Friday, October 12, 2018

The Slithering Dead


In the jungles and swamps past the Barrier, forlorn carven monoliths dot the landscape. Engraved with strange runes none now living can understand, explorers who happen across them assume they are the scratchings of degenerate humans or lizardfolk. In fact these stones were carved by the primordial snake-men in the time before humanity. Now they are one of the only traces left of those mysterious beings.

Every snake-man was a born sorceror. Magic was life, it permeated all they did and made. The magic in their standing stones is faint and difficult to reach, but it's still there. All the obelisks stand in empty jungle clearings where no tree obscures the skies. Even so, the constant rain slackens to a gentle mist. Wild animals avoid them - instincts turn them away.

The perfect place to rest.

But when you sleep near an obelisk its old magic can reach you. In your dreams will appear visions of a lost world: great halls and vaults underground, laboratories where the "ancient" races of the world were engineered to be slaves. A millennium of dominion over the earth. Looking down at your hands in this dream, you'd see only the scaly talons of a reptile. Waking up from these dreams leaves a human feeling odd, drained. Uncomfortable in his primate skin. Not sure of his place in the world. [In game terms, a cumulative -1 to attack rolls, saves, morale checks, anything else you like per night of sleeping next to an obelisk]


All undead in Land's End - no matter their diverse origins - are dreamers. They aren't awake, aren't alive, but act as if they were. Sleepwalking from beyond the wall of death they chase the ambitions and whims they once cherished and believe themselves real. The cult Orcus conducting their foul rites of undeath are in a way oneiromancers of a very specific and dreadful kind. Their spells whisper to dead souls, cajoling them into wakefulness just enough to animate their bodies as puppets for the goat-god's will.

The lowly skeleton has no idea it lives a dream of its old existence. It craves food, warmth, treasure, companionship and glory just as in life, but sees these goals through a haze of unreality. It isn't exactly an automaton, it has the same mind it did before dying albeit massively compromised. It can still speak the languages it knew and sometimes recognize familiar faces, but its priorities have shifted. It's so cold, being dead. So tiring. The cravings. The hunger. Food you can never taste, sex you can never have, it's enough to turn dream into nightmare. And who hasn't had a nightmare about choking their best friend to death once or twice...?

Intelligent, 'free-willed' undead like vampires or liches could be likened to lucid dreamers who have learned to change the rules of the world to suit their whims. A vampire can taste the blood of humans and remind itself what living in the waking world was like. The puissant magical fires within a lich's rotting brain keep it warm, a small consolation but more than most get.


Dying near a snake-man obelisk is a bad idea. Over time, the stored memories of those snake-men worm their way into what's left of the dead brain. Falling into the dream of unlife, they find their bodies totally unsuited to their memories and feelings. Squirming along the ground on brittle bones where they remember supple scales, reaching out to bite with an omnivore's dull teeth instead of venomous fangs.

Memories of snakes, dreaming through the bodies of men. Twice removed from the real world. Less than the sum of their parts.

Through this haze of perception they know only the hunt for food, for prey. The great technology and magic of the snake-man civilization is all closed to them. They wriggle along the ground, a parody of a real snake's movements. Piling on top of each other, clacking their bones together. Hissing through chattering teeth.

Confused, cold, lost.
And hungry.


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