It draws upon, and is inspired by, the Overlord rules from the game Fellowship.
The Invulnerable Aegis of the Deathlords
Deathlords have had millennia to set up their elaborate personal defenses and to delve deep into necromantic protections against almost all threats.
As the ST, define about 2-4 things that are effective on the Deathlord: Choose either specific types of damage they are able to suffer, specific gambits, or some esoteric effects (such as those that affect dreams or twist space).
They are categorically immune to everything else. They cannot suffer damage except from those types. They cannot be targeted by gambits save those. They are immune to effects that are neither gambits nor deal damage except for the ones chosen.
An appropriate Espionage, Research or Investigation Venture can uncover these weaknesses, and can also be used to locate and destroy the sources of the Deathlord’s power.
Each Deathlord has between three and four layers of defenses. Each layer often represents the work of centuries of combined enchantments, invoked powers or recruited servants.
The ST should select a number of Sources of Power (see below) equal to the layers of defenses and Bleak Powers they possess (also see below), plus one. Player characters may discover these Sources of Power using Investigation, Espionage or Research Venture with a minimum number of obstacles of four.
Once uncovered, the player-character may perform a Venture they deem appropriate (such as a Court Intrigue Venture to turn a chorus of ghostly warders against them, or a Repair Venture to restore an ancient blade that, when wielded by the appropriate monarch, saps the power of the Deathlord who stole their crown). If the Source of Power is some sort of character, personal scale social or combat scenes can also be used to disrupt, sway or destroy it (such as slaying the undead behemoth whose blood the Deathlord brews into dark alchemical elixirs of immortality).
Whenever a Source of Power linked to the defenses of the Deathlord is swayed, destroyed or otherwise neutralized- they suffer vulnerability. If they can be harmed by fire, then perhaps now they can be harmed by another terrestrial element as well, or perhaps the ghostly version of flame is painful to them. If they could be disarmed of their weapons, then perhaps they are now vulnerable to Pilfer or Unhorse gambits, which also deprive them of their panoply. If they could be attacked by dreams, then perhaps illusory phantasms are now effective on them.
Inform the players of these newly expanded weaknesses. If all layers of the Deathlord’s defenses are removed, they become vulnerable to everything. They retain any resistance or effect provided by their personal charms, but they are no longer simply immune to everything.
Players need not remove all of the layers of defense before attempting to engage the Deathlord, if they feel they have sufficiently opened up their defenses.
Sometimes, Deathlords channel their sources of power into extraordinary capacities in addition to their personal defense. This grants them Bleak Powers, which are incredibly unfair abilities that greatly change any combat scene in which they are present.
Choose, or write, 1-3 Bleak Powers for your Deathlord.
They typically grant the Deathlord a passive power that changes how they must be interacted with, or supply them with a special action they can take. Unless otherwise noted, taking an action granted by a Bleak Power does not consume the Deathlord's action for that turn. If they possess a quality that allows them to take additional actions or turns, they may only use the Bleak Power during the first or last of these each round, but only once over all.
The following are some sample Bleak Powers:
- Countdown to Doom: Place a die down with the 8 marker up. At the beginning of each round, move the die one number down. When it reaches 1, every character other than the Deathlord and their allies is instantly incapacitated. The Deathlord may spend an action to move the die down by two steps.
- Void Mystic: Each round, the Deathlord may cast a single spell with a Will cost less than their Essence without spending Will.
- Shrouded in Terror: A palpable aura of unnatural death-horror cloaks the Deathlord and their servants. No character opposed to the Deathlord may voluntarily enter within Close range of them or any servants of the Deathlord in the same scene. If they, or their servants, come within Close range of a character, that character must move out of Close range at the start of their next turn.
- Invincible Lion Mien: The Deathlord has the Furious Dragon's Ire and Living Disaster qualities. Choose a gambit. Whenever they make a decisive attack, they may roll six dice and apply the results as extra successes on that gambit as if they were performing it on the target of their attack.
- Juggernaut Roar: As a Bleak Power action, the Deathlord may move every character in the scene up to two range bands in any direction. Any character moved must make a difficulty 5 Fortitude + Physique roll or lose three Power (to a minimum of 0) and fall prone.
Sources of Power
A Source of Power is something, narratively, that is the linchpin of some power of the Deathlord. Specific Sources of Power are not strictly linked to any specific power or defense- instead, the players or the group decide on which Power or defense is appropriate to remove based on the current storyline.
Anything can be a Source of Power, provided it can somehow be swayed, changed or destroyed.
Here are some sample types of Sources of Power:
- Object. An object is typically either an immobile installation that the Deathlord draws power from via ritual or enchantment, or some mystically important item they have to sequester or hide. It may also include items that they destroyed or damaged which, when repaired, are harmful to them. This is never an object which the Deathlord can simply carry or wear all the time.
- Character. A character is simply a vassal, prisoner, monster or something similar that provides (willingly or unwillingly) power or protection for the Deathlord. This type of Source of Power is usually an individual or, at most, a battlegroup.
- Group or Cult: This is a group of people who support the Deathlord in some practical (or mystical) way. Unlike the above example, these are groups that are either too large or too diffuse to make affecting them on a personal scale practical. The group is typically very large (such as a nation) or spread over an enormous area.
- Place of Power: This is a mystically significant natural or artificial place, which can be disturbed, despoiled or destroyed to weaken the Deathlord. This can also be resolved by, for example, Ventures that lure the Deathlord from some place of unassailable power.
- Oath or Compact: This is a mystically significant oath, alliance or agreement the Deathlord has formed that provides them with power. This type of source of power can be broken by finding a method that leaves the Deathlord no choice but to violate it.
So the burning question on some of your lips will, of course be, what if my players all get killed because they underestimated a Deathlord?
The answer to that is don't do that. If someone's story is going to end, it should be because of a player's decision, not the dice.
To aid in this, Deathlords all possess an Incapacitation Text, which describes the consequences of being incapacitated by them or their direct servants. This only applies if you are left at their mercy, such as being abandoned by the other players or if everyone is incapacitated.
These are, and this is important, not punishments for losing. The player may even be given mechanical benefits, like learning necromancy because the accursed incantations of the Dowager ripped the veil from your eyes and revealed the secrets of life and death.
These Incapacitation Texts may have stages of worsening consequences, based on how many times this has happened, or remain static. They do not have to affect all characters incapacitated, if described as not. Incapacitation Texts will generally involve asking a player (or players) to volunteer to be changed by the power of a Deathlord, to be imprisoned or banished to the underworld by them, or to somehow be drawn into the schemes or plans of the Deathlord.
There are three broad kinds of consequences that can be appropriate for almost any Deathlord, and each one will have their own additional options described in their Incapacitation Text.
- Personal Change: This can mean having a personal revelation, epiphany or suffering a trauma from the experience. It usually results in you being left for dead, and coming away from it physically or mentally changed. Things like rearranging, adding or removing intimacies is very appropriate. So is purchasing things like Necromancy, or gaining physical mutations or strange allies, like gaining an awful undead arm or attracting one of your ancestor's ghosts with your near passing.
- Capture or Banishment: This consequence usually means being captured by the Deathlord, their servants, (occasionally) their enemies or even other undead monsters that happened to be nearby. It can also include being thrust into a dangerous situation while healing, such as a shadowland forming, because of your conflict, that drops you into the deep underworld. Being imprisoned offers chances to engage personally with dangerous people in a way that isn't usually possible. It can also offer chances to express or debate philosophies, to show off the Deathlord (or your character's convictions), or even to join them.
- Bindings and Orders: So, sometimes, you have to do a task for them. This can be because of blackmail (especially if combined with one of the above possibilities), supernatural compulsion (such as your heart being stolen and held ransom), or because of threats to something you care for. Some Deathlords may employ more subtle means of ensuring your obedience, like bribes, gifts or clever misinformation. This option, overall, is especially useful if the group wants to have a small detour into a place they would not normally visit, or they wish to do things in an unconventional manner to show characterization that wouldn't otherwise be revealed.
Here is a sample, Deathlord-specific option:
March of Cruel Glaciers: After engaging with the Mask of Winters, your characters were partially frozen in dark ice, left for dead by the Mask. After a few weeks, the ice thawed and, thanks to their incredible Exalted constitution, everyone barely survived. However, in the time you were gone the Mask of Winters achieved some important goal that you were striving to thwart, or has somehow endangered, or captured, a place or character of great importance to all of you. Weak and healing, can you turn back the clock?