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Tabletop Meditations #18: Disease

The Player Characters (PCs) are traveling through a fetid, sweltering swamp. Halfway through their Potions and Medicines to combat diseaseadventure the expedition begins to fall sick with fever. At first, just a few torchbearers were sick and then a few porters. Eventually almost the entire adventuring party is sick even a few PCs are ill. The danger made apparent before the expedition. However, they assumed it couldn’t be that bad. After all, they had healing magic at their disposal. Now stranded at the center of a monster-infested morass they are bogged down with a sick and dying expedition. In addition, the longer they stay, the more likely more will fall ill. An invisible tiny enemy has brought them to their knees.

Disease has stalled even killed some of the toughest, persistent, and well-provisioned adventurers in history. Strange fevers, boils, sores, pox, food poisoning, parasitic worms, STD’s, and animal born infections have plagued adventurers and military campaigns throughout history. With disease being such an important factor concerning exploration and conquest, a clever Game-Master (GM) would be foolish not to make use of that side of nature.

Disease is an underutilized tool in the GM Toolshed and can add to the danger and feeling of a setting. Disease is a world-class force. It can thwart adventurers, jamb the wheels of imperialism, stop the machines of war dead, and even curtail history. However, with all things in the game world, diseases need to be broken down into a few basic ideas.

There are three aspects to diseases in respect to roleplaying games that are important. These are Contagion Rate, the Incubation Period, and the Disease Vector(s) through which the sickness perpetuates. The Contagion Rate refers to how contagious the disease is, percentiles can easily represent this. This represents how easily the disease can transfer to an individual. The percentile rate would mean that the exposed character is potentially infected. After this determination, the GM should refer to the game mechanics for what happens next. If the character succumbs to the infection then the symptoms of the disease are often not immediately noticeable.

Symptoms and the main effects of the disease will appear after the Incubation Period of the specific disease has passed. Incubation Period refers to how long the disease remains dormant in an infected host; it can still be contagious at this stage. After exposure a character can walk around apparently unaffected for however long the Incubation Period lasts which can ranged anywhere from a few hours to days even years! They can remain infectious during this period as well. Often the more infectious a disease is the shorter the incubation time. A highly infectious disease that has a short incubation time is a plague in the waiting although the quicker the incubation then the quicker the outbreak is likely to burn itself out.

Finally, the third idea is the Disease Vector. A vector is the agent that carries the disease to its living host, which can be a living organism or a medium like dust. The infection vectors that can spread a disease are many but the main ones to keep in mind are those that travel through wounds, insect bites, animals (feces & diseased individuals, corpses), and those that are airborne or hide in improperly prepared or stored food. Adventurers need to make sure their food has not spoiled or been contaminated. They should beware of corpses they have not killed themselves. Adventurers also need to care for their wounds even small scratches especially when traversing bodies of water or marsh areas. Of course, they also need to learn how to deal with biting insects especially mosquitoes and flies.

Infection can get into open wounds through direct contact with such vectors as dirty clothes, water, mud, and general filth. The improper cleaning of deep wounds is begging for infection. A good example of the result of an infection through wound contamination with serious consequences is gangrene. Gangrene results in fever and possibly the loss of limbs and death not to mention the stench of rotting flesh. Note that gangrene also results from a lack of circulation but the form we are concerned with is the result of bacterial infection.

Animal and insect bites are another major vector for diseases. The most obvious one is rabies, if the animal is foaming at the mouth its bite is something to avoid. However, certain animals that are carriers are not so easy to avoid. Vampire bats prey upon sleeping warm-blooded victims. Another infamous example is of the Tsetse fly and its transmission of sleeping sickness not to mention the mosquito born malaria and dengue and yellow fevers. Even such hard to avoid insects such as ticks that can carry lime disease.

To finish off the potential vectors of interest to GMs are airborne infections and of course food poisoning. Spoiled food is a major hazard and may transmit mild to severe effects. This usually depends on the type of food, where it came from, and how it was prepared. Also, food contaminated through contact with other vectors such as insects or contaminated water becomes a medium for disease. Another way food can shelter the enemy is by eating infected animals, which may be still within the incubation period.

Airborne vectors come about when inhaling germs in miasmatic environs such as gas spewing swamps or burbling cesspits. This includes sharing space with infected individuals with no contact other than breathing the same air. Here, the disease uses the medium of air launched in aerosol form by a cough or sneeze. Good examples of the types of diseases that can spread via these vectors are influenza and the Hanta virus via the dust from rodent droppings. In certain cases, even the wind can become a vector. Another medium that is worth visiting is that of water.

Waterborne infections can afflict individuals that drink spoiled or stagnant water. Contaminated water can also infect food that comes into contact with it especially during preparation. Examples of the diseases that travel via water are Dysentery, Typhoid fever, and Guinea Worm. Adventurers should always be suspicious of bodies of water they encounter and not just because of leeches and piranha either. However, in fantasy roleplaying games there are a few mitigating factors even in the more primitive of settings.

In RPGs, certain game aspects can mitigate the disease factor. These three disease negating factors are characters that have the ability to heal others aka Healers, potions or elixirs, and magic.

Healers are characters that have the ability to heal other characters of both damage and cure diseases or at least ease their symptoms. They can achieve this mystically or with some version of medicine. If disease is a major feature in a setting, these characters become very valuable party members. However, even when Healers are traveling with an expedition that party may want some backup in the form of potions.

Potions when consumed heal damage and some can even cure disease. These are usually of a magical nature but sometimes the fantasy separates chemistry, alchemy, and magic into separate areas. This separation does not concern us here, as the mere existence of potions is effective in combating disease. The only factors to consider are availability (who makes them and how long does it take) and cost in both time and money. Meaning the majority of people will not be able to afford these life-saving potions. Alternately, if they can it still might be a rare thing. This is especially true if the disease requires a specific cure or type of potion. As the nature of potions often falls into the realm of magic so magic itself must be taken into consideration.

Although healing abilities and potions fall under the purview of magic, they are different strategies due to availability and cost. Unless someone has access to a healer they do not have the luxury of the healer’s abilities and if they cannot find a supply of potions then the same. The same can be said of magic items that may offer protection or even healing abilities to their wielder. These are more accessible to the makers of such items and fall into adventurers’ possession more frequently than others’.

Magic items are more accessible than a Healer’s abilities. This is simply because all one has to do is wield the item instead of becoming a healer. They are also more durable than potion bottles thus granting a more portability. Also they are more than likely good for more than a single use. Frankly, the advantage of a disease fighting magical item is so great that it becomes a necessary piece of kit. This is not to diminish a mage or wizard that has disease curing spells but again access is the issue, there must be such a spell-caster present.

In a world of limited scientific knowledge and where magic is known to exist  how would disease be treated? Just as importantly, how is the welfare of those unfortunate enough to be suffering from infection handled? Historically, disease shaped communities and whole eras of civilization (syphilis, HIV/AIDS, Black Death, leprosy). This includes the formation of colonies and places meant to isolate and imprison diseased individuals. A bustling snake oil industry and quack businesses will spring up. A historical parallel would be the patent medicines of the 18th and 19th centuries.

Disease shapes affected communities especially if there is no cure. How society deals with and treats the so affected is important. The example of lepers is especially notorious. Lepers were made to ring bells warning the healthy members of society that they were coming whenever they were traveling in towns and cities if not barred from entry. Lepers were even forced (occasionally voluntarily) into colonies often on small faraway islands or isolated facilities.

With laws and forced isolation imposed on victims of disease also comes scapegoating. This being applied to not only the infected but also those that were believed to carry the infection. This includes those accused of deliberately planting the sickness by contaminating water wells or poisoning food by means of witchcraft.  These scapegoats may be particular creatures or locations, enemies, social minorities, or newly arrived adventurers or adventurers in general. This also may include a belief that a specific disease is particular to a certain community.

The efforts to prevent infection will range from reliance on certain organizations (religious, mages, alchemy, charlatans, etc.) to enforced cleanliness or misguided efforts thereof. Cities and towns could forbid certain types of individuals from entering due to the belief that they are carriers.

Disease is a world shaping force that stops invasions dead, halts the movement of goods, money, and troops, altering history. The outbreak of plagues can sweep over the entire planet wiping out whole swaths of civilization leaving an indelible mark on the surviving culture. There are Plagues (an extreme version of a specific disease) that can alter the world as it circulates the globe wiping out towns and cities.  International trade can even become a vector such as in the case of the Black Plague and medieval Europe. Small outbreaks can stall wars, halt invasions, wipe out small communities, and kill kings.

However, disease, especially plagues, can not only negatively affect the population but also have severe economic repercussions and even present new opportunities. Patent Medicines (real or snake oil) can come about to fill the need effective or not. Quacks may proliferate. The collapse of trade may occur with the isolation of cities or rural areas needed for trade. The reduction of the work force by extreme measure is not only a tragedy but also thereby giving them more power to demand better treatment and pay.

In June 1381, 35 years after the Black Death had swept England, the Peasant Rebellion occurred led by Wat Tyler from Kent. The peasant army from Kent and Essex marched on London and captured the Tower of London. One motivating factor of this peasant force was that during the plague was they had been granted their freedom and granted paid to work the estates of the aristocracy. The aristocracy did this in order to keep them from leaving during the labor shortage created by the plague. The peasants were afraid that they would lose these newly won privileges. Plagues damage the laborer population, which leads to a downturn in production of materials and crops for at least a decade and increases the economic and political clout of labor and the lower classes. It actually turns the world upside down.

Diseases in RPGs are of value to the GM. Diseases can act as an obstacle to PCs, give certain specialized Healer characters an important role to play, and alter NPCs in dramatic ways. The knowledge of the potential diseases they may face may give the PCs pause and even alter their travel routes. A diseased member of a PC expedition may slow down or stop the group dead especially if more than one of their number is infected. This in and of itself presents its own challenge. That challenge being to find shelter and/or a place to recuperate and recover their bearings.

Introducing these illnesses into your world allows the Healer character to do something seemingly small. However, do not be afraid to demonstrate to the other PCs that disease can take quite a toll even if it only is stalling them for a while. Sickness can also alter infected NPCs in a way that can engage players and give the GM more tools to work with. Examples are lepers, sick and dying kids as a source of empathy/sympathy or an adventure hook, dying beggars, the dying and kind old person but for a cure scenario.

Making use of diseases can help a GM to enhance their game. They have a tool that can halt armies, delay or kill adventurers, alter the functions of an NPC, and put up a barrier to egress in a remote area. It can add to the flavor of a game as well as engendering some mild danger or at least another sum that the Players will have to calculate. Not to mention the fear factor built up via dialogue delivered by the NPCs to the Players.

Microorganisms can stall adventuring parties and armies alike as well as strike down the lowliest peasant as well as the mightiest king. Adding disease to your campaign world can enrich the background as well as alter the roles of NPCs, Healers, and mages. In this same scenario potions and magic items that house healing and disease fighting abilities become more useful and therefore valuable. Certain vectors especially certain insects may become a symbol of terror to PCs who become cognizant of the risk and the need to prepare for an excursion beforehand. Disease as a part of a living campaign world is an invaluable tool for the discerning GM and a valuable source of drama and immersion for Players.

 

Tabletop Meditations #17: The Lich

Whether it is at the head of an undead horde or a shadowy figure behind the scenes using monsters and people like chess pieces the undead wizard known as the lich is adept on and off the field. These undead wizards appear as mostly skeletal with only the scant, mummified remnants of flesh left hanging from their yellowed bones, and in the deep black pits of their perpetually grinning skulls, red pinpoints of hellish light. The lich is a very common archetype in modern fantasy and one of the most recognizable but how far do the roots of the monster actually go?

The lich is an undead spell-caster that has for the most part deliberately become undead as a bid for immortality able to gather more arcane-knowledge and thus power over time. When they first appeared seemingly out of whole cloth they were undead spell-casters with strange powers, became ideal and grim antagonists, and continue today as antagonists of boss-monster proportions.

“[A] mage or cleric so thirsty for immortality as to try to cheat death, and already powerful at magic.” [Greenwood, Ed. 1988. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Forgotten Realms, The Lords of Darkness. TSR, Inc. 2]

A lich is an undead creature therefore; our concerns lie first with the condition of undeath and the meaning of ‘undead creature’. First off, undead creatures were formerly living and thus have had a “first death” rising from the grave weirder and more powerful.

Undead creatures are dead bodies animated often by an outside force after the soul of the dead being has since flown from the bones. This force, often malicious, oft defined as demonic and occasionally elemental replaces the soul as the animating force and/or mind. This force typically alters the corpse in significant and grotesque ways to adapt the newly formed creature to its new (un)life as a creature of the night. In the case of Liches, this force is magic rather than a demonic spirit though perhaps still elemental.  However, their actual soul has been captured in a special object called a Phylactery. The transformation of the body to the being of a lich is the death of the mage and the rotting of the corpse leaving only that necessary to contain the animating force. The once living visage reduced to the bones with maybe some withered, leather-tough tatters of flesh to hold the joints together.

“The urge for immortality is so strong in some powerful mages and magic-user/clerics that they aspire to lichdom, despite its horrible physical side effects and the usual loss of friends and living companionship. Lichdom must be prepared for in life; no true lich ever is known to have come about “naturally”.” [Greenwood. pg.73]

The term and the creature fused together in the pulp fiction of the early 20th century. For the most part the term was used as an archaism. An archaism is a deliberate imitation of old-fashioned language in order to stress a certain time-frame or to enhance atmosphere. Similar archaisms were revived and sometimes redefined by the popular imagination in that fertile ground known as American Pulp Fiction, namely in the fantasy and horror genres of weird fiction. Masters and innovators of modern archaisms as literary device included such well-known names as H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith.

The etymology of the term Lich, plural Liches, is straightforward. Its roots lie in the Old English word for ‘corpse’, not a monster or evil spirit, just a dead body:  “A corpse (Old English lic).” [Rockwood, Camilla ed. 2009. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable 18th Edition. Chambers Harrap Publishers Ltd. 781] Though archaic its original use lingers in certain usages such as ‘lich gate’ and a few others.

Lich gate or lych gate The covered entrance to churchyards intended to afford shelter to the coffin and mourners while awaiting the clergyman who is to conduct the cortége into church.”

Lich wake or lyke wake The funeral feast or the waking of a corpse, i.e. watching it all night.”

Lychway or lickway A trackway, especially in a remote upland area, along which corpses were borne for burial in a distant churchyard.” [Rockwood. 781]

The modern fantasy trope of the Lich may have indeed started with the term itself.

Pulp Fiction where most modern fantasy archetypes were, if not born, then mantled with their modern guises, the lich is no exception. However, in regards to the lich this lineage begins with the appearance of the term “lich” in weird stories beginning in the 19th century with Ambrose Bierce at the very beginning of the weird genre of fiction.

One of the earliest appearances in fiction of the word occurs in Ambrose Bierce’s story the Death of Halpin Frayser. In fact, the fictional quote that precedes the story is the earliest part to mention our undead subject. “For by death is wrought greater change than hath been shown. Whereas in general the spirit that removed cometh back upon occasion, and is sometimes seen of those in flesh (appearing in the form of the body it bore) yet it hath happened that the veritable body without the spirit hath walked. And it is attested of those encountering who have lived to speak thereon that a lich so raised up hath no natural affection, nor remembrance thereof, but only hate. Also, it is known that some spirits which in life were benign become by death evil altogether.” [Hopkins, Ernest Jerome ed. 1970. The Complete Short Stories of Ambrose Bierce. University of Nebraska Press. The Death of Halpin Frayser]

Soon after the term was adopted by one of the three musketeers of weird fiction, Clark Ashton Smith.  His connection to Bierce being that: “At fifteen, [Clark Ashton Smith] became likewise infatuated with [the poetry] of George Sterling. Sterling (1869-1926) had moved from his native New York State to California in 1891 and had become a protégé of Ambrose Bierce – “bitter Bierce,” the misanthropic writer, poet, journalist, and satirist[.]” [De Camp, L.Sprague. 1976. Literary Swordsmen and Sorcerers: The Makers of Heroic Fantasy. Arkham House . Sauk City, Wisconsin. 199]

Bierce himself was quite aware of the young writer. “In 1912, Ambrose Bierce wrote to a western magazine, warning that, while Smith was a very promising young poet, this premature publicity and exaggerated praise might be bad for him and lead to an equally exaggerated reaction against him.” [De Camp. 201]

Eventually through his use of the word and his close connections via written correspondence, his contemporaries, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft, began to use the word as well. However, Smith used the term more often to describe an animated corpse than an undead wizard. This is around 1926 and the lich is still a little strange.

“But on its heels, ere the sunset faded, there came a second apparition, striding with incredible strides, and halting when it loomed almost upon me in the red twilight – the monstrous mummy of some ancient king, still crowned with untarnished gold, but turning to my gaze a visage that more than time or the worm had wasted. Broken swathings flapped about the skeleton legs, and above the crown that was set with sapphires and balas-rubies, a black something swayed and nodded horribly; but, for an instant, I did not dream what it was. Then, in its middle, two oblique and scarlet eyes opened and glowed like hellish coals, and two ophidian fangs glittered in an ape-like mouth. A squat, furless, shapeless head on a neck of disproportionate extent leaned unspeakably down and whispered in the mummy’s ear. Then, with one stride, the titanic lich took half the distance between us, and from out the folds of the tattered sere-cloth a gaunt arm arose, and fleshless, taloned fingers laden with glowering gems, reached out and fumbled for my throat…” [Connors, Scott ed. 2006. The End of the Story: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith Volume One. Night Shade Books. San Francisco. The Abominations of Yondo. 7-8]

In his 1932 story The Empire of the Necromancers, the lich has lost the weird belly-monster and taken the basic form of an animated corpse. “After a while, in the grey waste, they found the remnants of another horse and rider, which the jackals had spared and the sun had dried to the leanness of old mummies. They also raised up from death; and Mmatmuor bestrode the withered charger; and the two magicians rode on in state, like errant emperors, with a lich and a skeleton to attend them.” [Connors, Scott ed. 2007. A Vintage from Atlantis: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith Volume Three. Night Shade Books. San Francisco. The Empire of the Necromancers . 194] And “All that night , and during the blood-dark day that followed, by wavering torches or the light of the failing sun, an endless army of plague-eaten liches, of tattered skeletons, poured in a ghastly torrent through the streets of Yethlyreom and along the palace-hall where Hestaiyon stood guard above the slain necromancers.” [Connors. A Vintage from Atlantis. 199]

Eventually Robert E. Howard resourced the lich for his mystical two-fisted adventure tale Skull-Face in 1929.

“I shuddered. Kathulos laughed wildly again. His fingers began to drum his chair arms and his face gleamed with the unnatural light once more. The red visions had begun to seethe in his skull again.

“Under the green seas they lie, the ancient masters, in their lacquered cases, dead as men reckon death, but only sleeping. Sleeping through the long ages as hours, awaiting the day of awakening! The old masters, the wise men, who foresaw the day when the sea would gulp the land, and who made ready. Made ready that they might rise again in the barbaric days to come. As did I. Sleeping they lie, ancient kings and grim wizards, who died as men die, before Atlantis sank. Who, sleeping, sank with her but who shall arise again!” [Howard, Robert E. 1974. Skull-Face Omnibus. Neville Spearman, London.]

Of course, Lovecraft followed suit in his The Thing on the Doorstep originally published in 1937. “He must be crematedhe who was not Edward Derby when I shot him. I shall go mad if he is not, for I may be the next. But my will is not weak – and I shall not let it be undermined by the terrors I know are seething around it. One life – Ephraim, Asenath, and Edward – who now? I will not be driven out of my body … I will not change souls with that bullet-ridden lich in the madhouse!” [Derleth, August ed. 1963. The Dunwich Horror and Others. Arkham House Publishers, Inc. Sauk City, Wisconsin. The Thing on the Doorstep. 300]

Though Lovecraft used the term lich to mean the body of the possessed he is probably trying to get the idea through to the reader that the original inhabiting personality is gone essentially slain by the thing that now occupies the flesh. Although within the story, it does concern a sorceress who cheats death by taking possession of others’ bodies even able to drive her former corpse around very similar to the current incarnation of the lich.

These three tales forever merged in the minds of pulp readers the image of the skeletal corpse with the idea of a powerful undying sorcerer. From there the word seeped into the lexicon of fantasy writers but the archetype was not yet quite complete.

The basic idea of the lich naturally filtered to the latter day pulp writers, in particular one Gardner Fox and his Conan-Kull pastiche Kothar. In his 1969 novel Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman a lich appears that will serve as the basis for all future undead wizards in the popular mind.

“He turned and stared back into the dark tomb and saw the dead thing standing in the darkness, rotted and ugly in its cerements. […] It was just a corpse, a corpse that walked and spoke and seemed to be alive.

“Who are you?” Kothar growled.

“My name is Afgorkon, long and long ago.”

Kothar scowled. Afgorkon? Surely he had heard Queen Elfa speak of Afgorkon who had been a mighty magician fifty thousand years ago. He tried to think, but could not, being held in thrall by the black, empty eyeholes of the dead thing standing before him, bent and brown and old.

[…]

The lich turned and moved with those strangely thumping footsteps across the tomb. Its rotted hands moved and its withered tongue clacked, and sounds issued from the throat that was little more than bones. The words it spoke reverberated throughout the cairn, they brought down tiny showers of dirt from the root-pierced ceiling, they made the death-slab shake.

Yet they also opened an invisible door and caused a pallid glimmer by which Kothar could see, past the burial garments which still encased Afgorkon, an opening door and a chamber where lay a sword in a scabbard chained to a great leather belt on top of two chests heavy with jewels and golden coins of a kind no man had looked upon for half a million years.” [Fox, Gardner, F. 2016. The First Kothar the Barbarian Megapack. Wildside Press LLC. Kothar: Barbarian Swordsman]

Fox was definitely inspired by Howard’s Conan the Barbarian as Kothar the Barbarian is near identical though apparently less intelligent and with the sexual content of the stories turned up. On a related note The Cat and the Skull, a story written for Weird Tales by Robert E. Howard around 1928 saw print in 1967 in the King Kull lancer paperback.

The face of the man was a bare white skull, in whose eye sockets flamed livid fire!

“Thulsa Doom!”

[…]

“Aye, Thulsa Doom, fools!” the voice echoed cavernously and hollowly.

“The greatest of all wizards and your eternal foe, Kull of Atlantis. […]”

[…]Brule charged with the silent ferocity of a tiger, his curved sword gleaming. And like a gleam of light it flashed into the ribs of Thulsa Doom, piercing him through and through so that the point stood out between his shoulders.

Brule regained his blade[.] Not a drop of blood oozed from the wound which in a living man had been mortal. The skull-faced one laughed.

“Ages ago I died as men die!” he taunted. “Nay, I shall pass to some other sphere when my time comes, not before. I bleed not for my veins are empty and I feel only a slight coldness which shall pass when the wound closes, as it is even now closing. Stand back, fool, your master goes but he shall come again to you and you shall scream and shrivel and die in that coming! Kull, I salute you!”” [Louinet, Patrice ed. 2006. Kull Exile of Atlantis. Ballantine Books, New York. The Cat and the Skull]

Most importantly however, Gardner’s novel was read by Gary Gygax whom used the lich in that story as his template for the monster in his game Dungeons & Dragons.

“While a few of the critters in questions are purely products of my own imagination–carrion crawler, gelatinous cube, roper for instance–there were many sources of inspiration for the majority of the monsters, and I will name a few: […] Lich: Right on in regards to Gardner Fox. Gar and his wife Linda were friends of mine.” [Gygax, Gary. 2007. EnWorld.Org. Forum Post]

We have finally arrived at the Archetypical Lich. The Undead Magic-User or Priest that willingly underwent the lethal mystical transformation into an undead monster has taken its modern form. “Preparation for lichdom occurs while the figure is still alive and must be completed before his first “death”.” [Mohan, Kim ed. 1981. Lenard Lakofka auth. 1979. Best of Dragon Vol.II. Blueprint for a lIch.] After they have successfully undergone this process, the wizard’s soul has been captured within the Phylactery singly the most valuable item in any lich’s amassed treasury no matter how vast.

The word Phylactery is defined in the dictionary as an amulet but also refers to devices of orthodox Jewish prayer. In that respect, phylactery refers to two small leather boxes containing slips of vellum on which are written portions of Mosaic Law. One is worn on the head and the other on the left arm in token of the duty to obey religious law. Strangely, the lich’s phylactery reflects these ideas, as it is a magic amulet containing its living soul, which the lich must protect. If it is destroyed, so is the lich. “The phylactery may take any form – it may be a pendant, gauntlet, scepter, helm, crown, ring, or even a lump of stone. It must be of inorganic material, must be solid and of high-quality workmanship if man-made, and cannot be an item having other spells or magical properties on or in it. It may be decorated or carved in any way desired for distinction.” [Greenwood. pg.74]

The idea of it being a mystical container for the soul of a sorcerer is similar to the character of Koschei the Deathless from Russian mythology. The basic idea found in mythology of a powerful wizard, evil king, troll, or other monster being able to hide its heart or soul somewhere else preventing them from being slain is an old one.

Unlike most undead Liches retain all of their knowledge from life and have an eternity to become masters at anything they choose.  Therefore, the archetypical lich is uber-powerful or in the very least has extremely refined skills often of the arcane variety, the perfect villain to set against a group of rowdy adventure seekers.

With the lich as a villain, there are a couple of things to ask about the fundamentals of their character stemming from a few problems posed by their immortality and especially the type of immortality that they have achieved. The Lich is an undead creature, an animate corpse with magic power, created by imprisoning its soul in a phylactery.  In some circles, the soul is believed to be the seat of intelligence (and indeed, in certain game systems it may very well be). Does this mean that in actuality, the wizard has imprisoned himself in a psychic prison (the Phylactery) and the creature that is the corpse is just a mockery with a black (or grey) soul of pure magical force?

As they are sentient, do they suffer the emotional consequences of being left behind by their world and the familiar? Is that why they occupy themselves sometimes for decades or even centuries perusing their labyrinthine libraries burying their ruined faces in rotting tomes as their world disintegrates around them? Would this render them insane, depressed, delusionally out-of-touch, or erratic in their behavior? Do they desire some connection any connection to other beings even if it is negative, perhaps violence is the only way they can relate to others. I suppose that individual Game-Masters and their Lich characters should answer these questions on a case-by-case basis those questions best left for them.

In summary, the modern archetypical lich as an undead magic-user that has trapped their own soul within a phylactery was born of an archaism utilized by pulp authors in their weird tales. They were then borrowed and honed into their final wretched form by Gary Gygax and continue to appear in very similar if not identical forms across media such as the lich in Adventure Time, World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King, and in a slightly altered version in the guise of the Night King in Game of Thrones.

“I know what the dead know.” – Afgorkon [Fox. 22]

As an afterword, I am aware that Frank Belknap Long also used the term lich in his 1924 Weird Tales pulp story The Desert Lich. However, it has very little substance of the Lich in anything else besides its title. “The Desert Lich has an Arabic setting, but is a non-supernatural conte cruel in which a man who had sold an unfaithful wife is forced to lie in a sarcophagus with her corpse.” [Joshi, S.T. 2004. The Evolution of the Weird Tale. Hippocampus Press. New York, New York. 99]

 

Wondrous Objects #6 – The Wondrous Armory

Here’s another fantastic item to drop into any Dice & Glory campaign. However, it is not strictly speaking an object. Instead it’s a clever use of a combination of spells, a locale, and some mundane but high quality weapons. It has the potential to pull double-duty as a hidden stash and an enemy’s clever gimmick.

A sudden need to flex the magic system inspired it. There are endless variations depending only on character resources and their scope of spell knowledge.

Wondrous Objects are pregenerated fantastic items, mostly magical, for Dice & Glory. At the discretion of the GM wondrous objects can add a reward or additional threat to their game world easily and quickly. Also as pregenerated items Game Masters can drop them into a game session with little prep-work beyond reading the PDF.

Wondrous Objects #6: The Wondrous Armory – 663k

A hidden room of weapons summoned only by its master!

Tabletop Meditations #15: The Golem

The creature comes barreling down a narrow web-choked hallway in the enemy wizard’s fortress. The ground shakes as the large humanoid stomps towards our hapless adventurers. Its fists like cudgels and its door-shattering shoulders wide and powerful. Its feet and legs like dreadful stumps ready to stomp our heroes into pulp. Snickering behind the monster is the wizard who created it and ordered it to slay his enemies. This is a golem; an artificial creature shaped from clay, chiseled from stone, or hammered from iron by a powerful wizard. It unwaveringly obeys every order that its maker gives it.

The golem is another staple of the fantasy roleplaying game used mostly by mages in game as a minion to account for their own physical weakness or set as a powerful guardian against adventurers and the like. Similar to other entities and beings considered classic archetypes of the RPG genre, the golem has roots just as deep if not deeper. The adaptation of the golem into RPG’s was probably inspired by the pop-image of the creature, which first hit the popular imagination with the silent film Der Golem (1914), a partially lost classic of the horror genre. Of course, the filmmakers were themselves inspired by a medieval Jewish folktale. This folktale, known as the Golem of Prague, has its clay feet planted firmly in biblical and Jewish lore.

“In the Talmud, the word ‘golem’ has come to mean lifeless, shapeless matter, something unformed and imperfect, a body without a soul.” [Patterson, Jose. 1991. “Angels, Prophets, Rabbis, and Kings from the Stories of the Jewish People” New York. Peter Bedrick Books. p.98]

First, what exactly is a golem? Of all the differences in systems found across the RPG-scape the few points about golems that are commonly accepted are that  it takes a mage or wizard of sufficient power to create and that “Golems are magically created automatons of great power. Constructing one involves the employment of mighty magic and elemental forces”. [Cook, Monte. Jonathan Tweet, Skip Williams. 2000. “Dungeons & Dragons: Monster Manual”. Renton, WA. Wizards of the Coast, Inc. p.109]

All the sources that I’ve encountered also concede that a golem is not technically living although it may be semi-autonomous able to carry out simple commands it is still not technically living. Therefore, most things that affect living beings such as death effects, poison gas, as well as most non-magical attacks (this last one does vary although a semblance of it is retained in most instances), do not affect them. It is also a mindless object in the most basic sense and thus cannot feel fear or fall victim to psychic attack and psychological warfare. Therefore, a golem is a magical construct given animation by a powerful spell-caster through a ritual that binds a spiritual force to an artificial body making it strong, durable, and immune to certain attacks and special modes of combat typically effective against living intelligent beings.

“A golem is a “construct”, a powerful, enchanted monster created and animated by a high level magic-user or cleric. Golems can be made of almost any material.” [Allston, Aaron comp. 1991. “Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia”. TSR, Inc. p.180] Essentially, a golem is the most basic example of a magical construct. The term magical construct can also apply to animated objects like statues and armor although this effect can be achieved in many games with simple spells with lesser power than for a golem. These would come about in a fashion more akin to standard magical items.  However, a measure of power is still required similar to a golem. “A living statue is an enchanted animated creature made by a powerful wizard.” [Allston. P.208]

Now what is a construct since a golem is also defined as a magical construct? “Constructs […] are created much as magical treasures are.” [Allston. P.253] Essentially a magical construct is a magical device that mimics the most basic features of a living being barring reproduction. However, how does a magical item pull this trick off? A wizard cannot just conjure a soul out of nowhere and infuse it into the artificial body (the construct) so a readily available substitute is required. This substitute for the soul came in the ancient lore from the secret name of God and the creative power of the Hebrew Alphabet. In RPG’s which draw on a very rich and deep reservoir of world (though still mostly Western European but expanding) mythology and ancient lore another source is found in the form of errant elemental spirits.

“The animating force for a golem is a spirit from the Elemental Plane of Earth. The process of creating the golem binds the unwilling spirit to the artificial body and subjects it to the will of the golem’s creator.“ [Cook. p.109]

Therefore, a golem so far is a magical construct that lacking a soul to grant it authentic life mocks the semblance of life using a trapped elemental spirit instead. The materials of the constructed body can be just about anything but tend to have a relationship to the earth in most versions but is probably not a necessity. This maybe stemming from the creatures originally being sculpted from clay. The magical process to create such a constructed creature lies within not only Jewish lore but primarily seems related more to the old silent films.

The golem as a creature has beginnings in certain biblical and mystical passages and works. The idea of a powerful artificial person was a common one in ancient times and became more widespread with the middle age folktales that draw on these sources especially when the European Jews suffered brutal oppression at the hands of their fellow countrymen.

There are commentaries to the Sefer Yetzirah, the Book of Creation the most influential book of the Ma’asei-Bereshit mystical tradition written sometime between the 3rd and 6th centuries, which claims that biblical figures made golems. “The commentators believe Abraham used Sefer Yetzirah’s power, noting the wording, “the people they made in Haran” (Gen. 12:5); the prophet Jeremiah also made a golem. […] The idea was a theme in the Talmud (Sanh. 38a). Two anonymous Talmudic Sages were able to create a “one-third” size calf for Sabbath meals 9Ber. 55a; Mid. The. 3). More cryptic is the report that Rava “created a man”, who he then sent to Rabbi Zeira, who caused the creature to return to dust[.] [Dennis, Geoffrey W. 2016. “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, & Mysticism Second Edition”. Woodbury, Minnesota. Llewellyn Publications. p.181]

Up to the middle ages, there were multiple tales of Jewish figures attempting to or creating golems for various reasons. The Spanish philosopher and poet Solomon ibn Gabirol (ca. 11th century) is credited by Jewish occult tradition with creating either a female golem or a mechanical automaton. [Dennis. P.164] It seemed that creating a golem was a common ability in occult accounts and especially in certain medieval stories.

“The famous Rabbi Elijah of Chelm is reputed to have created a golem by writing God’s Holy Name on a piece of parchment and sticking it on the forehead of a clay model of a man. Not for one moment did it occur to the rabbi that he might be creating a monster that would run amok destroying everything in its path. When the golem proved uncontrollable Rabbi Elijah had no choice but to remove the parchment from its forehead, whereupon it immediately turned to dust.” [Patterson. P.98]

“Jewish folklore gives many accounts of rabbis who not only created golems but returned them to dust when they were no longer required. Most of them were used as attendants or bodyguards, and whereas they were supposed to have been able to understand and follow commands, they lacked the power of speech – a gift which God alone could grant.” [Patterson, p.98]

This brings us to the most common use for golems, guardianship and protection especially emphasized in the middle age folktales. The middle ages for European Jews were sometimes exceedingly bleak. This is the time that the most well-known and popularized myth of the golem originated when scattered throughout Europe Jews became victims of severe religious and economic oppression. Some brief examples of the ultimate results of this oppression being the Rhineland Massacres of 1096, the 1190 York Massacre, and the Black Death Persecutions from 1348 to 1350 to name just a few.

“They were forced to live in walled ghettoes which were built in the poorest sections of towns. […}[L]ife in the ghetto was governed by religious devotion and a strict code of morality. The poor overcrowded conditions were compensated, to a certain extent, by a growth of folk tales and stories many of which attempted to portray a happier life than the one the Jews were actually experiencing. […] The stories told in those days were peopled with a rich variety of figures who defended Jewish life – God, the rabbis, and the Golem[.]” [Patterson. P.86-87]

“With its great physical strength, its supernatural power to unearth the evil plots of their enemies, the golem became a kind of imagined redeemer to the Jews, helping them to cope with the daily problem of survival. By far the most popular of all golem stories are those told about the Golem of Prague.” [Patterson. P.99]

The story of the Golem of Prague concerned the famed rabbi Yehuda Loew of Prague (1512-1609) who was a renowned scholar of the Torah and the Talmud, a gifted storyteller, an eminent scholar, and could speak several languages fluently. One night he had a vivid dream.

In this dream, he found himself in the Christian quarter of the city and there to his horror he witnessed the murder of a child. Then the shadowy form of the killer took the little corpse, placed it in a sack, and left it in a cellar in the Jewish ghetto. As the shadowy murderer passed by him, the rabbi recognized it as the priest Thaddeus, an evil clergyman determined to destroy the Jews of Prague. With the festival of Passover fast approaching, it would be the Jews that would be blamed. Understanding the hideous implications of this horrible action, the rabbi prayed for help.

The answer was immediate. In his dream, he saw the sacred name of God and a formula of mystic words that would help him create a golem out of clay who would destroy the enemies of Israel. He awoke suddenly covered in sweat.

Taking the message of his dream as prophecy, the rabbi went to the banks of the River Moldau. There he shaped a man of immense size and when all was completed to his satisfaction, Rabbi Loew took from his pocket a piece of parchment. On this parchment, he had written the secret name of God and placed it in the mouth of the cold gray figure. He began chanting a mystical incantation while walking around it seven times one way and then seven times the opposite.

Immediately the figure began to glow like fire and then as soon as the glow had dimmed, its eyes opened. The rabbi gave it some clothes that he had brought and named the creature Joseph. As an artificial creature, the golem had no understanding of good and evil, could not speak, and could not reproduce. “He could not speak, having no soul, but he could obey.” [Constable, George ed. 1985. “The Enchanted World: Spells and Bindings”. Alexandria, VA. Time-Life Books. p.56] This creature, Joseph, was also very powerful knew the rabbi “because the longer Joseph lived the larger and more powerful he grew, he was an effective deterrent to violence”. [Constable. p.56]

With Joseph at his side, Rabbi Loew found the murdered child hidden in an abandoned basement in the house of a pious Jew. He had Joseph transfer the body to the basement of Thaddeus’ house. When the authorities came to the old man’s house, the rabbi directed them to the priest’s home where they discovered the body to the priest’s surprise thereby sparing the Jews of Prague.

Later, Joseph would also protect the rabbi’s people against a pogrom imposed by Rudolf II the Hapsburg Emperor (1552-1612). His work done the rabbi allowed the golem to rest on the bench in front of his house where the rabbi’s wife, Perele set him to hauling water. The rabbi had warned her previously that Joseph should not do household chores. Like a holy vessel, he was meant only for God’s work.

Regardless, she set him to his task, hauling water buckets from the well to fill the barrels in the pantry while she went to the market. A few hours later she returned with her shopping and was surprised by a crowd of her neighbors gathered about her home shouting, “it’s a flood!”. The pantry barrels were filled to overflowing yet Joseph did not stop. He kept running to the well and filling his buckets and then ran back to the pantry to continue to fill the overflowing barrels. It was at that moment, by good fortune, that Rabbi Loew returned from synagogue and ordered Joseph to stop. Then the rabbi turned and told the crowd that the floods had been sent to punish mankind but this had only been a reprimand to his wife.

However, as Joseph’s size and strength increased “like many other golem tales, over time the Prague golem grew in power and in unpredictable behavior”. [Dennis. p.182] “Like other creatures of magic, however, golems had a willful streak, and their ever-increasing size made them a threat to the very folk they were summoned to serve. So it was with Joseph, who ran amuck on a Sabbath eve for reasons no one could determine, leveling the ghetto walls with his massive shoulders and leaving buildings ablaze in his wake.”[Constable. P.56]

Of course, his creator caught him and “pulled the parchment from his lips, and recited backward the scripture that had started him into motion. All that was left when the man had finished was a lifeless mound of clay.” [Constable. p.56]

Hence, “the creator was forced to destroy his creation, thus curbing his own hubris and teaching him humility.”  [Dennis. P.182]

This story however, is more modern than one would think though its roots lay deep in the myths of the past. “Though golem tales were published through the 13th century, the story of the Golem of Prague as known today is the [sic] largely creation of an early 20th-century rabbi and writer, Yudel Rosenberg, and his book, Miflaot Maharal, “The Wonders of Rabbi Judah Loew”. [Dennis. P.181]

It is probably this story that inspired the filmmakers to make the movie Der Golem, which no doubt played a critical role in popularizing the myth.

“While filming A Bargain with Satan (1913) on location in Prague its lauded star Herr Paul Wegener was taken by the ancient ghetto. One legend told by the Jews there so intrigued him that he used it as a basis for his next picture. This picture Der Golem (1914) was more a sequel to the actual 16th century legend. In the film, an elderly antique dealer purchases an excavated statue after recognizing it as the legendary clay-man. A magic charm brings the creature to life and later goes on a rampage through the streets of Prague in a love-crazed pursuit of the antique dealer’s daughter. It reverts to stone when the girl snatches the charm from its chest and falling from a tower smashes to pieces on the cobblestones below. [Gifford, Dennis. 1973. “A Pictorial History of Horror Movies”. Middlesex, England. The Hamlyn Publishing Group Limited. The Clay Man Cometh – And Cometh Back]

With any successful film, of course there was a sequel, which was in effect was a prequel that followed the actual myth closer than its predecessor had. Most importantly however, this sequel reveals the process of the golem’s creation. In the prequel to Der Golem, subtitled How He Came into the World (1920):

High Rabbi Loew sees in the stars that danger impends for the Jews of Prague. Instantly a flower-sniffing Junker arrives with a decree from Emperor Ludwig: leave before the end of the month. Loew consults his ancient archives.

‘This figure called Golem was made long ago by a magician of Thessaly. If you place the magic word in the amulet on his breast he will live and breathe as long as he wears it. Astaroth guards the magic word which can endow even clay with life.’

Loew moulds a mighty giant of clay, then creates a magic circle of fire and summons forth the spirit. Astaroth, a floating head, speaks in smoke the word ‘Aemaer’. Loew writes it down and puts it in the amulet: instantly the Golem’s eyes light into life. [Gifford. The Clay Man Cometh – And Cometh Back]

This is important not just from the establishment of a process of creation that can be adapted for RPG play, there are many different ways in Jewish occult lore to create a golem however all revolve around God, but it also establishes the power of the magic-user. “As the sequel/prequel to Der Golem demonstrates the ritual activation of the golem, it also demonstrates the golem master’s power. In the second story strand of the 1920 film, Lowe travels to the court of the Emperor, gives a powerful demonstration of MAGIC […], and saves the lives of the Emperor and his throng – for which service the Emperor cancels his edict against the Jews.” [Clute, John. John Grant. 1997. “The Encyclopedia of Fantasy”. New York, NY. St Martin’s Press. p.422]

Seemingly related to the methods found in the surviving Der Golem film most roleplaying games have similar procedures and rituals to animate and control golems. A good example taken from Palladium Games’ Rifts is this spell called, appropriately, Create Golem:

The sorcerer first draws a pentagram of animal blood. Second, he sculpts a Golem (humanoid shape) from clay. Third, he places two onyx gems […] for eyes. Fourth, he places a heart, molded out of iron, into the clay body. Lastly, the mage recites the ritual ceremony. At the end of the ritual, the mystic places a single drop of his blood on the behemoth’s forehead to bring it to life. [Coffin, Bill comp. 2001. “Rifts Book of Magic”. Taylor, MI. Palladium Books, Inc. p.147-148]

This spell is a Level 13 spell in the Palladium system, which as legend would indicate a powerful spell requiring a skilled and powerful mage to create a single golem.

From the moment it entered the popular imagination through film, the concept begged infusion into the fantasy RPG realm. This concept being of an unquestioning minion with a physical might that more than compensates for its master’s physical weakness as well as a simple guardian type monster. This idea retains a little of the golem’s purpose of protection and the idea that a powerful magic-user can create an artificial life. In a sense, the mage through the creation of a golem is trying to attain the elevation of a god.

An RPG golem is an animate, semi-autonomous magical construct created for the purpose of guardianship or protection through its shear might. These creatures are created by powerful wizards or those privy to powerful magical knowledge. The ritual and method that is used to create them is varied almost as much as those found throughout their history in story and myth. They often lack the ability to speak and to think for themselves though they can understand, follow, and execute their master’s orders.

However, it seems that most RPG’s don’t take advantage of the dangers posed by a golem found in lore where they can grow dangerously independent of their masters and increase in power and size the longer they live. They may still be very physically powerful and difficult to procure but they seem to lack the unpredictability of legend.

RPG Golems began as a demonstration of faith and power in Jewish occult tradition, became figures in folktales in the middle ages which spawned the seminal tale the Golem of Prague, which was adapted into a silent film in the early 20th-century. This film helped to popularize the idea of the golem as a magical servant/protector that then in turn was adapted into the world of RPGs.

On a final note since RPG golems can be made of many different materials not just clay, stone, or iron but also flesh. These flesh golems should they retain the rebelliousness of the legendary golems have more than a passing resemblance to the monster in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.44: Betrayed at Last!

Nighttime – the four mages stumbled into camp, beat-up and dirty. Gornix (played by Gil) was nursing a gut wound. On their way out from the treasure vault, they had backtracked to a few rooms that they had missed. Gornix had been gored by an animated obsidian rhino statue. Szoosha (played by Isis) and Fauna (played by Jenn) had been trampled but their shield items had saved them from everything but a dirty floor. Excor (played by Cris) emerged relatively unscathed from that encounter.

The porter and Arcan the wanderer were waiting for them with a hot dinner. Behind them, there was the carriage and three other wagons painted with the college arms with draft animals. They had found two more wagons hidden around the area.  In answer to an innocent “how long have we been here” he answered that “tomorrow will be the first of Late Summer”. The four mages also found that the pair hadn’t heard from the others since their departure days ago. Soon after eating, they settled in to sleep and the night passed peacefully.

Come morning the four mages began to patrol the perimeter hoping to get a bead on their lost companions. Fauna used her cabal medallion to try to contact the others but she got nothing. As they rounded the eastern portion of their clockwise run, Gornix tried his medallion. He got a static obscured reply with a faint voice that seemed to sound from a great distance. They continued south and as they came to the southeast corner, Szoo spotted a large red dune and a young swordtail dragon slithering over the crest towards them.

Excor got the drop on the beast and snared it with his Shadow Ribbons spell. From there on the fight was a slaughter until Gornix knocked it out of the ribbons with his Force Ram fortunately in the process killing the dragon. It had even managed to resist about half of the spells they had slung at it but the mages had attained a plateau of power that was beyond the unfortunate creature.

They wandered west then north, Szoo used his medallion and got a stronger signal. The words, “Yeeeargh! We’re comin’ through! WATCH OUT!” blasted into his head. At that moment, Gornix found a half-buried stone door and wanted desperately to get it open. Excor used his medallion to try to contact them. He was able to find out that they were fleeing a cave-in down a long hall that slanted steeply upward towards a stone door. However, they were all out of spells.

They backed off from the door and Gornix smashed the stone doors in with a well-placed Force Ram spell. Suddenly, through the door, their companions ran up and out one after the other. Belrae in dirty purple robes a green frog on his torn breast, Riahm his tattered half-brown half-green cloak flying behind him, Jirek in his shabby robes nursing a broken arm,  and Xanto the Wasp and his apprentice Bumble followed by two large wasps each hauling a large sack of booty.

Out of breath Belrae turned a finger towards the Wasp and shouted “we were almost KILLED because of THAT GUY!”.

The Wasp: “What me? No. I was looking out for all of our welfare, what would this little venture of yours be without the wealth I collected? We are all now very rich, celebrate my friends, we have all survived!”

Just then, a blast of sand, pebbles, and dust engulfed them from the open passageway. Later the four adventurers led their companions back to camp. They later prepared for dinner and were ready to ship out come dawn.

As they ate they talked excitedly amongst themselves with the Wasp being mildly ostracized, his apprentice next to him. She was somewhat reticent to talk to Fauna when the druidess tried to strike up a conversation. Gornix left the group for a quiet rock a ways outside of camp, a place where he could “see the stars”.

He sat lotus style on the pale stone in an area of hardened red waste and gazed at the endless Elysian field above. Studying the stars he used his astrological knowledge trying to divine whether their passage home would be a safe one. He also gathered some mana points and stored them in the crystal that topped his staff, just in case.

Seeming about to make an announcement the Wasp stood up, the two bags of loot just behind him and Bumble.

The Wasp: “Well, my friends though I regret to leave this little party despite the undue treatment, Adieu!” He waived his hand and both bags and Bumble all teleported away.

Cris: “F@#k’in Wasp! I should ‘a grabbed Bumble!”

Excor had tried to beat the Wasp to the punch and made a snatch for his arm. Unfortunately, he had been just a hair too slow. Cris was right though. With his roll, he could have easily grabbed Bumble leaving the Wasp in a precarious position when he arrived back in town sans pupil. Her father would have killed him. However, Excor went right for Xanto and thus missed, not by much, but missed all the same. The mages were disappointed the villain had flown. The missing loot just added insult to injury.

Paradoxically the players actually seemed quite relieved that Xanto the Wasp had finally betrayed them even as they griped about it.

About one week later, the mages arrived back in Ezmer sans Arcan. He had parted company just before they hit the headland. As they pulled the wagons to the city gates, they saw the city bulwarks singed and blackened. In places, they were nearly completely demolished. Dozens possibly more Wher dragons laid in several rows and clumps, most dead some still twitching and being speared by the legion of guardsmen cleaning up the battlefield.

Fauna: “What the hell happened here!?”

Isis: “Yeah, geesh!”

Cris: “Oh yeah, it’s a Dragon Summer. They converge on the Ezmerian Headlands to mate.”

The crowded corner of Silver Circle street and Western Avenue was bustling with wagons, carriages, pedestrians, and horse riders. A group of agile street urchins weaved through them all before disappearing. Szoosha ineffectually watched the scene coursing around the street level of the Red Helm tavern from the window above in the cabal clubroom.

Fauna, Gornix, and Excor were sitting around the table dividing the loot that they had won. Each of the four had received a gold ring and necklace with a bee motif as well as a gold dagger as their share. Fauna claimed the gold skullcap that granted a +4 bonus to I.Q. when worn. Gornix took the bracers that granted +2 STR. Szoo claimed a gold ring that granted the Fearsome Form I spell and a constant +5 bonus to resist poisons. Excor took the ring that granted the Verminous Might (Winged Flight) spell and a necklace that granted the Sting spell 3 times per day (after a roll-off between the players).

Excor pulled the small silver chest from the portable hole and found it empty; it had a felt lining that had an indentation in it that fit the Amber Bee. They left the lotus mirror, an intelligent item, hidden in the cabal room, as none of them wanted it. They hung the lotus maces that they had captured on the walls of the tiny chamber as trophies.

After that had been accomplished, Excor pulled forth the first large chest that Gornix had holed up from the lotus vaults. The chest was oak banded with black iron. In place of a lock, there was a polished gold skull with a large ruby, citrine, and emerald in the eye sockets and nasal cavity. The jaw was jointed. Showing restraint Gornix “clairvoyanced” the lock finding out that the gems were buttons and to unlock it, the correct two must be pressed. However, the wrong combo would unleash a blast of toxic Grey Lotus spore.

Suddenly the mechanism unlocked and the top popped open as Fauna pushed the yellow then green gems without prompting. They admonished her lightly and then turned their attentions to the contents.

Within were a high quality nega-steel bottle with an aquamarine stopper carved into a flower that contained three doses of water charged with anti-magic energy. There was also a phoenix feather cape (Level 7 item, fire proof, Charm Against Evil (constant), Temporal Jump (1 x day), Seal of Health (10 charges)), a copper armlet with a large emerald carved into a lotus (level 8 item, grants a +1 I.Q. to wearer), 10 platinum talons, an alligator hide sack filled with gold bee husks (approximately 10 lbs. of gold), and a Drake hide sack filled with 100 pieces of tiger’s eye.

They each took 2 platinum talons leaving 2 for the cabal coffers. Finding that the locking mechanism could reset itself they closed it intending to leave it in the cabal room. Excor then withdrew the second chest.

It was another large iron-banded oak chest. Its locking mechanism was a solid gold faceplate inscribed with a honeycomb pattern where four of the cells had holes and three were buttons. Each button was inscribed with a black wasp, a gold bee, and a gold lotus. They argued a little back and forth about which two buttons to push after Gornix used his clairvoyance to confirm that was what they had to do.

Isis: “I got this! Um, the people there had a religion centered around gold bees and lotuses so…”

Szoo pushed the gold bee and then the gold lotus buttons. The chest popped open. The naga released a held breath.

Within the chest were a pair of highest quality leather gloves with amber buttons (level 7, +8 to sleight of hand, Quickness (constant), Counterspell: Curse: Affliction by touch 1 x day), a highest quality mirror-polished mithral priestess figurine (level 8, a command word grants a +9 to diplomacy and Owl’s Wisdom (1D4 + 3) 2 x day), and a highest quality stiletto with a clear quartz pommel stone, a blue-dragon-hide grip and decorative runes along the starmetal blade (level 14, +1D6 acid damage, keen weapon (18-20 critical)). There were also 10 talons of ice-steel, a silk sack filled with 100 pieces of obsidian, and a superior quality silk sack filled with 100 emeralds.

From that hoard, each mage got as their share 25 emeralds, 25 pieces of obsidian, 2 ice steel talons, and 25 pieces of tiger’s eye. Szoosha took the phoenix feather cape (after a player roll-off), Excor the armlet (after a roll-off between Cris and Gil), Fauna the gloves (after a roll-off between Jenn and Gil), and Gornix took the stiletto. They left the cabal coffers with 2 ice steel talons and the priestess figurine.

The following day the mages decided to finish off their reading of Vordan’s Tome. They picked up at the fourth section. The section began with a brilliant full-page illuminated gold lotus illustration. The section goes on to discuss the gold lotus giving a location where it could be found describing the location as “southern ruins alongside a billabong overseen by a warlord’s red edifice by a river at the foot of a bloody spire far southeast of the old black temple”.

Cris: “Well, there it is. Guess that’s next?”

They read on. Several gold gilded pages made up the meat of the section. They described the spell of legend Alchemical Gold but it was incomplete. The pages following those were from an old accounting ledger with pictures of various types of gold coins.

The fifth section was composed entirely of more entries from Vordan’s diary. All lamented or cursed something. The most interesting parts were of Vordan lamenting the loss of his ladylove to a lying, handsome, & corrupt official followed by several bad poems, revenge fantasies, and laughable schemata to win her back. There was a potion formula however of Allure and the spell Eatables to Maggots.

The sixth section consisted of several pages of reproductions of familial heraldry, only some of which were recognizable as those still in use. Vordan’s personal arms occupied a page. A black, white, grey, green-eyed Karkadann head on an orange lozenge like a longshield with an open book at helm and crossed green-leaved branches at bottom composed the wizard’s arms. Following were some more accounting pages with an address in the Market District. They also found the Luminescent Sigil and Harmless Beam spells. A large illustration of a key was on the page with the latter.

The seventh section was a beautifully illustrated catalog of mystic lotus types. Its final page was about the gold lotus and mentioning, “The royal jelly of that certain bee is required to grow them”. The section ended abruptly however cutting off the text. A few almost incoherent poems in a loose and sloppy hand occupied the margins. The section also talked about the refinement and use of the mystic lotus in alchemy. When using this section to identify lotus flowers the reader would get a +3 to identify and a +2 skill bonus when using alchemy.

The eighth and final section was simply a fusion of three sections taken from Vordan the Magnificent’s autobiography. The three sections concerned a torrid love story, a wizard’s duel in which Vordan lost, and the laments of an aged shop-keep. There were also three amateurish sketches of an alley shop front, an old man, and a small room with a chair in front of a strange circular window. There they found the spells Alarm, Amulet of Power, and Tele-Location.

They had heard that the twin swans had left on a ship with their brothers in arms in pursuit of a Creschan vessel, something to do with Creschan Fire. They had also heard that their former benefactor Virtra Wefa had poisoned herself along with her grim servant when faced with arrest by the black and white swan knights.

Later that week they tried to track down the Wasp at his house behind the Nezorik family mansion. He wasn’t home. So Szoo and Excor deposited the animated armor in the portable hole in his living room and left.

The mages found that Bumble became scarce at the next few meetings. Also the two ‘leaders’ were becoming ever more secretive as they seemed to get closer to Draega Skullshine the publican. However, Jirek was still chummy with them.

As the Dragon Summer ended, the mages prepared for fall. Fauna readied to make certain necessary political maneuvers involving the Brothers of the Rope. The other three were gearing up their operation for the rat fights, which would go into high swing come winter.

End of the Campaign (played between June 2016 and June 2017).

The Cabal of Eight Pt.43: The Final Room

The sound of stone grinding against stone filled the mages’ ears as the solid black-stone door slid the monster in the final chamberdown into the floor stopping with the finality of a thud. That door would never close again. A large central fire lighted the oblong octagonal chamber before them. The walls were of the same dull black stone as the rest of the place and floors were polished white marble tile. The ceiling was flat and very high.

Directly to the south was an elevated platform with white stone steps leading up to its top where sat a small silver box with wood panels. Supporting the western and eastern walls were a pair of thick but plain black pillars. Against the southerly diagonal walls, one to the east and the other to the west sat large iron-banded oak chests.

Gornix (played by Gil) immediately prepared to run in to one of the large chests and Excor (played by Cris) was eyeballing the small silver box.

The GM (me): *Exasperated Sigh* “Make a spot check.”

Gil: *Roll*Roll* “Nope. I go to the first chest.”

Fauna (played by Jenn) and Szoosha (played by Isis) stopped the Salt-Lotus Wizard from blindly charging into the newly opened chamber. They pointed out the giant lion-like creature lying at the center of the room, the firelight being at the tip of its tail. Its three heads were rousing but still groggy. In a rumbling voice that they felt more than heard, the central head spoke. However, the mages did not speak its language nor did they want to “waste” any spells trying to understand what it had said.

Cris: “It has three heads!? And it can TALK!?”

Fauna immediately charged in casting Lightning Bolt. The bolt struck the beast with no effect. Gornix on the other hand, moved in cautiously to the side and using his Dark Secret wizard ability was able to let the others know that it was immune to electricity. He also gave them a pointer on how to take it out which was mostly an educated guess. Meanwhile, Excor cast Shadow Ribbons and amazingly bound the monster. The creature struggled against the shadows. All three of its heads roaring a horrific bone quaking roar of rage and confusion but the mages were unshaken. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (fire) on himself.

While the players all yelled at Jenn that the monster was immune to electricity, Fauna cast Lightning Bolt on it yet again. Gornix cast Amplify Magic his spell easily penetrating the monster’s resistance. Excor cast Slow on it, his magic also penetrating its resistance easily. The beast spat a fireball from its central head catching Fauna, Excor, and Gornix in the ensuing blast of swirling flames. Fauna stumbled but was saved by her Mage Armor, which was dispersed. Gornix took half damage having forgotten to engage his Shield and Excor’s Mage Armor absorbed the damage but was greatly weakened (not many Hit Points left). He had used an item to don it just before Gornix had opened the vault door. Szoo summoned his flaming naginata and charged in.

Gornix cast Force Ram at the creature crunching in some of its ribs wounding it horribly. Excor cast Paralyze II at it, his magic again easily penetrating its resistance to magic. Szoo put all his strength behind his blow as he rammed his weapon into its battered and bleeding side. However, the flame born weapon couldn’t penetrate its hide.

Gornix slung another Force Ram at the creature dealing it a crushing deathblow. The beast’s massive corpse slowly faded into nothingness. The battle was over. The mages assessed the damage, only Gornix had been wounded in that fight but he dismissed it as “nothing”. They spread out inspecting but not touching the chests and box.

Fauna checked the stairs leading to the top of the platform for traps, seeing none she ascended to the box.

Fauna (eagerly): “Should I open this chest guys?”

In response, Excor stepped out of the room and prepared to duck behind the stone jamb. Fauna took her time inspecting the box and the platform upon which it was resting. She found that the box had already been opened a long time ago and it was definitely trapped. She figured that it sat on a pressurized crevice that if it were removed would unleash poisonous gas from a hidden reservoir. Gornix tried to sense magic on it but was unable to get anything so instead he got a little frustrated.

Consequently, he cast Breath without Air on himself. Fauna backed off to the bottom of the stairs. Szoo left the room and ducked behind the doorjamb opposite Excor. He tried to identify the box but it was just a box. Therefore, he attempted to disarm the trap. Fauna retreated to the others. He failed to disarm it. Suddenly, a large several inches thick blue-steel door started to slide down over the lone entrance. Thinking quick, Excor tossed Gornix the Portable Hole. A second later, the door slammed down sealing the room airtight. A vast amount of gas billowed from the square hole the box had formerly concealed.

Gornix was now at the center of the room with the hole in his hands. He tossed the silver box in as the billowing gas snuffed out the last vestiges of his vision. The gas was sickly green and very thick. It blotted out all light blinding all normal vision. He was in pitch black even though he tried to light his way with his staff.

Cris: “Man! You’re totally blind in there! Be careful!”

Gornix carefully felt his way slowly around the room to the first chest. He holed it up suddenly feeling and hearing a huge torrent of gas blasting into the room causing his ears to pop with the pressure.

Gil: “Aw man, I’m glad I got breath, breathe without air on me!”

He slowly moved across the room to the other chest. Almost tripping at about the center of the room, he was able to maintain his balance. He edged ever closer but had a little bit of a struggle to feel out the second chest. The gas chilled his skin. He could feel it billowing through his hair and between his fingers. Eventually he found the second chest and holed it up as well. Once again, he triggered the trap concealed by the chest and again a huge ice-cold gust of gas hissed into the room. Consequently, Gornix felt the building pressure in his lungs now and the gas was leaving a sticky residue over his skin, in his hair, and on his clothes.

So, he moved quickly towards the metal door keeping his hand on the wall after he felt past the pillars. He made it easily to the now freezing blue-steel and used Ghost Step to exit the gas-filled chamber.

Fauna: “I wonder if there were any concealed doors in there?”

Szoo: “Oh yeah, we never checked!”

Gornix: “Well I don’t think anybody is going to be able to go back in there ever again.”

He “prestidigitized” himself clean. Fortunately, the toxin did not seem to be a contact poison.

Excor (shrugging): “Whatever let’s get outta here! And give me back my hole.”

Jenn and Isis burst out into hysterical fits of maniacal laughter. Gil just clinched his eyes shut and put his hand over his face. Cris flipped the two women the bird.

To Be Concluded…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.42: The Lotus Vaults Pt.2

The shattered remains of the door lay before Gornix (played by Gil) revealing a long hallway to the The Lotus Vaults and all its doorssouth. As the others, Fauna (played by Jenn), Szoosha (played by Isis), and Excor (played by Cris) moved slowly and carefully down the newly opened passage, Gornix peeked back through the eastern archway. He found another passage going southward. He sneered with doubt and followed the rest of the group catching up to take over lead position.

The group approached the dimly lit chamber at the end of the hallway (9 on the map). The small room flickered with firefly light from its southeast corner. Against the northwest corner and occupying all of that 5 ft.-square space was a large piece of semi-transparent yellow-orange amber. Caught within they could see an ancient warrior in scale mail, a horned open helm on his head , his axe raised, his sharpened teeth bared in an eternally frozen bestial rage.

This feature made them wary of the room and Gornix took a little time to search the floor. He found a small, hastily scrawled magic circle. It was still carrying a charge and he was sure that it summoned something when crossed. He just did not know what. Excor heedless, portable-holed the amber encased barbarian.

Excor: “What? It’ll go great in my tower! … When I have it built.”

Gornix was determined to move on and with the barrier of the amber husk gone; he began to lead the group. Of course, he accidentally stepped directly over the magic circle activating it.

Three Lightning Bugs sprang into existence with a magic flash identical to the one that they had faced not long before. The fight was brief. Gornix turned the tide early with a cone of fire that killed two and Szoo and Excor pummeled the last to death with a fire ray and Chrono-Missile. That taken care of they proceeded to the end of the short passage.

There they found a rusty iron door with a magic rune carefully inscribed upon its face to the north (D8). Its key lock mechanism was jammed and badly rusted. Gornix used his knowledge of Magical Script to identify the rune and its purpose. He knew that if the door was attacked in any way that it would summon a giant inferior water elemental.

Cris: “aw man! If we activate that thing we’re all dead! DEAD! Look at where we’re at! A giant water elemental will fill this place up, engulf us, we’ll all drown!”

They stood there puzzled for a little while and very wary of the door. The players even checked their sheets to see who could swim. Only Fauna had the skill.

Gil: “There is definitely something worth it behind that door.”

They searched the old iron door for the depression that would allow the Amber Bee to open it as it had others previously. However, they found that it did not have this. Gornix and Excor decided to do a synergized check for traps. They scoured the surface of the door and its edges for any sign at all.

They found nothing aside from the rune. So Excor tried using the Knock spell from his platinum key. However, the door was firmly jammed shut and simply couldn’t be opened without the use of force. In response, Gornix had the bright idea to just “ghost step through”.

Gil: “Wait, wait, wait! Mini-portal spell to see what’s happening first.”

Through the small portal, they could see nothing but darkness. Therefore, Szoo shoved his flaming naginata through it allowing them to see inside via the flame light. The chamber beyond was another octagonal chamber and very plain with a flat ceiling each of its walls lined with dark and very dusty wooden shelves (10). They could see several jars of what appeared to be seeds and maybe some preserved honey.

Excited by this sudden treasure trove Excor and Gornix ghost stepped into the chamber. Excor cast illuminate. They proceeded to loot the place shoving everything into the portable hole. The group managed to snatch a single jar of grey lotus honey, 2 jars of golden lotus honey, 1 jar of yellow lotus honey, and 1 of purple. They also found 3 jars of lotus seeds with grey, blue, and black respectively. With that they also found 4 jars of pure lotus pollen; purple, red, blue, and yellow. The pair also found an ancient rotting scroll case hidden amongst the shelves and holed that up without opening it. They exited via ghost step.

They backtracked with Gornix in the lead. He slowly moved towards the next chamber at the end of the hall just above the amber warrior room the passage opening to the east. This chamber (11 on the map) was lit by several firefly ambers in the wall niches and seemed very plain save for the white tiled floor. Other than that, the room was completely empty. He was sure that there were no traps in here so he lead them through noticing however that there were weapon nicks everywhere along the walls and even on the floor.

The group moved through into the next connecting chamber through a tall deep archway. There may have been a door ages ago but there was no trace left. The room before them was enormous and very brightly lit as if by the sun itself. All four of the mages were gazing in wonder from the archway.

Within the room had a domed ceiling its apex at 35 ft. tiled with a mosaic of a sparsely clouded blue sky. The floor tiled with polished white marble, the thick black pillars were lotus themed, and gold leafed with chevron patterns. They could see what looked like a miniature sun orbiting around the inside of the dome cascading the room with pure daylight. At the center of the room was a barren planter sunk into the floor. However growing in that was a 20 ft. tall woody lotus flower of a kind unknown to any of them. Its large brown petals were shriveled and leather like, and its woody bole was wart covered and twisted.

In the south wall were a recess and a door cut from the same black stone. Standing in the north where the room opened into a natural cavern was a golden statue of a bee about the half the height of a man. Within that portion of the area, there was a small waterfall to the east pouring down a wall of uncut natural stone into a large curbed basin or cistern. They could smell the strong scent of fresh, clean moisture and the musk of old damp wood.

What concerned them and impeded their progress was the giant brown lotus. They were hesitant to trespass on its territory. Therefore, Fauna used her wilderness lore to surmise that the plant was indeed dead, she thought. Gornix however knew through his monster lore that the Lotus was not dead but dormant and was some sort of mutation caused by the nexus. He guessed that they must have been near the nexus that fueled this place. Gornix cast Breath without Air on himself and made sure his shield item was activated. They stood at the archway looking in. None of them wanted to be the first.

Gornix: “I have Breath without Air and Shield so f@#k it!”

Fauna: “Wait! Let me Commune with Nature first!”

Before the brash Gornix moved in towards the giant lotus, the druidess was able to discern that the plant was indeed an unnatural monster and was very much alive. She also was able to locate the rest of the cabal whom were still alive and close. In addition, the monstrous plant was growing directly on top of the nexus point. Gornix stepped in. With the painful creaking of wood, the monster plant turned and opened its petals like jaws.

Fauna cast Lightning Bolt from the arch dealing little damage. Excor cast Mage Armor on himself. Szoo hurled fire at the creature singing it a little bit. The mouth of the giant lotus turned towards Excor and Gornix unleashing a blast of woody seeds as projectiles. Excor dodged while Gornix attempted but failed losing his Shield.

Fauna lobbed another Lightning Bolt again dealing a little damage. Szoo again hurled fire at the creature barely singing it. Suddenly the soil in the planter erupted and a root like a tentacle whipped at Gornix. The White Lotus Wizard used his battle magic to intercept its attack with Force Ram. His spell smashed into the bole shattering bark and splitting the tentacle.

Excor cast Lightning Bolt at the creature dealing a little damage. Szoo hurled more fire dealing some damage this time but the plant had still not caught fire. Another root-tentacle erupted from the soil and snapped Excor wrapping around his waist and grappling him in a crushing noose. Gornix successfully cast Amplify Magic at it.

Another root exploded from the dark soil narrowly missing Szoo.

Fauna cast another Lightning Bolt this time the magic amplified she shattered bark and split wood nearly killing the creature. Gornix followed up with Force Ram smashing the monster into splinters. After they were sure it was dead, they spread out to explore the gigantic day lit chamber.

Excor wandered over to the gold bee statue. Formed by pressing and welding hundreds maybe thousands of dead gold bee husks together it was impressive. After searching it, he found an old note rolled and stuffed into a small crevice. He read it after casting Comprehend Languages. It read:

I have faith that you have found my note be that only you, my love, would in our little place. I am confident that we will soon be together as you have the bee to guide you. Though I still fear for you as the barbarians near the temple after trampling the capital. But I still pray that my yearning will be ended and we will be together finally at the glorious spire.

The signature had long since disintegrated and just after finishing the note the ancient parchment crumbled to dust in his hands.

Gornix: “Hey, what was that?”

Excor: “Aw nuthin’”

Excor bagged the gold bee statue. Meanwhile Gornix turned his attentions to the dead lotus. Inspecting the stump, he found the control obelisk within as the plant had grown over and around it encapsulating it. After all were satisfied that they couldn’t and probably shouldn’t bag the miniature sun, mostly Excor objected, they turned their collective attentions southward towards the black door.

This recessed door was of the same solid black stone from which most of this place had been chiseled (D9). It was 5 ft. wide and close to 12 ft. tall. Carved on the dull surface a couchant lion with a flame burring over its head. There was a small niche in the shape of the Amber Bee just below that.

Excor unwilling to open the door himself tossed the Amber Bee to Gornix who unhesitatingly opened it.

Gornix: “All right! This is it!”

To Be Continued…

The Cabal of Eight Pt.41: The Lotus Vaults Pt.1

Our four adventurers, Excor (played by Cris), Fauna (played by Jenn), Gornix (played by Gil), and Szoosha (played by Isis), stumbled into camp to the northeast of the ruins. They were dirty and somewhat worn by their foray into the black tombs beneath. Here they found Arcan the wanderer and the last of Bumble’s attendants whom prepared some food for them. Arcan and the driver were a little dismayed at Fauna’s frog mount though. The mages sat and ate for only a half hour and then immediately left again. Szoo and Gornix wanted to check out the hill.

Before they vacated the comforts of their campsite however, Szoosha used his cabal medallion to try to get a hold of the others.

Szoo [gripping the medallion and “concentrating”]: “Where are you?”

“Underground”, was all that he got in response. Disappointed at that the four mages disembarked for the hill. Before that, Fauna made sure to have Arcan care for her “froggy”. Arcan seemed to be able to keep it under control so she left her “steed” with him with no further worries.

Excor [to Gornix]: “Didn’t you fly over that already?”

Gornix: “Yeah. But it was a fly by, so I didn’t get a good look.”

Thanks to Gornix’s magic (Mass Nature’s Ability: Winged Flight) it was not long before they found themselves crowning the strange hill between the broken black pillars. They had guessed that a Leyline Nexus Point was around here somewhere, maybe at or under this hill. Therefore, Szoo used his Geomancy skill to try to suss it out but to no avail. The only thing he could glean was that they were very close to a source of great mystical power and that was all.

They all stood around the low and badly weathered black stone alter at the center of the small plateau. A layer of dirt and tangles of dead grasses covered the ground concealing a floor of solid smooth black stone. Gornix, in his continuing search for hidden compartments and secret doors, noticed a small depression in the top of the altar near its top edge. He turned to Excor but Excor wasn’t there. He had stayed on the ground still at the base of the hill.

Gornix: “Hey! We need the bee! Get up here!”

Excor: “Hell no! I don’t wanna be up there!”

The other two began yelling at Excor to come up and bring the Amber Bee. Eventually he relented and used his Gold Ring of Winged Flight and flew up, handed the bee to Gornix, and backed off hovering a good distance away. A little nervous from Excor’s performance of nervosa Gornix cautiously fitted the Amber Bee into the depression.

They all jumped when the ground began to rumble but were relieved when the round altar began to slide back revealing a hidden spiral stone-stair. It took a little while for Gornix to convince the rest of them to accompany him down yet again into the breach.

Gornix: “C’mon! Let’s adventure for the treasure … and stuff!”

Isis: “You had me at stuff!”

So they elected Gornix to lead them down. The Salt Lotus Wizard lit his oil lamp and tied it to his sash instead of using a spell to light his staff for light. On the way down, he checked every step before he stepped on it by “jabbing” it with his staff.

After several minutes of winding slowly down the spiral step they ultimately set foot into the bottom octagonal chamber (1 on the map). The walls were of dull black stone carved from the living rock. The ceiling was 12 ft. above their heads its dome tiled with a pale blue glaze a golden orb at the apex. Amber fireflies burned eerily in their niches. There were doors to the south and west. The western door was solid gold painted with lotuses of all the known colors wrought in crushed gems (D2). It was apparent that the door was locked. The eastern door was identical to the west (D1).

After some time spent inspecting every nook and cranny as best they could the four mages were at a sort of impasse. Gornix however unilaterally decided to force ram the western door. His magic smashed in the door, the opposite way that it actually opened.

Excor: “Man you knew that door opened in!”

Gornix: “Oh! I forgot about that.”

Excor: “We can’t shut it now!”

Gil: “I got trigger happy. C’mon guys! I couldn’t help it.”

Szoo: “Well, if there’s anything down here they know we’re here now!”

Gornix wanted to inspect the southern door but the others wanted to keep moving due to the racket he caused. He didn’t argue.

Behind the mangled door, they found a short hallway that turned south to steps down with amber fireflies flickering in the niches. Just before the steps, lying across the floor was a corpse. Upon inspection, they found that in life it had been a warrior perhaps centuries ago. Excor judging by the remnants of armor on the body and the sharpened teeth still in the skull guessed that it had been an ancient Westlander warrior.

Excor was an expert on Westlander culture though he was Ivoran nobility. He often tried to adopt the ways of the Westlands but his foppishness and refinement always seemed to surface. Gornix did a necrology check to make sure it wasn’t an undead creature lying in ambush. It wasn’t.

Cris [to Gil with a scowl]: “You have the necrology skill!? I’ll be watching you.”

Gornix led them into the lower chamber past the steps. This chamber was another octagonal cell with black walls and amber fireflies burning in their niches to the west. The ceiling was a gleaming gold tiled dome. On the northeast and southeastern walls were colorful mosaics of priests and priestesses among lotuses with gold bees flying all about them. To the south was a solid gold door painted with powdered gems representing all the known colors of the lotus blossom (D3) with a latch and no lock. To the east was a plain black iron door with no apparent lock (D3A).

Gornix pondered it for a second then decided to open the plain iron door. Excor cast Shield on himself. Behind was only a short dark passageway that ended at yet another plain unlocked iron door. Somewhat disappointed whereas the others were relieved Gornix cast Mini-Portal on the gold door (D3) in order to see what was behind it. He could see the end of a long hallway a firefly lighting the area behind the door (H2) and could also see that the floor was glistening as if it were mirror-polished or maybe greased. Though he wasn’t sure. The floor slanted down to the east. However, despite that he did still want to open that door.

He agonized for ages about maybe using his Ring of Levitation in order to prevent contact with the strange floor. Gil kept flipping through his notes, his spell sheets, and wavering between “I’m doing it” and “Let’s not but I can’t stop being curious”.

Cris: “Well do it or don’t do it!”

Ultimately, Gornix decided to go through the short passage behind the iron door. He led the adventuring party into another octagonal chamber where the amber fireflies burned in niches to the south and the ceiling dome was bare black stone (4). To the north was a solid gold door with a honeycomb and bee motif with an obviously hastily scrawled ward on it (D5). It also appeared locked. To the south was an iron door identical to the one from which they had just emerged. On closer inspection, the door to the south had severe rust damage to the bottom half to the point that the edge was ragged and brittle.

They stared intently for several minutes at the golden door and its sloppy rune. Excor identified the runic marking and told the group that should the door be touched in any way that the rune would summon a Lightning Bug. Gornix pried in closer and saw that there was an indention in the door where the locking mechanism was. He questioned whether using the Amber Bee to open it would set it off. So of course, he stuck the gem in the notch and hoped for the best.

The door opened and in a flash of mystical light, a Lightning Bug appeared to block their way. The Lightning Bug was a wasp-like creature the size of a man. Its body was black and yellow with the yellow stripes having a lightning bolt pattern on its abdomen. The cold metallic green compound eyes reflected their wide-eyed faces back at them.

Szoosha moved in and slashed unsuccessfully at it with his flaming naginata. Excor cast Slow on the monster but to no effect. Gornix cast Chrono-Missile at it. It moved in a flash as it tried to dodge but instead put itself into harm’s way. The missiles hit it hard cracking its flamboyant exoskeleton. Fauna tried to stab at it with her dagger but fumbled the strike.

Szoo slashed at it again but again missed. Excor cast Shadow Ribbons and easily ensnared the monstrous vermin. Gornix unleashed more Chrono-Missiles blasting a hole in its side. It struggled desperately to free itself of the shadow wrappings buzzing madly. Fauna stabbed it with her dagger getting a raw smelling light brown fluid on the blade.

Szoosha stepped into his blow and ran the creature through killing it in a burst of flame that reduced it to blackened ash.

Gornix undaunted by the fresh stench of cremated wasp-monster walked over to the iron door to the south and inspected it for traps. Finding nothing, he opened and peered into the hallway behind it (H2). Against the eastern wall of the hallway was a forest of long iron spikes that still seemed to be razor tipped. Tangled in a slowly disintegrating heap were a score of human bones.

Gornix [shrugging]: “Oh. We’re going north.”

He led them into a short passage lit by fireflies in the niches that turned eastward to a long stone stair down the other end of which was also lit by firefly gems and visible. The passage at that point angled south onto more downward steps and into darkness. They noticed a faintly glowing magic circle scribed into the floor that had been behind the gold door. They couldn’t identify it so they just “stepped around it”. This time they tramped quickly not testing every step.

However, when they were about halfway between the lighted portions of the long step in the middle of the stair the magic circle they had stepped over and another at the other end sparked to life briefly throwing out an intense a red glow. After the light faded a fire as high as a man and with the faint shape of one, stood at the top of the stairs, and at the bottom swarmed three large unnaturally colored bees.

Szoosha being a Fire Elementalist tried to rebuke the fire elemental. He failed. The bees buzzed in and attacked. One struck Gornix’s shield dispersing it. Another aimed its dagger-like stinger at Fauna who parried it with her dagger. The third jabbed at Szoo and struck home as he opened himself up to the blow while trying to avoid it (Natural 1 parry). Luckily, Szoo was immune to the bee’s poison and the bee was now dying but still able to use heretofore unseen other attacks. Gornix activated his Shield. Excor cast Chrono-Missile at the “lead bee” blasting it to bits. Fauna stabbed at a second bee dealing a killing blow. The fire elemental advanced on Szoo getting close enough to singe the naga’s scales.

The bee that had stung Szoo spat what looked like a Sting spell at him but the magic had no effect on the naga. Szoo turned and successfully rebuked the fire elemental forcing it under his control. With the battle won Szoo decided to let the fire elemental lead for a while.

They turned onto the now lit southward stair and then onto the level paved floor of a short passage leading into a large octagonal chamber (H3). On either side of them were firefly niches. They emerged led by the living fire into the large chamber at the end.

This octagonal chamber had a gold-leafed dome ceiling with the apex at 25 ft. There was a thick black stone column in each of the four corners with a lotus blossom motif and gold leaf chevron patterns ringing them. To the west, a stone stair sank into the floor and to the east stood three badly rusted and battle-damaged suits of full plate armor. Each bore weapon, one had great sword, the second a great axe, the last a great mace.

In the south rested a 3 ft. high dais serving as the pedestal of a 15 ft. tall white marble statue of a four-armed goddess with gold insect wings and a pair of golden horns. Two of her arms reached towards the heavens the other two extended palms up. A solid gold beehive vessel rested in her large right palm and in the other an amber scroll case. At her feet were the remains of ancient sacrifices and libations, bits of clay, glass, seeds, old wax, cinders, and bits of bone.

Cris: “Aw man, those armors are going to come alive and kill us!”

Excor rushed to the first suit of armor, the one with the great sword in its hands, and whipped out the portable hole draping it over and safely storing the thing inside. Immediately the suits of armor became animate, their rusty joints squealing like dying boars. Excor hastily rolled the portable hole back up and stuffed it in his robes.

Gornix cast shadow ribbons on one but it was too strong. It tore the ribbons of shadow that shattered like glass and then evaporated into nothing. Szoosha remembered that his ruby-studded copper bracers contained the armor bane spell and so he touched the axe wielding armor damaging it badly but not disintegrating it. The fire elemental touched the same target with its fiery touch but to no effect. The axe wielding armor hacked at Excor dispersing his shield. Fauna cast a lightning bolt at the mace wielder to little effect.

Jenn: “But I thought that metal couldn’t reduce electricity damage.”

Cris: “Yeah, but there’s nobody in there!”

An animated armor smashed its mace into the semi-solid fire elemental causing its flame to weaken and dim.

Gornix cast energy tentacle summoning forth a bolt of magical energy that he could use as an appendage. He tried to grapple the axe wielding armor but it was able to break free. Szoo reached out and grabbed the axe wielder disintegrating it to a pile of reddish flakes and dust. Fauna pulled her dagger and stabbed at the last animated armor to little effect. Excor activated his gold turquoise ring that cast a circle of protection around him. The mace wielding armor smashed the fire elemental with its weapon causing the living fire to poof out of existence.

Gornix maintained his energy tentacle and tried once again to ensnare and entangle the last animated armor but again it easily broke free. Szoo smashed his fist into it smashing it into a cascade of rust. It crumpled into a scattered reddish mess on the floor.

After the fight, Excor used far hand to grab the amber scroll case, as he was wary of traps. Casting comprehend languages on the scroll he found within he found it was simply a prayer scroll to a long forgotten deity in whose statue’s palm it had lain for centuries. Gornix far handed the gold beehive for the same reason. Fauna identified the gold lotus honey that remained within (1 dose). They stowed away their loot and moved on with Gornix in the lead.

He guided them down the stairs that sank into the next lower chamber (6). The room was pitch dark and much colder than the previous as chilly as the black tombs. They passed between two thick columns of black stone and as they passed between two large solid-gold braziers bejeweled with emeralds, the ancient things burst to life as white flames erupted forth and lit the room with a pale flickering firelight but leaving the corners dark and deepening the shadows behind the pillars.

The blue ceramics tiled the floor and at the center of the room, a faded white stain in an odd shape marred the tiles. To the west lay a solid gold door with a honeycomb and bee motif with no lock but a latch (D6).

Gornix eagerly moved into the center of the room to inspect the white stain. He saw that it had an uncanny resemblance to a human in fetal position. He realized what it was.

Gil: “Aw f@#k!”

Szoo caught movement out of the corner of his eye somewhere in the shadows at the edges of the room. The naga pointed out the direction and Excor and Gornix were able to spot a young priestess ducking behind the northernmost pillar.

Isis [at Jenn]: “Hey sis ya gonna talk to her?”

Jenn: “Hell no I know there’s nothing living down here.”

Excor cast illuminate casting the whole room in a bright light. The young priestess suddenly became transparent in the full light and her features withered and shriveled into that of an ancient corpse.

The battle was brief but energetic. The Lotus Wizard had identified the priestess as a wraith and the white spot her likely resting spot her body having disappeared over time. Gornix caused a magic explosion on a fumbled spell that wounded himself, Szoo, and Excor. Fauna slung lightning bolts and ultimately after their victory Gornix was out of spells and down a K.O. point. The creature dropped an agate, gold necklace fashioned after a lotus blossom, and a gold light mace with the head fashioned after a lotus flower.

Gornix carefully inspected the gold door and found that it was trapped and more by luck than skill, he disarmed it and opened the door. They moved into a smaller plain room with lotus motif pillars at each corner and amber fireflies in the niches (7). At the center of the room squatted a superior quality scrying pool, long since dry, of rose marble. They opted to move through the open archway to the south after Excor snatched the scrying pool up in the portable hole.

In the next chamber (8 on the map), amber fireflies burned in the niches their strange little lights glinting off the gold leafed dome ceiling. To the south were a sturdy carven wooden door (D7) and an open archway to the east.

The wooden door fascinated Gornix. Upon it was finely carved a scene of humans gathering honey from honeycombs surrounded by lotus blossoms. A heavy black iron key lock that appeared rusted shut even if they had the key to open it secured the door. Excor tried to use his magic key on it but found that the knock spell just wouldn’t work on it.

Szoo: “Ooh! Ooh! Let me BURN IT!”

Gil: “Naw. I know what tool to use … force ram!”

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.40: The Black Tombs Pt.4

Szoosha (played by Isis) was in the lead with his flaming polearm held up for light, Excor (played by The mummy haunted black tombsCris) followed with his lantern. He had just opened the door (D3 on the map) using the Amber Bee to allow egress into yet another mausoleum (13 on the map). His intelligence restored due to a potion he had stashed in his robes. They had all just awoken from a fitful sleep in a burial chamber (9) and decided to penetrate the last area. Gornix (played by Gil) followed Excor his intelligence still average. Fauna (played by Jenn) took up the rear.

They carefully tramped into the pitch dark onto the faintly moist dirt floor. Again, there were body niches carved in the walls floor to ceiling. Szoo turned north and slid only a few feet along the cool dark soil before he suddenly stopped. He was face-to-face with a black lotus mummy. Thick black ooze dribbled and bubbled from its mouth and nose. It was wearing a gold necklace with the image of a black enamel lotus dangling from its neck, and a gold ring set with an obsidian stone on its right hand.

Immediately the creature exhaled a thick black mist and the unfortunate naga inhaling at the same moment in a silent scream instantly dropped dead. Consequently, that was when the rest of the group saw that behind the black lotus mummy were warriors armed with sickle-swords and bronze pectoral plates. Behind this rabble was another more skeletal mummy that appeared to them as a priest. It had a polished bronze open helm, a gold bee necklace, and a gold bee and tiger eye ring on its left hand also armed with a sickle sword.

The black lotus mummy stabbed at Excor with its dagger the crusty blade gashing him badly. The two warrior mummies advanced on Excor as well. The first took a swing and critically injured the mage. The second did the same cutting him down with a single irresistible swing. He lay bleeding and unconscious on the black ground. Gornix quickly cast Neutralize Poison on Szoo saving the naga’s life. The priest mummy moved around toward the rear at Fauna. As she poured a healing potion down Excor’s throat she shouted, what she hoped was the password at the priest mummy. It was the password she had memorized “just in case” from the previous day.

The mummies stopped suddenly and backed off somewhat. Excor conscious but still near death slung down another healing potion. They decided to in Cris’ words: “walk around and see what we can get into”. However, they were going to try not to anger the mummies who kept following and observing them.

Gil: “Wait. Why don’t we just take these guys out?”

Cris: “Hell no! I almost died fighting them and he [indicating Isis] died!”

Gil: ‘Well walking around this place is just as dangerous!”

Cris: “I got natural 20’d two times, everything else is irrelevant! TWO TIMES! Whatever you got to say is irrelevant!”

With the mummy squad following them, the mages continued north then northwest around the corner. There they found another solid bronze door (D5) in the north wall. Excor read the magic runes scribed on the face of the door. The door was sealed with the Wizard’s Lock spell and warded. If the door was even touched, it would strike the interloper with a level 6 bolt of acid. He found no indentation for the Amber Bee.

Gornix cast mini-portal in order to try to see what was behind. He saw that behind the door was a short hallway lit eerily by a pair of amber fireflies in their niches that continued north then cut east around a blind corner. They tried to convince Fauna to touch the Amber Bee to the door she wisely refused. Gornix used clairvoyance to try to find a way to open the door but he got nothing.

Excor: “Let me see the map … why don’t we Ghost Step through right here so we don’t have to touch the door?”

Isis (to Cris & Gil): “Problem is only you two can cast Ghost Form!”

Fauna: “Don’t sweat it, I got Gaseous Form.”

They turned and made sure the mummies weren’t going to try something though they were looking askance at the mages. All at once, Excor and Gornix ghost stepped through the wall into the hallway. Fauna cast Gaseous Form on Szoo, and herself. They passed under the door. They moved quickly down the hallway and around the corner to end at yet another door. It was another solid bronze door with a gold bee and honeycomb motif (D6). Fortunately, they found a depression that fit the Amber Bee.

Behind the door was a vaulted tomb where a single black sarcophagus dominating the room (14 on the map). The flagged floor littered with a layer of detritus from the plaster that had at one time adorned the tomb with a mural that covered all of its walls and ceiling. A glowing amber firefly in the niche behind the coffin lighted the ancient tomb.

Excor did a clairvoyance for what the mural had appeared as before its long ago disintegration. The mural had been a panorama of a surrounding red land littered with gold beehives and fields of lotus blossoms. Above the four-armed goddess with golden horns and golden wings dominated a deep blue sky. In the distance, a natural red spire emerged from the horizon.

They readied to pry open the sarcophagus and thus Gornix and Excor cast Breathe Without Air on themselves. The other two drifted outside of the vault as the spell affecting them would soon dissipate.

As soon as the two mages were able to pry the lid loose a blast of powdered hematite blasted them in the faces, fortunately they weren’t blinded, and filled the tomb with a poisonous dust cloud for a few seconds. Those two backed off to join Fauna and Szoo at the doorway.

Inside of the black sarcophagus was a dead mummy adorned with a gold bee necklace, 3 gold rings, a gold skullcap, a pair of gold bracers with a honeycomb motif and a large emerald in each eye socket. Erring on the side of caution Gornix lifted the loot from the coffin using his Mage Hand spell. Excor was able to sense magic from two of the rings, the skullcap, and the bracers. Gornix then decided to inspect the hallway and tomb for any secret compartments or doors.

Meanwhile, Excor took to identifying the magic items. The gold skullcap was a level 10 item and granted a +4 bonus to I.Q. and so immediately Excor went and “slapped” that onto Gornix’s head restoring him to near his natural intelligence level. On the other hand the gold honeycomb bracers were level 6 items that granted the wearer a +2 to Strength (STR). The gold bee necklace cast the spell Sting 3 times a day at level three. The first gold ring was a level 5 item that granted a constant +5 bonus to Resist Poison and granted the spell Fearsome Form I once a day. The second ring was a level 11 item that granted the spell Verminous Might three times daily.

They began to debate about where to go since they didn’t want to face the mummy squad outside the door and eventually they began to argue, loudly. That is until the door to the hallway opened. Gornix cast Breathe Without Air on himself. Excor activated Shield from his Jet Amulet. Szoo cast Elemental Half-Plate Armor (Fire) on himself.

Szoo moved back readying if anything should charge him. However, Gornix moved up and readied a Lifeblast spell for the first mummy through the door. A warrior mummy moved in and the Salt-Lotus Wizard blasted it to dust. Fauna readied to Throw Fire at anything coming through the door. The priest mummy shambled through his mere presence sending waves of fear through Szoo and Excor who visibly cowered. Fauna unleashed a stream of flames aimed at the priest but she missed scorching a wall.

The priest mummy swung its sickle sword but missed Gornix by a hair. The second warrior mummy stepped through the entrance and was going to swing his sickle sword at Gornix but Gornix used his Battle Magic to cast the Force Ram spell in a simultaneous attack. The Salt-Lotus Wizard also blasted that warrior mummy to dust preventing its attack against him. The black lotus mummy stepped in and spat out a blast of black dust that filled the hall. Fauna, Szoo, and Excor dropped to the ground. It appeared that Szoo was only sleeping but Excor and Fauna seemed dead.

Gornix cast Mass Neutralize Poison, Szoo shocked awake. Fauna and Excor gasped and rolled on the ground sputtering. The priest struck again at Gornix whom clinched the monster’s blade with his scimitar. The black lotus mummy moved in and stabbed Gornix in the side with its dagger. Gornix tried to cast Force Ram while his sword was in a clinch but failed. The priest broke the clinch even though Gornix tried to keep it tied up. The black lotus mummy stabbed Gornix again in the side blood gushed down his side pooling at his feet.

The priest mummy swung its sword once more at Gornix narrowly missing.

Fauna crawled to her feet as she downed a healing potion. From the ground, Szoo, almost reflexively, cast an energy ray at the black lotus mummy but the magic went wild and a blast of fire twice as powerful as intended exploded the poisonous undead thing into a cloud of ash. Excor stayed on the ground and cast a Close Wounds spell on himself. The priest swung again at Gornix but again missed. Gornix cast Force Ram at it but the magic got away from him and went wild. It only did half damage when it hit the thing though it badly damaged it. It was Gornix’s last spell for the day that wouldn’t sap his life force (drain K.O. points per spell cast).

Fauna cast Gaseous Form on herself. Szoo unleashed another ray of fire at the creature catching it afire. From the ground near the mummy’s feet Excor cast Life Blast at it blowing its upper torso to bits. The battle was over. They all exhaled a great sigh of relief then looted what remained of the corpses.

In all they collected 2 copper rings, 2 copper necklaces, a gold necklace, an obsidian lotus figurine, and a gold ring with an obsidian lotus gem. They determined that the obsidian gem ring was a level 12 magic ring that granted a constant effect of Breath Without Air.

Jenn (scowling at me): “That’s funny.”

Isis: “Oh yeah VERY funny!”

From the priest mummy they took a bronze open faced helmet, a gold bee & tiger eye ring (level 8 item, Sting spell 3 times a day), and a gold bee necklace. Before they backtracked back to the entrance and exited the tombs the mages went back to the room filled with amphorae (7 on the map) where Gornix threw 10 amphorae in to Excor’s portable hole. The players laughed about that last phrase for a little while.

Gil: “Come on guys.”

Gil (turning to Isis who was laughing aloud): “You’re being so … juvenile.”

They emerged at noon squinting blinded by the direct sunlight and nearly stunned by the blast of dry heat on their skin. Excor tried the cabal medallion on a hunch and he was able to get a brief static-garbled message.

“…You’re Out!? … How … We’re STUCK … he took … gold …”

Cris (turning to me, the GM): “Damn Wasp! He left ‘em in there didn’t he?”

I just shrugged and couldn’t help but smile.

To Be Continued…

 

The Cabal of Eight Pt.39: The Black Tombs Pt.3

Gornix (played by Gil) led the group into a small room with white plaster walls painted with depictions of salt lotuses (room 11 on the map). To the east was a solid gold door emblazoned with lotus blossoms, gold bees and honeycombs (D8 on the map). The others saw the rune scribed on the door, which held it closed via the Wizard’s Lock spell. He cast Illuminate, inspected the paintings, finding that each blossom concealed a small hole. He suspected an acid spray trap triggered by trying to open the gold door.

Excor (played by Cris) was weak and still reduced to K.O. points from casting too many spells too quickly. He was not in a good mood and not feeling particularly brave.

Gil: “C’mon man! This is IT!”

Cris: “We’re not even close! Look at ‘em!” He made a dismissive motion at me (the GM). I have to say I was wearing it on my face. They were about only halfway through this thing or maybe almost two-thirds if you count the surface map.

The cabal mages made careful observations about the golden door and determined that only attempting to damage or pry the door would set off the trap, they hoped. Therefore, against his better judgment, Excor put his head to the cold metal door to see if he could hear anything on the other side at all, he couldn’t. So Szoo (played by Isis) gave it a try. Consequently, the naga did hear something that sounded like stone grating against stone.

Excor used the Amber Bee to open the door guessing that wouldn’t set the trap off. Holding his breath, he was the first to enter the burial chamber on the other side (room 12 on the map). As soon as he was through, he was face-to-face with a mummy. It was sitting up from its freshly opened sarcophagus.

The creature was wrapped in linen bandages carefully interlaced in a strange pattern each length bearing the faded black markings of an unknown language. At its side in the sarcophagus was a gold mace with a head fashioned to resemble a lotus blossom. At its other side were two sealed clay jars. It appeared to be confused at the sight of them and the Amber Bee in Excor’s hand. Being essentially near death and out of magic, Excor bluffed.

Excor: “We’re a part of the cleaning crew! Here to clean the tomb!”

The creature still seemed unsure as to whether or not to attack the mage. Seeing this Gornix pushed his way into the tomb and using a little Social Aptitude he managed to convince the creature that they were indeed neophytes and here to ensure the security of the tomb. The creature seemed to accept this but was keeping a suspicious eye socket on them at all times as they moved slowly and carefully around the burial chamber.

The chamber was long with a vaulted low ceiling and interior of white plaster. The sarcophagus dominated the center of the room but behind it stood a statue that barely fit. The statue was of ivory and had the form of a young woman with a pair of golden horns on her raven-haired head with four arms and a pair of solid gold wings. Meanwhile the white marble sarcophagus lid had a relief of a young priest in repose carved atop it.

Excor, wanting to get at the grave goods in the sarcophagus tried to bluff a hand into the stone coffin with the monster.

Excor: “Here um, let me um, clean that dust off those jars!”

Consequently it immediately knew something was wrong. The creature held up a boney hand bandaged in loose and decaying strips of filthy linen and coughed a strange hollow stream of sounds.

Immediately Gornix cast Comprehend Languages and understood that the creature had asked for a password. The Salt Lotus Wizard whispered this to Excor who cast Clairvoyance. As a result he spoke the first stream of alien syllables that entered his head. The mummy nodded and laid back as it pulled the heavy lid of its coffin back into place.

Breathing a sigh of relief the group proceeded to scour the room for secret compartments, hidden doors, cabinets, or for “anything out of the ordinary.” Eventually finding nothing, their attentions again shifted to the white marble sarcophagus and its occupant.

Excor: “Man, I don’t know. If I cast too many spells I could Kay-Oh myself!”

Gornix: “C’mon! This guy’s important! Look at all this!”

Excor: *Sigh* “Well, if you got a plan then.”

Gornix cast Mini-Portal on one side of the coffin. They had already elected Fauna (played by Jenn) to stick her hand inside to see if she could grab anything. This due to her DEX (dexterity) score being the highest in the group.

Fauna: “Does anyone have anything to keep the lid closed if he wakes up?”

None of them did.

So with more than a few reservations Fauna cautiously extended her hand and then arm into the mini-portal into the black of the sarcophagus interior up to her shoulder. She felt around blindly for a moment and then grabbed a handful of dusty bandages. Suddenly her wrist was snatched and her arm wrenched. She was within the vice grip of strong skeletal fingers.

Szoo readied to throw some magic fire if/when the mummy opened its sarcophagus. Excor cast Ghost Form on Fauna freeing her from the monster’s iron grip. He suffered more K.O. point drain from casting the spell. With one arm, the mummy tossed the heavy marble lid aside and sat straight up. Szoosha cast her fire spell but lost control of the magic. As a result the spell went wild and its magicks unleashed a black fire that engulfed Excor and Gornix burning away some of their intelligence. Gornix was rendered as a normal schlep, Excor was monosyllabic. Fauna sank back to the rear. Gornix couldn’t get his spell off as his lowered intelligence made it more difficult to cast the spell.

Excor activated the Shield spell on his magic amulet. Szoo summoned and struck out with his flaming naginata slashing a smoking black gash into the mummy’s side. Fauna moved back in casting Throw Flames dealing some damage to the monster lighting it aflame. However, it magically extinguished the flames with a wave of its hand. Gornix tossed a healing potion Excor’s way. Instead of drinking it, Excor cast Life Blast at the mummy dealing some damage. The singed and smoking mummy swung its lotus-blossom mace at Szoo but he parried the blow with his polearm. Gornix attempted and failed yet again to cast a spell. The monster cast its spell filling the chamber entirely with golden fire burning Szoo bad. Gornix avoided by pure luck (Nat 20 save), and Excor’s Shield spell was blasted away.

The mummies wrappings whipped from it and struck at the mages like tentacles missing Excor twice, being parried by Gornix, but entangling Szoo.

Fauna readied with a Throw Flames spell should the mummy approach. Szoo struggled to get free of the bandage tentacle. Gornix cast Slow at the creature but it shook off the effects with no problem. The mummy used its wrapping to move Szoo out of the way as climbed out of its box stepping to Excor. Excor moved back to the entrance and cast Slow. However, the spell went wild and he wound up affecting Fauna instead causing her to lose her ready attack.

Fauna activated her Shield item. Szoo broke free of the wrapping. Gornix successfully cast Amplify Magic on the mummy. The monster healed itself of some of the damage it had suffered. Excor tried to cast Shadow Ribbons but his reduced intelligence made that impossible.

Gornix cast Slow on the mummy but again it resisted his magic. It swung its mace at the Salt Lotus Wizard and missed. Excor drank the healing potion he still had in his hand.

The mummy healed itself again. However, the mages efforts had worn heavily on it. It’s wrapping-tentacles whipped again striking out at the mages. Excor avoided one but was grappled and enwrapped but another. Szoosha parried another and Gornix was snared by a fourth after a failed dodge.

The mummy brained the bound and helpless Excor injuring him badly. Fauna cast Throw Flames completely engulfing the monster. Her flames quickly consumed it.

Before its ashes were even cold, they ransacked the chamber and the sarcophagus. Hence, they took a jar filled with gold dust, the other with 1 dose of Gold Lotus Honey. Excor identified the Gold Lotus Mace. It was a solid gold light mace and a +2 magic weapon. He tossed the gold dust jar into the portable hole he carried. After, he rolled it back up and stuffed it in his robes.

Cris: “I need to rest.”

Gil: “Awe c’mon Cris! We can do this!”

Cris: “No! No! I have one K.O. point left! AND I’m down on Hit Points!”

Eventually Cris relented and the group pushed on with Gornix in the lead, back into the crypts (room 8). They explored its northern portion discovering a solid bronze door. It was wizard locked and warded (D7). Excor used the Pass Door spell on his Platinum Key to gain entry. The chamber was plastered white with a single niche to the north in the wall from which an amber firefly burned. Six large stone sarcophagi dominated the floor (room 9 on the map).

As a matter of course, they proceeded to open each sarcophagus and found and fought three undead mummies. They defeated them one at a time with little difficulty. They looted a pair of gold bracers, a gold ring, a gold pectoral plate, and a gold sickle sword from each. Finally, Excor tossed those in “the hole” as well. Afterwards they barricaded the door with a coffin lid and decided to rest for as long as they could. Before they went to sleep, they tried to contact the others but the cabal medallions could only pick up static or silence.

To Be Continued…