There are a lot of things I love about Classic Fantasy but the greatest of all is the way in which I keep discovering cool details hidden within its pages. Rodney Leary has done an outstanding job of emulating the classical Dungeons & Dragons experience while at the same time preserving what is great about the Mythras game system. That said, I keep finding little delights that enrich my gaming experience.
This week, after completing the playtest of “The Terror of Ettinmarsh” with the Friday Night Roleplay group, I was reviewing my campaign notes and trying to work out how the consequences of the adventurer’s actions might manifest themselves. As the scenario features the unleashing of numerous Undead horrors, I was re-reading the Rank 3 Arcane spell Animate Dead. As I read, I smiled the evil smile of a Games Master who has found another detail with which to enrich our game.
But first, some background…
When I started to create the realm that has grown into Mystamyr, I created the village of Woodfell as a starting point. The tiny settlement is just three miles from Castle Mystamyr and made an excellent entry point for our campaign. As an almost throwaway detail in my background, I wrote about “the Fell Plague”:
“Woodfell is cursed with another problem: the Fell Plague. Travellers whisper that this evil curse is the true reason why no civilisation has reached further north and west than Zirazund. Simply put, the dead do not rest. In Mistamyr Fell, all humanoid life that dies rises within a day to walk the land in undeath. Zombies and skeletons wander the forested hills and mountains, mindlessly tracking the life force they hunger to consume. Locals cremate those they love on pyres lest the dead stumble back to slay them in their beds. Nobody knows why the Fell Plague curses the land, or why it has not spread much beyond the boundaries of Mistamyr Forest or the Heartsreach Mountains. Most suspect that it has something to do with the mad experiments of Gygar the Red, the crazed wizard of legend.”
Since the earliest sessions, the Fell Plague has remained a feature of the setting. But, until today, it was just that: an element of backstory.
Adventurers have repeatedly faced the repercussions of the Fell Plague: fallen comrades left in Castle Mystamyr or The Lost Tomb of the Dragon Knights have risen to undeath. Foes slain have had to be subdued again once the new day dawns and the heroes return to delve deeper into the dungeon. But, until now, it’s been a narrative device only.
Animating the Dead
Re-reading the Animate Dead spell, I realised that I have the means to bring the idea of the Fell Plague into firm focus. Yes, it remains an interesting detail of the setting and a useful narrative tool, but it also gains the permanence of having some rules to support its application. Here’s what I found:
“Typically, but there are exceptions, skeletons and zombies are animated by evil spell casters; however, it is not uncommon for corpses left in areas steeped in necromantic magic to spontaneously animate. This means that many times, ancient tombs and burial grounds will be crawling with undead without an evil cleric or necromancer anywhere to be found.” (Classic Fantasy, page 152)
Immediately I found myself realising that the Fell Plague is one such area of necromantic magic. In short, by allocating an Intensity to the necromantic power emanating from the lands around Woodfell in Mystamyr, I can regulate the Fell Plague’s effects in play:
“Where the Intensity of the area is in excess to that of the undead, their Intensity vs. Turning will be that of the area. An area steeped in necromantic magic cannot spontaneously animate undead with a higher Intensity than that of the area… Corpses in such areas will spontaneously animate after a number of days equal to 5 minus the area’s Intensity.” (Classic Fantasy, page 152)
In other words, to give it the proper effect as originally described, the Fell Plague would logically be Intensity 4. This allows for humanoids of SIZ 20 or less to be spontaneously raised from the dead within the 24-hour period described. It also limits the creation of larger beasts, such as Ogres, to areas of higher Intensity… or to the machinations of Necromancers.
I don’t know about you, but I find this little rule hidden away in the spell description to be a very cool one indeed! It’s a little delight that enriches play and makes decisions about roaming Undead consistent within the region affected by the Fell Plague.
Setting Given Structure
Reflecting on the simple decision to invoke this rule from Classic Fantasy, I also realise that this is another example of something I wrote about in the past: this game offers greater verisimilitude – a stronger sense of Mystamyr as a living place – than gaming with other systems.
The simple addition of a structure to describe and regulate the Fell Plague fuels my thinking. If the adventurers run into a Zombie Ogre, for example, they’ll have a clue that something more is going on because (even if they don’t know the rule) the players will recognise that this event breaks the usual pattern. In other words, limitations placed by the rule on the Games Master’s decisions force me to create another explanation… such as a powerful Necromancer who is using the Fell Plague to hide her activities.
As I said at the start, I keep finding little delights that enrich my gaming experience. Now that the Fell Plague has found a basis in the rules, I can enjoy the challenge of finding ways to exploit it for gaming pleasure.