Tales of Undar

A selection of stories from my own fantasy world, Undar, which was the basis of many D&D games in the period 1998-2007 or so. I'll try to indicaate the rough chronological order of composition, although some were refined and even radically altered over the years. The first few stories story (oldest blog entry) are the founding myths...

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The Azer

Philip Thomas
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Though they now dwell in supernatural bodies in the Elemental Plane of Fire, the Azer were once ordinary flesh and blood dwarves, like many of their kindred throughout Undar.

The Azer were the hereditary caste that maintained the great Furnace in the Dwarven fortress of Durnfleim, the Furnace which was so large it occupied an entire lower level in the seven-peaked fortress and which threw out enough magical heat to supply all the forges and hearths of that realm. The heat even allowed the cultivation of subterranean crops and livestock, a vital resource in time of siege. The god the Azer worshipped was Thumos, Dwarven God of the Hearth.

Yet the Furnace was flawed at its heart, for it was an ancient artifact of Altairian design, and like all such artifacts, it depended on the near presence of Altair to function, something which the Dwarves in their power and their ill will towards the High Elves tried their best to forget

When the Catastrophe ripped Altair from Undar's orbit, all Altairian artifacts ceased to function, the Furnace included, though its death was slow and gradual as the heat dissipated, and the Azer did all they could to maintain it. In the Great Winter that followed, Durnfleim was once again besieged by the forces of chaos and evil, and the need for the Furnace was greater than ever. As the outer bastions fell the Azer came to an accord: they would add their own bodies as fuel to the flames in one last desperate attempt to revive the Furnace by blood sacrifice. One by one the Azer and their children stepped into the burning fires, which were still hot enough to melt bronze, and there they should have perished.

Yet Thumos took pity on the Azer, and because of their great sacrifice which they had undertaken from love of others he transformed them into beings able to survive in a raging inferno, and created where the Furnace had stood a portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire, whence he transported the Azer, to live out the rest of their days.

The Azer return seldom to Undar and are wary of strangers, especially elves and their kin, but they are true and loyal friends once their trust is earned. On the Prime Material Plane they are to be found sometimes in the region of the Iron Mountains, near the ruined fortress of Durnfleim, and rumour has it that the original portal to the Elemental Plane of Fire is still open, somewhere in the depths of that accursed place.

This story is of course rather later than the others, dating from the time of 3rd edition (or 3.5), when the Azer first appeared in the MM. It was actually told, in quite different language, on the wizards-of-the-coasts forums back in 2004. I was surfing the forums late at night in the incipient stages of my third episode of bipolar disorder (for further details on this see my other BGG blog). I never returned to the WOTC forums...
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Fri Aug 10, 2012 10:39 pm
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The Catastrophe

Philip Thomas
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Cornelius Nott was merely one of many candidates for the Imperial throne in that last moment before the coming of Timor, but his victory became likely when he discovered the Sceptre, buried in a frozen glacier to the North of Urbnor. With the control this gave him over the orbs he was able to cross the Iron Mountains and follow the Silver Road to the headwaters of the Imahensen, where, on the first day of 2315, he created the city of Cornucopia.

The Great City was brought into being ready-formed and populated, larger than any Undarly city before it, with massive stone walls surrounded and thronged with over a million beings from across the multiverse. Hundreds of portals to other planes dotted the city, and over it towered the Imperial Palace, with its thousands of guards and riches beyond telling. Cornelius himself was enthroned in majesty at the heart of the palace, greater than any Emperor before him.

But the creation of Cornucopia had a price. The Sceptre, through which Cornelius had channeled the awesome power needed to make the city, crumbled to dust in his hands. From the darkness of wildspace was summoned Timor, a second sun of greater power than Helion, and it attracted Altair into its own orbit, wrenching it from Undar. The fire of Helion was dampened and the world plunged into a Great Winter, which lasted a hundred years.

So the name of Cornelius is accursed among the wise and he is known as Cornelius the Decayer. Yet there are some who say that the coming of Timor was inevitable, or had other causes, and Cornelius' actions created the best hope for human survival.

This was going to be the finale for my 2nd campaign, but we never actually got that far. It was inspired by Brian Aldiss' Helliconia series. Echoes of A Game of Thrones are accidental-this story was composed around 2001, before George R.R.Martin got started.
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Sun Aug 5, 2012 1:01 pm
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The Copper Age

Philip Thomas
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After Apotheosis Andrew's son, Aurion, was able to recover the First Orb from the Death King, who was finally laid to rest, and unite the Terrantepala as one realm (though the living forest of Marabesh did not participate). However, he was determined to avoid the mistakes of the Paladinate, and so he made the new realm an Empire, ruled by an Emperor.

With the foresight of the First Orb, he made rules for Choosing the Imperial Heir, Coups, Civil Wars, and Co-Emperors. The rules forbad the Emperor to be or to have been 'a practiser of arcane magic, a cleric, a paladin, a druid, or a priest.' They also forbid the resurrection or reincarnation of dead Emperors. They were taught to the First Orb, so it could refuse its blessing to inappropriate Emperors. Insurance aginst rulebreakers was taken out with the Arcane, who were paid to asassinate them. He also established the Church of Empire (The Paladin, Gaius and Borangel) and gave a special tolerance to worshippers of Andrew, who was unable to agree with the Paladin on Church matters.

For the next three hundred years the Empire held sway over most of the Terrantepala and claimed a degree of tribute from Amazonia. When the Emperor was a just and good man, as several were, peace and harmony generally prevailed. When he was a wicked tyrant, as many were, there was great unhappiness, discord, and, eventually, civil war. Yet the rules laid down by Aurion were heeded and the empire stayed intact.

The line of Aurion was extinguished in AFP 2138, its last representative, a brutal and sadistic tyrant, killed from afar by a Wish spell cast by one of the followers of Simonides. A breif civil war preceded a sucession of good Emperors, which was terminated by another tyrant. The second and third civil wars came in quick succession, with David II emerging as Emperor in 2288. His best general, Corin Nott, was sent North to Terrastew to combat a Quaggoth invasion, and when David II was assasinated by the Harlequin Cult Corin claimed the throne, but he too died before he could come south for his coronation, leaving his son, Cornelius, a mere youth, as his heir.

This takes us to where my second campaign began- in the provincial capital of Terrastew, Urbnor. The Arcane and Quaggoths are from the 2nd edition MM
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Fri Jun 22, 2012 8:53 pm
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Apotheosis

Philip Thomas
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After the Undar war ended there was a continuing low level conflict between Simonides, still oligarch of Diathras, aided by Borangel and Harmonius, and Andrew, now Regent of Palas for his young son Aurion, who was aided by Gaius and, very erratically, by Pelennor. Hiclathon stayed neutral for the most part. The High Elves, who were busy completing the Wishanti campaign, refused to help either side as both sides were improperly using Orbs that did not belong to them, but their sympathies clearly lay with Andrew.

After about ten years, Hiclathon, perceiving that Andrew was winning the struggle and the High Elves might well help him now they had firm control of Wishan, released the Witch Queen from her captivity. The stage was set for one final confrontation between all eight protagonists- on the outskirts of Hedeby.

Simonides began by casting a very powerful Wish, which reached back over 2000 years and summoned the Paladin through time, under his control. Borangel, who was standing besides Simonides, had hitherto been loyal to the Oligarch, but the Paladin was the superior authority and it was illegal to control him, so he struck Simonides from behind with his great warhammer, breaking the mage's concentration and freeing the Paladin from his control.

The battle developed between the Paladin, Borangel, Gaius and Andrew on one side and the Witch Queen, Harmonius, and Simonides on the other. Hiclathon gave his support first to one side then to the other as the struggle ebbed and flowed, while Pelennor changed sides at more or less random intervals.

Soon all parties were badly wounded, even dying. Gaius showed mercy by sparing Harmonius, who promptly turned the tables and showed no mercy to Gaius, but was thwarted by Hiclathon. Then, on the verge of death the heroes began to be transformed- into Gods. The old Gods recognised the greatness of each of the nine heroes and their embodiment of their particular alignments, and enabled Apotheosis, the rising to Godhood of mere mortals, which had only happened once before.

The new gods were free to continue their rivalry, as they have done ever since.
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Tue Jun 19, 2012 8:35 pm
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The Undar War

Philip Thomas
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Some 315 game years and over 6 months real time passed between my first and second campaigns. The first 15 years I developed in quite a bit of detail...

Having defeated Grunefeling the heroes went on to Thelia, where they rescued the Sixth Orb from the Derro and, through the heroic sacrifice of Anselm, bearer of the Tenth Orb, were able to reverse the devastation acheieved in 574.

Meanwhile the Witch Queen emerged from her two thousand year long captivity, unrepentant and extremely angry. She was unable to find the Staff but chanced instead upon the Crown, allowing her to hear all the Orbs. This ability contributed to her growing insanity, but she was still very powerful and swiftly welded together a formidable coalition of monsters. She began by besieging Durnfleim but soon tired of this and, leaving a portion of her forces to continue the siege, marched south, absorbing the Plains and threatening the known world.

Simonides, Oligarch of Diathras, sent his henchman, Borangel to negotiate with the Witch Queen's henchman, Harmonius. This resulted in an agreement whereby the hills North of Diathras, known as the Missals or Gnomeland from the substantial Gnome settlement there were divided between Diathras and the Witch Queen. Palas declared war on the Witch Queen as a result, but its forces were forced to adopt a defensive posture in order to guard against a Diathran attack.

The Witch Queen spent some months fruitlessly trying to force Durnfleim's surrender before suddenly launching a lightning invasion of Palas. The speed with which they were defeated caused the King and Queen of Palas to surrender in the hope of sparing their people's lives, but the Witch Queen had them horifically tortured and executed as an example to others. Resistance at a guerilla level was lead by Andrew, while his wife was escorted to safety in Thelia by her cousin Gaius.

Meanwhile the Witch Queen's armies attacked the Living Forest of Marabesh. Thousands of monsters disppeared between those wild trees, never to emerge again. The Witch Queen switched tactics and mounted a powerful aerial assualt on the forest, raining fire in the hopes of burning the whole wood to cinders.

However this attack too was defeated, this time by a sudden assault of mist and cloud dragons lead by Tethenedor, energised by the Hiclathon Declaration, in which the wily old hierophant declared that the Balance had tilted too far in the direction of evil and it was the duty of every Neutral creature to attack the Witch Queen and her followers. Needless to say the majority of the target audience simply ignored this remarkable pronouncement, but the minority who did heed it proved sufficient to drive back the invaders to the borders of Marabesh.

Meanwhile the heroic Katherine Du Serra and her companions were journeying across the Inland Sea, in quest first of Leviathan and her Orb and secondly of a legendary portal to Altair which would allow them to plead with the High elves to intervene. The Witch Queen also sought new allies and found one in the recently reborn Gnoll Federation, which, like its predecessor, was based in the lands between the Eastern Mountains and the Inland Sea, a short distance across the desert from Thelia. Inital Gnoll attacks on Thelia were however decisively defeated by Gaius, making his reputation as a General as well as heroic Fighter.

Impatient with the Gnolls and eager to secure a more direct route to Thelia, the Witch Queen launched a full-scale invasion of Diathras, which however faild to suprise Simonides at all. The invasion was stil ongoing several months later when a development on the other side of the world radically changed the Undar War.

For some time the High Elves had been concerned about the growing power of Wishan, an evil nation lead by eastern vampires and ogre magi, and its gradual conquest of the mainland realm of Koalam. The High Elves invoked various sanctions short of actual war, which only served to enrage the Wishanti into a suprise attack on Terminus, one of the floating fortreses between Altair and Undar. Terminus was utterly destroyed and the High Elves at war with Wishan. Simultaneously the heroes found the portal to Altair, defeated its guardians and, on arrival, persuaded the High Elves to declare war on the Witch Queen in the bargain.

Realising the coalition against her was now formidable, the Witch Queen met with Simonides inside Diathran territory, at the town he had renamed in his own honour, Simonsburg. Before the negotiations began she swore a great oath that she would not seek to interrupt them by force, swearing on a covered table which, unknown to her, concealed the Fifth Orb. When she violated her oath and ordered her dragons to kill Simonides, she fell into a deep coma, induced by the power of the orb. Her dragons were able to carry off her unconscious body, but Simonides was able to drive the monsters from Diathras and even sway many goblinoid tribes to his side.

The Witch Queen's unconsciousness allowed Andrew and Gaius to recover Palas and Katherine Du serra to conquer the lands held by the Gnoll Federation, which became known as Duserra from then on. The High Elves defeated the Wishanti in the air and at sea and the war seemed likely to end.

Yet the Witch Queen woke from her slumber, and in a last great offensive she lead her monsters against Gaius and Andrew, and was decisively defeated at Maryland, just inside the Palas border. She took refuge with Simonides, who held her captive for a time. So ended the Undar War in the Terrantepala, though the Wishanti refused to surrender to the High Elves, and it was ten long years before they could be finally defeated.
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Sat Jun 16, 2012 5:02 pm
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The Thelian incident

Philip Thomas
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I prepared this briefing information to give to my players after they defeated Grunefeling and seized his notes. However, due to my illnees the information was never distributed. Loretta was a weretiger NPC who was helping the PCs. The Damping Engine was a mcguffin explanation for why no psionics were allowed in my game... Several 2nd edition monsters make an appearance.

The Thelian Incident
What is now the Thelian desert, but a small part of the great desert which lies between the civilised world and the inland sea, was once the richest province in the Paladinate. The events surrounding the years 573-4, when the release of a reptilian gargantua was followed by the arrival of theTarrasque, are complex and shrouded in myth, but it is known that both creatures ravaged from Thelian, as the province was then (it formed the flood plain of the river Thel, whose bed is now dry), and that the Tarrasque was banished by Franz the Foolish, using the first orb, which killed him. In recent years, scholars have uncovered evidence that another orb was involved, possibly the sixth, or svirfneblinhim orb. Indeed, the noted Gnomish Professor, Grunefeling, was thought to have tracked the Orb, from this incident to its current location. Unfortunately, he made a wilful attempt to kidnap the only son of the local gnome ruler. After Fizban had been rescued, he and his halfling mistress, Harlequin preistess Martha Harefoot, were banished from the land, and he took with him his vast collection of ancient Gnomish and Thelian manuscripts. He was last seen on the outskirts of Amazonia, but his personality has become twisted by long years of fruitless study.
Death becomes him, but his papers are still difficult to decipher- many use Thelian hyroglyphics. Fortunately Loretta will translate these for you. The material is complex, and involves an understanding of Thelian religion.

The Thelian Story , (this material is in Thelian, that’s why you have Loretta
Among the gods created by the drow was one Felix, lawful evil, a cat-god, with all the cunning and subtlety that implies. Felix slunk off from the other gods and watched the drow fall to Undar. Realising that Man was the coming thing, he set himself up as a slave god for an ilithid burial community’s primate playthings. The psionic ilithids were slain by the Damping Engine, and the primates freed to use their artifacts. Among other things, these included powerful techniques for the preservation of the dead, in vast structures known as pyramids. Felix watched over his people carefully, shielding them from elven eyes, yet teaching them the civilised arts in his own way, particularly priestly magic. At the time of the Sundering, Felix felt it safe to let his people into the daylight, and thus created the state of Thelia. On the surface, this was a primitive peasant kingdom, but in the temples and pyramids lurked the priests of Felix, conducting foul experiments on catlike beings. An unhealthy interest in pain was a prime feature, Thelian society being even more involved in corporal punishment than Amazonian, and in a more twisted way- special spells were developed to keep peasants alive yet in agony. Foreigners came and went, always absorbed or destroyed within a couple of generations by Felix’s malign paw. The Paladin was different. He uncovered the priestly rituals behind Thelian society and overthrew the old order, setting up a Governor of Thelia in the Great Pyramid. Felix watched and waited, and patiently schemed in the darkness, the surviving priests researching horrific magic in the bowels of the earth. Eventually they created what was necessary, a beast so powerful it could destroy the Paladinate, known to us as the Tarrasque. The Tarrasque’s failure was a quirk of gnomish history which no-one could have predicted.

The Svirfneblinhim Story (this material is in gnomish, that’s why you have Fizban)
The svirfneblinhim or deep gnomes were those that mined the deepest and uncovered hideous monsters and beautiful treasures. Of old the svirfneblinhim were split into two factions, the svirfneblinhim verum (Neutral Good) and the Spriggans. The Spriggans were Felix’s catspaw, being Chaotic evil. Felix used his foul rituals to enable them to become giant sized at will. The svirfneblinhim drove them to the surface with the assistance of the Paladin and in turn helped him overthrow the WitchQueen. As a reward for their loyal service they were given the sixth orb, and a retinue of Paladins to protect them underground. When the Underwar ended in A.F.P 236, the svirfneblinhim were betrayed, being sealed under the earth with a few slow paladins. Then there was war between the svirfneblinhim, who believed the Paladins would return, and the myconids (mushroom men) who thought their betrayal absolute. In the late 6th century svirfneblinhim fleeing from a myconid sally were captured by the preists of Felix and learnt of their plans for the tarrasque. A lucky few escaped to the surface and were sent to warn the then Death King, Franz. As he marched South the Tarrasque emerged, killing hundreds of paladins, with its chimeras following. Franz used the first orb to banish the tarrasque and turn Thelia into a desert, but was killed in the process. The sixth orb acted as a stabiliser and preserved Thelia underground. It was handed down from generation to generation until a mysterious race known as the derro stole it and slaughtered its protecting tribe. The Orbholder’s son escaped however, and was abandoned on a mountainside, where he was found by a community of surface gnomes who named him Fizban. Grunefeling’s attempt to kidnap Fizban ended in failure, but he believes he is the only one who can truly use the sixth orb.
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Sun Jun 10, 2012 2:27 pm
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Grunefeling and Martha Harefoot

Philip Thomas
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The heroes set sail for Amazonia. On the way Katherine Du Serra was much troubled by dark dreams in which the evil god who had resurrected her attempted to corrupt her. She stalwartly refused, but the evil was released in Amazonia, taking shape as a great Feyr, which killed the Amazon Empress, thus ending the Second Dynasty. The heroes' popularity with the Amazons was not improved by a serious explosion resulting from Errol combining a Bag of Holding with a Portable Hole. Katherine had a brief encounter with her father, who was leading a band of male resistance fighters.

The heroes then made their way swiftly to the Amazon borders, passing through the land of the Suevi, a Dwarf tribe that had adopted Amazon customs. They passed through the lands of the Hobgoblin tribe of the Hippogriff, acquiring gems which were used as tribute for the Mist Dragon Tethenedor, who therefore let them pass unharmed.

Eventually they came to the home of the Swanmay Cynthia, who warned them of the dangers ahead in Grunefeling's lair, including a cocaktrice who had turned Cynthia's Necromancer husband, Barnabas into Stone two years ago. With Cynthia's guidance they were able to restore Barnabas and defeat Grunefeling, who plunged suddenly from his lair to die in the icy lake below.

And here the first campaign ended because of my first episode of Bipolar Disorder, which you can read about in my other blog. In fact, the disease was already upon me during the final session, hence Grunefeling's unorthodox demise.
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Sat Jun 9, 2012 6:51 pm
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The Delta

Philip Thomas
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The Diathrans force marched our heroes all the way to the swampy delta at the mouth of the Imahensen, where they condemned them to be eaten alive by their lizardmen allies. Due to some remarkably lax lizardman jailing practices the heroes escaped, recovered their equipment and kiled many lizardmen including the lizardman king, but not before he had killed Katherine Du Serra, who was brought back to life by mysterious dark magic.

The heroes then made their way to the town of Saratoa in Palas, where conflict was brewing between Andrew, now son-in-law of the King of Palas and wielder of the Third Orb, and Saint Anselm, the latest bearer of the Tenth Orb. The bard left the group for a life of monastic solitude. The heroes then defeated some Ghouls under the control of a corrupted necromancer, Nicomedus, who had been in contact with Lesh Kul's old master Beorthelm, whom they soon discovered was dying back in the delta.

Returning to the delta the heroes were able to defeat varous monsters including some kaocinths (underwater hobgoblins) but couldn't prevent Beorthelm dying of grief at his Swanmay companion's being put to death by the Diathran High Priest, Matthew Borangel, a devotee of Borangel God of Bureaucrats, under anti-nonhuman laws recently introduced by Simonides. The heroes also learnt of important information relating to the Sixth or Svirniblenhim Orb being held by a Gnomish Illusionist called Grunefeling, currently residing in the mountains to the East of Amazonia. They therefore set out for Amazonia by sea.

The bard was abandoned by its player in favour of the halfling theif NPC already present, Errol. The heroes were getting towards fourth level by the end of this series of adventurers
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Fri Jun 8, 2012 7:50 pm
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The Silver Road

Philip Thomas
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So Katherine Du Serra, Entelzar, Lesh Kul, a human bard and a halfing called Errol set out for the realm of the Iron King with the Tenth Orb. Before they could reach the start of the Silver Road they were attacked by a Jackalwere, which they swiftly slew.

The Plains between Copeland and Durnfleim had been overrun by monsters more than a thousand years earlier, and remained extremely perilous, but to the travellers there was granted limited safety so long as remained on the Silver Road, whether by the innate power of the Road, paved long ago by Paladins, or by the working of the Orb, apparently inert though it seemed.

The travellers had many adventurers on the road, being attacked by vicious bloodhawks, vampiric bats and vagabond ogres led by a verbeeg. They passed through the ruined city of Marilya, fighting off gargoyles and aided by the grey elves who still dwelt in their ancestral home. They fought their way through a mudpool with its mudmen, fended off owlbears and perytons, and were accompanied for a short while by Craig, a Firbolg disguised as a human, and Pelennor, who had just emerged from his long captivity, but he hid his true nature and seemed just another bard to them.

Perhaps their most difficult challenge lay in each other. The party's bard was continually annoying everyone, particularly Katherine Du Serra, so she confiscated his musical instrument, until disturbing dreams warned her she was acting Chaotically. She returned the instrument but the next day it was missing again and there was much furious accusation before the culprits were revealed as a band of Pixies.

At length the heroes reached the outskirts of Durnfliem and were brought before the Iron King, who took delivery of the Tenth Orb, gave them a quest to complete in the mountains and then bade them return to Copeland. Their return journey was much smoother, only for them to blunder into the Diathran army, which placed them under immediate arrest.

Meanwhile, not far from the heroes' route, the body of the Titan Aikmallatous was discovered by dwarven scouts. For two thousand years Harmonius had contemplated little else but how to slay his imprisoner- and he was able to complete the task very quickly once released.

The Silver Road was a sort of wilderness adventure, but with the advantage of a fixed route. I still have the notes I made for it, though I'm not actually sure which of the encounters I came up with were actually implemented. The pixies incident was a little ad hoc improvisation, but actually proved the most fun encounter of the whole adventure! The halfling Errol was an NPC.
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Tue Jun 5, 2012 7:57 pm
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The Two Entelzars

Philip Thomas
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We have already mentioned the Necromantic Order of the Swan. The male members of the Order were Necromancers and the female members Swanmays- that is to say, humans with the power to transform into a swan at will. The order was the reverse of celibate, with the male and female members usually partnering for life. So it was with with Katherine Du Serra's companions, Lesh-Kul and Entelzar.

What is not commonly known is that Entelzar had an cousin, also known as Entelzar, who was identical in all respects except that she was not a Swanmay. It was this Entelzar that set out on the first of Katherine Du Serra and Lesh Kul's adventures. However, she was slain by a giant toad at the entrance to the ruined monastery, and replaced by the more famous Entelzar, who was conveniently lurking nearby...

Killing a character at the entrance to the dungeon isn't a smart move, so I allowed the player to start again with the same stats. The Swanmay thing came later when he was reading the 2nd edition MM. I allowed him to play one with similar restrictions to those placed on Demihumans in 2nd edition - level caps. We never reached the point where level caps would have mattered.
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Tue Jun 5, 2012 11:16 am
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