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. Also, if you want to read a more thorough take on the Great Ghoul, I was invited to contribute a Fallen Icon to the 13th Age Bestiary 2.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.