Solo Skald |||

The party is still in the Blackened Tower, the former lair of Albinus the necromancer. Albinus is dead, but these new members of the Sacretta Carnifexa (“Sacred Butchers”) have been sent to mop up whatever foul undead or other enemies of the Church of Saintly Blood remain within.

Setting up factions

However, before returning to the delve, I want to do a little more worldbuilding to contextualize what’s happening down there. Specifically, I thought about that group of allies that were heading to Albinus’s aid, which caused the initial assault to be hurried, rather than allowing the militia to prepare properly. Since I’d previously determined that bandits and cultists had moved into the tower, it seemed logical to build on that. At one point, I’d thought about tying them to dragons because of the necromancer’s thoughts on ending death and defeating sin” (where dragons are connected to the idea of sin in Krevborna). But I also remembered this bit:

Thus does evil forever war against itself. True to their nature, devils tempt mortals to commit spiritual transgresions, and their agents are wraiths and specters. Demons tempt mortals to commit bodily sins, and their agents are physical monstrosities such as vampires, ghouls, and werewolves.

So clearly there’s a connection to demons, who are also linked to the Lilitu (and thus to Lamashtuan nobility). In theory, Yanakus, the Father of Undeath, is an obvious enemy of the Sacretta Carnifexa. But as noted, demons war against devils, including Menoch, the Apostate Minstrel, who inspires mortals to use religion to enrich or empower themselves at the expense of others.”

Therefore, I decide, when Albinus alluded to defeating sin,” he really meant both Menoch and the Church of Saintly Blood itself, thus perceiving it as demonically corrupted. And Yanakus just feels a bit on the nose anyway. So I will use Aleyus, the Butcher, who inspires mortals to wantonly shed the blood of their fellows” and is depicted as a hulking beast with a horned, animalistic head.” This has the added benefit of tying into the idea of the sacred butchers” as well as the bandits I already identified in the dungeon.

After spending a good amount of time with tables in Worlds Without Number and The Tome of Adventure Design, and a bit of back and forth with ChatGPT, I wrote up a new faction to include in the campaign, a cult more or less diametrically opposed to the Sacretta Carnifexa. I imagine the cult works by first fomenting dissent against theocratic rule, whipping up violence and bloodthirst. Many members have no idea that this group is actually in league with a demon lord; these are the bandits”, who are simply pointed at the current system of things” and encouraged to kill, rob, and burn.

At some point, though, they may be inducted into the cult per se, where they are told that the god” Aleyus has blessed them to destroy the false religion” of the Church, and that requires working with those such as the vampires in Lamashtu. In this worldview, vampires and the undead are actually resurrected ones”. They are even told that the populace who pay a blood tithe” are in fact willing supporters of the true life” of their sovereign. Eventually, Aleyus will come and destroy the Church of Tainted” Blood, and the world will be remade anew.

My write-up here follows the format in Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera.

The Thirsting Blades

Description: A malevolent cult in service to Aleyus the Butcher, a demon lord. Many of its members are bandits and rebels against oppressive theocratic rule. Behind the scenes, inductees venerate Aleyus as a god of liberation who will destroy false religion.”

Motto: Our blades thirst for the new world of true life.”

Beliefs:

  • Bloodshed and chaos will lead to true freedom and enlightenment.
  • Spilling blood is a holy sacrament necessary for resurrection and eternal life.
  • The Church of Tainted” Blood must be destroyed to make room for the new world when Aleyus comes.

Goals:

  • Undermine the Church through assassination, blasphemy, and desecration of their holy grounds.
  • Summon Aleyus in a grand ritual to begin a great tribulation that will purify the blood of the world.

Quests:

  • Recruit a disillusioned priest to their cause.
  • Steal a revered relic of saintly blood for use in a ritual.
  • Forge an alliance with a vampire lord of Lamashtu.

I’ve started on the leader as well, but I’ll save that for later when they become relevant. And while I have faction stats for the Sacretta Carnifexa, Thirsting Blades, and Knights of Lilith, the faction turn won’t happen until we finish this initial adventure in the Blackened Tower.

Continuing the Expedition

In order to get started, I check in with Arnold K’s Underclock. Currently, my Underworld die is a d8 and the Underclock itself is at 2.

Additionally, in line with the idea from old-school D&D that deeper dungeon levels have greater challenges, I have a new encounter table, rolling 2d4:

  1. Ghoul
  2. Zombies (d3)
  3. Skeletons (d6)
  4. Cultists (d6, as in The Monster Overhaul)
  5. Rats (d6)
  6. Bats (d6)
  7. Yellow Mold

Otherwise, I’m generally playing with Swords & Wizardry Complete rules, although I documented a few house rules in my previous part.

The party has five surviving members to this point:

  • Willex, a fighter (level 1, male), wielding a 2-handed flail and wearing leather armor
  • Ziva, a ranger (level 1, female), wielding a shortbow, shortsword, and hooded lantern, wearing leather armor
  • Vetla, a ranger (level 1, female), wielding a shortbow and bastard sword, wearing leather armor
  • Steko, a cleric (level 1, male), wielding a shield, spear, and bullseye lantern, wearing no armor
  • Latka, a fighter (level 1, female), wielding a shield and long sword, wearing leather armor

Several of them have charmed garlic, rope, and grappling hooks. They need to make better use of their equipment, perhaps by deploying fire against the undead, setting tripwires or traps, etc.

Additionally, the equipment list says a few interesting things. First, regarding the charmed garlic:

A head of garlic with hexes and blessings on it. Normal garlic has a minor effect on undead, but charmed garlic works much better.

As far as I can tell, the only reference in the book to this is for vampires, who retreat from garlic and other things. That said, I do want to find a way to make it useful against other undead.

Regarding holy symbols, the book says:

Often needed for Cleric spells and for turning the undead. In some cases, silver ones work better.

I decide that a silver holy symbol will be necessary for turning more powerful undead (4+ hit dice), but we hopefully won’t encounter any of those for a bit.

Turn 1

The Sacretta Carnifexa members have reached the dungeon level beneath the Blackened Tower. From the previous underground rooms, they push open a door and descend a long sloping hallway leading to a 30’ to 40’ wide hall (room 14) about 90’ long with some rubble on the left, a few pillars in the center, and several doors on the right.

Part of the dungeon beneath the Blackened Tower The explored part of the dungeon. Cartography by Dyson Logos.

They’ll spend some time in this room, mapping and searching, and I decide it’s large enough to take a couple of turns. The room has no monsters nor treasure, but it will contain a clue for their patron.

The Underworld die rolls a 1, bringing the Underclock down to 1. We’re very likely to have an encounter next turn.

Turn 2

While Vetla stands watch to ensure they are not surprised, the others set about searching the room. Steko finds a scrap of a scroll, not with a spell but some notes. Perhaps Albinus wrote this, but it’s hard to say. It speaks of taking vengeance with a strong arm on behalf of those who were swept aside.

The other three, searching together, find the secret door at the north end of the hall. I imagine small runes carved into the stone, and one of them conceals a small switch that unlocks a latch within the door itself.

However, before they enter it, the Underworld die rolls a 5, which drops the Underclock below 0. This triggers a random encounter: yellow mold.

Yellow mold is a subterranean fungus; it neither moves nor attacks. However, if it is poked or struck, it may (50% chance) release a cloud (roughly 10’ in diameter) of poisonous spores. Failing a saving throw against the spores means that the character dies a rather horrible death. Even just touching yellow mold inflicts 1d6 points of acid damage on the creature doing the touching. These growths can be destroyed with fire.

Given that it happens at the end of the turn, this is clearly connected to the secret door. First, I’m not sure that the group pokes or strikes” it, and I’ll give that a 50/50 chance with my dual d6 oracle: yes, they do (no ands” or buts” from the second d6). Next, does it release any spores? Again, the die says yes. Since three of them (Willex, Ziva, and Latka) are searching the door, they each must make a saving throw!

Willex and Ziva each fail their rolls, while Latka passes. She looks on, horrified, as the other two choke for a moment. Their faces turn yellowish as the spores begin to reproduce unimaginably quickly within them; even their eyes turn yellow as their previously white orbs roll back in their heads. Does Vetla, as a ranger, know what to do (50/50)? Yes. Acting quickly, Vetla and Steko douse the bodies and the mold form with oil before setting it all ablaze. Of course, the oil that Ziva was carrying further catches fire, sending smoke billowing throughout.

First, I reset the Underclock to 20, then roll a 5 on the die, so it ends at 15.

Turn 3

Half the party is dead. As the fire subsides, they can see a small space beyond the hidden door, some sort of a storage room. Based on the architecture, I think the secret door on the other side of that small space is obvious from this side but hidden on the other. Is there anything else of use here in this space (unlikely)? No, if they’re going to get any value out of this, they’ll need to check whatever room is on the other side of that door.

Given that they had to burn the bodies immediately, I decide all is lost on the bodies of Willex and Ziva, including their equipment. The group won’t even be retrieving the treasure that Ziva was carrying due to the danger as well as the emotional impact of this sudden loss. (I’ll make a note, however, that there’s a chance to recover it there in the future: 2 pp, 5 gp, 47 sp, 100 cp.)

With Steko watching, Latka and Vetla open the door in front of them. The Underclock counts down another 6, now at 9.

Turn 4

They have found some wide steps leading down to a larger 40’ x 40’ chamber with two large statues in alcoves to the back left and right (room 18). No monsters or treasures are to be found here, but there is a stairway leading right and down.

Being down to 3 of their original 6, and with so little to show for it, they decide to retreat. Perhaps Erlan can help them with additional resources, and in any case they want to get the clue (scroll scrap) back to him.

To do this, I’ll roll the Underworld die twice, which will then determine if they encounter anything else on the way back: a total of 6 reduces the Underclock to 3. This leads to a shadowing event” where they see a bit of mold in a crack on the wall, but they give it a wide berth rather than risk death. The corpse of Beorne, who died in the previous part, is retrieved from the upper level for proper burial.

Returning to Oakside

The party returns to their home village, where they inform Brother Erlan (ultimately their commander within the Sacretta Carnifexa) of the results. A service is held to commend the spirits of the deceased to the saints, as these brave explorers gave everything in an attempt to push back the darkness that has enveloped this prosperous little village.

The surviving three receive the previously-mentioned 360 XP for their trouble from defeating undead. As I worked out above, though, the bandits are actually associated with the Thirsting Blades, so they get to count for XP as well! That gives them 90 more XP (15 XP per bandit), giving them 450 XP to split three ways for 150 XP each. They also got 2 platinum pieces, 14 gold, and 104 copper, though in this campaign that does not award additional XP. (I’m not confident in this XP system and will likely revisit it later.)

They’ll need to recruit some more members and perhaps upgrade some equipment. That will start off Part 3.

Up next Sacretta Carnifexa - Part 1 Sacretta Carnifexa - Part 3
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