[Dungeon World] The Dead Courtiers

edited October 2013 in Pitch
Centuries ago, there was an almighty lich whose empire stretched across the entire world. Unmatched in his power, his vassals and sycophants paid him tribute and called him by many names: the Skull Lord, the Grand Hegemon, the Bone Emperor, the Hand of Death. His personal favorite were the various nasty things they called him behind his back. Not only did such wretched mumblings prove that he was feared, they also gave him an excuse to torture somebody, which always brightened his day. But though he reveled in the groveling of underlings, to his closest confidants, to his inner circle, he was known simply as Mr Bones.

Mr Bones and his Dead Courtiers reigned over the world for a terrible century, and then a plucky band of heroes forged a resistance under the name of Pelor, which rose up and defeated Mr Bones. Which was inconvenient, but everyone knew it was going to happen sooner or later. Though that which is dead cannot die, the Dead Court was scattered, their empire broken, and an era of chaos began as hundreds of warlords and petty tyrants struggled to fill the power vacuum. Really, everyone was probably better off when Mr Bones was in charge. He kept things running, and that's more than Pelor's motley crew can say.

Then again, maybe you only think that because you're a Dead Courtier.

The Dead Court has fallen on hard times. Some of them have seen limited success as a solo warlord, others have just hidden themselves away in secluded towers or forgotten crypts, and some have become wandering mercenary adventurers of their own. Recently, however, the members of the Dead Court (or their heirs, in the cases when someone managed to permanently incapacitate one of the Court's immortal members) have all received a package. A simple letter containing a note and a rare luxury from before the collapse: a mirror. The note reads "you are cordially invited to the Dead Court 100 year reunion celebration. If attending, please RSVP immediately." The mirror is a simple round mirror only a few inches across, and embossed on the top of the frame the words "Mr Bones' Spectacular Folding Mirror!" You know this magic item. It can indeed be unfolded (despite appearing quite rigid) into a full-length mirror, which can then serve as a portal to the Land of the Dead, where the life is sucked out of the living. Makes for a convenient meeting place for people who are all dead to begin with. Every folding mirror you know of led direct to the Mr Bones Club for Extraordinary Ladies and Gentlemen of the Deceased Persuasion (you now recall just how much of a wordy son of a bitch Mr Bones was).

Looks like someone's getting the band back together.


The Dead Courtiers is a Dungeon World game in which you play as a bunch of undead of questionable morality who are attempting to re-establish their domination of the world. You play as the titular Dead Courtiers, specifically the Vanguard, who were the absolute elite fighting force of Mr Bones' undead legions, a strike team of matchless power and reputation. Of course, that was a hundred years ago, and the past century hasn't been kind to the Dead Court, but that's the point of all these adventuring shenanigans, to get back on top! Worth noting that the Vanguard is 3-6 people, while the entire Dead Court is closer to 30, but the others are all support NPCs, and are therefore much more fragile than the Vanguard. Hopefully nothing untoward has happened to them in the past hundred years. Finding replacements is such a hassle.

Here's a couple of general purpose character questions to answer if you want in (though rest assured I will have more specific questions for people once their backgrounds are lined up):

1) Who were you when you were alive? If you've been dead a long time, the answer may well be "nobody important" or "I can't remember," but if you've only been dead a couple of decades, the people who knew you will still be kicking around (probably), your old house is probably still there, the kingdom you grew up in is likely still around (though in these chaotic times there are certainly no guarantees), etc. etc.

2) How did you get turned into an undead? Was it your choice, were you turned against your will by another or by accident? Were you meant to be cannon fodder for some necromancer's army, or did a lonely vampire turn you in the hopes of having an immortal companion? Did Mr Bones make you himself?

3) How and when were you recruited into the Dead Court? Were you recruited before the fall of Mr Bones, or are you the heir to a Vanguard who was imprisoned/dropped into the ocean/decided to retire after the fall? Were you one of Mr Bones' first friends who helped him build his empire, or did you win your way into his confidence after his rise to power?

4) What are you up to these days? Remember that all of the Vanguard have currently fallen on hard times, but that doesn't mean things have been completely awful since Mr Bones was brought down. Have you dabbled in solo overlording and are currently between kingdoms? Been gallivanting about the countryside seeking high adventure? Kept to yourself? Turned yourself into a xylophone and become a wandering musician? The possibilities are as endless as your lifespan.

Obviously, being undead comes with a few mechanical complications. For starters, the Druid and Paladin classes have been replaced with the Shaman and Death Knight classes. Shamans and Death Knights are exactly like Druids and Paladins except that their name is spooOOOooky. The standard Dwarf/Elf/Halfling/Human races are replaced by the ghoul, mummy, skeleton, and vampire, though the way the racial moves have been chopped up is not at all 1:1 with the existing races, so see below for which races get which moves. If your favorite variety of undead isn't on there, there probably is something very similar. A ghast is just a ghoul with a gym membership. A zombie is a ghoul with a skin condition. A mohrg is a skeleton who can use his intestines as a weapon. Wights are strange. If you really want to play a wight, we'll work something out (probably a skeleton's diet with a ghoul race move). The one thing clearly missing from the list is all the dozens of incorporeal undead (who are basically just ghosts, shadows, and various synonyms for "ghosts" and "shadows"). This is because incorporeality makes you flat-out immune to so many traps, opponents, and obstacles that it really just isn't a fair thing to be handing out for free, and if you nullify all those immunities so that you are effectively corporeal then you aren't much of a ghost, now are you? If your favorite undead race happens to be a wight or something else that doesn't really resemble one of the four available without being an inherently gamebreaking concept, feel free to mention.

Alignment-wise, while Mr Bones' empire was actually a pretty solid improvement for the standard of living of its subjects by the numbers, the fact stands that he's a lich who fights wars that kill exceptionally large amounts of people for no other reason than to make his piece of the map a little bigger. And sometimes he kills exceptionally large amounts of people just because he wants more zombies. Good alignments are therefore not likely to be much of a good fit, but others should work fine.

Another mechanical question: How is XP going to work what with this being PbP and us not having any sessions? The answer is I haven't a clue, but I figure I've got a few days to work it out while people submit characters. Suggestions are welcome.

Finally, since Pelor was mentioned you might be wondering if this takes place in an official D&D setting. It does not. The name was used because it would be immediately recognizable as some kind of holy anti-undead god, thus saving me a bit of exposition in the opening. If someone wants to rename him now that we're all on board with what's going on, that'd be fine with me.


  • Vampire

    Vampires are suave and good looking. Their diet is blood.

    Bard: When you first enter a civilized settlement, some idiot easily fooled by good looks will take you in as their guest.

    Shaman: You may always take the shape of a wolf, bat, or rat in addition to your normal options. When in moonlight, you can turn into pure mist. You cannot remain in mist form if you leave the moonlight.

    Fighter: Once per battle you may reroll a single damage roll (yours or someone else's).

    Wizard: Vampires are more powerfully attuned to magic than most other undead. Detect Magic is a cantrip for you.


    Ghouls are usually stronger and tougher than other undead. Their diet is flesh.

    Cleric: The dead yield up their secrets to you eagerly. When you commune you are also granted a special version of Words of the Unspeaking as a rote which only works on corpses as you consume them.

    Fighter: When you "persuade" someone, you may parley with them using CON instead of CHA.

    Ranger: When you undertake a perilous journey through the wilderness whatever job you take you succeed as if you rolled a 10+.

    Thief: You are a precise shot. When you attack with a ranged weapon, deal +2 damage.


    Skeletons have been around for a long time and usually know more than other undead (even mummies tend to spend their millenial existences shut away in sarcophagi rather than out and doing stuff like skeletons). Their diet is life itself, which means they get more for killing creatures that live longer (like elves or dragons) and which haven't lived as much.

    Bard: When you enter an important location (your call) you can ask the GM for one fact from the history of that location. You've been around forever, and you know a lot of history because it wasn't history when you heard about it.

    Cleric: You've picked up a few unusual tricks in your time. Choose one wizard spell. You can cast and be granted that spell as if it was a cleric spell.

    Death Knight: You can sense living creatures nearby.

    Fighter: Whenever you defy danger and use your thin and nimble frame to your advantage, take +1.

    Shaman: Death is a part of the cycle of nature as well as life, and nature's funeral dirge is as familiar to you as family. When you make camp, you and your undead allies heal +1d6.

    Thief: You've been around the block more times than any living thief could ever hope to. When you spout lore or discern realities about criminal activites, take +1.


    Mummies don't get out much, but they're extremely old which means they often know ancient knowledge that has been lost in the modern day. Their diet is magic, which means inherently magical creatures like dragons or demons give them more energy and they can suck spell books and wands dry in a pinch.

    Fighter: You are well trained in the ancient styles. Choose one weapon-you can always treat weapons of that type as if they had the precise tag.

    Shaman: In addition to any other attunements, the Vast Desert is always considered your land.

    Ranger: You have learned to subsist off of nothing but the ambient magic of the world. You never need to consume rations.

    Wizard: You've studied the ancient ways, from when priesthood and sorcery were one and the same. Choose one cleric spell. You can cast it as if it was a wizard spell.
  • Due to a lack of interest here, I am moving this game to over there instead.
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