Crown of the Dead [D&D 3.5] – Afterword.

Here we are – September 2016, seven months after the end of my CROWN OF THE DEAD D&D v.3.5 campaign. By luck and coincidence, I was able to end the game ran exactly one year after it started on February 5, 2015.

In real time this translated to 35 game sessions – a good average for as diverse a play-group as ours. Accounting for long weekends, the schedule of our generous host E.G., and my own unavailability, that meant we had a game about 2/3rds of the time.  Which was excellent; my intention was to provide a consistent D&D night, and I think that was a success.

CROWN OF THE DEAD came about because our group needed a game. E.G. was running a winterlands-adventure (in which I played Bard ELROY WICK) but he had to pause it to focus on school.  A.T.’s low-magic low-metal campaign was (and remains) mothballed.  With no-one else stepping up to DM something, I offered my services.

To get a sense of what the group wanted, I posted an online survey. Figured it smartest to run a game that a majority of players actually wanted to play, instead of some esoteric pet-project of mine they’d suffer out of obligation.

I proposed several systems besides D&D v.3.5: RIFTS, ROBOTECH, HEROES UNLIMITED / TMNT / NINJAS & SUPERSPIES, and even 2nd Edition D&D (I would not consider 4th Edition).  No surprise, 3.5 was the clear winner.

Next for a vote were story ideas: a sailing-ship-based adventures; on a ship, with a fugitive/pursuit angle; completely random encounters; adventurer party that is a mercenary platoon in a Human-Orc war; long-duration “escort mission”; a home-base “Stargate Atlantis” type of setting, which would utilize travel portals; or an Undead campaign in a remote location. The last one was nearly unanimous.

Which was great news for me – that kind of setting was one I’d already been tossing around in my head. I really wanted to combine a) an outpost under siege, with b) frontier-town wilderness dynamics like in the HBO series “Deadwood”.

The core elements of my setting would be:

  • Physical isolation.
  • A limited economy of good and services.
  • An expensive standard of living.
  • A small cast of interesting NPC’s.
  • Constant and plentiful external threats.
  • Untapped resources with the potential for development into wealth.

Physical isolation.  Our adventures usually take place in a ‘suburban-rural’ environment, close to cities and towns with active trade routes, seldom far from the nearest shop or tavern.  I wanted the enclave of Riddley’s Crown to be a somewhere in the middle of nowhere – a small safe haven in a sea of trouble.

A limited economy of good and services.  Scarcity of equipment, healers, food, and consumables in other campaigns was more a contrivance of the DM to slow or challenge characters, than it was an aspect of the setting.  Having the town in my game offer a limited selection of goods would, I hoped, encourage the players to appreciate the value of their characters’ possessions…and make the characters more self-reliant…and give characters the opportunity to contribute to this island-society any way they could.

An expensive standard of living.  Given how remote Riddley’s Crown would be, it only made sense that food, accommodations, and supplies would be substantially marked-up over book-list prices.  I’d hit the players with this “sticker shock” and the high cost of just being there would push them to adventure to pay their way.  Again, coming back to self-reliance.  Granting a free rank in a Craft or Profession of their choice was a step towards this, too.

A small cast of interesting NPC’s.  I wanted to develop fleshed-out, multidimensional Non-Player Characters in this setting.  With only a handful of residents, I could create what I hoped would be interesting NPC’s.  Some with secrets, others with hidden motivations – memorable characters who are not what they appear to be.

Constant and plentiful external threats.  Using Undead as the primary antagonist, especially dime-a-dozen Zombies, I would have an easy source of conflict.  It’s fine to have a good setting and colorful NPC’s, but the mainstay of our RPG’s is the dice-chucking of a mid-session fight.  If we don’t get into a scrap, a night’s adventure feels lacking.  And there’s always good reasons to throw down against Undead – no moral qualms or sympathies will divide the party on fighting enemies like those.

Untapped resources with the potential for development into wealth.  This was a big personal goal for me.  I really wanted to see happen in a way it usually doesn’t in other campaigns.

The benchmark for our character’s wealth has always been their “carry-on” possessions – fancy weapons; tweaked armor; magic items and artifacts. Our characters basically wore their riches, with little else to show for their efforts like land, titles, or wealth-generating enterprises.

There were rare exceptions. In E.G.’s first v.3.5 game, each of our characters were rewarded with a small plot of land in a city we helped defend.  Over time, we developed the sites into homes.  In D.W.’s old 2nd Edition D&D game, several characters came to own keeps with small standing armies – though these came in trade for financing a fellow player-character’s many gambles on a Deck of Many Things.

I thought, let’s have a party of fresh Level 1 adventurers come to a place where luck, hard work, and foresight could build them a small empire. There’s be plenty of abandoned wealth out there – cabins and houses in ghost-towns, mines and timber leases, deeds and treasures … all sorts of unclaimed, forgotten resources.  Of limited worth because of the Undead infestation, but with the potential to explode in value if and when the Undead could be wiped out.


With these concepts as a guide, I built my game. I put a lot of thought into behind-the-scenes mechanics … an unfortunate number of which really went nowhere.

I created a “zombie plague” to bring an element of danger to an otherwise mundane antagonist. Physical injury from a zombie would require a Fortitude Save against contracting an infection that would drain a character to death, and then Undeath.  But I didn’t properly scale its effects against the strength of the characters’ Save bonuses.  By the rules I set out, the “infection” turned out so toothless that eventually I just handwaved-away the need for saving throws.

On another angle, I built a table of NPC reactions to measure of how liked or disliked characters were by each residents of the enclave. Positive or negative interactions with NPCs would slide characters up or down this scale.  Better rapport would grant characters discounts on goods or priority for services.  Worse relationships would see services cut off or prices jacked up.  In the case of the secretly-Lawful-Evil Cleric, Sister Janus, she’d stealthily kill anyone who offended her beyond a certain point.  A few sessions in, I found the reaction-table too difficult to maintain, so I set it aside with no visible harm to the game.

My other ideas was a Jobs board, with odd jobs characters could take to earn some money. For use either when their player was absent on a game night, or when the player didn’t want their character out in combat.  The concept was useful for the first couple adventures, and then it was redundant.  A few sessions in, the party didn’t need the work.


Looking back on the campaign, evidently many things did not go as planned. What ever does ?

It was lack of time, more than lack of creative drive, that limited my ability to expand the game. Mapping, populating with enemies, determining treasure and properly scaling that against the party level – these were all tasks I’d relegate to the late hours of weeknights, when my energy levels and focus were depleted from the day at work.

Ten years ago, I could have made CROWN OF THE DEAD a three-to-five-year campaign, and made a solid go of it. But this was meant to be a stop-gap series of adventures, to buy E.G. time and for our group to tread water.  A “big-budget epic” wasn’t the point.  I invested what time I could, and the return was good, by that measure.

Certainly over the year the game ran, there were complications, mistakes, miscalculations. Not one of them the fatal blow to my vision, but each in their own way a contribution to the gap between what I hoped would be, and where we ended up.

Adventures played out in a short time-frame.

 A feature common to our other campaigns, was the “jump ahead” – the frequent skipping over of days, weeks, occasionally months of our character’s lives to fast-forward the mundane day-to-day (traveling, resting, training) and get to the action.

CROWN OF THE DEAD didn’t do that – every game session picked up very shortly after the last one ended. Though the campaign ran for a year in real-time, in the game world the characters arrived at Riddley’s Crown on March 15th of their calendar and the story ended around April 11th.

Many aspects of D&D – resting/healing, Crafting, working a Profession, copying spells – require a considerable amount of time that isn’t role-playable activity. As I slowly spooled the story out from a calendar of milestone-events covering each day, I was not factoring in the need for down-time.  Consequently, characters didn’t have time to do things besides exploring and fighting.  Or have the ability to skip over periods of unavoidable waiting.

The isolation and limited local economy were problematic.

A further consequence of the progress of time, was a stagnant local economy and hopeless delays with having goods shipped in or magic items constructed. Logically, it should take more than two weeks for items ordered in a shop at Riddley’s Crown to arrive from distant cities.  Fresh inventory should arrive no sooner than weekly.  The adventure, start to finish, took place over about four weeks.

Following the rules on how long it takes to create or upgrade magic items, having only one magic shop / blacksmith in Riddley’s Crown meant that characters’ requests were seriously backlogged for most of the campaign. And for in-stock items, there was a very slow refresh-rate on inventory, especially with few local buyers and sellers.  Upgrading the bog bridges, and the party’s efforts in fighting back the Undead, would have improved the frequency and quality of trade, but we never got there.

The expensive prices were never the obstacle I’d hoped they would be. After a few lucrative Undead encounters, the party had all the money they’d need for room-and-board for the foreseeable future.  I didn’t create a realistic, workable isolation-economy.

The characters grew faster than the setting.

This was a big flaw on my part. I did not challenge the party to go further afield than they did.  Literally just outside the walls, every adventure night, there were Undead waiting to be fought.  As the party advanced in level, I scaled the Undead encounters to match the party … instead of making their challenge proportionate to their distance from the enclave.

As the Undead got stronger, I felt their “loot drops” had to improve. Again, this is me equating the character’s rewards with the players’ enjoyment.  I know from personal experience that campaigns that go stingy on the treasure feel less enjoyable or worthwhile than those where every fight yields a good haul.  Disappointed players I take as a sign I am faltering as DM.  To avoid stagnation I allowed for treasure-inflation.

Naturally this made the party richer than I’d hoped they’d become so early, and it eliminated the need to seek better rewards further from their safe home base.

Limiting the party’s geographical range also hurt my ability to introduce any number of intriguing (I hoped) plot points and locations: in the bog; far to the west and east; and especially into the forest and towards the mentioned-but-soon-superfluous castle where the Undead plague got its start.

By the time I was ready to move the characters further from the nest, we were a year into the campaign, my motivation and drive were sapped, and the characters has leveled to the point where they were tougher than antagonists I hadn’t introduced yet !

The level-adjustment deal.

A cohesive party is a critical must-have to any campaign. The players work together because they support the DM’s campaign.  The characters, on the other hand, need a sensible reason to join forces.  Motivation is everything.  Normally it’s a shared purpose or common past.  (I did posts about this here and here)

Looking back, I feel my level-adjustment decision broke CROWN OF THE DEAD – because it reshuffled a solid party.

Sure, the call came from a good place – a damning hybrid of ‘good intentions’ and ‘mild ignorance’. It was a misunderstanding of a set of rules, and that had unintended consequences.

From the start of the campaign I said that any kind of character was open for use, and players could swap in for a different character at any time. This being a temporary game, I wanted a sandbox where players could do something different.  They could play something E.G.’s games wouldn’t (or couldn’t) fit.  And the players did; most stepped outside their normal choices.

A.T. opted to play a Paladin – not an easy role to play. And he had some refreshing takes on a typecast Class.  When Raygar Brightblade was slain in combat in the goblin-infested keep (Session 20), I felt bad.  I always do, when a character ‘buys it’ in one of my adventures.  I didn’t kill his character intentionally – it was just bad luck and unfavorable dice.

A.T. caught a bad bounce that day. He was disappointed.  As he pondered a replacement character I offered that he could reduce his new character’s Racial Level Adjustment by 1.  I knew he was eyeing Thri-Kreen but the +2 Level Adjustment was daunting.

I thought that Level Adjustment was just a penalty to a character’s advancement – that a Level (X) character with a +2 Level Adjustment was actually Level (X-2) in their chosen Class. So if A.T. made a [Level 6 Thri-Kreen Fighter] with a +1 instead of +2 Level Adjustment, he’d be a Level 5 Fighter but needing the XP for Level 7 to achieve Level 6.  Seemed simple enough.

Well no. Apparently there’s a WHOLE LOT more to Level Adjustment than I thought – involving racial Hit Dice, stat boosts, Base Attack Bonus, and other fancy-pants crap that I still don’t fully comprehend.

Can of worms, meet can-opener. Once I granted that offer to A.T., it set off a mild revolt at the Table.  Those players who knew the additional effects of Level Adjustment that I didn’t, demanded compensation for their existing characters.  They felt left out.  Other players immediately started planning new, Level-Adjusted, characters to capitalize on this deal.

At E.G.’s suggestion, I agreed to balance things out by granting characters more points towards their attribute point-buy. This was for existing and future characters.

Some players retooled their characters. Other players, now seeing a better starting point-buy, jumped at a chance to scrap their existing characters (now underpowered compared to others) and roll up stronger ones with more focus on key stats.

I saw at once that the party was falling apart. And with it, the flow of the campaign’s story.

In one fell swoop, I lost a cohesive party of characters that knew and trusted each other. In its place formed a mix of new and old characters with very little overlap in previous sessions’ knowledge.  It was like starting the story over, halfway through.

To top it off, now the whole party was considerably stronger, meaning I had to scale up enemy encounters even more to maintain a challenge. At this point I knew the campaign wouldn’t go down as I planned. The level-adjustment debacle was my cue to steer the adventure to a soft landing, somewhere short of my goals.

*  *  *

This shouldn’t sound like a grim postmortem. I believe we learn more from critical examinations of failures than we do from self-serving lauding of successes.  This post is the former; an honest assessment of the gap between “could have been” and “was”.

In the end, all things said, I got to run a game for really good friends and a great group of players, and we had a lot of fun. I got to work in elements of mystery and humor and horror.  I had the chance to defy some conventions and create some unique situations and encounters.  And I think we struck a good balance between dice-chucking and critical thinking.

In the next two posts, I’ll discuss story ideas I had for CROWN OF THE DEAD that I didn’t get to do… and NPC’s I had planned to appear.




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Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 35, part II.

This adventure was Friday February 5, 2016. C.H., T.F., E.G., K.D., B.P., and A.T. were present.  C.H. ran NPC character SY Green in this adventure.  This is the continuation of the same Part 35 adventure.

Wizard Aziz al-Azhar, Cleric Jere Collado, and Cleric Jacob Light-Bringer wake from unconsciousness. They are not in the catacombs under the ruined temple of Pelor.  Above and around them is a low, white canvas tent.  Its walls billow gently in a breeze, and its roof glows with unexpectedly high sun for what should be late afternoon.  Green grass, flattened by foot traffic, is the floor.

The three adventurers have been laid out on beds; specifically, two Small-sized cots for each of them. Halflings Tim Threefoot and Drew are nearby, on their own single cots.  The Cleric of Yondalla and the Suicide Blonde have not awoken, but it is clear they are alive and comfortably asleep.

The party members are stiff from slumber, and nurse headaches from the massive burst of subdual energy released when the evil crystal was destroyed. They have all been healed back to full health.  Armor, weapons, and packs, are at their bedsides.  In a corner of the tent, all the treasures plundered from the temple are stacked on a table for them.

Jere and his friends count their numbers. It is only the five of them.  Jacob remembers half-Orcs Krusch and Bombast, and Human Cleric Amber Renn, were near Sy Green when the Elf dropped the Portable Hole into the Bag of Holding.  Collado assumes all four died in the explosion.  That flash of white light is the last thing any of them remembers.

The tent-flap pulls aside. A Gnome enters.  He is middle-aged, and wears dark clothes marked in places with a curious white insignia, that of a fist holding a dagger.  This Gnome is startled to see his charges awake, but startled in a pleasant way.  He introduces himself as TORVIN (NPC), their medic.  Torvin implores the party to wait a moment while he fetches his commander, then he ducks back outside.

When Torvin returns with his leader, some of the party immediately recognize him – Myles Broadbow, the suspicious Gnome that Cleric Jacob tailed through Riddley’s Crown late one night last week. Jere Collado met Broadbow at Jenny’s dining hall the next evening.

Myles wears the same uniform as Torvin. He re-introduces himself by his real name, MYLES FERNTREE (NPC) – lead agent of a local SMALL WHITE HAND operational cell.  The Small White Hand is a secret Gnome cult, a special detail that gathers intelligence and researches technology for use in their peoples’ centuries-old conflict with Goblins.  Myles and his team have a hidden underground bunker not far from Riddley’s Crown, a remote outpost to monitor Goblin activity and to test new, experimental weapons on plentiful Undead targets.

Three days ago, their research mage ‘GENIR ZOMACK (NPC) was shaken by an unusual, massive magic-energy burst – more powerful than anything she’d felt before. Zomack narrowed the source of the pulse to the ruined temple of Pelor.  The Small White Hand were aware of Valiant Light and its coalition on quest there, and this magic anomaly warranted investigation.

Ferntree’s team cautiously raided the temple and its subterranean levels. Contrary to reliable intelligence, they found no active Undead anywhere within.  Only uncountable numbers of rotted corpses, and evidence of others slain in recent combat.  Anything that was Undead is now simply dead.

The Small White Hand found and evacuated survivors to this medical tent, set up in a camp outside the temple’s ruined village. They expected zombies to attack when night came, but none did.  In fact, since the energy burst was detected, their scouts have not seen any Undead on the plains.

As they waited for the Humans and Halflings to wake from their comatose state, the Gnomes searched the ruined temple, recovering the coalition’s haul of treasure for safekeeping. They also found and respectfully interred those adventurers who lost their lives down there.  Torvin’s count of the dead does not include their four friends lost in the explosion.

Jere, Aziz, and Jacob relate the events as they remember them, up to the explosion. They are grateful to Commander Ferntree and his team for the rescue and healing, offering compensation from their haul of treasure.  Myles will accept none of it.  The Gnome only asks for their promise of secrecy concerning the Small White Hand’s presence here.  Torvin expects the Halflings should awaken before long.  When the party is able to return to their enclave, the Small White Hand will quickly fold up camp and drop out of sight.

With hour, Drew and Tim Threefoot wake up. Aziz al-Azhar fills them in on the details as Jere Collado and Jacob Light-Bringer catalog and bundle up the treasure.  Soon the coalition veterans are ready to depart for Riddley’s Crown.  They bid Myles Ferntree and his team farewell.  Their paths will not cross again.

The march back to the enclave is slow, burdened as the survivors are with valuables and with heavy hearts at the loss of so many friends. There is optimism, however – Cleric Threefoot is certain that the half-Orcs, Sy Green, and his friend Amber were not killed in the white flash of light.

The specific action of the Portable Hole dropped into the Bag of Holding tore a rift between their Prime Material Plane and the Astral Plane. The temporary portal sucked in everything that was close by.  The evil crystal in the Bag of Holding would have been destroyed, and the Angel of Decay that was linked to it.  But their friends likely survived the experience, and are lost somewhere on the Astral Plane.

Threefoot clearly holds Cleric Renn in high regard; with confidence and certainty, the Cleric of Yondalla vows to use Valiant Light’s share of the coalition’s spoils to mount a Planar rescue expedition and find her.  And, hopefully, the others.

Halfling Drew is the only one left of the Suicide Blondes. What she plans to do with the considerable wealth she inherits, remains her business.  She is very quiet on the hike to Riddley’s Crown.

A few hour after leaving the Gnomes’ camp, the enclave of Riddley’s Crown comes into view. Even at this distance, it is clear a lot has changed in a short time.  The main gates are open.  Unfamiliar people work in the garden, repairing the fences and tilling the soil.  Others have set up tents outside the enclave’s defenses.

Jenny is the first to see the returning adventurers. The energetic half-Elf has been outside the walls, safely foraging for the first time since she settled here.  She abandons her baskets and runs to greet Collado and his friends.  She has much to ask, and much to tell.

Evidently, Valiant Light’s coalition accomplished something historic on their quest. Norrick’s enclave guards, and scouts of the Lanil Tribe, have not seen any Undead on the plains since after  Lanna Riis and Administrator Lumberg each reported a distant but strong magic-related disturbance a few days ago.  From the bog to the forest edge, and past the abandoned hamlets east of here, the Undead are now completely absent.  Only inside the forest, and west at the border to Necromancer territories, have scouts spotted zombies or the like.

Enclave residents sought Sister Janus’s insight, but the old Cleric has gone missing. No one has seen her since the enclave’s spellcasters sensed the strange magic event.  Her cabin is vacant.  For some reason, she must have left that night, taking only a few items, including certain religious icons from her walls and shelves – those of Nerull and Wee Jas.

Clerics Light-Bringer and Collado exchange glances. They know Sister Janus wanted the evil crystal artifact, and must have known it was destroyed.  The old woman was not what she appeared to be.  What consequence this brings, and to where she fled, is anyone’s guess.

Jenny is excited. This all feels like a new beginning.  The annual crew of Springtime laborers are here to plant and tend to crops until harvest.  A company of brewers and tavern staff arrived just the other day – a cadre of entrepreneurs re-opening the Old Oak Tavern.  Far from concerned by competition, Jenny is delighted to have them here.  And many more adventurers have showed up to kick off the enclave’s usual busy season, though they will be disappointed to find the immediate vicinity free of Undead.

There is no longer the formality of a Detect Undead scan as Jacob, Drew, Tim, Aziz, and Jere receive a heroes’ welcome at the open gates of Riddley’s Crown. Norrick and his men, Riis, Dredburn, Administrator Lumberg and others give their congratulations and thanks.  There is another, off to the side, timid and quiet, not seen before.  It is GNORM (NPC), the resident of the parked caravan in the corner of Riddley’s Crown, an old Gnome Paladin, the only survivor of the Undead castle north of the forest.  He watches, nodding his approval when he is noticed by the party members.

The enclave has a new energy to it, an openness that goes beyond the wide welcoming entrance, the new and unfamiliar arrivals with their look of brave optimism, the sunny afternoon skies, the care and attention bringing the tavern to life.

When finally alone in the comfort of their rented cabin, the party divides up the treasures according to the agreements of the coalition. Lanna Riis will have a lot of Identify spells to cast. For now the values can be safely approximated.  Drew leaves with her share the next morning. She says little to anyone in the way of good-byes.

Tim Threefoot plans to leave soon. He not only has the share for Valiant Light, but also the share owed those lost on the Astral Plane.  The party trusts him to do right with it.

The Cleric of Yondalla offers Clerics Collado and Light-Bringer the opportunity to join him as members of Valiant Light, starting a new three-member chapter. Four members, when they find Amber Renn.  Collado declines the offer, but Jacob thinks he’ll take Tim up on it, and help find those who are missing.

As to Aziz al-Azhar, there are still Undead in the forest, and to the west, and the intrigue of the Necromancer lands. His belt pouches and packs overflow with riches, same as his associates, but there is more arcane research he would do.  The Wizard will stay here a while longer.

Two days later, Jere Collado sees off Tim Threefoot and Jacob Light-Bringer, who are headed back to the cities of the east. Jacob Light-Bringer has the adamantine short-sword owned first by Xorn and then by Thri-Kreen H’ai-ch Q’a.  Merely holding it stung Jacob for temporary negative levels, and it’s not his style of weapon anyways, but the Cleric is sure someone will buy it.  For whatever chaotic effect it holds, it is a nice weapon.  Jacob and Jere will see each other again; they part ways looking forward to that day.

With a wave, the two Clerics disappear below the hill toward the bog. Collado watches a minute longer, amazed by the profound change in the land.  As he turns to go back to his cabin, he Spots something off to the southwest, meandering in the grasses.  It is a donkey – specifically, his donkey, the same one Jere brought here almost a month ago.  The beast of burden swishes its tail and grazes the tall green grass, without a care in the world.  Collado has to laugh.

It is the 11th day of April, by the local calendar.


(end of the campaign)


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Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – The afterlife of Joseph McMickelson

“Hello. Welcome.  Be not afraid.”

Joseph McMickelson hears the monotone voice before he opens his eyes. The Cleric of Pelor finds himself face-down on cold, polished marble floor.  This chamber is clean and silver-white, radiant with the glow of impossibly vibrant colors pouring in the windows from outside.  Definitely not where he was a moment ago.

The voice belongs to a young man in purple robes, slouched at a table opposite the windows. He barely holds back a yawn.  “You are in the Blessed Fields of Elysium.  Yes, you are dead.  And no, I don’t know why you’re lying on the ground.  Everyone arrives here that way.”

Joseph rubs his eyes as he gets up off the brutally hard floor. The otherworldly quality of this place is very disorienting.  The Cleric is vaguely aware that he has no weapons or armor.  Instead, he is in clean white robes.  “How did I get here ?”

“You died,” the attendant shrugs.  “Or came by portal.  But I’d guess something killed you.  Believe me, I’ve seen this enough times to know.”  Now he does yawn.

McMickelson shakes his head. “No, that’s not right.  I’m not dead.  I’m fighting an Angel of Decay with my friends.  One of those idiot Clerics of…something Light, what the Hells were they called ?…must have clipped me with a spell and sent me here.”  He considers the chamber.  “Or, this is an illusion.”  He pats his waistline, and looks at the floor around him.  “Where’s my gear?”

The youth barely lifts an eyebrow. “Angel of Decay, huh ?  Wow.  Who in their right mind would put you up against one of those ?”

Joseph sighs. “Look, kid.  Great chatting with you, but I have serious business elsewhere.  So let’s make all this vanish in a puff of magic fairy dust so I can wake up back in that temple or cave or wherever I just was.  I have friends who need me for something.  Enough of this, already.  And I want my gear back.”

“Settle down, old man,” the attendant snaps. “This isn’t a spell and it’s not a dream.  You are exactly as dead as I just said you are.  You died, then you showed up here.  I don’t control the process.  And I don’t know where dead peoples’ stuff goes.  Apparently it gets replaced.”

Cleric McMickelson storms over to a window, sure this illusion must have limits. There is no glass – it is open to the world beyond these walls, and it is a garden world of a beauty beyond Joseph’s ability to comprehend.  The level of detail, and the emotions it stirs in him, are too profound to Disbelieve.

“I can’t stay here,” Joseph insists. His thoughts turn to his friends: Jacob, Jere, the fire-wizard, and that insect-guy.  “You have to send me back.  This is a neat place you have here, would love to look around, but like I said, we’re in the middle of a tough fight, I think, and I’m pretty sure I should be there to help.”

“Why, why, WHY ALWAYS the SAME gods-damned conversation, EVERY single time,” the attendant rages, seemingly at the graceful, indifferent, domed ceiling. He glares at the newcomer.  “Aren’t Clerics of Pelor supposed to be bright ?  What’s so hard to understand ?  ‘Take 20’ on this : you died, you’re here forever, there’s the door to outside, go away.”  The young man in purple defiantly crosses his arms, muttering to himself.

Joseph feels the truth sink in. He sits on the window-ledge, harshly rebuked, unsure what to say or do.  Outside, birds sing notes beyond compare, but McMickelson ignores them.  A breeze, perfectly warm and scented, brushes past him.  He does not care.  All he knew is gone, ended, without a sense of accomplishment.  In the end, what was the point of any of it ?

The long quiet breaks. “You, at least, probably had a good run of things on the Prime Material,” the attendant scowls, apropos of nothing Joseph McMickelson was just doing or thinking.

“I’m sorry ?” Lost in his musings, Joseph fears he missed something.  He is not in direct sunlight, yet he senses the warmth of the colors of this world – the greens of the meadows and the rich blue of the sky have a palpable quality.  Quite distracting, the sensation.

“You went out and did stuff. Adventured.  Turned demons and fought Orcs and casts spells,” the young man huffs.  “Actual clerical work.”

McMickelson raises a finger. “Well, I mean, you don’t ‘Turn’ demons, per se, unless you have a special Domain, which…”  For the first time, Joseph notices a symbol on the attendant’s magenta robe.  “Hey, are you a priest of Fharlanghan ?”

The attendant glances down at it. “Was.”

“So how…” Joseph gestures at the chamber.

The attendant’s face screws up in a sour grimace. “Bad karma, bad beat, who knows ?  My lot in life, my lot in afterlife.  Three friends and I set out on our very first quest ever.  We’re in the woods, I cast Know Direction, get hit with an arrow out of nowhere, then wind up here.  Add insult to injury, for some reason I still remember all of it.”

McMickelson ponders it, slowly shaking his head. “That’s…pretty weak, if you don’t mind my saying.  Awful luck, really.”  The Cleric of Pelor lets out a long breath.  “That kind of thing would haunt me a long time, too.”  Joseph thought he had a comparable slip-up to share, but the memory wasn’t there.  A lot of memories seem not to be there.

“Nothing will haunt you,” the attendant sighs. “Soon you’ll forget your old life on the Prime, and just…exist here, out in all that.”  He looks past the Cleric of Pelor, at a world in full riot of color, “Like the others do.  As I should try to, I guess.”

“A fresh start, then,” Joseph beams. “Have to tell you, it’s kind of funny – I don’t exactly know what I was doing before today, that kept me from coming here sooner.  This place seems really…”  McMickelson draws in a deep breath of fresh Elysian air, a deep draught of a billion flowers’ mild sweetness, “…real.”

The young man notices the shine in this newcomer Cleric’s eyes. He has seen it countless times before, but never appreciated its significance until today.  A rebirth and re-imagining of the self, he thinks.  Where the old ends and the new simply is.

“I’m going to go out there and…look around,” the Cleric of Pelor decides. He is fixated on the wild palette beyond the windows, unconsciously drifting towards the door.

“Do that,” the attendant agrees. “Go anywhere.  See everything.”

“I will,” the Cleric replies, almost dreamy with lazy anticipation. “I’m Joseph, by the way.  I think I’ve been here a while.  Was good to meet you.”

“Probably see you around,” the attendant answers with a smile, as Joseph wanders out. He still has that smile, later, when a new arrival appears on his floor.


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Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – The afterlife of H’ai-ch Q’a

H’ai-ch Q’a opens his eyes. He is lying on sand.  Fine, brilliant white, pleasantly hot sand.

This is unexpected.

The Thri-Kreen warrior  should be injured, but he is not.  He should also be fighting an Angel of Decay right now, but that would not seem to be the case, either.

Looking around, H’ai-ch Q’a does not squint against the harsh glare. Hot, arid desert is his natural environment, and he is in one now.  As far as he can see in every direction, there is only undulating sand dune and bright, hazy sky.

This is most unexpected.

Though, to think on it, the Thri-Kreen Fighter finds it increasingly difficult to explain why this is unexpected. Thri-Kreen are pragmatic creatures, trusting instinct and observation.  H’ai-ch Q’a is wearing desert hunting-armor common to his kind, colored to match the silver-white sand creeping in slow waves all around him.  The armor shelters his exoskeleton and joints against wind-borne grit, and fits very well.  As it should; he has always worn it.  A githka, of exceptional magical quality, lies by his feet.  He must have dropped it.  In his many hands, it is trustworthy and familiar.

H’ai-ch Q’a does not have enough ranks in Knowledge : Planes to know this as the endless desert of Mithardir, the bottom layer of the Plane of Arborea. Memory of the coalition, the temple, the Angel of Decay, his death – none of it seems more than a daydream.  Thri-Kreen are not prone to daydreaming, so that too is unexpected.

The Thri-Kreen warrior sets aside these strange thoughts. They are not of concern.  This is where he is meant to be – no more perfect an environment could one of his kind ask for.  He has his armour and weapon.  Pouches on his belt and bandolier contain all the supplies he needs.  All is quite well.

Reading the dunes, intuition guides him. This is not an empty desert; more adventure lies ahead than behind.  H’ai-ch Q’a sets off into the unknown wastes to find it.



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Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 35

This adventure was Friday February 5, 2016. C.H., T.F., E.G., K.D., B.P., and A.T. were present.  C.H. will run NPC character SY GREEN for this adventure.

The Wheep and its ten well-armed Skeleton guards rest in pieces. Weary members of the coalition recover as much vitality as they can with spells and potions.  This fight sorely depleted their health and their numbers.

The Wheep (Libris Mortis, p.132)

The Wheep (Libris Mortis, p.132)

Clerics Jere Collado, Joseph McMickelson and Jacob Light-Bringer, wizard Aziz al-Azhar, and Thri-Kreen warrior H’ai-ch Q’a represent their party. Krusch, Bombast, and Sy Green (played by C.H.) are the surviving Loners.  For the Suicide Blondes, there is Winona, Alyssa, and Drew.  Only four clerics of Valiant Light are still alive – Cleric of Kord, Reedna; Cleric of Wee Jas, Seamus MacTavish; Cleric of Yondalla, Halfling Tim Threefoot; and Cleric of Pelor, Amber Renn.

The Skeletons had high-quality magic weapons and armor. H’ai-ch Q’a and Jere Collado gather up the treasure, though there isn’t time to Identify any of the items.

Sy Green notices a number of stone buckets at the base of a dais in the back corner of the cavern. The buckets are filled with poisonous Wheep ooze.  Separated from its origin, the gruesome black tar is rapidly dissipating.

Before the Elf can announce his find, a Ghoul trudges in from the corridor. Amber Renn destroys it with a Turn.  The empty stone bucket it carried crashes to the dirt floor.  Apparently the Ghoul was harvesting the Wheep secretions.

Cleric Reedna calls the coalition to marching order. She leads out of the Wheep’s chamber.  Steps into the unexplored corridor off the main passage, the group encounters another Ghoul.  The Suicide Blondes take it down, quick and quiet.  This Ghoul also carried an empty bucket.

The clerics of the coalition do Knowledge : Religion checks; al-Azhar tries a Knowledge : Arcana. No-one knows for what alchemical or necromantic purpose the Wheep sludge is needed.

Fighters and clerics lead on. This unexplored passageway is straight for a short distance and then turns left.  Far ahead, the passage turns left again.  In the middle distance, on the right, is the entrance to another chamber.

Anyone confident they can Move Silently, including H’ai-ch Q’a and Joseph McMickelson, sneak forward to the near intersection. Jacob Light-Bringer knows he is loud and shiny, so he hangs back with the other spellcasters.

McMickelson, his Thri-Kreen friend, the Loners, and the Suicide Blondes size up the scene around the corner, letting their torches and Light spells illuminate.

A rough, rectangular stone block rests at the edge of shadow in the middle of the wide chamber. A motionless humanoid is laid out on the block.  A tall Undead creature, its back to the doorway, works on the corpse.  Against the walls are zombies, in stasis.

There are also Ghouls. Several mix a cauldron over by the left-hand wall.  Some stir; others pour in tarry black liquid from familiar stone buckets.

The spies’ light draws attention. The lanky creature at the stone table turns – it is a skeleton with a long slimy tongue and a torso full of saggy guts.  Successful Knowledge : Religion checks identify it as a Mohrg.  Fitting, given the setting.

Mohrg (Monster Manual, p.189)

The Mohrg (Monster Manual, p.189)

With terrific shrieks, the Ghouls abandon their ghoulish tasks and charge. Others emerge from the darkness, bringing their total to eight.  The Mohrg eagerly joins their rush.  None of the zombies reacted in any way.

So much for scouting. The rear-guard of the coalition follows H’ai-ch Q’a and his squad into combat.  The Ghouls’ only challenge is their quantity.   The Mohrg is a different story.  Its agile tongue lashes several of the Living and paralyzes them for the duration of the fight.  Before the tough creature is finally slain, it manages to wound everyone and kill Suicide Blonde leader Winona.

After the fight, the coalition carefully rations their healing resources. This room’s master was not their final challenge.  Those paralyzed by the Mohrg recover in a few minutes, and suffer no permanent effects.  Some adventurers Search the rest of the chamber for treasure, but come up empty.

Sy Green and Aziz al-Azhar investigate the cauldron with Seamus MacTavish. The brew is beyond foul – Wheep secretion blended with other nasty elements.  The buckets yet to be added contain unmixed, putrid black filth unlike the Wheep tar.  Seamus suspects he knows what it is, but is reluctant to guess out loud.  He looks worried.

The battle-torn corpse on the stone table is human. Only Jere Collado finds the dead man’s face familiar, but his INT check fails to bring to mind the name – Jim Lansky, leader of the ill-fated Redmond Brigade.  It seems the Mohrg was using the cauldron brew to animate dead bodies into zombies.  This unique necromancy is unknown to the clerics and spellcasters.

The group gently moves the lifeless body of Halfling Winona to a safe place in the corridor. They must explore further, but first, some want to know what to expect.  Seamus MacTavish obviously has some inkling.  He is evasive, until Reedna pulls rank.

MacTavish admits his suspicion – the unknown liquid in the buckets likely came from a very powerful, intelligent Undead creature known as an Angel of Decay. None of the warriors know what that is, but they can infer a lot from the looks of horror on the other clerics.

A crisis of doubt overwhelms the party. Suggestion arises to retreat, temporarily – withdraw to the enclave, heal completely, Identify the huge haul of magic weapons and armor they have collected down here, and come back in force two weeks from now, after the coming Full Moon.  To limp on ahead as they are might get them all killed.

Counter to this is a realistic assessment of the situation by Jere Collado, Tim Threefoot, and both half-Orc fighter-rangers. The coalition’s efforts so far have been the most successful exploration here in more than a decade.  Though casualties have cut their effectiveness, quitting now would let the Undead recover their hold over this place and grow even stronger.  Besides, assembling another capable coalition in lands this remote would take many months of impossibly lucky recruiting.  This team is here, now.  Best they carry on with the momentum they have.

Jacob Light-Bringer’s group is slightly optimistic in their chances. So too is H’ai-ch Q’a hallucination Solace.  The intelligent weapon’s imaginary projection is eager for her Thri-Kreen host to carry on and kill more Undead.

It’s no sure-thing, but it’s not a suicide mission.  And it probably is now-or-never.  Jacob’s group think the coalition should keep going.  No-one disagrees.

The unexplored passageway continues, making erratic turns. Then it leads straight to a broad chamber that is twenty feet high and sixty feet on each side, illuminated to all corners by the coalition’s ample light supply.  Here the aura of evil is overwhelming, almost a smell and a taste and a cold, clammy sensation on the skin.  Good-aligned allies feel their stomachs churn with revulsion, even Neutrally-minded fellows feel uneasy.  Anyone of Evil alignment is euphoric – more so at the sight of the object on the altar.

Centered near the back wall of the chamber is a stone altar. Upon it is a black crystal, perhaps eighteen inches long.  Slowly, sometimes suddenly, the dark shard’s appearance distorts – growing slightly, contracting along its axis, sharpening its edges, dulling its onyx facets.  There is no pattern or intelligence at work in this, none more than a dark, hateful energy seeking release.  No question this is the artifact that Sister Janus spoke of.

At a back corner of the room is a stone dais, identical to the Wheep’s. Upon it stands the most frightful entity any of the coalition have ever seen – as predicted, an Angel of Decay.  Tall, lanky, covered in slimy filth, hideous and horrible.  Liquefied rot flows from it, overflowing buckets at the base of the pedestal and sheeting out ten feet in every direction.

The Angel of Decay (Libris Mortis p.83)

The Angel of Decay (Libris Mortis p.83)

With weapons and spells at the ready, the coalition edges into the room, prepared to fight. The Angel of Decay rises into the air on tattered leathery wings.  The steady, lapping flow of putrid ooze ceases when it leaves the ground.

The Angel floats in slow circles around the altar and the evil crystal. In a deep, discordant voice, the abomination greets the interlopers.  It recognizes the strength and courage of the fourteen mortals before it – that, and a collective absence of wisdom.  Never before have living beings willingly come here.  Their temerity impresses it.

There is, of course, the small matter of the disruption the visitors have caused; killing the Wheep and the Mohrg has set back the grand designs given the Angel of Decay by its overlords. But nothing is yet done that cannot be undone.  The Angel is displeased, but not angry.

To make amends, the Angel benevolently offers any who voluntarily forfeit their lives the gift of eternal Unlife as a moderately powerful Undead creature. Reanimated as a Slaughter Wight or a Ghast, the willing victim may forever serve and repay the Angel and the Angel’s overlords for the trouble caused here today.

The offer is unfathomable. Everyone flatly rejects it.  Though for a moment, Cleric of Wee Jas Seamus MacTavish considers the idea.  Just briefly.

Caught up in its words and ego, the Angel of Decay does not notice that its aimless, erratic drifting through the air has left an opening between the intruders and the evil crystal on the altar. The adventurers see an opportunity.

Cleric Reedna shouts for attack. She and her clerics unleash their strongest spells.  H’ai-ch Q’a, Jacob Light-Bringer and Aziz al-Azhar go left, towards the floating Angel of Decay.  The Suicide Blondes charge into the middle, looking to flank.  Sy Green and the two half-Orcs dash to the right, planning ranged attacks from a safe distance.  Jere Collado and Joseph McMickelson nod in agreement and bolt for the altar.  If they can make it, they can grab the shard and possibly escape with it.

The Angel of Decay lands on the floor, and immediately a pool of filth forms at its feet and spreads out in a ten-foot circle. Waves of nausea overcome melee attackers; those caught in the septic muck suffer immediate damage on contact.  Spells subject to Spell Resistance fail against the Angel of Decay; its claws inflict a damaging rot-effect which heals it back any damage taken so far in the fight.

Jere and Joseph reach the altar and climb onto it. The plan to obtain the evil artifact for Sister Janus is completely forgotten; right now, only a moral imperative to smash this shape-shifting crystal holds sway.  Both Collado and McMickelson bring hammer and mace down upon it, invoking the wrath and divine strength of their patron gods.  But their strikes are useless, deflected wide by some defensive energy field.  Try and again, they cannot sunder it.

The Angel suddenly becomes aware it has left the shard open to attack. Despite confidence in the protective magicks that shield the crystal, the Angel of Decay would take no chances.  It lurches toward the altar, backhanding Alyssa of the Suicide Blondes.  She was already weakened by the Angel’s Rotting Aura and this shuddering blow kills her.

H’ai-ch Q’a sees Collado and McMickelson are in danger. He moves to intercept the Angel.  The Thri-Kreen warrior flurries attacks with his four arms and their keen weapons, Solace one of them.  The Angel is mildly wounded.  It replies with claws and buffeting attacks of its wings; these and the poisons of its rot overwhelm and slay bold H’ai-ch Q’a.

Jere Collado retreats off the back of the altar. Joseph McMickelson jumps off the front, initially hoping to aid H’ai-ch Q’a but finding himself too late to assist and now toe-to-toe with a towering Undead horror.  Seamus MacTavish rushes into melee to provide a distraction by channeling Divine spells at point-blank range.  No use; the damage he deals is repaid several-fold by the Angel’s claws.  Both MacTavish and cleric McMickelson fall to Death in quick succession.

Jacob Light-Bringer and Aziz al-Azhar keep their distance, well back of the Angel. They and the three surviving clerics of Valiant Light have dealt the most damage to the creature.  A pair of blistering Fireball‘s from al-Azhar catch the Angel’s attention and turn it away from the altar.  The Angel trudges across the chamber towards the wizard and cleric.  They edge back to the wall, still unleashing spells as it draws closer.

This is the distraction Sy Green needed. With the Angel of Decay’s back to the altar and the non-threat of Krusch and Bombast’s arrows, Elf Fighter Green makes his move.  Vaulting up onto the altar, Sy Green pulls his Bag of Holding and swallows the evil crystal within it.

The Angel of Decay stops dead in its tracks with a horrifying howl of rage. The link between it and the shard severed the instant the crystal was swept into the Bag of Holding‘s extra-dimensional space.  Many of the Angel’s heightened effects are gone.  So too is the suffocating aura of evil in the chamber.  Amber Renn and Jacob Light-Bringer feel much, much better.

The Angel stomps back in the direction of the Elf, fully intending to murder the thieving Fighter in a brand-new kind of way. It comes to a sudden, shocked halt.

In one hand, Sy Green dangles the open Bag of Holding. In the other, mere inches above the Bag’s dark maw, Elf Fighter Green holds the Portable Hole he bought off Dwarf Dredburn.

Everyone in the room suddenly stops casting or attacking or breathing. For a moment, even the Angel dares not move an inch.

In case it wasn’t, Sy Green makes the situation clear : if the Angel of Decay comes any closer, he’ll drop the Portable Hole into the Bag of Holding, and the crystal and a lot more vanishes in what the Elf expects will be a real impressive light-show.

Slowly, cautiously, the Angel of Decay goes aloft on its wings. Its creepy, grinding voice does not betray a sense of panic, but the surviving coalition members know that Green has found a critical weakness to exploit.

The clever Elf Fighter eases down off the altar and edges towards the only exit from the chamber. His eyes never leave the antagonist.  Sy warns the Angel to back off.  He’s more than willing to drop the Portable Hole and end all this, even himself if necessary.  The Angel of Decay stays back, avoiding provocation, but hovers to obstruct any safe path out.

The Angel of Decay counters with a compromise – if the Elf returns the artifact, the Angel will allow the interlopers to leave. Green gets cocky and says no.  He tells to his allies to leave the room.  Collado, al-Azhar, Light-Bringer, and lone Suicide Blonde Drew don’t need to be told twice.  But the half-Orcs and what remains of Valiant Light linger at the chamber doorway, looking to cover Green’s eventual escape.

The Angel’s desperation takes increasingly hostile turns. The Angel offers to just spare the Elf’s life, in return for the precious shard.  Green holds firm, now very close to the door.  No deal.

Angered, the Angel demands its artifact back, now promising not just the coalition’s vicious slaughter, but that of everyone in the enclave and the destruction of the enclave itself. Cleric Reedna does not realize she is within reach.  The Angel of Decay suddenly lashes out and slays the flat-footed Cleric of Kord in the blink of an eye.

Unacceptable provocation – Sy Green is through wasting time. He darts under the frantic claws of the Angel and stumbles into the corridor, colliding with Krusch and almost bowling over Amber Renn.  The Angel of Decay is close at his heels, lunging in for the kill, blindly raging to recover its invaluable prize.

Sy Green lets go of the Portable Hole.

The narrow passageway explodes in white light. A massive wave of subdual Negative energy follows.  Then everything goes dark.

It is now mid-afternoon on the 6th day of April, by the local calendar.


(Part 35 to be continued…)


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Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – Part 34

This adventure was Friday January 22, 2016. E.G., K.D., T.F., and A.T. were present.  M.H. sat in.  C.H. observed; he does not intend to start a new character.

It is late afternoon when the coalition returns to Riddley’s Crown, after their first day of questing at the corrupted church of Pelor. While there was solid progress made in exploring the temple and defeating many of its Undead inhabitants, the adventurers have lost a third of their members.  Outside the walls of the enclave, pyres burn high for the six Corinthians, the fallen Suicide Blonde Molly, cleric Alain, and the half-Orc fighter Vola.

Clerics Jere Collado and Joseph McMickelson, Thri-Kreen warrior H’ai-ch Q’a, and Wizard Aziz al-Azhar bring the lifeless body of their friend Xorn to eccentric old Sister Janus. The kindly priestess performs the invocation to Raise Dead on the Barbarian-Ranger, but her attempt fails.  The spell located Xorn’s soul, but for some unknown reason the half-Orc declined to return to life.  He is gone forever.  His crestfallen friends accept an alchemical oil from Sister Janus, and immolate Xorn’s remains out by the grave site of their late Paladin friend Raygar.

Cleric Reedna, leader of Valiant Light and de facto commander of the coalition, calls a brief assembly of its members.  She speaks highly of their accomplishments so far.  Today’s effort was brave, and its misfortunes regrettable.  The main floor and the catacombs of the temple are cleared, though at the cost of many noble adventurers.  She feels their goal is in sight – whatever greater evil infects these lands is sure to be found and defeated in the tunnels below the catacombs.

There is the matter of treasure and equipment. All of the Corinthians were slain, so their magic spears, short swords, Corinthian Leather armor, light wooden shields, and various Rings of Protection, are left to the coalition’s treasury.

The Corinthians’ 20% share of treasure is also redistributed. The Suicide Blondes and Collado’s party now claim 25% each; Valiant Light, 35%; and the Loners will divide 15% of the total haul.

Those able to perform Arcane magic cast as many Identify spells as possible in the remainder of the day. Each takes about an hour.  Prioritizing items recovered from the temple, the coalition identifies such magic items as a +1 Ghost-Touch longsword, a Sacred Scabbard, a Spool of Endless Rope, a Medal of Gallantry, a +1 Buckler of Fire Resistance, +1 Silent Moves full-plate armor, some Cloaks of Resistance +1, several +1 Rings of Protection, Gloves of Dexterity +4, a Ring of Improved Swimming, a Ring of Wizardry (I), a +3 Ring of Protection, an Ioun Stone of +2 Constitution, a Cloak of Resistance +3, a Quaal’s Feather Token (whip), a Type III Bag of Holding, a Circlet of Blasting (minor), and some +1 magic armor.  As needed, some coalition members adopt items on loan to improve their combat readiness.

H’ai-ch Q’a does not want the Barbarian-Ranger’s adamantine short-sword to leave the party, so he takes it as his own. There is a tingling sensation as the Thri-Kreen touches it, but no other ill effect.  Un-noticed by most, Elf Fighter Sy Green goes to trader Dredburn and purchases the Type I Bag of Holding and the Portable Hole offered at the meeting the other night.

Injured, attribute- and level-drained adventurers are treated by Sister Janus and by those members of Valiant Light will spells still available. Tired from the day and with no Undead outside the walls, the coalition members take dinner and retire early to bed.

*          *          *

The next morning, all adventurers are present and accounted for when the coalition musters to hike back to the temple. Their mood is different.  Anticipation and excitement have become anxiety and uncertainty.  A light rain falls from a heavily-clouded sky, further burdening their spirits.

Passing the ruined cabins of one small farmstead, H’ai-ch Q’a alone Spots a humanoid sitting on the edge of a rooftop. It is a female Thri-Kreen, a purplish hue on its chitinous exoskeleton, and wearing purple leather armor.  It hops down off the roof and falls in beside H’ai-ch Q’a.  The Fighter regards her with wordless puzzlement.  No-one else of the coalition has taken notice of her, focused instead on avoiding mud holes and keeping rain off their heads.

As they hike, the Thri-Kreen female comments on her unusual new form, and how strange it is inside H’ai-ch Q’a mind. In among her ramblings of self-discovery, the female introduces herself as Solace.  H’ai-ch Q’a knows she is not real – Thri-Kreen are attuned to psionics and altered states of mind, so this apparition or hallucination is just a mild curiosity to him.  And she is attractive by Thri-Kreen standards, so that’s a bonus.  Solace doesn’t mind that H’ai-ch Q’a is not big on conversation.  Eventually she disappears back into his subconscious when his attention is distracted.

The coalition has reached the corrupted temple of Pelor. The dry shelter it provides against the cold, armor-soaking drizzle is an ironic comfort.  Aside from the persistent Unhallow, the main floor and catacombs are empty and free of Undead.  The group sparks torches and Light spells, and heads straight for the tunnel leading further below the crypts.

The hole in the catacomb floor is dark and silent. Cleric Amber Renn’s knowledge of layout ends here; whatever they find down there will be a surprise to everyone.  Collado’s party goes first down the straight, hard-packed dirt ramp.

The incline ends in a wide, earthen tunnel. Jere and Joseph stand ready to Turn anything that emerges from the shadows.  They move aside so H’ai-ch Q’a and an inquisitive Aziz al-Azhar can creep forward and examine the surroundings.

The tunnel leads about forty yards ahead and then turns to the right. A pervasive feeling of evil chills the air, almost nauseating any of Good alignment, empowering any of Evil alignment.  It is not a spell effect – something else generates it.

At odd intervals along the left-hand side of the tunnel are what look like alcoves. Thri-Kreen Solace is already at one of these, peering into it.  Excited, she motions H’ai-ch Q’a to come and see.

Weapons in every claw, H’ai-ch Q’a cautiously approaches the nearest opening. It is actually a narrow corridor, at a right-angle to the main tunnel.  The Thri-Kreen fighter recoils when he finds it is lined with zombies.  The rank stench of rot hits him an instant later.  As far as he can see down this side tunnel, there are dozens of these Undead humanoids.  But they are motionless and do not react.  H’ai-ch Q’a motions for his allies to join him.

All of the main tunnel’s alcoves are side-tunnels. Clerics of Valiant Light, Suicide Blondes, and others of Collado’s party check them and find the same thing.  Dozens, maybe hundreds of zombies, more even, as far as anyone can see into the perfect underground blackness.  All of the Undead are asleep or in stasis, as if stored here.

Cleric of Wee Jas Seamus MacTavish does a Turn, destroying every zombie to the limit of the Turn’s effective range. Undead beyond this effect do not wake up or otherwise react.  MacTavish is fascinated by this.  So is Aziz al-Azhar; the Wizard elbows to the front of the group, a silk kerchief over his nose to block the smell, to get a closer look.

Around the corner, the main tunnel bends again to the right, and there is an intersection. The tunnel continues on ahead.  A new tunnel cuts to the left.  There are sounds coming from both directions; and indistinct but constant sound from ahead, an intermittent series of noises from the left.  The group goes straight ahead.

The tunnel ahead leads thirty yards then turns left and opens into a wide chamber. Here the coalition is startled to find a hideous Undead creature, guarded by animated Skeletons !  One of the Clerics of Valiant Light knows the creature – it is a Wheep, a gruesome entity that wails a constant, mind-affecting dirge of sorrow and misery, while crying tears of a poisonous, toxic black resin.

Ten armed and armored Skeletons rush the coalition to protect their charge. A furious fight ensues.  The Skeletons carry high-quality magic weapons and armor, posing a dangerous challenge to the front-line fighters.  The Wheep does not shirk from combat, actively engaging and attacking the intruders.  Collado’s party, the Loners, and the Suicide Blondes rush forward, while Reedna’s Valiant Light generate a torrent of helpful Divine spells.

The Wheep’s innate poisons and the Skeletons’ fighting skills are deadly but not overwhelming; the coalition manages to defeat them all. But there were terrible losses – Suicide Blonde Phoebe; Cleric of Obad-Hai, Coralyne; and Cleric of Fharlanghan, CJ Newcastle.  Many others are badly wounded but still alive.

There are no other enemies in this sizable chamber. The survivors guard the only entrance to the room as they heal up and take stock of their situation and surroundings.

It is now early afternoon on the 6th day of April, by the local calendar.


(end of Part 34)



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Crown of the Dead [D&D v.3.5] – The afterlife of Xorn

Xorn wakes up face-down in moss. Nice, green, moist, springy, fragrant deep-forest moss.

The Barbarian-Ranger is typically very quick on the uptake. It never takes him long to assess a situation or come to a conclusion.  But this is a deviation from reality that the half-Orc might be forgiven for needing an extra minute to wrap his head around.

Up until just now, or just a few minute ago, Xorn and his friends were in dark, musty catacombs under a cursed temple of Pelor, many miles east of Riddley’s Crown. They and their coalition partners were fighting Wights, Slaughter Wights, and a Blaspheme in narrow subterranean corridors.  Xorn himself was engaged in melee combat with the Blaspheme.

Though the memory of the fight grow curiously indistinct in his mind, the Barbarian-Ranger seems to recall fighting from halfway up the wall, being wounded by a series of hits, then seeing the Blaspheme’s horrible maw lunging at him before pain and darkness overtook him.

Now, he is here. Wherever ‘here’ is.

Xorn rolls to his side. He does so slowly, expecting soreness from his injuries, but there is none.  He is not injured.  In fact, he is not in his usual armor or equipped with his usual weapons.  A fine suit of studded leather adorns him; a magic bow and quiver of arrows are propped up against a tree.  A tent and the accouterments of a proper wilderness camp are set all around him.  This is not his camp, but feels like it is.

Sitting up, the Barbarian-Ranger looks around at his surroundings. In all directions there is forest – healthy deciduous trees, low green secondary growth, birds and insects busy about their business, a brilliant blue sky above a canopy of leaves in their full green strength of summer growth.  A peaceful breeze drifts by, carrying the scents of foliage and game, awakening primal memories within the half-Orc’s soul.

There are no threats here. Xorn does not feel panic or unease or concern.  The knowledge comes to him as instinct more than intellectual deduction – he is dead, or at least dead from the Material Plane point of view.  This is not where he was from; this place is different, not an illusion, but a different Plane entirely.  The trees, birds, light, smells, feel of the place are wild, of nature, the antithesis of civilization and humanoid dominance.  This is the Wilderness of the Beastlands.

The encampment and its equipment are not his, but they are for him. As is this place; Xorn knows this as his afterlife, where he may hunt and explore and challenge nature for all eternity.  Memory of his old life is slipping away, fading, becoming a dream half-remembered in this new awakening.  A part of his mind seems empty, bereft of a presence that had grown familiar, the companionship of an intelligent Chaotic Neutral sword whose name he no longer remembers and whose partnership is severed and lost.  But this is not a loss so much as a leaving behind.  Already the Beastlands have embraced Xorn’s soul.

There suddenly comes a sensation of contact and communication, a last faint call from a past life lived in a forgotten dream. Xorn senses that it comes from a priestess of Nerull, someone Lawful Evil in alignment, who seeks to draw him back to the Material Plane.  But the summons grasps at mist and vapours – that Barbarian-Ranger is no more.  Xorn will not leave this place.  The call falls silent, leaving only the wind in the leaves and a wilderness singing of summer.

Today is a day that will not end; the half-Orc takes up his bow, and decides on a direction to hunt.



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