Monday, January 5, 2015

Festering Spirit

Mass graves are horrific by definition.  Festering spirits add to that horror the theme of corruption and the fear of continued manipulation and suffering after death.  Especially since the most likely culprit for polluting a mass grave is the one who caused it in the first place: brutal prison bulls killed in a failed breakout attempt who get buried with the rioters, for instance, or the dictator who gets hung along with his generals within view of their victims’ graves.  Even in legitimate grave sites like a family crypt or ossuary, all it takes is a few bad sets of bones to spoil the bunch…

Given the festering spirits’ habits as described in the Bestiary 4—patrolling corridors, vandalism, pranks, stealing food—they seem like ideally threats to place in abandoned schools, abbeys, asylums, prisons, and similar institutions.  Sure, they might show up on a battlefield or the sight of some mage-blight, but there are better undead candidates for that.  Festering spirits form where institutional control, fear, secrets and death all combine in a particularly toxic, oozy stew.

Ringtown is a geographical oddity, a narrow village that encircles a no man’s land two miles across in every direction.  The reason is a particularly powerful festering spirit, born when a bandit lord was tossed into the same mass grave as his many victims.  When he rose as one of the undead, the pragmatic villagers simply rebuilt their homes around his territory, visiting the town center only by day when the spirit is quiescent.  (The town well is one of the only productive water sources in leagues, and has minor healing properties besides, making abandoning the site impossible.)  Adventurers with the might to end the festering spirit would be welcomed with open arms by most of Ringtown.  But a select few smugglers and at least one evil cult find the no man’s land to be very useful, and will work behind the scenes to see that the adventurers fail.

The prioress of Calum Hollow secretly had multiple personalities—one of which drove her to compulsively murder.  Her guilt at her crimes only fractured her psyche more, and by the time she was caught and executed her splintered selves were each strong-willed enough to return as festering spirits.  Among them are Sister Agata, a stern disciplinarian; Cook, who steals food to fill the priory’s kitchen and wine cellar; Villy, with the mind of a child who plays with attic whisperers and gremlins; Slithering Wisdom, who believes herself to be (and manifests as) a naga princess, and the Black Butcher, the prioress’s original “other,” now stronger and wickeder than ever.

Some “adventurers” don’t want to adventure at all—they just want to pass.  In Ormcrest Hall, students are studying for winter exams when a putrescent spirit begins haunting the dormitory cellar.  Investigating the haunting exposes crimes by the Master of Thaumaturgy.  The students will have to pass their exams, vanquish the festering spirit, and present evidence of the master’s wrongdoing in a way that does not get traced back to them…or they might end up among the 10 percent of the student body (or more accurately, student bodies) whose corpses are used in next year’s dissection lessons.

Pathfinder Bestiary 4 98

And we’re back!  Thanks for hanging out during last week’s randomness.  (For my Blogger readers, there were pictures, a radio show (file now defunct, sadly), a podcast, and two essays on some classic RPG books.  Hope you enjoy!)

So I spent the last week playing board games and celebrating New Year’s at a fancy but frozen private school in New Hampshire.  Can you tell?

I’m pretty certain that with the right group, you could use Pathfinder rules to make a really great campaign set at a school, particularly a school of magic.  (The absolutely essential GAZ3 The Principalities of Glantri has recommendations for just such a campaign.)  Given how lethal certain schools and institutions in our own world can be, imagine what Korvosa’s Acadamae or Glantri’s Great School of Magic must be like.  (Hell, even Hogwarts has a body count.)  Festering spirits fit right in.

Finally, it seems like several of you used sick days or the holidays to plow through the archives and/or send me nice notes.  I’m not sure how fast I’ll be able to reply to everyone given my current workload, but thanks to all of you for taking the time out of your holidays to make mine brighter.

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