Monday, March 19, 2012

Fantastic Religion: The Necromancer

Here is an article that was originally from the now-defunct Grognard. It was part of the series on faiths and religions. This particular excerpt deals with the demigod known as the Necromancer.

The Necromancer
Ceylan the Thoughtful

In all of Atva-Arunë there is no man, beast, or god more universally perceived as evil than the Necromancer. We may list his atrocities for volumes and still not plumb the depths of horror that have been attributed to him. However, it is the duty of every devoted servant of Quilian Knowais to find the very bedrock of truth and to uncover, using the gifts of logic and forethought, the basis of knowledge. It behooves us, then, to be attentive to every detail; particularly those overlooked by other scholars and society as “obvious.” Certainly anyone, when asked of the Necromancer, would respond that of course he is evil! He is, after all, the Necromancer.

How did he come to be? We can peer into his past with the records of the great wars of the early ages. The Necromancer was one of a coterie of eight powerful sorcerers who were his peers. These were the mages known as Corpsegrinder, Shatter, Siren, Stoneheart, the Alchemist, the Ghostlord, and the Burning Walker. The Eight Generals, as they were called, terrorized the land with their magic, their followers, and their armies. None was so frightful as the Necromancer, nor so potent. While they ostensibly worked in concert, each of the Eight attacked and undermined the others. When they were at last defeated, many went into hiding, placed into a sorcerous slumber by the Necromancers magic against the day when they could return to a world less prepared for them. The Necromancer, however, did not slumber. While it is said that at least three of the Eight remain alive somewhere buried in their hidden vaults, the Necromancer has been alive and awake, walking the world for the centuries of his companions necromantic sleep.

So, then: a mortal sorcerer who has obtained (through use of magics generally forbidden to men) the lifespan of the immortal. Like the other Eight, he ravaged the world in its younger Ages; unlike them, he returned to do it again in recent history. For the War of Necromancy in which the wizard ascended to godhood was a scant seven or eight hundred years ago, during the Ninth Age.

He has stolen the Waters of Life from the very gods and with a simple trick elevated himself to the status of a demigod. In the Ninth Age, the Necromancer resided in a hidden place in the northernmost north of the world and from there commanded his servants. During that time, he crafted a magical item that any wizard would have scoffed at: a cup which, once full, is never empty. He waited to make use of it, sending out the pale corrupted elf Syleus to lead his armies across the North. Behind his lieutenant there came tides of skeletons, the walking dead, vampiric creatures that had been bent to his will, and, towering over them all, the Death Titans: the corpses of giants animated by the most powerful of magics.

But when the Gods turned their eyes to the great path of destruction the Necromancer had wreaked he stole into the Upper World. Riding one of the great Titans, he ascended the world tree Asca-Irminsul and dipped his goblet into the Waters of Life which give the gods their immortality and can make of a mortal man a demigod. Thus he fashioned the Cup Everlasting and achieved for himself the mantle of godhood.

We know the Necromancer has done ill; we know that he is a trickster and a thief; we know also that he tainted the art of necromantic magic in the minds of every society so that, in the wake of his wars, it has become a grievous crime to practice them. Content we may be in the knowledge of the sorcerer’s villainy.

What of his followers, and his outlawed cult? Let us examine them in further detail.

The Cult of the Necromancer

The Cult had begun long before the Necromancer achieved his status as a god. His magic was enough to draw those hungry for power to his side. He promised his followers the secrets of long (perhaps immortal) life and great temporal power. He promised them the avoidance of the punishments of the afterworld for their failures to their chosen gods. They abandoned their faiths and joined to his cause. The foremost amongst these traitorous followers was Syleus the Elf, made master of the dark armies of his lord.

His cult grew from a small loyal following to a great and secretive one after his ascension. His cultists are bid to stay secret and to plant themselves throughout the nations of Arunë. They are ministered to by a clandestine order known as the Poison-tongues who masquerade as humble men and women of the kingdoms. They carry secret signs and each holds on a copy of a text known as the Book of Poisons. From this they can draw upon the Necromancer’s own knowledge to craft false-souls and raise animated corpses and skeletons to do their bidding.

Enticing with lies of the power of their god, the Poison-tongues travel amongst every land in secretive claves. They issue forth from a hidden lair known as the Library of Black Knowledge; it’s locale is kept the utmost secret from all but the highest princes of the necromantic cult. There it is said that records of all researches into Necromancy and the powers of the Necromancer himself.

Once, the cultists of the Necromancer traveled the land openly. They were sponsored by the dread empire of Teral, and many diseases did they spread there. They taught the burying of bodies, instead of burning them, and many of their temples were adorned with servants constructed from the remains of the dead and given unholy vitality by necromantic magic.

Since the fall of Teral, members of the cult have been hunted down mercilessly in any kingdom where they have made themselves known. Yet, they continue to spread and at least maintain their numbers amongst our peoples. We have yet to hear the decrease in Necromantic cultists abroad in any land. It is lucky that their numbers are not very large to begin with and are spread thin across the entirety of the North.

(The Necromancer, the Liar, the Deceiver, the Lord of Lies)

Demigod, CE
Portfolio: Betrayal, lies, necromancy, murder
Aliases: None
Domain Name: Elainoth, the Grove of the Dead
Superior: None
Allies: Dinismayl
Foes: All other gods, particularly Haeron, Avauna, Akem and Galos
Symbol: A human knucklebone circled by a hoop of gold
Worshipper Alignment: Any evil

Tharos (thAH-ros) is the patron of liars and murderers and makes gifts of power to his followers recklessly. It was said that he was once a man; ancient records make him out to be a sorcerer of immense power who ascended to Godhood in the Ninth Age. He certainly was responsible for the devastating War of Necromancy and at its culmination he stole the Waters of Life from Valingas and made of himself a god.

As he is the Lord of Lies, he also lies to his worshippers. His clerics, known as the poison-tongues, spread whispers that only Tharos can protect from the ravages of death or disease. He himself encourages this, but he rarely meddles with his followers directly. Such action has been proscribed by his relatively minor power when compared to the great strength of the other Aeliö (or Gods of Valingas). He is rarely depicted, but when he is he appears as a strong-chinned man with a jutting beard of curly black hair and lively, almost satirical, brown eyes.

The Necromancer is a scheming god; he cares little for the lives of his followers and will eagerly spend them if he thinks he can gain a one-up on the other deities. Because he is universally hated, he must always move with care and thus never makes overt maneuvers for fear of losing whatever ground he has already gained. For this reason his cults rarely attack temples belonging to other gods—he would prefer to defile them in secret, where he cannot be blamed.

Tharos has never manifested an avatar within human memory.

The Church
Clergy: Speciality priests
Clergy’s Alignment: CE
Turn Undead: No
Command Undead: Yes

The clergy devoted to the Necromancer receive herbalism as a bonus proficiency. They only ever use this in a fell manner to assist in the creation of poisons. All clerics of Tharos operate in secret and disguise their true nature. They must, for this reason, take the disguise proficiency (which they can purchase for one slot). They may learn to use clubs, daggers, scourges, dirks, or crossbows.

They seed themselves throughout the North, founding small clandestine organizations of worshippers devoted to the Necromancer. Each cleric generally carries a Book of Poisons, which is a potent necromantic manual allowing one to channel the divine powers of the Necromancer to construct servants from the animated dead. For this reason, the cult is extremely opposed to the common mannish practice of cremation.

Adventurers are considered to be the bane of the cult, though many unscrupulous ones can be convinced to turn a blind eye to their actions. However, it takes the most heartless of blackguards to accept money in exchange for some service for the Necromancer.

His worshipers avoid the temples of other gods and keep to themselves. They say prayers to him exclusively and never give offerings to the other deities. The most common offerings to Tharos are quite gruesome: bones and ash at the lowest end of the scale and the entire corpse or skeleton of murdered travelers or guests at the highest end. Truly, his presence is a blight upon the world.

The cult of the Necromancer is organized into claves known as circles. These circles are similar to druidic circles save that they include all the worshipers assembled by a particular cleric. There are different grades of circle as well: a single cleric and his followers is known as a circle of the third level. A circle composed of multiple clerics is known as a circle of the second level. A circle composed entirely of clerics (a rare thing indeed) is known as a circle of the first level.

As befits a cult of this style, the Necromancer’s followers maintain a secret system of signs and symbols, the most obvious of which is the crooked fore-finger to indicate their allegiance to the cult.

Dogma: The rule of Tharos is simple to follow. His is a philosophy for the weak and those without access to power. His clergy advocate the secret harboring of grudges, the poisoning of enemies, and the murder of travelers to grant more power to those who feel as though they are not in control of their own lives. In this way, the cultists of Tharos may regain some of their lost agency and control their own fate.

This extends to the afterworld as well; Why trust the judgements of Akem the Uncaring when the Necromancer can grant you more, longer life in this one? It is said that the Necromancer has extended the lives of his most devoted followers by centuries, allowing them to live on and do his work. The goal of most of his devotees is to grow so intimate by service and offerings to him that they are granted the same gift.

All worshipers of the Necromancer despise cremation and the destruction of good bodies for reasons other than prayer to him. In addition, a strong antipathy exists between the worshipers of Tharos and those of Akem, and the two will attempt to slay each other wherever they may meet regardless of circumstances. This usually gives the Tharians the upper hand, as they will likely be occulted while priests of Akem announce their presence by dress and mannerisms.

Day-to-Day Activities: Tharians generally live their lives as normal members of society until a chance comes where they may strike out unseen. This means that cultists will eagerly dispose of travelers that no one knows or other people that would not be missed, but will stay their hand from murdering someone like a local reeve or townsman.

Tharian clerics travel the land attempting to establish a circle in whatever region they have chosen as their own. If it is too difficult to establish one in a particular area, they will move on and seek out other places to corrupt. Once a circle has been established, the cleric will usually settle there and guide it, seeking to expand its numbers, power, and influence.

Wizards who worship Tharos see their duty as twofold: one, to support the missionizing of the clergy and two, to create new necromantic arts and research new means of expanding necromancy. To this end they eagerly deal in necromantic texts and many wizards have purchased books of necromancy unwittingly from what was actually a Tharian.

Holy Days/Important Ceremonies: Tharians do not celebrate any days as particularly holy throughout the year. Their most important ceremonies are offerings to Tharos and the group gatherings of the circle, known as Cloisterings. During these meetings, much of a spiritual nature is discussed. Additionally, secrets are disclosed and the names of the murdered (if known) offered as thanks to Tharos.

Clerics of Tharos may pray at any time throughout the day as long as they have been rested but they tend to prefer the dark hours of night to do so. They often burn foul-smelling incense made from the powdered flesh of the dead which is called carnatoraeus.

Major Centers of Worship: A rumor has persisted since before Tharos’ ascension of a place known as the Library of Black Knowledge. Legends attribute this place as the source of the cult’s power and say that immensely powerful clerics of Tharos known as the Occulted Order dwell there. According to rumor, the Library contains all research ever performed in the art of necromancy and houses hundreds of minor wizards and tens of major ones all currently performing research.

Whether the Library exists or not is a matter up for debate. If it does, it is certainly the very heart of Tharos’ cult. If it does not, it has sent many adventurers on wild chases through the darkest places of Arunë looking for it rather than hunting down the poison-tongues in the midst of civilized lands.

Affiliated Orders: No order will knowingly work with the servants of the Necromancer save that of Dinismayl. The Dinismaylean cult will sometimes accept payment or offer services to the Necromancer.

Priestly Vestments: When administering to their circles, clerics of Tharos wear long purple robes with golden jewelry fashioned in the shape of bones. These robes generally reach the floor and often include a hood to shadow the cleric’s face and increase their mystery.

Adventuring Garb: In the open, poison-tongues wear unobtrusive clothing that blends in with their local society.

Poison-tongue of Tharos

(Specialty Priest)

REQUIREMENTS: Wisdom 15, Charisma 12
WEAPONS: Clubs, daggers, scourges, dirks, or crossbows.
MAJOR SPHERES: Combat, Healing (reversed), Necromantic, Sun (reversed)
MINOR SPHERES: Divination, Protection (reversed), Charm
MAGICAL ITEMS: The same as priests, but poison-tongues may never use any magical item that brings a boon; they may only use harmful magic.
REQ. PROFS: Disguise
BONUS PROFS: Religion (Tharos), Herbalism, Reading/Writing (cleric’s choice)

Poison-tongues are the priests of the Necromancers cult. They disguise themselves in most lands, for being a member of the cult is often grounds for immediate execution. They have been known to pass amongst the peasantry like a shadow, promising relief from hard labors, protection from failed crops, and other things that the common folk love to hear.

Poison-tongues can be humans, half-elves, or elves (though elves generally despise both necromancy and the Necromancer, and thus are very rare).

Poison-tongues can access magic higher than the status of their deity would indicate (poison-tongues may cast spells of up to 7th level from their major spheres).

At 3rd level, poison-tongues gain the ability to inspire fear once per day. This causes all creatures within 15’ to make a save vs. petrification or cower imposing a -2 to all attack rolls against the poison-tongue.

At 5th level, the inspire fear ability becomes more powerful, also inhibiting the victim’s capability to defend themselves. They suffer a +4 penalty to AC and lose their dexterity bonus.

At 7th level, the poison-tongue can use the Book of Poisons to cast Animate Dead once per day.

At 10th level, the poison-tongue can use the Book of Poisons twice a day.

At 15th level, the poison-tongue’s very touch can be imbued with negative energy. Anyone who touches their exposed flesh for any reason will, at the cleric’s option, suffer 1d6 points of damage as a flash of necromantic unlight arcs from their body.

Tharian Magic Items
The Book of Poisons
A minor magical tome, this book is granted to every poison-tongue who travels across the land. Though they may possess them, only clerics of higher than 7th level may use it.

Thighbone Rod
This is a special rod crafted from the thighbone of a vampire and used in many powerful Tharian rituals. It may also act as a weapon; it is effectively a vampiric club +1, draining 1 additional HP (1d6+2 damage) on contact and granting the total to the wielder.

The rod remains, however, essentially a simple bone implement. Any strike against it may break it, and it saves as bone (16 vs. a blow).

The art of creating the Thighbone Rods is a carefully guarded secret, but one may assume it requires the cleric to cast bless, animate dead, negative plane protection, and raise dead in some specific order to seal the enchantments.

Tallëor’s Cauldron
So named for the Cauldron in which Tallëor Twice-born was submerged, this horrible magical contraption requires the aid of wizards to fashion. When it is complete, the cauldrons appear to be menacing squat pots of black iron graven with inscrutable Zeshimite runes.

Filling a cauldron with water will cause it to roil and bubble in a cold mist. Any creature who’s entire body is submerged in the cauldron must save vs. death magic or be irrevocably transformed into a wraith. If the person doing the submerging is a priest of the Necromancer, he may immediately make a COMMAND UNDEAD roll to take control of the wraith permanently.

As one might expect, the cauldrons are extremely rare and require consummate skill, both at magic and forgecraft, to create. These horrible devices are one of the most powerful weapons in the poison-tongue arsenal.

Tharian Spells
1st Level

Range: Caster
Components: V, S
Duration: 1 round/level
Casting Time: 2
Area of Effect: The caster
Saving Throw: negate

When this spell is cast, the cleric’s dominant hand becomes luminous, shedding an unpleasant purplish light in all directions. A simple touch from this hand will discharge the blight gathering in it and cause the creature touched to be wracked with waves of nausea.

The victim may make a save vs. poison to avoid the effects. If the save fails, they immediately begin to vomit, losing any and all actions for the turn upon which they are touched and gaining a +4 penalty to their AC (as well as losing any dexterity bonus) as they have become immobile in order to throw up.

All further saving throws vs. poison made in the following 8 hours receive a -2 penalty.

Breath of Life
Sphere: Necromantic
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 4 rounds + 1 round/level
Casting Time: 1
Area of Effect: One small animal corpse
Saving Throw: None

The breath of life grants the corpse of an animal no larger than a dog the animation of awful unlife. This spell allows the cleric to substitute their own spirit for the negative-energy material that normally fuels such spells, making it substantially simpler to enact. The spell deals 1d8-1 HP (minimum 1) of damage to the caster and animates the creature into a simple 1 HD shadow of its former self. The creature has as many HP as the caster lost. Clawed creatures may deal 1d3/1d3/1d6 damage (claw/claw/bite) while creatures with hands may deal 1d4/1d4/1d6 . No special abilities of the original living creature are retained.

The animate creature will follow the commands of the cleric as best as it can; these commands do not have to be spoken aloud.

2nd Level
Range: 1 mile/level
Components: V, S, M
Duration: 1 hour/level
Casting Time: 1 hour
Area of Effect: special
Saving Throw: NA

The Spirit-spy is a Tharian trick used by that evil priesthood to spy on their foes. It may also come in use to find the weaknesses of poor folk that the priest may ply to convert them to the worship of the Necromancer. In order to perform the spell, the Tharian must have at least a single human bone present (hard to come by where cremation is the norm) as well as the body of a small animal.

Upon completing the horrible ritual, the body disintegrates and provides the energy for a short-lived spirit-essence to ride forth on the night winds to spy for the priest. This creature is effectively a familiar until the spell wears off. However, the presence of sunlight will rip the spirit-essence to shreds, and thus the spell can only be used at night.

The spirit has no combat capability besides slowing down attackers with a slight chill feeling (it can cause a +1 penalty to all initiative counts near it every turn) and is in fact invisibile and cannot be harmed except by +1 or better weapons. A single strike that deals damage (by a +1 weapon, fire, or other source) will destroy it and force the priest to make a system shock check just as if a familiar had died. The same occurs if the creature is not dispelled before dawn. The cleric may dispel it at any time.

Any measures against scrying are also effective against the spirit-spy.

4th level
Sphere: Necromantic
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 2 rounds
Area of Effect: One skeleton/level
Saving Throw: NA

Blackbone is a Tharian enchantment that strengthens skeletons and allows the spells animating them to retain a firm grasp, even when their frame has been badly battered. The spell must be chanted over a skeleton that is immobile while tar (mixed with human blood and incense worth at least 500 gp) is poured over the creature. The tar fastens to its bones, granting it an additional 2 HD of hit points, reducing its AC by 2, and giving it a 15% magic resistance. This spell may be applied to a skeleton that has yet to be animated in preparation.

Large batches of the tar can be prepared to allow this spell to affect more than one skeleton at a time. For every level beyond the first, the caster may enchant 1 additional skeleton though the expenditure of 500gp will be required in each case for the requisite incense.

5th Level
Ritual of Unlife
Sphere: Necromantic
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 5 hours
Area of Effect: One body/2 levels
Saving Throw: NA

The ritual of unlife is a closely guarded Tharian secret. It is a series of magical chants that are granted their power by the vile Necromancer and channeled through the cleric’s very fingers. Five hours must be spent in cloistered preparation with the bodies to be animated. They must be no more than one week dead and have all of their parts with them.

The ritual embalms the bodies and transforms them into the horrible temple-guard known as the Tharian Zombie. It requires the body, a large supply of the incense called carnatoraeus, and 1000gp worth of embalming solutions, oils, salves, rubs, and holy chrism.

Tharian Zombie
ALIGNMENT: Chaotic evil
THAC0: 16
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 1-8+3/1-8+3 (or by weapon)
SPECIAL DEFENSES: Spell Immunity, 20% magic resistance
SIZE: M (6’)
MORALE: Special

Tharian zombies are similar in appearance to regular zombies. However, upon close examination it is apparent that they are kept in far better condition. Their flesh does not rot or stink (they smell faintly of incense) and their bodies’ are always whole. They do not lurch drunkenly like the zombified creations of necromancers but instead move as though possessed by an uncanny life. They do not always act last in a combat round and have enough manual dexterity that they can be given crude weapons (bludgeons, axes, cleavers, anything that requires a simple striking motion) and use them effectively.

They receive a +1 to-hit bonus and +3 damage bonus from the exceptional strength that is stored in their knotted and dried sinews.

7th Level
Vampiric Spirit
Sphere: Necromantic
Range: Touch
Components: V, S, M
Duration: Permanent
Casting Time: 8 hours
Area of Effect: One person
Saving Throw: Special

This spell is the horrible culmination of the Necromancer’s arts. It is a long and potent ritual which cannot be interrupted for any reason. The use of certain magical implements are required to complete it: A rod made from the thighbone of a vampire, a chalice cut from rock-crystal, and a black opal that has been ground into powder. The opal must be mixed with the blood of a sacrificial victim at the Necromancer’s altar; this blood must come from a sentient being.

Those undergoing the ritual against their will are allowed a saving throw vs. death magic to resist. If they succeed, they take 5d8 points of damage as their body is wracked with spasms—they vomit back the blood-concoction in forceful contractions. If they fail, or if the victim is willing, at the culmination of the rite they are horribly changed. They suddenly cast negative and positive material shadows into those planes. Their body is shaken with painful (but non-damaging) convulsions. After a further eight hour recovery period, the victim will have been transformed into a vampire. They retain all of the special abilities that they had in life, though they receive a new pool of 8+3 HD.

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