Friday, 8 November 2019

There can be only one

I set myself a simple rule in my current campaign: a maximum of one for each big, nasty mythological critter in the Monster Manual. They aren't races or types, they are unique beings. That means I can use goblins and zombies and werewolves by the bucketload, and there may be undead wizards, but there is only one true Lich. Only one red dragon. One Hydra, one Death Knight, one Kraken, one Nymph, one Medusa, one Cyclops, one True Basilisk in the entire world.

Why? Not just to hammer home that these things are special. That I can do with descriptions. But because I find that constraints breed creativity. Now I need to think: will I place my one Banshee in this tomb? Or use another ghostly undead in its place? It forces me to keep things fresh instead of recycling enemies and their mechanics. Reskinning only gets me so far and I hope that my players will enjoy this variety as well.

(Players in my campaign beware: big spoiler info below the image!)

Maybe I'll make an exception to the Rule of One for purple worms. Goblin Punch recently suggested to have purple worm become the food of choice at court and I find that a hilarious idea. The princess wants a purple worm feast for her 16th birthday, so ride out, brave knights! From: Purple Worm / Joel Pigou (ArtStation)


Case in point: the Vampire. I already know who my one vampire is, the whole world knows it: Saint Cascarrion, who died and lives to hunt vampire spawn and prevent the return of Nameless Queen Yama.

What's my Rule of One telling me here? Consider the module Death Frost Doom. In its original version, the big bad at the bottom is a vampire. He's waiting for a mortal to invite him out of the tomb so he can lead his army of undead into the world and bring back the Dead Empire that (in my campaign) killed the Creator. Except now this guy can't be a vampire, because I already have Saint Cascarrion running around.

My first thought was to just place some other undead leader type there. A wight, a wraith. (Except I already have my Wraith moving behind the scenes, but ok.) An easy fix, but boring.


I just thought of a more interesting solution: that last tomb is empty. In fact, to get into the complex at all, you have to break a seal put there in the name of the Archpriest of the Authority himself. On pain of excommunication and eternal suffering, turn away from this place.

The Church knew all too well that the Du'vanku had an undead army squirreled away, and they knew its commander could lead that army to shatter the Church. And so the Church took Cyris Maximus, and bound him in so many wards and geasa that even he doesn't know who he is anymore. Now the vampire is their tool instead of their enemy.

Sleeping Priests keep Cascarrion's memories under lock in their dreams, monks in hidden shrines endlessly turn the prayer mills that power Cascarrion's geases. Priests and monks of minor orders, in boring, out of the way places. Hardly anyone in the Church or outside it knows how important they are. But if the priests would wake up and the mills stop, Cascarrion would stop. And remember.

There now. Isn't that a wonderful ploy for a death cult to start and for the players to discover?

Devourer from Planescape


What if Maximus' tomb wasn't the only one? Surely the Du'vanku hid away more of their forces when they realized they'd killed the Creator and wrecked the world. Suppose each of these places references the others. Maybe with maps, maybe with mad writings about rivalries between these monstrous beings.

I've already made the Tomb of the Serpent Kings a Du'vanku crypt. Now I know that the resident lich Xiximanter (the players still haven't met him!) is the Du'van wizard who is trying to find immortality and resurrect his race. I can already see the arrogant Mummy Lord high cleric who wanted to murder the Creator, a Devourer necromancer as a rival to Xiximanter, a Bodak warlock who made pacts with the Exile to get the keys to True Heaven, and so on.

Ah, bipeds. Is it time to restart the great work? From: Vampire Soul Channeler / Ryan Barger (FineArtAmerica)

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