X is for Xanthic Sigil #atozchallenge

Of those who visit the Grey Isles, painters, poets, writers, scholars, philosophers, playwrights, actors and muses are special targets for another form of horror: the Xanthic Sigil.

The lush, melodramatic atmosphere of this dreaded place is enough to fuel even the most sterile imagination. Those with a creative flair, however, will likely witness this phenomena and be forever changed if they allow themselves to be overcome by their own curiosity and obsession.

The Sigil will first appear to them in a subtle but eye-catching way: as a detail in a painting or sculpture, in an otherwise benign page of a book or as a piece of jewelry on a standout person at the palace.

Afterward, on their first night on the Isles, they will dream of the Sigil; it will appear important and portentous. The next day, they will see the symbol in other, similar places but no one else will notice or even perceive it at all.

If the individual inquires about the symbol, or begins to research it in the palace library, they will be at risk of obsession. They must pass a Wisdom saving throw or several frenzied hours will pass in their quest for knowledge and satisfaction.

The Xanthic Sigil will come to represent forbidden desires, unfulfilled promises, tormenting regrets and a pervasive, inexplicable angst. Others will notice that the character has unknowingly decorated themselves with the symbol somewhere on their person: drawn or painted onto their clothing or jewelry, usually.

The only way to overcome this obsession is to leave the Grey Isles for at least a week. Even while they’re gone, the fascination will persist and the Sigil will haunt them in other places. After a week of abstaining from this pursuit (requiring a Wisdom save each day), they will be free.

If left to pursue this emotional situation, they will find that the Sigil itself is a great source of power: it stands in for any foci needed for arcane arts of any kind, and replaces any required components for rituals. A character can even forego sleep to instead obsess over the Sigil: while they will heal one less Hit Die per long rest, they only require half the normal minimum number of hours needed.

If 2 weeks go by for a character who deliberately obsesses over the Xanthic Sigil, they will be visited by a cloaked and masked figure (that no one else can perceive in any way, even through magical means). This being will follow and watch them for hours, causing great disquiet and fear in the character (disadvantage to all checks requiring mental or emotional focus). After 1d6 hours, the player shall be told by the Referee that their character is suddenly keenly aware of their dark fate: they are doomed.

The character will die of terror. In a fortnight they will arise as a Wight of Kharkossa, in another plane, to serve in a nightmarish court for eternity.

 

W is for Well of Souls #atozchallenge

Crypt of despair the old man is there Forming a circle of magic and prayers Guarding the well the black hole to hell It’s evil must never arise I can tell Holy mission forever he’s...

Crypt of despair the old man is there
Forming a circle of magic and prayers

Guarding the well the black hole to hell
It’s evil must never arise I can tell
Holy mission forever he’s sworn

To protect our world from hatred and scorn
He will not fear though the Sabbath is near
Twelve strokes for Candlemass darkness descends

Break the circle and all hell comes loose
The well of souls must stay sealed

—The Well of Souls by Candlemass

Within the Grey Palace is an ancient well guarded by a very old knight. The room is adorned with holy symbols and written scripture to keep something from leaving the darkness there.

The elderly knight is essentially immortal as long as he stays in the room, in the presence of the well. He has become bitter and grim in his countless years of vigilance and will try to forbid anyone from entering, using force if necessary. He has sworn a sacred oath to guard the well and the King of the Grey Isles does not want to interfere (because he can’t remember why the well is important). So no creatures of the Grey Isles, even the most mindless or destructive, will ever willingly approach the Well of Souls.

If the old knight is ever forcibly removed from the room, or if he is killed, all of the spiritual seals protecting the world from the horrors in the well will become undone. What will happen next

What is the well?

  1. A direct tunnel to a shadow region of hell. Infernal beings wish to enter our world and wreak havoc through replacing world leaders with possessed tyrants.
  2. A connection to the realm of the Unseelie Court. Vengeful faeries bide their time to invade our world and bring back a Golden Age (with humanity as slaves).
  3. A portal to the underworld. A malevolent Lich Queen wishes to unleash her undead armies and bring about the apocalypse.
  4. A Hydra-God who, according to prophecy, will poison the world’s oceans and set all crops on fire.
  5. A direct conduit to the Opal City. The Queen of the Fossil Throne wants lead her watery dead legion and reclaim the Grey Isles.
  6. A gate to an imprisoned Elder God named Zel’otahk. This formless abomination wishes to undo all other religions and become once again worshipped by all living (and unliving) things. And perhaps to devour the world too. Why not.

V is for Vermiscerax #atozchallenge

The servants of the King’s palace unwittingly share a dark secret: a demon named Vermiscerax. Each night at the Witching Hour (3 a.m.), the demon leaves one body and possesses...

The servants of the King’s palace unwittingly share a dark secret: a demon named Vermiscerax.

Each night at the Witching Hour (3 a.m.), the demon leaves one body and possesses another random one. The demon wishes nothing more than to experience earthly pleasures and so indulges its host’s vices, whatever they may be. So other than being more indulgent in their particular bad habits, there are two other signs that the individual is possessed:

  1. The person’s irises, when viewed in a mirror or other reflective surface, are bright, gleaming red.
  2. The person will exhibit an increased sense of piety. They will be seen, at least three times a day, passionately praying at an altar. However, those keen of eye will notice that there is always something “off” about the religious arrangements: a cross pendant will hang inverted, a few dead flies will lay on a host wafer or a bible will be opened to a page featuring one of the more bloody, violent passages. These are mostly subtle, requiring an inquisitive- and religious- eye to notice.

If confronted or threatened with exposure, Vermiscerax will utter a blasphemous word that will make a bright glowing rune appear in the air. All who witness it are wracked with spiritual and physical pain: they must make a Wisdom saving throw or take their total hit dice in damage and pass out for an hour (providing a chance for the demon’s host to escape).

The demon can be exorcised with the right rituals, but Desdemonia will not permit any harm coming to her staff. She will interfere and have any holy rituals interrupted and any participants apprehended and flung from the palace. She doesn’t believe in demons and can’t be convinced by any evidence.

Vermiscerax will always be able to possess another servant each midnight. The demon is intrinsically tied to the Grey Isles and cannot be banished permanently.

U is for Untold Blasphemies #atozchallenge

There are still many secret, sinister phenomena on the Grey Isles. When the moon is at its highest or when the sun is eclipsed by Frostgrimm Mountain on the horizon, one of the following...

There are still many secret, sinister phenomena on the Grey Isles. When the moon is at its highest or when the sun is eclipsed by Frostgrimm Mountain on the horizon, one of the following encounters may occur to a visitor of the Isles:

  1. Paintings and statues whisper warnings and ill omens, but they only move in one’s peripheral view: when examined directly, they are still.
  2. Plainly visible footsteps of an unseen being walk from a character’s room to an obviously freshly bricked-up doorway. What lies beyond?
  3. An old journal is being written by an invisible person: the current entry, penned by an unseen hand, is dated over fifty years ago. It details the emotional troubles of a young noble lady in love with Laszlo, one of the servant staff. Despite his cruelty and coldness, she is madly in love with him. If investigated, Laszlo is still around, but is very old and pretends to be senile. The girl’s remains can be found in the garden, Laszlo’s name written all over her bones.
  4. A huge wooden cupboard full of ancient fur coats. Entering it on New Moon nights (when the Flaming Stair to the Opal City appears) will reveal a secret passage to the Queen’s former room, which is still fully furnished and decorated with beautiful and morbid curiosities. The single, narrow gothic window is made of blood-red glass. An important quest item or highly-sought substance can be found here.
  5. There is a fountain in a courtyard full of dead roses. At night, it sprouts rose-scented water. When the basin is full, a key appears. It is made of black crystal. It will fit the lock of the next locked door that they attempt to open. There one new key every week; it opens a different door each time (or the same one, if it gets locked again).
  6. In a dusty corner of a forgotten room is a small child’s doll. It has curly blond hair and incredibly life-like glass eyes. Despite the somewhat creepy appearance, holding it makes a person feel safe and content. Holding the doll grants the owner an advantage to checks to resist fear. If kept in one’s bed at night, it will awaken the owner if danger is present. After a week of owning it, the character’s eye colour with change to match the doll’s (blue in the left eye, black in the right).

T is for Thorns #atozchallenge

The ruins surrounding the palace are rife with dense, tangled vegetation. One is likely to find long, crawling vines that sprout violet flowers, carpets of grey moss and a dense...

The ruins surrounding the palace are rife with dense, tangled vegetation. One is likely to find long, crawling vines that sprout violet flowers, carpets of grey moss and a dense maze of black rose bushes.

They can be found everywhere among the crumbling walls, free-standing archways and dramatic statues of maidens, dryads, satyrs and sphinxes.

The thorns on these bushes are extremely sharp and emit a faint toxin. Whenever a character rolls a 1 on any dice roll while they’re in the ruins, it means that they’ve been pierced or scratched by a stray thorn and will be feeling their effects in 1d6 minutes.

Roll to determine how this affects the Player Character (PC):

  1. The PC will feel a strong obsession with a painting or statue of a young man or woman. They will dream of this person frequently for the rest of their lives. If they ask about the identity of this person to any of the palace staff or inhabitants, they will find out that they were a tragic relative who died of a broken heart. At this point, the obsession will become much more intense: a profound lovesickness. The character will be resistant to all charm effects, magical or mundane, but will never feel content with any other potential romantic relationships.
  2. The PC will see the ghost of a lost loved one lost in the rose garden maze. If they dismiss the vision, they will hear the person call to them at night incessantly, weeping and crying for help. This will cause some consternation and distraction: the PC will be at a disadvantage to all Intelligence and Wisdom checks during their stay at the Grey Isles until they investigate. If they follow the ghost into the maze, they will find a skeleton half buried in some loose soil by a stone statue. Giving the skeleton a proper burial will end the hauntings.
  3. The PC will feel an incredible urge to carouse. This becomes so intense that they will only be able to recover HP if they are drunk, drugged or exhausted from love-making. Fortunately, their demeanour becomes irresistible to the younger members of the servant staff, or even of some of Cadaveria‘s coven (the PC’s Charisma rises to 18 if it isn’t already that high). This lasts as long as they stay on the Grey Isles.
  4. The PC will feel terribly ill: have them make a few fake Constitution saving throws each day until they fail. At that point they will become bed-ridden and unable to move except tossing around in a feverish haze. One morning, they will find a strange diary under their pillow. The symptoms of their strange sickness will lessen if they read the pages. If they read the entire diary (takes about 6 hours) they will be completely cured. The diary belonged to a troubled man whose beloved was dying from an incurable illness. He was so upset and tortured by this that he eventually died before she did from exhaustion and stress. Reading the entire diary will reveal the location of all of the secret doors and passageways of the palace.
  5. The PC will notice the terrible, mournful songs of the Lemures from a garden well. Taking the time to listen to them for at least three separate occasions will grant them a terrible insight about the Grey Isles: they will know the true nature of one of the three Maidens: Cadaveria, Necrotia or Yeuthania. However, they must make a Charisma saving throw each night during their stay on the Grey Isles or be irresistibly drawn to the well and the Lemure-songs. If they go to them on three separate nights, on the third they must once again pass a Charisma saving throw (at a disadvantage) or throw themselves down the well and into the terrible embrace of those hideous creatures.
  6. The PC will notice a vine-covered fountain with a statue of a beautiful mermaid. If they approach it, they and they alone will hear a faint, ghostly singing in the air. In the fountain’s water there will be a dim glow. If they look into it, they will see a cloudy vision of a city at the bottom of a lake and a stone staircase descending to it from the shore. It is framed by green flames. There is no moon in the sky. At that point, two fiercely strong arms will come out of the fountain and try to drown the PC. They must make a Strength saving throw or else begin to drown. Unless someone else is nearby, they will surely die. If that happens, their body will be found on the shore a few days later.

S is for Sepulchral Shroud #atozchallenge 

All who visit the Grey Isles are affected, but those who sleep in that cursed place are forever marked.

The first night that a person sleeps on the Grey Isles, whether it be in a dusty bed inside the Palace or on a mound of soft moss and leaves in the ruins outside, will be touched by the Sepulchral Shroud.

They will be awoken by a feeling of intense dread and despair before a translucent sheet of fabric descends upon them. This shroud clings to them like webbing and smells of smoke and roses. They will then begin to suffocate.

The player must then roll a single d20. There is no target difficulty: the higher their roll from 1-20, the better. Keep a note of the result.

Regardless of the  result, tell them that they black out.

When they awaken the next morning (it was just a dream?) they must consult the list below to determine what permanent effect has been placed upon them. This effect only becomes apparent once they leave the Grey Isles (if they can).

Refer to their dice roll earlier. On a result of 10 or less, roll once. On a 11-16, roll twice and let the player choose which one applies. On a roll of 17-20 roll three times (player’s choice of which one):

1. Your hair becomes white, black or gray (whichever would be the most different). At night, under moonless nights, you become translucent, gaining advantage on stealth checks.

2. Your eyes become pale gray, pitch black or white like a drowned fish. You gain low light vision up to 20 feet.

3. At night you give off a cold feeling of dread: you lose 2 points of Charisma but you gain advantage on Intimidation checks.

4. A trusted ally, friend or loved one (chosen by the Game Master) becomes positive that you have died. No-one can convince them otherwise and will believe that you’re a hallucination or an evil trickster.

5. One of your mundane weapons or pieces of armor darkens to a black color and becomes permanently cold to the touch. The weapon is considered to be magical but emits an aura of evil.

6. You get an advantage to social rolls when interacting with people who have been affected or marked by death in some poignant way. Somehow you can relate to them.

7. You henceforth find less joy in life but you dread what awaits you across the threshold of death. Your Charisma is reduced by 1 + 1d3, but your Wisdom is increased by the same amount. You tend to not care about the quality of food or comforts and so living expenses are cheaper for you: reduce their cost by a third as long as you are making the arrangements. You can do this for others, who will appreciate the discount but might regret how dull and Spartan their accommodations are.

8. You are overwhelmed by a tragic melancholy that bestows an attractive, dramatic air about you. Charisma increased by 1+1d3 but intelligence reduced by the same amount because your introspection dominates your thoughts. You only wear sombre and dark colours. You can automatically pass a social check with any individuals (especially nobles and bards) who would find your demeanour attractive and appealing.

9. Undead monsters will ignore you unless you deliberately harm them or get in their way. They see you as one of them. However you no longer cast a shadow or give off a reflection.

10. The next time that you die, you rise with d6 hit points and become undead. This means that you no longer need to eat, drink or sleep but you can only be healed by necrotic magic (typical magical healing harms you). You still recover hit points during rests. On top of that, the wound that “killed” you remains visible forever. If you get reduced to zero hit points again, you will rise again in an hour or so or if someone turns you over (whichever happens first). You will keep the new wound, though, adding to your grisly appearance. You will only find final death if your body is completely destroyed.

11. The pleasures of the flesh have lost all meaning or enjoyment for you. You are immune to charm effects, mundane or magical. However any saving throws to avoid immediate death are at a disadvantage because you just don’t see the point of resisting anymore.

12. You are filled with a renewed and refreshed appreciation for life. Your Charisma increases by 1+1d3 and you heal faster when in the presence of a holy site, cleric, bard or children (double the amount of hit points that you’d recover).

13. Your lifespan has been decreased: any age categories happen earlier (e.g.: old age settles in at middle age). If you are already considered elderly, then you have 1d3 years left. However you feel stubbornly hardy in the face of your imminent demise: you gain +1 to all saving throws.

14. Your lifespan has in increased: each age category is doubled in duration, effectively doubling the maximum age for your race. However your vitality comes from a dark origin: you are considered to be Evil in the cosmological sense: you will be detected and affected by spells as if you were of that alignment. If you are a Cleric then an Evil deity has secretly replaced yours: you are absolutely convinced that you still serve the previous one and your powers operate in the same way. The evil deity just finds the situation quite entertaining and will occasionally cause ironic tragedies in your wake.

15. You are no longer afraid of death: you are immune to Fear effects, both mundane and supernatural. However you also see undead creatures as comrades: intelligent undead have advantage on Charm or Enchantment effects on you because of your bizarre trust.

16. Once per day you may enter the spirit world, effectively disappearing from the realm of mortals to walk in the plane of the dead. While there you are only visible to ghosts and other immaterial undead. You may do so for a minute per character level before Death annoyingly throws you back into the mortal realm through nearest shadow. However you may voluntarily return at any time of your choice before the time limit is up.

17. Everything in your proximity gradually loses its color under prolonged exposure: the clothes that you wear, the bedsheets that you sleep in, and any home that you’ve lived in. You get an advantage on stealth rolls under foggy or misty conditions.

18. All music comes out in a lower key when performed in your presence. Even the happiest melodies become slow, funeral dirges despite the intent or desire of the musicians.

19. You become obsessed with skulls and skull-related imagery. You feel compelled to decorate yourself in this symbol and even if you resist this desire, any clothes, tools, weapons or armor that you purchase contain skull imagery that you eventually discover (despite any intense scrutiny before hand). You get a +2 bonus to Charisma while inside a crypt, cemetery, catacomb or other kind of necropolis.

20. You gain an animal companion of a sordid nature: raven, rat, vulture, black cat, bat etc… This animal seems to unconditionally love you and you gain a +1 bonus to saving throws while the creature is near you. However, it watches you intensely while you sleep, which unsettles your companions. If you already have an animal companion or familiar, then the effects apply to them.

21. The ghosts of anyone you’ve killed come back to you when you’re alone and feel compelled to provide advice and wisdom to you despite their anger and hate. If you act on their suggestions, you get an advantage to any relevant skill checks.

22. Gravestones provide insight and wisdom in their markings and position. If you spend an hour observing and studying one or more grave markers, you gain a temporary +2 boost to either your Intelligence or Wisdom until the next sunrise. Each grave or grave site can only be used once in this way; imparting their benefit only once to you.

23. While you sleep your body takes on the appearance of a rotting corpse or skeleton. This is not an illusion: it looks, feels and smells entirely real and does not give off a magical aura. When you awaken, you immediately resume your normal appearance: anyone present will see the transformation take place in the literal blink of an eye.

24. Spending a night in a cemetery or tomb doubles your natural healing rate and gives you a bonus to saving throws to recover from diseases, curses or poisons.

25. Your tears, sweat, spit and blood are all pitch black. These fluids permanently stain inorganic materials, such as stone, fabric or metal.

(final version will have 30 entries…)