While watching the many folk and fairy tales that are on the TV during the Christmas holidays, I realized that Czech take on Hell and its inhabitants is perhaps a bit unusual. In pretty much every story, the devils (or rather čerti, singular čert) and Hell are displayed in a positive light.
Čerti are not malicious, true evil is always found among humans. Čerti might be lazy, bureaucratic and ineffectual, but in the end they are there to punish and take away the sinners, thus leaving Earth a bit better off than before. Interestingly, angels, Heaven and God appear very rarely, and justice is generally served because čerti and good humans cooperate against evil humans. The mills of
God Hell grind slowly but surely.
|A čert coming out of the oven to get you!|
Three main types of čerti appear in the folk tales:
The trickster čert is charming and the most diabolic, tempting people to sell their soul for money, power or magic. However, he likes and oftentimes ends up helping good people who defy him, even borrowing them magic items or coming to their aid. He will employ his human friends to get at sinners who protect themselves from Hell with holy ground or other magic. He will always have a contract for one's soul ready, to be signed in blood.
The punch-clock čert is ugly and dirty, but scary only because it's his job. He will try to frighten you, but if that fails, he will probably offer you a roast and a beer, then complain about how boring the job is, or hellish wages, or some such. He's very likely to be fooled and trapped by some evil human, who than uses stolen hellish magic to commit actually evil deeds. In that case, the čert will need to be saved by the human protagonist.
The clueless, young čert is either the protagonist, or his (soon to be) friend. He's really not good at this devilish stuff, and one of his blunders will probably strand him on Earth until he can recover a lost magic item / find a fugitive sinner / otherwise make up for his mistakes. He also tends to fall in love, which generally ends up in a wedding (becoming human optional).
When Lucifer, the King of Hell himself, appears, he ranges from being a wise mentor to the protagonist, to a strict and grumpy, but still fair and just ruler. He always comes off as nearly a saint in comparison to the corrupt, lazy, spiteful and outright cruel nobles on Earth. He will grant a wish (or three wishes) as compensation to innocents dragged to Hell by mistake (caused by the young čert above).
|Lucifer in attendance on human wedding.|
- is male. Female čertice are very rare.
- has horns. These grow with age and power, so a young and weak čert will have tiny horns, while an older čert will have much bigger goat's or ram's horns.
- may have a hoof instead of one foot, or a tail. This is not always the case, though, so let's say 1-in-6 chance of each.
- spits brimstone, which can start fires.
- is immortal and immune to fire.
- is repelled or even burned by anything holy.
- cannot harm an innocent person.
d6 Hellish Powers
- Human disguise: Loose the horns, hoof and tail, plus change from any demonic garb into a commoner's clothes (weak čert), huntsman or soldier uniform (trickster čert), or a noble attire (powerful čert). Also removes the soot and smell of brimstone.
- Animal form: Transform into a black (d6) dog/cat/goat/horse/crow/rooster.
- Hell portal: Teleport between Hell and Earth with a cloud of smoke and brimstone. Most čerti can only do this when they drag a soul to Hell, but Lucifer and his trusted lieutenants can pop anywhere at will.
- Pyrokinesis: The more powerful the čert, the hotter the flames.
- Telekinesis: Only the most powerful čerti.
- Wish: Can grant wealth or build palaces to humans who sign away their soul in blood. Only Lucifer can grant wishes without getting a soul in return.
d8 Gifts from Hell
- Cloak of invisibility: As any other cloak of invisibility, but doesn't work when wet and burns up when touched by holy water.
- Tablecloth of wine and dine: When you unfold it, conjures a magnificent feast.
- Sack of soldiers: Open to summon a squad of damned soldiers that will be loyal to whomever holds the sack. Treat as normal HD 1 soldiers, except they have Morale 12 (if they run, they go back to Hell; if they die, they go back to Hell) and disappear in flames when killed.
- Bag of many items: Take out any item you can think of and that could fit inside of the bag. Each item taken is a sin.
- Coat of gold: A dirty, threadbare overcoat. When you reach into a pocket, you always find a gold coin. However, no amount of grooming can make you presentable (-4 Charisma, -4 to Reaction rolls) and the coat disappears if you ever take it off.
- Seven league boots
- Scarf of fire resistance
- Posh needle: Knits the most beautiful attire you can imagine out of thin air, but the clothes become ash when touched by sunlight.
All of these were given to the protagonist of one fairy tale or another.
|Sinners in cages and boiling in cauldrons.|
Here are several films that should give you a taste of čerti and their Hell:
- Anděl páně (Angel of the Lord): A čert tempts his angel buddy to fall, then does his best to get him back to Heaven. Available on Netflix.
- Čertí brko (The Magic Quill): Quite anvilicious, but has very nice depiction of bureaucratic Hell. Available on Netflix.
- Nejlepší přítel (Best Friend): This one actually inspired the post. Available here, but without subtitles.
- Princezna ze mlejna (Princess from the Mill): Your friendly neighbourhood čert. Available on Netflix.
- S čerty nejsou žerty (Give the Devil His Due): Basically a cult classic around here. Available here, but without subtitles.
- Z pekla štěstí (Devil's Own Luck): How being friendly with Hell can help you slay a dragon. Available here, but without subtitles.
So maybe the next time your players run into devils, these might be well-meaning collectors of evil souls, or good-natured spooks just doing their job.