Friday, September 23, 2011

SoSA the 19th: The Vivimancer

This is post 19 out of 25 in the Cygnus Series of a September of Short Adventures.

Everyone knows about necromancers, who ply their grim arts trying to learn hidden secrets from dead bodies. But not many know there are vivimancers amongst the dead, who weave their magics in the opposite direction....

Deep in the bowels of the Nine Hells, in the iron city of Dis, lives the spirit of a man who has been dead for centuries. After so much time, he doesn't remember by what name he was called in life, but he still burns with the desire to live again. He learned the arts of vivimancy from a rogue Pit Fiend who was wandering the uppermost levels of the Hells and looking to torment the lesser inhabitants. (Giving hope of living again is the greatest torment of all...)

The vivimancer has found a cracked and clouded crystal ball that gives him the means to view living beings on earth. Especially ones that are wandering around near his original burial place. Ever attracted to the flame of life, he often focuses on the most vivacious of people... like adventurous PCs.

So, one random night, the PCs are sleeping out in the wilderness, somewhere within a few days hike of a tall mountain. The DM must choose the one PC in the party that an external observer would judge to have the least amount of overall awareness and judgement -- i.e., the lowest wisdom. It's NOT necessarily the character with truly the lowest WIS score, though. (Perception isn't always reality!) This PC will be the target of the vivimancer's attack.

The attack initiates a contest of wills inside the PCs dreaming mind. For some reason, the only literary example I can think of is the dream battle in this horrible movie. Anyway, roleplay it with as much imaginative gusto as you can muster (while awake!), but adjudicate it with the back-and-forth Contest of Skills mechanic I posted here and here. The attribute of choice is indeed Wisdom, and the vivimancer has an 18.

Even a low-wisdom PC has a chance to prevail, but I'll proceed under the assumption that the PC loses the battle. The losing PC is now under the power of the vivimancer (treat it like possession a la Magic Jar), and he begins the trek to recover his body from its burial place high in a mountain cave, for eventual resurrection.

Tragedy-time: It's been something like 200 years since the vivimancer walked the earth. There is no body left, and no chance at all of resurrection.

Nonetheless, he will leave the party and begin a lone hike to the mountain cave. If "caught" doing untypical things by his companions, he'll make what excuses he can and try to hightail it away from a conversation as soon as possible. Will the rest of the party follow him to see what's up?

There's some rock climbing involved to get to the mountain cave, approximately 600 feet up from ground level. I've heard the 1e AD&D Dungeoneer's Survival Guide has some crunchy mechanics for mountain climbing, but I don't have it. Try this instead:

For this kind of high-inclination, rough rockface (with occasional ledges), the climb speed depends on the SUM of a PC's Strength and Dexterity as follows:

06-16: 3 feet/round
17-24: 6 feet/round
25-30: 9 feet/round
31-34: 12 feet/round
35-36: 15 feet/round

Thieves multiply the above climb speed by 1.5. PCs roped together travel at the speed of the slowest climber.

It's dangerous! Every 50 feet, each character must roll 3d6 as a Dexterity check (i.e., roll under for success). If it fails, the PC falls 20 feet, takes 1d6 hp of damage, and must roll ANOTHER Dex check, this time with 4d6. If that one fails, then there's another 20 feet and 1d6 hp of falling damage. Each failed roll means another fall, more damage, and another required check, but all subsequent checks just keep using 4d6. Unless a successful check stops the PC's fall, it keeps going until he or she reaches the bottom of the mountain or dies.

If multiple PCs roped together are falling, then the subsequent checks after the first failed one get EASIER: down to 2d6, because of increased chances that the rope will catch on something.

A PC that reaches the cave can also throw down a rope for others to hold on as they climb. In that case, the Dex checks are not needed, but for each 50 feet of climbing that stress is put on the rope, roll 1d20. A natural 1 means the rope breaks, and the PC begins falling as if their climbing Dex check failed (see above).

Anyway, once the cave is reached, the vivimancer may become unhinged when he discovers that there's no body left. Just a ring and rusty knife are all that's left in this dusty place; not even a skeleton. If the other PCs are around, he will attack them. Hopefully they can get through to him (or to the submerged mind of their friend) and stop him!

Full disclosure: The concept of the vivimancer was introduced by Gene Wolfe in his New Sun books.

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