The following blog post is Part 9 of the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign, Dreadstorms Lost. These blogs are intended for other game masters who might want to use this campaign setting and the scenarios to inspire their own role playing games. (Free for noncommercial reuse.)
Behind the scenes
There are two goals for the Dreadstorms Lost campaign. 1) Find the champions and 2) stop the undead plague (which begins dawn after the bandits swarm the town and the gates are closed). More on the plague in another post! To follow is what has happened that lead to the current events and what is happening behind the scenes while our adventurers deal with their challenges.
As a Game Master, I find that players will always think of an angle of investigation or make assumptions that never occurred to me. I find this a delightful part of the collaborative storytelling process that is role playing games (RPGs).
It is with that in mind that I’m providing MORE backstory. So as a game master you can have a loose notion of what’s going on and build the story from there. Certain encounters are rather pivotal to the story, but otherwise nothing is written in stone.
Deals with a Demon
Many years ago, a group of adventurers known as the Deadly Omega 6 snuck onto the Abyssal plain to free their friend from a warlock pact with the Demon-lord, Orcus. The warlock, Samora, had never met her fiendish master, only his lieutenant Zerk. Unlike Orcus, Zerk had the ability to travel between plains.
The Deadly Omega 6 group circumvented Zerk’s security and stole a fell artifact called the Eye of Orcus. They hid the Eye in a Null Box that blocked its malignant, manipulative emanations. Knowing that Orcus’ would never tolerate such gross failure from his lieutenant, the group was able to negotiate Samora’s freedom from the warlock pact.
At the time of their negotiations, Zerk had bigger, deadlier enemies to worry about than those pesky mortal adventurers. He let them go thinking that they had bested him, reasoning that having them “guard” the eye for him was a good thing. None of his enemies would think he would recruit mortals to keep it safe. And taking the long view, he knew the Eye would eventually corrupt them and he could orchestrate his revenge at leisure.
In time the Deadly Omega 6 members went their separate ways. Kazel and Foreshot were awarded the position of Champions for the city of Berlstrum and they made themselves a home within the castle (provided as a perk of the job). With the help of Ames, his cleric buddy, they created permanent wards of protection from evil on the tower and the upper floors of their home. Kazel hid the Null box containing the Eye of Orcus inside his wizard tower, snug within the wall by his desk. (Stone Shape was a favorite spell of Kazel’s.)
Years past. The town prospered. They created the Protector Mentor program as a way to spread out the more mundane guarding tasks and ensure that the town would be safe if they had to leave for short trips. The program was surprisingly successful. While Kazel was more the face of the program, Foreshot did the organization and coordinating.
Being a champion and a store owner who made potions and scrolls and other magic stuffs was all well and good, but Kazel missed the adventuring life. So Kazel created himself a hidden lair (yes, he called it a lair even in his mind) in the tunnels below the city. He took powerful magic items and the cursed items that they’d collected in their journeys and placed those in safe place within the tunnels as well. And being of the adventuring mindset, he went a step further and decided to create his own dungeon. With traps and monsters and all the goodies! Once in a while some of the old gang would visit, especially Gorshuk and Bit. They would help Kazel smuggle creatures into the labyrinth and the 3 would relive glory days sneaking around and attacking the monsters and getting the rush of battle.
Unbeknownst to Kazel, the Eye of Orcus had manage to gain a tiny crack in the null box and had been subtly influencing him. “Don’t you miss the excitement of the quest? Of defeating mighty foes?” it would whisper into his mind. It quietly suggested that Kazel create a private space away from Foreshot to do dangerous experiments. “She might not understand your experiments. She might stop you. You need a secret space!” it whispered. “Down below would do nicely.” It dropped the idea of making the tunnels around his lair a deadly dungeon full of wicked traps and horrific monsters … especially undead. That would show those fools lusting for their treasure!
And so it went. With Kazel becoming a little less in control of his actions by tiny increments over the years. [What did the Eye of Orcus want? Why to provide a immortal body for Orcus. Then Orcus could enjoy the benefits of the material plane whenever he chose.]
Now the demon Zerk had been quietly observing Kazel’s slow decline. He felt Kazel needed the right push to completely fall under the Eye’s control. So Zerk took his favorite form, that of the dapper noble gentleman, and befriended the boy staying with them. The boy’s name was Clemens and he was being mentored in the ways of the ranger by Foreshot. Zerk questioned Clemens about the goings on in the manor, waiting for the right moment. He was in no rush. And then Clemens let him in on a secret. Foreshot was pregnant. Kazel was frantic with worry that something would happen to her or the baby during this vulnerable time. He put out the call for more protectors.
And with great delight Zerk had found the push.
Zerk convinced Clemens that the child Foreshot carried would cause the death and despair of hundreds, possibly thousands of lives. It had to be destroyed before it was too late! But Foreshot was an experienced fighter and ranger. Killing her would be no easy feat.
Zerk gave Clemens the Book of Gratimortus, which contained the spell the Eye of Orcus would need to make a body immortal and grant Orcus control of the vessel. (Fortunately for Zerk, reading wasn’t one of Clemens’ skills.) Zerk instructed him to place the book where Kazel would easily find it, to “help Kazel deal with his grief.” But really, it’s these last few pages that will help him the most. Perhaps the rest you should give him a later time. Thus instructed, Clemens tore the back half from the book and left it on Kazel’s desk in the tower. The rest of the book he hid in his hidey-hole in his room.
They set up an ambush, with Zerk providing a dozen Torken raiders. They hid in the forest and waited for Clemens’ signal. Clemens made sure to be extra noisy and talkative he and Foreshot traveled through the wilderness. It wasn’t too difficult, since he was terrified and nervous. They came to the spot, and while Foreshot was answering some inane question, Clemens stabbed her in the back. Right in the kidney’s where Zerk had showed him. The raiders jumped into action and finished off Foreshot, but not before she took some of them down with her. They helped Clemens load her bloody corpse on the horse and get the two back to the edge of the forest by the manor.
Before leaving, several raiders knifed Clemens in several spots. He cried out in pain and slid from his horse. Staggering out of the forest, blood dripping from his many wounds, and pulling the two horses behind him, Clemens’ approached the secret stable doors. At that moment Kazel rushed out, having heard the cry of pain.
The world stopped for Kazel. Foreshot. Hanging limp and bloody over the skittish horse. He pulled her from the horse and carried her body into the house, not even noticing that Clemens had collapsed unconscious on the grass. Kazel carried her through the office and the library and into his tower. Somehow he knew if he could get her into the sanctuary of the tower, she’d be okay. He leaned her body against the wall. Ran up the stairs and grabbed his healing potions and scrolls. Not even aware of his actions, he also grabbed the pages of the Gratimortus.
He tried to feed her the potions. It did no good. She was well beyond the help of potions and scrolls. She was dead. The baby inside her was dead. He stared blindly at the useless scrolls at his feet and saw the Gratimortus. “Why had he grabbed that?” he wondered to himself.
Skimming through the, he realized it contained some sort of crazy resurrection that didn’t require divine spell power, called the Will of Orcus. The spell used the Eye of Orcus artifact instead of divine energy. “So strange that he had the Eye all this time, but hadn’t read this book before.” In his madness and grief, his mind was easy for the Eye to control. Easy for the Eye to whisper, “Yes. Yes. This is the answer. This spell will bring back your family. Use the Eye.” He skimmed the pages until he got to the directions. The list of ingredients was long and bizarre, but between his store and his many caches, he would only need to hunt down a couple of them. A glimmer of sanity tried to assert itself, “No. This is crazy. Surely the church can bring her back. Her body is still warm.”
And the Eye pushed back, “The clergy can’t help you now. They’ll deny you. How did this happen? How did she die? You want to know, yes?”
“Yes. Yes. Of course I want to know,” he muttered to himself. “Clemens was there, right? Clemens. Yes. Clemens. CLEEEMENNNNNNNNSSS!” he bellowed. He tucked the pages into his pocket and rushed back outside. Clemens has dragged himself to lay against a tree trunk. Kazel realized he wasn’t going to get anything out of Clemens in his current state and sloshed a bottle of healing down his throat.
And Clemens told the tale of them being ambushed by a gang of thugs. Of Foreshot trying to protect him and eventually chasing off the attackers. They were both pretty beat up, you see? He hadn’t realized how wounded she was when they got on their horses to head back. She must have bled out on the ride here. He had tried to save her, but it was too late.
And while he told Kazel his tale, Kazel noticed that the blood from Clemens’ wounds were fresher than Foreshot’s. What a wimp Clemens was with his puny teenage arms. How did he get Foreshot’s body over the horse’s back? That cry of pain had been close. He said the rode back, but he was leading the horses out on foot when he left the forest.
Suspicions aroused, Kazel cast Charm on Clemens and pulled the truth from him. Hearing of Clemens’ betrayal. That it had all been planned. That he wanted his unborn child dead. Kazel lost himself in a haze of rage. He magic missiled at point blank into Clemens’ chest until there was nothing but a huge gaping hole.
Then he turned around, walked into the manor, closed the doors, and started gathering ingredients for the spell, including the Eye of Orcus from its spot inside the wall. He had no real sense of time. Just kept moving. Looking at the instructions. Getting what was needed.
Will of Orcus Plague
He made sure she was comfortable inside his lair. His lair that a person could only get through with a spell like Stone Shape. He had to make sure everything would be perfect for her and the baby. He laid her down inside the casting circle. She loved watching him move the stone around. Why had he never brought her down her before? She looked so sweet there. So perfect, if a little messy. But Foreshot loved a good fight and getting a little messy.
A couple of the odder ingredients cause couple of days delay, but eventually he had everything ready. Everything would be just fine. And he proceeded to pierce his tongue with the hemlock thorn, swallow the mistletoe leaves, apply the nightshade to his eyes, rub the verbanium on his brow, and calmly shove the Eye of Orcus fully into his eye socket. Then the chanting began.
Spreading the Word
Meanwhile, Zerk had been observing Kazel and was pleased to this plan moving along nicely. To keep things entertaining, Zerk teleported to several towns within a day or two’s ride and let all the low-life scum know that Berlstrum was ripe for the picking.
His demon lord, Orcus, would be most pleased.
Up Next: The Gratimortus, text and images!