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The Curse of Ner'zhul

The elder shaman Ner'zhul was once among the greatest spiritual leaders of the orcs. Deceived by the demon Kil'jaeden, he set in motion the events that led to the orcs' corruption and the creation of the bloodthirsty Horde. Yet ultimately Ner'zhul refused to give his people fully to the demonic ranks of the Burning Legion.
The demon lord Kil'jaeden punished Ner'zhul for his defiance, destroying his aging body and torturing his spirit. The demon then offered Ner'zhul a final ultimatum: serve the Legion unconditionally or suffer eternal agony. With little other choice, Ner'zhul pledged to obey Kil'jaeden and was reborn as a terrifying and vastly powerful agent of the Legion – the Lich King.

Ner'zhul's spirit was magically shackled to a suit of ancient armor and bound to the mighty runeblade Frostmourne. To ensure Ner'zhul's obedience, Kil'jaeden sealed the armor and blade within a specially crafted block of ice collected from the far reaches of the Twisting Nether. This frozen crystal was then cast into the ripe and unsuspecting world of Azeroth, settling in the desolate, snowy wastes of Northrend.

Among the abilities bestowed upon the Lich King was lordship over death itself. From within his Frozen Throne, Ner'zhul summoned a number of undead to serve him and tested his army against the nerubians of Azjol-Nerub and their mighty spiderlord, Anub'arak. Although the War of the Spider raged for years, many nerubians who fell in battle quickly became bound to the Lich King's iron will. Anub'arak himself was eventually ambushed and slain, rising again to join Ner'zhul's ranks as a fearsome crypt lord.

The Lich King appeared to be faithfully serving his master, but he had in fact hatched a cunning and subversive plan. To that end, he created a small fissure in his prison, pushed Frostmourne through it, and directed his minions to carry the runeblade away from the Frozen Throne. Ner'zhul intended to use the sword as bait for a mighty champion: a loyal subject who would free him and serve as a vessel for his restless spirit. While Frostmourne was positioned to serve its future purpose, the Lich King dutifully proceeded with his demon master's true agenda...

Since arriving on Azeroth, the Lich King had been formulating an insidious plague of undeath, a terrifying disease meant to annihilate humanity and create an army faithful to the Burning Legion. To expedite the spread of this contagion, the Lich King recruited a powerful ally in the ambitious mage Kel'Thuzad, a senior member of Dalaran's ruling council.


Threats of a Divine Nature

With a quiet prayer, a priest hurls fire or thunder at a group of foes. Another prayer bends the mind of an innocent toward evil deeds. Some call on the power of gods to perform acts of good or evil, but the same power can be used for benefit or harm. In April, the dangers of arcane magic led to some interesting stories. This month, the call of the divine leads to unexpected threats against peace and life. These hooks can connect the newly released Divine Power into your campaign.

Sudden Retirement

Sidebar: For a divine hero in the party, these hooks might lead them to running this church as their own base of operations. Depending on the hero's (or heroes') deity, the challenge might well be the deity's test for a new high priest (solving a mystery in the service of Ioun, for example), or a challenge from an opposing deity. Alternatively, you might decide that by helping the church of a different god entirely, a divine hero gains access to an otherwise restricted domain.
Word spreads like wildfire through the town -- the dwarf priest of Moradin is retiring. Apparently he just made the announcement, because services in the temple of Moradin are still in progress as people start talking. The retirement is very sudden -- no one expected it. Speculation begins immediately, even as some rush to the temple to find out more. Everyone wonders (albeit briefly in some cases) what prompted such an unexpected change in leadership.
As the morning progresses, more information leaks out. No successor has been named, and people wonder who will take over the temple. The priest is in good health, and he has no plans to leave the town. No one has heard him express discontent with his position or the responsibilities. All in all, it's adding up to an enigma.
"I don't like enigmas," says the dwarf in front of you. It is later in the day, and you have agreed to meet with Thunderfist Blackhammer, a prominent dwarf in town. "I don't like them at all. Borald is a close friend of mine, but he kept this from even me. I want to know what's going on -- what he won't tell me. I want you to find out. Do you think you can do it?"
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.

1. The sudden retirement of the dwarf priest is due to a family illness, but since he has never told anyone he has a family he's not about to start now. Some nefarious connections are in that family, and the priest has been trying to escape his past. However, the past is about to surface, and the priest plans to disappear quietly once things settle down.
2. The heir apparent to the high priest arranged for the murder of the high priest and installed a doppelganger to make the retirement announcement and carry out an elaborate move-away scenario. The heir apparent wants the top job now, not later.
3. Someone is challenging the heir apparent. This upstart, who craves power, wants to turn the whole temple in a different direction. He arranged the disappearance or murder of the high priest and the deception, and he intends to remove the heir apparent next (who is not involved in any crimes and was not expecting to take over for years).
4. The temple chooses a high priest by an election process, and several people are later nominated to assume the role. The high priest retired and is alive, but is keeping his reasons secret (he may be being blackmailed or threatened). The PCs have to find out what is going on while candidates try various things to prove themselves most suitable (and poke into records, eliminate evidence of their own petty crimes, and so forth).
5. One of the PCs (if qualified) is nominated for the job.
6. Candidates for the job start disappearing as well, which makes for a very complex investigation and perhaps turns the direction away from the high priest and instead focuses it on the disappearances. Maybe one of the candidates is taking out rivals, or maybe the high priest has turned evil and is taking out candidates he thinks unworthy or to divert attention from himself.

The Dread God

Sidebar: The ritual in question may have been Adjure (see Divine Power, pg. 156), successfully used to summon an immortal creature in servitude to the caster… in which case, the party may then need to learn what task this creature has been assigned, and how to best stop it. In reward, they might gain possession of the Adjure ritual scroll used to summon this creature in the first place!
It has been 3 hours, and your friend hasn't arrived yet. You were supposed to meet her in this bar, at this table, to talk about a business proposition. You've known her for a couple years now, and she has never steered you wrong on a chance to make some gold. But she's not here. And that's not like her . . .
The following morning, the buzz is all about three bodies that were found behind the Goose and Egg in the rich part of the city. None of the bodies looked like they belonged in the neighborhood, and yet none looked like thieves either. The strange part of the story, if the people around you are to be believed, is that they were all drained of blood.
If the PCs investigate, they find that their friend is one of the bodies.
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.

1. A cult in town is preparing a ritual to summon a monstrous evil god to the world. You might choose one of the evil and chaotic deities, or you can find a number of suitable "gods" in Elder Evils. The cult is not ready yet to finish their summoning, but they are getting close. All the members are priests, but secretly. In regular life, they are tradesfolk, laborers, or thieves. However, each has been touched by the divine power of the monstrous god.
2. Last night (or this night), the ritual required several gallons of blood to complete. Since the cult members don't want to contribute their own, each brought a "guest" to a "party" that ended with the guests all sacrificed and drained of blood on the altar of this monstrous god. They were dumped in the rich part of town, but the ceremony took place in the poor part of town.
3. The cult is working on the fringes of the city; none of the members are among the city's elite. They are disaffected people who want the whole city structure brought down so they can take over the survivors (or maybe they just want the whole city destroyed). They definitely don't understand how much will really be destroyed if they are successful.
4. A cult in town is enslaved to a vampire, who has made the leaders into vampire thralls (see Open Grave). The friend and the other bodies were all victims captured to feed the vampire.
5. The cult, whatever its real goal, has a number of undead creatures in servitude, and these are sent around town to collect victims if a more social approach doesn't work.
6. The PCs' friend was a member of the cult, but learned the cult's real aim and planned to send the PCs in to wipe the cult out. The members learned of this, captured the friend, and slew her as part of the latest ritual (or feeding).

Hidden Blessing

Sidebar: We'd be remiss not to at least mention theEberron Campaign Setting, also appearing this month. As several of these hooks can implicate a medusa, this might direct the party to Droaam—the deadly frontier where such creatures are known to reside. Paxus' famous campaigns might have been in Droaam, where he (according to legend, of course) dared meddle in the plans of Sheshka herself, the very Queen of Stone.
The PCs are in a small town on the frontier relaxing after an adventure. The resident bard has been singing war tales, and then ends his song and begins a spoken tale.
"That last song reminds me of Paxus, a paladin from these parts who went off to the wars years ago . . . The tale of Paxus is bold and daring, but it sounds almost too good. Could anyone really have done all those things? . . . he never returned, but the statue in the center of town is in his likeness. Some say that a stranger left the statue here, and some say that relatives commissioned it from a far-off sculptor to remember the great hero. It has watched over the town ever since, and people like to think it's a little safer here since the statue was placed 15 years ago."
Meanwhile outside, a farmer walks up to the statue of Paxus in the town square and prays silently to her god. This is a common practice, though no one believes that the statue has special powers. As she prays, the statue's arm moves slightly. This sends the farmer into a panic, and she runs screaming into the tavern where the PCs are -- Paxus is coming to life, she insists!
Story Elements
Select or generate story elements from this table.
1-2: The statue of Paxus really is Paxus. Paxus was on his way to the wars when he was slain by a medusa, who turned him to stone. Years later, after she was tired of him, she sent him anonymously to his home town, where he has graced the town square ever since.
3-4: The medusa is looking for new decor for her garden, and she remembers that she left the statue here. Paxus, if recovered, remembers the medusa, and when someone else disappears from town, he immediately assumes that the medusa is responsible (whether she is or not). Meanwhile, the medusa has heard of the PCs and thinks that one or more of them would make fine new additions.
5-6: The statue is not of Paxus, but is an animated statue. An unknown sculptor created the statue and sent it to the town. Statues were also placed in several other towns in the region. They are all animated constructs that have been waiting for commands. The original sculptor died, but his child found the notes on the project and is activating the statues for his or her own purposes.
7-8: Paxus went to the wars, but he was captured by devils and taken to the Hells. Later, after being tortured and turned to evil, he was imprisoned in the statue to await orders. Those orders have come, and the statue soon will animate fully.
9-10: Paxus was turned to stone by a wizard, but the magic is wearing off for some reason. Paxus wants vengeance when he turns back to flesh, but he has no immediate way of finding the wizard. In addition, his quest for vengeance violates his vows and turns him down a dark path that could bring destruction on the town.

About the Author

Robert Wiese has been playing D&D since 1978 after he watched a game played in the car on the way home from a Boy Scouts meeting. He was fascinated, and delved into this strange world of dragons and magic and sourcebooks. Years later, he was hired to edit tournaments for the RPGA Network, and from there progressed to running the network after his boss was assassinated in the great Christmas purge of 1996. Times were tough, but he persevered and brought the RPGA into a shining new era. Eventually he met a girl who liked to play D&D too, and he left Renton for the warmth and casinos of Reno, Nevada. Now, he works in the Pharmacology department of UNR studying mouse foot muscles and the effects of RF emissions on same. He spends as much time as possible with his wife Rhonda, son Owen, and newborn daughter Rebecca.