Roll Call of Horror!

I have been thinking this week about our city of forgotten heroes, the spaces that exist between the palace, the library and the still to be laid out cistern where Octo resides.

My first thought was for a number of locations with prepared encounters, the market, back alleys and so on. I have come around to a different way of thinking though.

Herding the Heroes

Once the existence of the heroes has been registered then it is in Octo’s best interest to have the characters headed towards him. He wants them as food after all. The throne wants to extend its dominion so that too wants the heroes brought closer. So it makes sense for the undead in the city to gather around the characters rather than stay in specific zones.

As a GM then we can throw all sorts of horrors at the party but also leave an exit. The undead are all incorporeal so they can pass through walls and floors but the characters will need to use streets, gates and doors. There is nothing to stop you have undead to the front, left and right of the characters but nothing behind them. The heroes can then fall back and the hoard will follow.

We have an entire city population to play with so there is no need to worry too much about the numbers. The characters cannot kill them all.

In keeping with the idea of a truly scalable adventure I took a roll call of the incorporeal undead by class and you actually get quite a variety.

  • Phantom (I) 2nd
  • Ghost Minor (II) 3rd
  • Mara (II) 2nd
  • Revenant (II) 3rd
  • Shadow Lesser (II) 4th
  • Specter Minor (II) 5th
  • Apparition (III) 6th
  • Corpse Candle (III) 7th
  • Fire Phantom (III) 5th
  • Ghost Lesser (III) 7th
  • Headless Ghost (III) 6th
  • Specter Lesser (III) 10th
  • Corpse Lantern (IV) 10th
  • Ghost Wolf (IV) 10th
  • Shadow Greater (IV) 8th
  • Wigth Minor (IV) 10th
  • Wraith Lesser (IV) 10th
  • Ghost Greater (V) 15th
  • Specter Major (V) 15th
  • Wight Lesser (V) 15th
  • Wraith Greater (V) 15th
  • Lich (VI) 20th
  • Wight Major (VI) 20th

So far we have detailed three major encounters, the captain of the gatehouse, the librarian and the ruler in the palace.

Party Power Captain Librarian Ruler Minion
Low Revenant Lesser Shadow Specter Minor Phantom
Mid Specter Minor Lesser Ghost Lesser Specter Apparition
High Specter Major Wight Lesser Wraith Greater Shadow Greater
Very High Wraith Greater Wight Major Lich Specter Major

The ‘Minion’ column is for when you want to add some additional canon fodder to an encounter so the for a low level party the gatehouse keeper would be a Revenant with some Phantom guards but for a very high level party it would be a Greater Wraith with Major Specters manning the walls.

The rest of the undead roll call can be used for creating variety. If you party are mainly first level then most encounters would be Phantoms but they should be able to handle a lone Revenant or Minor Ghost.

With encounters there are really two ‘end conditions’, win or retreat. We want to drive the players towards the palace or the cistern system so you don’t want to kill your players but you can keep adding more and more foes to an encounter as the combat attracts attention.

We can group the undead into little random encounter tables…

Low Level – 1d6

  1. Phantom (I) 2nd
  2. Ghost Minor (II) 3rd
  3. Mara (II) 2nd
  4. Revenant (II) 3rd
  5. Shadow Lesser (II) 4th
  6. Specter Minor (II) 5th

Mid Level – 1d6

  1. Apparition (III) 6th
  2. Corpse Candle (III) 7th
  3. Fire Phantom (III) 5th
  4. Ghost Lesser (III) 7th
  5. Headless Ghost (III) 6th
  6. Specter Lesser (III) 10th

High Level 1d10

  1. Corpse Lantern (IV) 10th
  2. Ghost Wolf (IV) 10th
  3. Shadow Greater (IV) 8th
  4. Wigth Minor (IV) 10th
  5. Wraith Lesser (IV) 10th
  6. Ghost Greater (V) 15th
  7. Specter Major (V) 15th
  8. Wight Lesser (V) 15th
  9. Wraith Greater (V) 15th
  10. Wight Major (VI) 20th

Magical Weaponry

There is one topic we haven’t mentioned yet. This is particularly important for the lowest level parties. None of these creatures can be hurt without magical weapons.

If you need to give each character a magical weapon before they have even a chance of survival then there are a number of ramifications.

If these are being ‘given’ then who is the giver? Do we now have a quest giver?

As almost everything here has no treasure then are these weapons the party reward, but paid in advance?

How much power do you want to introduce to your game?

The least powerful magical weapon is probably one that has no bonus but is x% lighter than standard though magical means, not just superior quality.

Other great low level magical weapons are ones with a few uses of self healing type spells. So a Daily Item with heal 1-10 twice a day or Clotting I. That is not going to really going to shift the power balance of most games.

Another option, and one I particularly like is to enchant the characters existing weapons. So for example all their weapons are enchanted so they are +15 vs Undead until the next full moon. This boosts the low level party but also self moderates. This idea does also imply a quest giver and one with access to plentiful magical skills to enchant these weapons.

With mid and higher level parties one would expect most combat oriented characters to have at least one magical weapon, surely?

6 Replies to “Roll Call of Horror!”

  1. The timing of this post is perfect! You’ve touched on several points I was going to try to add to existing posts for this project.

    1) Between the library and palace, we discussed a possible holy place of safety where the undead don’t tread. To counter this area and to balance out what would be a 4-point (cross) or 5-point (star) layout for a courtyard area, I am going to add the gallows with a skeleton of the executioner. He’s gong to be a sort of Sargent-at-Arms for the undead roaming the courtyard areas. He’ll be on the slumped on gallows with the broken noose still dangling from his neck and wielding a very nasty executioner’s sword or a Broderack (RM2 – Arms Companion). We’ll have the gatehouse, palace, library, gallows. This skeleton may or may not become active depending on how close the party dares to tread, or it may be sending out random encounters to bring the party to the gallows to be executed in much the way it was killed by the townsfolk. The executioner executed on his own gallows. Or the executioner can direct the undead to herd the party toward a location.

    2) The cistern with the professional octopus. There has to be a water supply for the town, most common a well. There could also be an underground cave with water accessible via passageway in the palace to a protect pool of water that is fed from underground springs or tributary from the local river. There is a swamp/moat so the water table is high. The townsfolk could have opened the well to drop the throne down then built it up again to make it look like nothing happened. The floor beneath the throne could have given and the throne plummeted into the underground pool. The throne could have been moved through the passageways into the deepest part of the cistern via raft, then sunk.

    3) A holy/sacred area within the walls will help with herding the party as the undead would shy away from that area at least giving the party a modicum of safety and an exit strategy even if it’s temporary although it may be imperative for rest and HP/PP recovery.

    4) The ruler in the palace will be an excellent pseudo-BBG. The party would assume that the ruler is the de-facto baddy and upon defeating him, the worst of it is over. However, we’ve established that the throne is the true seat of evil (pun-not-really-intended-but-it-works. 🙂 ) As the undead ruler has been too far from the throne for so long, its powers would have weakened over time. Contrary though, the octopus has been in close contact with the throne and is the true BBG at the end of the mission.

    5) The quest giver. My party happens to be in Gryphonburg at the moment and working some quests in the region now. They are going to be approached by a couple of High Elves who happen to be high up in elven secret-society or religion. They have a vested interest in destroying the throne as they know it is corrupted and they believe (rightfully or mistakenly) it could cause rise to Dark Elves and another elven war. They cannot send their own parties there for any number of reasons: It’s unholy and they cannot abide it, they fear being corrupted, they don’t want knowledge of the thrown getting out amongst their peoples, a mixed party of adventurers is perfect as it’s of no consequence if they fail. There are always more adventurers to hire out and dead adventurers tell no tales nor spread any rumours. The quest-giving elves can supply the party with the above mentioned magic items, hints to a secret passage, healing items, maps, lore, etc…. whatever the GM thinks will assist the party without making it too easy.

    1. The palace & ruler work both as a pseudo BBEG and as a place for research depending on the balance of hack and slash to investigation you prefer.

      There must have been temples in the original city and there is no reason why they should not have retained their sanctity, so that is your safe location. You could even work it into the characters presence. If a devout follower enters their gods temple then that could be enough to drive out any undead from its confines.

      I am seriously tempted to put the cistern directly under the palace, under the characters noses so to speak. There is no reason why it has to be there but it is does reduce the number of buildings I need to create and describe and I am inherently lazy.

      1. I think underneath the palace could be a logical place for a cistern. Cities that might come under siege need secure water supplies, and it could make sense to have them protected by the strongest fortifications. The palace could originally have been a keep or castle, and therefore the heart of the defences.

  2. Another option for the quest giver would be the evil cultists who wish to bring the tribes evil back to life. Maybe they also need a couple of other items such as a sword and a sceptre that are located in other places.
    They’d be pretending to be a good group/religion of course. Unless your heroes are incredibly evil that is…….
    I doubt they would want to give the group too much. But enchanting the weapons for only a limited amount of time would be exactly up their street. They are unlikely to care if the heroes survive and would not want to waste actual magical weapons.
    Which means there could well be the bodies of past adventurers dotted around the place.
    Of course if the heroes are successful. They’ll now have a patron who is happy to have such a gullable group.

    1. It would be good to collate a list of possible quest givers and their motivations.

      It is a 50/50 thing. If this becomes a complete standalone ‘module’ then the quest giver should be part of the adventure content. If on the otherhand this is a drop in for an existing campaign then weaving this in to the characters story is a task for the GM.

      At the other end, is of course, what happens to the throne afterwards? Any quest giver will define what happens to the throne.

  3. “Stop the posturing and get in contact with some real, table not computer, kinda roleplayers, who really appreciate you, as part of the group (player or DM/GM/ST).”

    Best hint I can give, had it myself, after 22 years of abstinence & denial they brought me back into more than a 4 hour adventure-game-mastering without any hesitation… (Rogue players can be a less complicating sort, compared to wizard or cleric fans). 😉

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