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RPG War Mastery #6: War Wizardry

The siege-lines stand expectantly the earthworks finished and the bulwarks fully manned. The walls of theChess wizard small stone fortress stand tall against them though surrounded by the enemy’s vastly superior force. For now all there is is time to wait, to wait for a breach in the walls or main gates should the enemy sappers be successful or for those within to starve if her constable were ill prepared. Suddenly without warning several fireballs streak from between the crenelations at the top of the curtain walls blasting the carefully built lines into a confused screaming mass of rubble and fire. The castle’s wizard has only just begun.

Wizards, or more generically mages, are another major issue on the fantasy battlefield to take into account when thinking about mass combat in RPGs. Since the early days of fantasy Wargaming, wizards have been included as valuable and powerful combat units though mainly as artillery pieces dressed in robes. As roleplaying-games advanced so did the magical powers of the wizard making them very powerful units on the battlefield and in support roles. They have always been a feature of the fantasy arena of war. However, the popular fantasy archetype has appeared the antithesis of this.

Popularly wizards (mages in general) in archetypal terms appear as very old men with long beards or young boys or girls that are as skilled as their rank of apprentice would imply. However, a mage at their peak of physical ability, say late teens to early 60’s maybe older depending on the setting, would actively seek out powers to align with often simply to advance their material needs. After all, magic is often an expensive endeavor even though you may be practicing it for purely personal reasons. In times of war, a mage might seek out or make overtures to a political power also out of selfish aims. In addition, serving a powerful leader may be the fast track for high ambitions.

Mages & Magic

In the most basic of terms, a wizard or mage is a magic user. That is they can cast spells and wield magic in the game. Depending on the game system you are using the details (especially the names) may vary wildly. However, for the purposes of this article Wizards are magic-users meaning that they are capable of casting spells.

Similarly, for the limits of this piece, magic is the wielding of supernatural power unexplainable via the natural world or science in any direct terms and is separate from religion. Any game related additions to this are simply not considered since the number of game rule systems out there is innumerable. So when it comes to magic and spells these will be discussed in general terms getting as specific as one can without relying on specific sets of rules or even direct abstract guidelines (i.e.: Power, Focus, Effect, etc.). The main concern is how the presence of a wizard alters the course of mass combat in a setting in a medieval type environment/world.

This essay will also assume certain points about wizards/mages to be true which are they can manipulate magic to a much higher degree than non-mages, they are generally physically more fragile than their fighter/soldier counterparts, and magic-users are generally reservoirs of esoteric or rare knowledge. The war wizard is also more of a Swiss army knife as compared to such super-weapons as dragon mounts or golems. They can fulfill more roles on the battlefield and in combat situations than just possessing greater firepower.

The Wizard at War

Deployed onto the battlefield, wizards can serve three basic military functions. These functions are as artillery, logistics operative, and battlefield intelligence.

As mystic artillery, a wizard hurls down spell fire onto the heads of the enemy. Spell fire being embodied by such effects and actions as hurling fireballs, calling down lightning and thunder, disintegrating specific targets as well as blasting enemy troops with wind, fire, water, ice, and light. Spell fire is the wizard’s specialty and possibly the most traditional role that they can play.

Once deployed into action however, a wizard serving as a living artillery piece is vulnerable to all of the dangers of the battlefield. Due to their frailness, this deployment strategy is unwise. Their low physicality is a definite liability on the field. The mage may even have protective spells or items on their person to make them more resistant in battle. However, if the enemy has any other supernatural weaponry or such technology as alchemy or clockwork (a la steampunk) available they may be able to take the mage out quite easily.

As magic-users are physically weaker than even a mundane peasant is, they may need fitting transportation such as a carriage or comfortable wagon. They will require spell components and possibly a lot of preparation time along with a sufficient salary to both prepare and for services rendered making them somewhat expensive for the war effort.

Nevertheless, Wizards may be at their most dangerous when behind walls and atop battlements and bulwarks. Here, they have the best protection from projectiles and opposing spell fire as well as gaining high ground advantages and a better view of the entire field. This is especially evident when a mage is at the top of a tower, a very archetypal place for them to be. The location most advantageous to a wizard is one protected and allowing for a wide range of view. This maximizes their potential, so having a wizard defending a fortress is the best default for a war mage.

Magical Logistics

Spell casters are also masters of military logistics due to their abilities of teleportation, weather control, summoning, and healing. Not all mages will have all of these abilities available at once but having even one of these at their disposal is a godsend to a military commander.

When it comes to teleportation, teleporting even small squads behind enemy lines or enemy fortifications are highly useful in making sabotage runs and night raids to weaken opposing positions. Even if this is limited to the teleportation of an individual, then teleporting messengers back and forth to improve the communications network is top priority. Having the superior communication network is a prime concern of any army and the wider and faster it can relay messages the better reaction time to any action the enemy takes.

Weather control is also indispensable since surprise fog banks can stall the enemy and grant cover to your forces for surprise attacks. Bad weather can stall out and even decimate enemy troops and encampments (think the Russian winter of 1812 and Napoleon). Even the manipulation of the weather in relatively small areas can have an immense impact such as clearing out a small patch of the battlefield for a special squad, for targeting, or causing a flashflood by concentrating rain in a small area further away thereby creating a nasty surprise disaster for the enemy. Clearing up bad weather can also speed an advance along even in the dead of winter.

Summoning monsters or additional forces even squads of mundane but vicious animals is of great use in surprise and harassment operations and on the immediate battlefield to help shore up the flanks, fortify weak spots in formations, or increase the momentum of a push against enemy lines.

Healing is not really an archetypal ability associated with wizards but they do have that potential. That is if they have access to healing magic then they can restore limbs, heal broken bones, or nearly fatal injuries thus helping to restore wounded soldiers to their units at a much faster pace than normal and reduce permanent casualties. In this capacity, they can also control disease, which can break out in battlefield triage facilities very easily as well as controlling infections that make wounds and battlefield surgeries so dangerous.

Again, this reduces casualties, increases turnaround, and prevents the breaking of the war machine by plague. The wizard in this capacity can also provide potions that can do much of this though on an individual basis helping to protect those of high rank and value without their presence being necessary allowing the mage to be active elsewhere.

Mystical Intelligence & Espionage Officer

The mystical abilities of scrying, sending out supernatural spies, and magical sabotage make the wizard at war even more valuable in the military intelligence role. Scrying, the visualization of actual events in a specific targeted area at a certain distance away, is invaluable for spying on the enemy and gathering intelligence as well as keeping an eye on your own troop movements. Witches of old were famed for using small vermin as spies, which allowed them to hear or see at a distance these usually being spiders, bats, or rats. Again, this is very useful for gaining intelligence.

Likewise, a mage can also try to limit what an enemy caster can see and hear as well as trying to manipulate their spies not to mention the intentional dispersion of false information and visions. This role can extend to espionage as well having the mage use magic to not only transmit or disguise (maybe even scramble) information for varying purposes but also to make direct attempts at sabotage against the enemy.

Mystical sabotage can take the forms of curses, inducing such things as falls or equipment failure, and sickening or killing beasts of burden as well as spoiling food supplies. This last fact alone should induce the enemy to hire on at least one wizard to help protect their forces and materiel against such long distance and devastating attacks versus which they may have no other effective defense.

Arcane Support

A role most mages fit into most naturally aside from intelligence and espionage when it comes to war is that of an active support unit. They can remain behind the lines or at least at camp and serve in a support role that still takes full advantage of their arcane skills and powers.

Along these lines, a mage can provide some of the best protection available, magical protection. Mages can cast lingering magic that protects against damage from siege engines, provide charms against enemy spells, and protect against such battlefield hazards as fire even acid or lightning bolts. This includes raising certain arcane defenses like magical force fields and triggered spells such as a lightning bolt firing off at an incoming dragon or griffin mounted air-cavalry from a tower spire.

This protective potential is probably most advantageous when used to protect or proof an important fortress. Encampments as well are potential wards of the protective wizard. A limited location that is typically fortified should be the focus of the protective role of the wizard. This includes mystical alarms and the ability to know when a perimeter, probably marked out by magic of course, is breached.

Esoteric Communications

The communications role of wizards is exceptionally vital. Communications is the nervous system of the whole war machine, its central control, how commanders steer it. Orders could be relayed in a matter of seconds over distances that would take days or even weeks using normal means of communication. This also means that forces could not be effectively cut-off without the intervention of an opposing magic user thus building in sensitivity to enemy magicians.

After all, if a part of your force suddenly goes dark and they possess arcane communication tools then an enemy wizard or other supernatural agent must be at work. Combining a wizard with mundane battlefield communications methods (trumpets, drums, flags, banners, etc.) can create a very advanced and reliable communication network almost rivaling the modern high tech versions maybe even surpassing them in some instances.

Not only the fantasy equivalent of a tactical radio set mages also serve as vast reservoirs of knowledge especially about other fantastical weapons of note. This may include the know how to build them, find them, or more importantly counter-act and destroy them. In this capacity, they may rely on their mystical communication abilities to link up to a special task force of adventurers trusted with gaining intelligence about, obtaining, destroying, or delaying a special weapon such as dragon riders or golems. In this respect, the mage essentially serves as the adventurers’ quest coordinator or in a military liaison/spy master capacity.

Necromancy

A certain type of mage bears discussion at this point, the necromancer. A necromancer is a magic user that can summon and speak to the spirits of the dead as well as manipulate and animate the dead sometimes able to even create undead creatures. They also occasionally have the wretched ability of manipulating and creating disease as well as the dark energies that provide this kind of power.

Necromancers can wage mystic bio-warfare, turn casualties into reinforcements, sap the will of the enemy to fight by weakening soldiers’ physical-ness or sickening them, and sending spirits to harass them at camp thereby denying them rest and peace of mind before a battle. Aside from being able to spread sickness and animate the dead necromancers can fulfill the intelligence aspect almost to a greater degree than most other wizards as traditionally they could summon and communicate with the spirits of the dead or at least speak with any corpses still capable of speech.

The known presence of such a spell caster on the field may lead the enemy to mutilate their dead to prevent the corpses from speaking and take drastic measures like trapping their souls in jars or gems (maybe using a legendary item) to prevent their spirits from being summoned. This action is extreme, can be construed as evil, and may have unintended consequences such as the rendering of your soldiers to soulessness and the potential for them to rise again as uncontrolled undead after being slain. Even releasing their soul may leave behind a confused ghost that eternally searches the old battlefield looking for their long lost corpse.

The bio-weapon aspect of necromancers, the spreading of disease even plague, is possibly the nastiest option in their dark armory. They could conceivably spread infection covertly amongst targets like cities and fortresses long before the conquering army gets there thereby weakening any resistance by vast degrees. It is a definite bonus if these diseases are magical and raise their victims from the dead as zombies or ghouls that the necromancer can control as well. However, that could get out of hand very quickly. In the same vein, the necromancer would need to provide their allies with an antigen to prevent their army from falling victim to the same sickness. Granted the allied army is not already an army of the dead that is.

The Lich and the Army of the Dead

In the same dark box as the necromancer, there is yet another even more dangerous and notorious magic user, the Lich. Liches, that traditional archenemy of fantasy adventurers, can turn out to be a valuable asset for the side employing them, cautiously mind you, if they themselves are not the core of the enemy leadership anyway. Liches can head an army, even if small, of undead creatures, useful in and of itself. This undead force may be resistant to most mundane attacks. Such undead wizards may also have the power to fulfill most of the roles that a war wizard could, maybe even have the power to take on roles that would take more than one average wizard at a time.

However, this legion of the undead may pose more of a hazard than an advantage and even may utterly devastate or contaminate the very lands you were hoping to conquer with dark energies. This is true whether the lich decides to stay loyal to any one side or not. They may very well turn on their allies in a heartbeat at the worst possible moment. Whenever a lich led army of the dead shows up on the battlefield, it is usually a very, very bad thing.

Counter Measures

Fret not, there are countermeasures to use against a wizard deployed onto the battlefield. The most obvious and easiest would be arrows and various missile weapons, which can target the mage from afar as well as those archers with exceptional skill that could act as snipers. Just like any soldier on the field an arrow can kill, maim, or at least disrupt a mage. However, note that a skilled wizard usually has some sort of defense already in place to defeat arrows and missile weapons. Of course, a good commander could try such things as leveling a ballista or catapult at them just to test their defenses. Barring arrow fire, protective magic and magic items can help to counter some of the enemy wizard’s spell fire and curses.

This applies to spells that a mage for hire may have cast, those items that comprise a quest’s MacGuffin, or something that only a specific mage NPC can provide. Again, a side quest for PCs appears where they must seek out a wizard in order to obtain some protective items or one really rare artifact. Note also that items to protect non-player individuals are important as well. An example being certain officers having protective fetishes to ward off disease, spirits, or certain magic spells.

However, the best option is to recruit (or conscript if possible) your own wizard who is hopefully just as if not more skilled and/or powerful than the opposition mage. Additionally, if you have the resources, hiring more than a single wizard is the best bet.

The only things that can counter spell-casters on the field besides archers, magic, and other casters are units that can get real close real fast such as assassins or ranger-types and other magic-users or just very mobile warriors. It is in the prudent general’s best interest to have at least two of the previous in their ranks. This is another reason to keep a wizard in a protected area such as at the top of a parapet.

Summary

Wizards have great potential despite their minimalist physicality on the fantasy battlefield. They are a powerful weapon, invaluable support unit, and indispensable intelligence provider. Their presence introduces complication into what can be a standard battle scenario. The opposition must respond in order to maintain the balance power (or terror in the case of necromancers and liches) on the field and even seek out mages as countermeasure against certain other ultimate weapons of the fantasy world.

Even though they are fragile and perhaps even sickly, wizards are the most flexible of the mystical super-weapons of fantasy warfare and often come equipped with more character than a phalanx of golems, a flight of dragon-mounts, or a legion of the undead (hopefully).

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]

 

Necromancing Xuun Pt.12: Funny Little Death Games Pt.3

That evening half-hill-giant Skull-Smash whom the odds favored would be the opponent to Skull BashBludbaer as finale to the Pit Games. The official gladiatorial games would kick off with a fair the next day. Then the crowds and their money would flock to the bigger venues.

Jíen the necromancer greeted the morning sun with little enthusiasm. He stared out over the walled courtyard from the second story bedroom window. There were throngs of people trailing brightly colored streamers and waving flags everywhere. It made no difference to the dark mage. Through his eyes all was insubstantial. The sun drenched sky was a dull grey and an ethereal cloud obscured the distance even on the clearest day. The throngs of the living were as transparent as an army of colorful ghosts.

There were also bands of paladins and guardsmen on patrol among them. The young Deadlander thought it best if he stayed inside until he was to take his fighter to the match. He occupied himself by brewing potion (Aura of the Dead) using the adobe villa’s kitchen and a few secret ingredients. Later he stored it in one of the empty potion bottles he had been carrying on his person. The potion was of the highest quality.

The rest of the day he spent repairing, mostly stitching and channeling negative energy, the massive damage Bludbaer the mindless Dread Guard had sustained the previous day. It was nearly sundown when Jíen had finished his work almost restoring the creature to full capacity.

Evening came and the young necromancer brought his fighter/creature to the arena with no incidents on the way. There were a few prize matches beforehand then came the main event, Bludbaer versus Skull-Smash. All proceeded as before and soon the large heavily muscled opponents were facing off against each other in the ring. Bludbaer though huge was dwarfed by the half-giant who was wielding a heavy wooden great club.

The bell for the first round rang and Skull-Smash came out swinging landing two massive bone-crunching blows on Bludbaer one after the other dropping him. Immediately Jíen played it up doing the pantomime of a bereaved and ruined manager imploring the crowd to cheer for the miraculous rise of the fallen gladiator. It actually worked, the crowd roared for Bludbaer. So, the necromancer had the fallen fighter rise again. (Out-of-Game I did it to steal away Skull-Smash’s crowd bonus against my guy which Gladiators can get when being cheered on.)

It wasn’t long before Bludbaer was again smashed down without landing a single blow. However, Jíen playing his part as flamboyant fight manager worked his crowd-magic again and once again Bludbaer slowly, and what appeared to all, painfully rose to his feet. The look of disbelief on the half-giant’s face was priceless (unfortunately he didn’t suffer any morale penalties). Jíen however knew that if his creation dropped once more it would be the last.

Skull-Smash landed another horrid blow onto the battered corpse of Bludbaer but on the backswing the Dread Guard parried with his great sword catching the half-giant in a clinch. The crowd went wild. Suddenly, Bludbaer broke free and chopped into the giant, the crowd began to flip completely over to Bludbaer. Skull-Smash nearly silenced the crowd with a mighty roar and put all of his power behind a horrifyingly powerful finishing blow.

The crowd gasped and was silent for the instant before they let loose a deafening roaring cheer. The boneless mess of a corpse in the dirt of the arena that used to be Bludbaer lay at the feet of the triumphant Skull-Smash. Jíen stood wide-eyed and stunned. He was out of a lot of money. Then horror struck him and he rushed into the ring to salvage the corpse before the Disguise Undead rune branded on its forehead faded in its power.

All would see that Bludbaer was really a mass of rotted meat pilfered from the grave if that should happen. In fact, that’s what the potion of Aura of the Dead was for. He would shout that it was a vial of poison to his accusers, drink it, and then feign death. Fortunately a cloaked and hooded stranger helped him with his frantic work of hauling the broken but still very heavy body away on a cart that the stranger had conveniently helped the necromancer procure.

The Stranger: “It’s me.”

Jíen (Played by Me): “What?”

The Stranger lifted up his hood revealing himself to be Trantox the assassin.

Trantox (Played by Jenn): “It’s me. You tried to get me killed!”

Jíen: “What me? No! No I did not!”

Trantox (with a Yeah-Right scowl on his face): “I was there about 5 ft. away when you talked to that Naga. Hiding.”

Jíen: “Oh. Um. I thought I’d get paid more. He ripped me off.”

Trantox: “You know I should totally kill you right now.”

Jíen: “Um, uh. Hmmm. Don’t you have bigger problems right now? Like the Shakai.”

Trantox: “That’s why I found you. Um, huh what?”

The necromancer looked at the assassin like he was crazy before realizing his attentions had diverted to talking to the intelligent dagger. Jíen shuddered.

Trantox: “Naw we won’t kill him yet. We won’t kill you yet but the dagger wants bloooood, so don’t cross us again.”

Jenn was wagging her finger at me. Sheesh.

The necromancer and the assassin delivered the mutilated, rotten pile of meat and shattered bone to the charnel house. The pair decided to walk back to the Troll and wait for whatever would come besides Jíen had a debt to pay off. On their way out of the charnel house a street rat stopped them and passed them a message that Dravor (played by Gil) had skipped town with the dark priest Exvorum (Gil couldn’t continue the campaign as his work schedule had changed). The pair shrugged and continued on.

The dark duo made it to the Whiskey Troll Tavern later that night very near the middle of the night. The place was mostly empty save for those huddled at a table in the corner. These were the Half-giant Skull-Smash, his manager the faun, a human fighter in chainmail (probably a bodyguard), and a saloon bum. All were fairly drunk and the table was packed with mostly empty vessels and half-eaten food.

Jíen settled his debts with the faun and while doing so had noticed the bulging sack of gold at the faunic manager’s side. Skull-Smash’s winnings were substantial. The necromancer returned to his coconspirator’s side and together they hatched a plan. They ordered drinks for the whole place and before the waitress took the pitcher to Skull-Smash’s table the assassin dropped some paralysis toxin into it. Then the villains sat back and waited.

After an hour it was apparent that the poison had only affected the faunic manager and the fighter. The giant, though extremely drunk, showed absolutely no sign of the toxic effect. The saloon bum on the other hand seemed a bit stiff in the joints but otherwise he was okay as well. Trantox began mumbling to his dagger again and was preparing for a fight by oiling its blade with poison. Jíen was getting nervous.

Suddenly, a naga in a black-dragon hide cloak wearing a golden snake mask with emerald & onyx scales appeared right in front of the dark duo’s table. The creature pointed at Trantox and then his dagger shouting, “Thief! Return what you have stolen now!”

Another naga slithered from behind a pillar equipped with a naginata, there were undoubtedly more slithering about in the shadows of the musty tavern. Trantox stood and seemed to want to give up the dagger but simply could not bring himself to do it.

Cris (the GM): “Its not gonna let you do that. It’s want blood.”

Jenn (after failing the dagger’s ego check): “Awe man. I guess I’ll attack the cloaked guy then.”

Trantox (gnashing his teeth and sneering at the Cloaked Naga): “You’re gonna have to pry it from my cold dead hands!”

The assassin lunged at the cloaked naga but the one with the polearm leapt in front of the blow taking the point and the poison. The cloaked naga, recognizable as a mage, cast a spell that Jíen recognized as Bone Blast. The assassin’s left arm went limb as the bone shattered. The necromancer, while no one was paying him any mind, calmly but quickly moved over to the half-giant’s table.

Skull-Smash was completely embroiled in the fight before him. The necromancer eased over to the side of his unconscious manager and drew out a black pearl from his robe. The naga mage cast another spell and Trantox froze in place as another naga fighter slid from the shadows over to him.

Jíen noticed on closer inspection that the body guard was actually dead ( rolled a Natural 1 on his save) so the necromancer cast Animate the Dead and shoved the black gem into the corpse’s gaping mouth with orders to attack the drugged and sleeping manager. It immediately rose and coup de graced Skull-Smash’s manager. But the giant hadn’t noticed as at that same moment another naga fighter used his curved sword to decapitate Trantox.

So harnessing his experience as a gladiator manager, Jíen shot up and shouted, “Look! That evil wizard has cursed your companion and he’s killed your manager!”

The howl of anguish that escaped the mighty lungs of Skull-Smash rattled the bones of everyone in the place and froze the naga mage in his place his hand inches from plucking the prized dagger from the assassin’s headless corpse. The table splintered and flew as the half-giant kicked it away and charged the naga assassins wielding his great club. Jíen absconded with the sack of gold just before the carnage began.

Later, safe back at the villa, Jíen found that the sack held 20 gold talons stamped with unfamiliar hill-lander brands, 600 platinum pieces, and 1,000 gold pieces. Combined with his stash he was pretty well off. However, his companions were either dead or fled away. There were paladins patrolling the street and the city was probably going to carry out a no tolerance policy for the 7-day while the games were taking place.

Jíen the Deadlands necromancer thought hard about the direction his life had taken and quickly decided on what he would do with the rest of it. After all, managing fighters was very profitable and he knew where to get a real champ in need of a manager. Even if the champ didn’t survive the fight with the nagas Jíen could always fix that.

The End

Campaign Played between February and May 2016

Afterword: Skull-Smash did survive that fight by the way and Jíen was able to talk his way into becoming his manager. Go figure.

Necromancing Xuun Pt.11: Funny Little Death Games Pt.2

Game day, the morning the pit-games were to begin. The pit-games functioned as an amateur Weapons fit for a fighterfighter-league apart from the formal and in some respects over regulated official gladiatorial circuit. The fighters matched according to general size and weight with some attention paid to their respective physical prowess and strength. Armor restricted to the arms, legs, and the center of the chest. Other bits legal if both opponents are equipped similarly. Weapons were similarly regulated and rigorously inspected more so than the fighters.

Just before dawn Jíen got his fighter to the arena. It was a large stone building with coliseum seating covered by an awning-like ceiling under which lay the vault-ceilinged galleries. The wounded tended to and fighters vetted and equipped within. Also under the stone step-seats was the entry gallery where vendors sold their wares and bets tendered. The ring was a dirt floor surrounded by a shallow moat meant for the handlers, referees, and judges. On opposite sides of the arena were the gates through which the fighters would enter the ring.

Jíen’s fighter Bludbaer was to face off against one Zurat, a Westlander savage armed with a double-sword. The place was bristling with flags, banners, and ribbons of every color imaginable. The fight doctor cleared Zurat, his face painted with evil blue designs. The doctor moved over to Bludbaer as Zurat jaunted out of sight to await the match behind his assigned gate. The doctor cleared Bludbaer after a cursory glance. Jíen let out a relieved breath.

The Swampers’ Guild was backing Zurat and Jíen couldn’t resist making a gentleman’s bet that his fighter would win. Pit fights continued until one of the competitors couldn’t. They were almost always a death-match. The bookies gave Bludbaer 2-to-1-odds in his favor. Jíen took that bet.

It wasn’t long before Jíen collected 290 gp from the swampers but Bludbaer had taken a fair amount of damage (a whopping 20 Hit Points). Fortunately the wine-blood gambit had proven believable to all onlookers. So much so that White Star healers kept approaching and offering their services for a small charge. So the necromancer quickly shuffled his fighter into a quiet corner of the hospital gallery and repaired the undead thing’s damage the best he could using his Necrology (and spell slots).

The next match and the last of the day for Jíen’s creature would be against a double-axe wielding fighter named Scarnor but the odds were again on Bludbaer’s side. Again, it was a short bout and the necromancer took 2,075 gp in winnings. At the end of a very bloody day the fighters left in competition were Baenox Blood-Axe, Zarcar the faun (Rantcor’s “guy”), Skull-Smasher a half-hill-giant, and Bludbaer. After some of the officials began making off-hand comments that Bludbaer had an uncanny resemblance to another fighter, one who had come in second place last year Jíen took that as a sign to get out of there quick. He was long gone when they remembered the second place fighter’s name, Baercor.

Later at the Troll packed and noisy with fight fans, Jíen fed Bludbaer red wine which several fans were also sending over to the table. It was soon crowded with bottles, tin goblets, and wood cups by the time the necromancer retreated with his fighter back to the tomb.

The next day at midday, Bludbaer was again in the arena facing off with Zarcor the Rockhollow faun armed with a trident and gladius. The odds were 10 to 1 in favor of Zarcor. Jíen bet 2,000 gp on Bludbaer. Emboldened by his observation of the pit doctor, Jíen had cast Invigoration of Unlife into his creation just before leaving the tomb that morning heightening his fighter’s abilities a few notches.

The fight was a desperate one nonetheless. Bludbaer fell quickly and Jíen mentally controlling the undead fighter from the sidelines put his charisma to use. He howled and pulled at his hair and actually got the crowd to begin chanting Bludbaer’s name. That’s when he allowed the creature to rise again to wild cheers from the bloodthirsty throng. Though as a result it’s Negative Aura (the animating force behind the undead and their abilities) diminished (permanent -1).

The second round was brief. Bludbaer chopped down the unbelieving faunic warrior. The arena was erupting with chants of Bludbaer! Jíen’s take on that fight was a respectable 18,000 gp. Only 8,000 of it was given in coinage however, the rest was in a Writ. The matches concluded with Skull-Smash wining his match in quite the messy fashion. The other fighters were either dead or too wounded to continue progressing through the ranks. It would be Bludbaer versus Skull-Smash the next day with 5 to 1 odds in Skull-Smash’s favor. Jíen was hoping for a massive payday as he had a plan forming in his wicked little brain.

Jíen with his bandaged fighter in tow (just to keep the healers away) went straight to the betting tables to make a 10,000 gp wager. A grizzled faun introducing himself as Skull-Smash’s manager approached the young necromancer and the two began a bragging contest which the faun won. After a little more verbal sparring the young necromancer became flustered and ended the conversation with “oh yeah”! He then went on to place the 10,000 gp on Bludbaer to win on the morrow because “that’s how unsure” he was about his own fighter. The young necromancer walked hurriedly away back towards the tavern eager to leave the arena behind when he stopped suddenly in his tracks as a sudden realization smashed into his brain.

Me (Jíen’s Player): “$#!*”

Cris (the GM): “Ahahah! That’s right! You were supposed to bet AGAINST yer guy! Nope! You already made the bet! Ah-hahaha!”

Later at the Troll the necromancer again found himself talking to the faunic manager of Skull-Smash. After a few rounds, on the faun of course, they decided to wager a little side bet; 2,000 gp each winner take all. After that Jíen sat back, drank, and ate a little more.

Later in the night, the necromancer saw some Scael Nagas surround a peasant in a dark corner of the tavern as they harassed the poor man with questions about the theft of a certain star metal dagger. He also spotted the mark of the Shakai tattooed on their arms. After they dealt with the peasant he approached the one that appeared to be the leader and was paid 150 gp in exchange for some information about Rantcor and the Broken String. The necromancer was disappointed as he thought that the information provided was worth more but he shrugged and left the Troll with Bludbaer following.

Instead of retreating to his familiar old tomb this night though, Jíen decided to crash at the haunted villa instead for safety’s sake. He simply had the resident wraiths open the locked gates to him. During the night before going to sleep the necromancer had a conversation of sorts with the “boss” wraith. At least as much, a conversation a mindless undead creature can provide. Wraiths only retain a few negative emotions and the thoughts tied to what they used to be both of which replay like broken records in random combinations.

They do harbor some of the knowledge and secrets they knew in life though that can be brought out through careful and clever manipulation granted the thing isn’t trying to kill its interrogator. The withered-horror revealed to the necromancer a long undisturbed cubbyhole, unfortunately empty, in the bedroom wall. So Jíen used it to stash a small horde of 8,520 gp.

To Be Concluded…

Necromancing Xuun Pt.10: Funny Little Death Games Pt.1

Late morning in the Whiskey Troll Tavern, Dravor the blackguard and Jíen the necromancer were eating a breakfast of stewed stringy gray meat, probably rat, tough coin bread, and whiskey Dagger and snake assassin guild markfortified ale. Trantox the assassin swooped in and sat at the table joining his compatriots. The Poisonwood assassin turned to the young necromancer.

Trantox (Played by Jenn): “Hey! Could you I.D. this for me? But don’t let anybody see.”

Jíen did as he was bid but as a favor. The weapon had a razor sharp serpentine starmetal blade with decorative runes winding up the cheek and a finely wrought gold guard and gold-wire wrapped grip with a strange purplish-black stone as pommel. The Deadlands necromancer visibly tensed as he touched the weapon and after summoning up the best of his arcane knowledge, almost spasmodically he slid the thing back to the assassin.

The assassin snatched it up and tucked it under his cloak quickly surveying the half empty tavern to make sure nobody saw the item. Jíen told Trantox that the weapon was intelligent and evil to boot (also a +2 weapon). The assassin was affected by a strange and disturbing (in Jíen’s opinion anyway) sort of glee. Trantox immediately slunk away softly giggling. The necromancer was suspicious that the weapon’s ego was already taking root in the assassin’s mind.

A little while after the assassin left the tavern for destination unknown the blackguard casually pointed out a corpse slumped against a pillar to the necromancer. Upon investigation the corpse appeared to be a murder victim with a gaping wound in the back, its feet bare, and the tethers to its missing coin purse cut. So, naturally the necromancer dragged it back to his tomb under the pretext of delivering it to the charnel house.

It took until evening to animate the corpse, programmed with a mission of vengeance against the one(s) responsible for its death whoever they may have been. Frankly, it was just something for the necromancer to occupy his time. A short while after the thing stumbled off into the streets Jíen made a beeline back to the tavern.

The Troll was packed it was again a familiar but reeking, as if it ever smelled anything but bad, sea of yellow light. After wading through the congested haze the necromancer quickly found a seat near the wall where hung the giant spiked club and near the always vacant and bone dry carven table. The place was noisy with agitated conversation and excited argument. The atmosphere as taught as knotted troll-gut, everyone was anticipating the games. There were Westlanders, Ivorans, and various others of all stripes most wearing cheaply dyed sashes painted with the heraldry of their favorite fighters marking them as games fanatics.

Then a fight broke out between the members of what appeared to be an adventuring group. Jíen spotted an unrolled parchment upon their table, the apparent source of ire. The young necromancer tried to keep an eye on it to see if anyone snatched it up. Eventually a few of the adventurers ended up dead and the others fled. Somewhere in this Jíen had lost track of the parchment and only realized too late that it was gone.

It wasn’t long after that before a duel between two pirate swordsmen broke out. Weary with boredom the necromancer took his leave of the place and retreated to his tomb. He spent the night preparing his fighter, making sure its makeshift stomach, a wineskin, was secure and filled with red wine.

Come morning the necromancer found himself breakfasting alone. Just as he finished eating Trantox stumbled to the table. He was covered in blood with a serious gut wound. A fat sack of swag tucked under his left arm.

Trantox (to Jíen): “You sense any magic?”

Jíen (Played by me): “I can only sense death and undeath.”

Trantox: *Blank Stare*

Jíen: “I have to inspect the item (using my Spellcraft skill). And it takes a little while.”

Trantox (disappointed in a sinister sort of way): “Oh.”

With his usual uncanny sense of perfect timing the bard, Rantcor wandered in and sat down with the necromancer and Poisonwood assassin. He passed Trantox a small vial of healing potion. He told the assassin to meet back up with him at the Broken String at midnight. To maintain appearances the bard signaled for a round of whiskey fortified ale for the table.

Jíen engaged the bard in some small talk about a few odds and ends eventually turning the subject towards the upcoming games.

Rantcor: “Putting my money on Zarcor, last year’s pit champ. 3 to 1 odds; can’t lose.”

The necromancer also found out that the underdog was one Blood-Axe with 12 to 1 odds. He was a half-faun from a place called Rockhollow or somewhere thereabouts. The bard took his leave soon after that. A few minutes later, a few of the city guard chased some “scumbag” thieves into the tavern from the street and thought that they had cornered the rogues who still were able to slip away.

Come midnight, Jíen found himself accompanying the assassin to the Broken String. The place was low key and quiet as usual with the same drunk passed out at the bar and the same faun bartender on duty. Exotic incense still perfumed the air that the necromancer found repulsive in its sweetness and for the first time he noticed that, the plastered walls were lavender in color. Quite the expensive pigment, he thought.

Already there, Rantcor waved them into a private booth. Trantox placed his sack on the table and slid it across the table over to the shady bard. He peeked into the bag shifting it a little here and there, inspecting its contents. After a few seconds, he produced a leather sack of his own and poured out a measure of gold coins. Nothing could make the necromancer’s eyes gleam more but a beautiful corpse or a pile of newly struck gold.

In total, the bard insisted that Trantox count them over a bottle of wine, the assassin had netted 3,600 gp. Trantox bagged the money and placed the purse inside of his shirt next to his heart. Rantcor then took it upon himself to give the hapless assassin a “head’s up”.

Rantcor (almost casually): “The Shakai are after you.”

The assassin shrugged it off meanwhile Jíen shot the assassin a wide-eyed WTF glare. The Shakai were the premier assassin’s guild of Xuun. Their emblem, a dagger with a red serpent coiled about the cold blade. The necromancer sat stunned while the bard took his leave. Trantox unconcerned went to haggle with the faunic bartender for some healing potions. After he was able to recover his senses, Jíen quietly slipped away back to his tomb.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun Pt. 9: Poison Phantoms

The dark duo stood before the looming adobe villa under the light of the white moon. It was time to face the wraiths of the house and earn some gee-pees. They had met up at the Troll, as usual, earlier that evening but Dravor the blackguard had been late.

On the way back from their initial inspection of the villa Jíen the necromancer and the blackguard had encountered a minor but loud argument in the street. A couple of town guardsmen were harassing a small group of peasants. One of the guards was holding a wanted poster aloft which was bearing the likeness of Dravor.

Jíen immediately pivoted and began walking, calmly, the other way away from the blackguard and the small group of guards and townsfolk.  The necromancer burst into a panicked run when Dravor cast Banefire on the wanted poster. As the Deadlander skidded around a corner he heard shouts of: “Over there! That’s HIM!”

After things had calmed down Jíen met Trantox the assassin from Poisonwood at the Whiskey Troll Tavern and the assassin had passed him 2 vials of paralysis toxin to be used to complete the gas grenades he had already ordered from the Deadlands necromancer.

It was dusk before all three were finally around the damp boards of their customary table. The newly united trio was again destined to split as Trantox had some mysterious “business” to take care of. The blackguard and the necromancer had decided to go on the ghost hunt come nightfall.

Both exited the place leaving the warm yellow light of the raucous and overcrowded tavern behind and trading its thick pipe-smoke rich atmosphere for the fresh empty night air of the city streets. They had little trouble finding their way back to the accursed villa.

They entered the place; Zarkar had lent the necromancer a key, and immediately the duo noticed that they had forgotten about the corpse in the kitchen.

Cris (the GM): “HA-HA Ha! That’s right! You guys left it right there! It’s all rotten!”

Me (Jíen’s Player): “Damn. Well, I guess after I’m done here I’ll drop the body off at the charnel house.”

Ignoring the sweet stench of rotten human flesh, Jíen began to use his uncanny sense of the undead to “sniff out” their quarry. It was no surprise that he was able to sense something hovering about the kitchen where the maggoty corpse lay.

Suddenly, emerging from the shadows was the wraith of the dead cook bearing a butcher’s knife. Its flesh appeared pale blue and withered which stretched it tight across the phantom skull underneath.  Jíen tried to rebuke the creature but to no avail. But, unable to resist its aura of despair (he rolled a natural 1), the young necromancer collapsed to the ground rendered utterly helpless at the feet the monster.

Dravor’s faith in his demon lord preserved his sanity. It slashed at him fumbling the attack badly losing grip on its weapon. The wraith’s butcher-knife flung across the room landing point first into the butcher’s block in the corner.

The blackguard used his Hold Undead ability against it stopping it in its tracks. He smashed his zanbato into its strange demi-corporeal phantasmal flesh then fumbled the follow up blow flinging his weapon across the kitchen floor. As he ran to fetch his horse-cutter Jíen was finally able to shake off the effects of the monster’s unholy energies.

The blackguard readied his weapon after snatching it back up and waited for the necromancer to work his magic. Jíen seized control of the shriveled monster (a successful Rebuke Undead). Upon questioning as to where the one who turned it the creature simply pointed up.

They guessed that in the upstairs bedroom they would find the “head” wraith. So without hesitation the daring duo stomped up the steps and found the heady old wooden door ajar. Just inside they could it. Its skull was bald and its mummified face hideously withered with its skin pulling away from the wet black rims of its eyes and gums. It was dressed in fine blue-green garments which appeared as if new. In its claw-like right hand it clutched a mace.

The pall of despair that surrounded the creature failed to take hold of the young necromancer’s mind but the blackguard backed off and wept that it was a losing battle. They were going to lose and die and if they didn’t die here they would eventually die anyway.

The creature struck out at the necromancer thumping him with the mace. Jíen felt a little of his life-force seep away (he suffered a Constitution point drain) so the young necromancer tried to seize control of the creature but failed. The cook’s wraith put itself between the necromancer and the mace-wielding monster granting Jíen some cover. Dravor fighting through his deep misgivings and loss of drive tried to cast Hold Undead on the creature but failed.

The necromancer tried with all of his will again to try to control the monster but again failed. The blackguard readied his weapon should the necromancer fail again.

Me (Jíen’s Player): “Aw man, don’t kill it! I want this thing as one of my minions!”

Gil (Dravor’s Player): “Okay. It’s your funeral. But if I get a chance I’m going to destroy this thing!”

The necromancer’s last rebuke attempt was successful. Jíen dismissed both wraiths to the astral plane “until further notice”. The creatures faded back into the gloom from whence they came.

Later that night, the duo split up and went their separate ways, after collecting the 25 gold pieces Jíen headed back to his tomb. He was certain he had a new place to hide out besides the stuffy and somewhat crowded tomb even though Zarkar had taken his key back. As he laid back on the slab to sleep Jíen counted the days until the games. He figured only 2 or 3 more to go.

Next morning Jíen headed back to the Whiskey Troll and passed by a sight that caused him to rubber neck, stop, then cock his head to one side. There were wanted posters, a lot of them, and everywhere. All of them had the woodcut likeness of Dravor on them.

The bills listed his crimes. He had robbed the Silver Coil, roughed up the clerk at the Golden Feather Inn, a place he had also robbed, and killed a couple of city guards. The price on his head was 1,500 gp.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun Pt.8: A Bag of Black Pearls

Dravor the blackguard and Jíen the necromancer found themselves before the blazing Black pearls from a ratteroversized marble hearth of the black hearted Korvo-Doom, master-slaver. They had presented the underworld boss with the severed heads of four Hyvalian Templars. The pair was now each 400 gold pieces richer.

The young one-armed necromancer offered Korvo an extra service, to make one of the heads speak the answers to two of his questions. The master-slaver offered 5 platinum pieces and the Deadlander worked his necromancy.

Jíen (played by yours truly): “You may now ask your questions. Um, sir.”

Korvo-Doom (rolling his eyes to the gory skull on his table): “Who’s… was, your leader?”

The dead thing lurched a bit as its jaw seemed to flap uncontrollably for a second before a gurgling wet voice oozed from behind blood-crusted teeth.

Severed Head (opening its eyes, the yellow orbs rolled slowly transfixing on Korvo-Doom): “Croale Strohm … High paladinnnn… of the light.”

Korvo-Doom: “How many troops on the boat, the Golden Wind?”

Severed Head: “Left port… with… Fifffty templarsss… ten… paladinssss.”

The thing’s miserable yellow eyes rolled back up into its head as its eyelids drooped and it was still. Almost reflexively in a fit of disgust Korvo snatched the head by its scabby hair and tossed it into the fire.

Jíen: “Um. Do you need the heads for anything else? I could take them for you.”

Korvo-Doom dismissively gestured with his hand as he sat and gulped a mouthful of dark wine. “Take ‘em all.” The necromancer even pulled the head from the fire before parting ways with Dravor and retreating to his temporary home, the tomb in the city cemetery.

Jíen went about de-fleshing and boiling the heads the roasted head providing a meal of warm brains to fuel his night work. He thought about perhaps a nice head-cheese after he fished the clean skulls out of his small black iron cauldron. However, he hadn’t any spices and was an abysmal cook. So he satisfied himself by creating four Chattering Skulls instead which would help to secure his tomb. He later just dumped the steaming Templar renderings over a nearby grave.

After animating the skulls, the necromancer charged an unused long-bone from his stash with a Wound spell. Amid the musky stench of boiled human flesh the necromancer laid on the slab of the sarcophagus to catch some shut-eye, sleeping under the unblinking watch of his undead gladiator Bludbaer.

Morning at the Whiskey Troll Tavern, Trantox the assassin slid 10 gold pieces over to Jíen. The assassin wanted the necromancer to make a poison-gas grenade. The trio, Dravor the blackguard was also at the table enjoying his morning whiskey, noticed for morning the place was quite crowded.

There were cultists with black tattoos of chains around their necks, wrists, and ankles, currently probably apathetic allies at most. There were also gladiators and their entourages from far and wide, presumably for the games and a few Hill-Lander fauns whom were talking to the Troll’s owner bearing with them several barrels of high quality Hill-Lander whiskey.

Trantox then passed Jíen a slightly used Alchemist’s Kit but the assassin also lacked the poison with which to actually arm the grenades. The two reached an agreement where the assassin would go concoct the poison and the necromancer would formulate and fill the glass containers for the grenades. Hopefully after about a day the assassin would have 3 poison-gas grenades.

Trantox left the tavern with a flourish of his cape and as the necromancer stood from the damp board readying to leave for his lair, a human ratter accosted him.

Ratter (in a hissing phlegmatic whisper): “Hey! You the one lookin’ fer black gems.”

The necromancer asked to see the gem and was shocked to find a weighty large black pearl in the palm of his corpse-pale hand. The ratter shook then opened his bag slightly revealing several other black pearls of the same apparent quality.

Ratter: “A hundred gold apiece.”

Jíen paid the price and stuffing the small bag of black pearls in his shirt over his heart left with Dravor following. In lieu of going to his tomb to bother creating the grenades for Trantox as he lacked the essential ingredient, poison, he instead decided to go check out the haunted house gig to try to rake in some more cash and maybe scope out a new target.

Sometime later, the duo met Zarkar the landlord in front of the tall wooden gates that stood as entrance into the adobe villa’s courtyard. After a brief and somewhat terse round of greetings, Zarkar knocked on the gates, somewhat reluctantly, but as no one answered he took the two hired Ghostbusters in. He was very displeased that the servants had failed to answer the gate or the summons he had sent at the top of his lungs.

Zarkar told Jíen in the brief stroll through the overgrown courtyard that a trio of adventurers leasing the place at the moment. They had paid him for a year in advance but had so far not really stayed in the place much. In fact, they had been gone for a few months now and he had no idea when they might come back, if ever.

The three men wandered into the heavy iron-studded front door which creaked open onto a dark, quiet, and apparently deserted front hall. Zarkar squeaked out a demand for the servants to answer but his weak words choked off suddenly as a foul stench met his nostrils.

Jíen (inhaling the foul air as a professional wine-taster sips a fine wine): “Yup, that’s a corpse.”

Indeed they found the shriveled semi-mummified corpse of the cook lying face down in the kitchen by the scullery.

Jíen (stooping as he inspected the corpse): “Maybe been here several days. Maybe a week, though not much actual rot. Hmmm.”

Zarkar (sweating and shaking): “But, but, I just talked to him YESTERDAY.”

Jíen: “Well then there’s definitely something here. I think I can deal with it.”

Zarkar (as he flies out the front door): “Let me know when you’re done. I’ll be outside with your fee!”

The young necromancer cast Commune with the Dead on the corpse and found that a resident wraith had killed the man, a wraith now himself along with an upstairs maid. The necromancer’s senses were piqued as finely attuned to the uncanniness of the undead as they were. Jíen could sense a presence over the corpse which then left the kitchen then floated almost aimlessly upstairs into a bedroom behind a closed door.

The blackguard made Jíen lead the way as he could “sniff it out”. The necromancer fearlessly opened the door to the bed chamber. He already knew wraiths are nocturnal and can really only manifest and therefore be dangerous at night. The duo left and met Zarkar outside. The necromancer telling him that he would be back after dark to exorcise the creatures from the property. Dravor asked after the occupants.

Zarkar: “Adventurers. Might be Swampers or something like that. They must be adventuring out somewhere; they’ve been gone for a few months now. But they did pay me in advance so I keep the place running.”

Jíen: “Can we know their names. Just in case they come home and um … I’m in the middle of … this.”

Zarkar: “Oh yeah. I believe the lessees are called Cantra and Phenox.”

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun PT.7: Golden Wind, Silver Gauntlet

It was night, the white moon was full and bright its light dancing on the black waters of theHoping for a Templar blood-moon lagoon-bay. Rows stirred by the blackguard Dravor sloshed in the water as the dark trio made their way towards the three-mast lugsail Templar ship, the Golden Wind. The trio was about to take action for Korvo-Doom against the Hyvalian Theocracy having just barely avoided some town guards on the night-watch.

Dravor had been extremely nervous at their appearance as if the authorities may want him. For what exactly was unknown to Jíen. As the guards neared them the young necromancer threw a Gnat Swarm their way and thus distracted, the trio beat it to the harbor. For the meantime, Dravor found himself rowing a rented boat which cost an additional silver-piece to keep its owner’s lips sealed. As he rowed he wondered why he hadn’t just murdered the man.

As the Ivoran-style flat-bottom row boat clunked lightly to the planks of the Golden Wind’s stern the team decided to go over the plan one more time. Jíen had failed in his part as they simply couldn’t track down a sailor from the ship. So, it was the assassin, Trantox that would have to silently scale the ship’s side and slip onboard killing the man on watch and then lowering a rope for the other two.

Jenn (Trantox’s Player): “Wait. I have to climb?”

Me & Gil (Jíen’s & Dravor’s Players respectively): “YES.”

Jenn: “Uhm. My Climb skill sucks. So…”

Me: “Let me see that, um, WHAT!? It’s at negative TWO!”

Jenn: “Well yeah. My strength sucks. But my DEX ROCKS!”

So, Trantox pulled out his trusty grappling-hook and promptly tossed it into the water unintentionally with a profound splash. The trio froze and listened, they could hear the muttering of at least a handful of sailors. Suddenly, a head popped over the edge of the railing and before the sailor could yell Jíen cast Gnat Swarm on him. While the sailor swatted at the flies sputtering Dravor rowed the skiff to the opposite side of the boat.

Sailor: “Hey! They’re over here! I see ‘em!”

Another Hyvalian thrust the business end of a crossbow over the railing and shot at Trantox. The assassin barely dodged the bolt. The deck bell began furiously ringing and the trio thought it best to abort their mission especially since none of them could swim.

Cris (the GM): “What? Really? None of you can swim? Huh.” He jotted something down in his notes.

Fortunately the trio had a wide lead over the other two boats which were in pursuit that first had to be lowered from the ship into the water. The trio was already dissolving into the filthy alleys of Xuun before the theocrats were halfway to shore.

Next morning the dark trio met back up at the Whiskey Troll Tavern. Dravor came to the table with some info on a couple of Templars whose morning routine was to head from the Golden Feather Inn to the Silver Gauntlet, a tavern that catered primarily to Hyvalians and a favorite of those theocrats that hadn’t given up the vice of drink.

On his way to the troll one Zarkar had approached Jíen as the man required the services of someone that could deal with “spirits”. Apparently the man was a landlord of an adobe villa which was haunted and he wanted the ghosts gone when his current tenants, a trio of adventurers, got back. It paid 25 gp and the necromancer had already promised to do the job but on the morrow. The other two weren’t particularly thrilled with that idea when Jíen  had brought it to the table and declined as “backup”.

Trantox however, was determined to seek out and eliminate his target, the Scael gladiator. His companions once again declined his plan. So in a huff the assassin got up from the table and headed for the Silver Scale. After a couple of whiskey fortified ales, Jíen and the blackguard took their leave and headed into the north-side of the city seeking the Silver Gauntlet. It would be an even two-way split on Korvo’s bounty.

It wasn’t long before the pair of miscreants with zombie-girl in tow, were skulking in the shadows of an alley that looked out onto the “good-guy” tavern. After some time the duo saw a group of four Hyvalian Templars approaching the mouth of the place.

The Templars were decked out in full chainmail suits with gold-trimmed white surcoats bearing the golden sun and rays on their chests and open helms. A golden chalice medallion hung around each of their thick necks. Each armed with a straight one-handed great sword and dagger. One of them was also carrying a light crossbow.

The group of churchmen immediately took notice of the scrawny one-armed necromancer near the mouth of a nearby alley especially when he shouted at his partner in crime: “Yeah! Get her Dranor! She’s a follower of Boahng! Let’s do her right in this alley!” They could see the large blackguard apparently dragging a struggling girl into the dark recesses of the alley. So of course they immediately pulled their weapons and jaunted heroically into the shadows.

In the alley the blackguard took a high guard stance with his zanbato as he and the necromancer waited to waylay the Hyvalians. As the first Templar charged in Dravor took an attack of opportunity. The blackguard smote the Templar on the helmeted head wounding him badly. The brained churchman responded with his great sword carving a nasty gash into Dravor’s side.

The second Templar into the alley grabbed the zombie in a mistaken attempt to rescue her. The third stopped about 10 ft. from Jíen and shot him. The zombie smashed her tiny fists into the second Templars face in a completely unexpected attack. He reacted instinctively by chopping her down in a single stroke, sudden horror smeared over his rugged but still boyish features.

Jíen cast Dread Invigoration and stepped in towards the first Templar touching him. The energy drain nearly stunned the man. The Templar then lost grip of his great sword which he flung deeper into the dark alley when he clumsily struck at Dravor. The zombie slowly rose back up.

The second Templar even more horrified chopped her back down again. The third Templar reloaded his crossbow. The first deflected a blow from Dravor’s horse-cutter with his dagger. The fourth who was lagging behind the group, charged at Dravor his sword narrowly missing the blackguard’s chest. The zombie rose for a second time.

Jíen tried to cast Animate Necrosis on the first Templar’s wounds but the church-warrior easily resisted. The second Templar shouted, “Undead!” and hacked into Jíen’s zombie, the sound of steel breaking through bone echoed down the filthy alley. The zombie however was still on her feet though she was now wearing her entrails as an apron.

Jíen hit the first Templar with another Dread Invigoration and Dravor followed up with a sword blow finally dropping him. The blackguard tried to cast a spell but failed distracted by the heat of the battle. The crossbowman nailed the necromancer with a bolt but dealt little damage through his magic amulet of armor. The second Templar chopped Jíen’s zombie down for the third time.

The zombie painfully lurched back up. Jíen hit the fourth Templar, the only one currently facing off with Dravor, with his Exsanguination spell wounding the churchman badly and healing his own wounds in the process as he gulped down the blood forced from the Hyvalian’s body.

The zombie slammed her mutilated body into the second Templar dealing no damage. His horror now turned wholly to disgust. Dravor struck the fourth Templar hacking a gory wound into his side. The Templar retorted wounding Dravor severely. The second Templar cleaved the zombie in two finally destroying it. The third reloaded his crossbow.

Dravor clinched with the fourth Templar on a parry and the second zombie-gore encrusted Templar hacked into him while he was helpless.

Cris (the GM): “Man, you could always just drop your weapon.”

Gil (Dravor’s Player): “No way! I need my weapon! My Zanbato.”

The blackguard was able to break the clinch and swung his massive blade around opening the fourth Templar’s chest dropping him. In a panic the crossbowman shot Dravor. The second Templar then hacked into the blackguard with a vicious strike and then easily parried the Dravor’s retort. The third Templar dropped his crossbow which clattered to the cobblestones and drew his sword.

All the while Jíen cast spell after spell but the Templars were either able to withstand the damage or resist the crippling magic of his spells altogether. In desperation Dravor power attacked the fourth Templar splitting his mail wide open and cleaving him into two gory halves. The last Templar charged and parried Dravor’s attack. The Templar responded with his sword and Dravor barely parried the desperate blow.

Again the Templar resisted the necromancer’s magic and Dravor eager to finish the fight put all his might behind another power attack hacking off the Hyvalian’s head in a single stroke. The trash strewn alley an abattoir soaked in blood, still warm guts squirmed over the filth.

Of course, before collecting their heads the duo looted the bodies for a grand total of 18 gp, 75 sp, and 70 cp. The pair split the take evenly and headed off to see Korvo-Doom with 4 bagged heads, after Jíen harvested a couple more long-bones, that is.

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun Pt.6: Blood Feast of Doom

Exvorum the dark priest led the trio to the hall of the master slaver Korvo-Doom. The Blood Chalice of Doombanner of the Golden Devil West Company wafted dreamily over the heavy wooden double-door, the entrance to his hall. The flag bore the smiling horned yellow demon with a crown floating above its head against a white field bounded by a blue border.

Jíen briefly contemplated on how strange it was that a creature like the Company should exist. To him it was a landless country with a fleet, an army, and lords, granted a Board of Lords. However, the idea that such a beast could survive on money alone did make a sort of sense, as money is power, the most material kind anyway. But knowing the impermanence of all things he brushed those philosophical concerns aside.

The priest with the shaved head approached the door and knocked with an uneven staccato. When the door cracked open, he whispered what the trio assumed to be a password but couldn’t overhear. A servant threw open the doors and Exvorum gleefully led his guests into the hall which was abuzz with activity.

A tall skinny Ivoran man in fine silk robes also with a shaved head greeted the group. He introduced himself as Ilhand interpreter and right hand of Korvo-Doom. He enjoined the trio to sit at their places beside the dark priest’s neophytes. The five young men were dressed in black robes similar to their master each also with a shaved head. Tattooed around their wrists and their necks were the links of black chains.

The table was already set with wood-ware and tin plates as well as wine, ale, and especially whiskey. There was also bowls of fresh fruit and nuts from all over the Westlands and along the Ivoran Coast. It was not long before the slaves and servants had everything in place for their master’s feast. It was not long after this that his guests began to ooze into the hall one after another.

Before long the hall and thus was populated with Doom’s guests, top members of the Swampers’ Guild, an ogrish fellow with a bullwhip pulling along 3 gladiators with spiked collars on golden chains, several roguish men and a few women, and an out of place noble couple in fine clothes. Naked pleasure slaves in chains lined the hall, both male and female humans, their flawless bodies and soft skins oiled and gleaming. Jíen found the atmosphere in the crowded hall a bit stifling, too many warm bodies.

After a while, the chatter amongst the presumed villains rose to a constant low rumble with the occasional outburst of raucous laughter. A slight fog of incense and pipe-smoke coalesced above their heads. Suddenly Ilhand emerged from a stairwell behind the head of the long table and announced, “The Prince Scourge of Hyval, Defiler of the Light, Whip of the Enslaver, I present Lord Korvo-Doom!”

Only after the last syllable had died which had been dragged out for effect did the master-slaver Korvo-Doom emerge from the very same stairwell. Draped in fine white gold-gilded silk robes with a golden chainmail shirt underneath he approached his tall-backed black lacquered chair in a surprisingly graceful manner as a downcast slave scooted it out for him.

Korvo’s shoulder-length platinum-blonde hair was square cut so as to exhibit his flawless pale face which had the appearance of an angelic very young man with scintillating crystal blue-eyes. It was in contrast to his heavily muscled and sun-tanned arms and broad muscly chest, he had to weigh in somewhere around 250 pounds and was very tall around 6’5”.

As the master-slaver sat he signaled with his hand the rounded sapphires on his gold bracers glittering in the bright lamplight. A slave began to pour out assassin-berry wine, a few of the more refined guests could tell just by the strong sweet smell.

Korvo-Doom made a short speech to which Jíen paid little attention. Then those wishing to squeeze in a little butt-kissing session began to purpose ever more pompous and increasingly ridiculous toasts by turn in the evil-angelic figure’s honor. Dravor cut-off the ogrish fellow in his enthusiasm and purposed a surprisingly brief and slightly awkward toast which seemed to please the slaver slightly. Jíen rolled his eyes.

When it came time for the priest Exvorum to mount his toast he first produced a spectacular chalice from a black lockbox that one of his neophytes had unlocked and then took away.

The chalice was silver with a gold inlay and had five large rubies inset in the cup and five bloodstones on the base. He held it aloft presenting it as a gift to Korvo-Doom. In response, Ilhand then produced a black box of his own which when opened revealed a gold mask in the likeness of a grinning demon encrusted with gems. With some ceremony, they exchanged both items.

Steaming pork dripping with fat, thick green soup, and oven-fresh bread were brought to the table on silver platters and bowls. The slaves that had been standing against the whitewashed walls of the hall moved to the guests and intermingled (as it were). The feasting began in earnest but to Jíen there was still a little tension in the air and amongst the indulgent guests as if something had yet to be finished; an incomplete ritual.

Unexpectedly Korvo-Doom turned towards Jíen. The young necromancer seated just on the other side of the dark priest’s retinue. He spoke in perfect Dead-Lander to the young necro-mage inquiring as to how he had found himself in Xuun and had a few questions about his fighter. Bludbaer was standing behind Jíen in laughable imitation of a bodyguard.

The necromancer had inquired about Shadow-Scale but found that Korvo-Doom had an unreasoning hatred of all Scaels (and maybe all Naga). When Jíen inquired of Korfin, the slaver had never heard of him. The angel-faced slaver however was familiar with the Silver-Owl. They chatted for a bit more.

Korvo then signaled the other two, Trantox the assassin and Dravor the blackguard, to lean in as he presumably had a business proposal for the three. He would consider it a big favor if the trio would help in clearing up a little matter. He continued on to say there have been multiple open attempts on his life by certain members of the Hyvalian Theocracy.

He was sure that the offenders are those that had traveled to Xuun on a ship that was currently at harbor. The ship’s name was The Golden Wind, a Hyvalian vessel with junk rigging and grand golden sun-casting rays painted on its sails. Should the church officers on that ship come to harm he would pay 200 gold devils per head (the Company strikes its own gold pieces stamped with the company’s logo, a grinning devil face, and worth about one-half a gold piece each).

He also extended the deal to any theocrat head they could deliver to him. Dravor immediately shook Korvo’s hand and accepted the deal for the whole group. Trantox wholeheartedly concurred and Jíen just shrugged. That business concluded the master-slaver clapped his well-manicured paws together, the concussion silencing the lusty party.

Without warning Korvo-Doom snatched the wrist of the naked slave-girl on his lap and slit her wrist to the bone with his dagger. He held the gushing wound over the dark priest’s gift, the silver chalice. The red stones on the vessel glowed venomously and the girl’s cries of protest cut off with a squeak.

She paled, her eyes went dead, her once milk-smooth skin curdled, and pruned about the eyes and lips. The flow of blood was an instantaneous torrent washing the entirety of the blood from within her body containing it in the impossible capacity of the small silver cup. Korvo-Doom flung the limp corpse to the side. It flopped onto the flagstone floor of the hall.

The master-slaver and apparent devil-worshipper took a drink and passed the bloody vessel to the priest who did the same and thus the cup continued around the table with each guest obligated to take a hearty drink.

When it came to Dravor’s turn he immediately stood and pledged his service to Korvo-Doom before drinking. Again, Jíen rolled his eyes and then wondered if the blackguard had foolishly become a thrall of the devilish-slaver.

Deciding to rib the blackguard a little Jíen shouted out “Hey! Where’d he go! I can only see his boots!” Of course he said it in Deadlander so only Korvo-Doom and Ilhand understood. They snickered. Dravor shot a harsh sideways glance at the necromancer.

After the blood ritual, all of the tension had bled from the room. The festivities moved to that more akin a delirious orgy rather than a ritualistic feast. Jíen pointed to the corpse of the girl questioningly as slaves began to drag her away. Korvo nodded in acknowledgment and then threw a dismissive hand gesture.

So right there, as an orgy heaved and sweated around him, the young necromancer animated the corpse of the slave-girl. Jíen left word with Ilhand, whom was coldly overseeing and not participating in the greasy festivities, on how to contact him should they require his services. The necromancer took his leave with both of his creatures.

Sometime later after leaving his creatures in the tomb, Jíen decided to have a peek at the Hyvalian ship Korvo had mentioned. He went to the docks and found that the ship was at anchor in the middle of the deep lagoon that served as Xuun’s harbor. His curiosity satisfied he figured he should be the one to formulate the plan of attack.

The next night the trio gathered once again at the Troll. Trantox brought up a plan about “eliminating the competition”, a Scael gladiator with a 5,000 gp bounty on his head. The assassin even knew where they were, the Silver Scale Tavern. Dranor on the other hand wanted to fulfill the promise the trio had made to Korvo-Doom instead. This time Jíen sided with the blackguard. Trantox sneered at him.

The plan the trio came up with after a few minutes of both planning and arguing was that they would find a crew member of the Golden Wind, assassinate him, and Jíen would then reanimate him. They would then have the zombie crewman row them out to the ship and help them get aboard. That was when they would “slice and dice” as it were.

The Poisonwood assassin oiled his dagger with venom and agreed to follow through with Jíen’s plan. Immediately, just as they rose from the table, Dravor called for a vote, which overruled Jíen’s plan. The pair even tried to get Jíen to agree to row the boat out to the ship for them after he lost that vote.

Me (Jíen’s Player): “I have one freakin’ ARM!”

To Be Continued…

Necromancing Xuun – Pt. 5: Five of Swords

The paladin had charged straight at Dravor his golden single-handed great sword Paladin's Emblemslamming into the blackguard. Jíen the necromancer cast Crippling Touch but failed to touch, luckily not tripping over his own feet. A Templar missed his strike on Jíen’s skeletal minion and vice versa.

Another Templar lunged at the young necromancer ready to land a hideous sword-blow until Jíen nailed the touch on a simultaneous attack. The Templar’s limbs shriveled and curled into what resembled gnarled tree branches and just as useless. The attack stopped, the churchman dropped to the filthy floor moaning.

Dravor the blackguard his charged weapon crackling with negative energy smashed the zanbato into the paladin gravely wounding the holy warrior. Trantox the assassin stabbed the second Templar, the Templar fumbling his great sword on the retort.

The paladin fumbled his attack against Dravor and a third Templar fumbled his attack against Trantox. A fourth Templar hacked through a rack of the minion’s ribs. Dravor turned on the fourth man with the horse-cutter killing him instantly in a spray of gore & brains cleaving his helm in two. Then the blackguard took the attack of opportunity to try to stop the paladin from snatching up his great sword. Although he struck the Hyvalian he couldn’t prevent him from rearming himself.

Dravor took yet another swipe at the paladin but missed. Jíen used his serrated dagger to slit the throat of the crippled Templar. Blood gushed and the third Templar smashed down the skeletal minion with his sword. The Paladin smote at Dravor grievously wounding him and Dravor smote back at him with a simultaneous power attack. The Hyvalian warrior though wounded horrifically was still on his feet.

The third Templar fell down dead revealing the formerly concealed Trantox with his blood-steeped blade in hand. In the midst of the bloody battle Jíen failed to cast a spell as blades zipped and whistled too close to his person for comfort.

The paladin landed a massive blow with his great sword hurting the blackguard badly. Trantox buried his blade in the last Templar’s back dropping him. The paladin hacked into Trantox and then the assassin stabbed the churchman back. Jíen cast Exsanguination on the paladin gruesomely wounding him but the holy warrior endured.

The paladin again turned on the Poisonwood assassin but the righteous blow deflected by the criminal’s silver blade. Dranor moved in and dealt the deathblow to the last churchman standing. After looting what they could from the corpses, the trio retired to a table on the other side of the Whiskey Troll Tavern and commenced to drinking while the bodies were disappeared. Jíen’s cut turned out to be 3 gold pieces, 55 coppers, and 30 silver pieces.

They had left the paladin’s sword where it lay for the troll-wife barmaids to haul away along with the corpses. It was an alchemical gold great sword with black enameled Hyvalian characters etched along its broad blade. It was too identifiable. The Templars on the other hand had steel great-swords so utterly devoid of decoration as to identify them more simply as tools rather than noble weapons.

The minion’s bones went with the rest of the detritus but its skull found a perch on the bar-board with a few others, a candle placed atop the cranium. Jíen wouldn’t have minded the loss much save for the fact that it cost 100 gp to create another and he was a broke at the moment.

Dranor had “donated” one of the Templars’ plain-steel great swords to Jíen’s fighter Bludbaer. Note that Jíen had left his gladiator-creature at the table the whole time. The secretly-undead fighter had sat mechanically guzzling wine while the fight raged around him. Onlookers were impressed.

Later, as the regulars rolled in so did a gaggle of Southland nomads, gypsies. Jíen decided to toss them his remaining gold bits in exchange for some random information. They pointed out a man-shaped ice-block frozen to a pillar near where the trio had faced down the Hyvalian Theocrats. A bit annoyed, the young necro-mage went to check it out, Bludbaer in tow.

He recognized it as a mage frozen solid, who probably fumbled his spell and its magic went wild on him; which side had he been on, if either, the necromancer could not tell. A half-faun Hill-lander buccaneer nonchalantly hacked off some ice from the block for his whiskey. Jíen left the place with Bludbaer heading for the tomb in which he currently made his home.

Not far from the tavern he saw Dravor in the street in a state of supreme agitation. There were puddles of boiling acid eating ruts in the street near the blackguard. As the angry evil-warrior gave each of the alleyways near him a cursory spastic inspection Jíen tried to rush past without being recognized.

But Dravor spotted him. “Hey! Where’re you going with my fighter!?”

Annoyed Jíen tried to play it off as if he couldn’t understand the heavily Poisonwood accented Westlanderish Dravor was speaking. Unfortunately the blackguard saw through the ruse. Unnoticed, Trantox had already caught up with them.

Jíen (in perfect Westlander): “I made him, He’s MINE!”

Dranor and Trantox were taken aback as they realized that the necromancer could speak and understand the Westlander tongue. He had in fact only just fully learned the language.

Dranor (Played by Gil): “So. Um. You could understand everything this whole time?”

Jenn (Trantox’s Player): “Oh! See! I told you don’t trust this guy! Maybe we should kill him just to be safe?” (My wife ladies and gentlemen)

Trantox: “Sooo. I need a place to crash, where do you live?”

Jíen: “I sleep in a tomb. There’s no room.”

Trantox: “Oh.”

Dranor: “Aha! So we know where you are now. The graveyard!”

Me (Jíen’s Player): “Duh dude! I’m a Necromancer!”

The dark trio stood there a while arguing back and forth until Jíen spotted the dark priest, Exvorum, approaching them. Seeing an exit to his current predicament Jíen quickly walked over to greet him.

Exvorum: “Ah there you are my friends. I have come to fetch you for the master. You are invited to a feast in his honor.” With a sweep of his black cloaked arm, “Come. Follow me.”

The dark trio followed the Southlander priest with the shaved head and black robes into the Slavers’ Quarter, through the mart, and then into the Slave Pits of Korvo-Doom.

To Be Continued…