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Open Grave
By Robert Wiese

Welcome to Use This Book Tonight, a column that focuses on giving you ideas for taking a recently released Dungeons & Dragons book you just bought (or are going out to buy after reading this article) and using these ideas with your gaming group this very day.

Undead are creepy. You have to admit it. They’re dead, but they won’t stay still. That’s creepy. And unnerving. And this month’s featured book, Open Grave, gives you tools to make undead even creepier. In addition to lairs, undead societies, and magic items, you can find scads of new undead creatures or new versions of creatures you thought you already knew. The book is a great resource, and it has one of my favorite undead concepts in it: the swarm shifter. (It has been my favorite ever since seeing The Mummy with Brendan Fraser.) How cool (or creepy) is it to have your foe assemble itself from a horde of bugs? This month, you can introduce swarm-shifting creepiness as a side encounter to your main game with the appropriately titled encounter "Open Grave." It’s for 13th-level characters, but modifications are given for 10th through 17th level.


Open Grave

Undead exist anywhere, so you can have some show up in your adventure without much of a problem at all. Random undead attacks make a lot of sense, too, though if you do this too often, your players will complain about OUAs (Obligatory Undead Attacks). But sometimes the PCs stumble into something unusual, and that is what happens in this side trek. You might even make it relevant to the main adventure by providing the PCs with some kind of aid if they succeed here.

Adventure Hooks

Like the Treasure Thieves encounter for Draconomicon, this encounter works well when the PCs stop for the night, because they can stop close to the burial site described below. You can also put the site in the middle of town (for example, in the estate of a noble known for his desire for privacy) or outside a village.

The PCs have been traveling hard all day long, anxious to reach a destination in a hurry. They might debate stopping for the night, but eventually they might decide they must stop if they want to arrive at full capabilities and not fatigued. Just as they are about to make camp, they come across something strange along the way.

As you consider a place to stop for the night, you see a strange sight off to the side. Two tombstones stand as mute testament to people who lost their lives here. The graves have the look of quick work, as if they were buried in a hurry and the survivors left the area quickly. The unusual thing is that one of the graves gapes open, while the other is closed and undisturbed. You can see a few cockroaches climbing around the opened grave.

It’s doubtful the PCs choose to camp near the graves, but they don’t have to. They should be sufficiently interested now to at least see who is buried there and what happened at the open grave. They find the following (some by use of Perception checks).

  • The two people buried there are probably adventurers. The graves say they are dwarf warriors, but not much else. Apparently those digging up the grave sites did not have time for elaborate tombstone carving.


  • Cockroaches are everywhere. Not many, but they crawl all over.


  • The open grave looks at first like it was dug up, but careful checking (DC 25 Perception) reveals that something was clawing its way out while the grave was being dug up.


  • A DC 20 Perception check reveals faint tracks leading off toward a low mountain about three miles away. It is easier to follow the tracks because the cockroach density increases as the PCs move closer to the mountain.

Of course your players may not want to head off into the middle of the night in search of a missing body! Clerics and paladins might be inclined to stamp out undead wherever they come across such foul stain, but to better encourage the rest of the party you might consider the following elements:

  • The PCs knew these dwarven adventurers, either as allies or foes, having crossed paths with them earlier. They may feel obligated to go learn what happened to the missing dwarf.


  • Additionally, the PCs may have heard rumor of a magic item, ritual scroll, or other enticing item the missing dwarf was known to have carried. They may track down his missing body to "recover" this item.


  • Who buried the bodies in the first place? Tracks from the burial party might lead off in one direction, with those of the missing dwarf following after. The PCs may need to warn these people before they're set upon.

Three miles away, the tracks lead to a slab of stone that has recently been moved. It is a doorway into a crypt in the mountainside. It opens only from the inside, so the PCs have to break it down (DC 30 Break) or damage it (AC 20, other defenses 18; hp 50). Inside, the PCs find this encounter.

The slab gives way to a cubic space about 50 feet on a side. From the twilight streaming in, you can see on the far side a crypt of some kind, and it has elaborate carvings but is not adorned with precious metals or jewels or even paint. Cockroaches infest the whole place, crawling even on the walls. In front of the crypt, you see a number of creatures that look like they were pieced together from several different bodies, and one human zombie that looks like it has been trying not to be eaten by the other undead.

Level 10 Encounter (XP 2,700)

  • 1 dread zombie (level 5 soldier; Open Grave page 197)
  • 1 grave chill blaspheme* (level 12 brute; Open Grave page 134)
  • 1 mummy scourge of Baphomet swarm shifter (level 13 elite controller)

*These look like minotaurs.

Level 13 Encounter (XP 4,900)

  • 1 dread zombie (level 5 soldier; Open Grave page 197)
  • 3 grave chill blasphemes* (level 12 brute; Open Grave page 134)
  • 1 mummy scourge of Baphomet swarm shifter (level 13 elite controller)

*These look like minotaurs.

Level 17 Encounter (XP 8,200)

  • 2 mummy scourge of Baphomet swarm shifters (level 13 elite controller)
  • 3 grave chill blasphemes advanced to 17th level* (level 12 brute; Open Grave page 134; add +5 to all attack rolls and all defenses, +2 to all damage, and +40 hp)
  • 1 dread zombie (level 5 soldier; Open Grave page 197)

*These look like minotaurs.

Setup

Create the crypt room using one 8-by-10, one 2-by-8, and one 2-by-2 dungeon floor tile to make a 10-by-10 square area. Place a 1-by-2 coffin/crypt tile from Hidden Crypts at one end, and a single door directly opposite it. Place the blasphemes in front of the crypt, but not directly adjacent to it and not adjacent to each other.

Tactics

On the first round of combat, the blasphemes move to defend the crypt and expel the PCs. They are not as interested in killing as in expelling, unless the door cannot be closed. In this case they realize that the only way to protect the crypt is to kill the PCs. Even though the mummy (or mummies) is in swarm form, the blasphemes gain the benefit of the Baphomet’s boon aura within 5 squares of the coffin.

  • The grave chill blaspheme likes to prove its worth against melee combatants, especially defenders and melee strikers. When possible, the creature uses chill to the bone on strikers or high-damage defenders. After it has been bloodied and it has used its seeping chill aura, the creature uses nimble attack to position itself among groups of its enemies.

The dread zombie just fights. It is not allied with the blasphemes -- it was attacked by them, but hates life more than it hates them.

  • Dread zombies are enhanced undead imbued with superior resilience and minimal intellect. They throw themselves against their enemies with grim relentlessness. On the second round of combat, present this on the swarm shifter’s turn. Play up the creepiness factor. At 17th level, a second mummy forms in the back of the room on the third round of combat.

As the battle rages, the cockroaches come together in a mass on top of the crypt, and then they climb over each other so that the pile grows. A head forms, and a body, and the whole mass melds together to form a rag-wrapped minotaur wearing robes and carrying a mace. With a cry of “May Baphomet guide my strike!” it leaps into the fray.

  • A scourge of Baphomet beseeches Baphomet as it smites foes. It uses horns of force to push an enemy into a place where it can use goring charge against the target. The mummy also uses horns of force to shove enemies closer to allies so they can attack when the scourge uses call out the beast.

If the swarm shifter thinks it will die, it uses its squeezing swarm ability to move past the PCs and escape outside, at which point the swarm divides up and heads for cracks in the ground.

Features of the Area

Illumination: Natural light from outside only.

Ceiling: The rough stone ceiling in the cavern rises to a height of 15 feet above the crypt floor.

Complication

PCs are resourceful, and this encounter is pretty straightforward. If the PCs are carrying the day too easily, introduce the following through the opened doorway on the third or fourth round of combat.

Level 9 Encounter (XP 2,000)

  • 4 corpse rat swarms advanced to 10th level (level 4 soldier, Open Grave page 197; add a +6 bonus to attack rolls and to all defenses, +3 to damage, and 36 hp)

Aftermath

Once the undead are dispatched, the PCs can search the room. The only thing of interest is the coffin. It is intricately carved and shows the life story of the occupant (the mummy swarm shifter), including his death and mummification, but not how he became a swarm of cockroaches. Inside the crypt is one parcel of treasure that should contain half magic and half wealth.

What is this mummy’s story? Why is it here, apparently far from minotaur lands? The PCs might wish to investigate this, and there should be clues in the coffin carvings. Perhaps a minotaur kingdom was once here, and this is one of several crypt sites (otherwise known as stationary treasure hoards). Or perhaps this mummy was exiled from its land because of its cockroach traits, and a clue leads back to that land. Maybe the swarm shifter cannot be slain in normal combat, and it reforms itself from cockroaches 1-3 days later unless a ritual is performed on it? If so, the ritual would be found only in the minotaur land.

And, of course, what of the zombie at the roadside grave? Who is it, and how did it animate, and why is it here? Its story could lead to an interesting side adventure, too.

Scourge of Baphomet Swarm Shifter
Level 13 Elite Controller (Leader)
Medium natural humanoid (undead, swarm), minotaur
XP 1,600
Despair (Fear) aura 5; any enemy within the aura takes a –2 penalty to attack rolls against the scourge of Baphomet.
Baphomet’s Boon aura 10; any ally of the scourge of Baphomet that starts its turn within the aura gains a +2 bonus to attack rolls when charging.
Swarm Attack aura 1; the swarm shifter makes a poisonous bite attack against an enemy that starts its turn within the aura.
HP 258; Bloodied 129; see also ferocious curse
Regeneration 10 (if a scourge of Baphomet takes fire damage, regeneration doesn’t function until the end of its next turn)
AC 29; Fortitude 30, Reflex 28, Will 30
Immune disease, poison; Resist 10 necrotic, half damage from melee and ranged attacks; Vulnerable 10 against close and area attacks
Saving Throws +2
Speed 6
Action Points 1
Melee Great Cursed Mace (standard; at-will) Necrotic, Weapon
+15 vs. AC; 1d8 + 7 damage plus 1d6 necrotic damage.
Melee Poisonous Bite (standard; at-will) MeleePoison
+15 vs. Fortitude; 1d8 + 9 poison damage.
Melee Goring Charge (standard; at-will)
The scourge of Baphomet makes a charge attack: +16 vs. AC; 2d6 + 6 damage, and the target is knocked prone.
Ranged Horns of Force (minor; at-will) Force
Ranged 5; +18 vs. AC; 1d8 + 3 force damage, and the target is pushed 2 squares.
Close Burst Ferocious Curse (when reduced to 0 hit points) Necrotic, Weapon, Disease
The scourge of Baphomet makes a melee basic attack and then makes a secondary attack. Secondary Attack: Close burst 10; targets enemies; +18 vs. Will; the target contracts level 13 mummy rot (Endurance improve DC 23, maintain DC 18, worsen DC 17 or lower; see Dungeon Master's Guide page 49).
Call out the Beast (minor; at-will)
Ranged 10; one bloodied ally within 10 squares of the scourge of Baphomet makes a melee basic attack as a free action.
Squeezing Swarm
By altering its shape, the scourge of Baphomet swarm shifter can squeeze through small openings as if it were a Tiny creature (see "Squeeze," see Player's Handbook page 292).
Alignment Chaotic evil
Languages Abyssal, Common
Skills Dungeoneering +14, Intimidate +14, Nature +16, Religion +12
Str 22 (+12)
Dex 12 (+7)
Wis 17 (+9)
Con 17 (+9)
Int 13 (+7)
Cha 16 (+9)
Equipment robes, mace

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.
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