Saturday 27 April 2019

Slightly subtler Necromancy

A fireball can cook an enemy platoon, polymorph can turn a bishop into a frog. But only a necromancer can rip out your soul and reanimate your husk to hunt down your friends. Necromancy spells in 5th edition D&D are wicked but vulgar. They are spectacular; they are terrifying; and apart from some of the curses* they are hard to disguise.

* curses: such as blindness/deafness, bestow curse, ray of sickness/enfeeblement, or eyebite.

Use necromancy in front of a crowd and you will be feared, then hunted as an abomination. There has to be more to this school than slinging death spells like a culty loon. Why do subtler people get into death magic and what spells do they learn?

The hand? I don't need the hand. This talisman though... (FeliciaAcano / Deviantart)

I may be trying to inject too much realism into a fantasy game, but if your magic isn't of much mundane use** and cannot be used openly, why study it at all? A necromancer should be subtle if they want to survive. Their spells should make that possible, and better: they should be worth learning even with the taboo on necromancy.  Here are low-key spells*** for the hidden death wizard.

** you can question the daily usability of other arcane schools. Abjuration - how many demons are running around anyway? Evocation - I know that there's a war on, but do we need artillery on daily standby? And so on. At least an evoker can help out by protecting a village from bandits and a diviner can find smugglers for the lord. There's little use for a witch who can raise undead at a whim.

*** consider this post an homage to Goodberry Monthly's excellent post of necromancy spells.


Death; souls; life force; memories. Necromancy is concerned with what is in the blood or in the bones. Visceral stuff, more than superficial enchantment or transmutation.

A necromancer learns to find the memories locked in the lower soul, the soul that stays with a body. They learn from the dead, call up spirits to advise them, let themselves be partially possessed, splice a foreign soul onto their own to power a graft.

Fine, sometimes a huge zombie is exactly what you need. (Dresden Files / Dead Beat. Awesome.) - DSillustration / Deviantart


My Father’s Axe
1st level Necromancy (wizard/warlock)
1 minute to cast, range: touch, components: VSM (the item)
Concentration up to 1 round / level
Binds the spirit of a dead owner to an heirloom tool - an axe, scythe, pen , etc. For the duration, you have proficiency in using the tool or weapon, or advantage if already proficient.

Relaxing your concentration on this spell voluntarily lulls the animating spirit to sleep, recasting wakes it again. Breaking concentration because of damage or a distraction risks the spirit running wild; Wisdom save versus the spell DC, or act without proficiency (or with disadvantage if you didn't have proficiency to begin with). In this case, can only put down the item on a successful save; it stays wild and uncontrolled until the maximum duration lapses.

At higher level: level 2 - duration 1 minute per caster level, level 3 - the item will work for another than yourself, level 4 - duration 10 minutes per caster level, level 5 - duration 1 hour per level and no more concentration required (or chance of the spirit breaking its binding). 

For when you don't dare to bind a spirit to its own corpse or allow yourself to be ridden by it. A utility spell to get temporary proficiency in a tool or weapon. Limited in that you need to find an actual heirloom, useful because it lets you function as a Jack of All Trades, using thieves' tools, a poisoner's kit, a sword and so on. Can double as a curse if you break concentration while someone else is using the item. I'd allow this spell to automatically decypher a code or disable a trap if they had a tool from the creator.

Now you know why necromancers steal grave goods. That cup's owner used to mix some brilliant poisons. Found here.

Bone Memory
2nd level Necromancy (wizard/warlock)
10 minutes to cast, range: self/touch, components: VSM (remains and 50 gp scrimshawed bone piercing)
Concentration up to 10 min / level

Bones remember how they moved in life. You bind someone's lower soul to a piece of their scrimshawed bone and wear it as a piercing. (Actually it just needs to taste your blood once and stay in skin contact.) For the duration of the spell, you can use one Str/Dex/Con skill the deceased knew in life. (Athletics, Acrobatics, Sleight of Hand, Stealth).

At higher level: level 3 - can grant this spell to a willing target (who you need to pierce), level 4 - also gain proficiency in a physical saving throw the deceased had (may be for another ability than the skill is associated with).

Generally useful to have a piece of bone of a famous thief, acrobat or strongman. More specifically, if you have a bone of someone who knew the traps in a hallway, I'd allow this spell to show which trapped tiles and locks to avoid. Good way for the DM to feed information to a party. "The bone anklet sucks in another drop of your blood and nudges you to a painting. Behind it, you find a hidden alcove."

A scrimshaw magnifying glass - smear blood on it and you'll be amazed at what it shows you. From.
Crow's Brew
2nd level Necromancy (wizard/warlock)
1 round to cast, range: touch, components: VSM (a dead person's eye)
Concentration up to 1 round / level

Pluck a corpse's eye and drink it. You can mash and mix the eye with ale or spirits if you like, but you need to consume it entirely. The spell lets you see what the deceased saw right before they died: starting at the moment of death, each round you maintain this spell shows you what happened one round earlier.

At higher level: level 4 - duration becomes 1 minute per caster level, level 5 - 1 hour per level

A lesser version of Speak with Dead - you gain more limited information but without having to haggle with some obnoxious spirit. This is visual only, so try and pick up lip reading.


Little Messenger
2nd level Necromancy (wizard/warlock)
10 rounds to cast, range: touch, components: VSM (a tiny dead animal)
1 hour / level

Reanimates a small animal (cat-sized or smaller) as a messenger. Anoint a mostly intact animal corpse with a salve of cow fat and boiled frog meat. The little monstrosity that claws itself back to animation will carry a package up to one inventory slot (a longsword, a couple of potions) to a location or direction you command. Once it reaches its destination or when the spell runs out, the thing escapes your binding and runs amock for 1d10 rounds, then collapses. 

Ok, not subtle but definitely creepy fun. A necromancer's version of Animal Messenger. Frenzied ghoul rabbits in your enemy's bed aside, this allows you to deliver messages and light weight packages. Lasts shorter than Animal Messenger, and doesn't convey your voice, but on the plus side you can have the beastie carry anything up to the weight limit.

Dead mice in your bed? You wish it were mice.

Essential Saltes
3rd level Necromancy (wizard/warlock)
13 hours and 3 rounds to cast, range: touch, components: VSM (a body and 150 gp in lab supplies)
Indefinite duration

“The essential Saltes of Animals may be so prepared and preserved, that an ingenious Man may have the whole Ark of Noah in his own Studie, and raise the fine Shape of an Animal out of its Ashes at his Pleasure; and by the lyke Method from the essential Saltes of humane Dust, a Philosopher may, without any criminal Necromancy, call up the Shape of any dead Ancestour from the Dust whereinto his Bodie has been incinerated.”

You reduce a corpse to its essential saltes to revive them later. The alchemical preparations take 13 hours and 150 gp of supplies (doubled per larger size category) from a well-stocked lab worth 1000 gp (tomes, retorts, foci, astrolabes etc). With this urn of fine blue-grey powder, you can recall the creature to life and return it to dust at any time. The corpse must be whole for the rendering to work (dessicated mummy or skeleton is ok, but a lone skull is not) and can belong to an animal or sentient creature.

Label your urns carefully, because this spell gives no direct control over the reconstituted creature. A magic circle in binding configuration may be used to hedge in the summoned creature and negotiate terms of service. Cthulhufiles has inspiration for set dressing.

As the warning goes:
"I say to you againe, doe not call up Any that you cannot put downe; by the Which I mean, Any that can in Turne call up somewhat against you, whereby your Powerfullest Devices may not be of use. Ask of the Lesser, lest the Greater shall not wish to answer, and shall commande more than you."

  • The creature remembers all that it knew in life but remembers the time since its death only as a vague nightmare. 
  • The creature has all statistics and abilities it had in life, but none of its belongings. Any missing body parts or broken bones are reflected as permanent injuries.
  • The creature knows spells prepared at the time of death but reconstitutes with all spells slots expended.

  • The creature reconstitutes suffering from 4 levels of exhaustion, which can only be cured by feeding it blood from a living victim of its own species. Every day of drinking blood cures one level of exhaustion. (Exhaustion level 1: Disadvantage on ability checks - 2: Speed halved - 3: Disability on saves and attacks - 4: hit points halved). Happens even if the creature is normally immune to exhaustion.
  • While in sunlight, the creature has disadvantage on Attack rolls and Ability Checks. 
  • Is, and can be turned as, an undead. Vulnerable to radiant damage. Has its bodily functions restored: can be poisoned or diseased, needs food and drink. Gods save you if it procreates. 
  • Casting the spell's formula in reverse causes the creature horrific pain (half speed and disadvantage on all rolls) and can be used to unbind the magic. Full unbinding costs three rounds; every round, the creature loses 1/3 of its maximum hit points. It dissolves into its essential saltes at the end of the third round of chanting.

The classic, lifted directly from Lovecraft's Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Both more powerful and way more dangerous than Animate Dead. This spell returns a creature to life with its mind intact*. Can be used to interrogate dead sages or to call up some monster and set it loose.

*What went wrong with this resurrection? (d12)
  1. Resents you for bringing it back to blood-dependent unlife.
  2. Turned sociopathic (chaotic evil) by the trauma.
  3. Wants to evade your control over it.
  4. Seeks to find and awaken a hidden monstrosity.
  5. Inhabited by strange and malevolent spirit, d6+2 HD.
  6. Lost its mind. Animalistic, shuns light, hunts victims for blood and sport.
  7. Lost many memories.
  8. Murderous. Convinced it can reclaim its life by condemning others to the pit.
  9. Convinced it is still in hell.
  10. Wants to use this second chance at life to save its soul and enter heaven.
  11. Obsessed with finding its descendants and rightful belongings.
  12. Seems perfectly rational and sane.

Label these. You wouldn't want to mix up the sage and the axe murderer. (etsy)

Untiring Flesh / Awakened Spirit
3rd level Necromancy (wizard/warlock)
1 round to cast, range: self or touch, components: VSM (a talisman crafted from a corpse)
Concentration up to 1 hour

You or the target will need to wear a mummified body part for this spell to work. A Hand of Glory or a minor relic will both work - the latter being infinitely easier to explain away to curious priests. Each talisman corresponds to one ability that can be boosted. Talismans need to be harvested from someone famous for the ability to be boosted (a strongman, a wisewoman, a silvertongued rogue, a sage).

Targets have the boosted ability raised to 18 and make all checks with this ability with advantage. Also:

  • Strength - encumbrance 36, triple jump distance
  • Dexterity - speed +10, can run across water as long as you start and end your turn on land
  • Constitution - +2d6 temporary hit points, and tireless: immune to exhaustion
  • Intelligence - hypercognition*: can ask the DM one answer and receive a short but truthful answer (as Divination).
  • Wisdom - mindreader*: can cast detect thoughts or tongues
  • Charisma - silvertongued*: can cast suggestion

* Using this ability ends the spell for you.

At higher level: add one target OR one hour of duration per spell level over 3rd. New targets will also need to have a dedicated talisman.

A boosted version of Enhance Ability. The spellcasting ability for mental abilities may be a bit powerful. On the other hand, this encourages social interaction rather than hacking, so I'll keep it.

Sure, you could go for one of the classics...

...or make one item with all the bone fetishes you might need.

3rd level Necromancy (wizard/warlock) (edit: originally 4th level, felt like too high)
10 minutes to cast, components: VSM (the skull and 100 gp powdered opal in milk)
Concentration up to 1 min / level, range: prepared skull on this plane

You can see out of the eye sockets of a skull that you personally prepared by casting this spell over it (which expends the 100 gp in powdered opal). Your vision works as if you were present, including factors such as darkness or mist or coverings. The skull can be anywhere on the same plane as you when you cast this spell. While you maintain this spell, your own senses are dulled to the point of uselessness.

At higher level: level 4 - duration becomes 10 min / level, level 5 - can access up to 5 skulls at a time, level 6 - duration becomes 1 hour / level and you can also hear sounds near a skull.

Somewhere between level 3 Clairvoyance (strictly close range) and level 5 Scrying (for which you only need to know your target, or have something that belonged to them).
Yes, very dread. But did you check who sourced all the skulls for your fortress? (From)

Friday 26 April 2019

Belswick session 1 - hey, it's the Tomb of the Serpent Kings!

Last session of Belswick, the barony of Walden was celebrating the engagement of the baron's son . The players joined the feast in the little village of Crossroads, when an owlbear with skiing goblins in tow crashed through the market fair.

Our HEROES! fought off the beast, only to get showered with follow-up quests. And that was before the unlucky swanling merchant Dinadan hauled his broken cart into town. He too was attacked by the goblins. But why was he traveling from cursed Mt. Gale?

It's time to solve mysteries and hunt for owlbear! Our heroes will find the beast laired in the antechamber of the TOMB OF THE SERPENT KINGS. They will bring back treasure worth almost 700 gold pieces, enough to live in comfort for weeks without working!

See the bottom of the post for a list of loot found and experience points earned. (TotSK afficionados: I've upped the value of items and added treasures.) Much still awaits to be salvaged, and this is just in the upper parts of this tomb...

Update: part two of the TotSK delve is up!


* heroic attitude assumed until proven otherwise.

  • Aju - Fishling barbarian, kind of a loner. Shark face. Awesome mini found and being painted as I write this. Player: GJ.
  • Squeek - Mouseling rogue, earns his keep as a ratcatcher replaced by:
  • Mike - human fighter (folk hero background). Mike's player B is our patron saint of randomness and chaos. He originally random rolled a human fighter, rerolled to a mouseling rogue, then recanted. Mike has the folk hero background and is well liked by the common people. Has a cart and mule. Likes animals.
  • Lomin Mor - Elf rogue. Not his real name.  Dealmaker, hustler, thief. Mr. Mor to you. Has an awesome background and absolutely secret second identity as Lady Olga, the lady of the neighbouring fief Cullfield. No-one knows. Read only if you're not one of my players, or if you can keep secrets well. Player: PH
  • Guy - human wizard (diviner) of the Lodge. Employed by baron Kerjules as sign-finder and smuggler-spotter. Sent with the group to monitor proceedings. Haunted by a past encounter with the supernatural and loaded with precautionary silver shavings, holy symbol, stakes and garlic. Penniless otherwise. Player: L.

I like my paper minis, but this guy is something else!

Sir not present for this session:

  • Tilbørd Bjornsson - Human cleric and deacon priest of the Olmadician Order. Player: R, who tends to dig into and ask for more background


  • bring back the head of the owlbear to squire Silas Kerjules, and bring back Dinadan's servant Guy (no relation to the party wizard) and stolen merchandise for a 100 gp TAX FREE reward by the lord Kerjules.
  • blackmailinformation on Annabelle's dealings. Dinadan the merchant was attacked near the herb garden of Annabelle the deerling potion maker. Has she stirred up trouble? Inn keeper Orbat the hawkling wants to know what riled up the goblins to burn down his inn. He offers a 100 gp reward for  Also TAX FREE, in that the entire deal was made in secret.
    • Aju already solved this one: Annabelle confided she had a deal with the goblins to give them gifts in return for access to the area. She is too sick and shaken to go with, but gives Aju a healing potion and a pig to take to the goblins. That should calm them down.
  • actually, there was one more thing stolen from the cart, confides Dinadan: a triple-locked box that he was delivering to...parties unknown. Retrieve the chest and receive 50 gp, the entire contents of Dinadan's purse.


  1. the group heads south from Crossroads, using Mike's mule and cart to haul supplies. Finding the spot where Dinadan was attacked, they follow owlbear tracks (and faraway hooting) west into the foresty hills. Further south broods Mt. Gale with dread Sir Ulric the undying knight. The owlbear makes a lot of noise hunting at night, but doesn't approach their camp.
  2. next morning, the group presses on through the forest to a bare hilltop with a rocky outcrop. Lomin and Guy know the terrain well and think this might be right on the border between fiefs Kerjules (where they belong to) and Cullfield, where widowed Lady Olga rules.
    • Who has a claim here? Could Lady Olga try the group for poaching?
  3. The smell of owlbear is strong near the entrance to a cave. Lomin peers inside and sees the rock and soil give way to a stone corridor with siderooms. More smell of owlbear. And pained snoring. The beast is still hurt after being axed by Aju!
  4. A typical player discussion follows on options: head in, smoke out the beast, lure it out? In the end, they lure the owlbear out of its cave with Aju's pig tied to a tree, then ambush it.
    • Aju jumpt from a tree, gets mauled by the owlbear and staggers back with cracked ribs!
    • Lomin hammers the owlbear with arrows from atop the rocky outcrop.
    • Guy looses one of his spells: magic missile! 5e rules mean that the spell does not d4+1, but a whopping 3d4+3 damage.
    • An arrow to the chest by Lomin can finish off the monster. It's head is taken. But not tied to Mike's cart, who as an animal lover is not too happy about the poor pig being sacrificed for tactical advantage.
    Owlbear - like this? (4e manual)

    Or like this bad boy?

    Used over/under initative: those who can beat a preset difficulty on a dex check go before the owlbear, others go later. Reroll every round for added feel of danger!

    People who know Tomb of the Serpent Kings (and if you don't and aren't one of my players, how did you find this blog??) might want to follow along. This group is very careful to avoid any danger. Perceived or otherwise. "This rung feels loose, let's all avoid it."

    • Aju's player GJ takes mapping duty (using an entire page of my notebook per room ;)
    • Lomin and Mike's players PH and B have been taking notes about loot and NPCs.

    My own annotated map of the group's exploration.
  5. After patching up their wounds, the group agrees to investigate the cave/tunnel. Mildewy, with rootlets piercing the ceiling. Torches reveal side rooms on either side of the corridors. The script on the walls is cursed Du'van, the necromancer tongue. Weirder still are the hollow snakefolk statues lying in open sarcophagi. Weren't those a fairytale to scare little kids with? Guy carefully explores and sniffs out an acrid taste near the terracotta warriors.
    • All statues remain unbroken, including one of a sorceror with a golden ring (not taken).
    • Inside a huge owl pellet, the group finds a purse with a total of 7 gold pieces
    • The stonework is excellent. Stone worked this well is valuable.
    • It's going to be a pain to find out which noble has claim to this place. It is right on the border between two fiefs. Guy advocates taking all findings back to Sir Haine Kerjules, but Lomin argues to curry favor with Lady Olga.
  6. At the end of the hallway is a stone door barred with a stone beam. Lifting it from the metal hooks in the wall causes the hooks to rise...the group thinks about building a pulley from a spear but in the end lets Mike use his maul to shatter the hooks.
    • A section of ceiling swings down with murderous force, but Mike manages to dodge!
    • The trap slowly resets as the hammer recedes back into the ceiling.
    • The stone bar is not replaced, so the trap, for now, remains unarmed.
  7. Behind the door: a large chamber with three more sarcophagi on a dais. "Here lies the King of Du'van", says the mural, but Guy isn't buying it. The Du'van were supposedly some enormous empire of heretics - they wouldn't bury their king with a couple of trinkets! This must be a fake tomb...
    • These sarcophagi go unexplored as well.
  8. hide the deeper tomb that the group finds after exploring a shrine off the main chaimber with another snake statue, this one hiding a narrow climb down. The group heads down carefully, avoiding a loose rung on the way.
  9. The climb opens up into a wide hallway with more snakemen statues, warriors holding sharp glaives. Expecting a trap, the team is careful - and finds a secret doorway behind a slightly misaligned statue. Behind is a guard station with decayed wooden furniture, but two very servicable glaives (worth 20 gp each). And a silver snake god statuette worth 5 gp.
  10. Onwards? The hallway ends in an octogonal room with a basin of blackish water in the middle. Aju leans in when he sees something shiny, even sticking his fish face into the water...
    • to get surprised by two lightning fast mummified hands! They crawl all over him, looking for a soft spot. He rips one off and throws it back in the water. The other latches on, but Mike "helps" with his maul.
    • first natural fumble of the game: Mike's player chooses to damage Aju (the pig thing still isn't sitting right with our animal lover) rather than chipping his maul. MORE cracked ribs for Aju!
    • hammer and axe make short work of the claws after this initial fuck-up.
    • dredging the pool yields:
      • a crazy babbling mummified head of a snake person. Keep for your study or wreck it? It gets wrecked rather than sold as a collector's item.
      • a heavy gold chain worth 35 gp
      • bracelets worth 11 gp
      • a magical silver ring with an eye symbol worth 70 gp
  11. The doors off the octogonal chamber are carefully explored. Most have writings in Du'van above them. The northern doors seem to be tombs and yield, left to right, the following information: sounds of crackling lightning and the smell of ozone ("this stays closed"), a cave-in leading to a room with a crazed, animated snakeman skeleton with a beautiful axe ("this guy can just sit there for a while"), and a door with the smell of acid and sound of bubbling ("keep it closed, closed, CLOSED").

    These closed doors seem dangerous. Open them if you're up for a challenge - and rich reward.

    The stairs to the east lead down into darkness and emit a cold wind. Not explored yet. The central southern door leads to a cave-in where the roof gave way. Nothing to find here.
  12. The rightmost door to the south of the chamber is half ajar. Inside is a decayed library of the Du'vanku priests.
    • A mural, reads Guy, describes how they lost all contact with the Empire after a disastrous event in the skies. Their mage lord Xiximanter decided to have his Du'vanku contingent dig in. And release all the slaves and experimental subjects into the surrounding area. 
    • A golden statuette of yet another blasphemous serpent deity. Good for 20 gp.
    • Below a pile of scrolls (still being decyphered by Guy) is a surprise: the foot and corpse of a human nun of the Authority's Silent Order of St. Gustav! Sarah Venner, according to her diary, was exploring this Du'vanku pit of blasphemy. Then a falling roof block caved in the book shelf and her head.
    • Sarah's belongings: a cyphered diary (25 gp if returned to the church), a prayerbook with her spells (100 gp), gem-encrusted bones to cast auguries (25 gp), and four packets of powders in waxed paper, labeled midnight wine and blood of glory. Value, if identified, 110 gp.
    • Sarah's prayers to the Authority: 1st level - bless, cure wounds, detect magic, detect poison and disease, guiding bolt, sanctuary. 2nd level - augury, enhance ability.
  13. The last room explored is full of statues of individual snakefolk warriors. Someone put in a lot of work here to fuel the snakefolk myth. Behind a crooked-looking statue is a secret corridor. It leads to a sliding door, easily found on this side but probably hidden on the other. Two peep holes show darkness on the other side.
    • Something big and musty, lizard-smelling is moving in there with big heavy steps and the clanking of a chain. Sometimes it sniffs and honks, alone and hungry.
    • The group WISELY does not open the door. Except for Mike, who sneaks back, slides open the door (which plows through fallen mosaic tiles) and throws in a torch before closing the door again.
    • Through the peep holes, Mike sees the torch's wood petrify before even the flames turn to glass, then shatter. But not before they show the biggest, hugest basilisk ever heard of, a titan 15 feet long where its cousins measure a foot. On its neck is a black iron collar and visor which can maybe be lowered. Mike RUNS and is happy to find that his petrified cheek slowly turns to flesh again.
  14. Had enough? The group has. They head back outside for fresh air. And think to seek out Annabelle's herb garden for more clues.
    • Mike spots Goblin tracks here, and marks where heavy chests were hauled.
    • Guy the diviner doesn't think much of the garden - these plants aren't enough to source the magic potions that Annabelle is selling. Where is she getting those?
    • Lomin discovers a nearby tree, twisted and gnarly and hiding a narrow path down into darkness. It stinks of Goblin and sounds like their chittering, deep down.
    • Aju breaks into Annabelle's garden shack. He finds potions of healing (downed immediately, worth 50 gp), and two unidentified ones that look like asphalt and make you speak In Ye Olden Ways (100 gp, speak with dead?) and one that makes him shrink an inch after taking a sip (shrink? If so, 100 gp).

Session ends! Four hours in, the group has explored a decent part of the Tomb of the Serpent Kings. It's a fun dungeon to run, with lots of sensory clues and good layout that helps you quick-grok a room so you can describe it. The big downside is the lack of NPCs in the upper areas to interact with. Should've thought to include the optional Goblin exile Smee in an upper room.

Next session, the players will probably head back for Crossroads, because their loot bags are full and their rations and torches gone. Will they actually follow this plan? Gods only know.


golden ring on hollow statue of a snakeman sorceror (not taken)
coin purse (7 gp)
two glaives (20 gp each)
silver snake god statuette (5 gp)
heavy gold chain (35 gp)
bracelets worth (11 gp)
magical silver ring with an eye symbol (70 gp)
golden snake god statuette (20 gp)
Sarah Venner's cyphered diary (25 gp)
Sarah Venner's prayerbook of spells (100 gp)
gem-encrusted bones to cast auguries (25 gp)
four waxed paper packets of midnight wine (100 gp) and blood of glory (10 gp)
potion of healing (50 gp)
potion of speak with dead? (100 gp)
potion of shrink? (100 gp)

Total: 698 gp = 698 xp

Outstanding tasks: 250 gp = 250 xp

Owlbear's head, both Guy and merchandise found: 100 gp
Annabelle's secret: 100 gp
triple locked chest returned: 50 gp

Valuebles not found/taken in the explored area:
20+50+20+500+500+500 gp = 1590 xp

Thursday 18 April 2019

Wizards: the Hollow Tree

Gravedigger. Corpse Stealer. Ghoul.


As a member of the Hollow Tree, you learn arcane secrets of death and the soul. The church of the Authority will hunt you for your practices. But your order is older than the church and knows its rotten secret. One day, the world will know what it lost and the Hollow Tree will blossom again. Until then, this is the most dangerous Wizardly Order to belong to.

By Lotte Teusink

Membership in the Hollow Tree should feel like equal parts mystery sect and unlicensed nuclear operator. Admittance is by sponsorship and secret vote. You maybe know one or two higher members and a handful of fellow apprentices - and that's in the thicker branches of the Tree. Most likely you just know your Master and some scraps of lore. Initiation into the deeper mysteries takes years of earning trust. And for that trust, society will hunt you as an abomination.

Why did you want this, again?


The Hollow Tree is a loose underground network of death wizards. Most are part of single master-apprentice chains, with some larger cabals bringing members together and sharing knowledge. Members are chosen for brains, subtlety and a relaxed attitude towards what society calls vile heresy.

The Tree teaches how they are the lone survivors of the shining Du'vanku civilization, unfairly laid low by the Creator. How serious you take all this secret history is up to you - maybe you nod along and see it all as a metaphor, maybe you're indignant and want to reclaim your lost heritage.

Meanwhile the Hollow Tree is the world's biggest repository of necromantic knowledge outside the Nightlands. They dabble in all schools, and most of their necromancy is about contacting spirits, reviving old memories, strengthening the soul. These are some of their spells.

Necromancy is like getting into nuclear physics to give medical treatments, and learning about applications for enriched uranium along the way. The player handbook's weaponized necromancy is a terror weapon - it's there, but it's not all that necromancy is about and it's rarely used. The motto of the Tree is to be subtle, grow and spread. A member raising an army of the undead is off the deep end, at best a useful decoy so the real necromancers can slip away.

Maybe you were trained to be that useful idiot.


You are taught the truth of things. (Highlight to read.)
Also check out the Church's take on Wizardry.

On the Authority:
  • There is one true god, and He is the Authority. There are thousands of minor gods, hunted for power by the Church. The Sleeping Priests of the Olmadicians keep some of them in a coma until they can be properly tamed.
  • The Authority created all that is. Hardly. He is a lowly, underqualified bureaucrat who took over when the Creator suicided.
  • The Church of the Authority has always existed. It is barely 700 years old. The world, 5.000 years at least. Those are the oldest Du'vanku settlements. The world might be older still.
  • Faith in the Authority will get you into heaven. True Heaven was a separate plane. It was destroyed or lost by the Creator when the Du'vanku journeyed to join him there. The Authority's Heaven is a hastily constructed shack on a cloud. It is way too small to house all the souls of the righteous.
  • Blasphemy against the Authority will land you in hell. Sin and Hell were invented by the Church to divert the flood of souls that should all be allowed into True Heaven.

Blessed Be the Host of the King of Heaven, a Russian icon from the 1550s
On the Du'vanku empire:
  • The Du'vanku were arch-blasphemers. These necromancers tried to usurp heaven. More like stable adults who didn't appreciate the Creator imposing his rules on their civilization.
  • Their homelands are the Nightlands, filled with blasted unlife. Whose suicide wrecked True Heaven and cursed our ancestral lands again?
  • The Authority broke the Du'vanku empire at the day of First Dawn, when he founded our Church and gave us new rules for just behavior. Please. The Authority was starving on a cloud after the Creator suicided. He forced his cult on a broken population to get his daily dose of mana.
  • The Authority changed the nature of magic after the Du'vanku rebellion. That is why there are no arcane spells of the 7th Circle or higher. More like these are the spells we need to reach other planes and see the truth with our own eyes. The Authority didn't change anything, the Church just burned the libraries and anyone who knew these spells. But we keep looking... 

On Necromancy:
  • Necromancy is a crime against divine and natural law. It's simply the best tool we have to save our souls from Hell.
  • Necromancers strive for Undeath, a ceaseless torture of the soul. That's not completely wrong. Undead are a last-resort option we sometimes need to use to protect ourselves from our enemies. Binding a soul to a rotting frame is distasteful and pretty hard to do right. That is why lower order zombies and skeletons are almost mindless. Higher magics exist that make more intelligent undead, but even those aren't all too stable.
  • Necromancy spells are a tool of terror, suitable only to curse, kill or raise as a foulness. Lies. There are many spells of the soul that have nothing to do with death or undeath. (Here's some of those spells!)

Last resort, honest. from


  • Your enemies know many things, but likely not high grade Necromancy. This is good. You know what that shit can do to someone.
  • You get to experience the Dark Sun wizard's thrill of having to hide the source of your power or be hunted down. Disguise your wand as a cane, your staff as a scythe or shovel, your crystal sphere as a glass eye.
  • You have no formal papers as a wizard, unless you obtained fakes somehow (500 gp debt, monthly 10 gp down payment.) In this case, you can have a job as a wizard - disgraced or even part of another Order - as long as you play the part.
  • You have a master (mentor) who sponsored your membership in the Hollow Tree. Every wizard level (including first), they will teach you one Necromancy spell for free. You and your DM will work out this spellbook together.
  • Hollow Tree wizards write their spells in Du'van, the speech of the Du'Vanku empire. This is incredibly dangerous: all it takes is one church rat to recognizes the language in your spellbook and the mob will form. 
    • As a dubious bonus, you are proficient in History (Du'vanku) and can read, write and speak Du'van. 
    • You can whisper your spells so that listeners do not immediately spot that you're speaking Du'van.
  • Keeping a decoy spellbook in Elemental is a wise choice - you will need to pay 25 gp per spell level to copy your Du'van spells into Elemental. You always write new spells in Du'van first.
    • Necromancy spells were optimized for Du'van and the oath you take when joining the Hollow Tree forbids you to translate them. Make sure your enemies don't get access to this magic.
    • Translating Necromancy into Elemental anyway would take twice as much gold as other spells from other schools. You'll still have Necromancy spells in your new Elemental spellbook and recognizably so, now that you've helpfully translated them for the inquisition.
    • The Linguist feat lets you build a personal cypher to hide the details of your spellbook. Encrypting spells to prevent them secrets being stolen isn't all that uncommon for wizards.

Sunday 7 April 2019

Belswick session 0.5 - there's goblins skiing behind an owlbear, what do you do?

You all live in the hamlet of Crossroads in Walden barony. It's a sleepy place but there's a party because the baron's son is getting engaged. The beer is cheap, and some wag down the street says there's a rampaging owlbear coming pulling along three goblins on skis...

Belswick campaign finally kicked off this Friday! We did a fairly quick run of character creation and tying the characters together, then a couple of scenes of mayhem and intrigue to start the adventuring proper.


With some houserules on top of the already detailed D&D 5e, I expected character creation to take some time. In the end it took an hour, including describing setting details. Here's how I tackled it:
  • Let players choose how much control they wanted over character creation: most rolled for everything from abilities to race and class. Everyone picked their background. We didn't roll for professions yet. (if players want to: 1d00, reroll anything over 81 because those are for larger towns)
    • First player to go rolled up a Fishling barbarian - "a Fishling? what's that?" --> immediately got to flesh out the "lots of fantastic animal races" aspect.
    • Of course our Chaos worshiping "randomize everything" player was then proceeded to roll a Human fighter...rerolled to get a Mouseling rogue.
  • Used these class and background cheat sheets to quickly get people the info they needed for their character sheet.
  • Tied the characters together based on this system: each player picks another who wasn't chosen yet and rolls to define who their characters knew each other. Worked like a treat as an alternative to the old "you meet in an inn, what does your guy look like" routine.


  • Aju - Fishling barbarian, kind of a loner (hermit background).
    • Knows Squeek from the war with Arrayne, when Squeek got the two of them out of a press gang. Wields a stupendous greataxe and little in terms of armor. His fishscales and mighty muscles protect him.
    • Player: GJ
  • Squeek - Mouseling rogue, earns his keep as a ratcatcher.
    • Knows Lomin Mor from a con to steal a noble lady's jewelry, which fueled a two week party. Spent an absolutely miserable winter paying back a favor to the Hungry Crone - he took a minor pact with this warlock patron and can now cast cantrips and spells. But hush, there's a cleric nearby!
    • Player: B, who is our patron saint of randomness and chaos
  • Lomin Mor - Elf rogue. Not his real name - this is a roundabout elvish way of saying 'dark shadow'. Dealmaker, hustler, thief. Mr. Mor to you.
    • Knows Tilbørd (well, his family) from decades ago and is interested to see what this young forger can do. 
    • Player: PH
  • Tilbørd Bjornsson - Human cleric and deacon priest of the Olmadician Order (knowledge domain). Hails from the Væring in the far north and was sent to Crossroads by the church to learn at the feet (well, foot - see below) of Father Eustace. Comes from a family of forgers who sadly passed into the tender care of the hangman and has been looking for a good contact for his shadow work. Knows many languages, two of he keeps secret and which catch my attention: Mist (Thieves' Cant and magic language of the Violet Cloud) and Du'vanku, the necromancer tongue of a lost Empire.
    • Knows Aju because they share an interest in certain occult lore and languages.
    • Player: R, who tends to dig into and ask for more background
It is at this point that I remind players that XP is only for loot and reward, not for killing opponents.

Quickly google, just show me some images of these miscreants:


1. How do you all meet? Easy, everyone lives in Crossroads (pop. 170) in the barony of Walden, duchy Belswick. Is a feast day - both because of spring festival and because the baron's son is getting engaged. No nobles in the party, so no-one knows the kids' names. What the hey, there's cheap booze and food and the weather's nice enough to sit outside. Orbat the hawkling innkeeper is doing great business.

Crossroads is where the two country roads meet in the eastern part of Walden, itself ~36 miles wide. This area is mostly wilderness, with Goblins, lake monsters, a black unicorn, a fire-spewing Hydra and a dread knight.

2. Sounds like someone's having a go at scaring the party-goers. What else could explain the sound of a rampaging owlbear coming down one of the two main roads? The shrieking of goblins mixed in is especially good, even though the Goblin-haunted Forest of Walden is to the west, not the south. "GIFTSIES! GIFTSIES!" goes the chant. (The Lazy DM says: have a strong start. This good enough?)

3. Applause all round for the sound effects until people spot the actual owlbear with three goblins in tow, wooden planks tied to their feet, skiing behind the beast and poking it with pikes in a vain attempt at steering it. This is also when the fireworks turn out to be fiery arrows from even more goblins. The inn is on fire and it wasn't even the players' fault! People start running, the owlbear and goblins skid into the market stalls.

These perfect idiots

4. WHADDAYADO? Rather than have everyone describe their new character and their gear in eyewatering detail, I choose to have them describe their natural reactions. Illuminating, I recommend it.

  • Strongman Aju gets out his greataxe and walks calmly towards the rampage. Behind the inn, he finds five Goblin archers with fiery arrows. One is cloven in twain with the first attack and first crit of the game, with enough damage that I decide it spills over to the nearby archer. Who fails a morale check and decides to run. The rest keep up the chant for GIFTSIES!
  • Tilbørd uses a Prayer to the Authority and in a booming voice gets the owlbear's attention. He then helps crippled Father Eustace and the rest of the crowd get away.
  • Lomin Mor and Squeek need no further encouragement and start looting the wreckage of the market. Squeek sees Annabelle the potionblender (sick this past week but still out of bed for the party) go paler than usual at the Goblin chant. She chants the chant of the innocent (fuckofuckofuckofuck) and downs a potion which turns her into a puff of mist. Squeek sneaks in, sweeps six of her potions into his backpack. Then staggers to hide his haul somewhere because of his lowly strength score and reduced Mouseling encumbrance.

5. The rogues (cleric and mouseling and elf) scamper away when the owlbear reverses course, ski-Goblins again shrieking and poking, and heads to where Aju has decided to enter a RAGE, chops into the owlbear, takes a massive claw swipe in stride, then aims for the ski-Goblins.

The Goblins starting to wonder how well thought through this plan was, as their wild ride causes them to miss every single target. Their angst is short lived as Aju slaughters them in one fell swoop. Remaining goblins and owlbear flee.

Hit point pools are a wonderful innovation, I'm glad I remembered it from Ars Ludi's blog back in 2007.

6. One more forlorn "GIFTSIES..." echoes from the darkness, receding. The inn is still on fire and players fail to take charge and organize an effective bucket brigade. It burns halfway down but surrounding houses survive.

7. The town takes stock, Tilbørd takes care of the wounded, people pat Aju on the back, Lomin and Squeek turn up again looking innocent. A miserable night turns even worse when a mauled cart makes its way into town - Dinadan, a Swanling merchant, is heavily wounded.

Swanlings always have rotten luck. In this case, Dinadan was making his way to the festival when he was attacked by Goblins and an owlbear. Half the Goblins kidnapped his servant boy Guy, and looted his cart, the other half continued for Crossroads.

8. Reward and hook time. Flash forward to the next day:

  • Aju gets a reward in tools, coins and favors for standing up against this raid. 
  • Squeek and Lomin earn minor XP for the things they took from the market.
  • Squire Silas Kerjules, the Hedgehogling son of the local knight, comes to inspect what happened. He offers a reward together with Dinadan: 100 gp of coin and merchandise for the head of the owlbear and the boy Guy returned. There is frenzied haggling over who gets what share around the table. Gold=XP has sunk in.
  • Innkeeper Orbat makes an angry speech about the raid, with enough key phrases in Thieves' Cant in there that Lomin and Squeek decide to have a talk. 100 gp of coin for information on this raid. What does "GIFTSIES" mean? Is it a coincidence that the raiding party came out of the foothills of Mount Gale, where Annabelle is said to have a special herb garden for her potions?
  • Tilbørd chats with Dinadan, who was curiously traveling out of the foothills around Mt. Gale.
    • Not a common direction, because that way lies Castle Gale, where Ulric the dread knight has ruled with a terrible fist since murdering his wife and being excommunicated by the Church. (After having him killed by, and kill, their Saint Cascarrion, the Church decided to leave the guy be.)
    • Dinadan confesses he was hauling a special package: a triple-locked chest bound all the way to Baronetcy Emlyn. But hush! 50 gp -all he has- for the casket returned to him.
  • Aju talks to Annabelle about the strange coincidence - Goblins from a direction where no Goblins usually roam? And so close to her herb garden? Brawn and brains, this fish. Annabelle confesses she trades with the Goblins for special ingredients. In return, she gives them little gifts. She doesn't specify, but asks him to take a pig of hers to the Goblin den and tie it to a tree there. In return, Aju gets a healing potion (2d8+2 hp)
And there we end the session. More mayhem next time!