Burial Hill - Bring Out Your {un}Dead

Foreword from Lyraine Alei

To my Born Into Power Somehow (referred to as BiPS from here on out) Players:

If you stay, beware. Spoilers will be coming so please retreat from this article when I give the warning after the Exposition/Player Handouts section which may contain information you yourselves already have as this article is being written to include people who have not been around me as I've been worldbuilding since ... wow, January 2019, really? Thanks for sticking aorund as long as you have!

To Everyone Else:

Greetings! I am once more breaking the fourth wall because this article is not written from an in-universe style as most of the articles within Corive are. I will be attempting to write this adventure to be system agnostic, which I admit will mean other GMs would have to "install" their own statblocks for individuals and the like.
This one-shot (okay, I am hoping it will be a one-shot) is being pulled from the middle of my campaign (BiPS) when my players hopped off the primary "rails" of content I had prepared so I was scrambling to find a way to write a short adenture. And now here we are, with this one.
Other people do not need to use Theydim specifically nor Corive as their world for this adventure, but I will be writing with the assumption of my setting being used.
As a warning - I am not writing this with a specific system in mind despite using a specific system for my campaign - I do not have have a recommended level range, CR, nor stat blocks. I might include some maps for within the hill though those maps will not be to a five-foot-per-square scale, and some inspiration artwork.
For formatting purposes, I am using indents to indicate that the section is related to the above (think of them as asides and the like unless it's the Exposition section just under this note), unless I am using a quote box or other container.

- Lyraine Alei

Exposition - Player Handouts

  • Who are the The Order of Speared Light? - an organization of otherwise "monster hunters" who were based on Dragon Slaying until the Dragons were all extinct.
    • This is an organization who are generally characterized by their fervor for Saint Antral who according to Thydians can be credited with causing the fall of The Adrakian Empire.
      Because the dragons are extinct (or considered to be as good as extinct), the Order of Speared Light has turned towards "abominations" or "monster hunting." Monsters are generally defined as "problem causing beings who are not Elves, Humans, Catpeople , nor Dwarves."
      Abominations tend to be weres, forced-Undead, vampires, or other beings seen as a distortion of civilization.
    • Why is the Order out and about?
      • The Order of Speared Light has, within the last year or so, lost a powerful relic from the Adrakian Empire's age, and while looking for whoever stole that relic, they are also trying to find other powerful relics.
      • Why do they want these other relics?
        Many of the relics they currently protect had been used in the past to lend would-be High Kings legitimacy for being able to hold on to the relics.
  • Lyraine mentions this is written with the assumption there is a civil war going on - what is this civil war?
    • The Thydian Civil War is a backdrop conflict behind this adventure over who the next High King of Theydim should be, if any.
      The Order of Speared Light is allied with the Capitolist Faction, and has been operating on the "High King's" behalf.
  • Who are the Order of the Dead's Rest?
    • The Order of the Dead's Rest are clerics who serve the Thydian deity of the dead, the Watcher of Graves. They oversee everything related to the dead, and should one of the dead return, then one of their order must accompany that undead until their task is completed while in the company of the living or else the undead may be at risk of losing their sense of self and purpose.
      Most major gravesites or mass graves have a (deceased) cleric of the Dead's Rest buried among them, or living within sight of the grave, in case the site needs to be defended, or should other clerics call upon the dead to return.
  • Wait - there are Undead just ... walking around in Corive?
    • Not exactly, The Theydim, the Undead are people who returned for a purpose after convincing the Watcher into allowing them to do so. The exact qualifications for returning tend to involve the sheer obsession the person had with their unfinished task, returning before the start of a new Cycle, and some other unknown tests the living are not to know.
  • What is a barrow/burial hill?
    • A barrow or burial hill, in Theydim, is the site of a mass grave from after a battle. Generally, there are at least two, one on each side of the then-road or battle field as to avoid mixing enemies with allies. After time has passed, those who survived these battles have the option to request they be buried above their fallen comrade's grave as guardians of these sites, or as people who wish to rejoin them, when they die later on and assuming they've not died in a latter battle and were therefore buried in another site.
      There have been some occasions where the deceased's wishes were not known or followed, and the deceased would return to be buried where they were supposed to be. In the occasions when enemies have been buried in the wrong grave, they have returned as ghosts to haunt those who buried them.
      A barrow is generally very ancient, but considering the lifespan range of beings on Corive (Elves only live to be about 500 years old), a few centuries can still be considered ancient.

To my Players:

Shoo, shoo. Warning! Danger, Will Robinson! Here Be Spoilers. You've not played through this yet so please head back to some other articles, thank you!

To Everyone Else:

Enjoy! As a reminder, I do not have a specific system in mind for all of this, nor do I include stat blocks. There may be a map, but that is not required to be used if you have your own in mind, and once again, this is assuming you are using Corive, and more specifically, Theydim, during the time of the Thydian Civil War.
Plot type
One-Shot Adventure

Related Corive Lore

Thydian Civil War
Military Conflict | Mar 20, 2022

(core) The Civil War in Theydim over the future of the nation, and where old grudges rear their heads - Who is to be the next rightful High King? Will there be a High King? Will Theydim dissolve into independent and smaller nations?

The Order of Speared Light
Organization | Mar 20, 2022

(core) A Thydian religious order dedicated to Saint Antral and the crusade against the now-extinct Dragons, and the remnants of the long-fallen Adrakian Empire.

Order of the Dead's Rest
Organization | Mar 5, 2022

The clerics serving the Watcher of the Graves.

Thydian Undead
Ethnicity | Mar 3, 2022

The undead among Thydians are usually beings who came back for a purpose or reason. Should they lose their sense of self, they become pitiful beings who need to be found and put back to rest.

The Watcher of Graves
Character | Mar 20, 2022

(core) The nongender Thydian deity of the dead.

Geographic Location | Mar 6, 2022

(core) Geographic overview of the region traditionally controlled by the Felkhath Arling.

Opening Scene/Set Up

The Party begin in the city of Stenskog, having encountered the Order of Speared Light doing suspiciously antagonistic things towards the locals - particularly the locals from more rural areas who express concern about their practices towards the Children of Nature. There is also some rather intense questions in regards to rumors of ruins and burial places.

If any players (or the whole) in the Party qualify as monster, abomination, or draconic to the Order of Speared Light, or hunts down any if those same beings, they may have their own views as well.

"I think there's an old barrow, and I've heard it's haunted? I'm not sure, people don't all agree"

"There's like, some arches to the east?"

"That was a fountain, not some arches."

- local rumors and responses

After spending some time in the city, the Party leaves on the road again. On the road the Party can see ahead of them in some distance, a group of people, presumably the same Order of Speared Light individuals go off the road and down a long unused side road.

In my BiPS campaign, the players have just resolved the Seige of Felkhath, and are on their way north from Felkhath City to the (current) Southern Vetheriss region which had been annexed from Northern Felkhath.
The players are either from Felkhath or have loyalty ties to Felkhath, and each member of the party has antagonistic views toward the Order of Speared Light for their own personal reasons. The party also met these Order of the Speared Light members interfering with the local mining industry of Stenskog City for their own purposes in supporting the Capitolist Faction of the Civil War.
"BIG STONES" shouts a player, because Lyraine missed an opportunity to have plot seeds.
The players are in the process of recruiting armies and making alliances - because I am not letting them single-handedly (okay, they're just three people, so I guess they have six hands) win a war theater.
— Lyraine

The Hill

The Party follows the Order of Speared Light's group and sees two individuals keeping their distance from the barrow. One is setting up a campsite and keeps pausing to look up and the hill, making some warding sign.

The rest of the group approach the hill, and are bothered by a Lantern Man as the entrance torches alight with their pale green glow. Eventually the group who approached the entrance do enter.

The campsite's guards are the one nervous individual and one who more enjoys the nervous one's current state.

To pass by the Lantern Man without gaining a curse, solve their riddle. These are undead who are unable to pass on after altering property boundary lines and lying for it. They're also trickster-like, and in Theydim, they also serve the Watcher as "door guards" once they find a place at an entrance brazier, but are noncombatant undead who will flee and curse someone who tries to harm them. The riddle goes as follows -

"I mind my manners when I cross these to you, you mind yours when you cross these to me. We cannot see the, and mortals may move them to claim these do too, but they are always between us."

Answer - Borders, Boundaries, anything along those lines.

Another possible way to enter the barrow is to move at least one boundary marker stone to its proper place - though if the goal is to make the session a one-shot, this solution may extend plans over. This is more in-line with the original Lantern Man/Will-o'-the-Wisp lore from Scandinavia.

A list of possible curses for the Party or Players to be inflicted with:

  • When you need it most, the weapon or tool you depend on will fail you within the next three times you use it.
  • Everything will taste like cheese.
  • Your sense of direction is randomly flipped for the next several days.
  • You will have the distinct impression you have failed to properly maintain acceptable hygiene as there is a whiff of a fecal scent just behind you for the next week.
  • You will have regular auditory hallucinations of an embarrassing moment running on repeat for several days. No one else can hear it.

Inside the Barrow

Room One

Upon entering the hill, the Party finds two open caskets, and a hollowed out section of the painted and engraved wall opposite to the entrance with another open casket. One of the caskets has the symbol of the Watcher on it - A skull with an hourglass on its side within the mouth. There is another gateway similar to the one guarded by the Lantern Man, except the braziers have been removed.

The hill is lit with the same

For a Barrow in Theydim, caskets are generally left open, and the entombed bodies of the deceased are mummified if the individual wanted to guard the hill. The two caskets in the center of the chamber are both empty, but appear to have recently been occupied.

The empty casket in the back contains a backpack within and have a few mundane but personal-like items removed but laying about the container, such as a sharpening stone, thin strips of leather for tying back hair, and a set of dice with numbers or symbols on them. The backpack appears to be old and worn.

The walls are painted and carved to represent the history of the structure - an image of a devastating battle where one side was overwhelmed by the other takes up one wall, while its opposite shows the battlefield just the evening before the battle with the two forces appearing to be evenly matched as they approached.

The entrance wall and the wall with the empty casket both have symbology and depicted prayers, spells, and warnings of the Barrow being protected.

Room Two

The second chamber has more open hollows in the walls, except they show signs of being occupied until recently. Players hear the sounds of some battle. The chamber is more like a winding hallway than a room. Wall panels not occupied by an open casket depict the same images as the first room.

As the players wind their way around, they come across some undead - armed and armored in older styles. A few are picking up their fellows, and appear to be too injured to fight.

These undead are the barrow guards, Mound Dwellers, and as they see the Party, they will prepare to complete their task despite being in little to no shape to do so. Before any possible combat, they will ask after the purpose of the Party's journey into the hill, and if the Party is with the earlier group.

The Mound Dwellers will attack if the Party says they are with the Order of Speared Light, and if the Party says they are not, then the Mound Dwellers will insist on having the Party swear to stop the earlier group from escaping with desecrating the graves.

The party, after the encounter with the Mound Dwellers, continue through another entrance way where entrance braziers had also been moved, but now the passage goes down a series of stairs.

As I'm not including statblocks into this adventure, you have the freedom to use the undead statblock, in any, of your choice from your chosen system. In the case of D&D, there are a whole slew of Undead enemies you can recycle the statblock of to make the adventure fit the ability range of the players and their character.
— Lyraine
Room Three

The final chamber is an open space, there are two open caskets in each of the walls, and a mural in the center of the wall opposite to the entrance. However, the Party have their viewing of the wall obscured by a battle of the Order of Speared Light members against Mound Dwellers and one undead who seems to be the same, but more able to fight.

There is a ringing bell toll as the more unique undead attacks with her weapon, a longsword, before using her shield to block. She calls forth commands in an antiquated speech pattern the Party members from Theydim can understand much like modern English speakers can understand an unaltered Shakespeare play.

The Order of Speared Light fighters speak in modern Thydian, and one shouts about "not damaging the staff" before one of them notices the Party.

Said staff is under a pile of bodies.

The combat will draw the Party into it, and the Party will have to chose their side.

The Choice and Epilogue

If the Party sides with the Undead, then the Order will fight the Undead and the Party to the death or certain defeat. If any Undead survive the combat, they - through the one speaking in Middle Thydian - will give the offer of a promise to aid the Party in the future after introducing herself as Elidhe Deadblade, a Vengeance Hunter who has the ability to more freely leave the Barrow and can call upon the dead of the hill from where she is if she has their permission. The Undead of the hill will grant her the permission to call them to aid the Party, and she will draw the Watcher's symbol onto a stone to make an enchanted communication stone capable of contacting her (or will add the symbol to an already existing item).

If there is a spellcaster or staff weapon user, you can have the party be approached after the next evening by one of the Mound Dwellers who turns out to be wearing the death armor of one of the Watcher's clerics. This individual will offer the staff, though will warn that it's best in the hands of someone who directly follows the Watcher and emphasize that the gift is more of a loan as they do not want the barrow "desecrated again by the treasure huntering warriors claiming to follow Saint Antral".

If any Order members survive, depending on their numbers and if their leader survived, they may flee to harass the party another day (Leader Survived), surrender to the Party to be taken to a living member of the Order of the Dead's Rest for judgement for grave robbing, surrender to the Party to repay their debt to the Party, or something else entirely.

If the Party sides with the Order, then the Undead will fight the Party and the Order to the (un)death. If any of the Order members survive the combat, they will give an offer of a promise to aid the Party in the future out of owing the Party a debt. The leader, (LyraineHasNotMadeANameYet), will draw the crest of the Order onto a stone to make an enchanted communication stone capable of contacting them (or will add the symbol to an already existing item).

The Party will not be offered the staff, but will be offered future employment in investigating ruins and rumors of sites with artifacts, and have a contact within the Order. The Party could negotiate for the staff, if they desire it.

Elidhe Deadblade, however, will begin stalking the Party and going into combat with them whenever she crosses paths with them while working on her primary revenge quest. She may call upon the undead from this barrow to fight alongside her, hissing and rasping about their resting place being desecrated.


Note from Lyraine:

Party rewards are very system based, and vary from person to person in how they run their games.
This is Lyraine's game - we never have money.
— Lyraine's Players
Ahem, yes. My players joke about this because I let them "Get away" with a lot of other stuff and don't micromanage their inventories too much, but they're also not joking. I have a "habit" of not awarding my players' characters in money (something something, they've not done a whole lot of work they'd be getting paid for). They have two talking swords only one player can use, a magic hairpin that offers magical protection from poison and a way to more easily give a mage more defensive means, a "loud sword" allowing the wielder to shout over a battlefield for 300 meters or so, some potions, and some scrolls. Oh, and some ancient but really well made splint armor.
Something something economy, something something, I actually really dislike D&D's uh "market" system thing.
Long note short - award your players in a way you see fit. I have some notes of rewards and consequences at the end of the adventure.

Staff of the Watcher

This staff works better for people whose primary deity is the Watcher, but it an excellent pole arm or mage weapon as well. This item is a lovely little plot hook for future adventure's considerations.

Offer of Promised Aid/Future Promises of Conflict

Work, enemies, or allies, the Party can always use more connections to people and organizations in the world. Depending on sides and number of initial survivors, the party gains at least two of these that can be used for future plot hooks for future adventures or events.

Cover image: by Lyraine Alei, Artbreeder


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2 May, 2021 02:03

After running this in my campaign - we wrapped up about 2.5 hours after starting the session, but if I include when the party was initially starting with following the Order of Forged Light's people, it was about 3 hours of play for our session and the choices my players made

Lyraine, Consumer of Lore, She/Her, primary project: Corive