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Dark Sun Encounters: Threats from The Gray

My Dark Sun Campaign is still making headway, and the heroes are doing quite well for themselves, despite a rather tragic culling of one-third of the party in the Under Tyr a few weeks ago.  Their lost comrades have been replaced, rather reluctantly, by two new companions, and the heroes have embarked on their next enterprise.

Their “patron” Lord has decided to take advantage of the characters recent depredations on the Iron Rat gang in Tyr, and want them to take over the gang so that he can have an underworld cat’s paw within the city.  I’ve been using the Crime Pays! supplement for D&D 4E from Goodman Games (click here to check out my review of this book) to track the heroes’ progress in assimilating the various gangs of Iron Rats, and they have recently run into a small snag.  It seems their recruits from the Iron Rats expect to have a hideout or two in the city, and real estate is not cheap in Tyr.

Luckily, the characters heard a rumor of a cheap warehouse for sale, and it is rather strategically placed along in the Caravan District right near the start of The Warrens.  Investigating the possible warehouse, they found it boarded up, padlocked, and painted with symbols recognized by humans, elves, and dragonborn as essentially “Keep Out / Extreme Danger”.  They located the owner of the warehouse, a female dwarf, recently widowed, who explained that her husband was killed in the warehouse under very mysterious circumstances.  Sounds were heard by passersby that night and on subsequent nights that started rumors that the building was haunted, or possessed, or worse…

Sensing an opportunity for both a cheap solution to their hideout dilemma, and a chance to possibly kill monsters, the heroes offered the widow a pittance to take the warehouse off her hands, since she was eager to sell it and put the whole affair behind her.  A quick trip to the local magistrate registered the building’s change of ownership, and the heroes quickly made their way to their new property, with a mind to spend the night under its roof,ready to destroy whatever was lurking therein.  Upon investigation, they found the place mysteriously empty, and decided to wait out the night to see what might show itself.

But unknown to the heroes, the warehouse had been built over the ruins of an older building, and the basement of the ruin was still intact under the stone floor of the warehouse.  And in that ancient basement, terrible research had been done by a warlock who had sought to enhance his powers with secrets from the Gray, until it had consumed him and transformed him into an undead horror, hungering for the living…

Gray Wraith

4e_wraithThe tiefling scribbled the sigils furiously into his tome, his stylus impressing the symbols into the kank-skin vellum.  His new-found knowledge must be recorded to continue his research, and his eyes smoldered hellishly as he obsessively wrote down every detail of the secrets he had uncovered.  He could feel the power of the Gray within him still, bolstering the potency of his pact-magic, and he thrilled at the thought of channeling more of this power into ever more powerful spells.  His hands trembled a little at the memory of his discovery, unaware that they quivered not with excitement, but from the dark necrotic power that was growing in him like a tumor.

The tiefling was already lost, the essence of The Gray gnawing at life-force each time he channeled its power into spells, consuming him from within.  The warlock’s body would perish, but his tainted soul would live on in The Gray, but still bound to Athas where it could return to feed…

A Gray wraith is the undead remnants of an arcane spell caster who has tapped into The Gray in order to augment his power.  The secrets of channeling The Gray’s power are hard to find, and even harder to master, and most Gray wraiths were infernal or dark pact warlocks before they were transformed, although rarely a summoner wizard or cosmic sorcerer might fall to the lure of power.  Only the most skillful and powerful practitioners of arcane magic can hope to use this forbidden knowledge without destroying themselves, wasting away until only their spirit lives on as a horrible wraith.  It retains only the rudiments of the knowledge of its former life, and desires only to consume the life-force of any living creature it encounters.

The Gray wraith is tied to Athas by an object it held dear in life, such as a tome where it had kept its research, an implement of magic, a piece of jewelry, or some other personal effect.  This becomes its phylactery, and the wraith cannot be destroyed until its phylactery is also destroyed.  If a Gray wraith is slain, it will reform in three days with full hit points so long as the phylactery remains intact.  A Gray wraith must remain within 20 squares of its phylactery at all times, and can appear on Athas from The Gray anywhere within that range.  The phylactery has defenses and hit points based upon the type of object it is (see DMG for details on breaking objects), and a Moderate DC Arcana check can reveal the nature of a phylactery as a conduit to The Gray.

gray wraithA Gray wraith appears as a vaguely humanoid shadow within a fog or mist, with glowing green eyes that glare from out of the swirling vapors with chilling malevolence.  The Gray wraith is surrounded by a mist drawn from The Gray itself, which it swirls about itself like a mantle, harming any living creature which comes in contact with it.


A Gray wraith is non-corporeal, and can manifest itself from out of The Gray anywhere within a Burst 20 of its phylactery.  Once it appears, it will attempt to kill any living creature within its range, attacking its first victim with its heart binding, then keeping its victims allies at bay using its touch of the gray or eldritch blasts.  Its insubstantial nature makes it difficult to harm, but radiant energy wounds it badly and temporarily drives away its cloak of Gray mists, so it will tend to target those enemies which assault it with radiant attacks by preference.

While most Gray wraiths are singular creatures in an encounter, it does not fight alone, bringing with it lesser undead allies from The Gray when it appears, usually in the form of Gray zombies.  These zombies fight alongside the Gray wraith, helping it to feed while shrouding the wraith with the strange fog that emanates from their bodies.  The Gray zombies are rewarded by absorbing the heat and life-force from living creatures they kill.  Any humanoid that is killed by a Gray wraith is taken back to The Gray to become a zombie itself in service to the wraith.

Gray Zombie

gray zombie 1Nurina watched with horror as the green-eyed shadowy creature plunged its hand into the big mul’s chest, preventing her comrade-in-arms from escaping the horrible tomb.  But as she rushed forward to rescue her friend from the wraiths clutches, shambling forms charged toward her, their bodies obscured by a vile-smelling fog.  As they neared she could see that the skin of these zombies hung in loose folds over their bodies, as though it had been stretched to a larger size, but without breaking or tearing.  Fog boiled from their slack mouths and their distended nostrils, shrouding the horrors, and filling the tomb with clinging vapors.  Dead hands reached for her from all sides from out of the fog, as she listened the mul bellow for help, but she was far too busy now saving her own life to find him in the mists.

Gray zombies are the result of sentient humanoids who are slain either in The Gray or by creatures from that vile realm summoned to Athas.  Gray zombies serve more powerful undead and demons that haunt The Gray, and are drawn to living creatures to feed upon the heat of their bodies and their life-force as it leaves their fresh corpses.

Gray zombies appear as well preserved zombies, without much of the damage and rot that normal zombies seem to have.  Instead, the strange mists of The Gray “repair” these undead, growing ample amounts of pale gray skin to cover old wounds.  But the skin grows with such profusion that the Gray zombies appear lost in the folds of its own flesh, which hangs from its body like drapes.  The mists of The Gray pour from their mouths and noses, and from any wound that they take during the course of a combat.  When the zombies die, their bodies dissipate into clammy gray mist which quickly blows away in the hot Athasian wind.
gray zombie

de gray zombie

Gray zombies have little in the form of tactics, seeking to grab onto living warm creatures and hold them, absorbing their life as they die.  One will often grab a victim, while one or more other Gray zombies will beat it to death with repeated slams before moving onto their next victim.  More powerful undead can command Gray zombies in combat, helping to organize their attacks to ensure a victory, or to use the zombies as a delaying tactic while it makes its escape.

The Encounter

The fight in the haunted warehouse was designed as a Level 5 encounter for six heroes, consisting of a Gray Wraith, four Gray zombies, and six decrepit Gray zombies.  The adventurers were dismayed the first round as zombies began appearing in billows of fog around the warehouse (on their initiative), brought in from the Gray by the wraith.  By the time the wraith had made its appearance about half-way through the round, parts of the warehouse were good and obscured, causing the heroes with ranged attacks to find targeting a bit troublesome.  I did not have the overlapping fogs from the zombies upgrade to thick total obscurement, but it is one option to seriously increase the threat level of this encounter and make it considerably harder to kill the zombies.  The gray wraith’s heart binding attack was sufficiently scary to the party to make it a major priority for all attacks, once it clutched the Executioner assassin in the group, and even the benefit from being insubstantial was no match for the concentrated firepower of a six man adventuring team.  The assassin escaped just shy of death, thanking his Disciple of Freedom feat for his success, and although I bloodied several heroes, the zombies were eventually mopped up to win the encounter.

Overall, I thought the encounter was a pretty successful mid-Heroic Tier fight, although I might go back and tweak the wraith a bit.  I followed the pattern of reducing the wraith’s hit points by 15% which is common on monsters with the insubstantial trait, but it might as well have full hit points when facing a solid number of strikers in a party.  To add variety, the at-will ranged attack can be swapped out for a wizard or sorcerer attack, depending on the type of spellcaster that the wraith was before it became undead.  Likewise, the Gray zombies can be upgraded to other larger humanoid types in order to make them a higher level threat.

If you decide you are doing to use these monsters in your Dark Sun adventure, let me know how the encounter turns out!  I’d love to hear feedback regarding these creatures, and your comments are most welcome!

So until next blog… I wish you Happy Gaming!

[Editor’s Note: The Gray Wraith and Gray Zombie described here have been ispired by and adapted to 4E from the Athasian Wraith and the Gray Zombie as described in Terrors of the Deadlands from the website.]

About The Author

Michael is an Adept of a Secret Order of Dungeon Masters, and dwells in a hidden realm with his two evil cat-familiars, deep within the Vale of Wolverines, called by some "Michigan". He has been esoterically conjuring D&D Campaigns for nearly a Third of a Century, and has been known to cast ritual blogs concerning Dungeons & Dragons every few days with some regularity. Michael has freelanced for Wizards of the Coast, and writes reviews of D&D and other Role-Playing Game products on EN World News.


2 Responses to “Dark Sun Encounters: Threats from The Gray

  1. Chris Flipse says:

    Just thought I’d let you know that I’m posting a link to this in the news section of I like the setup and the conversion of these guys to 4th edition. Thanks for posting this, and the shoutout at the end.

  2. @Chris – Thanks so much for the props, and I”m glad you like! You guys deserve kudos for keeping so much great Athasian lore alive, and I’m honored for the linkback!

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