Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Rays of Un-Life III

In my previous two posts I talked about the concept of the Runic Undead with the Rays of Un-Life.

The Rays of Un-Life

The Rays of Un-Life - Part II

Some of my reader on MeWe have posted questions, which I've answered there, so this post is a continuation and elaboration on those thoughts. Let's go.

It is notable that a Necromancer in possession of a Skull that emits the Rays of Un-Life has a very powerful artifact which can "see" things that normal mortals can not see by pointing its Rays of Un-Life in a given direction. This is because the Rays reflect the "Reality of Death" and show what it is that the Undead with Rays of Un-Life actually see. I elaborate on that in Post II, but suffice it to say they reveal the lies that people tell themselves, and the "true nature" of the individuals upon whom the "Dark Light" is cast. This, in the right hands, if used safely and with the right controls, could be of great value to extremely careful necromancers, evil wizards, anti-clerics or anti-paladins. For example, imagine the effectiveness of this device during Interrogation & Torture sessions? I'm sure exquisitely evil people could find many uses for such a thing. Many.

Emmett O'Brian Question: If I chop the head off does the skull still shoot out rays?

Yes. The Rune of Un-Life can only be destroyed by Remove Curse. Please don't blurt that out to your players, btw. Read the previous post on my blog for the Part I section on this if you haven't already. Also note, a silver mirror can be used to deflect the Rays of Un-Life.

Emmett O'Brian Question: So could I use a silver mirrored ball with a little hole in it to make an unlife laser? That's all I really want.

This is the kind of artifact that the Necromancer of Note will think up. Making the thing, however, would take a great deal of effort, and require not only a large amount of silver, but the appropriate safeguards. Necromancers, after all, are not necessarily all that keen on being destroyed by the Ray of Un-Life either. See additional notes below.

Jon Salway Question: For games with ‘Save vs x, y & z’, what are characters saving against if ‘struck’ by such beams?

I'd go with Death Ray.

Additional Notes

Remember, not all animated Skeletons have the Rays of Un-Life. Only those that a Necromancer performs the Ceremony on, and inscribes the Rune of Un-Life upon. You could also, btw, have Zombies, Ghouls, Vampires or Mummies with the Rays of Un-Life, potentially as well.

I would make Runic Un-Life Skeletons Rare. A Necromancer would almost always animate undead Skeletons of the "normal" variety. Those that patrol the dungeon corridors, attack intruders, guard treasures, and/or obey commands. Only one in a hundred encounters with Skeletons might entail meeting an Un-Life Runic Skeleton. And when this does happen, ideally, it should come as a Big Huge Frikkin Surprise to the players!

In any event, I recommend playing up the horror aspect for these creatures. They should be intensely purposeful, highly intelligent and deeply insightful. Their goal is to create Despair-Unto-Death...

Since the Ray of Un-Life emits from the eyes of the Skeleton whatever it gazes at should reflect their Un-Life vision ... so as GM you really want to be very well tuned into your Player Character's deepest flaws and creatively represent them as the "Ray of Un-Life" would reveal them (see post II for more detail). For example, the greedy thief, when gazed upon, reflects an eery dark light and beneath it appears to the other PCs as a worm-in-cloths (or worm enshrouded) with long spindly arms ending in wriggling bony fingers ... the Character's sins should be represented in whatever form they see ... and as the other PCs see this, he of course is rolling Saves vs the Un-Life Rays and losing Mystic Power (in Elthos that equates to Mystic Points, though in other systems you could use Hit Points, or whatever may seem appropriate). When the gaze passes over to another Character, they see the next entirely other-world and horrible reflection (be as cold and brutal with this as possible - spare no punches - this is the Vision of the Dark World of Death!) ... and there is the thief, laying on the ground fibrillating with fear, or paralysis, or insanity, or dying ... (provided he missed his save).... GM Discretion advised. Salt to taste.

On the other hand, the Runic Skeletons should not be invincible, though they certainly will definitely portray themselves as such, and with good reason. Their view is that of Death itself. They have no individual personality, goals, hopes or dreams at all. Zero. So they have every reason to project their Cause as omnivorous unstoppable Reality. One has a greater chance of stopping Cthulhu than the Black Dimension of Death Itself. And that is exactly who all Runic Undead represent. BUT! That said, they should be played as slow movers, and despite great strength and/or near-invulnerability physically (such as the Stone Skeleton), they simply are quite poor physical combatants. In fact, they far prefer to rely on their mental attacks to gain victory as their goal is to drink in (and extinguish) the Life Energy of the Ultimately Defeated. From this death there is no resurrection, no reincarnation, and no hope. It is ultimate and permanent death, and worse - the victim becomes one of the Ultimate Dead and joins them as an undead creature.

The Un-Life Rune is known as The Eye of Death. Its meaning is literal. It is the literal eye of the God of Death. And the mind within the Skeleton (or any Undead with the Rune) is that of the Death God itself. Therefore, the Runic Undead does not have any will of its own at all, but is an avatar of Death - the eyes, ears and mouth of the God of Death. So unlike ordinary undead which will obey the Necromancer, the Runic Undead will definitely not. In fact, it is very likely that the Necromancer will be destroyed upon creating the monster unless very serious precautions are taken.

You would think that the Necromancer ought to be an ally of such creatures, since it is the Necromancer who creates them. However, to Death, the Necromancer is an insignificant tool, a ridiculous creature under the same illusions of life as every other living thing... the Skeleton will have zero sympathy for the Necromancer, and will seek to slake its infinite thirst on whatever closest living thing appears before it - especially the Necromancer. So Necromancers beware... this is NOT a toy! It is an absolute abomination, and menace to all Life - including, and especially, yours!

It should also be noted that 1 in 100 Runic Skeletons will ALSO come with some form of mystic transformation. In my first post I mentioned two possibilities, the Burnt Skeleton, and the Stone Skeleton. Brass, Iron, Steel, Emerald, Diamond*, etc are all possible and the GM should carefully consider what Power (and vulnerability) comes with each. These are Lord Runic Undead, and are the Rulers of the other Runic Undead. And so, once created, and after slaking their thirst the other Runic Undead will seek out the closest Lord Runic Skeleton to follow. They will know unerringly what direction their Lord is, and immediately begin their slow inexorable march towards it, devouring any and every living thing in their path. This includes animals, insects, and plants... Any spark of life within 20 feet of the creature will be devoured as it moves. If there are no Lord Runic Undead in the World when it is created, the Runic Undead will perform as one would expect... it will wander aimlessly, randomly destroy any life in its path.

Lord Runic Skeletons are Major Curses of the World. They are extremely rare, and usually only one will exist at a time. They are the equivalent of a Lich, but not the same. They do not cast spells, but do have powers related to their form. They will never ally with a lich, but will seek to control them, draining the Lich's last remaining vestiges of Life Energy, which are embodied in its personality and will. Therefore even Liches greatly fear the Lord Runic Undead. No one wants to be sucked into its Abyss of Ultimate Finality.

I should mention that Life Energy comes in two forms in my game of Elthos. One is measured in Life Points, which are physical and akin to Hit Points, and the other are measured in Mystic Points, which reflect the Character's spiritual force. While the Runic Undead will certainly physically kill living things by brute force whenever the need arises, their preference is to drain the creature's Mystic Energies, thereby extinguishing them, and thereby reducing the amount of life in the Universe.

In this regard, it should be remembered that the primary attack of the Runic Undead is against the Will of the Living. As such it will seek to use its Vision and its words to cause Despair. In the eyes of Death, life is temporary, futile, and agonizingly, infuriatingly absurd. In Death's eyes, Life itself is the disease. Death, the god, as a Truly Lawful Entity, wants the universe cleansed completely of Life itself.

Of course one might ask, why haven't such dread creatures destroyed the living already? What's up with that? These sound like practically omnipotent monsters! Read on.

There is a counterpoint to the Vision of Death, of course, otherwise life would never have survived to begin with. And that is the Vision of Life! These are two diametrically opposing viewpoints on what the Reality of the Universe really is. Is Life the Illusion, or Death?

Somehow it will be in each player's hands to either succumb to the arguments of Death (aka Vision or Words of Death), or overcome them. As they say, "Hope springs eternal". It is up to the Players to battle the Despair of Death's words in the realm of the Mind and Spirit.

Whenever they fiercely counter Death's Words or Vision with the Words of Life, they should get high bonuses on their Saves, or in the Elthos System, their Mystic Armor Class is Augmented considerably. Such decisions must be made via Adjudication by the GM. Listen to the words that the Player speaks in response. Add bonuses if the Words are Anti-Death, and more if they are delivered with conviction (spirit)!

For an example of a Paladin failing this check, read the end of Part II of this series.

Finally ... The Runic Undead are not actually invulnerable, nor all that powerful in a physical sense. They have one power which is the Ray of Un-Life, formidable, but not unstoppable. The Runic Undead, however, can be destroyed by a successful Remove Curse, While Lord Runic Undead require 3 successful Remove Curses to be destroyed. Their Un-Life Rays can be thwarted by silver mirrors, and their Vision of Death can be countered by Words of Life.

Important Note:  Once the Players "get the trick" on fighting the Words of Death with Words of Life, the gig will be up for the Runic Undead.  Most of their punch relies on their victims falling for the "inexorable logic of Death".  This is why you want to keep this close to your chest, and hopefully your players have never run into these particular blog posts.  That said, once the gig is up, that does not mean the fight is over at all.  Should their primary attack fail, the Runic Undead, and in particular the Lords of the Runic Undead, will resort to blunt force violence to achieve their goals. They will summon any "normal" undead to help them do so, if possible.  They may even keep a ridiculous and wretched Necromancer or Lich on hand for such occasions.  Remember they are highly intelligent creatures... but they do not cast spells, and so they can not create undead. 

I advise GMs to play such creatures close to the chest. Have fun with it. These are Dire Monsters, but with vulnerabilities that should make them interesting, and not necessarily overwhelming to Player Characters who keep their wits about them, and show some courage in the face of Horror.

For myself I would start a campaign based on this with a slow rollout in mind. A foolish Necromancer creating undead to fulfill his evil purposes ... one day goes too far...

Your job, Adventurers, is to find the thing, undo the damage and stop the Horror before it's too late! Good luck!!

* - as an aside, but of interest here, the God of Death, in classical mythology, also happens to be known as the God of Wealth. The dead dwell under the earth in their graves (gravity), and under the earth is where all such minerals and elements of great wealth are found ... gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds... all known to the God of Wealth, Death. One can see the connection here in regards to my Runic Undead in so far as Death values what? Those things that are both not alive, and also those things that last for very, very long periods of time. Like diamonds, gold, iron, and so on. These are the treasures of Death, to whom they have intrinsic value. Not only that, but these elements also possess amazing powers, when assembled correctly. As it happens the human race has become adept at such assemblies... and in our modern era we have innovated all kinds of technological "miracles" because of our knowledge. But imagine a world in which Death is real, and the world of Dark Energy and Matter are real ... in such a world non-living, but sentient beings might exist, and also be able to mold the elements into machines. Machines of the Dark Dimension! Perhaps some day Death will get fed up with the tit-for-tat war he has waged against Life, and come from the Black Depths with his Dark-Matter Robot Army wielding their Dark-Energy Cannons. Perhaps.