I have used the Deck of Many Things a total of 2 times in all my years of DMing (27 now!!) and not once in the last 12 years at least. However it is one of those iconoclastic items that everyone recognizes and in some games it is whipped out as often as a ubiquitous sword +1.
However the party has stumbled across a rather almost artifact level item, Book of Infinite Spells. I've had it creep up in my campaign before and it has been met with, and to quote Jeff Goldbloom from the 2nd Jurassic Park movie, "Yeah, that's how it starts with Oohs and Aaahs - and then after a while it turns to running and screaming."
In the original incarnation of the book I had it crafted by Orcus, Lord of the Undead and it was eventually used to help a powerful mage learn the spells necessary to become a lich (Dareth Causticus for those keeping track at home!) and saw no reason to change it even though demonology has been minimized over the years in my campaign world. So here they were, some 6th level bard attempting to Dispel the magic on the book of infinite spells and it flubbed - which attracted Orcus' attention (I figured a 1 out of 8) and he showed up with deck of many things in hand and made the 3 people in the room choose.
The group was actually quiet during the drawing and one of the players in the silence muttered, "This is so damned cool" as the cards were laid out for the bard to draw for the 1st time.
That's what I like to hear as a DM - this is so damned cool.
Write up follows:
The group had gone to the mausoleum where upon arriving noted that another one of the Bather’s rings opened the doors here. It was now well past midnight and the group had some investigating. After opening the door, Bother Beren went in and some red energy shot across the door. The party was unsure what it was, so while our priest began to consecrate the tomb, Bron smashed a hole in the side wall. However upon attempting to enter he was struck by the red energy and was knocked out.
It was upon the completion of the consecrating that Aaron Skelt showed up, spectrally angry and pissed. He was told him not to come any closer Bren would destroy his sword; the spectre didn't believe him so on his charge the priest shattered the sword and sheath with a blast of magic. The undead horror let out a banshee scream that knocked out most of the merchants as well as Kazak.
Furious, Aaron punched Brother Beren twice dropping him two semi-permanent levels and dangerously coming close to killing him. It was at this time that Soren shot his bow and missed horribly – hitting our beleaguered priest! Ignoring the unconscious adept, Skelt picked up the sword cast some spell and the sword reformed. He then placed the sword some sort of extra-dimensional pocket about 5’ off the ground and in this “cubby” he placed the sword and we noted that there was also the helmet and the brooch.
And then he disappeared. At this point the rest of the party came through the door, which made it obvious that anyone could enter and the rest of the party did. As for the extra-dimensional pocket, how were we to get in there? There was some experimenting but the group learned that if they touch the air in just the right place and make an opening motion with their fingers the pocket opens and allows them to go inside. They then took out the 3 items and just before shutting the pocket threw in a couple of bottles of holy water so they burst opened. This way the next time the spectre opens the pocket it will rain holy water upon him.
We went back to the inn, deciding to avoid Two Cats for now, instead going to the Swaddling Goose and getting rooms there. We had a fitful night and the next day we went to Cornblood Keep where we met with Lord Falconhand to see about garnering our charter as well as some sort of restorative potion or scroll for our Brother Beren. It was then that we learned that there was ANOTHER murder last night! This happened about 1 PM near the culvert, a guardsman was found with his head torn free from his body, a broken bit of a hitching post shoved into his heart, and the remains of hardtack shoved into his mouth.
His sword was missing.
What the hell? A request was made to get Moltas Falconhand to come down (Lord Sverek’s father, Aaron friend) but it was discovered that Moltas was missing – and no one knows where he is. A page was sent out to the tracks as well as the two local watering holes in an effort to find him. The deal for the 750 was reiterated and a blank charter was handed over to Soren for us to fill out.
We then went to Jarl’s Tradegoods and spoke with the Halfling trademaster for a bit – his cousin, Esias, was coming back to town today/tonight after a long trip to Dilabria – and it was understood that he had the last of the Skelt cursed treasures. We told Jarl of what was going on and the Halfling thanked up for being upfront, sending one of his cousins out on a swift pony to intercept Esias and bring him back to town as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, someone asked Norris to attack the people who had been watching him. He attacked the guard, doing minimal damage, and then the guards defended themselves. Since Norris wasn't really into it he kind of let himself lose the fight. The guards however were very into it and they beat him after he had let himself be disarmed and called for the watch. We showed up just as the watch was getting there. We all went to the watch station where the captain of the watch corroborated our story about Norris being under a Charm spell. He did warn us that if Norris did anything else he'd be kicked out of town.
We had some words with the local Captain of the guard and some of the other information the inquisitor had gotten from Henian Bather, plus some other information that had come to light and we had deduced that Arnog is most likely being held in Murderer’s Hole – and not at the mercy of Jarl’s Tradegoods.
While a solution was coming for Brother Beren’s brush with the spectre and its draining touch, we also wanted to resolve the problem with Norris’ ensorcellment (charming) that he was under. Something that had come up before regarding the oakleaf bound leather book that we had gotten from Henian was that not only did it help to teach the neophyte mage the basics of magic, but it also seemed to supply whatever spell was needed!
Brother Beren had spent some time praying at the shrines and even in his weakened state from Aaron Skelt’s draining touch was able to come up with a pair or lesser restorations which did return most of the priest’s lost levels. We were anxious though to come up with a solution for Norris’s charming and when the bard went lookinh through the tome, it opened up to a Dispel Magic spell! Just what he needed.
Brother Beren was uncomfortable with the book’s acquiescence to our needs but decision was made to dispel magic on Norris’ charm as well as impact the book. So Beren, Kazak, and Norris retreated to the inn room and cast the dispel magic – ending the charm – but failing to assault the book.
This ended up making a strange silence fall over the room and a wrenching seemed to feel out of place – and there was a rotund, sweaty ruddy skinned older man shuffling a deck of cards. He pointed to Norris, spread the cards and said simply: “CHOOSE.” The cards were old and worn and there was a strange miasma of malevolence in the room – it was Brother Beren who made the great mental leap – book was evil, using it summoned and created undead, an attempt to destroy it made this being appear and although it was clad in “human” form, he knew it to be otherwise. Orcus, Lord of Undead.
With shaking hands the bard picked a card and upon looking at its face began quivering – and the luck that had guided his existence was smited – giving him -3 to all of his saves permanently.
Then the man pointed to Beren and said, “CHOOSE!” The priest took a careful hand and pulled out a card – it was the fates! Of his own choosing if something horrible was to happen to him – he could have the skein of destiny change what would be the outcome and spare him from it!
And finally the aspect of Orcus pointed at Kazak and said, “CHOOSE!!!” and the half orc ex slaver took a card – and the air around him swirled – his features became wonderful, his personality sparkled, and then Orcus disappeared and the page from Lord Falconhand came in with orders to bring Kazak immediately to the lord as his mother was a direct descendent of Moltas Falconhand – making him royalty and the next in line after Sverek for the family name!
It was an odd and strange twist of fate that we bid Kazak farewell and the decision was made at that point to NOT use the book NOR attempt to allow it to be the victim of a harmful spell of effect. It was right after this that the book’s necromantic energies summoned a zombie from the graveyard to trek across town and close on the Swaddling Goose – which had the people frantic and calling for the guard. Brother Beren used his conduit from Tyr to turn the undead, but the energies were warped and twisted from the book and instead of turning the zombie – it was instantly upgraded to ghoul! It assaulted three other people in the street and began feeding on them and there was a general melee before it was destroyed.
We then gave the book to Bron who would keep it safe while Soren told us that the Captain of the guard would be lending us 4 of his trusted veteran guards to go with us to Murderer’s Hole and attempt to get Arnog back.
We had until the next day when Esias would return and it was on that day that the shade of Aaron Skelt would assault him – reclaiming the last of his 4 treasures. So we had to go into the hole, save Arnog, bring what mage’s we could find down there to justice, and get out to do what we needed to. And it was already about 1 in the afternoon – the clock was ticking!