Swords to Ploughshares (Part II)

The first D&D adventure I ever wrote was a reasonably short one, where the adventurers (level 1, obviously) are hired for a relatively simple task of clearing out a swamp of dangerous frogs, which have been terrorizing the halfling inhabitants of a small farming village. However, the twist was that the frogs had been stirred up by an ancient, buried secret that lay deep within a cursed subterranean temple, which once was home to a cult who worshipped Pelor. What are Pelor worshippers doing underground? This was a sect that believed that life and death was a cycle, much like light and dark, and had embraced a contemplative lifestyle where they meditated on the mysteries of life and light whilst shrouded in darkness.

Flimsy, I know. In order to even access the temple, the players had to either break down the door (which was heavy oak), or else defile graves in order to dig up two keys. Either prospect was not very appealing. With break DCs what they were in the PHB1 days, a level 1 character would almost have better luck shooting the door with arrows until it felt apart than running at it and trying to knock its hinges off. I suppose I’d have allowed a Thievery check to simply remove the pins from the hinges and a Strength check to lift the door clean off and set it aside, but I never really had a chance to test what players would, ultimately, come up with.

The deeper, darker secret was that the cult’s purpose had been abruptly altered when they discovered a portal to the Shadowdark deep within the recesses of the cave, through which dread Things were trying to emerge. In order to protect the world from these creatures, they constructed a very elaborate seal, craft from solid silver and solid gold, and took shifts uttering incantations over the seal to keep the bonds strong. This worked great for a while, until the members of the sect became old, feeble, and died. For some reason they never thought of recruiting, apparently, or sending for help from a more mainstream Pelorean temple. I just made up that word, Pelorean. Maybe they feared persecution? I never thought that part through.

Alas, stranger tides did turn and the last surviving member of the sect, in a desperate bid to try to keep the seal over the portal secure, went through the blackest, darkest ritual to become a wight, under the misdirected notion that becoming undead would enable him to maintain his holy mission for the rest of time. As things like this happen, as time went on, he became more and more corrupt as his soul slipped further and further away, and rather than shedding holy light down upon the portal, he was feeding it with necrotic evil. The wildlife in the swamp outside the halfling village becoming crazed and perturbed was only the first hint that something far more evil was afoot, and thanks to the quick thinking of the adventurers, they’d come up with some way to destroy the wight, and secure the seal.

The wight was a scaled-back deathlock wight (mostly so he was easier for level 1 or 2 characters to hit), but all conversation options ultimately led to him attacking. He also had a neat raise minion undead power I stuck in there to make it a bit more interesting. The way I had the adventure end was after he was defeated, the last bit of power escaped from him and flung the portal open, which caused evil energy to pour out, which inadvertently causes the cave to collapse around the portal, sealing the evil in.

However, wouldn’t it have been even more interesting if there was a way to, ultimately, reason with the wight? At least misdirect him long enough for a thief or some other character to slip by, unnoticed, to at least pull something over on him? If I was a player in this adventure, I’d have been very interested in the documents that the sect left behind (discoverable earlier in the adventure), plus all of the untold knowledge kept safely by the wight in his secret study (he had constructed a dormitory directly adjacent to a small room containing the portal and surrounded himself with all of the things he felt he needed to pass the eons), and would really have liked to have engaged him, if nothing else, in a philosophical debate, which may, eventually, have reminded him of his earlier days when he was still human, alive, and passionate.

Perhaps he could have been convinced, at last, that his mission had become corrupted, and that he was no longer performing the duty which he had sworn to uphold, and in fact was acting, inadvertently, against his own express desires. He certainly couldn’t return to the world above, he was a wight, a thing of evil, he would not be accepted. He couldn’t remain where he was, his corruption was feeding the tear between worlds and making it stronger, his very presence acted to draw more evil things to the threshold. It would be very easy to make the player chacters pity the wight, instead of hate him, and make them want to try to come to an alternative outcome from killing him, at least killing him in cold blood. Even if he attacked, they could attempt, if they sympathized with him enough, to merely subdue him, and try to bring him to sense later.

Heck, if, as a player, I liked him enough, I’d probably even try to come up with some way to cover him up in a cloak, smuggle him out of the city under cloak of night, and secret him away to some temple of Pelor somewhere else in the world, try to explain the sad situation to the priests there, and let the wight live out the rest of his life in penance there. Not only would that have been a very unexpected and novel solution for the problem, but it also would set up the opportunity to have a very powerful (albeit unusual) NPC contact for other adventure seeds. I think that, while alignment can be really useful a lot of the time, at other times it can get in the way of role-playing. If there is an outcome to a situation that is more interesting as a player, but which contradicts alignment, I’d be very tempted to ignore alignment for the moment and just see how the situation played out. Those sorts of moments are often much more memorable than simply smashing the bad guy and calling it a day, and their effects can last for a much longer period of time.

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