A dark shroud has enveloped fair Toril, it is not of this world. A powerful force of raw necrotic energy has made its way into this world. What was once a mere Lich is slowly becoming something more, in part from his Death Curse. Worse yet, a powerful artifact is making the effects of this hex far greater and far more widespread too. But, for what purpose? Perhaps to empower him or possibly provide an endless font to create feats of magic locked away from even the gods! Adventurers are needed, as always. Many have fallen to the madness of the curse, becoming little more than empty husks who attack anything with a semblance of life force left. Go forth and bring life back to this world and don’t you dare go hollow on me!
The world of Abeir-Toril is fairing poorly against a strange incursion by a powerful entity known as “Acererak”. Stories travel around other prime material planes. These stories tell of foul magic, undeath and annihilation. Not long after the monster’s arrival, people found themselves somehow alive when they should have been dead. At first, people rejoiced! But soon, they caught on. Their hearts had stopped, their complexion faded, they began to look more like walking corpses. Many lost their mind, aimlessly attacking those who still show some signs of life. Some fear that this Acererak is not alone, aided by a far more malevolent force.
Author’s Note: Sure, the new adventure is coming soon or whatever. That said, here’s an idea I’ve been bouncing around for a while! What if, instead of merely wasting away from the Death Curse, victims would lose themselves to a slowly spreading and corrupting undeath. Then it hit me, this is Dark Souls! So, I mashed the two together in a sense. Below are a retooling of my Curse of Undeath as well as how to mesh it with Tomb of Annihilation. View the original here. Also, find more content for Chult here.
One final thing. This article contains major spoilers for much of the module. Do not read on if you plan on playing this module!
The Curse of Undeath.
Acererak’s Death Curse strike far worse than anyone could have anticipated. As your life force fades, so does your resemblance to your old self. Struggling with this curse long enough can turn even the most beautiful and powerful into nothing more than a withered, rotten shambling corpse. Nothing short of miracles and slaying the corruption itself can restore you back to your normal self, if that’s even possible. Even before the curse has truly claimed you, its dark power has manifested its taint in other ways.
The Destruction of the of Body, Mind, Soul and Spirit
In this variant of the module, dying brings you back for the worse. Upon dying, you return to your new maximum hit point value 10 minutes later with a tier of the Undeath Curse. This cannot be removed outside of a godly force aiding you. Resurrection magic is also changed, further details on this are mentioned below.
Even before before truly becoming one of the Undead, the cursed already suffer greatly. Upon being afflicted by the Curse of Undeath, you automatically gain a death saving throw failure upon success or gain more for failing. Upon failure, you receive two failed saves instead. Rolling a natural 1 causes three failed saves instead of two. For added cruelty, there is the Meat Grinder option as presented in the beginning of the module. For even more cruelty, you can retain the rules for decreased maximum health. Once a victim has died in this manner, their maximum is restored up until a point, depending on what stage of undeath they are on.
Becoming the Undead.
When you lose your life essence, it saps away at the fabric of your being. The more you die, the more of yourself you lose. And the more you lose, the more you give into the curse’s vile influence. Upon dying while suffering the curse, you gain the first tier.
- Tier 1: You look like a horribly ill version of your race. You look haggard, beaten or downright weak. You gain resistance to poison damage. You gain advantage on saving throws against poisons and diseases. You do not eat or breath. Sleep is only really needed to retain to your sense of self. You lose 2d6 maximum hit points. You can be affected by powers that target undead (like Turn Undead).
- Tier 2: You look horribly discolored like a recently deceased body. You may look bloated or like you have been drained of fluids, but you do not look alive either way. You gain resistance to necrotic damage and immunity to poison damage, but you are vulnerable to radiant damage. You are immune to poisons and diseases. However, you are resistant to magical healing. You lose another 2d6 maximum hit points as well as 5 feet of move speed.
- Tier 3: You look like a decaying corpse, a sad shell of your former self. Your grasp on your former life is fading. You are immune charm and fear effects, but also magical healing. in addition, you lose proficiency in all checks and saving throws. However, you remain proficient in any attacking. You lose an additional 2d6 maximum hit points.
- Tier 4: You have become an Undead NPC. You have failed to restore yourself back to normal. You are one of the many lost in the shambling hoards. Your reduced hit points are restored back to normal.
Should your maximum HP drop to 0 at any time, you automatically become a Hollowed Out NPC and regain all of your previously lost hit points.
Regaining Your Soul.
Not all hope is lost. Some heroes have discovered how to regain a piece of their soul… at least temporarily. The hero must return to where they were slain and defeat that which killed it. Furthermore, they must meditate in a well lit area containing some symbol of power and life for an amount of time (typically a short rest). This can range from a holy temple to a bonfire. Following that, the hero must receive a resurrecting spell, as if they were being brought back from death. Upon being targeted with this spell, they make a Constitution saving throw to stave off the effects of Undeath (DC 15). Upon success, they may lose one level of Undeath. However, the grasp on their soul becomes all the stronger. The DC for future saves versus Undeath increase by +5 each time they are restored in this manner, but only if they succeed. As long as the victim is cursed, this DC will continue to stack and grow more challenging until it is impossible. Upon failure, the spell fails to bring vitality back into them and nothing happens. The DC will not increase though. Attempting to use resurrection magic in any other way will fail, as the curse supersedes any and all resurrection.
Beyond this, the sources of this corruption must be stopped. In this case, the Soulmonger artifact, any horrors empowered within/by it and Acererak. Until this occurs, no one will be free of the curse.
Also, you must be active in the world and not give into despair. Those who give up on life quickly become hollowed out. By engaging others and doing what you can to retain your life essence, you can stave off the curse’s effects. Losing track of your character’s motivations, ideals and other traits will also cause you to gain a tier in Undeath, regardless of dying or not prior, as you are giving into the hollowing nature of the curse. Characters who cease to see the point in their endeavors or feel that they have accomplished everything they can do will quickly become hollowed undead.
Using The Curse of Undeath in the Tomb of Annihilation
While mostly irrelevant to the campaign, it might prove fun to drop snippets on what’s going on outside of the southern jungles. Perhaps insurrection against Thay has been halted, as Szass Tam now has the upper hand… all the more reason for him to take Soulmonger for himself! Perhaps the Cemetery Ward of Waterdeep has been transferred into an Undead Asylum for those who are badly afflicted. Ghuls of Zakhara take advantage of the plague to corrupt and erode as many mortals as possible, to help assemble foul armies.
In this version, the port city is far gloomier. The denizens do whatever they can to retain their emotions, humanity or more personal drives. While some try to ignore and live day to day life, others do whatever they can to force themselves into staying sane. The atmosphere is otherwise artificial and uncanny. Failure to help random people with their sub-quests could result in them going hollow. Ironically, completing some of their quest lines could very well do the same!
Temples like the Hall of Gold are overwhelmed by citizens looking for a cure, or at least a divine prayer to restore enough of their humanity. In truth, such a ritual is stressful and resource consuming. Most of these civilians could in no way afford or handle the power of such a ritual. Meanwhile, even the powerful Merchant Princes begin to struggle. Their empire hedges on some level of normalcy within the port, as well as an economic stability. Almost everyone has become too panicked to worry over shopping expenses. However, some sales have boomed as the afflicted think that purchasing items will help keep their humanity in tact. This frenzy has caused much of the land to suffer as well. Beautiful structures are tarnished by deathly disease and hastily discarded goods. Even the Merchant Princes Villa has become slightly ugly.
Instead of an invasion of undead flocking to Acererak, many of these poor souls were those who ultimately gave up in the fight against the Death Curse, becoming the burnt out husks that wander in search of life force to snuff out. Some remain fully sentient, while others are a few ranks above a typical zombie. Any intelligent undead that gained their status prior to the curse don’t seem to be affected. However, they’re not prepared to share their secrets. Some want near-mindless thralls under their wing even. Those outside of the safety of the port city are far more fearful than they were originally. For example, the mighty priests and paladins of Camp Vengeance are terrified for their very existence. They feel the corruption grasping at their souls constantly, scarred by the sights of their compatriots succumbing to the curse after an attack on Camp Righteous. The sinister enterprise of pirates hiding in Jahaka Bay has been crippled after fighting off former crew members and laying low to avoid succumbing to the curse themselves. The Grung tribe of Dungrunglung is quickly collapsing under pressure, as their own ranks become what they hate the most. Attempts to fend off the undead only make matters worse.
Omu, the Forbidden City.
The serpentfolk, the Yuan-Ti, have been bidding their time as things worsen around them. While they’re not immune to the effects of this dread power, they aren’t as affected. They’re under the foolish notion that they’re allies of the dread lich. Ras Nsi has begun to show symptoms of hollowing out, but does all he can to hide it from his subjects. Only his second in command, Fenthaza, is aware of the full truth. She continuously exploits his sorrowful state to her benefit. Most of the time, Ras Ni is not aware of this, but he has his suspicions.
The Tomb of the Nine Gods.
Away from civilization, the corruption manifests with a far stronger presence. Fallen adventurers line in droves, while the tomb itself emanates distinctly wicked power. There is no light or hope here. There is no chance at restoring your life essence while you enter this dreadful dungeon. Resurrection Magic will not work here. Your only hope is to rid the evils infesting these tombs and hope you aren’t annihilated in the process.
Using FromSoft-esque monsters in Tomb of Annihilation.
A ways back, I made some homages to the Souls-Borne games. Let’s take this a step further, shall we? The monsters in question can be found here.
- Hollowed Undead: The standard zombie represents these enemies will. Variants add the zombie traits to various NPC types. More intelligent hollowed might display a sharper sense of tactics. Either way, these undead remnants of lost heroes and villagers are inherently hostile towards any creature that still has that spark, that essence, that last flame of liveliness in them. All that mattered to these ruined creatures is tearing down what was taken from them.
- Undead Tyrant (Gravelord): This might make a particularly horrific alternative to the Atropal utilized by Acererak. The Undead Tyrant is the combined essence of both sundered mortal souls and even dead gods themselves. This colossal horror only seeks to dispel all life on the world so it can be one with it. Despite its name, it cares little for leadership or rule, only for the world to be assimilated into its wretched world of death.
- Fallen Knight to the Abyss: The Mighty Leader of a group of heroes who ventured deep into Omu in search of the source of this madness. While the group quickly turned to mindless dead, the nameless leader charged on before going insane. While afflicted, he managed to take some of the power from Acererak’s minions, becoming a force to be reckoned with. After being trapped in the dungeons for months, successfully slaying anything in his path, he was eventually captured and sealed on a demiplane solely created to contain him. The crazed knight attacks anything he sees, but he is far from a mindless husk. He will often taunt his prey and accuse them of being allies of Acererak. There is sadly little reasoning with him. In the off chance he is reasoned, he’ll begin to give up and utilize what magic he does have to kill himself by total incineration. The process completely destroys any trace of his body.
Affect on the Module:
I realize this drastically alters the module’s flow and themes a bit. Instead of just being gone for good and being food for Soulmonger, you are drained of your sense of self and identity. You remain tormented until you’re reduced to nothing more than a pitiful and violent shell. While the module is already dark, this pushes it further into dark fantasy just like the Dark Souls video games. Not only are people falling to this curse, their remains are rising up to attack others to continue the cycle even faster! The sheer devastation would likely be more widespread, as the afflicted would have to fight their own allies, likely causing them to lose hope and join their ranks at a far quicker pace as well. While mortality is a larger issue in the module as written, this variation would require action to truly stop the end of days. This rule makes the module slightly less lethal, but increases challenge in other ways. Resurrection magic is only temporarily useful for staving off degeneration into an undead NPC, which is roughly on par with the withering effect of the base module. Plus, all of these soulless and hateful undead could only further Acererak’s plans. The end result would be a dead world in which he rules.
IMAGE SOURCE: Darkroot Forest – From Software (Dark Souls), Chult Map – Mike Schley
Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne are properties of From Software. Chult, as well as the Forgotten Realms, are properties of TSR Inc./Wizards of the Coast and Ed Greenwood. Created by Doctor Necrotic, for Doctor Necrotic Media. All rights and copyrights belong to respective owners.