Narrated D&D Story: How The Party Survived A City Of Death And Despair
This story was submitted by our viewer, Brian. The campaign took place in a 3.5/pathfinder homebrew.
This story takes place roughly 10 years ago. I had joined a friends 3.5/pathfinder campaign. Being a fan of Eberron myself, I chose to play a warforged artificer, named Mechanis. My friend the DM was running a zombie apocalypse game homebrew. The game starts in some large port city. The party consisted of
a gnome sorcerer/fighter whose favored weapon was an iron ball he would enchant and use
A human paladin
An elven ranger
A half elf rogue
All of us started at level three.
Most of the party were given a magic weapon to start out with. My character, being a warforged, had decided to have a modified arm that contained a crossbow within the forearm, and shot bolts out of the palm of the hand. Like most campaigns we started out in the local tavern. While everyone is getting to know each other, screams erupt from outside. We rush out of the tavern to find that zombies have started attacking the town.
In horror, we watched as the group of town watch guards defending the gate, get overrun by zombies and ripped apart. More undead started pouring out of the sewers, as well as homes and businesses that, unbeknownst to us, had access to the sewer tunnels below our feet. Roll initiative, the paladin starts slicing through undead with his mighty longsword while bashing others with his shield. The sorcerer lets loose with burning hands and torches a small group of undead. The ranger and rogue are back to back, fending off their own undead. Mechanis’s heavy mace glowed brightly with the power of bane undead, smashing any rotting skull I can reach.
Before long we were forced back into the tavern and had to barricade the doors and windows. Knowing it was only a short time before the undead horde broke through our meager blockade. The party and I retreat to the upper floors of the tavern, blocking the stairs with any large heavy objects we could find.
Once we felt somewhat safe, we decided to make a plan of how to get out of the town alive. That first day was truly horrible. Screams cut through the air, wails of pain and terror pierced our ears as the undead proceeded to wipe out the inhabitants of the town. It was times like this I was thankful I did not sleep. The rest of the party tossed and turned. It was shortly before dawn when the screams faded to silence.
With the rising of the sun, the rest of the party that was able to sleep awoke from their restless slumber. I stepped out onto the balcony to check how bad our situation had become. Scores of mindless undead roamed the street. Searching for any survivors they may have missed the day before. Looking across the street, I found a group of frightened people huddled on top of the roof of a nearby establishment.
I turned to rush back inside when I was thrown off balance. An undead had figured out how to climb, and jumped onto my back clawing and biting at me.Teeth and ragged nails, scraping uselessly at my stone and metal body.
The rest of the party was standing in shock, unable to help, for fear of hurting me. After a moment I was able to grab ahold of the zombie’s tattered clothing and toss it against the wall. Now that I could see my attacker, rage filled my soul. Before me was a young human girl. No more than nine or ten years old. Her once bright blue dress, now torn and covered in dried blood. A large chunk of flesh torn from her small neck. Eyes, now yellowed and putrid, stared back at me. She charged at me. I was able to grab her by the face as she lunged at me. With a thought, the crossbow arms snapped open from my forearm, and I released a bolt. Her body flew back and hit the wall with a sickening thud.
It was then that I made a vow: I would end whomever or whatever caused this.
After it was evident that the small undead child was truly no more, We removed her body from where it hung, placed her inside the fireplace of the room, and burned her. Just because she was a zombie didn’t mean she didn’t deserve to hang like some macabre trophy. Once the grim business of laying her to rest was done, I informed my fellow party members that I had spied a group of survivors atop the roof across the way. We quickly improvised a plan. We would toss a rope across and make our way to the survivors. After the rogue rolled poorly on their use rope repeatedly, the paladin took it upon himself, and with a mighty heave the grappling hook sailed through the air and clattered onto the ledge of the roof.
The people on the other roof quickly figured out our plan and helped to tie off the rope. Once our end was secure, the party proceeded to make their way across. The nimble gnome ran across the taut line with ease. Next came the rogue. She may not have been able to get the rope to the other building on her own, but she nimbly walked it like it was second nature. Up next was the ranger. Slowly he walked across, losing his footing and barely catching himself before falling to what surely would have been a horrible death. Then on our paladin’s turn, he elected to hang below by his knee and pull himself across. Finally, it was my turn. Following the paladin’s example, I also hooked my knees over the rope and attempted to pull myself across in a similar fashion. About a third of the way across, a loud crack sent a tremor through the rope, and the rope went slack, as the wood railing of the balcony which it was tied off to gave way.
I dropped like a stone into the undead masses. My fall was broken with a sickening cracking of bones as my large metal, stone and wooden body came crashing down. Now covered in the putrid gore of some freshly crushed undead. Cautiously I rose to my feet, my hand reaching for my mace. Ready to fight. Though the fight never came. Being covered in the viscera of their crushed brethren, the mass of undead surrounding me paid me no heed, I guess without a heartbeat. And now, smelling of things undead, they either thought I was one of them, or just a gore encrusted statue. Slowly I made my way to the other building, shouldering my way past the undead. I eventually made it to the building. My little sorcerer friend noticed I was not being attacked, and had the party lower me the rope and helped to pull me up to safety. The small group of survivors consisted of the building’s owner, a dwarven blacksmith/merchant, a pair of elderly humans, a rather young elven female, still decades away from being mature, and a couple of town guards. They were clearly scared, tired and hungry. But as luck would have it, the building we were currently seeking refuge on top of was one of the town's largest general stores. Below our very feet was a veritable cache of supplies and equipment. I of course volunteered to go retrieve what I could. And of course, I agreed to go, seeing how successful I was in making it past the shuffling undead just a few minutes prior. Before heading down, I quickly infused my trusty mace with another bane undead, just in case there was a zombie that decided to see what metal and stone tasted like.
Down the stairs I went, old wood creaking under the weight of my body. If I had needed to breathe, I’m sure I would have been holding my breath. After what felt like hours, even though it was a span of just a few seconds, I made it down to the second level of the building. Thankfully, this is where the dwarf stored all his extra wares. As quietly as a 300-pound walking statue could. I quickly rummaged through the store of goods. Grabbing a few sacks from a nearby shelf, I quickly loaded one with rations and found a couple of kegs filled with water. Then I made my way back to the roof. After depositing my first load on the roof, I went back to see what else I could find. During my second search I located a small locked chest. Giving it a quick shake, I was able to make out the tell tale sounds of glass. Using the butt of my mace, I smashed open the lock. Upon opening the chest, I found a stash of various potions. That was when I heard it. A low half growl, followed by the dragging of a foot on the wooden floor.
Before I could react, the undead abomination was on top of me. Eyes blank, broken teeth snapping in the air, fingers raking at my face, while I held it back with one hand as my other felt about for my mace, that had gone skittering across the floor when the zombie lunged at me. Left with no choice, I balled up my left hand and hit it with all the strength I could muster. Metal and stone met, decaying flesh and bone. The first punch left a large dent on the side of its head. A second blow made it even deeper. By the third, the undead corpse was no longer moving. After shoving it off me, I retrieved my trusty mace and stowed it in my belt. Grabbing the chest in both hands, I ran back up the stairs and re-barricaded the door.
In my absence, my party had learned some things from the survivors. For weeks now, prisoners had been taken to the town keep, only to never return. Rumors of evil rituals and other unholy things had made its way throughout the city. Some say the lord of the town made a deal with a demon or some other worldly being. One of the two surviving guards confirmed that prisoners had been taken up to the lord’s keep, which is unusual because all executions were performed in the center of town. He spoke of how the lord had shut himself in his keep as of late.
At first, he thought it was due to the unfortunate passing of the lord's only child. He was murdered by would be cut throats, when the lord refused to pay her ransom. Then the prisoners started being taken there, never to be seen again. Once the town’s prison was virtually empty, travelers would go missing in the dead of night from the inns nearest the keep. Their belongings left in their rooms, never to be reclaimed. Slowly the citizens themselves would disappear. With racking sobs, the guard told of his own beloved wife’s disappearance a few days prior. His worst fears confirmed when she re-appeared in the basement of their home. She was his wife no longer, but an undead monstrosity. He recounted how he was forced to cut her down with the sword she had gifted him the winter prior.
Now with some semblance of a clue as to where to go next, we started moving from rooftop to rooftop. Sometimes the buildings were close enough together to step or jump to the next. For others, we had to create bridges using loose planks of wood and ropes. By the end of the second day we had made it roughly halfway to the keep. When the sun set, we decided to camp out for the evening. No sense in risking our lives when we couldn’t see in the dark. Because I didn’t need to sleep, I would take most of the watch. It was unsettling to be sitting in the heart of a bustling city, as night fell. Normally the watch would be moving throughout the city; torches would spring to life as those responsible would remove their covers, allowing the magical flames to illuminate the encroaching darkness.
Not on this night, though. Occasionally I would spy fires come to life on the roofs of buildings in the distance as survivors would make their beds for the night. While my companions slept, I pulled a small block of wood from a pouch on my belt. As the undead shuffled in the streets below, I carved a small statue from that block. As the morning sun rose, I finished my carving. In my three fingered hand stood the small girl I had laid to rest the prior day. After stowing it away in another pouch, I roused my comrades from their slumber, and proceeded to prepare myself, and my mind, for the coming day.
Once the sun had fully risen, I was ready. We decided to continue making our way to the keep via the rooftops. Occasionally we would come across another survivor or two huddled together, fearing for their lives. We helped those we could and sent them back the way we had come. More than once we had to deal with a zombie that was either a survivor that made it to the roof before succumbing to the dreadful disease, or had been stuck up there, searching for more victims. We would quickly dispatch them and move on. Curiously, we noticed the closer we got to the keep, the less undead would be seen. By the evening of the third night we had made it most of the way to the keep. My comrades and I proceeded to make camp once again. While they slept I maintained watch. The roof we were currently making camp on was on a hillside, offering us an elevated view of the town. From my position I could see more of the city than the night before. Though the amount of fires that could be seen didn’t come close to the count I had made the previous night.
About half past midnight while the moon was high, I felt it. Waves of pure evil emanating out from the direction of the keep. With each wave the undead that were wandering the street below would stir. Their moaning growing louder, their aimless wandering more purposeful. Before dawn, screams could be heard from where we had been just days before. The rising sun did little to make any of us feel better. Screams, battle cries, and the clanging of weapons could be heard in the distance. As survivors bravely fought off the zombie hoards.
How many more the undead claimed we would never know, though we did find that there were no longer any undead in our immediate area. Without any more rooftops between us and the keep, we decided now was as good a time as any to get back on the ground. As soon as the last member of the party got their feet on the ground, we started to sprint for the keep. Curiously not a single undead was to be found between us and our destination. Once at the gates of the keep, we knew we found what we were looking for. The drawbridge was down, and the portcullis raised. The moat that used to be filled with water, was now thick and red with blood.
Cautiously we made our way inside. Party all at the ready. Once inside the main courtyard of the keep, the portcullis drops into position. From a balcony we hear a maniacal laugh sound out.
“Fools, you come here seeking salvation, but here you will only find death,” said a figure cloaked in dark robes. Before any of us could say anything. Doors burst open, undead strode through. Not the same mindless zombies that we had seen in the town. No, these were more akin to undead champions. Suits of plate filled with the bones of their former owners now stripped of flesh, an unholy green light emitting from their eyes. Swords raised, and mocking laughter rasped out of their fleshless faces.
First to make an attack was the little gnome. His iron sphere glowing bright flew from his hands and into the face of the closest undead knight. Iron met bone with a cracking sound, the paladin was next, laying into his adversary with a mighty swing of this sword, while praying to his god. With a blinding flash his foe was smited. Both ranger and rogue engage their foes in a battle to the death. One knight advanced on me, swinging its blade in a wide arc. Raising my off hand, I deflected the blow, leaving a sizable dent in my arm’s metal, and attacked with my own mace. Glowing a bright gold, with the energy of bane undead, the head came crashing down into the knight’s skull, causing the suit of armor to topple into a heap at my feet. Beaten and battered, but still alive, we proceed to make our way inside, and up.
It was on top of the keep’s tower that we found the so-called lord of the town, waiting for us as we came rushing up. He cast Hold Person on our little group of heroes. Somehow, I had managed to make my saving throw, while my fellow party members did not. Recognizing what he was doing as we came through the doorway, I decided to play along, and came to a halt with my compatriots.
“So, now what do we have here?” the lord barked out a laugh. “A group of heroes here to save the day. I think not. You will not make it out of here alive. I will take my time and make each of you a new undead champion for my army. I plan on cleansing this world of the filth of the living. Not long ago I was like you, ready to help those I need. But as I rose in power, I realized something. Life is meaningless, a virus that seeks to destroy everything. I will remake the world!” He cried out, turning his back to us, believing our group to be helpless, he continued to drone on about how many evils he has tried to correct but always failed. How the only way to save the world was to destroy it and start anew.
It was then while his back was turned to us that I made my move. Using the rage I felt for that little girl, whose life was stolen from her. I charged and tackled the undead lord and carried him over the side of the tower with me. I bellowed with pure rage, and the lord screamed like a wounded beast.
Down we fell.
Me holding him with one hand, as my other continued to pummel his face. The shock of hitting the moat’s surface briefly separated him from my grip. Half blind and sinking, I was able to grab onto his robes as he tried to escape from my righteous fury. Down I dragged him with me until my feet hit the bottom of the moat. With both hands I pulled him to me, as he struggled to escape. He would not see the light of day. Once my three fingered hands found his neck, I proceeded to ensure this would be his crimson grave. As the last bubble escaped his lips, my rage set. I let go. His body sank further down into the muck.
Slowly I made my way out. Screams of joy rang out as my head breached the surface, my party members cheering from the balcony above. My DM sat there, speechless. The next words from him were “You killed the big bad evil guy. He was supposed to escape, and you were supposed to battle him again.” The DM then said the undead that he had created stop functioning, and all fall to the ground, for they were linked to the big bad. As long as he lived, so did they, but with his death, their unlife had ended.