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This particular plot thread started in a different context, with the intent being to create a zombie apocalypse scenario in fantasyland. It eventually migrated into Kasdalan, a suitable home for such a threat:
Adventure Seed: The Qlippothic Menace
This adventure takes place as a side effect and consequence of the events outlined above in “The Lurking Shadows of Kasdalan.” The characters of this adventure might be the same, or entirely unrelated.
The adventurers are hired by Lord Osterman of Castle Mordren (along the northern Darkwood) to negotiate a peace with the vicious Kasarak barbarian warlord Gamhar of the fortress of Chaz’Godar. The Kasarak fortress sprang up during the previous winter and has been harrying the province ever since. Lord Osterman was gravely wounded in the last excursion, but word has it that the warlord also suffered a crippling blow. He has asked the adventurers to escort his seneschal Tanenbray and his daughter Nestymere to the fortress, to sue for peace.
Along the way the PCs pass through the battlefield of the recent conflict where bodies still riddle the landscape, and only a handful of harried peasants and soldiers remain for clean-up. Further on is the old graveyard of Algent’s Last Respite, where a nearby crossroads has cages for criminals. In one cage is the prisoner Yaelden, a male necromancer of some ill repute who was accused of practicing necromancy, grave robbing and raising the dead for cheap labor; in the cage beside him is the merchantman Talbor, who was also accused of purchasing the necromancer’s undead agents to serve as free labor in his mines. Yaelden will warn the PCs that he can sense “something coming,” and that he can hear them scratching up through the earth even now. He doesn’t know what it is, exactly; just that it is a wondrous thing, like a great blanket of darkness which has enveloped the land.
It takes three days (and 80 miles) to arrive at Chaz’Godar, where there appears to be some consternation on the part of the barbarians, among whom the elder berserker named Madrak will charge out and accuse the arrivals of witchcraft. Assuming they survive an encounter with Madrak, the warlord’s right-hand man and son Andrel will meet with them, and admit that they will concede to peace if they can help Gamhar.
Gamhar, unknown to the superstitious Kasarak, suffered mortal wounds and has perished, to be possessed by one of the first of the Qlippothic demons. He is presently strapped down, speaking in tongues (what the Qlippoths call the Lost Language, though only one who has studied the language of the Ancient Mythrics would suspect it) and frothing at the mouth, seeking a means of escape. Indeed that escape will come if Madrak was fought and slain in the courtyard of the fortress earlier!
A study by any average adventurer will reveal that the man is out of his mind and probably delirious, but a knowledgeable healer will know something is wrong, that the man’s body shows the many signs of death. It will become painfully apparent that the warlord Gamhar is somehow a wight.
By nightfall, the fortress will take on a strange solitude. Outside, moving in the darkness, assemble a large army of the dead, dragging themselves from the graves and barrows of the land, from the murder pits filled with the massacred villagers of the province, and more. They gather to the call of Gamhar, who is filled with the Qlippothic spirit called the Reaver.
So begins the first chapter.
Part 2. Escape from Chaz’Godar
The adventurers are trapped with the Kasarak in a fortress surrounded by a vast army of the risen dead. Somehow they need to escape, bring Nestymere to safety and make haste to warn Castle Mordren. The situation looks grimmer and grimmer as each fallen Kasarak raider rises within moments, a member of the invading undead.
Andrel can help, though. The fortress was not built without contingencies. There is a hidden passage that leads to a cave system, in which they found a number of old dwarven signaling gems. These gems lead the way to safety, he explains. When it becomes clear escape or destruction of the undead is improbable he will reveal this secret passage.
Fighting to the passage and using it to escape are tasks enough, but once in the caverns it becomes clear that this plague of undead is affecting everything. A group of dwarven prospectors led by the dwarf Darius Zern is trying to make a fast escape, for a number of their own as well as a motley assortment of monstrous beings have risen from the dead and now clamor for their blood. It grows worse, for the orcish war tribe called the Zothesk led by the Battle Maiden Chirosca are also seeking to escape, but appear less than happy about the dwarves getting in their way.
Part 3. The Isles of Wintermist Lake
The dwarven escape route ultimately exits in to the ruins of another castle: Greymist, a near-famous ruin in the region reported to have been a great city of fabled Trelithane. Trelithane rests on the edge of Lake Astrahar, and many of the old ruins are centered on a trio of islands just along the shore. Here the adventurers will discover that villagers from the village of Darnesh are traveling to seek refuge from the undead attacks, and are following an old witch named Ygartha, who says that the dead cannot cross the water, which is untrue; anyone who makes a DC 15 knowledge (dungeoneering or religion) check will know this.
Still, at this point the adventurers are just ten miles from Castle Mordren, and the undead seem sparse in this region. It becomes clear from talking to the peasants that the army of the dead was not unique to the region around Chaz’Godar; they are rising everywhere!
New problems arise: the people seeking refuge on the Three Isles of the lake Astrahar are waiting for their scouts to return, to verify the safety of the isles, but the men have yet to come back. They will seek the aid of the adventurers, begging them to investigate or lead them to safety.
The isles are actually under the protection of an old wyrm, the white dragon known as Glimmerwing and her small cult of draconian followers. They might be willing to share the island, but would require much persuasion, for hidden deep beneath the ruins is Glimmerwing’s cache of treasure, as well as a shrine to the spirit Caedra, mistress of beauty. Flattery, ultimately, is Glimmerwing’s weakness, though her elder acolyte, the elder draconian Magastus, will seek to dissuade her from offering shelter to the humans.
Glimmerwing is also lustful, and she presently holds the elvish xernethian knight Elasmus in custody, seeking to persuade him to bed her with her polymorphed elvish charms. He has resisted so far, but will seek to bargain for his freedom with the arrival of the adventurers.
In the end, though, it is only the might of the dragonkin that will save the humans, for the undead are not in the least deterred by the waters of the lake.
Part 4. The Return to Castle Mordren
Mordren has been assaulted mercilessly by the undead, but in the midst of these attacks there is a lone spark of hope. The imprisoned necromancer Yaelden will have either spoken to the adventurers or possibly have gained control of at least one undead being to relay a message: he can save the city, but he demands three things: he is pardoned of all his crimes, he is granted the legal right to practice necromancy in Kasdalan, and he wants lady Nestymere’s hand in marriage!
The city remains under siege in the interim from a horde of immense size, dedicated to the undead Qlippothic lord called the Reaver. Though the city holds firm so far, it is only a matter of time before it falls; it can withstand ten weeks under siege, but the foes in this case can last a lifetime, and their numbers seem to gradually increase over time, for there is no shortage of the dead.
If the form of Gamhar had been previously destroyed, then the Reaver will be here in a new, dark form, having gained control of the body of the ancient fallen hero Licorius. Wearing the fabled azure armor of Licorius the Slayer, the Reaver will lead the dark armies against the city mercilessly day and night, his undead horde clamoring for the flesh of the living.
Getting in to the city is a major feat in itself, should the adventurers seek to do so. With several thousand undead between them and the city the castle may as well be a thousand miles distant. There is a known passage underground, which a close relative or direct agent of Lord Osterman might be familiar with, but this passage if revealed could also lead the undead in to destroy the castle from within if it is discovered. The passage is a long narrow tunnel dug through as a means of escape for the castle lord and his clan if all else fails, and has several small stock rooms of equipment and goods in case of emergency; it’s exterior entrance is located beneath a nondescript barn two miles distant in the village of Hawksmoor.
There are a few options when it comes to resolving the siege on Mordren. Saving the noble family is one option, if the adventurers get wind of the dire intentions of the Reaver; they know that there will soon be a much larger force arriving from the north once the army of undead from Chaz’Godar arrives here. At this point it should be reasonable for the adventurers to assume that other cities, including the regional capitol Tursos to the south-west are probably under siege as well. Running from the problem will not solve it.
Turning to Yaelden reveals a different solution: the necromancer will have likely escaped custody and returned to his own residence, a remote ruined keep located at the height of the Taradys Mountains to the south and east. Mordren is nestled in a deep low valley of these mountains. The exact location of his keep is unknown, but it is said that Yaelden grew up in the village of Tarnish, a logging and mining community in the mountains proper, and there might be a clue as to his location from there. Alternatively, he may have sent an undead minion to the Mordren with his message and to serve as a scout or guide for those who would seek to petition him for aid.
Yaelden is young as necromancers go, just reaching forty years of age, but he has learned much, having pilfered from the subterranean study of his predecessor, the ancient necromancer Yoth’gol, who built the keep two centuries ago. Yoth’gol learned the secret of undead immortality too late in life, and perished of an unknown malady.
When the party seeks out Yaelden, they will find the necromancer is under siege in his own keep, for the body of Yoth’gol has returned to life, and with its vast necromantic energies within the Qlippothic lord known as Stigmata has sought to cement his own power by trying to gain control or possession of the necromancer. So far it has been a game of cat and mouse, and both have given up on the use of too many undead minions, for one could easily trump the other in gaining control over such.
Yaelden will seek to get the adventurers to eliminate his new unexpected rival, then promise to use his undead wards to protect the city itself. He has secured the mystical runes of Death and Repose, and has a potent sorcerous ritual that will insure the castle and region around it remains safe. He has failed to use such a ward on his own domain precisely because he would force out his own studies of undeath.
If sufficiently convinced Yaelden will concede his aid without requiring Lady Nestymere’s hand in marriage, but he will still demand he be exonerated for all wrong-doings. He will also hint that he has some insight on this mysterious threat of the undead. In truth, he mostly has sensations of what is going on and few hard facts, but he has determined the following:
1. These undead speak a dead language that seems reminiscent of the language translated from the ruins of the ancients
2. These undead are possessing ghosts or spirits, and are reanimating bodies that were never their own
3. The day the dead began to rise he sensed a strange magical “darkness” overlay the land, something which occluded the ley lines of magic. Its presence is almost intoxicating. The source is difficult to pinpoint, but is definitely somewhere deep southeast.
Yaelden, if ever slain, will be immediately possessed by a Qlippothic spirit that calls itself the Irredeemable. The Irredeemable will use the memories of its host to tap into deep necromantic magic and lore and begin forging its own army to go against the Reaver and Stigmata. The PCs might be clued in to this event (or from talking to Stigmata if Yaelden remains alive) that there are distinct forces at play among these possessing spirits, and that certain key figures, these “Qlippothics,” seem to see each other as rivals to be destroyed or subjugated.
If Yaelden is ever slain, he will likely have imparted or left enough clues for the heroes to figure out that the large contraption in the middle of his hidden laboratory is the key to protecting Mordren. The device is called the “Resonator of Malin’ithaer” and it is allegedly able to create a dampening field that drives away or disables the undead by siphoning the vestige energy of this lost god of the ancients. The device has a complicated ritual to activate, but once activated it requires no further action to work. An unknown side effect is that it does summon the vestige of Malin’ithaer, who will begin to pull people in from the Beyond to his strange nether-realm of Dericantus to toy with before devouring their souls, but this is an event which happens slowly and can be negated if a scholar-mage of the vestiges should ever be consulted about how to ward this new threat.
Part 6. The Defense of Mordren
By the time the adventurers make it back to Mordren the city is in dire straits. The easiest way (if it remains available) to transport the machine is by the secret passage, but a direct path can be hewn through as well; Osterman will send out the best cavalry and knights of the castle to cut a hole through the army of the undead, but the Reaver himself will manifest, his form polymorphed in to a demonic guise, to seek to stop the heroes from entering Mordren and saving the city.
If the heroes survive and the device is activated then the undead drop in their tracks, almost immediately; the Resonator actually forces out possessing spirits, and any and all beings with such Qlippothic entities will have the invaders expunged and forced out of the device’s radius, which is approximately ten miles, though it gets progressively weaker towards the edge of its coverage. With this device in action the region is now safe and the defenders can set about to destroying the bodies of the dead, lest they get a chance to rise again.
Osterman will commend and even knight the heroes for their deeds. He will then declare that word must reach the capital of the Northern Province in Tursos, and that it must be determined if the kingdom of Nazdranar at large is in danger, and if so how best Osterman and his knights can help. He tasks squads of armed knights to seek out the capitol and other cities on the region, including Drenaem, the grand capitol of the kingdom along the southern coast where King Charathain himself rules. It is Osterman’s intention to travel to the capitol (though some convincing that he should stay and protect his kingdom while his knights do the journeying could happen) while he sends the heroes to Tursos to seek out governess Tyrenias-Naelinor Poe.
In the meantime, if Yaelden is alive he will seek a way to replicate the Resonator of Malin’ithaer or something like it, though he admits he doubts he can recreate such a singularly unique device. He knows wards against the undead, but they are considerably weaker than what the machine can accomplish. He suggests that there may be one who knows enough about the mysteries of the ancients, the ancient wizard Calim Darithas, founder of the Society of Antiquarians. Of all the students of lost lore, Calim might know what it takes to create such machines, or where to find them.
At this point, PCs can convince Osterman to let them accompany him to see the king, take orders and journey to the regional capital, or venture off to locate this Calim Darithas (who may be at the capitol of Kasdalan, although rumors abound that he actually dwells in the Isles of Mezesor these days). Either way, the threat of the Qlippothic invasion has only just begun…
And with this article concludes my Kasdalan special. More to come soon!