NPC: Verathensia The Disgraced

For this week’s session, I had to rewrite a bad guy origin story on the spot (more on that Monday!).

I had an “impostor who just arrived” sort of villain, but my players were asking questions that made it clear they’d be more interested in a “bad apple who’s been here a long time” sort of villain.  So I threw out my notes and came up with this.  I have to say it’s much cooler.

The Story of Verathensia
Generations or centuries before the campaign begins, an evil threat arises for [Good-aligned religious group in your gameworld – I used Valapalor] to deal with.  In an effort to understand the enemy’s weaknesses, high priestess Verathensia decides to open certain dangerous necromantic tomes.  The books are kept in locked and warded archives for defensive, rather than academic, purposes, much like how Elrond or Gandalf might be studied in the language of Mordor. 

Studying them with the proper protective rituals in place, Verathensia learns enough to make a stand against the enemy.  At this point, her sisters urge her to close the archives.  However, she doesn’t just want to win the battle, she wants to win the war – she believes she’s pure enough to tap the untold knowledge in these books and secure victory over the current threat and all future threats as well.

Verathensia locks herself in the archive alone and studies the dark books.  When she emerges, she uses her newfound knowledge to save the land.

Peace is restored, but a change has come over her.  Her bearing is no longer that of a chaste high priestess, but of a dark queen.  She treats the temple traditions as quaint and scoffs at the petty minds around her.  It’s clear she defeated the temple’s enemies only because they were her enemies.  It’s also clear that the temple now has an even worse enemy in her.

The other clergy denounces her as a heretic, and their combined magic is just enough to defeat her in the confrontation that ensues.  She vanishes and her body is never accounted for.

The name of Verathensia is struck from history books except for some very obscure volumes where she’s called mad, heretical, and even possessed.  Some say that bearing the secrets of the dark books was too much strain for her – or for any other mortal’s – mind, causing her own darkness to swell and consume her.  Others say that the spirit of Hecate was conjured by the very text and possessed her.

How This Affects The Players
Verathensia escaped and has been sleeping an enchanted sleep in a hidden chamber.  She foresaw that the time would come for her victory – aided by the stars, a dark god, some other party, etc. – and planned to rise.  Coincidentally, the events of the campaign hail that time: Verathensia either is, or is in league with, the evil the PCs are fighting.

Cluing The Players In
  • There’s a gap in the record of the high priestesses, like a name was omitted.
  • Obscure books outline the story told above
  • If Verathensia has any followers, they will of course know the story told above.
  • Very old characters know the story as a legend.
  • Verathensia’s wakening was an enormous psychic event – prophetic or sensitive characters will be able to sense it. 
  • Depending on your gameworld, PCs may be able to have a prophetic dream about her wakening and/or her plans.
Running Verathensia as an NPC
In my campaign, Verathensia believed that looking into the darkness had elevated her beyond such trite concepts as “good” and “evil” – that there is only power, and those chosen few ruthless enough to wield it.  When she talked to the PCs and the current clergy, she championed this philosophy (interesting roleplay).

She had discovered a “key” to unbanish certain deities who shared her views, and was thus responsible for the apocalypse the PCs were trying to stop.

To pull off the nearly-invincible-sorceress thing, I used my rule of “raise-the-stakes” villains (basically, when a PC scores a victory against her, rather than hurting her, it raises the stakes somehow.)

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