Other Worlds Than These - Necropaul
I don’t believe there’s a DM out there who hasn’t completely improvised an entire session at least once. It happens. Either life gets out from under you and you fail to make the time to prepare, or you end up with a missing player and choose to run a different session to keep them from missing out on your painstakingly crafted story arc. Either way, it helps to have a little filler content available. For your consideration, I give you the relentlessly reoccurring and haplessly unimpressive necromancer/lich, “Necropaul.” For our regular home game, Necropaul is the D&D equivalent of a Peter Griffin VS the giant chicken scene in an episode of Family Guy. He shows up when I don’t have anything else prepared.
Necropaul has no dialogue, apparently only capable of saying his name and making various angry old man noises. He does not appear to have any discernible agenda, other than to do “necromancer things.” One day he’s leading a small but inexplicably zealous and loyal cult. The next, he’s disguised himself as a local butcher and has been performing experiments of disease and undeath on deceased livestock and by extension, the local villagers. But inevitably, he’s going to show up and try to fight your party with no warning or explanation.
Most recently, a PC ordered a drink at a bar. The barkeep, standing directly in front of the PC and behind the bar, reached down below the bar top to retrieve a glass. When he rose to face the PC, his face had transformed and the barkeep was revealed (completely without explanation) to be Necropaul. This was a hilarious ambush that lead into a light-hearted encounter, and Necropaul was promptly stomped out of existence by the party. This provided a few extra minutes of fulfilling game content, and set a false expectation for their next encounter with Necropaul, which will be extremely difficult.
With regards to lore, you can give as little or as much explanation for his existence as you like. In our world, Necropaul is a natural-born lich, meant to be Myrkul’s greatest unholy creation and a bringer of death to the material plane. By way of sheer dumb luck, the human woman Myrkul’s cultists selected to give birth to his heir suffered complications during childbirth, and Necropaul was born with Cerebral Palsy. This explains his physical ineptitude, his difficulty with speech, and his lack of any real consequence in spite of his unnerving powers of death and undeath. It should be noted that within my home group of players, this is a character quirk that we collectively find humorous rather than offensive. As a DM, you obviously want to take your players’ temperatures and if you believe they would be upset by the trivialization of what is a very serious neurological disorder, come up with something else. Every table is different. Respect your players.
I have not included a stat block for Necropaul because of the sheer number of times he has been utilized and adjusted according to the number of players and their level. I recommend starting with the lich stat block and tweaking (or severely nerfing) it as you see fit. Throw in as much undead flavor as you like and stat him out as a humanoid, an undead, or a fiend as you see fit. Necropaul does not fight particularly intelligently and is prone to panic once his hit points start to dwindle. He rarely has the wherewithal to attempt to kill an unconscious PC, and has no real defense against melee fighters other than to blast them with whatever spell or cantrip he has on hand. He may have undead, constructs, fiends, or even humanoid followers at his service, or he may be a wretched thing inhabiting a cave or abandoned building. Roleplay Necropaul for maximum comedic effect and try and avoid him causing any lasting damage to your story line if possible. He may be a lich – and I know at least half of you are running a lich as your main villain anyway – but big bold plot moments just aren’t what he’s there for.