Dueling Lords of Decay (Pt. 2)

This post is in the Eldritch Icons project which will weave a narrative to supplant the 13 Icons of the Dragon Empire with more sinister icons born of Weird Fiction. See Part 1 for an introduction to Mordiggian, the Great Ghoul.

Plot Hooks

All that Remains: A party member’s hometown (pick someone who hasn’t had a focus in a few sessions, or a hometown shared by multiple party members) is the latest to be visited by Mordiggian’s Jackal Priests. They’re digging up the graveyard where families of the town have been buried for generations. Will the target’s friends and loved ones disappear into the gullet of the ghoul?

Bearding the Lich King: For Champion or Epic players with an axe to grind against the Lich King, this is your time to shine. Take the fight to the Necropolis. Whether you temporarily ally with Mordiggian and his forces (unlikely players ever speak to the Great Ghoul, negotiate through a senior priest, Atrax) or simply take advantage of the confusion to mount your own attack (in which case you’re probably dealing with occasional fights with Mordiggian’s forces unless you at least reach a truce), you wend your way into the heart of the Necropolis and stab at the heartphylactery of the Lich King himself.

Nota Bene, Lich King’s phylactery unlikely to be found inside actual Lich King. It might be hidden deep within the Necropolis — the only place he knows he can keep it safe — or somewhere else. But one reason the Lich King has been so hard to kill is that he and the phylactery must be destroyed in the same instant. That takes coordination when fighting off waves of skeletons, vampires, and skeleton vamp…I’m getting ahead of myself.

Rebuilding the Wards: Every sentient mortal from farmers to Icons has lived in the shadow of the Lich King for Ages. All fought death in their own ways, but some fought the death that lies beyond death. Some found the secret to keep the Lich King’s bony fingers off a particular graveyard. Something about the Priestess protected Santa Cora. Some everyday cemeteries remain untouched due to wards crafted ages ago, wards which never seemed to work elsewhere, or whose magical secrets were lost. A party focused on magic or secret knowledge may wish to uncover a magic ritual to stop Mordiggian. What kept him out of the world until now? Can it be found in the Priestess’s or Archmage’s library? Is there a secret among the dwarves, masters of runes?

Or see the Priestess’s posts for Something Rotten Under Santa Cora. Santa Cora’s necropolis rivals that of the Lich King and had offered protection for those buried therein. With her protection removed, it’s an enormous source of power. Whichever faction seizes it first will have a tremendous advantage in this struggle.

Mordiggian vs. the Necromancers

Just as their relationship with the Lich King greatly affects those playing Necromancers (13 True Ways, p.79), so does this shift in power and priorities. Mordiggian considers the dead his provender. Sure, he’s not munching on old bones, but it’s the principle of the thing when you’re raising up skeleton mooks or calling his ghouls to your bidding. Perhaps he overlooks this if you have a negative relationship with the Lich King or your conflicted relationship has turned sour. He’s got bigger problems than a few necromancers.

For the GM, a Necromancer provides an avenue for introducing Mordiggian. After a fight, your summoned ghoul spits at you about his real master. Or a couple silver-masked priests meet you in the road and ask you kindly but firmly to mind your place. What’s in it for you? Mordiggian asks you to join him in the battle against the Lich King, promising favor or particular rewards the player’s been craving. Adventurers create a lot of corpses, after all. Or you could kill the priests and see what happens next.

Jackal-Headed Priests and Other Servitors

The stats for Jackal Priests are a bit of an experiment, although based on existing rules and stat blocks, so I’d love to hear your play experience of them.

Jackal Priests of Mordiggian

…heads and faces that were half anthropomorphic, half canine, and wholly diabolic. Also, they had taken off the fingerless gloves… Their curving talons gleamed in the bloody light like the hooks of darkly tarnished metal; their spiky teeth, longer than coffin nails, protruded from snarling lips. They closed like a ring of jackals… …screams of men were mingled with a growling as of jackals, a laughter as of hyenas…

Masked, robed, and gloved, Jackal Priests petrify townsfolk as they silently pass. But when the masks lift, the gloves come off, and the laughter begins, the blood of all but the most stalwart adventurers runs cold in their veins. And possibly on the ground. A 5th level Jackal Priest [Troop] has +8 Initiative. HP 90, AC 22, MD 19, PD 19.

Raking Claws +12 vs. AC — 15 damage.
Natural 16+: If this is the priest’s first attack during their turn, they may make a death vision attack against the same target as a free action.

Death Vision +10 vs. MD (one nearby enemy) — Target takes 20 psychic damage each time it makes a nonbasic attack (save ends). Mordiggian absorbs the life essences of those he consumes. Death leaves a strong psychic impression. His priests draw on the deaths of loved ones, former companions, or those the target failed to protect, forcing the target to witness their last moments. If the target doesn’t have anyone like this in her past, other death impressions will do as well.
Natural 16+: If this is the priest’s first attack during their turn and they are within melee range, they may make a raking claws attack against the same target as a free action.

Blood-Chilling Laughter +11 vs. MD — Target chooses to be stunned for one round or take 5 psychic damage per round (save ends)
Limited use: Once per battle.

Ghoulies and Ghosties and Long-Leggedy Beasties

Rather than calculate the number of Jackal Priests per character, use only one or two and fill the rest with ghoul-types from Bestiary, 96-98. A licklash, pusbuster (unless you’re like me and can’t psychologically handle that kind of thing) and a heaping handful of gravemeats make an excellent complement. If using ghasts, don’t include Hungry Howl unless you want a fight full of psychic attacks and unnerving sounds, in which case, go to!

Fungaloid

Bestiary, p.82. Hunters after corpses haunt deep, moist places. Some Fungaloids feel a kinship with Mordiggian. Both feed on death and transform it into something else. None of this keeping the dead around like the Lich King does, solid disposal. But this great ghoul had better not claim more than humanoids or they’ll have nothing to eat.

Haunted Skulls

Bestiary, p.108. The haunted skull represents a ghost bound to their world, either forcefully or through an inability to fade away. Mordiggian offers these pathetic creatures a bargain: when he defeats the Lich King, he will consume them and release them from their misery. All they must do in the meantime is fight for him. One might wonder why, if he takes such pity on them, he doesn’t release them right away. One might.

Skeletons

Actually no. Skeletons are too far gone. He’s not into that. Nor Liches. They have too much free will for a respectable corpse. He’d rather destroy them. Especially one of them. Vampires? Darling, vampires wouldn’t be caught dead anywhere near a ghoul.

Zombies

13 True Ways, p.207. Mordiggian’s psychic lure pulls humanoid zombies to congregate wherever he is. When not engaged in battle, he readily devours them. They crave release but will fight to protect their only chance of escape. They may also prove useful in finding or following him.

Is Mordiggian the Lesser Evil?

I’d rather live in a world where a giant ghoul would safely devour me and keep my body free from the possible thrall of the Lich King. But is that what your players want? Mordiggian derives power from consuming corpses…do they want to be little more than batteries in the grand scheme? Perhaps they want their bodies to lie in consecrated Axis necropolises or to be consumed by flame on sacred altars in Horizon. Perhaps they long for the peace the Priestess offers or their religion preaches resurrection but only of whatever corpse remains. Maybe being eaten is just gross. Your players may recoil to find themselves fighting alongside armies of the Lich King, but perhaps it’s the only way to save their souls.

Dueling Lords of Decay (Pt. 1)

This post is in the Eldritch Icons project which will weave a narrative to supplant the 13 Icons of the Dragon Empire with more sinister icons born of Weird Fiction.

As the chill graveyard air touched their skin, the travelers quickened their stride. This graveyard, far from the well-minded heart of the Empire, had been left to decay and to him—the Lich King. When the first bereaved lover saw the silver-masked figures carrying off the body of his sweetheart, everyone called him deranged by grief. But reports spread of these stooped, robed, and gloved men—could they be called men if they could not be seen?— removing fresh corpses in the dead of night.

At first, stout family members resisted. Bleeding and slashed, they crawled back to town babbling of men with lupine faces and curved talons. It eventually became apparent that these strangers never killed the living (although some succumbed to their injuries), they only took the dead. For many, this was an acceptable bargain—would they not else have lost their loved one to the Lich King? And so, towns forewent burial and rituals developed to welcome these ministers of the dead, although with fear. But some resisted.

While the living concern themselves more with the forces taking over the Queen’s Wood to the North-East and the Wild Wood to the South-East or of the strange stories emanating from Santa Cora, two great forces battle for the bodies (and souls?) of the dead. The Lich King retreats into the heart of the Necropolis with his skeleton troops, basilisk guards, and vampiric servitors.

But Mordiggian? The moment the ghouls of the Dragon Empire heard his psychic call, they no longer belonged to the Lich King. They flocked, or loped, to find their new master. He gave them something beyond mindlessness and they repaid him by silently swarming over the dominions of their former lord. They ripped apart skeletons and devoured vampires. But, acting on his orders, neither Mordiggian’s reborn ghouls nor his jackal-headed ghoul-priests harm the living, unlike the Elk Queen’s frenzied Blood Druids, as long as they surrender their dead for the god’s feast.

With many of his outer strongholds fallen, the Lich King has barricaded himself in the Necropolis. Will the lich who has lasted so many ages hold his (under)ground? Or will ghouls at last suck the marrow of this icon’s bones?

Mordiggian, the Great Ghoul

Not until Zothique, Clark Ashton Smith’s Dying Earth, do we encounter “The Charnel God,” Mordiggian. The town of Zul-Bha-Sair lives in truce with their god. They allow his priests to bring their dead to his yawning temple. Families do not visit its black stone interior to participate in burial rites or funerary practices. And in return, what? Mordiggian saves them in the afterlife. He does not offer an abode for their souls but rather an eternal peace. For in a land rife with necromancers and malign forces, how else can the dead be safe than through total consumption, whether through cleansing fire or Mordiggian’s maw?

Through him, we are saved from corruption and the worm. Even as the people of other places devote their dead to the consuming flame, so we of Zul-Bha-Sair deliver ours to the god. Awful is the fane, a place of terror and obscure shadow untrod by the sun, into which the dead are borne by his priests and are laid on a vast table of stone to await his coming from the nether vault in which he dwells. No living men, other than the priests, have ever beheld him; and the faces of the priests are hidden behind masks of silver, and even their hands are shrouded, that men may not gaze on them that have seen Mordiggian.

As Great Old Ones go, Mordiggian is one you might not mind seeing move into your local charnel house. He won’t raise your loved ones to fight in his skeleton army or send a plague of ghouls to uproot your town. He’s patient, he’ll wait for you to come to him. But do not try to cheat him (are you listening, Necromancers?) or to withhold that which he’s claimed.

Go, for Mordiggian is a just god, who claims only the dead, and has no concern with the living. And we, the priests of Mordiggian, deal in our own fashion with those who would violate his law by removing the dead from the temple.

While some may welcome this change from the Lich King, those who have put great effort into mummificiation and other steps to protect the bodies of their kin won’t take kindly to this death-consuming force. Pockets of resistance will band against his encroachment. Magic-users will experiment with protection rites. Fighters will keep his priests at bay. But can you fight darkness made manifest?

As if compelled by another will than his own, the youth turned and saw the thing that had halted Narghai’s blow. Arctela and Abnon-Tha, pausing before the open door, were outlined against a colossal shadow that was not wrought by anything in the room. It filled the portals from side to side, it towered above the lintel — and then, swiftly, it became more than a shadow: it was a bulk of darkness, black and opaque, that somehow blinded the eyes with a strange dazzlement. It seemed to suck the flame from the red urns and fill the chamber with a chill of utter death and voidness. Its form was that of a worm-shapen column, huge as a dragon, its further coils still issuing from the gloom of the corridor; but it changed from moment to moment, swirling and spinning as if alive with the vortical energies of dark eons. Briefly it took the semblance of some demoniac giant with eyeless head and limbless body; and then, leaping and spreading like smoky fire, it swept forward into the chamber.

In pt. 2, I’ll give some plot hooks, more about Mordiggian’s priests, and ask whether there is a lesser of two evils here.

As an aside, there’s a reason these are taking a while—what some consider too long—between installments. It’s a combo of paid writing work which obviously takes precedence over my writing-for-fun, work for my professional life (I’m a journal editor and co-chair a professional committee and wrote a journal article this fall, plus other stuff I can’t bring up here), a solid two weeks sick, and some real crap going down in my family this year which has been so emotionally stressful that whatever free time I get I’ve mostly spent trying to do therapeutic things. Sometimes writing is good therapy, sometimes it’s not and I’m afraid it hasn’t been lately. I am going to do my best to keep on with the project as I can…I wish it were a straight line, but life hasn’t been a straight line at all.

Prince of the Crawling Shadows (Pt. 2)

Following on to the introduction of the Prince of Crawling Shadows, let’s look at how he weakens the icons around him. While all others involve icon on icon conflicts, the Chaos is their sinister emissary. We may never know how or when he replaced the former Prince of Shadows, but can see the poisonous ivy of his intentions undermining foundations.

Plot Cracks

Three ways the new Prince of Shadows weakens the other twelve icons1:

(Each of these will be filled out as I work through their section. Please check back for an updated list.)

The Archmage

The Crusader

The Diabolist

The Dwarf King

The Elf Queen

Counter-icon: The Goat Mother

  • A mysterious stranger sells magical seeds to a few Halfling farmers in Old Town. The vegetables grow overnight, as promised, but on the second day they look wrong. An infection spreads through the soil itself, toward the Queenswood.
  • Political chaos breaks out in the Court of Stars. Private messages end up in the wrong hands. Scrolls detailing secret meetings arrive at participants’ doors, with blackmailing notes demanding actions or favors that make no sense.
  • The Court of Stars relies on its constant motion to keep it safe and adapt to external dangers. Yet if one were to chart its most recent movements, one might get the impression it was being herded toward a particular place. But those were all random and unconnected causes—weren’t they?

The Emperor

The Great Gold Wyrm

The High Druid

Counter-icon: The Elk Goddess

  • The High Druid receives a letter in her own handwriting. The letter pleads with the Emperor and Archmage to send aid and begs forgiveness for her stubborn and independent ways. An accompanying note reads: “You may want to send this now.”
  • A druid arrives with news from the south. Someone has smashed the wards on the edge of the Wild Wood which protect it against escaped demons from the southern Hellhole.
  • Druids and rangers moving at night report the sky more frequently obscured by enormous clouds of bats. The bats never attack, but seem to arrive at critical moments, causing them to miss turns in the path or lose the track of a mysterious animal.

The Lich King

The Orc Lord

The Priestess

Counter-icon: The Enchantress

  • A sacred item, used to hold the forces of so many gods in check, is stolen from the vaults of Santa Cora.
  • Fog engulfs Santa Cora, closing its harbor and making road travel perilous. The Archmage sent no warning of this strange weather, nor can prayers and spells lift it. The only open path lies toward the Wild Wood. At night, when the fog is thickest, it seems to whisper in the ears of those abroad. Can the city get word back to the Archmage?
  • It started with a cherubic child, speaking in tongues in the River District. From there, it spread like an infection, a torrent of tongues, speaking vaguely-demonic words for hours until they collapse exhausted and unable to speak or understand their native languages. Residents of Santa Cora consider speaking in tongues entirely natural, a phenomenon that comes upon worshipers for minutes or moments and then passes, leaving them unharmed. But this? And still the child prattles on.

The Three

Servitors and Creatures

They may not always serve the Prince, but when encountered in these games, they’re definitely his creatures. Where to find them and where they might show up in an adventure:

Bat Swarm

Bestiary, p.13. Most often used by the Prince in unnatural swarms to darken the skies (either to provide his creatures cover or to prevent adventurers from noticing something else) or to create enough chaos for an escape.

Bugbear Schemer

Bestiary, p.25. Legends say the Prince originally created the bugbears (p. 26), whether or not that’s true, he’s especially fond of the Schemers, both for their wit and their ability to disappear from a bad fight.

Cambion Assassin

Bestiary, p.30. These cloaked assassins stalk those unwise enough to interfere with the Prince’s plans. They sometimes work in teams, one as a distraction and another with the real mission. It’s said that one of them killed the Priestess, but there’s no proof that she’s dead. The Prince always handles them through an intermediary (p.33) who may be easier to trace.

Dybbuk

Bestiary, p.63. Whether in the bodies of corpses, in friends suddenly turned evil, or in ghost forms, Dybbuks create the horror and chaos which tickle the Prince’s twisted fancy.

Fungaloid

Bestiary, p.82. Loves darkness? Check. Lives (beneath) anywhere? Check. Whether as a vast network of spies or as an army ready to spring up from beneath any outdoor location, Fungaloids have an affinity with the Prince of Shadows, who embraces them as worthy servitors rather than disdaining them as most other icons (even though who employ them) do.

Gargoyle

Core book, p.224. Serve as his ears in the cities. May also be the source of strange whispers that seep into the consciousness of those who inhabit the same buildings.

Hungry star

Core book, p.235. Under normal conditions, one primarily finds hungry

Bestiary, p.30. These cloaked assassins stalk those unwise enough to interfere with the Prince’s plans. They sometimes work in teams, one as a distraction and another with the real mission. It’s said that one of them killed the Priestess, but there’s no proof that she’s dead. The Prince always handles them through an intermediary (p.33) who may be easier to trace.

Dybbuk

Bestiary, p.63. Whether in the bodies of corpses, in friends suddenly turned evil, or in ghost forms, Dybbuks create the horror and chaos which tickle the Prince’s twisted fancy.

Fungaloid

Bestiary, p.82. Loves darkness? Check. Lives (beneath) anywhere? Check. Whether as a vast network of spies or as an army ready to spring up from beneath any outdoor location, Fungaloids have an affinity with the Prince of Shadows, who embraces them as worthy servitors rather than disdaining them as most other icons (even though who employ them) do.

Gargoyle

Core book, p.224. Serve as his ears in the cities. May also be the source of strange whispers that seep into the consciousness of those who inhabit the same buildings.

Hungry star

Core book, p.235. Under normal conditions, one primarily finds hungry stars in dungeon settings. Yet these sanity-gobbling monsters begin appears in local towns. Sometimes they target key persons. Others, their senseless and unexpected attacks leave villages unsettled for months after.

Intellect Devourer/Assassin

Bestiary, p.116/118. They’re a perfect one-two punch of killers and spies (p.117).

Jorogumo

Bestiary, p.119. Masters, or mistresses, of disguise who take utter control over their victims? It’s as effective at getting secrets as the Intellect Devourer but even more cruel fun to watch the Woven spill voluntarily and the pain it causes their friends and families. Used for the Prince’s cruelest attacks. Often targets influential and wealthy.

Ogre Mages

Core book, p.240; Bestiary, p.151. They’re everything a spellcaster shouldn’t be and the Prince of Shadows loves it. It’s possible he orchestrated the original quarrel with the dark elves just so he could have more influence over this group.

Phase spider

Core book, p.244. Pay no attention to the textbox, a teleporting spider is terrifying whether or not it steals your magical tools! When allied with the Prince of Shadows, however, they often use their teleporting powers to rearrange more mundane objects in a way that sows chaos among the owners. The Prince rewards them with the magical items they so desire.

Rakshasa

Core book, p.245. Not often allied, but they may fall under his influence while working in the shadows. The Prince appreciates their shapeshifting abilities and the inherent chaos they may cause. When serving as his emissaries, they’re often repaying a debt.

Shadow Thief

Bestiary p.193. Like the phase spider, this psychic extension of a shadow dragon is a great way to cause chaos in the dark. More terrifyingly, someone classed it as a mook (are they all extensions of the same dragon? You decide!), which means *rolls* it’s not just one, you’re surrounded. Good luck with that.

End Game

The Prince’s ultimate goal is to create chaos in an icon’s area of influence and allow a challenger to take root. If adventurers make things to hot for him and his minions, he’ll simply move on to the next target—he’s got a dozen, after all.

Can adventurers act to stop what’s happening?

Depends on what kind of game you want to run. If you’re running a campaign to stop the events of the Eldritch Icons from ever occurring, you’ll want to take a page from this, er, page and focus on pursuit of the Shadow Prince and solving his mischief. Restoring his victims leaves the icons in place too strong for challengers to even make the attempt.

But if you want to find yourselves fighting Blood Druids in the Wild Wood or Voormis under the Dwarf King’s mountain, then you’ll want to keep encounters with the Prince of Shadows to a minimum. Perhaps you stop one plan only to have another succeed elsewhere. Perhaps you only hear of some of these afterward. How depressed do you want your players? These Eldritch Icons can take things to full-on Cthulhu Apocalypse levels, if you want.

To mix a little hope with your fear, have players hear some of these as stories as they encounter the first few icons you want to handle. Once they’re wise to his M.O., they turn the tables and begin collaborating with the remaining icons (or trying to) to stop the rest from even starting.

Footnotes

1. Each of the three ways is meant to act as a plot thread. All three need not be true, just the one or two that make the most sense for your game. back

Also, apologies for having been gone so long, I was working on two scenarios and some setting material over the spring. While that didn’t quite eat up all my time, it ate up all my creative brain.

Prince of the Crawling Shadows (Pt. 1)

This post is in the Eldritch Icons project which will weave a narrative to supplant the 13 Icons of the Dragon Empire with more sinister icons born of Weird Fiction.

When the Elf Queen departed, the heart of the Dragon Empire skipped a beat. When the blood druids took control of the Wild Wood, the Dragon Empire felt its veins turn cold. When the cathedral of Santa Cora shattered, millions flinched without knowing why. Yet the coming of the Crawling Chaos was more frightening in its silence. Not everyone agrees that the Prince of Shadows has changed; none of those who do can fix a date to it.

Nyarlathotep could not have commissioned a finer avatar than the Prince of Shadows. It’s possible that one day he simply slid into the icon’s shoes. But his enemies and rogues alike realize with growing horror that the Crawling Chaos is the Prince of Shadows…and has been for some time.

He is the author of the discord now overtaking the Dragon Empire. Through his agents, he weakened subtle points in each icon’s realm. He tampered with reality, whether through forces magical or mundane. He watches his bride, Yhoundeh with special interest.

Long before the denizens of the Shadow Port realized the change, his thousand sable tendrils had infiltrated the city. The battle against this new Prince of Shadows will not take place anywhere near its foggy streets. Rather, his influence must be fought throughout the empire.

The Crawling Chaos

Unlike Yhoundeh or Moriamis, who were only mentioned in a story or two, Nyarlathotep’s stories and avatars number in the dozens. After Cthulhu, he may be Lovecraft’s best-known creation. He was first conceived in Lovecraft’s short story of the same name and called the crawling chaos. He was not originally the “Black Pharaoh” of later imaginations but a “swarthy, slender, sinister” man of “old native blood” with the bearing of a Pharaoh.

Best known for his propensity to take on mysterious avatars or inhabit apparently inoffensive bodies, he even has a Table of Forms (Masks/Avatars) on Wikipedia which may be worth drawing on for campaign inspiration. Players may meet the Prince of Shadows in disguise and not realize until much later in the campaign.

He’s found in many Lovecraft works:

and in the work of many Lovecraftian writers, both of short-stories and RPGs. Robert Price put together the Nyarlathotep Cycle for Chaosium, which has some of the Lovecraft stories and those by other authors. As with all the cycle books, I’m not entirely sold on Price’s assessment of the material’s relevance, though I think the stories are more on point than the Shub Niggurath Cycle stories.

And a bonus—to pull from an additional piece of Lovecraftiana, consider introducing elements or effects from Lovecraft’s story “The Crawling Chaos.” Published just a year after “Nyarlathotep,” the story is based on the co-author’s dream and simply uses the descriptor because Lovecraft really liked that turn of phrase. That’s not reason not to pretend it’s part of the canon. Perhaps the players must fight the influence of a vision-inducing drug or have disturbing visions of a future only they can prevent.

Like Cthulhu, Nyarlathotep’s cultural saturation might make him old hat to players if you call him by name:

What’s this? Oh, another Avatar of Nyarlathotep. Oh look, there’s a little cult too. It must be Tuesday…

Next time, I’ll outline some of the angles by which he undermines original Icons, who he’s working with, and what kind of beasties one might encounter when taking him on.

The Enchantress and the Priestess (Pt. 2)

In part one, we saw the fall of Santa Cora. The Priestess has not left like the Elf Queen. She is not at war like the High Druid. She is simply—missing.

Possible ways the cathedral was destroyed:

  • A spell of iconic magnitude shattered its crystal surface.
  • A vital object which held the vast magical energies of so many gods in balance was stolen from within its sacred vaults.
  • The Priestess herself was the key to balancing the abundance of religions. Without her, the cathedral dissolves, both symbolically and in dramatic physical dissolution.
  • Deliberate architectural sabotage or a rite carried out by a splinter group within the cathedral.

The state of the city:

  • Monks with ties to the cathedral join forces to defend the city, crossing religious and training backgrounds.
  • Religious leaders with a bent for apocalyptic narrative sway the city’s religious masses. Others seek to turn the situation to their deity’s advantage. A few actually give an owlbear’s ass for their congregants and can be found throughout the city helping the panicked and downtrodden.
  • The faithful salvage precious objects from their shrines and wings of the temple. Of course, so does every unrepentant “art collector” in Santa Cora.

World Hooks

Something is Rotten Under Santa Cora: Since ages past, the faithful have sought burial in Santa Cora. Only in its serene graveyards and ornate charnal houses could they be safe from the influence of the Lich King. For Dragon Emperors, it’s a matter of tradition. The poor in Axis, Horizon, Concord, and outlying villages, gather their pennies and hope that their family will be able to avoid the trip. The only larger necropolis in the Dragon Empire is, well, THE Necropolis.

When the Cathedral shattered and the Priestess disappeared, her protection over those who lie beneath the city faltered. The living don’t have time to think about it—yet—but the dead are now vulnerable. And it just so happens that there’s a new ghoul in town, gathering power to take on the Lich King. The Great Ghoul Mordiggian and his hyena-headed, skull-masked priests (more on them in a later post!) are here for the harvest. Whether they’re behind it or taking opportunistic advantage, they’ll have to be dealt with before the city can be restored.

Iron and stone: The shining cathedral on its verdant grounds is an abomination before the Crusader’s eldritch replacement (ugh, sorry I haven’t settled on it 100% because this is an evolving series and I’m not entirely into Nodens for it, taking votes in the comments!) or even the Crusader himself (let’s just call this person The Crusader for now). In its place, he intends to raise a building of iron and stone and bring these untamed masses to heel. When the crystal shards settle in the city, the residents find themselves ringed on land by the Crusader’s forces.

The Priestess is his prisoner, separated from her source of power within the cathedral. If adventurers can find it before the Crusader’s advance guard destroys it forever, and reunite the two, there may be a chance they can save the city.

Blood Tide: They came from the Wild Wood, Blood Druids of the Elk Goddess, moving ever-onward on their journey of forceful conversion. Whether jealous that the Priestess does not countenance their religion or zealous in stamping out all other faiths, they take on Santa Cora’s religious diversity. How do they find an in? Either by breaking into the city and performing necessary rituals or by finding a disgruntled ally on the inside. They may feel a kinship with Santa Cora’s stigmatics and offer an even greater honor to their blood-sign than the current Priestess has ever done.

A Thief in the Cathedral: How long has the Prince of Shadows actually been the Crawling Chaos? Much longer than any of this other business has been going on, that’s for sure. It’s possible that he’s the instigator of the entire eldritch shift. Whether not content in waiting for matters to progress or as the next step in his master plan, he’s instigated the theft of some item critical to holding the cathedral together.

How hard is it to steal The Priestess herself? You’ll need an even better team than Nate Ford’s, but it can be done. For a critical or sacred item, the DC’s probably much lower…say DC 40 instead of 400. It’s up to those seeking to put things right to track down this master thief and retrieve the item before it vanishes into the Prince’s vaults.

Restoring the Priestess

Can the Priestess be restored? Should she? It’s up to you to decide if she’s what this new Age in the Dragon Empire really needs.

Moriamis knows this kind of world. Whether she becomes the new Priestess or a surrogate, she may begin offering her semi-iconic favor to those in need of help. She’s dealt with bloodthirsty Druids. She lived in a land that knew the names Yog-Sothoth and Tsathoggua.

Or, in a campaign, perhaps recovering the Priestess could become an eventual plot point to restoring the world to a better age. Her light counterbalances the overwhelming darkness of these new icons.

How did Moriamis Get Here?

On the one hand, do any of the new Eldritch Icons really need an explanation? Most are goddesses or god-like figures in their own stories. But that’s where Moriamis differs. She’s presented as a mortal. Perhaps she has the enhanced lifespan of a sorceress, but she’s a woman supposedly in a time and place (Druidic-era mythic France/Averoigne). How does she come from there to the dragon empire?

One could do this both ways.

  1. She’s a refugee from the Wild Wood. The Moriamis of Averoigne lived alongside Druids. She considered their practices unrefined, but didn’t show hostility toward them as a group. She prevents a human sacrifice by cowing them with her already-known power, not challenging them to a fight or slaughtering them in turn. The Moriamis of the Wild Wood lives alongside the Druids and, depending on the pre-Yhoundeh situation, may not even even find them distasteful—if unrefined compared to her skill. But the incursion of Yhoundeh’s Blood Druids either proved too much for her or destroyed the land she once held dear. She may have planned to stay in Santa Cora or to take a ship from there to quieter parts.
  2. She’s from Averoigne. One could play the Eldritch Icons as an infection, a planar shift, another world that blends into and corrupts the Dragon Empire. In that case, it’s not only

Why not the White Sybil?

A few people asked why I chose Moriamis over the White Sybil. She’s an option with potential—an enigmatic and quasi-religious figure. My biggest reason was that Moriamis is a character with lines and a personality. Her choice to work for the “welfare of men and not for their bale or bane” sealed it.

If you wanted to run with the White Sybil, the attack to Santa Cora comes from within. Whether it’s the glaciers of Polarion or a chill in the hearts of the faithful that extinguishes their religious fervor, her presence mysteriously stops the religious pulse of the city.