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February 14, 2015, 5:27 pm

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The Carnyx - the War Horn of the Mountain Tribes


"Their trumpets are also of a peculiar and barbaric kind which produce a harsh, reverberating sound suitable to the confusion of battle."
from the memoirs of Diodorus Siculus,
Commander of the Legion XIX (retired)


The Carnyx is a strange-looking device; a thin, tapered metal tube of hammered bronze, twelve feet long and bent at a right angle near both ends. At the smaller end is the mouthpiece while the upper end flares out into a bell, which is usually shaped like the head of the clans’ totem animal. The horn is played in an upright position, placing the business end high above the heads of the warriors.

Mundane Usage

Sounding something like a cross between a freshly skewered boar and a brontosaurus in heat, the Carnyx seems designed to both attract the immediate attention of friends and allies while simultaneously scaring the living daylights out of the enemy.

Despite this apparent crudity, the Carnyx is in fact a highly sophisticated peace of military equipment, providing the tribes with a level of battlefield command and control that is the equal of any professional army.

The horns’ loud, and somewhat raucous, notes carry well across the noise of battle and its’ very size dominates the battlefield. Furthermore a skilled musician can produce a range of notes, and even some quite complex tunes, from the horn.

Specific notes or short tunes are used for common orders, much like the more conventional bugle, while its’ size allows it to simultaneously serve as a rallying point. And these are the primary uses, and value, of the Carnyx on the battlefield.

Also, shaping the bell as the clan totem animal gives the Carnyx a kind of religious significance, reassuring the clan warriors that the gods are with them and instilling, if not religious mania, at least increased confidence and courage.

Magical Properties

Carnyx are not an intrinsically magical devices, and indeed the vast majority have no magical properties at all. Nonetheless, the mountain Druids commonly enchant them with a variety of magical abilities. There is no accurate census of the number of such enchanted horns, but estimates (and these are rough guesses at best) suggest that about one in ten have a magical power of some kind.

It is said that no two Carnyx are the same. While this is not strictly true there is some veracity to the statement, for there are a variety of enchantments commonly placed upon these horns. In general these are large-scale area effect spells which are invoked by playing a specific tune, much like a bugle call, on the Carnyx affecting all those who hear it.

These enchantments are almost always designed to assist the musicians’ allies in some manner rather than directly hinder his enemies. Offensive spells are rarely enchanted into a Carnyx, although there are no theoretical or practical reasons for this. This restriction appears to be cultural (the use of magic to attack a foe is considered dishonourable).

The power of the effect is dependent both on the skill of the musician and the enchanting skill of the Druid who originally cast the enchantment on the horn. It should be noted here that, although not entirely unknown, it is rare indeed to find a Carnyx with more than one magical property. Some of the more common enchantments are listed below:

Call the Healing Wind: All friendly warriors who hear the call receive the benefits of a healing spell. The level of healing is dependent on the strength of the original enchantment (i.e. the Druid’s enchanting skill) and the skill with which the musician invokes its’ power (i.e. his playing skill).

Speed of Thought: All friendly warriors who hear the call speed up slightly. All combat related speed (movement rate, initiative, number of attacks, whatever) are increased for a short time. The size of the increase and the duration of the effect are dependent on the strength of the original enchantment (i.e. the Druid’s enchanting skill) and the skill with which the musician invokes its’ power (i.e. his playing skill).

The Beast Within: Selected friendly warriors are filled with the spirit of the clan totem, transforming them into homicidal berserkers who charge headlong into the enemy battle lines, killing all who get in their way regardless of whether they be friend or foe. These berserkers are completely suicidal, unaffected by any kind of moral effect (fear, demoralisation, moral, whatever), and cannot therefore be stopped by any means other than simply hacking them to pieces.

To be effected by the spell a warrior must have consumed an alchemical potion, the formula for which is a jealously guarded secret, before the battle starts, although it is not necessary that he does so voluntary. Selecting who is given the potion is a matter of tradition and varies considerably from tribe to tribe. In some tribes it is considered a great honour to be offered the potion while in others it is force-fed to lawbreakers so that they may, by their death, perform some useful service to society.

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Comments ( 7 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

Voted Wulfhere
March 13, 2007, 14:08
Not bad at all! Clearly described and presented, these could be used in several ways within a campaign. Some strict limits would also have to be defined, or they would be extremely powerful items, shaping the course of entire battles.

Emphasizing the potions needed for the horn's functions would certainly limit their effectiveness: If the healing or haste function of a horn also required potions to be consumed first, that could prevent overuse of the item ("Darn! We're out of frogs' eyes! We can't make more until next week!")
Voted valadaar
March 14, 2007, 18:54
Quite interesting - as Wulf says, the use of the potions to take full advantage is a good limiting factor.
Voted manfred
March 15, 2007, 15:32
There is somewhere a Codex for battlefield items, and this fits right in there. I like that you can use "weaker" effects, but on a scale that can have massive impact.

For instance a Refreshing tune, that removes the tiredness from the men, would be useful in most battles, but especially in the prolonged ones, or after extensive maneuvers.

Marching song is good for the initial phases of the battle, it provides rythm for this side, and makes the sound of their marching louder for the opponent, having quite some psychological effect.

The Aimless Wind blows against the attacker. This can be either a mild effect, slightly weakening enemy missiles, and giving a bit more range to friendly archers; or it can be a single powerful gust that can drive away an entire volley of arrows...

In which case, the bard playing the tune will find himself loosing his voice for using the spirits of the wind for such an earthy purpose.
March 15, 2007, 15:37
Have linked it to Items of War....
March 15, 2007, 15:39
Ah, yes, that was it. Thanks, valadaar!
Voted Cheka Man
March 16, 2007, 13:53
Only voted
Voted Murometz
March 17, 2007, 11:49

Sounding something like a cross between a freshly skewered boar and a brontosaurus in heat


Very nice new take on the ubiquitous horns of War!

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