Red Right Hand
rating: +1+x

Chained in the burning lake? That sure was worse
What if the breath that kindled those grim fires
Awaked, should blow them into sevenfold rage
And plunge us into flames; or from above
Should intermitted vengeance arm again
His red right hand to plague us?

- Book II of Paradise Lost, by John Milton

Basic Information

The Red Right Hand trope is a form of Glamour Failure where the right hand of a supernatural character is blood-stained or marked with some other variation of red coloring. The red right hand could be seen as the spiritual equivalent of bright patterns on venomous animals - a warning sign that something wrathful this way comes.

Exactly what it means is debatable, and the GM has some wiggle room. The term originated in John Milton's Paradise Lost, where the demon Belial refers to God's red right hand, which can strike down vengeance upon the devils should they push the war in Heaven too far. Belial was arguing for peace, or at least not provoking a second war in heaven. In this context the red right hand signifies divine wrath. By extension, the red right hand can be applied to all the Holy Trinity, the Angel of Death, or any agent of Divine Retribution. Jesus Christ sits on God's right hand, so such a symbol could be used to mark a Messiah. However, since the mark of the beast is placed upon the right hand (or forehead), the red right hand might mark the Antichrist or his followers. From there it's a short jump to the Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse, Satan, and various demons and fallen angels.

As byzantine and contradictory as all that is, there's other uses of a Red Right Hand that make the whole topic even more complicated.

  • The expression Caught Red-Handed, referring to still having blood literally on your hands when the authorities arrive after a violent crime.
  • The Red Right Hand appears on flags of the Irish province of Ulster, and left red hand appear on the personal Coat of Arms of Ulster's Baronets.
    • The origin of this emblem may be from son of the celtic sun god Labraid Lámh Dhearg (Labraid of the Red Hand).
    • Another tradition has built up concerning a boat race to see who would become King of Ulster. O'Niell was losing, so he cut off his own right hand and hurled it across the finish line.
  • Red Hand Day is an international commemorative day, every February 12, intended to draw attention to the plight of children forced to fight in war as soldiers.


1. Paradise Lost, book II
2. From the Bible: Revelations 13:16-19 concerns the Mark of the Beast upon the right hand.
3. Music: Red Right Hand by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Game and Story Use

  • The Red Right Hand is a way to indicate a character is vengeful and supernatural, while obfuscating his background, alignment, and source of power.
    • If he's the Devil, then the PCs should resist him. But if he's an instrument of God's wrath, then a very different course of action should be implemented. Guess the PCs will have to keep him under observation while they do some more research at an occult library.
    • A certain amount of fringe theology suggests the two might not be mutually exclusive.
  • A charlatan or con man might stain or dye his hand to aid the illusion of being the a religious or apocalyptic figure.
  • A covering of red tattoos might also serve - and in the right circumstances it might be less a con and more a claim to status or the adoption of a mantle.
    • Certainly the sort of thing von Ungern-Sternberg might have got up to if the context had been right.
  • The ultimate Big Bad Evil Guy could have a red hand, hold title in Ireland - or even in Ulster, and have an army of enslaved children.
  • A character with a birth defect on his right hand might suffer ostracism (or worse) at the hands of zealots or the superstitious.
    • Or have it considered a mark of destiny.
  • There's a real possibility that "Red Right Hand" was only meant as metaphor by Milton, not a literal description of God. He may have been referring to Jesus Christ, who the scriptures say will be seated at God's right hand to judge the living and the dead. In effect, Belial might have been saying "If you get God angry, he'll sick Jesus on us!" The term "Red Right Hand" could be a sort of demonic code or nickname for Jesus. This makes sense since invoking the name of Jesus is said to repel or banish demons.
    • Here's a subplot for a World of Darkness or X-Files style of game with modern supernatural investigations. People who were suspected of demonic possession start committing suicide. At first, the players assume it's a single body-hopping demon who drives people to suicide. Then the scaled and horned bodies of two demons are found, apparently having died in a suicide pact. Their suicide note is bizarre and cryptic, imploring those who read it to flee the approach of the red hand. Turns out the demons think the Second Coming of Christ is about to occur, and the most cowardly devils are retreating back to Hell (by way of the mortal sin of suicide) to escape a butt-kicking by Jesus.
  • This would also be a good manifestation for the Mark of Cain
  • Referring to The Dragon as "my Red Right Hand" might be an amusing affectation for the BBEG - or for anyone, considering a third party, to announce that it is about time they "loosed their red right hand to plague them" before turning his dragon loose.

Past the square, past the bridge
Past the mills, past the stacks
On a gathering storm comes
A tall handsome man
In a dusty black coat with
A red right hand

(from) Red Right Hand Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

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