I should probably begin this by giving you people my name. Fine. My name is Othar Renarsson. I was a raider for my clan's chief, Fearth Olarsson. I would sail the seas with my crew on my longboat Sea Cutter. My life up to this point was fine. I had monasteries to loot, towns to pillage, beer to drink. But that was before I reached these cursed, cursed shores. And now what do I have? No monasteries, no towns, and no goddamn beer! But my tale. Yeah, I should get back to that. I guess it starts on the open sea, two days ago. Gods, is it really so short a time? Anyway, my tale.
It all started on the open sea. We were sailing home after a successful raid on some monastery to some god that's sure as hell pissed off at us. Supplies were running low, so we put sailed up a river, hoping there'd be some town for us to raid some food from. But the river got too shallow for even the Sea Cutter, so we anchored her and set off on what we planned to be a two day long hunting and gathering fest. We got out our bows, and went lookin' for some deer or something'. We raiders ain't exactly picky. Anyways, a hunter had been following a deer. This hunter had missed his first shot at the deer, and was tracking it. The deer had broken past the tree line and had entered a glade, only to gallop back toward the hunter, as if hell itself was behind it. The hunter had shot at the deer, and brought it down with a lucky shot. He then, after checking out the deer he had brought down, investigated the area the deer had fled from. What he found was a ruined city. The hunter had then brought the deer back to the ship, where we had set up a camp, and told the tale of the ruin. Of course, fools that we were, me and six crewmen investigated the city.
We, too, pushed past the branches and bushes that guarded the edge of the treeline. And we gazed in wonder at the ruin. The first thing we saw was the walls. As a raider, I know a thing or two about walls. Yes, in the name of getting over them, but still. I could tell that they had been good, solid walls back in their day. But now they were heaps of stones, with vines crawling over them, and holes every so often. What we saw next was the city that the walls guarded. It was set on a hill, with the buildings leading up to the palace. I will describe the palace in a bit. For now, the city. The buildings, as far as I could see, were either rotten, collapsed heaps of wood, or crumbled buildings of stone. There were more stone buildings nearer the center, near the palace. The palace stood out in this sea of death as a vibrant beacon of life. It looks as if it had never been touched by the catastophe that had obviously happened to the rest of the city. There is, quite clearly, lights in the palace. We stepped over a pile of stones past the wall and entered the streets. Our lonely footsteps disturbed the silent streets. Twice we were startled by a rat that had made some noise as it darted across the street. But after a ten minute walk, we reached the wall of the palace. As we approached, we could see sentries patrolling the wall, which looked as good as new. We approached the front gate, and a sentry noticed us.
"What is your business with the king of Exitium?" asked the sentry.
After a hurried discussion of how we should reply, I yelled back "We are a diplomatic envoy from Fallere."
The sentries raised the portcullis and swung open the oaken gate. A soldier approached, and introduced himself as Sergeant Smothers. He led us into the palace proper. Inside, we could see nobles talking and laughing amongst themselves. It was as if the death and decay had never gotten past the outer walls. We passed fountains spraying wine in arcs for the nobles to dip their cups into. We passed jugglers and acrobats in side rooms for the noble's entertainment. We passed table groaning from the exquisite foods laid on them. We entered the throne room awed by the amounts of wealth we had just passed. But what we had seen held nothing to the throne room. The throne room was a massive chamber, at least 60 feet on each side, with the ceiling hidden above us. And each inch of wall was tastefully bedecked with ornate decorations. And where there was no decorations were tables of even grander food, fountains of even better wine, and entertainers of even higher caliber. We milled a round, staring in awe at this display of wealth. The dead city outside the gates seemed like a distant memory.
Most nobles gave us an interested glace. After all, we were wearing our leather armor, and had weapons fastened to our waists. I had a shield straped across my back. After a while, we started to talk to nobles, ask them about the city in general. And they all said that they assumed the city was fine, that life went on. But we knew that hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of years must have passed to get the city where we saw it was a minute ago. We started to ask nobles how long this party had been going on. They said that they had been here for maybe a half hour, an hour tops. It was around then that we began to wonder how long we had been here. We thought it was only 10 minutes or so, but was it? We decided, to clear our heads, to leave the party. So, we climbed the stairs of a tower to refresh our memories of the waste we had seen of the city. It now seemed impossible for it to be a ruin, for surely the nobles would have noticed. If it had been a hundred year, then surely they would have noticed the lack if food?
But when we got to the top of the tower, we stood and looked at the scene before us in shock. We knew not what to think; could our memory lied to us? For the view we were now seeing as we looked over the city was not a rotting, decaying ruin of past life, but of life. We saw flamboyant colors decorating the whole, new building that only a half hour ago we saw destroyed. We saw people streaming through streets, merchants haggling and calling out to potential customers, thieves redistributing wealth. It was not the city we had crossed when we came to the palace. Could our memories have lied to us? Based on the evidence before our eyes, it seemed the only possibility. We knew of no magic that could change a whole city from one state to another. The magi, as far as we knew, were still struggling to find the spell that allowed time travel. So we decided to investigate this new city.
We first asked the nobles the date. What they told us matched exactly the date we knew as truth. But how could that be possible? How could magic change a in into a city in barely any time? Even if an illusion had been cast over the city to make desolate, we would still have encountered people. So what had happened?
We exited the palace to see if the city itself was illusionary or real. It was real. We dodged three merchants attempting to sell us vegetables, one trying to sell us new leathers, and two selling hatchets. They were as real as you could get. As we walked along, noise suddenly ceased. But when we looked around, we could see that people were still talking, and laughing, but we heard not sounds as they did this. But then the sound rushed back into my ears. It was then I noticed that one of my crewmen had disappeared. I could not see him anywhere. Me and my five remaining men searched the street for him, but is was as of he had never existed. When we had finished our search, saddened at the apparent fact that he was either gone, a merchant yelled at me, offering a lightly used leather armor. I glanced over, and saw that it was my missing crewman's leather armor. And it had a large rip going down the center, with blood, fresh blood, surrounding the rip.
After I pointed this out to my men, and we overcame our shock, we found a quiet square to discuss what to do next. One said that we had gotten here through the palace, so maybe by returning to the palace we could return to the ship. Another suggested a more direct route- to simply leave the city, and not bother with the palace. We decided to do the latter. Simply leave, leave this godsforsaken place. But when we reached the city gates, we found that they were closed, the guards refusing to open them to let us leave. And that was when the crushing silence struck again. Silence reigned again, like the first time, when one of my men had vanished. But this time, instead of just lack of noise, we saw a slight... hole in our vision. Where the wall was, we saw it as the crumbled heap of stones as we saw it first. The edge between the ruined city and vibrant city was a jagged, blank edge, that tore at our sanity if we started at it long enough. And then both sight and sound returned to normal. And like before, another companion was mising. This time, a merchant tried to sell us his bloody axe, which had the handle cut off.
We tried the first suggestion, which was to go to the palace, and then leave. We hoped that this would work. Where there was seven companions there were now five. The streets, once filled with life, looked macabre to my eyes. When we reached the palace gates, it happened again. The same ominous silence, the same sanity-tearing vision of ruin. But this time, we saw a clawed arm, jet black and scale covered, from the image of the ruined city. This arm reached in and grabbed one of us. We tried in vain to stop it, to cut off the arm, to save my crewman, but we tried in vain. The arm vanished, with the crewman, with nought but scratches. This sight bolstered my sagging confidence. Where before it was magic that was taking men, now we had a monster to fight off. Yes, a tough monster, an almost unbeatable monster, but there was still that small chance, and hope's flame will flare even with slight chances. We entered the palace as slightly happier men. We had a monster to kill.
As we passed by the palace's walls, we wandered into the throne room. And once again, the sounds stopped. These... attacks were becoming more and more frequent. The hole in our vision opened, and this time, instead of seeing just a ruined throne, we saw a monstrous being lounging on it. It looked almost dragon-like in appearance. Its most remarkable feature were the eyes. They were blackish. In truth, I could not tell you for certain what color they were, but the one fact about them is that they seemed to suck in all the light in the room. Further than that, I cannot say, because we were soon thrust into the fight. This monster attacked, and grabbed one of my men, while we hacked and chopped at it, futiley. The fight ended with the nobles and the fine tapestries and musicians reaserting themselves under my senses. I looked around. It was down to me and two crewmen.
We hurried out of the throne room, out of the palace, and onto the streets. Thank the gods, the streets were desolate ruins. No more people, no more (thank the gods!) merchants, no more flamboyant buildings. Simply ruined streets, and rotting buildings. It was night, and a half-moon shone in the air. I shivered at the sight of this. To me people, the half-moon is the sign of chance. Things could go to darkness and evil, or to light and good. I needed all the luck I could get, and a half-moon gives me none. As we wandered through the streets, wondering if our ordeal is done, we heard footsteps behind us. We whirled around, and saw the four crewmen that had been snatched by the beast. But each had the beast's eyes- blackish holes that sucked in light. The fallen crewmen attacked in a berserk rage. Me and the remaining two stood our ground, weapons at the ready. I stepped forward, ducked a wild swing, and stabbed my former companion in the gut. He went down. I swung around, blocked a blow on my shield, and chopped the head off another fallen warrior. I stepped out of the fight for a moment, when I saw one of the Fallen strike a killing blow on one of my companions. My companion grunted, fell, and then stood up, with those strange eyes. It was now three Fallen versus me and my remaining man. We stood together facing them, and then charged. I blocked another strike off my shield, slit another's throat, and sheild bashed the first. My companion killed the third. I stabbed the first before he could recover. I looked over the chilling scene, at my dead companions. But that was when the moon's light was blotted out by the beast itself.
It began it's attack with a dive. We both managed to leap out of the way. And then the fight began in earnest I chopped and hacked and slashed at every bit of flesh that I could see. I leaped, ducked, and blocked attacks against myself. But then I heard a cry of pain. It had gotten my last man. That was when I ran. I ran as far and as fast as I could. I knew I had no chance against both the beast and a Fallen warrior. And so I ran. And after minutes of frenzied running, I reached a mostly intact building, where I hid in the basement. I barricaded the entrance to the basement with all the refuse I could find. And that is when I penned this tale. Gods, I know not what that thing is. I know not what this place is. I just know to stay away from this cursed place. My name is Othar Renarsson, and I am about to die.
Information about Exitium; the Gritty Details:
The Road to Madness:
As was shown, in various parts of the above tale, Raiders were killed one by one in "cutscenes." The progress of these killings should accelerate. The magic that binds the whole area starts unraveling, and the monster strikes during those times. The rate of that acceleration should be noticeable to the players, but not too fast so that the PCs are all dead before they decide to re-enter the palace and end the nightmare. Indeed, enough PCs should be left alive so that they have a fair, albeit difficult fight with the rest of the group and the monster. Also, there will always be a sign of the PC having died. In the tale, I had merchants selling the dead PC's equipment. You can use anything you want to show this, from a pile of bloodstained armor in an alley, to a familiar spellbook hanging from a clothesline.
"Who Goes There?"
The palace guards present an obstacle to any who want to see why the palace lights are on in a ruined city (and probably inadvertently get themselves killed). As such, they are easy to trick, overcome, etc., but it should not appear that way. In the tale above, the Raiders lied about being a diplomatic envoy from Fallere (which is latin for 'to deceive'), which would certainly work, but any type of trick would potentially work. Fighting, sneaking past, etc., will also work, but should contain risks, too. Fighting may draw more guards attention, and result in the PCs getting imprisoned while the monster occasionally has a snack, and sneaking past them may result in the guards noticing the PCs and attacking. Keep in mind, though, that the challenge presented by the guards should be easy to overcome, but look at first glance to be more difficult than it actually is.
Undeath Would be an Improvement:
The Fallen warriors, under control of the monster, are just as strong as they were before. They can swing a sword, cast a fireball, and so on just as well. They also bear the same weaknesses as before. The only major changes between the fighter of before and the fighter of now is that they are both fanatical in devotion to the monster, and can take orders telepathically from the monster. They will obey any order, as well as anticipate, react, and so on. They are not mindless. If the PCs jump a canyon, for example, that the Fallen cannot jump, they will no jump it, and instead seek another way across (perhaps the bridge 2.346 miles to the south?).
(Disgusting noises of a monster slurping up intestines like spaghetti):
Personally, I saw this monster as a dragon. With the light-sucking black eyes. Feel free to insert any monster here. But make sure it is vicious, deadly, and stylish*. Also, make sure it can work magic, or something like magic, depending on your world. After all, the whole city is draped in a layer of magic. The monster's main goal behind the city (the DM's goal may err slightly to the nastier side of things) is to attract groups of prey (humans), and weaken the group so that the feeding is easy. The monster will eat the dead bodies, and save the Fallen for later. The monster does not need food often, because it hibernates in-between the times that humans come. It could survive on a human a year or so.