Bell, Book and Candle: a look at Orcus’ three top servants

from wikipedia: “The phrase ‘bell, book, and candle‘ refers to a Latin Christian method of excommunication by anathema, imposed on a person who had committed an exceptionally grievous sin. Evidently introduced by Pope Zachary around the middle of the 8th century, the rite was once used by the Roman Catholic Church. In current practice, a simple pronouncement is made to anathematize formally.”

So, most of you know that my campaigns all take place in the same world; periodically, I will add small “news reports” to emails or recaps, with brief elements of things happening in other campaign, contemporaneously in other places.

In my campaigns, the idea of Orcus and the place he holds in my universal pantheon is a bit different. It first began in 13C, as an interim series of adventures before the party got involved in the “War of Two Queens,” which was the Incursion campaign from the July, 2003 issue of Dragon magazine. But before Queen Vlaa’kith of the Githyanki turned on Queen Abrogail of Cheliax, the party was solicited by representatives from both terrestrial and deific sources to travel to an undead city, far across the planes in the abyss. At this point Vlaa’kith and Abrogail were allies and trading partners, so the party was borne across the Astral Plane on Githyanki skyships. Several representatives of party deities were there, including Liebdaga the Twin (representing Asmodeus), Charlabu (representing Sarenrae and in large part serving as a counterweight to Liebdaga’s influence over the party), and Silenius Varanasi (my character from the elvish campaign, representing the Seldarine, the court of elvish gods).

Essentially, the story these representatives told was this: in ages past, the chaotic influence of Orcus was too much for the other major deities, good and evil, to allow to continue. So the greater deities made a deal: they would collaborate to capture and bind Orcus, in a great multi-dimensional prison, from which he could not escape. But, distrusting each other, and wanting no deity to have the knowledge of how to release Orcus should they desire to do so in a fit of pique, the deities all conducted magics on each other that forced them to forget exactly how they had imprisoned the Lord of Undead and, because of that, the knowledge of how to release him.

All of which worked for a while, but Orcus is nothing if not wily and desirous of freedom, and so the Prince of Undead immediately began influencing his existing followers and recruiting others, all in an effort to secure Orcus’ release. In the Abyss, Orcus’ followers built a city, in which they gathered and began the work of locking Orcus’ ever-moving prison to a single plane, and conducting the ceremony that would release Orcus from his bindings. That city was Tsar (which I renamed “Saar”) from the “Slumbering Tsar” adventure path, written by Greg Vaughn and published by Frog God Games. It’s a behemoth, clocking in at 964 pages, but I knew that I wasn’t going to use it all. As many of you know, I like to use existing material rather that pure homebrew, but I do futz with it a fair amount, and and bend the source material to my own uses.

It was the discovery of two potential monsters, one in Slumbering Tsar and one not, that prompted the idea of the B.B&C as the three servants of Orcus who were going to together manage to release him. First, in Slumbering Tsar, inside the Tower of Orcus exists a lich called “the Bell.” It is one of the most powerful and most canny of Orcus servants within the Tower, and once you start reading about it you realize immediately that it would be a huge challenge for any group of players:

Yeah, I know. A Gibbering Mouther Lich with Beholder-like eye rays. A creature that generates Insanity all the time, has an SR 29, energy drains 2d4 negative levels? And can fire all of its eye rays at the in the same round. Every round. And it flies. Absolute unit.

But around the same time, I had come across a creature that I loved as well. Now this one I found not in the adventure path but on a blog, Clinton Boomer’s “That Boomer Kid” tumblr, where he’s been incredibly prolific in putting out some just amazing things. His villains are baroque crazy tough, and as I was reading through them I came across The War Fairy, Doll of the Child-Catcher, Terrible and Swift-Burning Sprite, Pixie of Fear and Flame. A small fire construct/golem crossed with a red dragon, all in one tiny metal bundle. I had my Candle.

The Candle was the first of Orcus three “keys” that the party met, on the Plaza of Black Bishops in Saar. This was just after Ngul!chuik had sacrificed himself to buy the party time to finish destroying the Black Bishops and finalizing the process to halt the materialization of the Tower of Orcus on the Abyss. Below is the description of their first encounter with the Candle, taken from The Council of Thieves and the War of Two Queens:

Team A went to work on the bishops, while Team B engaged in some desultory watch duty, waiting for the Candle to make her grand appearance. The Dispel Magics went relatively easy; and soon the mages were summoning dinosaurs – powerful antediluvian creatures that smashed and charged against the statues once they had been made vulnerable by spells and holy water. The first one destroyed provoked an immense C L A N G and the work then began in earnest. The huge summoned beasts slammed themselves into the statues over and over again, while Ranth pummeled them, his hands encased in mithral gloves.

Soon four bishops were down, and a fifth tottered on its pedestal. “Wait!” yelled Xanotopsis from the top of the steps, his summoned pteranadons making lazy, lumpy circles above him. “I don’t see it!” Everyone slowed. The dinosaurs and the Githyanki approached the last bishop and encircled it.

“Now?” asked Ranth.

“I see nothing,” Xanotopsis. “Don’t destroy that thing.”

The team held their positions. Xanotopsis stared into the distance. Seconds passed.

And then, for a moment, in the distance a small bright light shone. Like a star.

Xanotopsis paused. “It’s her.” he said simply, quietly. “She comes!” he yelled. He looked back and saw the gathered creatures of Orcus reforming their lines and moving out towards the plaza.

During their encounter with Candle, their Formian friend Ngul!chuik sacrificed his life to ensure they had the time to finish destroying the stone bishops on the plaza:

At that moment, in front of Rae, an apparition appeared; it was a Formian, not Ngul!chuik but like him in many ways. It spoke in Celestial to her:

“I bring a message from Ngul!chuik – will you hear it?”

Rae was frozen is surprise for a moment, but finally, she nodded.

“He says this:

My dear Rae of Sarenrae:

I am forever in your debt for saving me from General Myrac, and for giving me the opportunity to finish this quest. But I cannot abide the possibility that I would be a tool of Myrac and help his army exit the rift.

So I have decided, at this time I will call upon the power of my ancestors and delay the army of Orcus for as long as the Hierophant allows, and purchase you as much of the time you need to succeed as I may.

If Pharasma wills it, seek out my hive in the afterlife. I will ensure my brothers and sisters know your name and the rocks upon which you stood.

Farewell, my human sister.

In the distance, Xanotopsis heard Ngul!chuik’s voice, trilling and clacking, singing some sort of Formian song. Ngul!chuik raised his javelin high, then galloped toward the advancing horde, increasing his speed to the point where by the time reached their advancing lines, he was more cannonball than creature. All could hear the the distant howls of Orcus’ creatures baying for Ngul!chuik’s blood. Xanotopsis saw him slam into the oncoming horde and become enveloped entirely in the sheer volume of enemies.

No one ever saw Ngul!chuik again.

Once Ngul!chuik had slowed the advancing Orcusian army, the party could focus on the task at hand:

“Can you see it?”

The tall Githyanki monk stood facing up at Xanotopsis, his fists wrapped in mithral and dusted with black stone. Xanotopsis said nothing, staring into the distance toward the citadel.


“XANOTOPIS! Is it coming!”

The necromancer shook himself from his reverie. “I see nothing,” he called down. “Nothing that resembles the star I saw earlier.”

“Hold then,” Vfogg said with his unearthly calm. “We daren’t destroy the last one until we know the creature is nearly here.”

Akamos raised on eyebrow at Vermithrel; Vermithrel shrugged. “Ever thus,” the wamphyri replied.

“Now?” asked Ranth.

“Nothing,” said Xanotopsis, somewhat testily. But as soon as he said it, above him one of the pteranadon screeched.

“… wait,” Xano said. He furrowed his brow in concentration. After a few seconds, he opened his eyes. “Something’s coming.” A pause, another furrowed brow. “Something small.” Xanotopsis turned his eyes toward the Citadel again. “Something fast.”

“It’s coming!” Ranth called out.

“Hold,” said Vfogg. The dinosaurs snuffled around the last unbroken statue, it’s black stone still glistening with holy water, waiting for the order to crush it like the others.

Seconds passed; “Now?”

“Hold,” said Vfogg.

“Xanotopsis, where is it?” asked Ranth

“Hard to tell,” Xano yelled out. The pterandons above him were growing visibly agitated. “Halfway. Moving very fast, Vfogg.”

“Hold,” said Vfogg. Amenophis’ dark eyes were fixed on a point somewhere past the necromancer, his spear at the ready, his whole body tense as a bowstring.

“It looks like a cluster of small stars,” Xanotopsis said with a detached air; he’d reverted to the scholarly tone of a dispassionate scientist. “Two hundred feet.”

“Now,” said Vfogg.

Ranth hit the last bishop like a ogre’s ram; the pedestal shattered under the blows, and Vermithrel’s akylosaur bleated its displeasure. Xanotopsis turned and was nearly felled by an even louder * C L A N G * from the Citadel. Black smoke like a living thing roiled off the sides of the tower, and heat blistered the air. The smoke turned to great clots of oily liquid, that flew upward and collected in a disc above the tower, spreading across the nightless silver sky. The iron of the Citadel reached for the disc, groaning under the incredible strains the otherplace was putting on it, until:

  • K A A A W H U U U M P *

An enormous pressure wave raced across the plateau, first flattening Orcus’ slave-army, then everyone at Bishop’s Plaza. All were knocked off their feet. A thin rivulet of blood trickled from Xanotopsis nose and ears, and he wiped them gingerly with a gloved hand.

He looked up, and the Citadel was gone.

Vermithrel was fast upon his feet. “Cluster around me!” the vampire-elf yelled. “Our job is done! We have succeeded! Let us away! I can plane-shift us out of this accursed city!”

“No,” Akamos responded. “The wild magic could destroy everything!”

“It did little before; this is a chance we should take,” Vermithrel pleaded.

“And there is the small matter of the General’s geas upon Vfogg,” Ranth observed tensely. “It would kill him, were we to take your course.”

“Fools,” muttered Vermithrel. “The task is complete – why should we sacrifice ourselves to the Candle?”

As if on cue, the ground erupted with fire and heavy, smoking rock. Vermithrel, Ranth, Xanotopsis and several elementals were caught in the conflagration, and swiftly fell out of the opaque column of ash, swatting at scorch marks and cursing. Hot stone embers danced around the column, seeking bare skin and hair as if with an eager intelligence.

“There she is,” Amenophis yelled. He pointed with his spear not toward the empty space that once held the Citadel but up, where high above the plaza a series of small, bright lights wheeled with unearthly speed to make another pass over the staring party…

The last one I made was the Book. I’ve spoken before about Hero Lab being just a splendid product for not only making characters but for making monsters as well, and when I set to work building my Book, I sort of went a bit crazy. I wanted something Undead (Orcus being the prince of Undead, after all) but there was no way that anything resembling a normal undead would due. I also wanted it to be very big and very weird – the Book, after all, was sort of the brains of the operation, or at least the *philosopher* of Orcus’ three chief Generals. What I finally ended up with was a 100 -foot diameter floating brain fungus with ectoplasmic tendrils that would sing in people’s minds to bring them closer so that it could feed on their psychic energies and then their bodies. Technically, because of the fungus aspect, the Book is a gargantuan undead plant, but even more so it was a chaosborne archmage of some note. Part of the inspiration for the Book was the phaerimm from the BDC Elvish campaign – huge magical destriers, very powerful mages and as alien as the aboleths.