I'm running a campaign in which a rogue has stolen a powerful necromantic focus (and is keeping it outside of the box that protects the world from it.) The party doesn't know, and I'm looking for a way to alert them to the fact - other than the pc turning evil and killing them.

Right now I'm leaning towards a roaming band of paladins/clerics, but am looking for something a little more ethereal. The way zombies could be drawn to a holy artifact to destroy it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd love to take credit for it, but we just finished the red box, and I'm pretty much letting them sandbox play as GM. I've got 4 or 5 stories that they have hints of, and they took this one. (And the rogue made it interesting by not leaving the box alone.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 27, 2011 at 15:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @travistravis Still, it's an interesting reaction to the player's actions. \$\endgroup\$
    – C. Ross
    Apr 27, 2011 at 16:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ To me this does not seam a specific dnd4 question. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 28, 2011 at 8:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ My answer can work for a system-agnostic tag. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 28, 2011 at 9:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LordVreeg - Many little skirmishes, with either undead not targeting the rogue, or with holy creatures specifically targeting the rogue (and people who protected him). Took them 4 encounters of increasing obviousness, but they figured it out. It led to awesome group roleplaying the conflict. (They just about let him die to some holy creatures when they figured it out.) \$\endgroup\$ May 20, 2011 at 20:56

4 Answers 4


The world reacts, and people within the world react.

With the world reacting, you're looking at first order effects that have two purposes:

  • to signal the presence of an artifact of great power disturbing the natural order to the players
  • to signal that presence to other people

Thus, you'll have the artifact animating a bunch of zombies in the night, especially if the party has the misfortune to enter a battlefield. (take a look at some of the answers here) to see how to signal the battlefield beforehand.

This signals that there is necromantic stuff going on. By having it become a pattern of "random" encounters that increase in scope, not only does it become a major campaign arc, but the players are likely to talk about it in game. Streetwise checks can be incredibly dangerous in situations like this.

If the players make any effort to find out what's going on from other sentients, the fact that they're asking questions signals to people who care that they not only have it, but they don't know what they have.

This may lead to typical Mr. Johnson quests (shadowrun term, references the people who hire the party) that end up in "unexpected and overwhelming force" for the evil, other adventuring parties ambushing them when they're on that quest, and good NPCs arriving, saving them, and generally complicating matters. Here, it's critical that no-one know where the MacGuffin is, only that the players are tainted by it. Each of the major powers will be using their own distinctive brand of force and persuasion to get their hands on it.

Make sure that at least one NPC offers to hire them to recover the artifact.

This way, there's no need to impose "madness" on the PC carrying the artifact, just on the world around him. If you're subtle, the rest of the party won't suspect. If the PC's subtle, he'll plant it somewhere or send the party on a quest to "recover" it without anyone being the wiser.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Totally a "Man who knew too little" kind of moment there - Love it! \$\endgroup\$
    – aperkins
    Apr 28, 2011 at 16:42

A lot of this depends on the amount of time you want this to take and how much this would affect the story arc. I did just finish a few year story arc with three such items in a town that needed to be found.

I really hate any heavy handedness as a GM, so I like using light touches and foreshadowing when I can get it. Major necromantic items/action near one of my groups generally triggers bad dreams or foreshadowing dreams; it's got to be subtle and mysterious, perhaps with only a few images they remember. (also...dreams CAN be creepy if you do them right...if you can have the dream written and ready so much the better).

Necromancy and necromantic spells should have a stronger effect than normal, and life-based spells or spells that work the opposite direction might be muted, if it is a major artifact. A few instances of healing spells being muted and detection of undead going haywire, coupled with a funky dream, should get them talking and shaking their heads.

I don't know if I'd go so far (in the beginning) as having groups of zombies animating, it may just be that undead the party encounters seem especially lively; strong, or might actually regenerate slightly; and clerical turning/undead based powers may be weaker than normal.

I'd normally start this way before whacking them on the head with full-on fights, give them the above chances to be clever and thoughtful before going all combat, zombie chasing all over them. Creepiness and such are better created in game with subtlety and mystery than with zombies popping out immediately.

Just a few ideas...

  • \$\begingroup\$ someday I'll remember not to answer one of these things AFTER the asker has already selected a 'best answer'. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Apr 28, 2011 at 16:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ I still really appreciate the answer! I like a lot of the ideas you suggest, and will probably implement at least one :) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 28, 2011 at 19:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ The OP's accepted answer is only their vote of confidence and doesn't supersede the community's votes. It's definitely still worth answering questions that have been accepted, since people other than the OP can have the same Q, but personally like a different A better. (There's even a badge given out for having a much-higher-voted A than the accepted one, to remind/encourage people to answer Qs that already have accepted answers.) \$\endgroup\$ Apr 28, 2011 at 19:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @travis, as long as it helps. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Apr 28, 2011 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @7sided, we appreciate your reinforcer... \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Apr 28, 2011 at 20:00

Why restrict yourself to holy monsters? An evil monster could be drawn to the artifact to take control of it (think Crenshinibon and Errtu).

You could make things even more interesting and have, as you said, some roving band of clerics coming to destroy the artifact. Meanwhile, a group of demons is on the way to try to steal it. The party gets caught in the middle of a large-scale battle and has to choose sides. Only then do they learn what both groups are looking for.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I like this. I was trying to go holy because most of the party is good or lawful good, and they just rescued the artifact from someone evil who tried to use it (Malarath from the red box adventure) My theory is most of the group wouldn't try and kill holy creatures, and it would expose the rogue before the artifact got too strong. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 27, 2011 at 15:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could do something as above but with two groups of humanoids: one cleric-y and one cultist-y, so the good-evil line isn't so distinct. When the rogue runs off without warning to sneak attack the leader of the white-robes, the rest of the party will know something is up! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpatchery
    Apr 27, 2011 at 15:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was kind of leaning this way, though I also like to work with player dream sequences, adding forshadowing and maybe some stolen memories of the past. \$\endgroup\$
    – LordVreeg
    Apr 28, 2011 at 11:44

Because it is a necromantic focus you could have the recently dead start rising as zombies and following the person that has it. Not under his control or anything but not hostile. Having a group of zombies following the thief everywhere he goes would tip off the party that something is up.


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