The Grave Statues

We’re hoping to run a whole lot of Thar in the near future since we’ve been leaning pretty heavily on Dark Heresy 2 so far. One last hurrah for DH2 before we switch focus to Thar is this encounter, concerning some Age of Strife Chaos cultists who sealed their souls into statues, awaiting someone to crack them open to release them.

Summary: During the Age of Strife, those desperate to survive after Vestitas’ apocalyptic civil war turned to dark powers and formed Chaos cults. One such cult sought life beyond death by interring themselves within sorcerous statues. Once life returned to the planet, someone would come along, read the inscriptions upon their statues promising great wealth within, and crack them open, releasing them. Fifteen thousand years later, their bodies long since turned to dust, they exist only as wraiths driven mad by millennia of stillness and silence, and once released will lash out savagely in all directions. A cultist from Imberkavitas, seeking the treasures promised inside the statues, intends to crack open every one of the statues.

Hook: If the players have found Severine in Imberkavitas and agreed to help her, she will bring them directly to the grave statues. Otherwise, the strange statuary is immediately obvious amidst the jungle, vine-covered though it is. The statues are covered in inscriptions in old Chaos Marks that can be translated with a successful Challenging(+0) Linguistics (Chaos Marks) test. Having Chaos Marks specifically trained is not an automatic success, as these marks are written in an archaic version of the language. If translated, the inscriptions claim that there are hidden treasures of the dark gods within the statues.

Exploration: The statues have AP 8 and even one point of damage getting through will be enough to release the Chaos wraiths lurking inside. Even a basic lasgun will manage that eventually, so if players successfully translate the Chaos Marks and want to crack a statue open, they will succeed eventually, and there’s no need to roll out each individual shot. If Severine brought the players here, she’s already translated the inscriptions and just wants some muscle on hand for when she cracks the statues open.

If Severine isn’t already present, she’ll arrive with a pair of guards from the Red Guard of Imberkavitas whenever the players seem to be getting stuck. She’s already translated the inscriptions, and she’ll share them with the players so long as they either have her and her two guards outnumbered by at least 2:1 (so, if the party has at least six characters, including any recruited NPCs) or if at least one of them is clearly predisposed towards violence, for example by wearing flak, carapace, or power armour or by carrying a weapon heavier or more specialized than a lasgun or autogun, including flamers and especially anything like a heavy bolter or rocket launcher. Severine would prefer to keep the treasures of the statues to herself, but she won’t risk her life for it and won’t attempt to scare off any party that doesn’t appear weak enough that two Red Guard goons will be able to take care of it. If the player party is both small-ish and comprised entirely of what appear to be egg-heads, she’ll warn them off before instructing her goons to open fire on anyone who tries to stick around.

Confrontation: Each statue opened releases one incorporeal wraith, who will immediately attempt to possess a nearby character in order to taste again all the joy of a corporeal body. A wraith attempting to possess someone makes an opposed Willpower test, and the wraith takes -30 to the check. On failure, the victim takes 1d10 Insanity and is possessed and will remain possessed until they take critical damage or the wraith attempts to force them to do something deeply contrary to their nature, like harm a loved one or destroy their life’s work, at which point there is a second opposed Willpower test with no penalties to either side.

The players can make a Challenging(+0) Forbidden Lore (Heresy) check to know that torture will eventually expel a wraith from the body of a possessed victim, or they might just figure it out themselves once they realize that critical damage provokes a new Willpower test. A captured possessee can be tortured with a successful Challenging(+0) Medicae test, which will provoke a new Willpower test if successful. If unsuccessful, the unfortunate victim takes 1d5 rending damage for each degree of failure. Determine hit location using the Medicae roll as though it were the attack roll. This damage ignores armour but not Toughness or supernatural resilience. Regardless of whether the Medicae test is successful or unsuccessful, or whether the the wraith was successfully expelled, the victim must make a Challenging(+0) Toughness or Willpower test or else take 1d5 Insanity.

The cultists are stark raving mad from untold millennia of sensation-free abyss, but they have retained a fundamental loyalty to one another, and will attempt to shatter any remaining statues with their new corporeal bodies before fleeing the area. They may give up shattering the statues if death seems more likely than successfully releasing even one more wraith, and they may make a berserk attack against any hostile enemies still attacking their friends whether they are in wraith form or have possessed someone.

The cultists are all unhinged and have a starting Disposition of 5, but a successful Disposition check will calm them down and convince them to cease attacking provided they have already possessed someone. If the victim of a possession is Severine, a Red Guard, or some other nobody NPC, the players might prefer to make friends with a Chaos cultist from the Age of Strife over one of a few thousand sub-cultist level Chaos goons.

Verifying that the statue has no treasures within it requires a half-action to check and an Awareness check. Since the statues in fact do not have any treasures in them, the difficulty of the check does not matter. Regardless of how many degrees of success or failure the players get, there is nothing. It’s just a trick to get people to crack open the statues and release the wraiths. Regardless of how many degrees of success players get on an Awareness check during the fight, tell them that they see nothing, but more degrees of success might reveal particularly well-hidden treasure. If they examine one of the broken statues when outside of a fight, confirm that after spending fifteen minutes tearing the statue interior inside out, there is definitely nothing there.

After figuring out there’s no treasure and faced with wraiths who can possess bodies and are difficult to unpossess, players may just flee entirely. In this case, the possessed cultists will possess any NPCs left behind, and slowly gravitate towards Imberkavitas in their new bodies. In 1d5 weeks, they will have returned to Imberkavitas and regained enough of their sanity to play off their drastic change in personality as the result of a Chaos ritual gone wrong, and will join a random faction together. They remain twitchy and unstable, but at this point they mostly have their shit together, however they are still just as vulnerable to having their possession ended as they were in the original confrontation, which might lead to the wraith being evicted in the middle of a firefight. Even after regaining their sanity, the ancient cultists view Slaanesh with equal parts suspicion and disdain.

Rewards: The only treasure contained within the statues is the departed spirits of the cultists. They’ve forgotten a lot of their lore, but it will come back to them after their 1d5 week recuperation period. Over the course of that period, they will recover five powers selected randomly from the table below. If you roll the same power twice, ignore the roll. The cultist can share the secrets of these psyker powers with anyone they consider an ally, granting a ½ XP discount to learning any power the cultist knows. Due to the gaps in the cultist’s memory induced by thousands of years of madness, they might not know all the prerequisites to their powers. Cultists also know Forbidden Lore (Heresy), (Psykers), and (the Warp) up to Experienced(+20) level and can give a ½ XP discount to an ally learning any of those skills.

Roll Result
1 Telepathic Link
2 Erasure
3 Dominate
4 Puppet Master
5 Warp Perception
6 Prescience
7 Scrier’s Gaze
8 Winding Fate
9 Foreboding
10 Forewarning

In the fairly likely event that the cultists do not become allies of the players, the only reward for surviving the confrontation with them is whatever XP is standard.

 

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