Monday, 11 December 2017

Bone Kenning I: Art of the Thanaturge

Bone Kenning I Art of the Thanaturge

Thanaturgy. The Art of ritual necromancy, part scholarly rote magic, part peasant tradition. Its practitioners are rightly feared, and have the eternal emnity of the Church's Inquisition. The Art is kept alive by cabals of isolated practitioners, some secretive nobles, others backwoods hedge-wizards so far from the cities that they can practice their Art without fear of reprisal.

For generations, the people of Kavesk lived in fear of a family of thanaturges, who claimed the village and the surrounding lands as their domain and protectorate. But the family's black traditions went into decline, and finally the villagers struck back at the last of the family. The villagers cheered and celebrated as he swung from the noose, thinking their days of living in fear were over.

It's time you proved them wrong.

When the people of Kavesk hanged your grandfather, your mother took you away, to keep you as far from the Art as possible. But curiosity drew you back. Now you reside in a crypt near Kavesk, learning to animate the dead and struggling to reclaim your family's hold over the village and the lands around it. - DM Wes Lewis.

Authored by Wes Lewis, Bone Kenning is a Hall of Fame necromancer module notable for its inclusion of necromancer-specific mechanics, reactivity and lore. In Bone Kenning, the player assumes the role of a reclusive necromancer who is seeking knowledge and power in the region from a base of operations (a sanctum hidden within an old pagan crypt). However, your character does not have to be a wizard to play the module: the necromantic ritual magic is a study separated from wizard magic, and its related mechanics are handled separately from, and not to the exclusion of, familiar arcane spellcasting. Hell, you can be a Monk if you like (+2 gloves are itemized). That said, your character cannot be good-aligned and must have an intelligence score equal to or greater than 10 in order to perform ritual magic. In my opinion, the intelligence requirement should have been stricter and the ritual magic should have been plot-critical but perhaps that would have been revised by the author if he ever got around to continuing and polishing his series. You see, Wes simply disappeared from the community without releasing Part II: Spear of Ydren, leaving players who enjoyed his work pretty much stunned. Still, they were grateful for this ambitious and innovative first installment.

As mentioned, the main draw of Bone Kenning is its infusion of necromancer-specific flavor. Your sanctum comes complete with runic circles and utility placeables such as the Thanaturgical Altar and an accompanying sarcophagus which allow you to animate an undead thrall from human remains found in the game-world. For example, to animate a skeletal thrall you simply place a skull, bones and claws into the sarcophagus and then recite the Incant of Reanimation at the altar; after which, your bag of bones appears in the runic circle and may be recruited with the command Come with me. The thrall acts as a companion that will fight for you. You can view its stats but you have no direct control of its inventory. You can set its follow distance, heal it with the Death Shard, tell it to wait for you, and banish it at-will. Most impressively, by employing the Rod of Command you can order your thrall to open a door, bash a chest, tell it to pick up and wield an item such as a shield, and even order it to move to a certain position or target a specific enemy! That right there is awesome for reasons that should be obvious to those who have struggled with dumb companion AI over the years: it facilitates a more reliable tactical approach to combat encounters. You can only have one minion at a time but you can build and store as many as the itemization of human remains allows, switching between them whenever you like.

Why would you want to switch; aren't they all the same? That brings us to the most interesting feature. You see, your thralls are made from bones, skulls and claws, but there are different types. In fact, there are eight types of bone, five of skull and ten of claw sporting properties that work as enchantments on your thrall. Examples of enchantment include regeneration, damage resistance, elemental immunity, spell resistance, Haste, Fear Aura, retributive attacks (you hit me, you get hurt), proficiency feats (ranged and shield), on-hit elemental/magical, +skill/+AC/+HP and even insta-resurrection upon destruction (though at ½ HPs). Thus, you can mix and match human remains in order to tailor your thrall for a specific combat role. Also, some of these enchantments stack (though you cannot make multi-headed thralls).

An example of skull, bone and claw:

• Baleful Skull: Malevolence pulses from this thing, like a huge iron bell ringing in the back of your mind. It's disconcerting even now, but the Incant of Reanimation would amplify its malevolence into a force that could break the will of enemiesEffectsFear Wave DC 10 (At the end of each round, the thrall emits a wave of fear. Non-undead enemies within 20' and of lower level than the thrall's master must make a Will save at DC 10 or flee in fear for one round).

• Pyre Bones: Funerary cremation is an abomination according to the Church. There are a few black warlocks who've taken to digging up bodies and burning them as an offering to devils. You don't have much respect for infernalists or the assumption that the Church understands occult principles, but sometimes the infernalists get demons to pay attention to their sacrifices. In that case, bones like these are what's left. At least the demon-worshippers are good for somethingEffectsImmunity to Fire.

• Feral ClawsEspecially angry souls often become predatory and animalistic. In extreme cases the change is strong enough to transform the soul's corpse into a ghoul, but if not a few changes to the body still occur. The claws, for example, become sharp, strong, and capable in combatEffectsAttack Bonus +3Damage Bonus +1 Slashing.

Yep, your thrall can be of skeletal, cadaverous or spectral variety. Your shadows and spirits are unaffected by negative properties but require the Shadow Heart to animate.

In addition to the Thanaturgical Altar, your sanctum sports two other placeables of note: the Ritual Focus and the Alchemy Table. The first allows for PC healing and the divination of people, places and things of importance. The second allows you to concoct custom extracts, tinctures and antidotes from alchemical ingredients such as molds, roots, bulbs and acorns found in the wilderness and subterranean environments. Also found in your sanctum is the Raven's Feather which works just like the Stone of Recall in BioWare's original campaign, allowing you to teleport back and forth from your sanctum whenever you like. A nice touch is that it polymorphs the PC into a Raven, which then flies to the nearest exit.

The necromantic lore and literature of Bone Kenning is impressive. Various tomes include the Rituals of Thanaturgy, Construction of Human Skeletons, Philosophic Properties on Matter, Remydyes & Poisins, Bestiary of Kevesk, Folklore of KeveskReanimation Rituals & Foci and Argundyl's Ravings. Not to mention the journals and letters. So yeah, there is a lot to read, understand and enjoy. Here is the description from Argundyl's Ravings:

Thanaturgical writings are usually anonymous to protect the author from the Church's Inquisitors, but this one is boldly signed "Argundyl of Crenakth." The text is half madness. In his more lucid points Argundyl muses at whether his insanity comes from age or something more diabolical, only to degenerate on the next page into disjointed rantings about his own death and meticulous schematics for hideous torture devices. Toward the end of the text a series of rituals emerges, an elaborate process of reworking the spirits latent in bones. The diagrams connected with it show hybrid skeletons made from multiple creatures - the first merely shows a rat's skull fused to a snake's spine, but the hybrids get progressively more complex, eventually combining multiple human skeletons with bones from bizarre monsters. On a grubby page toward the back, another diagram is scrawled in a different hand. The hybrid depicted is made from several different beings, including a spriggan in giant form, part of a boar, and a set of human bones labelled with your grandfather's name.

Dialogue segments are well fleshed-out, too. You will feel like an badass playing this module, though you can certainly hold back on excessively evil actions. The village peasants are scripted to flee from you in terror, locking up and barring the doors to their homes upon your arrival. Merchants treat you with respect, stemming from fear of your powers. Village guards will attack, and you will kill them. Most notably, the protagonist has the ability to curse NPCs in dialogue; mechanically, this acts as a preemptive debuff  (such as blindness) before open combat commences.

Journal entry for curses:

Your thanaturgical blood gives you an affinity for laying curses. The option to lay a curse will sometimes come up in conversation. It almost always turns the target hostile, but if the curse succeeds the victim may be too debilitated to fight you effectively. When you attempt a curse, your target makes a Will save. The DC depends on the curse, and on your Charisma score. If your target fails, he suffers the curse. If he succeeds, you lose 2 points of Charisma for a short time, and must make a Will save (usually at a very easy DC, modified by your target's Charisma), or suffer the curse yourself. The magic that powers curses is chaotic and unpredictable. You don't command or control it, so much as draw on it when it's available. You don't control when you can lay a curse, or what its effect will be - you just give voice to something that seems to grow on your tongue when the moment is right. Anger, indignation, and vengefulness seem to trigger it, but the magic is based on spite, not rage, and will never be available to you in combat.

Music is not custom but is well selected from the base array of tracks offered by BioWare. Atmosphere-wise, I emerged from my sanctum and found myself atop the steep hill of Skalreth, overlooking the forest. Rain was falling lightly and there were flashes of lightning and rolling thunder in the distance. In the village, once the people had taken refuge in their homes, all that could be heard was the hoarse cawing of a crow. Again, tilesets are stock-standard fare though there are steep hills and undulating terrain to indicate that effort has been put in to making them feel unique and natural.

How hard is it to install? It's one module and one hak: dead easy.

Well, I think that's enough to "sell" this module to NWN fans. I could go into the 20 quests, 40 areas and scores of custom items, but that's just par for the course in a quality module such as Bone Kenning. Its story I'll leave for the reader to discover.

1 comment:

  1. It is a pity the module do not have a sequel. I played it in my early nwn days and had a blast time with this mod.


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