Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Vengeance of the Necromancer - Original Runequest II Version

When I published the Realms of Chirak last year, some of the content in the book was derived from the Runequest campaigns I had run with the setting, including some recent material I had adapted from an ongoing Runequest II campaign at the time. The final scenario in the book was somewhat modified and adjusted for 4th edition D&D; while perusing my hefty archive of personal files I stumbled across the original version I had written for use with Runequest II, and thought it would be fun to throw up on the site.

For reference, I used several Paizo dry-erase maps for use with this adventure (Runequest II handles minis nicely, fyi) and although I did have some specific maps, I'll have to dig through my home files to see if I still have them; the text stands well on its own though as a source of ideas for any fantasy game, not just Runequest II. Although it presumes Chirak (and specifically the kingdom of Peligar) as its setting, it is easily adapted to any fantasy environment in which one might encounter vampires, curses and ancient necromancers.

Vengeance of the Necromancer

A Realms of Chirak Scenario for Runequest II

   Castle Nezamir is a small frontier city along the eastern edge of the Drujam Hills. It is the home of Baron Halas Araska, who is one of the nobles that answers to the rule of the Three (and Cartus Vindaros) in Vanholm.
   Recently the town of Melkarth along the eastern hills has been besieged by monsters. The castle prefers not to send aid, for it is believed that the town may have angered Galrond, the Necromancer of Nimwood, and there are none in the region who would dare oppose this entity. Nonetheless, two men from Melkarth have arrived, pleading for aid. Lord Araska turns them down formally, but in private he seeks out a handful of willing souls who will go to Melkarth and investigate. The idea is to see if they can find out why the attacks are happening, and to right whatever wrong has incurred the necromancer’s wrath. Araska will offer the adventurers 100 gold each (1,000 silver) for this task. He’ll equip them with leather armor if they don’t have it, and swords and bows from his armory.
   The two men from the village are the merchant Lozan and the woodsman Tenidor. They are largely clueless as to why the town is being attacked, though they have their suspicions. Lozan thinks that someone in town did not participate in the annual Hallow’s Offering ceremony, which happened a month ago (and after which the attacks began). Tenidor thinks something else happened. He knows of a blighted grove which was not there six months ago, and he can take the PCs to see it. He doesn’t know why a blighted grove of death would anger the necromancer, but his instincts tell him it’s important. Both men will offer to take the PCs back to the town as guides and show them the blighted grove along the way.

Travel through the Drujam Hills
     The Drujam Hills are actively mined for precious and useful metals, but they are also a hostile territory, as several beastmen and troll tribes lurk in the region. Travel through the hills (about 100 miles) will take 2-3 days depending upon the savvy of the travelers.
   For each day roll once for the day and once for the evening for encounters:

D20        Encounter (add 5 to roll if at night)
1-10       no event
11-12     A mining camp (well armed). The PCs are welcome to stay for the night
13-14     A hunting party of trollkin (1D8) are in the region and observing the party
15           A griffon is roosting nearby and gets defensive of its nesting grounds
16-17     A brown bear is in the region; 1-3 it is protecting cubs and dangerous or 4-6 a hunting male
18-19     A raiding party of broo (1D4+4) spot the party and converge
20-22     A small war band of Ithirian elves (4) surprise the party and seek to investigate their intent here
23-24     A pack of woves (2D6) begin stalking the party
25           A wyrm is out hunting in the night

The Blighted Grove
   About three miles from the town is this region of death. The woodsman Tenidor explains that he often came here to hunt and just six months ago it was a living, vibrant spot. Now it is a dead region about two hundred yards across, in which all foliage has died and all trees have warped and twisted with what seems like necrotic energy. Throughout the region are occasional blocks of worked stone jutting from the earth; there is evidence that ruins once stood here, long ago.
   Searching the grove carefully will reveal that near the center of the grove is some evidence of a conflict or struggle; careful observation will reveal a tattered bit of a dress on a nearby branch, and there is a broken silver dagger rusting in the earth near that. A cairn has been built up in the center of the grove, and a single basalt stone has been engraved with a powerful Death Rune upon it. The death rune can be attuned to if someone desires to do so; the rune will manifest as a mark upon his skin if done.
   The cairn contains the body of a woman, unnaturally intact though quite deathly in appearance; she has been dismembered (head, arms and legs severed) and is wearing the remains of a tattered dress. She is preserved enough that she can be identified as a village girl named Krissa, who disappeared about three months ago, and for whom two vagrant nomads were hung in accusation of having slain her.
   Evidence on the body includes:
·         She is unnaturally well-kept; her flesh is pale but not rotting, though it should be.
·         The tip of the broken silver dagger is lodged under her ribs in her heart.
·         A holy symbol of the lost gods (Akquinarios in this case) has been placed on her torso.
·         A very thorough examination of her body will reveal that she was given a cesarean section.
   If PCs remove the metal bit and the holy symbol and then rebury her, she will rise the following night as a vampire.
   Any attempt to remove the rune, her body or otherwise take anything from the grave out of the blighted grove will result in the trees attacking as if with clubs (1D6 damage, 50% attack).
   Very studious adventurers may discover that beneath the soil on which the woman was placed is an old capstone. If removed, the capstone exposes an ancient stairwell, which descends to a lost temple of the old gods, and which still contains the animus of Shaligon herself within. The actual temple is a ruse of sorts, but can provide a suitable dungeon-esque side trek for the PCs to explore.

What Happened:
   The girl Krissa was having an affair with the necromancer Galrond, whom she had fallen in love with. Though she had not yet become one of the undead, she was well on her way toward such. Galrond has many enemies, however, and the nobleman Akartos Dinsur of Vanholm was one of them. This crude vampire had long hated Galrond for an old rivalry that led to the necromancer’s expulsion from the city decades ago, and when he learned that the necromancer was having a secret affair (information provided to him by the girl’s own father, a man named Umash who had long been paid to keep an eye on the necromancer’s dealings) he decided to act.
   Akartos had the girl kidnapped by his two henchmen (the same two who were hung later for her murder) and brought to an abandoned keep in the hills called Benediction Keep, which once belonged to an order of militant templars who were slaughtered by the vampires of Vanholm two centuries ago. There he set about in his mad scheme, first removing her child prematurely, after which he bit her, and converted her to a vampire. Once she was his, he then slew her as only a vampire can die, and left her body to be found in the dungeon of the keep by the necromancer, after sending his agents to give Galrond the message. Akartos in his endless amusement kept the child alive, with the aid of one of his minions, a witch-ghoul nursemaid named Gasha, knowing that over time exposure to the cannibal ghouls would change the child in to one of them.
   When the girl was kidnapped the town searched for her at length, and the two nomads under the vampire lord’s employ were found. They were suspicious acting, and under compulsion by the town wizard Arathos they admitted to being involved in her death, for his visions showed them hacking her apart. His vision also suggested a darker presence nearby, but the wizard neglected to mention this part.
   The two nomads were quickly tried and hung. The vampire lord, satisfied that the necromancer had been given word, waited patiently to see if his trap would lure the man out. It did, though zombie minions and skeletons overran the castle in the process and the girl’s body was extracted forthright. Evidence that had been planted seemed to implicate the villagers, as the vampire lord desired it.
   Galrond then took the girl’s remains to the site of an ancient temple, of which stood long ago to the ancient death god Malib in the time before the Apocalypse. He committed her remains to the ground, and beseeched the death god to restore her. Though Galrond wished for her love, he could not bear her to become another corrupted being of death, let alone a vampire spawn of his rival. The necromancer then left her remains there, under the impression he had failed. He does not yet know that the ground has become saturated with necrotic energy.
   Throughout this time, the errant nobleman Akartos has remained within the ruined keep to see how events would play out; he has used several wards to insure the necromancer does not detect him.

The Township of Melkarth:
   On arriving in Melkarth, the PCs must first deal with a raid of undead, after which they can investigate several avenues of inquiry.

The Raid: On first arrival, two dozen zombies and skeletons are marauding through town, driven by the psychic sense of grief from their creator to lash out and destroy. The citizens are mostly hiding while the undead prowl about, or have fled. Some of the locals will have even journeyed up to the old ruined keep to take refuge, but will return with a story of terror about ghouls and wolves attacking them.
   The PCs will have to deal with the undead, or wait out the siege, during which time 1D4 homes will be torched by the undead before they wander back to the Nimwood. There are 14 skeletons and 10 zombies total.

The Wizard Arathos: This is the local hedge wizard who divined that the two criminals who slew the girl had dismembered her. Sufficient warning or interrogation may get him to admit that he sensed a darker presence lurking behind her death. He can also describe that the event seemed to occur within old castle walls, though exactly where he does not know; he remembers rose-colored stained glass, though. This reference would tip off the woodsman Tenidor, who knows of the old Benediction keep.
   Arathos can also tell the PCs a bit about the necromancer, including where to find him (a cave located deep in the uninhabited region of the Nimwood). He knows the necromancer was exiled from Vanholm almost fifty years ago, and that he is very powerful. The townsfolk have offered him tribute every year, which his zombie minions haul away. In exchange, the town has benefited indirectly; no bandits or monsters have ever threatened the town, for the Nimwood is patrolled by the necromancer’s undead minions.

Umash, Krissa’s Father: Umash is stubborn and vile, and seems unmoved by his daughter’s death, explaining that she was a whore and a tramp. Interrogation could get him to reveal that he knew she was sneaking off to visit the necromancer, and that about seven months ago she had confided to the local priest that she was now pregnant. Threat of death may get him to admit that he was feeding information to the vampire lord; a locked coffer with 150 gold pieces suggests strongly that he was being well-paid for such.
   If Umash is left to his own devices, he will head up to the keep at night to tell the vampire lord of any interrogation (leaving out any admissions of his own). Clever PCs could follow him up to see where he goes.

Priest Hamaran: A priest of the Fallen Gods, Hamaran maintains a temple to the Apocalyptic gods as well as a shrine to the Dreaming Lord Molabal. Hamaran is a classic zealot and more than a little mad. He does not like the necromancer, but says that he is a favored servant of the Dreaming One so he must not be harmed.
   Hamaran knows a few interesting bits, and will talk freely if anyone tithes even a couple coins. He knows that the area of the Blighted Grove rests on top of a much older ruined temple, though to what god he knows not. He knows the necromancer, though ancient, is quite alive and his power over the undead (and abuse of such) was what got him exiled. He also knows Krissa was pregnant, with the necromancer’s child, and that she was about seven months pregnant and having trouble hiding it; only her slender frame and bulky dresses, as well as the seeming disinterest of her father prevented it from being commonly known.

Constable Thorne: Thorne tried and convicted the men who were hung. He can tell the PCs they were not from around here, and were probably highlanders by accent and attitude, although unlike the highlanders they did speak the local dialect. They were unrepentant right up to the end. The two bodies were cut down a day after hanging and buried in graves marked “woman killers” in the commons cemetery. He’ll offer to show them where the two were buried.
   If the PCs check out the cemetery, or try to exhume the bodies, they will find the two missing! Both men where ghouls in the service of the vampire lord.
   Thorne is also a reliable guide to reach the cave of the necromancer. If they talk him in to doing such, then the chance of undead encounters on the way there is reduced to 10% per hour (see later).

Earl Ran Darikos: The Earl of Melkarth is a reasonable man and a good protector. He manages three mines locally and is obedient to the rule of Baron Araska in Nezamir. His keep is modest, but it has a strong defensive foundation and several levels of catacombs beneath. It was once also used by the Benediction Templars.
   Darikos will be gracious to the PCs in private and if informed of the subtle nature of their mission he will avoid publically acknowledging them. He knows little about the matter, save that he personally went to speak with the necromancer after the first wave of undead attacked and was rebuffed, then attacked by undead. He assumes the necromancer has gone mad at last.

Investigating the Necromancer’s Cave
   The Necromancer Galrond is a sad soul, but also hardened to the ways of Pelegar. He is of indeterminate age, appearing to be in his forties and in very good health. He learned the Masirian secret of long life many years ago in his youth, and after a tryst with a Masirian princess managed to steal the secret elixir and take it for himself.
   Galrond returned to his homeland, where he continued his fascination with the sorcery behind life and death. Within his native city of Vanholm he began probing these arts despite the edicts against such study and soon grew to understand why necromancy was banned. As the hidden undead elite of the city became evident to him, he grew even more determined to master the dark arts, and eventually learned much of its dark secrets after he uncovered the Codex Immortus of the dead god Malib. Among other things he learned how to create wards and artifacts that could allow him dominion over or the power to destroy the vampires of Vanholm. This ultimately led to his expulsion from the city, for he was considered too dangerous to the real hidden powers of the city, but it was also too dangerous to those same vampires to seek to destroy him directly.
   Galrond found his new home in the deeps of the Nimwood, where he found plenty of ancient remains to play with, as many ancient battles had happened in the wood, and the trees of the land were suffused with the exsanguinated fluids of eras past. He also discovered a cavern that connected to the deep realms of the Lower Dark beneath Pelegar, and eventually even a passage to the true depths of the subterranean temple of Malib.
   Approaching the necromancer is no easy task. PCs entering the Nimwood have a 50% chance per hour of being accosted by 1D8 skeletons or 1D6 zombies, with a 30% chance per minute that 1D2 of each will rise up as reinforcements. Moving stealthily and possibly with wards against the undead (or attunement to a death rune) will avoid such confrontations, reducing them to 10% chance per hour.
   The cave entrance is twenty miles from town, and there are no safe paths. Assuming the PCs make it without being assaulted (or surviving the assaults), the cave will seem oddlyinviting and unprotected. In fact, the most dangerous portion of the journey is only just to begin.
   Shadowy entities of the netherworld are waiting inside the main cavern. Each spirit will attempt to attack the PCs and take possession of them (contested POW againt POW 15). These shadow spirits will induce temporary madness, speaking in old Inadasir and will use spells against the PCs. Any PC that makes a POW check is able to permanently evict the spirit, and they can keep doing so even when possessed.
   After the spirits attack, 8 skeletons will rise from the ground to attack. If the PCs still survive this, or if they offer up some evidence of their friendly intentions (possibilities include: a vampire’s head, displaying a death rune mark, or calling out a relevant fact about Krissa) then the fighting will cease and the rear of the cave will open to reveal a worked stone stair passage winding downward.
   The necromancer will greet the PCs in his private domain, which was hewn from the rock of the caves by his zombie laborers many years ago. Depending upon what the PCs present to him, he will react differently:

The PCs Have learned of the Vampire Lord and Informed Him: He will realize he has been played by an old rival, and will offer them a sword with an enchantment fatal to vampires to seek him out and slay Akartos. The sword:
Bloodbane (a war sword, with a Sanguine Ward enchantment that does +1D10 damage against vampires or +1D6 damage against undead; requires 1 Con point to empower the sword as a free action with the attack; the sword takes the Con whether the PC wants it or not; if the PC is reduced to 0 Con he rises as a vampire).

The PCs Do not Know Who or What Killed Krissa: The necromancer will tell them that they must find the true perpetrators of her death…for he knows she was rendered undead….and bring that person(s) to justice before he will stop sieging the town. He feels that there is someone, a vampire perhaps, lurking within its walls and he wants it flushed out; he has not figured out that it is a vampire from the city.

The PCs Return Triumphant with the Infant: The necromancer will be overjoyed to know that his son lived, and will proceed to perform rituals to purge the ghoulish taint from him due to his premature exposure and removal from the womb before his time.

Rewards: If the PCs save the day, so to speak, by revealing Akartos and possibly slaying him, as well as possibly saving the infant child of the necromancer, then they gain the following rewards from Galrond:
Bloodbane (if the PC desires to keep it)
The Grimorie of Malagrath (containing 10 sorcery spells)
The Wand of Darkness (imbued with the Darkwall 4 spell; reduces cost to 1 MP)
The Staff of the Necromancer (power battery; holds up to 20 POW)  
The Orb of Divination (Fate 4 Spell; only 1 MP to cast)
   If the vampire is killed and the son is also returned:
2,000 silver pieces (total, to be divided)

Benediction Keep:
For this encounter, treat the 12 wolves and 6 ghouls as henchmen, but Akartos and Gasha as full NPCs.
   Akartos lurks here with a dozen wolves and six loyal ghouls as well as Gasha the ghoul witch. Penetrating the keep and living maybe a difficult task, but it is possible. PCs who face Akartos without the use of the sword Bloodbane may be in for some bitter defeat, but if the PCs are on the losing end and Akartos is about the wipe the floor with them a curious thing happens: the tower is filled with what seems to be sunlight, which causes Akartos to flee in to the catacombs beneath. The source of this timely light will come from an Ithirian elf woman named Ysiri. She has been watching the PCs for sometime now since the Ithirian elves in the hills first spotted them and she knows of the darkness within the keep. Ysiri can also help the PCs out at other times, if desired, and they may have spotted her following them on occasion.
   Killing Akartos will generate enmity among his kin back in Vanholm, though the PCs may not immediately know it. A regional lore check will suggest as much, for though Vanholm is officially ruled by mortal men it is an ill-kept secret that there is a hidden aristocracy of immortal undead behind the rule of the Three.
   The child is kept in the hands of Gasha. The ghoul woman has taken a liking to the child, and if the PCs try to steal him away she will flee to the catacombs to try and make it to an entrance to the lower dark. PCs will have to be quick on their feet to catch her before she is gone. If she does escape, a delve in to the caverns beneath the realm will be required to recover the child. Gasha can be found dwelling among a tribe of beastkin who lurk in the darkness warring against the Death Gouger clan of orcs.

   Ideally after returning to the necromancer the PCs journey back to Nezamir with a tale of success. Baron Araska will pay them, plus a 25 SP bonus for a job well done if they rescued the child as well. He will indicate that he liked their approach and ability to operate covertly. He will offer them the opportunity for more such work in the future…

Suggested Improvement Point Awards:
1 IP – finishing the adventure
1 IP – dealing with 1 or more encounters while traveling through the Drujan Hills
1 IP – investigating the blightwood grove
1 IP – investigating the grave (+1 IP to the one who deduces she was a vampire when killed)
1 IP – investigating in the town
1 IP – figuring out the vampire is hiding in Benediction Keep
1 IP – meeting the necromancer (0 IP if the encounter ends in hostility/no agreement)
2 IP – slaying the vampire (+1 IP to the one who slays him if done without Bloodbane)
2 IP – rescuing the child intact and delivering him to the necromancer

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