Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Petty Gods: Tau

It appears that Tau, the Guardian of Tombs and Cemeteries, will be included in Petty Gods, James Maliszewski’s crowd sourced tribute to Judges Guild's Unknown Gods.  This illustration of the terrible godling by Mark Allen appeared recently in Grognardia. The original (Open Game Content) text describing this petty god follows.

Name:  Tau, the Guardian of Tombs and Cemeteries
Symbol: Shears and a torch
Alignment: Law
Movement: 180' (60')
Armor Class: -4
Hit Points (Hit Dice): 126 hp (21 HD)
Attacks: 3
Damage: 1-4 +3
Save: C21
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: XV, XVI
XP: 12,500

Tau is closely associated with the god of the dead and is the guardian of tombs and cemeteries. He most often appears as a vaguely reptilian humanoid with a canine face, fangs, a forked tongue, three yellow eyes, and matted black hair. This form stands approximately five feet tall, has bluish-gray skin, four arms, frog legs, and sharp dorsal spines. He appears naked but heavily ornamented with earrings, bracelets, and anklets made from human bones.

Tau is surrounded by a perpetual stench of death and decay and his appearance is so frightening and repulsive that his mere presence will instill terror (requires an immediate morale check at -2). He casts spells as a 21st level cleric and may speak with the dead at will. Tau also possesses limited teleportation ability that functions as that of a blink dog. In his humanoid form, Tau bears +3 iron shears in three of his hands and carries a blazing torch in the fourth. He suffers no penalties for executing multiple attacks and is not subject to standard spell casting constraints. Tau cannot be surprised, is immune to charm, hold and sleep spells and can only be struck by silver or magical weapons.

Tau lives in a terrifying cemetery high in the mountains. Although lawful, he is singularly concerned with the protection of burial places and delights in murdering tomb robbers. In some lands with ancient traditions, the Cult of Tau is more prominent; worshipers of Tau in such countries are known to police tombs.


Tau was inspired by the deities of Tékumel,  by Tibetan and Etruscan mortuary gods, and by the chupacabra, the well known cryptid that reportedly inhabits various regions of Latin America.

The influence of the gods of Tékumel and the source mythologies of Mesoamerica and the Indian subcontinent likely resulted in the terrible demonic form of Tau. In Tibetan myth, the yaksha Ksetrapala is a warden of cemeteries. He is often depicted as a fearsome demon with blue-black skin, adorned with human skulls and holding a curved knife and skull cup filled with blood. Like Tau, Ksetrapala dwells in a terrible cemetery high in the mountains.  His home stands at a gate to one of the many Tibetan hells and it is probable that Tau's abode is similarly situated near a portal to the underworld.

Clearly, aspects of Tau are quite similar to the chupacabra, literally from the Portuguese and Spanish,  goat-sucker.  That creature typically appears in one of three forms; the most common being a relatively small reptilian monster with leathery or scaly greenish-gray skin and a canine head. This form is said to hop in a manner similar to the kangaroo and is accompanied by a sulfuric stench. The second described form is predominantly canine, though bipedal with coarse grey fur. It also hops. The third form is described as a hairless dog with a spinal ridge and protruding eye sockets. The association of the monstrous chupacabra with Tau probably follows from the dog-like appearance of the beast in all its forms. Dogs, in Mesoamerican folklore and myth, are often presented as guides for dead souls; the Aztec underworld deity Xolotl took the form of a dog-headed skeleton with reversed feet.

Tau’s torch and shears; however, are derived from an ancient Mediterranean cemetery deity, Kulsu, often erroneously identified as Kulmu, an Etruscan Chaonian goddess associated with the guardianship of tombs. Kulsu is depicted on a sarcophagus from Chiusi emerging from a tomb with buskins and shears in one hand and a flaming funeral torch in the other.

The existence of a deity such as Tau and the cult's tomb police, might be problematic for the traditional party of dungeon explorers, essentially glorified grave robbers that they so often are. Tékumelani adventurers are certainly well acquainted with the patrols of capable, although often corrupt, Tomb Police that guard the underworld.  Mark Wigoder-Daniels in the Eye of All-Seeing Wonder noted:
 Before entering the underworld you must deal with the tomb police. The ideal is to avoid contact with them altogether, but in other circumstances you will have to come to a financial arrangement. It is best to do this before descending into the underworld, as the police are more likely to be content with a few kaitars if they do not see you with a sack freshly filled with antique loot.

Tau, himself, is not so easily placated. His hatred for tomb robbers is absolute and those that run afoul of the little god will likely end as bloody mutilated corpses on the dungeon floor. In rare circumstances; however, Tau may provide assistance to some adventurers.

Tau Reaction Table
(2d6; Use Wisdom as Modifier instead of Charisma; +10 to tomb robbers and defilers)

2 or less Benevolent: Will Commune with or Raise Dead party members or character if properly propitiated.

3 Positive: Will Bless or Cure character or party if properly propitiated.

4-8 Indifferent: Ignores character or party.

9-10 Negative: Will Quest character or party if not properly propitiated. The quest will involve the protection of burial places or the restoration of defiled burials or looted grave goods.

11 Hostile: Will attack character or party if not properly propitiated.

12+ Enraged: Attacks character or party.


  1. Cool diety and nice write-up. I thought a detected a little tasteful Tekumel influence there.

  2. Excellent illustration. It's nice to see somone else doing a lawful monstrosity, the chthonic realm needs someone to maintain a semblance of order.


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