D&D 3.5: Wicker the Necromancer Learns About Love
After failing to hold a city for ransom with anthrax zombies (you can read that saga here), both my D&D character Wicker and I were in a pretty bad place, emotionally speaking: Wicker’s first attempt at grasping real power had ended with a curt “We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” and my first rodeo playing an evil character had brought on an internal moral crisis over whether I was ready to live with the blood of thousands of fictional peasants on my hands.
Luckily, our DM Joel had engineered a new adventure for our rowdy band of murder hobos: we were going to head into an old-fashioned dungeon to root out some lychers, a subterranean group of pseudo-undead psychopaths who were Greythorne’s equivalent to the boogeyman. I was ready for some nice, straightforward mob-killing to take my mind off of my existential qualms. My party still didn’t know I was behind the threats to the city, so we all headed to the catacombs under the city together.
What I didn’t count on was romance.
BONESAW IS READY
Since I first started playing Wicker, I decided that I was going to be more of a Johannes Cabal-type necromancer, a well-dressed scholar with a library full of spellbooks, a cultured kind of power-hungry madman. Unfortunately, I’d rolled up the character without picking up one vital piece of equipment: a bonesaw. I needed that bonesaw. It completed the whole murderous Victorian image I was going for.
Anyway, Wicker and the party headed down into the catacombs and tracking down the lychers. They had some kind of camp beneath the city, so we had to go in and clear it out. I threw out some Chill Rays, some Rays of Enfeeblement, a couple cantrips, and before long Wicker was hitting his stride. In the midst of battle, however, he came across the ruins of some kind of building and decided to explore it while the rest of the party mopped up the lychers.
It turned out to be some kind of occult den, filled with books, tools, and magical supplies. Of course, being an entrepreneurial murder hobo, Wicker stole all of it without a second thought, like a necromantic Grinch taking all the Whos’ shit.
“It looks to be a necromancer’s workshop,” my DM Joel said after I made the perception check. Even better!
Nothing like some friendly competition between necromancers, I thought. Whoever this unfortunate rube is, they’ve just been caught with their pants down.
While the group sang a mangled version of “You’re a Mean One, Mister Grinch,” I took everything I could carry.
When Wicker headed upstairs, however, he quickly found his unfortunate rube: a beautiful woman asleep in a four-poster bed, with some kind of zombie guard-dog abomination asleep on the floor.
“On her nightstand,” Joel said. “is a bonesaw.”
And just like that, Wicker had fallen in love.
Now Wicker had a dilemma before him: did he wake this woman up and try to introduce himself, which would probably mean giving back all the things he’d stolen from downstairs? Were these her lychers the party was slaughtering outside? Was he ready to commit himself to a relationship? Would she steal all of his shit the moment he let his guard down, the way femme fatales usually do?
Most importantly of all, would she allow him to keep the bonesaw as some kind of morbid engagement ring?
In a fit of schoolboy panic, Wicker grabbed the bonesaw and turned to head out the bedroom door. But that wasn’t right. No, he had to do something to tell this woman that in another time, another scene, they could have made beautiful music together.
“I write a poem and leave it on her nightstand,” I said.
“Okay, what do you write?” Joel asked.
I needed to write something witty, charming, and debonair. Something roguish, something that said “yes, I took all your magical supplies and snuck into your room and snatched your bonesaw while you were sleeping, but such is life for a rakish scoundrel such as I! Perhaps I can be persuaded to give it all back for a kiss, provided you find me!”
But I couldn’t write that—it was too Errol Flynn, while I was trying to be Edgar Allen Poe. Everyone in the session was looking at me, waiting for me to improvise a poem. So, in another fit of embarrassed, infatuated panic, Wicker wrote this:
Roses are red
Violets are blue
I stole all your shit
…and ran out of the room.
MEETING OLD IRONHEAD
After stealing that bonesaw and escaping the workshop of the unnamed lady necromancer, it was time to hunt down the Big Bad for today’s session. We didn’t know what it was going to be, but we guessed it was probably something appropriately “D&D-ish”: a mind-flayer, an ancient troll, or some kind of beholder.
Instead, the party walked in on a large subterranean chamber with a scene straight from a heavy metal album cover: a man in an iron mask and antlers coming out of his head, sitting on a metal throne with two blindfoded zombie women chained to it. The guy looked like the Witch-King of Angmar, but more irate. We asked him who the hell he was.
“I am called Old Ironhead,” he replied, his voice echoing in our minds.
Telepathic, Wicker realized.
Old Ironhead, we learned, was a being from the beginning of history whose consciousness had spread across hundreds of bodies, giving him a kind of immortality. He was an insidious hivemind who enslaved all those who were too weak to resist him, and the lychers were his murderous puppets.
Naturally, we informed Old Ironhead we were obligated as adventurers to ice his ass.
“There is a great darkness coming to this world,” Old Ironhead warned. “Only I will survive it, by spreading my consciousness across as many hosts as possible. You will not stop me.”
“Wait…” Wicker said, before the rest of the party could initiate combat. “What’s this darkness, then?”
What followed was about 45 minutes of Ironhead explaining the nature of the apocalyptic threat descending upon the world, where it came from, and how his hivemind worked. From there, the party entered heated deliberations over whether Ironhead was too valuable a resource to kill: Wicker argued that if Ironhead really was older than life itself, we could use his knowledge and hivemind to help us stop this impending cataclysm.
Ultimately, we turned to Ironhead and informed him that we had decided to become his allies against the coming darkness. Wicker led the negotiations, becoming the Party’s main liaison to this eldritch abomination.
Then we walked out.
After the session, Joel just sat in his chair without getting up, staring at his notes for a long, long time. It was the thousand-yard stare of a DM who has just watched a session go completely and utterly off the rails.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“The party just circumvented a boss fight by brokering peace with an ancient evil and convincing him to become allies. Solely because of Wicker’s intervention.”
I laughed. “Guess you didn’t count on Wicker!” Fist pump!
Joel shook his head, still staring madly at nothing. “When I was designing Old Ironhead, I wanted to make him as morally repugnant and…evil as possible. Something you could glance at and say ‘Yeah…we need to kill that.’ He had blindfolded women chained to his throne…”
Years later, Joel described his image for Ironhead as being “inhuman, more like a force of nature or a sentient virus. I figured no humanity meant no redeeming qualities, no empathy, no chance for redemption or reform.”
At the time, all I could do was shrug. In Wicker’s book, that day was a win: he’d gotten his hands on a bona-fide bonesaw, met the woman of his dreams, and brokered a deal with an undying monster with a built-in army of mind-slaves.
Of course, Joel didn’t tell me that Wicker’s new love was one of those mind-slaves. Instead of freeing her by killing Ironhead, Wicker had unknowingly condemned her to being Ironhead’s psychic marionette, potentially forever.
Wicker wouldn’t see that woman again for a long time—not until the days leading up to the end of the world. When she finally tracked him down, however, she would be holding his poem.