how I will interpret the conflict. Euryale was a goddess or a sibyl.  She lead her sisters in a challenge against the Fates: three sisters against three sisters.  Maybe they are Promethean figures seeking to weaken Fates' grasp on humanity, as this would limit the effectiveness of the cards to mortals.  They were defeated by the Fates and these goddesses punished them and made them monsters, that is, signs or portents that disrupt the natural order as evidence of divine displeasure.  The message: Don't Mess with fate/the Fates.

However, there are still these magical decks around, messing with fate.  Those three sisters now look like a coven that had some success in their struggle against the Fates. Perhaps there was ritual sacrifice, and the two sisters lost powered Euryale's ascension to a level of divine power that allowed her to escape the full punishment and she now serves as the power and patron of these decks.  All the Fates could do was harness the fate of two of the sisters and make them monsters to serve them in the ongoing struggle against Euryale.  Perhaps she herself was sacrificed or punished as well, and she only lives on as a divine vestige in the cards. With these background ideas to play with, I know have ways of working the cards into the mythology of the setting that I create for the game.  I would develop the cards not as background for the world.  All of this needs to matter for character interaction.  Perhaps the rules need to be expanded for the cards as well, so that each card could have a negative as well as a positive outcome in the undoing of fate's decrees.  Magic may circumvent fate, but that does not mean one can predict whether it will do so in ways that ultimately match one's desires.  The Fates are relentless, however. Wherever these cards have appeared, they are often accompanied by the resultant medusas and gorgons who are either attempting to keep mortals from the cards or are trying to recover cards that have fallen into mortal hands.

Where could you get more ideas to flesh out Euryale?  First, follow the links above for more historic mythical material.  Next, for a sympathetic treatment of Euryale as a female character, Kara Dalkey's historical Roman fantasy may be bought here.  It's enjoyable, but not mind-blowing; I give it a solid B.  (The cover on the Juno reprint of the novel above left is certainly preferable to the original on my Ace copy.  Who is that supposed to be, anyway?  Athena?  It certainly can't be Euryale.)

I wonder how fellow ramblers have adapted the deck to their own world-building or house-ruling.  I'd love to hear about that as well as reactions to my vision of Euryale's Deck of Magical Metamorphosis.

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