RPG Misadventures: Vampires & the Lich

This was a suggestion from Brian P. in the comments the other week. I play and run Tabletop Roleplaying games, particularly Pathfinder but also including Dungeons & Dragons when I was younger. These are some random stories of the insanity that ensues when players get involved in a game, and how they can screw with your plot with far more regularity than a mere character in a book. I’m going to put one of these up a week until I run out of them. Should take a few weeks, at the least.

The Vampires & the Lich: This is one of my older games from more than a decade ago, before I’d matured much, so please bear with some rather… poor decisions on plot. Essentially, in a world where magic to raise the dead was almost impossible to use, I had a group of eight players decide to face down a lich, an undead mage who traps their soul in an object that allows them to reform infinitely as long as the object isn’t destroyed. The group decided they’d stand no chance against it, and it had some information they wanted, so they decided to perform a task for the lich, retrieving a staff that had been stolen by a vampire centuries before.

The journey took several months, at which point they found a dungeon and entered into it. There was a magically locked pair of double-doors they couldn’t open, and a hallway to the left and right. Taking the left corridor, they ran into a vampire warrior with a really big axe and several undead mages. While they killed them, the vampire vanished in a mist that seeped under the double-doors, heading back to its coffin to reform over the course of an hour, at which point it’d come back. They panicked, and rushed to try to get through the dungeon before this time limit was up. The first room had a coffin inside it, which the dim-witted paladin opened without checking for traps, and the fire trap nearly killed him, but undid one of the two locks. That done, they rushed the other way.

They entered a small maze with shimmering walls, and angled corners. Trying to figure things out, the group scattered, each down a hall. This… was a mistake. See, down the three dead-ends I’d put statues of gargoyles, each enchanted to fire a lightning bolt at the first creature they saw. The corners were enchanted to reflect the lightning bolts through the dungeon, and with the way the group scattered, they set off all three practically simultaneously. The cleric was in the entry hall, and got nearly fried when all three lightning bolts hit him. Finally they got through the maze (seriously, it was only a 40 foot by 40 foot room!), and to the room where the tomb was. Unfortunately, the tomb guardian wasn’t gone, and it was a ghost mage, who possessed the group mage and attacked them, cackling madly.

Rather than disabling their friend, the party dealt with the issue by chopping his head clean off, leaving the ghost laughing at them. They’d already activated the unlocking mechanism, so rather than fight the ghost, they ran for the entryway. They got to the double doors, threw them open… and the big bad vampire mage was waiting for them. He’d prepared to throw a fireball the moment the doors open, and the group had spread out into the exact radius of the explosion, hammering them again. Thank goodness for the cleric having healed them all earlier!

Anyway, the vampire went first and promptly cast a spell to make him invisible, even when attacking (normally an attack makes you visible), and since vampires can naturally climb walls in the game, he moved about 20 feet up the wall, since the room had a 60-foot high vaulted ceiling. The group, hammered and confused, rushed into the room, scattering about, save for two people who stopped to heal their wounds. This turned out to be wise, as when I used the measuring tape the 5 who’d charged inside had spread out into a perfect cross-shaped formation… that was exactly a 20 foot radius, the exact area of a fireball spell. This hurt them even more, but no one died, to my relief and amazement.

The paladin, at my prompting, tried to detect evil, pinpointing at least the vampire’s general area, and the cleric used an ability to remove invisibility to give the group a target, and they unloaded desperately on him, with one of the people in the back flying up trying to shoot him in the face. The vampire mind-controlled the character and told them to kill the cleric, but fortunately someone managed to kill the vampire before that happened, leaving a broken, nearly-dead group to recover from their wounds. They did find the coffins of the vampires, finished them off, and grabbed the staff. I expected this to be the end of their troubles, but no, of course not.

After resting, they headed for the surface, full of vigor and relieved to be alive. The replacement character for the mage showed up, a character who built a clockwork lion in particular, and they started chatting. I decided to throw a weak encounter at the group, at least for their level. The immaterial creature known as a shadow is considered a decent challenge for a level 3 character, and my group ranged from level 8 to 12. Problem is, any attack that isn’t magical automatically misses, and there’s a 50% chance that magical items/spells without the proper enchantments miss as well. Even worse, if a character is killed by the shadows, after a few seconds they turn into a shadow. So, when 4 shadows showed up, I expected the group to mop the floor with them.

The dice gods were not with my group that day. Not a single attack hit. The cleric failed his attempts to use holy wrath to banish the shadows. The clockwork lion wasn’t magical, and thus was useless. After losing the brand-new character and two others, the group ran for their lives, trying to escape the carnage. They succeeded, and started the long journey back to the lich. At no point did they think to try to identify the magical staff they were tasked with retrieving.

Upon returning the staff to the lich, the group finally thought to ask what it was, the lich laughed and told them it was his phylactery, the item which held his soul. Infuriated that they had possessed the chance to kill the lich, they were still somewhat mollified when he at least gave them the information that they wanted. Thus ended one of the most… interesting trainwrecks of my Game Mastering career, but hardly the only one.

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