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In our campaign, our party was supposed to meet a crew on their ship who were sailing in search of a relic for the king. A psionic in the party used timehop and we ended up on the ship an hour into the future, and when we appeared there, all of the crew had been killed.

They were killed in a very specific way: their eyes were burned out and their muscles had been effectively set on fire and melted their skin.

Our DM said the cause of death is in the PHB, and he wants us to figure it out in order to progress the story. He wants us to use our knowledge to try to figure it out. I have been reading the PHB but I just don't know where to start—maybe evil subtypes or a relic of some kind—since the world of D&D is just so vast.

So essentially instead of reading the entire book (which I should really do...) I was hoping someone could point me in the right direction. Maybe not necessarily in the PHB itself, but in the Monster Manual or Magic Compendium.

What creature/spell/item/etc. would cause that effect?

My PC is level 12, but I don't think that our party’s level is really relevant as it’s not necessarily a level-appropriate thing. Knowing this game and the DM, it’s likely a clue to something in the future. It could be very high level because we have been working with the king's men and sometimes they will fight alongside us to kill harder things. Anything is fair game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Are you a player in this game, or the DM? \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Nov 24, 2019 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks! I am a player in this game and I have been playing 3.5 with this dm for about 2 years but I am still not that knowledgeable, so I am just looking for even something general to point me in the right direction. \$\endgroup\$
    – user179809
    Nov 24, 2019 at 6:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ He says it will be in the phb, and he wants us to figure it out in order to progress the story. It's not going to give anyone a leg up but he wants us to use our knowledge to try to figure it out. I have been reading the phb but I just don't know where would be best to start. I think maybe evil subtypes or a relic of some kind. The world of D&D is just so vast. So essentially instead of reading the entire book (which I should really do...) I was hoping someone could give just a generalization. Maybe not necessarily in the PBH itself, but either in the monster manual or magic compendium. \$\endgroup\$
    – user179809
    Nov 24, 2019 at 6:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ It would help to know your level, so that we can best guess what the DM will consider fair game. \$\endgroup\$
    – J. Mini
    Nov 24, 2019 at 12:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think that level is really relevant it's more of a deduction for future reference thing, I am level 12. It's most likely, knowing this game and the DM, a clue to something in the future and it could be very high level because we have been working with the king's men and sometimes they will fight alongside us to kill harder things so I guess really anything is fair game. It could even be like a powerful mage from the outer planes who has a relic he is using. I know that sounds vague and it probably is too vague a question. I guess I am just looking for what effect that might be etc. \$\endgroup\$
    – user179809
    Nov 24, 2019 at 13:05

4 Answers 4

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It could be anything…

Your DM seems to believe this is a specific effect, most likely a spell effect. “Withered with eye damage” fits several spells pretty well (examples: horrid wilting, holy smite)

Unfortunately based on your description he has added some cool description around the basic effect, and likely thinks his description is canon. That’s great! But it’s also not fair to try to make you all recognize effects based on his headcanon.

…but you probably missed a clue…

If your DM thinks that he’s given you enough clues to recognize something from the PHB, the simplest explanation is that something got lost in transmission. Here are some (made-up) scenarios that might have led to the situation of describe:

  • Bodies are shriveled and desiccated, as though dried in a fire (horrid wilting, but you’re focused on the “fire”).
  • Bodies are burned from the inside out, and there is a giant symbol scrawled on a nearby wall (DM thinks you should recognize a symbol of Nerul, you focus on the bodies).
  • Everything is as described, but he thinks you should make a spell craft check to have your character recognize the effect (spellcraft being in the PHB), or some similar action (cast speak with dead, etc.)
  • Everything is as described, but he forgot where the spell came from (e.g. I just spent a while looking for “combust” in the PHB before discovering that it wasn’t printed there).

…and either way you should discuss expectations.

Regardless of what the root cause was here, you have some sort of expectation mismatch. As described, your DM is asking you to metagame heavily, and you are not prepared to do so. (That’s not meant to be pejorative either; you can have a lot of fun playing a very genre-savvy game.)

The problem is that you are not expecting to play a game like that. The fundamental disconnect appears to be whether players or characters are solving the game challenges, and that disconnect is likely to crop up in other places as well (how you enjoy handling puzzles and traps are the usual suspects).

So, find a time not in the middle of the game, and talk about how you collectively expect player knowledge to affect gameplay.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks all for the very awesome feedback! I am new here and did not expect such detailed answers! I think that this is probably the most likely scenario. Either he is remembering something wrong, or is pulling from somewhere else, I don't think he necessarily stated WHERE it was from, but as we are generally playing by 3.5 and all of his books are that, that's what I assumed. I will pay more attention to that from now on. I think horrid wilting is close but not it. The crewmembers are presumed to be of good alignment and the attacker evil so Holy Smite wouldn't make sense. \$\endgroup\$
    – user179809
    Nov 24, 2019 at 21:32
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The spell Burning Blood (Sorcerer/Wizard 4) makes a creature burn from the inside out:

You taint a living creature's blood with a hot, corrosive infusion, dealing 1d8 points of acid damage and 1d8 points of fire damage per round. The subject can attempt a Fortitude save each round to negate the damage, but a successful save does not prevent damage in future rounds. Searing pain limits the subject to a single move action in any round when it fails its Fortitude save.

The acid part would account for the skin being melted from the muscles. But this is not PHB, but Spell Compendium (p.40); earlier versions appeared in the rulebooks Unapproachable East (Forgotten Realms) and Complete Arcane.

It also affects only one person at a time. In this case you could imagine an attacker using a wand of Burning Blood on the crew members one after another. This would show in the general positions of the corpses — the last victims would certainly have tried to protect themselves one way or another.

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An extreme case of Red Ache?

The means to cause Red Ache are in the PHB, but the description of this disease is found on page 292 of the DMG "Red Ache: Skin turns red, bloated, and warm to the touch". This seems to match what you've described and is obscure enough to be a real puzzle (e.g. it's not blatantly in a spell list), but I find it troubling that your DM would pick something that needs the DMG.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a good guess but there's not enough description even there in the DMG. I don't think he would've picked something specifically from the DMG but I do think he wants it to be obscure. Their skin was specifically like melted and sticking to the boat due to it being cooked from the inside like from the muscles. I also looked through all of the creatures that use gaze type attacks since I thought maybe since their eyes were burned it was something like that. I will keep this in mind though! \$\endgroup\$
    – user179809
    Nov 24, 2019 at 13:17
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Your description:

their eyes were burned out and their muscles had been effectively set on fire and melted their skin

sounds to me like the result of a gaze attack -- "if you look at this thing, you catch fire".

So my first guess as to the attacker would be a pyrolisk, perhaps summoned using a summon monster or lesser planar ally spell. The problem with this theory is that the pyrolisk is not D&D-3.5e content -- it appears in the AD&D Monster Manual II, or in third-party content for Pathfinder.

I did not find any PHB content that generates a gaze attack which inflicts fire damage.

The good news is that, even without knowing the exact source of the attack, suspecting that this is a gaze attack suggests some possible defenses. Your group's spellcasters might want to have a scroll of obscuring mist or fog cloud on hand to shut off vision. Your group's non-spellcasters might consider bringing a mirror to the battle (recalling the old legend of Perseus and the Medusa) or simply keeping their eyes closed while they fight.

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