Q: What has a spine but no bones?

A: A book!

Sorry for the bad joke but the non-corporeal undead also have no bones and one of the best suggested encounter locations was the library, it was just too good an opportunity for a bad joke to skip.

Here we have a rather interesting floor plan of a library. The architecture itself can hint at the former wealth and culture of the city before it fell into decay and abandonment.

We can have the floors littered with a carpet of decaying books and scrolls.

So what the players need to achieve is to find the location of the throne and to learn something of its nature.

I am imagining the library to be abandoned by day but as the sun sets a ghostly presence can be felt.

The monster this time is the former librarian, using the stats of a Wight. These start at 10th level and go up to 20th level. As a single foe against a party of heroes I think that is a fair fight. Given the ability of the undead to regenerate the party may need to fight this wight again and again if they are not adept at getting what they need from the library.

I think it would be important for the GM to describe the wight and it coming for the characters rather than naming it as a wight. If the characters have already fought undead that are hurling shockbolts or lightning bolts and these are doing cold crits it can be one of those situations where the players really have no idea what they are fighting. Most of us started in MERP so wights are nothing new. Against a background of spectres, revenants and apparitions knowing what is what becomes harder.

There is loads of opportunity for atmospheric description here with the sun going down and the characters feeling the temperature dropping. The light fading and then the appearance of burning red eyes in the darkness…

I have not added room numbers to the map intentionally. I think as GMs we can describe a sort of uniform rot and decay. I would suggest that the greyed out areas as the most sodden with swamp water coming up from the ground. the stairs down are flooded with stagnant swamp water. If you need to discourage investigations into the flooded basement we can stick a crocodile down there. Try fighting one of them in the dark. They are only 3rd level but with an 80 OB (Large Bite) and a bit of surprise they could put off the inquisitive!

So now we need to provide the characters with some reward. I do not like the idea of demanding skill rolls to find information that the players need to advance the story. I think rolling to see how soon the information is found is find. I am sure that the RM2 players here probably have Library Use or Research as a skill. I would suggest that good rolls allow for a speedier finding of the right scrolls and books and poor rolls means it takes longer.

Another alternative is that finding the location of the throne is an automatic success but we create a table so that 101+ tells the characters that there is a guardian protecting the throne, 126+ tells the characters that the throne corrupted all who ruled from it. 151+ adds the detail that the throne was known as the necromancers seat and so on.

Any thoughts?


18 Replies to “Q: What has a spine but no bones?”

    1. I am studiously avoiding zombies and skeletons in all of this.

      Neither is really a threat to a more powerful party except when used in greater numbers. RM is not that good at grand melee situations as the combat can slow right down and as the numbers of foes go up so does the chance of a freak open ended roll and accidental death.

      Also ghosts, spectres, apparitions, revenants and even wights are sort of timeless. They have no bodies so they do not decay away, they shouldn’t get trapped behind locked doors or barricades and that sort of thing. If it is non-corporeal then you can run but you cannot hide.

      1. Zombies and skeletons are often quite pitiful in FRPGs. Not at all like zombie apocalypse media for one, or some video games for another.

        Ghost books are incorporeal, and a zombie book would come as a bit of a surprise.

        1. Skeletons aren’t something to be sneezed at. As a whole, they don’t suffer from stun, fear, or bleed. There is Undead Fear that players need to roll against when they encounter an undead for the first time. This weekend’s session I had a level 5 Skeleton face off against 5 level 1 players. Two of them failed the RR vs. Fear and were inactive for 2 rounds and 3 rounds. The skeleton had one PC by the leg and was dragging her into the pond to drown her. Not suffering from stun or bleed really had them scrambling during the fight. The high crits were yielding only a few extra hits and the players were really confused.

          The higher level skeletons can deliver secondary crits, get multiple attacks, and even cast spells. Don’t forget to consider the drain Constitution ability. Losing hit points from Con on top of from actual damage is a double-whammy.

          The prospect of sending a party into a citadel of undead is a heck of a challenge.

          1. Skeletons can be lethal, as anything can be lethal in RM but them and zombies tend to be over used and they tend not to scale well against more powerful parties unless you ramp up the number encountered and RM battles do not scale well to too many combatants. If there are enough foe to surround a character that character is probably in very big trouble.

          2. If you can scale a skeleton properly, they can be dangerous. As a video game example, skeletons in Skyrim are cannon fodder whilst the ones in Oblivion were far more dangerous. The D&D 3.x/Pathfinder concept of adding templates to monsters made them potentially more dangerous – you could basically add a skeletal template to anything if you wanted, or vice versa – and it looks like RMU is doing something similar.

    2. I love the idea of a ghost book. Some type of non-corporeal book or chart/map/scroll that only appears by the light of a full moon or no moon at all so it’s doubly difficult to find. Or it’s only visible by elemental light (if you use Elemental Companion – RM2)

      This is coalescing into something really cool. I’m going to have the group go in a few days before the full moon. The book will be partially viewable, then partially legible as the moon becomes fuller each night. This will force the party to spend a couple of nights in the library or to make the trek multiple times only to find the undead they “killed” have come back. Unless they perform the Rites of Sanctis Mortis to utterly destroy the undead.

      1. Now that’s interesting. My idea was for a sort of “living” (as in, undead) ghost book as an actual monster (it’s one of a few library-themed monster ideas I’ve had). Having it as a sort of magic/spiritual item is a different direction – and you might notice from stuff I’ve published that I’m into books.

  1. I agree with your thinking on research rolls with success indicate the speed of discovery. In each room where I would want to leave a clue, I’d have set time-based on the number of books or complexity of the language. There is also scope for have languages that reflect the range of those used by the party which would then involve all PCs in the research. Crum the barbarian being required to read an important clue or even better having it read and then translating should make for an interesting interlude.

    I think there need to be areas of the library that are in continuous darkness which the Librarian inhabits (of course the vital clues are here) for the simple reason that I and several of my fellow players would just go in during the day and then leave before dusk – presuming we survived the first encounter. Alternatively, the magic that binds him to the location could allow him to appear even in daylight should a client break library rules…..

    1. I like the idea of areas that are naturally dark even in day light. The city also is so damp from its marshy surroundings that finding anything that would burn to provide light will be in short supply. So the first day they [the characters] will have no idea who is tied to the library but even then there will be areas that be the domain of the wight.

      I want to keep the option of magical darkness back for another potential encounter. We are only assuming that the characters will head directly to the library, even that they will know there is a library. We could investigate the idea of detailing the remains of a palace and what became of the original rulers.

  2. This is just as an aside, and I apologize for the multiple replies to this thread, but there was so much info and so many cool ideas it was either reply to each section or write a long missive that would bore people to undeath.

    What is the level of the party exploring this area? I’m looking at this from my group’s level (mostly level 2) They should be level 4 or 5 before I send them against this citadel. The crocodile at level 3 is right on par with the average strength of the level 2’s . The two best fighters at level 2 have OB of 71 and 66, by level 3 they’ll be fine.

    I’m still looking at the Professional Octopus, the Evil Throne with a Will, and the undead that have regenerated that the party still has to face on the way out. This is one heck of a challenge! LOL Even with healing spells and herbs, broken and shattered bones have a long healing time with “no appreciable movement” during the healing process. Should the tank have his “weapon arm shattered and useless” the party is going to have to abandon the quest.

    With the library research, this is where I’m getting hung up. Why would there be a written record stored in a “public” library of where the evil throne was hidden?

    Townfolk 1: This is an evil throne. We need to hide it so no one can find it lest it corrupt others!

    Townfolk 2: YES! You’re right! Let’s hide it. I’ll document where we hide it and stick it in the library in case someone wants to find it again.

    Here in the U.S. the blueprints for buildings and public works projects are stored in the town hall. Roughly compared to the fantasy world, blueprints for a public project such as building a castle would probably not be stored in the library especially if the king had secret passages and tunnels built in. Likely they are stored in a government-type building, maybe the Royal Archives cared for by the Royal Archivist. Maybe this is splitting hairs: Royal Archives vs. Royal Library. The library can be considered an archive of course, but I think there is a distinction between what is stored for public access and what is stored at a matter of internal government records.

    Perhaps what is discovered in the library is what could be compared to the daily newspapers. Announcements regarding the groundbreaking for the castle started by Lord So-and-so. The completed project and grand opening, new throne commissioned by The Great and Mighty So-and-so IV. Lord So-and-so IV was taken ill seemingly from the day he first sat on the throne…

    The library gives history but perhaps not the specifics. I’m envisioning the undead librarian guarding the history of the castle and throne in the ghost book and the research allows the players to uncover the author of the daily news (the Royal Historian). The party should search the bed chambers of the royal historian to find the hidden diary about the suspected evil he believes inhabits the throne and how he intends to dispose of the throne. Again, the secret diary outlining the treason and theft the historian is about to commit wouldn’t be stored in the library. Or perhaps… the Royal Historian is why the throne is cursed! He had a cursed throne constructed to corrupt and to control the king.

    Ohhhhhh this just keeps getting better and better! You guys are just devious.

    1. OK, so there are two questions here.

      The level is meant to be scalable so a beginner party would be facing class 1 and 2 undead which are your apparitions and the lesser spectres for example. A middling level party would be facing minor spectres the weakest ghosts. The higher level parties would face the toughest spectres and ghosts. They would be plagued by Mara at night and so on.

      I can see this running over multiple sessions. The approach to the city, the causeway and so on would be one session with the spectre and his ghostly guards as the prime challenge.

      This session the main challenge is the entire party against a single 10th level foe, the wight. The party have numbers on their side. The challenge is still scalable as wights start at 10th level off the peg and you can scale them down further if needed.

      As to the library, it could be an entirely wild goose chase but I have never known a PC party not want to investigate a library once the GM says there is one. We could down grade the wight to a slightly tougher spectre for weaker parties.

      I am thinking that the palace would also be a great place for another session. There is only one undead that habitually wants to wear a crown and if the ruler here had been a spell caster and under the influence of a necromantic evil willed throne what do you end up with?

      1. There is only one undead that habitually wants to wear a crown and if the ruler here had been a spell caster and under the influence of a necromantic evil willed throne what do you end up with?

        A: Spectre771’a ex-wife

        It’s just a coincidence my s/n is Spectre.

    2. Detailed architectural drawings of the sort that we would call ‘blueprints’ generally do not exist for the Middle Ages. There is a bit of debate as to why. One reason is that masonry was in general a practical art: it was not something you learned in books (you probably couldn’t even read), but rather something you did by doing. The idea that ‘blueprints’ of public building would be kept as an official record in a public building seems something that does not arise until long after the Middle Ages.

      Here’s an interesting Reddit Ask Historians thread that discusses this:


      So I think it would be better to keep the descriptions of buildings and places verbal: not architectural drafts, but simply words and paragraphs that try to describe things verbally.

      1. Hurin, your post piqued my interest and I started to do a little research last night. I want to include some type of drawings or plans for the players to find and I’d like it to be somewhat accurate. I found this bit:


        9th century is the best I found so far and it’s for a building that was never constructed. LOL I’m going to have to make ‘simpler’ drawings perhaps since my game setting is roughly the equivalent of our own renaissance period. Drawings would have to be simpler or of a rougher cut than what was current for that time period.

        1. That St. Gall drawing does at least give enough precedent though to include drawings like that. I had not appreciated the complexity of the St. Gall drawing; it is about as close as you get to a real blueprint, and from the early Middle Ages (as opposed to high or late) no less! But I think that is basically the only ‘blueprint’ to survive between the fall of Rome and the 13th century.

          You do start to get more complex drawings and blueprints in the Renaissance though.

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