Saturday, July 4, 2015

Dwellers of the Great Necropolis

If you approach Vangol* from the lowlands, you cannot miss the City of the Dead.

It is the spine of a giant, a low ridge of conical spires and broad-shouldered mausoleums.  The city is built on top of a huge deposit of very dark limestone on the south end of the Plain of Jars.  As the limestone was mined, it was used to build crypts above ground while hollowing out the catacombs beneath the city.

The stone comes in all of the colors of a midnight rainbow: dark blue, rusted red, somber ochre, basilisk green.  But the color is only apparent up close.  From a distance, it all blends into a slate grey.

Within sight of the City of the Dead, all fire burns white, entirely devoid of color.  It's also dimmer: a torch only illuminates 20' (instead of 30').  This is also true of the sun, which is why the Valley of the Dead always lies in half-shade and the Necropolis is so chilly.

The sacred dead (loyal to Ashrune) cannot be turned while they remain within sight of the Necropolis.

*Vangol is sort of like a cross between ancient Egypt, Mongolia, and Russia, except with frozen tundra.  It's inhabited by a bunch of powerful-but-usually-warring clans.  They're just about the only place in Centerra that practices mass paganism outside of the reach of the Church (who hates Vangol).


The pagan fire gods are said to be titans who were born inside volcanoes (now dormant in this late age) and now dwell inside their temple, if they have one.  Ashrune is no different.  Her dormant volcano is Mount Ashrune, located to the north, about two weeks away by foot.

Ashrune's head was cut off and stolen by the King of Bees.  Despite this, the goddess persists, still seeking her missing head and awaiting the Rekindling of the Deep Fires.

(Fire god statistics as HD 16 titans.)

The Covenant

The Vangolians have made a covenant with Ashrune, the goddess of Death and Birth.  (Digression: pagan fire gods are usually paired concepts.  So they might have a god whose domain includes both Chaos and Law simultaneously.)

The Great Necropolis, also called the City of the Dead, is where all of the kings of Vangol are buried.  They will arise from their burial at the End of Days, with all of their glory and past splendor.  Everything that they were buried with will still be at their side: all of their horses, wives, gold, and mansions.

The Necropolis Kings are the final authority of who is and isn't a king in Vangol.

Commoners can hope for resurrection at the End of Days as well, but they have only two ways to ensure it:
  • Become a spouse or servant of a Vangolian king, and be buried alive at their funeral.
  • Serve the Necropolis for at least half of your lifespan.
Of the two options, the second is by far the most common.  The necropolis attracts the living: the desperate runaway, the aimless poet, the heartbroken lover, the disposed princeling, the miserable, the pathetic, and the damned.

These poor souls journey to the Necropolis in order to serve in the kingdom of Ashrune, in the hopes that they might be resurrected in new, golden bodies at the end of time.  

But not every servant of the Necropolis had a wretched past.  In Vangol, when a noble commits a crime that is worthy of death, they are not executed, but are instead sent to the Necropolis to live out the rest of their days.

Although the "living" servants of the necropolis have metabolisms and heartbeats, they are considered dead by all Vangolians.  Though their bodies live, their souls have died--or at least, they have undergone that subtle transformation that recolors a soul when its body dies.  It's a type of undeath that most adventurers are unfamiliar with: a living body with a dead soul.

Foreign scholars sometimes describe them as "dead by adoption".

Among the "living" servants, children are sometimes conceived.  These children are very precious to the vulture-headed clerics of the Necropolis.  They are taken from their mothers at the age of 3, to be used for purposes unknown.

of all the pictures on this page
this is closest to what I actually imagine

A City Proper

The Necropolis is laid out like a living city, even though it isn't used as one.  There's still restaurants, for example.  No one uses these restaurants, but then you must remember that the Necropolis is going to be exalted into an actual metropolis at the End of Days.  It will be the only living city in the world, and all the crypts will open and the newly resurrected will start looking for the best tea shop in the universe (which will be conveniently down the gold-paved street).

But even though it looks like a living city, it isn't.  Most of the buildings are sealed tombs, crafted to be appropriate to their occupants.

Dead bakers are buried in faux bakeries, with a sarcophagus in the great oven.  Dead guardsmen are buried in garrison-mausoleums, in coffin-bunkbeds.  And you can probably figure out who is entombed inside that windowless, obsidian palace.

The Docks of Obolov

The Necropolis has a harbor called the Docks of Obolov.  This is because the Necropolis still has an economy.  It needs to receive dead kings and accept new acolytes.  It needs to build new crypts, and while stone can be quarried beneath the city, everything else must be imported.  And although the "living" servants of the Necropolis don't eat much, they still require food.  And so merchant ships still visit.

The unsanctified masses are not allowed in the Necropolis, although they are allowed to occupy the docks for as long as they want.  For this reason, the long stone piers of the Necropolis have been expanded into a maze of boardwalks and piers.  The Docks of Obolov are a tiny town unto themselves, and even have their own permanent residents.

The Necropolis Kings pay for their needed supplies with burial goods.  The accounts are settled each year in late autumn.  A representative from the merchant company will be called into an audience with a polished lich, who will begrudgingly hand over a bag of rubies, the smallest fraction of the Necropolis' vast wealth.

The Great Necropolis also trades in certain intangibles, most famously courage, which is bought and sold like any other commodity.  (Treat this as bonuses and penalties on saves vs fear.)  They'll also purchase memories (Treat this as XP drain), but will not sell you any.

Skeletons and Other Citizens

There are a lot skeletons in the Necropolis.  They paint their bones in different patterns to denote identity, rank, and affiliation.  Stripes and spots, blacks and bright reds.

The skeletons here are intelligent, but cannot speak.  They communicate through a slate and chalk, which about 25% of them carry.

Visitors who would enter the city must be accompanied by a skeleton guide at all times. 

There are plenty of "living" servants as well, most of whom are hard at work.

Plundering the Necropolis

The Necropolis may of course be plundered like any other city-megadungeon.  The outer sprawl is suitable for level 1 parties, while the deep interior can be as high-level as your campaign needs dictate.

An especially eager patron would be the Church of Hesaya, who would love to damage a pagan stronghold such as this.

Serving the Necropolis

The players can also serve the Necropolis.  Even a city of skeletons has needs: food for the servants that still eat, metal for tools, craftsmen for repairs.  Players could also quest for Ashrune's missing head, chase down those asshole necromancers, and be sent to gently capture some rogue undead so it can be reconsecrated and laid back down in its proper tomb.  If you want epic level stuff, there's always the option to reactivate Mount Ashrune, thereby doubling the number of active volcanoes on Centerra.

But "going forth and questing" also misses the best opportunities to explore and humanize this huge city-dungeon.  It's a city with as much intrigue as any other city (although some of that intrigue takes centuries to resolve).  Players could steal from one mummy at the behest of another, help a vain lich conduct a ceremony that will restore her beauty, figure out which skeleton (out of the thousands) has gone rogue, lose their bodies via taxation and earn them back while ghosts, and/or help a mummy remember who he was in life, and which tomb is his.

Also, the first reward any adventurer gets in the Necropolis is a posh tomb, built to their specifications.  The players might balk at that, but what if we throw in some mummified houris?

DM Tip: If the players want to play as skeletons, this is the place that they will call home.  Also, I think Daniel Dean said at one point that if your setting doesn't have a city run by skeletons it's basically worthless, and I've been quietly fretting about that for months.  I guess I can rest a little easier now.

The Princesses of Vlannistrog

The Vlannistrog Dynasty buried over 200 princesses over it's 200 year reign.  The Vlannistrog patriarchs refused to bury their dead in the same place as their hated enemies, and so they eschewed the Great Necropolis in order to bury their princesses in a separate, secret crypt, hidden nearby in the Valley of the Dead.  

That location was lost to time, until a necromancer known as Helzai discovered the crypt.  Away from the protections of the Necropolis, she was able to plunder it entirely.  

She is now possessed of a great fortune and a small army of 200 princess wights.  She has only surfaced once, in order to offer her services as a mercenary company, but her current location and intentions are unknown.


The great weakness of the undead is their inability to repair themselves.  

This is not the same thing as fragility.  A skeleton is not fragile.  In most respects, it is more durable than a human.  But sunlight weakens the bones, microfractures add up to irreparable breaks, and pieces go missing and are never found.

For example, zombies make poor fieldhands because they invariably collect injuries that eventually render them unusable.

For this reason, the dwellers of the Necropolis chose their actions carefully.  They have forges and juggernauts, but these things are rarely active.  The dwellers spend most of their time waiting, watching from behind window curtains (to keep out the dirt).

Encounters In the Necropolis

Servant of the Necropolis
Stats as a normal level 1 human, except that they count as undead.  Each one is capable of making a deathblow (1/day) with a consecrated dagger that they all carry.  If this deathblow hits, it does 3d6 damage and the servant dies immediately.  One turn later, they arise as a skeleton of the Necropolis.

Servants with 8 HP are blessed by Ashrune and carry a vulture on their shoulder.  They can cast halflife 1/day.  (Save or have your current HP cut in half.)

Favored Servant of the Necropolis
Same as a HD 2 servant of the Necropolis, except that if the favored servant dies (for any reason), they immediately arise as a HD 3 skeleton, a HD 3 zombie (that lacks a skeleton), a HD 3 skin kite, and a HD 3 ghost.  The ghost is capable of both possession or directing the other three units, who are otherwise mindlessly aggressive.  If the favored servant triumphs in the defense of the Great Necropolis, the ghost will order the zombie and the skin kite to destroy each other, then possess the skeleton, becoming a skeletal hero of the Necropolis.

Servants with 14 or more HP are blessed by Ashrune and carry a vulture on their shoulder.  They can cast halflife 2/day.  (Save or have your current HP cut in half.) 

Skeleton of the Necropolis
Stats as normal skeleton, except intelligent, ambitious, and very, very patient.  Incapable of speech, but 25% of them carry a piece of chalk and a slate for this purpose.  They crumble into dust when they leave sight of the Necropolis, geographically.  (This is why they have built the Tower of the Beckoning Finger so tall.)  They paint their bones in tribal patterns.

Skeleton Hero of the Necropolis
HD 4 Armor as chain Scimitars 1d8/1d8
Move as human Int as human Morale 7
*Double damage from bludgeoning.
*Each held scimitar grants +2 AC vs arrows.
*Counterattack: Whenever someone makes a melee attack against the skeletal hero and misses, the skeletal hero makes a free attack against them.

There are rumors of skeletal champions with HD 6, four arms (and four scimitars and four attacks), and the ability to cast wall of fire twice per day.

Shade of the Necropolis
HD Armor as chain Claws 1d10 + shading
Fly as vulture Int as psychopath Morale 10
*Semi-Incorporeal: Half damage from non-magical attacks.
*Shading: If you fail a save against a claw attack, your world becomes filled with a howling black fog.  You cannot see beyond 10'.  You cannot hear normal speech beyond 10' or shouting beyond 30'.  You cannot remember more than 1 year ago.  This curse lasts until you decapitate a living humanoid in a ceremony dedicated to Ashrune.
*True Form: Creatures with darkvision or true seeing can see the shade's true form (not just an ebony skeleton wreathed in smoke).  It's true form is much worse, and those who witness it must immediately make a save or flee in fear for 1d6 rounds.

Clerics of the Necropolis
Stats are normal clerics of level whatever.  You'll recognize them by their vulture heads.  They can learn halflife as a level 2 spell, and mass halflife as a level 6 spell.  They can learn the curse of Ashrune as a level 3 spell, which causes a creature that fails a save to go straight to hell when they die, regardless of their actions in life (treat as a curse).

Fly Swarms of the Necropolis
These bone-white flies are ubiquitous within the Necropolis.  You'll find swarms of them in every street and every room.  They boil up from around your feet like kicked dust.  In combat, they attack as a 2 HD swarm that bites for 1d6 damage, but they only attack unnatural forms of life (demons, golems, summoned creatures).  The undead are considered natural here.  For living adventurers, the flies won't even land on you.  They pass you by like a breeze.


  1. What's the end of this sentence please?

    "This curse lasts until you decapitate a living humanoid in"

    1. a ceremony dedicated to Ashrune.

      Thanks for pointing it out.