What have we done?
The following is a dramatic reenactment of actual play. The role of the corpse mound was played by the corpse mound from the Tome of Beasts. No actual players were harmed during this session, though both PCs and NPCs gave their lives.
The half-orc Zazuk stared before the party as they exited the boundaries of the forest, looking at the devastation before him and feeling the weight of his soul crumbling beneath him. The party remained quiet behind him, ghostly almost as they observed the carnage and felt the fumes of rotten flesh enter their lungs.
They were given a choice, and they chose poorly. The Sunken Elves warned them that the decay was coming, descending upon Zazuk’s tribe even as they spoke. They warned the party that the decay would take them all.
But we had time! Zazuk thought to himself. And they couldn’t leave until the Sunken Elves agreed to safe passage for the orc refugees. They had nowhere else to go! It was up to Zazuk to keep them safe, to give them refuge, to show them a path to the decay.
But they lingered too long. It took them.
When the party left four days prior, the tribe was desperate. His mother, ever the whip, scolded him publicly for bringing this curse upon them. She claimed that if it were not for him and bringing his faith into the tribe and for the curse of his human father, they would still be in home in Direwish Marsh. She blamed him and he fought back. They left in anger, her curses leaving her mouth as they went into the forest.
She would see, he thought. He would show her refuge, and she would see him for his true heart.
The tribe’s witch queen was incapacitated. The decay had taken her and turned her into a wild monster. They buried her alive, posting guards around her living tomb. They decided to keep her living in case her corrupted spirit would spread decay among the tribe.
And now they saw the results of their poor decisions. For their delay.
The witch queen escaped her tomb and slaughtered every orc refugee. Every father, every mother, every child. All but Olfin, the young orc he’d taken as his own. They were the last two of the Direwish Tribe. A half-orc and a child. None other.
The gnome Valros had killed the witch queen. He could see that. His rage still painted on his face. Valros left the party days ago, believing them to be foolish to leave the tribe unprotected following the Elvish warning.
The witch queen’s decayed blood was fresh on the gnome’s body. He had been piling the bodies of the slain orcs. After taking in the scene, Zazuk and the rest of the party helped. Solanka, the human, was distant and quiet. She comforted Olfin. Grumbles, the dwarf and Torrmus, the red dragonborn, helped to bring the bodies together.
They would burn them, for who knew if the decay could possess them or not. After what they’ve witnessed, they could not tolerate a horde of undead orc. Especially not Zazuk’s kin.
As they worked, the air changed. It became very still. The hairs on Zazuk’s neck stood, and he smelled the air. A wave of death stench overwhelmed him.
Something was wrong.
The pile of deceased orcs began shifting.
“THE DECAY!” Torrmus shouted, drawing his magically-imbued sword.
Solanka leapt to her feet and pushed Olfin away. Valros backed up, fingers glowing from a fire spell collecting deep within his weave and Grumbles, with him, casting radiance upon his club.
At first nothing happened. It was a moment of stunned fear.
Then, the bodies doubled-up on themselves, colliding and snapping bones, wrenching heads off of torsos, mangling limbs until it rose from the ground as a single, writhing organism. It towered above them, body parts moving, breaking, thudding, and crashing into the earth as the collection of dead orcs took form, like a rising beast from the rotting earth.
Zazuk stared, unable to process what was happening. And then it overwhelmed him, crashing down like an ocean wave of rotting flesh, sucking him in deep into its bowels. He was suffocating out of the tumbling corpses of his childhood friends, beloved elders, sisters, and brothers. They crushed him, smothered him, and pinned him beneath the rolling flesh on the ground. Splinters of bone ripped into him, skulls cracked up against him.
Solanka was with him. She was taken in by the mound of corpses as well. And then Grumbles. The dwarf fought his way out with a snarl, taking Solanka with him. It was Torrmus that wrenched Zaz out. Worn, weary, bleeding from the attack.
Valros shouted at them to run. They did, and in the next moment, a rolling fireball launched from his small hands, engulfing the corpses as they burned.
As they fled from the mound of corpses, Zazuk grabbed onto Olfin who buried his face into his mentor’s arms. They were all that remained. None other.
To terrorize your own players with the mound of corpse, check out the Tome of Beasts.