On the planar origins of the entity on Gothic Earth known as «The Read Death».

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The Chronicler
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On the planar origins of the entity on Gothic Earth known as «The Read Death».

I have run two rpg-groups in the Masque of the Red Death-campaign for well over a decade. One is situated in England and the other one in Germany in the 1880s.

An important part of the MRD-campaign world, which is more or less identical to our Earth in victorian times, is the existence of a mystical, dark force. Sometimes referred to as the Red Death. This force entered Earth in the 27th century BC when the Egyptian architect Imhotep summoned it by accident while building the pyramid of the pharao Djoser. It is described like this:

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The Red Death is a mysterious evil energy that can manipulate the world. Its very origins are unknown to anyone, but many theories are abound. Some say it is very much like a physical red mist, while others claim it to be a universal force like gravity.

What is known is the effects that the Red Death has. It is capable of raising undead, transforming people into monsters, driving people insane, moving whole areas and locations, and affecting the very fabric of reality. The Red Death is an extremely powerful force that comes and goes at its own whim, and is the source of all evil in the Masque of The Red Death world.

There is given no explanations in the campaign material as to where it came from, or even what it is, but it slowly extended its corruptive influence over the world, spreading from its starting point in Egypt.

A major power of the Red Death needs special mentioning. It can keep planar creatures captive on Earth. Creatures can be summoned or travel to Earth on their own accord, but they may never leave again (for creatures in desperate need of sanctuary that could actually be an advantage, since no powerful creatures would follow them there, at least if they were aware of this feature of the planet).

The idea is probably that the fight against this dark force is meant to go on indefinitely, so there is no real need to go into details. But I decided long ago that my players were going to have an actual opportunity to end this menace and liberate the Earth from its power.

I intend to keep that silent promise, especially after I started my Planescape-campaign a few years ago, and a small group of qabalists ended up leaving Gothic Earth (something that should not have been possible, of course). I more than suggested to these players that they might finally find the answers on the Outer Planes that their organization had spent centuries searching for on Earth, without success.

I have a few ideas already of course. Maybe it is some sort of Yugoloth experiment that has escaped, or maybe Gothic Earth itself is an experiment. Perhaps it is a Baatezu weapon gone astray. Maybe it is some sort of deity. The power to keep planar creatures captive might suggest some connection with Carceri.

I´m still a long way from coming up with a satisfying explanation though.
Any ideas?

Palomides
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Red Death

In a meta-game sense, the Red Death is a parallel to the vaguely defined Dark Powers of the Ravenloft campaign. It is evil and it has enough power to accomplish anything that sets up the adventure for the PCs. It was never intended to be directly confronted or defeated.
Having said that: if you really want the PCs to be able to confront and possibly defeat the entity, I suppose we could think of something.
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I view the Shadowfell as being some extension of the Grey Wastes reaching towards the Prime (creating a realm of shadow and death that borders the Prime.)
In the same vein, I always pictured the Dark Powers of Ravenloft as being the similar extension of the plane of Carceri (themes of evil, entrapment, and bitter captives)
Personally, I always viewed the "gods" (e.g. Hades, Hela, etc.) as manifestations of a greater concept/force (i.e. DEATH) which I view as undefeatable.
But this doesn't mean that the PCs can't cut off (or at least limit) the force known as the Red Death from reaching into the Prime. I could see a grand adventure where the players try to stop a vast yugoloth plot (along with a few gods of Carceri) to widen the breach from the Carceri to the Prime. Perhaps the yugoloths are hoping to pull the Earth into Carceri (maybe absorbing planets is how they add to the spheres clustered in that plane). In the best case, the PCs wouldn't destroy the Red Death, but if they win they will remove the tendrils that the Red Death has extended into our world and prevent the world from being swallowed into another plane.
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I know I'm being vague on the specifics but I wanted to throw out the general theme to see if that appeals to you

sciborg2
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I'd suggest the Red Death is

Great stuff guys!

I'd suggest the Red Death is originating in Carceri, or perhaps some primordial force that suggests Carceri and Gehenna were a single plane of existence.

I've thought that the Baern were obsessed with understanding Evil as a mystical force, an inversion of Dante seeking to grasp the Love that Moves the Sun and Other Stars. And so they created the Yugoloths. OTOH, Apomps doesn't need to be a Baern - perhaps it is another Seeker rivaling the Baern that also wants to understand but sees the Baern as an obstacle.

The Red Death could be born of a competition between Apomps and the Baern, as each side engaged in greater horrors to show their worthiness to whatever Evil is in truth? (A God of Evil like the Manicheans posited? The Dark Side of the Force that the Ciphers deny?)

Perhaps the original manufactured fiendish races are the Gehreleth and the Yugoloths, who were created in the hopes that these instruments might help Apomps/Baern respectively understand Evil.

The Chronicler
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Showdown starts on the planes

Quote:
But this doesn't mean that the PCs can't cut off (or at least limit) the force known as the Red Death from reaching into the Prime. I could see a grand adventure where the players try to stop a vast yugoloth plot (along with a few gods of Carceri) to widen the breach from the Carceri to the Prime. Perhaps the yugoloths are hoping to pull the Earth into Carceri (maybe absorbing planets is how they add to the spheres clustered in that plane). In the best case, the PCs wouldn't destroy the Red Death, but if they win they will remove the tendrils that the Red Death has extended into our world and prevent the world from being swallowed into another plane.

I like this idea. It means the qabalists not only returns to Earth with knowledge crucial to defeating this entity. They have already begun the fight on the planes, cutting of its source of power.

The Chronicler
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Summary - so far

Ok. This is what I´m taking from both of your suggestions so far. Thank you so much, it really helps getting some input.

Apomps is behind the Red Death. It was another stroke of creative genius on his part, rivaling his creation of the Gehreleth. His goal is to extend his influence from Carceri throughout the Multiverse, starting with a single crystal sphere on the Prime. That it is an extremely slow process matters little. He´s in no hurry. If anything it´s a good thing, as it makes it harder for the Yugoloth to discover his scheme before its too late. He found some way of capturing the essence of Carceri, or more specifically Agathys, imbuing it with sentience and connecting it to Earth by means of a summoning spell meant to aid in the building of a pyramid.

In order to make it even perceivable to defeat the Red Death the currently planewalking Earthlings need to sever the bond between Carceri and this dark entity. Apart from this quest demanding a trip to Carceri, and perhaps a way of tricking an intellectually vain shator historian into revealing enough of Apomps plan to get the gist of it, I have no clue as to how I will write this adventure. I would very much appreciate some ideas on that.

Then to the even harder challenge. Actually defeating the Red Death. Even though its ties to Carceri are severed its corruption of Gothic Earth is so deep and widespread that it is more than capable of surviving and continuing with its assigned task autonomously. I actually had some loose ideas on how a possible showdown could be brought about when I started the first of these campaigns all these years ago. It included a way of making the Red Death manifest itself physically in order to be defeated. Parallell to this physical struggle there should also be a struggle of the hearts and souls of the population of Earth. The more despair, fear and hate the Red Death manages to sow, the harder it will be to defeat it. It has already planted many of the seeds to an unprecedented global conflict in the future, and several other "goodies" are in the works, such as a massive pandemic to rival the Black Plague (which was also the work of the Read Death, by the way).

I also had an idea of how to force the Red Death to manifest itself. A central feature of one of the organizations that my players belong to, The Order of Sion, is the possession of an artifact they call the holy grail. It´s a real misnomer since it is actually part of a meteor (it´s arrival on Earth has been estimated to 11 BC). It gives one chosen individual at any given time the power to wield magic without fear of corruption by the Red Death. This might seem like a puny ability on the planes, but it´s a big deal on Gothic Earth where even the most benign of spells cannot be cast without risk of infection from this vile entity.

There are other pieces of the «grail» however, and they grant different powers to those that possess them. The hunt for the missing pieces of the «grail» has been going on for years, and my idea has been that when the entire stone is reassembled it will be possible to force the Red Death to reveal itself in physical form and the final terrifying battle can ensue.

I would very much like some ideas on how to make that as spectacular and memorable as possible. As well as ideas on where the stone came from, and who sent it to Earth (another thing I haven´t figured out yet).

Some other loose questions. Why have the various deities seemingly silently accepted being cut of from their worshipers on Earth? The consequences have been dire. Several pantheons are no longer worshipped on Earth. The only possible explanation I have so far is embarrassment. That the various pantheons did not want to appear impotent by admitting to being cut off from their worshippers, and were too proud to inquire as to whether other gods were experiencing the same.

Any other explanations?

Palomides
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Pieces of the Grail

At present, I have nothing regarding how the PCs learn of Apomps and its plans for our world.
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When you mentioned the Grail/meteor, I thought "why would a piece of space rock have any effect on an extra-planar threat?" So I started thinking of extra-planar explanations for the pieces:
1) the meteor was put in place by a being of the Upper Planes that is just as patient and slow-moving as Apomps with the intention of being used against the threat of the Red Death. Knowing that it could not reach into our world, it left the tool(s) needed for our salvation
2) the pieces are links of one of the chains of good/law that the gods used to bind Apomps at the end of the Dawn War (when the gods defeated the titans/primodials/evil and chaotic gods) that trapped him in Carceri. Apomps is still held in place by the remainder of his chains but this one shattered chain is what allowed him the freedom to reach into Gothic Earth. Now the various links of the chain must be gathered to re-bind Apomps (or at least his spiritual tendril that reaches to the Red Death) and sever this connection
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Either way, perhaps the pieces create a bridge between Earth and the planes requiring the PCs to explore both our world and beyond to get the pieces they need. E.g. one piece -known in our world as Excaliber- links Cornwall to the plane of Elysium
[Warning: don't over-do the "treasure-hunt" aspect as I know that my PCs hate it when I create a quest that involves them collecting 47 pieces of something]
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I like the idea of a combination of the horror of WWI with the Lovecraftean horror working behind the scenes, with most of the populace too focused on the immediate threat of looming war to notice or believe in the sinister force behind it.
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Regarding what happened to the Old Pantheons (i.e. the Greek/Norse/etc. gods), I would suggest a two-fold reason:
1) most of the gods have short attention spans (at least "short" on the scale of immortal beings) who are easily distracted by new worshippers on new worlds with new methods of adoration
2) the Red Death has been subtly moving people away from worshipping the gods. It did this subtly so that the gods didn't notice it until it was too late. Most recently, the Red Death has been encouraging a devotion to cold, unfeeling science (in the vein of "what new kind of bombs can we invent?") over creativity and spiritual accord with the world.
The last time the Old Pantheons exerted any influence was during the Renaissance when the Old Pantheons inspired a lot of artistic creativity even if they didn't create any new worshippers

Jem
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Here are a couple of ideas,

Here are a couple of ideas, if you find them interesting.

If the Red Death was ready to make a move to replicate itself, then the gods might have cut off the MRD Earth in order to prevent this. Perhaps the gods constructed a simple local afterlife in a coterminous plane and blocked most access to the crystal sphere. Hence it wasn't the Red Death that was blocking planar exit -- it was the other pantheons. The Red Death is imprisoned too. I noticed you mentioned that the players are qabalists: if you haven't employed this notion yet, perhaps false 11th sephira of Daath is the local mock afterlife that is surrounding the MRD world.

Although it meant losing the worshipers of that world, it was better than allowing the Red Death to become an even greater menace elsewhere. (This might be the fate that comes to other worlds where the bad guys win a world-spanning campaign -- the fate of millions when the heroes lose. It's certainly in flavor of a MRD campaign for there to have been some historical account of an attempt to thwart the Red Death which failed.) This also made it challenging to send help in, but in a sense, the gods had faith: faith that humanity would develop in response to its tormentor and rise to the challenge. The Order of Sion's "meteorite" is in fact some of the best help the gods can send -- an artifact that had to be physically delivered from a sufficient distance that the Red Death couldn't taint its magical arrival in physical space, and didn't have any sentience that might have been noticed.

This theory also puts the planewalking heroes in an awkward position. Although their success at leaving the plane indicates that humanity has grown substantially in ability, they may be carriers of the Red Death infection! They would be potentially watched very carefully and hemmed in by unseen guardians.

As for the final battle against the Red Death... well. That's going to be different by campaign, I think, so I guess it depends on what sort of epic battle you're interested in. I would think that defeating such an enemy would require the cooperation of a big chunk of humanity. And there is such an enemy that we've defeated! And the battle took not just years, but generations! It was...

..the Red Death!

That is to say, smallpox.

So: what if the Order's stone forces the Red Death into its misty red form, and it turns out that what it is, is an infectious disease? What the players bring back from the planes is the knowledge of how to isolate the "grail"'s ability to provide immunity to the Red Death, and spread it from person to person with a touch. What they must do at this point is organize, with the help of nations (in a world where World War 1 is on the horizon), an international effort to send immunes across the globe until there is enough herd immunity that the disease can no longer spread. The first moments of the campaign are critical, and the Red Death will do everything it can to prevent the diplomatic efforts from working, from psychic manipulation of ambassadors to sending monsters to assassinate the immunes that it can't touch itself.

The traditional RPG-style "final battle" might come after the players have transferred immunity to a few thousand people and are ready to cut them loose in to the world -- the Red Death sends its massive Big Bad Monster(s) to try to crush the movement before it can get off the ground. Repulse this attack, succeed in getting the first significant wave of immune missionaries in to spread out to multiple nations, and from there the rest of the story is narrative epilogue. It takes generations, but the battle is over. When the last infected living human dies out, the monsters stop coming. The skies open up and the MRD Earth returns to the planes.

The Chronicler
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Thank you!

Planewalker might not be the rpg-site with the most activity, but what it might lack in that respect it more than makes up for in quality. Every single time I reach out a hand asking for help developing an idea I get these awesome answers!

I just need some time to digest these suggestions.

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2 Cu

While I cannot match the sheer awesomeness and creativity of Palomides and Jem's suggestions, I have always been a fan of the plot device wherein the heroes must awaken one "monster" in order to defeat another.

Playing along those lines, what if the Red Death, while originally a creation/tool of Apomps, has now grown beyond him? He underestimated the raw virulence of his own engine of destruction, and now he is just as terrified of it as your PCs that are trying to stop it. Perhaps an opportunity for a strange bedfellows scenario.

Sorry, it's just a seed of an idea and not developed very well. Maybe you can do something more with it. Or discard if it's not applicable.

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I like it. Also it seems sort

I like it. Also it seems sort of implausible that the players should be able to perform a feat of this magnitude by themselves, without help from some greater force.

But I am also sort of fond of the idea that Apomps is so bitter and vengeful that he´s willing to run the risk of being consumed by his own creation if it means sticking it to the loths. But maybe the General of Gehenna could be an equally monstrous ally? He´s just as mysterious and terrible.

I just wonder how I can give the players a chance to survive such a partnership. I have the impression that the General likes to tie up loose ends and snuff out anyone who can shed any light on him.

Jem
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Personally I preferred your

Personally I preferred your original idea of the main task there being to cut ties between Apomps and the Red Death. Plots that involve getting help from demon lords rarely sit well with me. That might just be my taste.

If you feel like the players should need assistance from some other powerful entity, and perhaps one with some dark overtones, Wee Jas could be an interesting choice. She has a presence in Urban Arcana, so an interpretation of her following would already exist for a world closer to modernity; she would oppose Apomps on general alignment principles, and the tainting of magic as a matter of dogma; and her Ruby Blade relic is suitable as a symbol for a cutting task.

As for how the actual cutting should be done, perhaps there is a branch of the Styx somewhere in Apomps' realm through which a trickle yet flows to and from the MRD Earth? It cannot be traversed, but it still carries power and memory. The players might have to find it and sever the connection, either simultaneously or (if you don't like party splitting, because who does? ^_^ ) previously having prepared a new site for the Styx to branch off toward the MRD Earth, outside of Apomps' domain. Some sort of sympathetic magic to link it to the MRD Earth would seem appropriate in that case. Bonus enemy! Charon and the marraenoloths would doubtless be opposed to drastic interference with the course of the Styx -- however, if you'd rather not fight them, they are proverbially willing to be bought off, for the right price...

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I wonder if there's a

I wonder if there's a thematic way to link Apomp's fiends, the gehreleths, rebirth across bodies with the memory affecting aspects of the Styx?

I say this b/c I've long felt the gehreleths would describe themselves as memory moving through corpses...

Also I like Jem's suggestion of using Wee Jas, General might be just too divorced from mortal concern whereas Wee Jas is LE/LN and as a deity has some obligation toward creation/mortals.

The Chronicler
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Summary

Where did the «grail» come from?

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the meteor was put in place by a being of the Upper Planes that is just as patient and slow-moving as Apomps with the intention of being used against the threat of the Red Death. Knowing that it could not reach into our world, it left the tool(s) needed for our salvation

I think this is a good enough explanation and it´s not really necessary to go any deeper into that. It seems obvious that it´s of divine origin. The players are devout Christians and are convinced it´s a tool granted by God.

It´s absolutely certain that it is not a gift from the Norse gods. One of the players is actually a einherje. Formely a German KDPP-researcher (Kaiserliche Deutsche Paranormale Polizei). He was part of a department researching ways of harnessing divine energy, and the only scholar who chose to give the Norse gods a try. They responded. And when he died he woke up in Valhalla. His stay there was short however as he was tasked by the Allfather to return to Earth and restore the old customs, forn siðr, of Northern Europe. Then he shamefully got sidetracked to the Planes along with knights of the Order of Sion.

Quarantine

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If the Red Death was ready to make a move to replicate itself, then the gods might have cut off the MRD Earth in order to prevent this.

I like this idea. Partly because it´s a plausible explanation for the inability to leave Earth once there. But also because it makes Apomps an active player rather than just the evil watchmaker who wound up his sinister clock and then let go. He would obviously try to circumvent this quarantine so his magnificent creation could keep on spreading.

It already has, to some degree. Partly to Mars, the only other inhabited planet in the solar system. There it has wrecked so much havoc that the corrupted rulers are planning a full scale invasion of Earth (they´ve already sent scouting missions who´ve clashed with the Order of Sion and proved their lethality). The entity has also corrupted the fey kingdom that occupies the same space as Gothic Earth. I go by the old planology apart from this one exception, because it´s just to awesome not to use. The fey king attempted to quarantine his realm as well, but it was too late.

Who quarantined Gothic Earth? Well it was not the Norse gods. I don´t think it was a joint effort either. Maybe we´ll never know. One possible explanation is that it´s tied to the story of Dionysus being consumed by the titans. Maybe the story originally told of a sacrifice on part of this deity aimed at containing this darkness from spreading to other worlds where the Greek gods were worshipped?

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Although their success at leaving the plane indicates that humanity has grown substantially in ability, they may be carriers of the Red Death infection! They would be potentially watched very carefully and hemmed in by unseen guardians.

That is such a good point. I have to admit I haven´t given that much thought before. They have never had to make any power checks on Earth though. They were really good guys down there. They have done some morally questionable things on the planes however that would surely have had dire consequenses on Gothic Earth.

What is the Red Death?

It seems everyone is on board with the notion of Apomps being its creator, and that it is somehow fueled by energy channeled from Agathys (as well as the fear, mistrust, hatred and anger it creates on Gothic Earth).

Step one of defeating the Red Death: Cutting off its source of power

Ok. So the Red Death originates on Agathys. Initially it drew all its power from this plane, and as long as it can continue to do so it is basically invincible. How to cut off its source of power?

I like the idea of a small part of Apomps essence being diffused amongst the Gehreleth, moving to a new corpse whenever a Gehreleth dies. It seems reasonable that this transferral of power has made Apomps somewhat weaker than he otherwise would be. That can also explain why there are so few Gehreleth at any given time.

The same would most likely be the case for the Red Death, that it weakened Apomps. At least for the first few millennia. Now the Red Death draws nourishment from the anguish it creates on Gothic Earth. What if some of this power is channeled back to Apomps? Could it be that Apomps created the Red Death to (more than) make up for the power he had to relinquish in order to sustain his beloved Gehreleths? And if the Red Death actually did manage to break out of the quarantine and spread to countless other worlds it might result in a massive increase in the number of Leths?

How about 999 999 999 Gehreleths rather than 9 999? Would that make the Loths shaky?

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As for how the actual cutting should be done, perhaps there is a branch of the Styx somewhere in Apomps' realm through which a trickle yet flows to and from the MRD Earth? It cannot be traversed, but it still carries power and memory.

I like this idea very much. And it would be awesome if a joint operation would be possible, on Aghatys and in Egypt under Djosers pyramid.

That might be impractical to pull off though, a lot to organize and handle, and the players have no contact with Earth as of now. It might be good to have the opportunity to cut off the connection on the planar end only.

Another possibility could be for example an underground dam, where the acidic ice of Agathys is melted, mixed with the essence of Apomps somehow (maybe he has an avatar present, an artifact containing his essence, like a huge obsidian triangle, or perhaps some Gehreleths need to give up their life force). This vile liquid «fuel» is then channeled through some sort of conduit, similar to those found on the Astral plane, which was connected to Gothic Earth through Imhoteps fateful summoning spell.

The players could try to destroy the dam, they could try to rupture the conduit with a powerful artifact. Perhaps, with some divine help, they could shut down the connection with magic?

I had to look up Wee Jas, as I didn´t know anything about her, but I agree that she could be an interesting ally.
Of course the conduit will be defended. Maybe not as heavily as one would imagine though. Secrecy is the beste defence, and perhaps Apomps have several more heavily guarded decoy sites to draw off attention. Gehreleths reinforcements could still come pouring in real fast so they would need a good plan and be real quick about it.

Step two of defeating the Red Death: Fighting the physical manifestation of this entity

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So: what if the Order's stone forces the Red Death into its misty red form, and it turns out that what it is, is an infectious disease?

I loved the idea of the Red Death manifesting into a pathogenic mist rather than some huge monster the players can hack and slash to oblivion. I am even more into the idea now, as I´ve been quite ill the last couple of weeks. Thanks to mr. Flemming I´m now on the mend, but it gave me a renewed appreciation of the terror of infections in pre-penicilin times, such as on Gothic Earth.

The pandemic I had in mind was the Spanish flu. Smallpox is probably not quite as terrifying since there is a vaccine available in victorian times, although it fits with the name D&D has given this evil force. I would like for it to be something truly unique and terrible though, and also give them a physical enemy to fight.

One way to do this is to let the Red Death manifest into a dark, sinister mist that takes posession of one individual. This person becomes the pathogenic source of the coming pandemic. He may spread the infection to other people who in turn becomes additional carriers. Not only that but the taint of evil will make them try to kill anyone they can´t infect.
If not contained at an early stage the pandemic will be unstoppable.

Fortunately I reckon the Order of Sion will choose a remote place to summon the Red Death, in the Orkney Islands or the likes. Only a small village of 300-400 people near by. This will give the players a fair chance to figure out a way to handle this, and probably make them face a moral dilemma: Should they kill some, or even all the infected villagers, in order to save the entire world?

Also I thought to give the first infected some special demonic powers that will make him a real challenge in combat as well. Dark misty tendrils, aura of fear, maybe even the power to harm by sight etc. Open to ideas.

Time frame

There would need to be some time passed between the operation on Aghatys and the final battle against the Red Death. The reason for that is that is that I have every intention of maintaining the campaigns after a possible liberation of Gothic Earth. And it will seem as a mixed blessing to be rid of the quarantine.

One of the things I have planned is for a group of baatezu rebels that have attempted a coup against one of the princes of Hell to take advantage of the quarantine to seek sanctuary there. They will infiltrate high society and prove to be a rather nasty surprise when they surface.

Githyanki rebels, currently allied with the players, have also taken advantage of the quarantine. They have taken control over several thousand eggs and need a safe place to hatch them and train recruits for an army to challenge Vlaakith with. Gothic Earth seemed to be the only place where they could do so without being harassed by the lich queens forces.

My idea was that quite soon after the Red Death was defeated (if it ever is) Vlaakith would stage an all out assault on Gothic Earth to wipe out the rebels. Figuring out how a relatively small Githyanki invasion army could take on the full might of 20th century Gothic Earths great empires will surely be a challenge.

Maybe I could get some help with that too, later on?

Jem
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Don't let us take over your

Don't let us take over your campaign, but we'll be happy to help with whatever you like. :^) Have fun!

The Chronicler
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No worries. I´m truly

No worries. I´m truly thankful to get some help fleshing out the ideas and my players will be a lot better off thanks to these tips. I think this will be magnificent!