Purgatory was part of the death mechanics of GemStone III which was modified, if not technically removed, in the transition to GemStone IV. It was introduced in the I.C.E. Age but survived until "going demonic" was removed from the game. Upon decaying or departing from death, the soul would arrive in a "room" called Purgatory, with obvious paths of light and darkness. The messaging is almost identical in terms of illustration today, except now it is represented as a purely transient process rather than a location. There were several versions of the messaging, which involved being spoken with in the same archaic language used by the deed priestess in the Wehnimer's Landing temple. The deed priestess may have been a Sister of Eissa, but now calls herself a Daughter of the Night.
The theological concept of purgatory has never existed in any of the lore, though it was referenced indirectly in archaic contexts. It was not an aspect of the Shadow World historical setting when it was implemented in the early I.C.E. Age, so it was a purely unique part of the game that could only be interpreted from within itself. Purgatory is referenced by name in the throne room of the mid-level "Under Barrow" in The Graveyard. There is a subtle parallel between this with Castle Anwyn and the Vvrael quest, where Lough Ne'halin translates as "lake without salt" playing off the Lake of Tears.
One of the possible messages received when decaying in GemStone III, which included several common or more exotic variants. (It was possible to end up elsewhere than Purgatory.) There was nothing recognizably theological about most of these messages, The Afterlife was depicted the same way regardless of the state or ultimate fate of the soul. Very low level characters without deeds would also be intervened upon by the Great Spirit Voln. The death mechanics have changed several times over the years. Originally, first level characters were allowed ten free deaths, though they would owe deeds beyond five for the next level. There was statistic damage as well as item droppage upon decaying. These were replaced later with experience damage, and later Death's Sting.
Purgatory alludes primarily to two stories regarding the dream world by H.P. Lovecraft. "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" ends with the quest seeker falling through the black void of the "doomed and desperate dreamer" over the "slow creeping course of eternity", as "aeons reeled" and he returned to the world of his childhood memories. Through the endless void he feels the influence of the great demonic Other Ones, horrific gods of incomprehensible madness beyond the stars, just as the Void is associated with the demonic. (The quest seeker was tricked by Nyarlathotep into proceeding to the court of the demon sultan Azathoth, who corresponds essentially to Agoth or The Unlife, and he saves himself by remembering he is in a dream and leaping into the plummeting darkness.)
This is referenced extensively in The Broken Lands and was arguably made absolutely explicit by the exit of Shadow Valley. (The time having no meaning aspect of it may refer to "The Shadow out of Time", which appears important for "The Legend of the Necropolis of Etrevion". It is concerned with prophetic dream vision, astral projection, and transference of consciousness across space and time.) It might refer also to the depiction of Oblivion in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", which is part of the basis of The Broken Lands. "Ex Oblivione" in contrast represents when you do not leave Oblivion, where your memories and identity "dissolved" into the eternal peace of nothingness. It is reflected by the gate to The Graveyard. The "curtain of light" mentioned by the town guard might be an allusion to the equivalent dream vision Bran has in "A Game of Thrones", which would correspond either to the Wall of Darkness or the grainy montage of color upon entering Purgatory.
Slowly the world begins to dissolve into a grainy montage of color... [Purgatory] You find yourself wandering amidst endless streaming light, and vast nothingness. This place feels torn between two prophecies, each vying for your loyalty. Also in the room: All the spirits of those who could not choose. Obvious exits: light and darkness. Time seems to have no meaning as you wander aimlessly amidst the uncomfortable tugging for your attention. Hopelessness washes over dreams you once held like the creeping tide of doom. In time the Goddess Lorminstra finds you wandering the endlessness of Purgatory and says, "For thy deed, my promise to intercede shall be fulfilled." Taking you by the hand, the Goddess leads you back to mortality... Suddenly you feel an intense pain scorching your very soul! The world of your past suddenly comes rushing back into your memory. You are quite bewildered by what has transpired, but alive... [Hall of Rebirth] Sunlight streams through the ice, illuminating the room with clean, golden light. Faint rainbows dance on the walls, playing across the huge mural hanging on the southern wall. The air is still and cool, layered with peace and serenity. You cannot help but feel calm here, as if something loving was watching over you. Obvious exits: out.
(A) Death Mechanics
The following is how Purgatory is represented in GemStone IV. It no longer references the Gates of Oblivion or "Purgatory" at all, and now defaults to the "tattered soul" variant.
The world before you dissolves into a grainy montage of color... You find yourself wandering amidst endless streaming light and vast nothingness. This place feels torn between two powers, polar opposites vying for your loyalty. You are surrounded by the spirits of those who could not choose. The only way out seems to be through light or darkness. Time has no meaning as you wander aimlessly amidst the uncomfortable tugging for your attention. Hopelessness washes over dreams you once held like the creeping tide of doom. After what could be moments, or perhaps an eternity, the goddess Lorminstra finds you wandering in the endless space and speaks soothingly to you. She gently reassembles the pieces of your tattered soul and then, taking you by the hand, the goddess leads you back to mortality... [Temple, Altar] The altar is plain, and bears only onyx bowls of smouldering incense and smoking paraffin. Draped behind it is a cloth banner, appliqued with an ancient mystical pattern. A legend is embroidered along the bottom. On the far side of the room at the end of an aisle, you see two pillars. Obvious exits: out
(B) Needle of Pentas
There is now also a dark space located somewhere between Liabo and the Needle of Pentas on the Isle of Ornath which is called Purgatory. This is reached by disconnecting while in a Rings of Lumnis quest area, which is located within magical domes on the surface of Liabo and reached by teleportation disks which send you through space between the celestial bodies. In the archaic lore this space was called the River of Life, where souls were swept along the flows of essence between the planet and the moon, brought to the Gates of Oblivion. The Lords of Orhan (Liabo) would ride the flows down to the planet.
[Rings of Lumnis, Purgatory] Located somewhere between extremely dark grey and the blackest of black, the space here is filled with nothing but darkness. It is unclear which way is up or down, and the disorientation is overwhelming. You also see an atmospheric tear. Obvious paths: none >location You carefully survey your surroundings and guess that your current location is the Needle of Pentas or somewhere close to it. >look tear You see nothing unusual.
The mid-level of The Graveyard was originally inaccessible from the surface, making this room a dead end for those who would escape by climbing out. The tunnel that connects it to the edge of the burial mound was from someone clawing their way out, perhaps the cumulative result of many failed attempts by others. This would represent Purgatory without the possibility of a path toward the light, with the bodies being "all the spirits of those who could not choose" and the adventurer as yourself. It is likely an allusion to Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" which is the only time Nyarlathotep is described as being at the center of the Earth like Satan, where he's conflated with Azathoth who is basically The Unlife. The upended funerary gate next to the burial mound was a Lord of Essaence style trilithon portal, and was likely an allusion to the gate to the City of Dis in the Sixth Circle of Hell that was forced shut by the fallen archangels, as the demonic were offended that the living were trying to harrow hell.
While this was presumably the original entrance to the Under Barrow, it would also have been used by the bone golems to move high-quality granite from the High Plateau. The "unseen comings and goings" refer to the shadow assassins, which no longer exist, who were summoned from another plane. They were bringing sacrifices to symbolically sustain Bandur in the afterlife.
[Under Barrow, Cavern] A smallish cavern domes out above you, the packed earthern walls appear part natural and part artificial. It is dimly lit by the same fungus that infests the entire area. But there are sights here that would be better left in total darkness, piles of bones, heaps of rotting flesh, and things less recognizable, in diverse stages of decay. The air is full of unseen comings and goings though you feel no earthly breeze. Obvious exits: east, up >look bone Your eyes wander over a gruesome assortment of bones. They range from old and crumbling fragments of limbs and skulls, human and otherwise, to others still covered with decaying flesh that twitches with an unwholesome semblance of life as they are worked over by various things of the creeping and crawling variety. >look flesh This corpse appears to be that of a fellow adventurer who apparently has died in some less than happy manner. The part of the face that is left is twisted in a final grimace of horror that makes you doubt your sanity at being here.
This subtly alludes to the throne room and sacrificial offering tables represented in Egyptian mortuary temples (implied by the false door in the crypt), which would also sometimes be carved or painted to depict stars on black backgrounds. Of special interest is the so-called "cannibal hymn" where the pharaoh would slaughter and consume the gods to absorb their divine power, and the idea that there were only two ways (by land and sea) through the underworld. However, they would start at the bottom, and fail to reach the surface. The tapestry corresponds to the deed ceremony room and sacrifice storeroom in the Temple of the Landing, with other parts of The Graveyard relating to other rooms. Whether it reflected things in Castle Claedesbrim is indiscernible without old logs.
[Under Barrow, Throne Room] This high chamber is a madman's travesty of a throne room in purgatory. On a dais sits an eldritch throne inlaid with the ivory of human bones. The walls are carved with gut-wrenching scenes of sub-human figures dancing and gibbering with hellish glee under constellations you have never seen. Behind the throne is a tapestry whose subject turns your stomach. You also see a rotted wooden door. Obvious exits: north, west >look throne The bones that make up this grisly seat look as though they were somehow melted together. They flow and twist like half-melted wax. You have no idea how it was done and less wish to find out. >look tap The tapestry is woven with mad scenes of unspeakable cruelty and terror. As you avert your gaze from the unutterable insanity it depicts, you notice behind it a rotted wooden door.
The cabinet in the next room can be considered a medieval wardrobe, possibly alluding to the White Witch winter of Narnia with its unfamiliar constellations. (The demonic pales, like Inferno, were starless skies.) If this was intentional the mid-level also represents the natural caverns of Underland, with the throne being the silver chair of the madman prince who transforms into a serpent at night and slaughters all. In the medieval frame these rooms were less ambiguously a mock castle or feudal manor, with a throne room, great hall, the male equivalent of a private boudoir (which was called a "cabinet" or "solar"), and the ice house for preserving the larder. Symbolically they represent the descent from "mad bestiality" into the malice of betrayers. The stars allude to Purgatory from Dante's Divine Comedy, where they pass through the frozen pit of Hell by climbing down the back of Satan, and arrive on the other side of the world (where the sun shines again and sin can be cleansed) just before dawn with unfamiliar stars in the sky. The symbolic point of the Under Barrow is the ultimate impossibility of ascent from the Ice Shrine. There may also be an Older One premise related to the sleeping through eons of great demons, where such beings will only awaken and reclaim the world when enough time has passed for the stars to return to their ancient alignments.
More obviously, the language is overtly influenced by the work of H.P. Lovecraft, with immediate allusions to two of his stories. The first is a tale involving an ivory throne in a wax museum with a huge madness-inducing daemon, requiring human sacrifices to wake up, an Old One who was found in a high chamber with depraved carvings in the Arctic (sleeping dead gods, as well as Void demons, thus related to the Ordainer symbolism of the Ice Shrine.) The theme is a mocking parody of life in the darkness. The banquet hall refers further to another story with an unnaturally solid ivory throne, with an emphasis on the stars and moon, and a feast where the king and his nobles transform into reptilian sub-human beasts who gibber and dance in worship of their lizard god. These resembled the bounders on the Coastal Cliffs, often used as hunting hounds by Dark Elves. The feast celebrated the shades (hence shadow assassins) who slaughtered the old population with its false gods. This story may partly influence why the Graveyard gate is made of bronze, beyond the more immediate point that it is the metal of Klysus. It is further based on a "Doom" theme, consistent with our form of Purgatory. The Graveyard has a number of parallels both explicit and subtle to the design of Castle Anwyn, where various features from it showed up throughout the Vvrael quest and even rooms in The Rift.
Behind the Scenes
In the early I.C.E. Age, Purgatory was introduced into the death mechanics as a limbo between two ultimate fates, though decaying without deeds would yield the message "lost to the demonic" regardless of society affiliation. There is some erroneous indication in the very early Kelfour's Editions that originally spirit death would cause a character to go demonic regardless of deeds, making the spirit draining creatures and society powers associated with The Unlife inherently more dangerous. This would have been consistent with the old spell lists, which were copied from the Rolemaster spell books, stipulating that the soul must exist (intact) to be resurrected. The loophole was messaging showing the ripped pieces being reassembled by the death goddess. Whether or not this soul destruction was merely imprecise wording in the newsletters, Clerics did not have their resurrection powers and the Council of Light did not exist for the first half year of the game.
In the oldest form of the Eissa (Lorminstra) religion which held at the time Purgatory was implemented, the Goddess of Death would deny requests for resurrection if the fallen had died in a significant or meaningful way. Since this would make fortune hunting adventurers essentially doomed, the concept of deeds served as another loophole in the theology. It would appear that acts of sacrifice on the part of adventurers serve as a special exemption from that rule, substituting symbolically a heroic feat in fealty and homage to the goddess for the soul that was owed to her in death. (This is symbolically inverted by the human sacrifice symbolism in the "thralldom" below The Graveyard.) It is otherwise not based on her Shadow World background, which does not have a deeds concept.
[Temple, Hall of Sacrifice] This part of the hallway is decorated in tapestries which were hung methodically in rows. Each of the handwoven marvels depicts various acts of self-sacrifice: a valiant warrior placing himself in front of a fallen friend, a noble-looking lady giving her cloak to an impoverished child and many other similar scenes. You also see a marble dais. Obvious exits: south
In this interpretation the concept of "deeds" is more literal than the notion of "doing good deeds." It would have referred instead to the medieval practice of "homage", where a kneeling ceremony was performed to a liege lord in exchange for titles and special rights of intercession. These words appear to be used in that sense in The Graveyard, which was based on a story involving fiefdoms and created at roughly the same time as Purgatory. The Graveyard insinuates the Rolemaster concept of becoming demonic in the Void, which gives its own sense to the phrase "lost to the demonic", being slightly older than the Shadow World lore regarding the Dark Gods and the Pales. Paradoxically, Eissa is sad for those who choose "the dark path", even though it was Oblivion regardless.
The Legend of the Necropolis of Etrevion is the oldest story in the game, and its related areas are symbolically interlinked. It is impossible to fully understand it without the Shadow World source material. However, there are three additional layers of symbolism in the "grand design" of The Graveyard, which all imply the same idea of defying death in the ascension of fallen godhood. (1) The first is a strong parallel to Dante's Inferno, hence Purgatory, descending into the underworld to the frozen pit of Satan. (2) The second is the ancient Egyptian religion concerning the three levels of underworld, with the brothers representing Osiris and Set and its middle level relabeled as purgatory. The Dark Path in this context refers to the "obvious exit" of darkness in Purgatory. (3) The Lovecraft theme of great demons sleeping through the eons, waking up in later ages and ruling the dream world. Of special note is "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" by H.P. Lovecraft which threads the goblins, ghouls, phantoms, mummies, demons, madness, dreams, oblivion, Egyptology, labyrinths, necromancy, sacrificial processions, underworld horror, and an Old One who was beyond the God of Death.
Without recognizing all four layers The Graveyard appears misleadingly arbitrary. It is especially difficult to notice the sun god theme without it, though this was later made explicit in a society task. The Lovecraft and Egyptian dimensions are linked through the basis of Purgatory on "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath". In this story the terrible Other God Nyarlathotep who rules Kadath and the dark side of the moon, while seeing to the earthly affairs of the sleeping great demons, represents himself to mere humans as a pharaoh rather than his more horrific guises which would drive them mad. Kadath itself is represented by the Dark Shrine in The Broken Lands. Bandur Etrevion corresponds to Nyarlathotep. Uthex Kathiasas is likely a portmanteau of "Utha Kadaena" with "Ex" and "Kadath."
The surface of The Graveyard itself can also be thought of in terms of Purgatory. The symbolic representation is the eternal hopelessness on the other side of the Gates of Oblivion, which may be what Purgatory actually represents since it appears to be another plane of existence. Bandur Etrevion reflected this with the use of phantoms, which in the archaic lore were created through the intense suffering of hopeless imprisonment. In the other frames this is the "abandon all hope" of limbo and the blessed spirits who lived rightly ordered with Ma'at according to the Devourer of Souls. The descent into earth is the fall into the Void. Unlike the pharaohs who descended to preserve the balance of nature, the extinguishing of the sun is celebrated in chaotic images of The Unlife. This fate was recorded in a famous vision of Andraax where The Unlife appeared as slithering shadows that put out the sun. The freezing can be considered what follows from the end of the stars and moon.
In the Shadow World setting there is nothing corresponding to limbo, nor was there any premise of hopelessness or vanishing identity in Oblivion. For the Eissa (Lorminstra) religion there is the River of Life, which is a current of essence flows between the world and the moon, which swept souls toward her Gates of Oblivion. This river is symbolically represented in both the Order of Vult (Voln) monastery and The Graveyard ending in the bog. This was not represented in the death mechanics, only the other side of the Gates of Oblivion, making its cosmology unique to GemStone III. Being "lost to the demonic" is somewhat more canonical, as the Dark Gods sent the souls of their followers to the Pales.
Interestingly, the archaic diction used by the death goddess in the purgatory messaging is also used by a statue of Orgiana (Eorgina), which threatened to steal the souls of trespassers in her temple. It is standing guard over a powerful artifact called the Helm of Kadaena. Several rooms in The Graveyard are explicitly modeled on this temple, which was ruled by the daughter of Kadaena at the same time Bandur Etrevion supposedly pledged himself to her. The symbolism of the Ice Shrine corresponds to the Black Hel theology, Ordainers, the Ninth Circle of Hell, and the pharaonic ascension into Ra (with Bandur-as-Set cast into the darkness, but ending the sun, having replaced Osiris as Lord of the Underworld.)
More subtle still is the role of Klysus (Luukos), who was simultaneously the serpent, sun, and soul devourer god. Without the Shadow World background his relationship to The Dark Path through Lorgalis is missing, as well as his role in the sun god symbolism in The Graveyard. (In the Egyptian frame it was only possible for the pharaoh to ascend to godhood by slaying the serpent god in the underworld. The "weighing of the heart" was added later under the burial mound, with the general premise inverted.) The necropolis is equally defiant of Klysus as Eissa, but it is much less obvious. Interestingly, the underworld had its own sky like Shadow Valley, which was haunted by an Ordainer-serving serpent demon.