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?

Brokedown Palace

The title above is a song by Grateful Dead which I thought was very apt for this post.

So we have a magical throne that urges one towards the dark arts and necromancy. The last human ruler of the city of forgotten heroes was very magical and it was them that caused the throne to be hurled down into the deepest well, or more accurately a cistern, where it should never be found again.

If we are dealing with a lower level party then I would suggest that a Revenant (3rd level) takes the place of the king or queen.

For a mid to high level party I would like to use a Lich. There are three suggestions here.  If you don’t have stats for Sprectre771’s ex-wife we will have to discard the first option. So we are left with two possible Lich ‘builds’. For are hack and slash game a Lich Magician is the most aggressive version. The magician base lists lend themselves to straight out blasting combat and there is plenty of more devious lists to challenge an entire party.

The most fun version if you have the time to role play it out is the Lich Sorcerer. The fun a GM could have with the Transferal and Subjugation spells (Soul Destruction 8th and 11th levels)

A Lich is a 20th level foe and spell caster on its own territory, this is a major opponent.

The Palace

I would like to see the party being surrounded and pushed back and back by overwhelming numbers of undead spectres, ghostly figures. Finally, with their backs to the gates of a palace there is only one place they can go and that is into the palace grounds and the undead don’t follow.

Any experienced players are going to know they have just gone from the frying pan into the fire but right there and then they have a moments respite, a moment to regroup and treat wounds.

Behind the party a palace stands set in dead and withered formal gardens.

It is here that the party can find the actual location of the throne. You could play so that if the party were to simply ask for Lich about the throne then it will tell them that it was thown into a bottomless cistern so no one will ever sit upon it again.

As the party enter the palace there is one ante chamber and then the hall. The most notable thing about the hall should be that there is no throne but a clear place where one had stood. That is a clear and obvious clue.

At its simplest this could be a straight fight with the Revenant/Lich and then search for clues for the location of the missing throne. It will be much more interesting to up the role playing tension here. There is one caveat. As a GM you should read up on the Revenant and what it wants and how it acts before introducing this element to your game. RPGs are meant to be fun and suicide is a serious subject. You should play this in the right way for your group. Alternatively you can swap out the Revenant for either a lesser or greater Shadow (4th or 8th level). I rather like the Shadow alternative as it adds a touch of the vampire palace to the adventure.

The location could be under the palace or at another site. Right now I am inclined to put the throne below the palace.

Thinking about the entire module we have here the party could simply be tasked with retrieving the dark artifact from the city, maybe before some dark agent gets it first. They are told it is referred to as the kings seat of power before the city fell to an undead army. They should be able to find more information at the city library. So the party have to get into the city (gate house or the marshes), visit the library (wight’s domain) and the palace (Lich/Octopus). Between these location we can have a number of semi random encounters. These are easily scaled to the party level. So one to take place in back streets should the party decide to go that way, one for a market place, square or plaza and a third on the city walls. So where ever the party decide to go they will meet a prepared encounter. Then on the way out the party will meet another prepared encounter on the streets of the city, as they now have a cart and heavy load to move and the final encounter is the original gate house with the spectre.

Is that enough?


Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

So we have our gatehouse on the causeway with its undead guards. We have marshes patrolled by roving undead but where do all these undead come from?

I want a necromancer, but not just any necromancer.

Some where in this city there is going to be access to an underground lake and lurking in the depths of that lake is our Necromancer!

The bottom of a pool is not the usual place to find necromancers, well not BEFORE the party meet them anyway.

I rather like the way that RMU applies Archetypes to any creature to create a unique build. I want to do something similar to that here but using RM2/RMC stats.

You will also remember from the first post in this group that I want to make all of this scale-able to a wide range of character levels.

So our scary monster is going to be an off the shelf creature and then tweaked to make a suitable Super Creep.

I want to start with an Octopus(!). I then want to apply one or possibly two changes to it. The first of which is to give it a profession.

A professional octopus?

Just because Octopi don’t wear tee-shirts and buy coffee at Starbucks does not mean they are not intelligent. They are just differently intelligent. So this Octopus is a cleric and an evil cleric to boot!

A large octopus/squid has 30′ tentacles, is 6th level and has an +80OB which is a fair challenge for a low level party. If we give it the Necromancy (Base) and Calm Spirits (Closed Channeling) lists you have an interesting villain. A 6th level evil cleric given enough time a bit of overcasting or ritual can create type I and II undead and control them. So the villain at the heart of the city can create the undead that protects the city. It has had plenty of time to build its minions so that is all consistent.

So lets scale up our Super Creep.

Using the RAW for GIGANTISM (C&T pages 139 for the RMC version of the book) one increase in size for our octopus takes it from 6th level to 14th level. It also takes its #hits from 70 to 160. As an 14th level Evil Cleric we are now able to create (at a push) Type IV undead. Type IV include Ghosts and Spectres that are up to about 10th level monsters. The Octopus itself now had an OB of 100 and is doing Huge Grapple attacks.

Want something tougher?

Lets scale him up once more!

So with two levels of size increase we have an Octopus that is 16th level, 180#hits and OB of 120. Its criticals are reduced by 2 levels so ignores A&B crits.

I think this kind of end of level boss makes a wonderful Cthulhuesque  mastermind. You can be pretty sure that he party will never have met one before and to be honest I doubt if anyone would be expecting the giant octopus to be a spell caster! That should make the players have to reevaluate their tactics at some point if nothing else.

So what comes next?

I would like to introduce two things, first, something that the party need to bring back from the city, their primary quest. I like the idea of this being so big it needs a cart. I am thinking of some kind of throne that just happens to be sunk at the bottom of the pool.

I also want some interesting suggestions for some ‘set play’ encounters. Something challenging for the players to showcase the city of undead.

Any suggestions?

Rolemaster deconstruction: questioning the undead.

The “Undead”–a popular creature class drawn from a wide range of cultures, legends and mythology. Rolemaster has Egyptian Mummies, European Vampires, and Ghosts combined with the established D&D creatures like Wraiths & Ghouls. But are all of these actual “Undead”? If not, what are Undead? Are they:

  1. Animated corpses? If they are just magically infused bodies/skeletons are they truly undead anymore than an enchanted sword?
  2. Re-Animated corpses via a “spirit” or “will”? Is the body/corpse/skeleton infused with a soul or spirit? Is that Undead or is that a imbedded intelligence?
  3. A non-corporeal entity via a “spirit” or “will”? Does a persons dis-embodied spirit define an Undead?
  4. A being created via a spell or magic ritual? Does a entity that becomes something else, post death or beyond death meet the definition of an Undead?
  5. A possessed corpse? Is a corpse possessed by another entity an “Undead”?
  6. Something else?

Certainly in it’s more simplistic form an Undead is merely a creature or entity that is functional “after death”. The problem with that all-encompassing definition is that it embraces a wide variety of  Undead tropes.

  1. Only be hit by silver weapons.
  2. Only be hit by Holy weapons.
  3. Only be hit by Magic weapons.
  4. Only be affected by “turning”
  5. Can or cannot be banished.
  6. Immune to stuns/bleeding etc
  7. Causes a stat or level “drain” of one sort or another.
  8. Affected by the “moon” (if only one) or sunlight.
  9. Susceptible to “Clerics”.

So what is the underlying mechanic or philosophy behind Undead? Are animated corpses “undead” or just magically infused meat puppets? How does one draw a spirit from beyond? How are Undead created? How are special Undead created? Why do typical Undead need to follow common western European tropes (Mummy, Vampire, Wolfman, Zombie?). If you were to create a world from scratch, would you just populate it with common fantasy Undead? Is there a better, more consistent way to create Undead? What is “draining”? How does it work? How do you recover lost stats or levels? What spells protect against Undead? What type of Undead Does a Clerics spell turning work against a animated corpse? Does the Clerics patron god allow for powers against Undead or that specific type of Undead? If you allow many types of Undead, should they require different spells to deal with them? Do the Undead fit into the setting, afterlife and “soul” mechanics of the world?

Once you take away the Judaeo-Christian concept of Undead/Possession and symbology (crosses, silver, holy water), I’m not it’s clear what the strict definition of an Undead might be.

What do you do?


PC Perils #5 Is that a burial mound I see before me?

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So our intrepid heroes have fought their way through the abandoned mines/hill giant village, defeated what ever was was being resurrected in the pyramid and defeated the angry Active Tree.

Surely that is not a Barrow or burial mound just off the path?

Phot showing burial mound
Burial mound lost in the woods.

If you cannot quite see the mound here it is highlighted.

Can you tell what it is yet?
Can you tell what it is yet?

One of the scary things about this is quite how hard it is to see. It would be quite legitimate to camp just within meters of this and not ven know it is there. As a monster, everyone loves the undead, the seem to transcend every genre and every world setting from from Tolkien’s Barrow Wights, Forgetten Realms Wights and Spectres right through to a good old Zombie apocalypse in modern day campaigns.

From a Rolemaster point of view, just look at that undergowth! I would had to make some MM rolls to get out of the way of anything big and scary coming at me through there!

These past ‘Perils’ posts, the abandoned mines, the pyramid and this one are genuinely fell within a single 1hr dog walk. The active tree and the seal beach were all within 8 miles from home.

I will be on the look out for more ways to scare the bejesus out of your PCs soon!

Rolemaster Unified in 2015

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I did say a while ago that I was going to give the gameable stats for both RM2/RMC and RMU for everything I write about. In Nicholas Caldwell’s directors briefing this month he says how well the second beta of Rolemaster Unified is coming along and there is the promise of the RMU Creature Law to come too.

I cannot see the benefit of statting things out for RMU Beta 1 when Beta 2 is just around the corner so for the time being I will skip the RMU stats and just stick to RM2/RMC.

What I am really looking forward to is getting some RMU stats for the Undead. There are a few adventures I would like to create using the undead as the main existential threat with an evil cleric or necromancer pulling the strings in the background. I like playing an NPC to the absolute max of their ability to see just what they could achieve.

This is one area where Rolemaster spell casters massively out-gun their D&D counterparts. In the AD&D that I used to play Animate Dead was a 3rd level Cleric and a 5th level Magic User spell meaning that the characters needed to be 5th or 9th level respectively to case it. In Rolemaster your evil cleric can go around raising his Zombies or Skeletons from 1st level although they will only last for a minute a level at that point. From 5th level onwards he or she can create permenant undead followers.

One of the beauties of Rolemaster spell users and spell lists is the way you can combine things. With Channeling users such as Clerics they can use Symbols to create your classic standing stone type shrine that will happily create an undead ‘guardian’ once a day if an infidel were to wander by. Again this is a 5th level spell. So even if the evil cleric isn’t at home when the players come knocking they still get to fight any permenant undead they ay have created and have others effectively respawn should the players return the following night.

Fearûn definitely has enough evil gods to give any GM ample opportunity to play with the undead, evil clerics and necromancers in abundance.