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Adventure Idea: Zombie Slaves

Here’s an adventure idea that should be easy to adapt to most Savage Soul campaigns:

The PCs will learn that a nearby sorcerer (Dmitri Vorlov) is a “master of the dead” and that, in addition to providing certain services (such as “Raise Dead” and “Restore Fallen”), Vorlov is willing to pay good money for “fresh” human corpses (up to 5,000 credits each). By conducting some investigation (or visiting Vorlov), the PCs will learn that Vorlov makes his money by selling “the most obedient slaves.” It should then become apparent that Vorlov is buying corpses whose Silver Threads remain intact and then performing Zombify rituals upon those corpses to resurrect them as mute, mindless, and completely loyal servants. As if this weren’t bad enough, the PCs will likely realize that, due to the nature of the Zombify spell, each individual whose corpse has been Zombified remains conscious and aware, but completely incapable of controlling his or her body or communicating in any way. Thus, being trapped inside the body of a Zombified servant is often considered a fate worse than death.

Because of Vorlov’s business, he cannot afford to be reclusive. He must necessarily meet with those seeking to sell fresh corpses and with those wishing to purchase slaves. As a result, the characters should easily be able to arrange a meeting with Vorlov by posing as corpse sellers, slave buyers, etc. (assuming the PCs don’t simply choose to attack Vorlov’s lair, sneak in, etc., which are also viable options).

Vorlov’s lair is very luxurious, with the exception of the private rooms where he conducts his ghastly rituals and keeps his Zombified guards (which protect Vorlov’s lair along with Flesh Constructs and Command Dead skeletons). None of these guards will take any action against the PCs unless Vorlov orders them to, or the PCs engage in hostilities (or any other “forbidden” conduct). Vorlov also has two very old women serving him (as cook, maid, secretary, receptionist, etc.) Both of these women (Martha and Gretchen) are able to think and speak; but because they are subject to the “Alter Soul” Ritual, they are absolutely loyal to Vorlov. If the players seek to meet with Vorlov, they will likely meet with either or both of these women first. If the PCs are able to convince the women that they mean no harm to Vorlv, the women will invite the PCs into Vorlov’s lair, make them comfortable, and fetch Vorlov.

The final residents of Vorlov’s lair are four young girls, ranging in age from about 9 to about 12. The girls are well-dressed and appear to be well cared for . . . but they have obviously been Zombified. In actuality, Vorlov considers the Zombified girls his daughters and refers to them as his “little ladies.” Other than keeping them against their will (which is bad), Vorlov does not abuse the girls in any way; but the PCs are likely to assume the worst. Note: If this suspected abuse causes real-life concern among the players, the GM should have Vorlov (or one of the old women) convincing explain that Vorlov is very respectful of the girls and treats them like princesses. This obviously doesn’t make what he is doing right; but it may keep the adventure from becoming too dark for certain players.

Assuming the PCs meet with Vorlov, he will invite them to dinner (or lunch or breakfast), which will be exquisite. But the main course will be what Vorlov calls “special meat,” prepared especially for the PCs. Vorlov will be very secretive about what exactly the meat is, claiming it’s a “secret recipe.” And, unless the characters openly suggest that it is human flesh, Vorlov will remain playfully evasive. The meat is not actually human flesh (it is the meat of a rare mutant animal); but, if the GM plays the scene cleverly, the PCs will likely be convinced Vorlov is trying to feed them human flesh (thereby enhancing the creepiness and uncertainty of the dinner scene).

The “little ladies” will also attend the meal. They will arrive in lockstep, sit in unison, display impeccable table manners, but never speak. This is likely the first time the PCs will meet the “little ladies” and Vorlov will gush about how wonderful they are (just as a parent might brag about actual children).

If confronted or questioned about buying corpses (however subtly), Vorlov will explain that he never kills anyone and never encourages murder. In fact, he will insist (disingenuously) that, if he knew someone had been killed just so the corpse could be sold to Vorlov, Vorlov would refuse to buy it. In reality, Vorlov turns a blind eye to such activities in order to maintain plausible deniability; but he is actually well aware that some of his less scrupulous corpse vendors are murdering people. If confronted about the wrongfulness of slavery, Vorlov will insist that he is doing a good thing by bringing those “poor souls” back from the dead and providing them “new lives.” This is also something Vorlov doesn’t actually believe; but he maintains the story to grant his “business” some legitimacy.

While this adventure is designed to convince the PCs that the world would be a better place without Dmitri Vorlov, how the characters actually go about dealing with Vorlov is entirely up to them. Should they choose to put an end to Vorlov’s evil ways, they will find themselves set upon by all of the lair’s undead guardians . . . and will likely find that getting out of Vorlov’s lair is much harder than getting in.

Should the PCs prevail against Vorlov and his servants, the PCs will find a reasonable amount of money and some magical components in the lair. Vorlov keeps the vast majority of his significant wealth in a “Loot Locker” that only he can access. If Vorlov dies, the Loot Locker will be nearly impossible to access (primarily to keep the PCs from becoming suddenly wealthy).

As far as Vorlov’s servants and the “little ladies,” restoring them, learning their identities, and returning them to proper homes might make for interesting follow-on adventures/activities. In the alternative, the PCs could simply turn these unfortunate victims over to local authorities (entirely at the option of the PCs and the GM).

GM Advice: NPC Personality and Purpose

No matter how cleverly an NPC is designed (in terms of Attributes, Peculiarities, and equipment), that NPC is likely to be flat and forgettable without an interesting personality and some understandable purpose.

PERSONALITY: This really goes without saying but, unless an NPC has a personality, he is likely doomed to be just another forgettable combat encounter or living prop. Moreover, an NPC’s personality is not particularly interesting unless it is somehow made apparent to the PCs. For example: If an NPC is a raving lunatic, the GM might seize opportunities to have the NPC cackle in the midst of combat, make insane comments, etc. If an NPC is bitter, the GM might have him regularly spit insults or complaints. If an NPC is vengeful, the GM might have him gush about how long he has waited to finally have his revenge, etc. Without such obvious personality “reveals,” the only one who will know the NPC even has a personality is the GM.

PURPOSE: Perhaps just as important as personality is purpose. I remember a game in which I privately commented to the GM that there was a lack of role-playing opportunities. The next thing I knew, our party ran across an NPC that had an interesting backstory and was happy to talk . . . but he had absolutely no purpose (i.e., he did not contribute to the story in any way, aside from telling us his story). This NPC might have been much more interesting had he arrived with a purpose (such as searching for a missing friend or loved one). The PCs then might have assisted the NPC on a side quest that made his backstory more significant and the entire encounter more memorable.

Often an NPC’s purpose will be simple, such as a barkeep whose purpose is to run a bar, or a merchant whose purpose is to sell goods. Even then, however, a more unique purpose can make for a more memorable NPC. For example: Maybe the NPC barkeep is fed up with the town’s tyrannical ruler but is unwilling to oppose the ruler openly. Such a barkeep might keep his ears open for those that share his views and might prove to be a valuable source of information or resources in addition to an excellent role-playing opportunity.

The importance of purpose holds true for villains as well. The old trope of an evil mastermind willingly divulging his goals and plans to his enemy can be an excellent role-playing device, as it serves to relay to (or confirm for) the PCs that the villain actually has a purpose. Without such a clear purpose, the villain risks becoming just another forgettable boss at the end of another forgettable dungeon/mission.

As a final example of these points, my friends and I recently completed a reasonably long (and very enjoyable) adventure in which an insanely powerful member of the dark fairy-folk had created a magical device that threatened the entire land. No matter what we did, this NPC villain was several steps ahead of us . . . and his tricks and schemes presented interesting challenges for us to overcome. The biggest problem was that, as far as we could tell, the villain had no personality and no purpose . . . other than being evil. Even in the final battle, where the villain stood unmolested at the back of his forces, he didn’t taunt us, threaten us, or really say anything at all . . . and he certainly never revealed what drove (or inspired) him to engage in such a sinister plan. So, while the adventure itself was memorable, the main villain was not. And he very easily could have been had the GM taken steps to demonstrate the villain’s personality and purpose.

Limitations of “Limited Telepathy”

“PW: Limited Telepathy” is “limited” in that it is simply a method of communication and, therefore, cannot be used for aggressive purposes (such as reading someone’s mind, implanting disturbing thoughts, driving someone insane, preventing sleep, etc.) Some common attempts to misuse Limited Telepathy are 1) bombarding a recipient with telepathic messages until they “break” and do something the sender wants, or 2) tricking the recipient into thinking the telepathic message is the voice of God, the voice of the recipient’s superior, etc.

In regard to the first, because Limited Telepathy is a non-aggressive form of communication, any recipient can choose to ignore (and essentially “block”) messages from an unwelcome sender. Thereafter, the recipient might remain aware that the sender is attempting communication, but this awareness will not be distracting, disturbing, or even annoying.

In regard to the second, in the world of The Savage Soul, the existence of telepathic communication is almost as well known as the existence of mobile phones in the modern world. Thus, when a recipient hears a voice in his mind, he is far more likely to conclude that it is a telepathic communication, rather than the voice of God, the voice of his conscience, the voice of madness, etc., just as if someone in the modern world were to receive a telephone call from someone claiming to be God. Additionally, Limited Telepathy does not automatically grant the ability to mimic voices (or similarly imitate other individuals). In fact, one’s telepathic “voice” is even more unique than one’s spoken voice. So, even with a high Performance attribute, “PW: Voice Mimic,” etc., it will be very difficult for the sender of a telepathic message to convincingly imitate (or conceal the identity of) someone the recipient actually knows.

As always, if an individual GM wishes to allow a creative use of Limited Telepathy in any given situation, that is his prerogative . . . but he should be aware of the slippery slope that could lead to repeated misuse of what was meant to be a communication ability.

Task Assistants . . . In Reverse!

While this mechanic is not discussed in any version of the rules, just as the “Task Assistants” rule recognizes the advantage of having multiple characters attempt to perform certain tasks, there are also cases where having multiple characters engage in a task can be detrimental. The most common example is Sneaking, where it is easier for one character to go undetected than for multiple characters to go undetected. In such case, the GM may wish to employ the “Task Assistants” rule in reverse, by requiring the character with the LOWEST applicable attribute to make the Task Attempt, and applying a PENALTY based upon the number of characters engaged in the task (2 Characters = -1, 4 Characters = -2, 8 Characters = -3, etc.) Similarly, bonuses such as the +2 for “SK: Sneak” will only apply if all the characters are entitled to the bonus.

For example: Kelly (Stealth 6 with “SK: Sneak”), Diago (Stealth 5), and Mich (Stealth 7) are trying as a group to sneak past the guards of a port city. Applying the Task Assistants rule in reverse, Diago would be required to make the task attempt and would apply a -1 penalty (for a total of 3 characters) for a total Attempt Bonus of +4. Kelly’s “SK: Sneak” Peculiarity will not provide any bonus to this attempt, because neither Diago nor Mich have “SK: Sneak.”


One thing I am particularly excited about in connection with the 2022 Edition is that it will have a detailed index! Making the index was a lot of work; but it needed to be done. I hope you find it useful.

2022 Edition Update

The much-anticipated 2022 Edition of The Savage Soul is now in the final stages. All that remains is filling in a few section references, updating the image credits, awaiting the final round of edits, and finalizing the layout. Right now, we expect to have it ready for sale by the end of June.