While passing a beautiful estate in the countryside, the party hears a raspy and muffled voice cry out, “Is anyone out there? I need help getting back up.”
Walking over to a low stone wall marking the edge of the property, the party discovers a man’s body lying face down in the mud.
Actually, they see most of a man’s body; he is missing his arms which the party sees suspended in the air next to him, the skeletal hands gripping tightly on the handle of a shovel that’s stuck in the earth.
If the party helps to lift the armless man up off the ground, they can clearly see that this creature is undead and, more specifically, a lich. Surprisingly though, this lich does not appear to be any sort of threat. Instead of the flowing robes one associates with an undead lord of evil, this lich is dressed in modest, and very dirty, gardening attire. Instead of a magic staff radiating dark magic, he sports a shovel and other landscaping equipment.
“Thanks for the lift,” the lich says, stumbling over and magically reattaching his arms. “That’s the second time this week they’ve snapped off. I seem to be falling apart more and more often lately. It’s making these daily chores awfully difficult.”
The lich introduces himself as Rich the Lich, and he explains his bizarre situation to the party.
“I’ve been undead for a very long time now and, I’ll admit, a few centuries ago, I was involved in my fair share of necromancy and other morally questionable activities. However,” he continues, “that’s all behind me now. About 100 years ago, I decided to stop being an evil lord of the undead and, instead, open an amateur art studio and explore my creative side. Of course, work like that doesn’t pay the bills, so I had to downsize and leave this beautiful estate you see behind me.”
He jerks his head over his shoulder to indicate the large country manor in the distance.
“Unfortunately, I had been so caught up in my reinvention that, during the move, I foolishly forgot to pack something incredibly important: namely, my phylactery that I kept safely tucked away beneath some floorboards. It wasn’t until I started to feel my body withering away that I realized my mistake. I ventured back to the property only to find that it had been purchased by a group of holy clerics.”
At this point, a paladin appears on the doorstep of the manor, dressed in dazzling silver armor adorned with religious symbols.
“Hey, lich!” he hollers. “Hurry up with that gardening work. We have more cleaning for you to do back here. Don’t forget that we are expecting guests today and want this place sparkling.“
“Yes, sir. Right away, sir!” Rich the Lich says, struggling to shout back with his raspy undead vocal cords. He turns his attention back to the players. “I tried asking them nicely to return it, but them being holy people and me being…well…a lich…let’s just say that they have been less than cooperative. Now they have me toiling away in indentured servitude on the property, earning my way to reclaim my forgotten phylactery, but I’m starting to question if I’ll ever get it back. Wherever they’re keeping it inside the compound, they’ve set up wards, keeping creatures like me from getting access or even being able to detect exactly where it is. I don’t know how much longer my body can hold up with this arrangement. Please…I know they say ‘trust a lich, end up in a ditch’, but I’m not that evil person anymore. I just want my phylactery back so that I can continue living my modest afterlife and make art in peace.”
They’ve Stolen My Heart
If the party decides to help Rich, he will propose his plan, one that, he hopes, will result in no one getting hurt since he’s trying his best to live an honest life.
“That paladin mentioned guests arriving, and it’s true. The clerics use this estate as a gathering place for meditation, spiritual retreats, and discussions between different religious orders. Well, one very young and largely unheard of order is on its way to the estate as we speak. If we disguise you as members of that sect, then maybe you can gain entry into the manor and locate the phylactery. I don’t think the clerics here have any clue about the new order aside from its name, so just act confident and pretend you know what you’re talking about, okay?”
The party can follow Rich’s suggestion, or they can try their own original stealthy methods of getting inside the estate. If they choose Rich’s method, he will creep over to his groundskeeper’s shed and retrieve burlap sacks, quickly cutting them into the shape of modest monk robes.
After donning the outfits, Rich suggests that the party leaves most of their items (especially weapons) behind, possibly concealing them in a nearby ditch. If the players insight check him, they will know that Rich the Lich is being honest and does not plan on swiping their gear or using it against them.
“The object you’re looking for is a heartstone,” Rich says, “it was a gift from my late wife, Agatha the Night Hag. It’s so precious to me that I chose it as my phylactery when I became a lich.”
When the party is ready to begin, they can put up their hoods, start chanting on an “om”, and stroll up to the manor’s front door.
Making a Clerical Error
The door swings open, and the same paladin from earlier steps out of the doorframe. He studies the party closely and, for a moment, it appears as though he might see through their deception. But then, he says, “welcome, founding members of the Clerical Order of ______. The committee is expecting you. Right this way please.”
DM Note: It would be a fun roleplaying exercise if you select 2 players to each roll a d8. These rolls determine the name of this fledgling clerical order, allowing the party to shape their ideals and practices around the name in an effort to be as convincing as possible.
- 1st d8 roll determines the adjective:
- d1 “The Radiant…”
- d2 “The Towering…”
- d3 “The All-Seeing…”
- d4 “The Fearless…”
- d5 “The Mysterious…”
- d6 “The Cosmic…”
- d7 “The Beneficent…”
- d8 “The Selfless…”
- 2nd d8 roll determines the noun:
- d1 “Seagull”
- d2 “Blacksmith”
- d3 “Lighthouse”
- d4 “Spider”
- d5 “Shrubbery”
- d6 “Trout”
- d7 “Spoon”
- d8 “Snowman”
Once the party enters, they are given a brief tour of the estate. Religious iconography hangs on the walls. Shelves are filled with spiritual texts. Candles and heavily-scented incense burns in just about every room.
If the party ever asks about the Lich gardener, the paladin brags, “that creature foolishly left us his phylactery, and now we have a free laborer who doesn’t need to sleep. Our landscaping outside is looking incredible. Sure, that might not sound fair, but he’s a lich. A lich forced to spend an eternity doing yardwork is a lich who can’t raise an evil army of undead…that’s what I always say.”
The party enters a room with 5 clerics gathered in meditative positions.
“Welcome, new friends of faith,” the man seated in the center says, gesturing with open arms. “Sit upon these pillows before us, and let us speak of matters both spiritual and worldly.”
After the party has gotten comfortable, the head cleric continues. “Now, it seems that you have requested our blessing as a religious sect and are in need of some financial support, is that correct? Well then, to determine the purity of your cause and the stability of your religion, we would like to ask you a few questions.”
Each cleric asks a different question, and may choose whomever in the party to answer said question. If the party roleplays well and gives convincing responses, then the clerics will begin to drop their guard and maybe even show you the room where they keep the Lich’s heartstone.
Here are the questions:
- What is the god of your religion and what is its origin story?
- What are the major tenets of your religion?
- How does your sect plan to help the community?
- When faced with [insert moral “trolley problem”], what is the best path forward in accordance with your values?
- Describe the steps used in your rituals to connect with the divine.
After the Q & A, the clerics ask to have the room to themselves to deliberate in private. While this conversation is happening, the party can walk around the space under the watchful eye of the paladin (unless they find a way to distract him or earn his trust too).
In one of the rooms, they find a chest and, inside, there is a small iron box filled with various necromancer knick-knacks seemingly left behind by the Lich during the move: loose bones, small taxidermized woodland creatures, and, of course, the black heartstone phylactery.
If the party takes too long exploring the manor, have them roll a perception check near a window to notice the actual visiting clerics coming up the footpath toward the building; Rich the Lich can be seen trying to distract them with small talk and buy the party more time, but it’s clear that the new arrivals do not feel very comfortable talking to an animated corpse. The players need to hurry and escape the premises fast if they intend on avoiding an unwanted battle with the paladin and the clerics over their deception.
When the party returns to Rich and hands him the phylactery, he will be so pleased, promising the players that they won’t be sorry for helping him.
As a reward, he can offer the players a variety of dark items (especially since he has no use for them anymore with his new lifestyle of peace). Alternatively, he can offer to use his Lich powers, although they’re a little rusty from lack of use, to grant any/some/all of the players’ weapons the ability to deal an additional 1d4 necrotic damage.