This month's Random Encounters presents a series of seemingly unrelated engagements with various undead beings. A plot and purpose does exist behind these attacks, though. Some of the facts are presented here and in subsequent parts of the series, and some are to be determined by individual DMs, as best suits their campaigns.
Here's the back-story: The mid-level heroes these encounters are aimed at should have accumulated quite a few enemies during their careers. Many of these foes end up dead at the PCs' hands, but a few should have escaped the PCs' lethal clutches, and at least one of these enemies is now out to get the PCs. Perhaps a mastermind villain of the group (one that the heroes may or may not be aware of when the first encounter takes place) has set his, her, or its sights on eliminating the characters.
The reasons for wanting the heroes dead are limited only by the DM's imagination: The heroes might be long-time thorns in the side of the mysterious master villain or maybe the PCs have ruined one too many of the villain's schemes and she's not going to take it anymore. The villain thus becomes proactive and seeks to destroy the PCs before they can interfere any further.
As mentioned above, another option for this master-planning foe is a well-hidden, new, or otherwise unknown-to-the-heroes force or entity that is intelligent enough to have studied the past deeds and current habits of the campaign's heroes. It resolves to eliminate the PCs now, before they can become more powerful.
Dungeon Masters are encouraged to choose, resurrect, or create a suitable foe to mastermind the scheme of killing the PCs now, rather than waiting until the heroes show up on the villain's doorstep, healthy, rested, and loaded for bear. Whatever form the mastermind takes and whatever its motives are for wanting the characters dead, the foe must be one that would logically use undead as its tools in this scheme. Examples include necromancers, priests of deities of death or undeath, or even powerful undead beings themselves, such as liches or vampires. At the very least, the mastermind should have the willingness and resources to contact and hire the undead being detailed in the last installment; the creature detailed there could be assumed to have arranged the attacks detailed in the earlier parts, before it takes a personal hand. Part 4 also presents an option that allows DMs whose campaigns lack an appropriate enemy to modify the undead being detailed there and incorporate it into the campaign as the scheming fiend that wants the heroes' heads on gory platters. These encounters use undead beings detailed in the Fiend Folio; having that tome would be helpful in running these encounters. Condensed statistics for each creature are given for those who lack this resource, however.
The first attack in this series is less complex than the others so that you can add it to an ongoing campaign without raising the suspicion of the players. If you want to make things seem ominous and build up some tension, just drop the occasional hint that the PCs feel like they're being watched at the oddest times, that they seem to be having a run of bad luck (no rooms at their favorite inn, and so on), that animals and children shy away from them without knowing why, or that they receive ominous, vague warnings from fortune-tellers, divination spells, or even in their dreams. The players should begin to suspect that something is wrong, but they needn't attach the quth-maren's attack with any new sense of unease.
Special Note: It would be wise for DMs to gain knowledge of what a PC carries around and wears when he or she is not actively adventuring. One of the installments is perfect for a situation where the PCs are not "on task" regarding a quest or mission. However, doing this early on and asking for updates as time passes is advisable.
Quth the Maren, Nevermore
If your heroes enjoy killing the dead, then they'll love you for this -- if they survive.
Not everything (or every creature) is as it appears in this week's installment.
"Hey, that's MY Corpse -- Leave It Alone!"
"What do you mean my PC's dead? Bhut, bhut, bhut . . . "
The Mastermind Revealed?
The undead go all out for the PCs' blood this time!
Game Resources: To get the best use of the material in this article, have the following resources on hand: Player's Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual, Fiend Folio.
About the Author
Dale Donovan is a 14+-year veteran of the gaming industry, during which time he edited Dragon Magazine, wrote or edited many Forgotten Realms products (along with almost every other roleplaying line produced by the company, be it TSR or Wizards), moved from rural Wisconsin to suburban Seattle when Peter Adkison of Wizards saved TSR, and served as a Managing Editor. Since going freelance, he has worked for Steve Jackson Games, Guardians of Order, White Wolf/Sword & Sorcery, and Wizards of the Coast, among others. He loves RPGs, horror and fantasy fiction, comics, movies, most every kind of music, and his lovely wife and wonderful daughter.