This is a story from a westmarch campaign that was directly inspired by the westmarch story “How a Player turned out To Be the Secret BBEG of the Session” presented
Now for some context this is the final part of a long multi-session dungeon that we had been crawling through for a week. Our dm designed this dungeon specifically to drain our resources, and my oh my did she ever. We had gotten our way through several high danger encounters and I had to upcast a lot of spells to get us through, as well as cast a lot of buff and support spells like bless and aid. Everyone had been expending a lot of their resources as well and we were on empty by the time we got to the end. The story itself is written from the perspective of my character Kordran. The story you’re about to read is going to make him seem like a cantankerous sourpuss, but that’s mainly just because in this story he was a having a bad day as you’re about to see.
I am Kordran son of Cordran, and I was hoping that this job would be simple. The job was straightforward; undead in a known cursed area were getting uppity and needed a little spring cleaning. My plan was to go in, smite some ghouls, and be home in time for dinner with the wife. Unfortunately, I was stuck on a team with the most bullheaded adventures in Tarster. Tariel, hailed as a rising star of the adventurers guild, a consumate fighter and adept swordsman. Tristan, one of the most talented young spellcasters in the guild. Tristan’s adopted daughter Sophia a hexblade and very capable archer. And Alimorn, an experienced barbarian and captain of a mercenary company that was modestly successful. There was also a fighter whom appeared to be some kind of warforged though I couldn’t say for sure, it operated under the designation Noneim and it appeared to have a female form. These people were some of the most talented individuals in the Tarster City adventurer’s guild and had seen a lot of success early in their careers. Unfortunately, this early success had made them arrogant and left them largely deficient in terms of common sense or basic survival instincts. And as the designated healer of the group it fell to me to keep these idiots alive.
In my opinion, as strong and talented as these people were they lacked a healthy fear of death, and that would work heavily against them where we were going. These particular ruins I was familiar with, having had done a cleanup job in the area on a previous occasion. One of my party members actually died during an encounter with some kind of undead plant monster, if I didn’t have revivify handy she surely would have been lost that day. That incident had occurred just in the surrounding area outside the actual ruins, I had no idea what horrific nightmares lay within the tombs themselves. In any case I had no intention of finding out. The job was to just clear the undead on the outside of the ruins, going inside was not necessary. Unfortunately, my party members didn’t see it that way.
We smelled the ruins before we saw them. They gave off a malodorous miasma of rot and decay that could be detected from a mile away. From a high grassy hilltop just outside the edge of the cursed zone we could see the figures of dozens of shambling undead. Ghouls, ghasts, and a couple other unholy abominations I still don’t know the name of. In any case it doesn’t look like anything too dangerous, but as the sun starts to set and night creeps in a chill crawls up my spine, and I can’t shake the feeling that we’re walking into certain doom. It also didn’t help my confidence when Tariel, the man who is supposed to be the best swordsman of our generation, and in all honesty really is one of the toughest guys I know, pukes up his breakfast the moment he comes into contact with the stench of death.
In any case, we’ve arrived at the Undead Ruins, and we have a job to do. So, we fight. The first brawl is a nasty one. Ghouls and skeletons swarmed around us. These weren’t too bad, a little divine channeling on my part helped to keep them from boxing us in. However, there was a giant hulking skeleton at least 10 ft tall that gave us some pause. And to make matters extra annoying there was some kind of magical floating skull shooting fireballs at us from behind cover. It took a little while but we managed to clear them out without spending too many resources. I would have been perfectly happy with calling it a day there and heading home, but then the others found the entrance to the ruins. My party sees an opportunity to earn some extra glory and renown by solving the mystery of this cursed tomb, and maybe purging the evil that haunts it. Now I’m no coward, but I also am not a big believer in putting your life on the line for something you don’t really care about, and I care more about making sure everyone gets home to their families than I care about purging the world of evil. Now apart from Alimorn, I don’t really like any of people in my party, Tristan and Sophia especially. My issues with them are a whole other story for another day, but the short of it is that Tristan is engaged to my sister and Sophia is his and my sisters adopted daughter which kind of makes her my niece, so if they both don’t come home alive my sister will cry blood, and I can’t have that. If they all decide they want to go into the obviously deadly, dangerous, and haunted ruins, I’ve gotta go in with them.
The large stone doors are embossed with demons and serpents. They snarl down at us, warning us, no, daring us. We force them open and the first thing that greets us is the sounds of a crying infant. What follows is several rounds of fighting wretched undead creatures and shadowy monsters. At one point we were locked in a life or death struggle with ghosts that were possessing giant stone statues. Sophia actually got crushed to death during this encounter beneath a giant statues stone fist. It’s embarrassing to admit, but as much as she annoyed me, she was still part of my family, and when I heard her bones crunch I knew I couldn’t let our story end this way. We fought like demons to vanquish the enemy and get to her in time, and the effort to revive her brought me down to my very last point of mana. When she came back to life her body was mangled and broken and she screamed in unearthly levels of pain, but she was alive, and a few potions later was able to stand again. You’d think that would be enough for us to call it quits and go home, but unfortunately we’re neck deep into this tomb and there are no obvious ways out due to some illusion and teleportation shenanigans. So unfortunately the only way out is through. The good news is it looked like we were getting close to getting out of here. The bad news is the room right after the giant stone statues that nearly crushed Sophia to death featured a mummy that had the power to mimic our powers by absorbing our blood.
Now, I’ll reiterate, I’m not a coward but I was down to my very last point of mana and knew I’d be useless if we fought something like this. Also it already managed to get a taste of Alimorn’s blood due to the puzzle mechanism that we had to feed blood too in order to get into this room. Alimorn is a tough as nails dragonborn barbarian capable of taking on a dozen enemies by himself. This thing as far as we could tell had all of his powers that we did know about, plus abilities of its own that we didn’t know about. And we were already exhausted from the fights we had getting to this point. So me being the survivalist that I am, want to try to see if we can find a way to talk our way out this without needing to fight. It almost worked too, however it came up during the course of this conversation that this mummy was a murderer of children, the moment Tristan learned this he flew off the handle attacked it with a shadow blade. Yeah, Tristan’s kind of a hot head, I do not know what my sister sees in him.
In any case combat is on, so the only thing I could do was cast bless and let the martial fighters do their job. In the meantime I tried to make myself useful by examining the room and looking for things in the environment we could use to help. Fortunately, I’ve got sharp eyes and my wife is a sorceress so I know a thing or two about the arcane. That came in handy when I noticed that there were teleportation circles around the room and that they were somehow meant to give the monster an advantage. This becomes important later.
Anyway Alimorn, Tariel, Tristan, Noneim, and Sophia are all going to town on the mummy. Just like me their resources are pretty drained too, Tariel can’t action surge anymore and Ali already used his rage. But they’re still doing well, my blessing helps them a lot, especially when they have to resist the enemies mental attacks and blood attacks. I won’t bore you with all the details but I’ll give you a few highlights just to underline how desperation and exhaustion was forcing us to get creative.
At a certain point during the fight, Alimorn grappled the bloody mummy with his bare hands and Tariel shoved powder of dryness down its throat. For those who don’t know, powder of dryness is an item that absorbs up to 15 cubit ft of water. Now this creatures was made mostly out of blood, and blood is 70% water. It writhed in pain horribly as the slick red liquid that kept it animated was almost instantly evaporated. Also it was discovered that the creature could be harmed by fire, so at one point Tariel dropped oil at the mummy’s feet while Ali was grappling it and lit the oil on fire with his fire sword so that it would constantly burn as they were hacking and shooting at it. Alimorn was also caught in this but he had fire resistance so he was fine. This impressed me more so for the fact that it was Tariel who came up with the idea. For context, Tariel is a consummate fighter who pretty much solves all his problems with his sword. So what he pulled was definitely a change of pace for him.
While this was going down, I was making myself useful by attempting to destroy the teleportation circles around the room. I managed to destroy one, and was going towards another one when the martial fighters finished the job. The mummy liquified into animated blood and escaped through the portals I hadn’t destroyed yet. The encounter was over though. At this point we were really done. No potions, no action surges or special class features, the only one who had any mana left was Tristan and even he was running low. On top of that, for some reason Noneim decided to wander off. Honestly, Noneim was being weird acting on her own without regard for the party’s safety for most of this ordeal. As a result I didn’t trust her, I don’t think anyone else did either. Noneim didn’t matter though, all we wanted at this point was to leave, and with what we thought was the final boss of this tomb defeated we thought we could go home. A passageway with a staircase opened up. We figured it might be trapped so we tried to look carefully to see.
We could tell that something was off about the staircase but as we stepped in closer to investigate a hole in the floor suddenly opened up and we all fell 120 feet down. None of our magic items were working either, we couldn’t use our flying brooms or anything. Fortunately there was a gelatinous red mass at the bottom of the pit to break our fall, unfortunately that gelatinous mass was also acidic and we took acid burns trying to get up. Not only that, but the room was also filled with poison gas. It seemed that the anti-magic field we got caught in didn’t extend to the bottom of the pit because my necklace of adaption kicked in and saved me, the rest of the party wasn’t so lucky and was immediately subjected to poison. Just as we were getting back on our feet we noticed him.
There was a man in the acid gelatin, he looked pale with his hair eyebrows and fingernails burnt off. Floating in the acidic slimy mass with him were the bones of children, bleached white from a century of acid baths. It didn’t take a genius to know we had a necromancer in front of us. One look and I knew we had no chance of beating this bastard, our odds of winning would be dicey if we were at full strength, fighting him beaten and drained like we were then, no chance. However, I noticed he didn’t attack us right away, and his demeanor wasn’t overtly hostile. If anything he actually seemed amused. I figured there was a chance we could talk our way out of this. This is where the story gets really interesting.
I take up a polite tone as I speak to him, making him angry is the one thing we don’t want to do right now. “Excuse me sir sorry for bothering you, would you mind showing us the way out?”
"The way out?" the necromancer chuckles warmly "why yes, I can show it to you." He waves with a hand through the gooey substance. And the room starts filling up with even more poison gas. I’m fine thanks to my necklace but my party is coughing and wheezing behind me.
“Um excuse me sir, do you mind very much calling off all this gas. My friends don’t seem to be taking it quite well.”
"But I am showing you the way out?" his pale lips glide into a smile.
At this point its clear this necromancer is the type who likes to play with his food. I know in retrospect thinking we could have gotten out of this by asking nicely seems like a bad idea, but that’s just how drained were. We literally had no other options left. I keep trying to find a way to negotiate with him. Bare in mind I am not a trained negotiator by any means, normally being the party face is a job I would leave to my sister or to my buddy Ved but neither of them were here right now, so I had to do my best.
“What’s your name sir?” I ask.
"My name?" He frowns, "call me master."
“Very well master, you’re clearly much stronger than us. If you wanted to kill us at the outset you would have. Why this game?”
He gives me a demented child-like grin as he speaks. "Well you see, it's sooooo dreadfully boring down here without anyone to play with." The skull of a child floats through the oozeous substance around him and lands in his hand and he turns the skull towards the party, moving the jaw and saying in a falsetto child’s voice, "someone play with me~"
I’ve been an adventurer for three years now. To date the sight of seeing that sick bastard use a child’s bones as a prop is one of the most disturbing things I’ve ever seen. I swear I could still see the terror that must have been on that poor child’s face when it was murdered still etched into the skull. In that moment I swear there was nothing I wanted more then to have that necromancers head on a spike, so you can imagine how hard it was for me to put those feelings aside and stay focused on trying to get us out of that pit alive.
I put my feelings of disgust aside and try to keep up a pleasant face despite the situation. “Why don’t you come with us then? There’s plenty of people to play with outside.”
He doesn’t hear my suggestion though because while I’m trying to keep the necromancer distracted, my party is pulling a bunch of nonsense that anyone with a bit of common sense would know is a bad idea. Tristan tries to cast fly to carry himself and Sophia out of the pit but he forgot that the anti-magic field was still active 120 feet above us. Tristan flew 110 feet up only to have his magic dispelled just as he was about to escape and dropped all the way to the bottom of the pit. I had to rush and tend to both of them while still trying to keep the “Master” entertained enough to not simply kill us outright. Also it was at this point that Noneim decided to rejoin us and thought she could best help us by taking random articles of children’s clothing that she found, lighting them on fire and tossing them down the pit. Don’t ask where she got the children’s clothing from, trust me you don’t want to know. Fortunately for us Noneim’s idea failed and the bundle of flaming clothes she tossed down dispersed before it even reached us, which was a good thing because if that had hit and started a fight we’d all be ghoul food. The Master for his part watches us feebly attempting to escape with an amused expression.
Tristan luckily for us still had some mana left, and makes a quick cast of healing word to keep Sophia alive so they survive that fall. I wish I could say that it knocked a bit of common sense into them, but it didn’t. If I have time Iater I’ll tell you some more stories about the really dumb situations my niece and my brother-in-law keep getting themselves into. I know they’re my family, but Kord blast me, do they get on my nerves.
For my part I try to keep the necromancer on me. I say to him, “Ignore them master, if you’d like to play I can play with you. Have you ever played shell pickup?”
Shell pickup is a game I used to play with my younger niece back home, it’s pretty simple, you just need some shells and a ball to play. My suggestion seems to have caught the master’s attention. He still uses the skull to mimic a child talking as he answers, "no I have not. Pray tell, what is it?"
“It’s a pretty fun game but you need a ball and some seashells to play.” I say as I scramble to do what I can to treat my friends wounds.
The master smiles at my bumbling display, "Is that so?"
“If you’d like we could go to my house on the beach. Lots of shells there.”
The amused expression on his face turns sour the moment I suggest leaving. He snaps back into talking like an adult man, "I am bound to this place, like my colleagues."
His slender body getting up in the ooze and stretching. "I will allow last words before your bodies are gifted to the almighty." He says flippantly as he yawns.
Thinking I could offer him a deal to get him to let us go, I ask him, “would you like to be unbound?”
"No, however…" He sighs and looks at me. "Sadly we cannot claim your soul, your body will have to suffice." As he says this the gelatinous acid ooze that he floats in begins surrounding us ready to envelop us and eat us alive.
“Wait, wait, if you claim my body you’ll be all on your own again. With no one to play with.”
The ooze creeps forward.
“Do you really need to sacrifice us? Are we really that much more valuable dead then alive?”
“Yes." He looks down at each of you and hums in thought "Now… Ghoul, ghast, wight, zombie, or mummy? Your choice, take your pick." He smiles giddily.
Desperately I look around the room for something, anything that might help us. I pray for guidance from Kord as I look around and at this moment he blesses me with a small glimmer of hope.
As I looked around the room, I saw the slightest glimmer of gems at the sides of the wall. There were four teleportation circles etched into the walls, just like the ones in the mummy room. However these were inactive. At the very center of the room is a big teleportation circle as well, though it looks to be halfway destroyed. I couldn’t make sense of it at first, but then I started to recognize that the sigil sequences on the circle was similar to ones I’d seen in the books that my wife reads at times. I knew that if activated they would lead somewhere a lot farther away, it just needs blood and more gems inlaid in it to be activated, gems that I could get from the sides of the room. I have one final gambit, I pray for guidance as I make one last ditch effort to persuade this monster not to kill us.
“Wait master, before you kill us could we perhaps have one game of shell pickup? I think we can improvise using materials in this room.”
The master raises a brow and I hold my breath.
Then the master smiles and holds up the child skull again, dismissing the poison cloud in the room "mymymy that sounds like sooooo much fun!" he bounces the skull a bit as he giggles disturbingly accurate to a child, clearly unhinged.
(Me OOC: Breathes sigh of relief. I rolled 16 on that persuasion check, it was just barely enough.)
I figure that skull he’s clutching is important somehow so I try to see if I can get it away from him. In the most polite tone I could muster I ask, “Actually could we borrow that skull? It would make a good substitute for a ball.”
He gasps and cluthes the skull protectively, shrinking away and patting its head, then he coos at it like some demented child petting a puppy, "ohnonono, they won't take you Zhania, they won't… they won't…"
“Oh I’m sorry nevermind it’s fine we can use something else.”
The master looks at Sophia and points a finger to her head. “How about this one?” he asks.
I think fast, “No elven skulls are weirdly shaped, it won’t do.”
Sophia doesn’t miss a beat. “And my head is much too weak,” she adds batting her eyelashes for effect. Yeah, apparently she’s going to try her hand at seducing this freak. My stomach roils at the thought even now, though I take some consolation knowing that it must have been a thousand times worse for her. In any case the necromancer buys it, and now Sophia has his attention which takes his focus off me. While I make a play for the gems in the wall, Sophia takes one for the team and attempts to actually flirt with with this lunatic.
“Zhania is such a pretty name,” she says.
"Little Zhania is soooo brave,” the necromancer smiles proudly.
"Zhania looks so pretty!" She lets out a high pitched squeal like a teenage girl fussing over a puppy.
The skull of Zhania clatters in the masters hand, he turns the skull up to his ear and makes like he’s listening to it. “Oh, oh, yes,” he says in agreement with whatever he thinks the skull is saying to him. He says to Sophia, “Zhania thinks you’re pretty too.”
I know enough about psychopaths to know that if they give you a compliment it’s never a good sign. It’s extra bad if they’re using a child’s skull as a sock puppet while they do it. There’s nothing I can do for Sophia now though, I need to focus on the task at hand. While Sophia keeps the necromancer occupied I’m over by the walls of the pit trying to pop out the gems inlaid into the walls.
“It’s ok if I take these right?” I ask wanting to make sure he doesn’t suspect a thing.
"Yes yes whatever…" He waves his other hand that isn't holding a skull at me. The ooze then slinks towards Sophia, its acidic body slinking around her, blocking her from the others and examining her features. "very very pretty… you know… you remind me of someone… someone…" He tries to remember.
While the master is distracted with Sophia I work fast to pluck the gems out of the wall. My hands are working bit faster than usual which is fortunate because I am normally quite lacking in the department of dexterity. While I’m working on this Sophia is fighting off the master’s charming spells, her fey ancestry ended up coming in really handy here. Tristan’s helping out too by using the last of his mana and sorcery to subtley counterspell the masters charms. Dense as he can be sometimes, I won’t knock the man’s spellcasting prowess.
Noneim for her part is peeking down, viewing the scenario with great interest. She tosses something else down the pit, and I notice a single small jewel hit the ground at the wall of the room. The Master notices this and the ooze tenses as he looks up at the top of the hole from whence it came.
He looks up at Noneim and grins at her psychotically. He shouts happily to the top of the hole in that fake child’s voice, “Come, come join us! Children love to play~”
This gives me just the distraction I need. With the master’s attention split between trying to charm Sophia and taunting Noneim I’m able to gather up the gems and start inlaying them under the pretense of arranging them for the game.
Sophia for her part is an amazing distraction. As the master gets frustrated with the lack of effect his spells seem to have due to Tristan’s counterspelling she’s able to play it off by batting her eyelashes and making excuses like, "I'm kinda immune to charm magic." She’s grasping at straws I know, but it works. I'm able to start laying the gems into the circle without any issue, this was the moment I realized I made a critical mistake.
(Continued in part 2 due to character limit.)