Postfest IV: The Screaming Column
Date: Mon, April 04, 2005
Topic: Arcana of Oerth
Perhaps the most dreadful artifact to voilate the World of Greyhawk, the Screaming Column represents the ultimate punishment that the mad Overking can inflict upon any who displease him. Read, if you dare, the horiffic tale and details of an artifact so foul that some of the gods of evil would turn away in disgust and horror.
The Screaming Column
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author.
Warning - Vile Content: If you are faint of heart or sensitive to the description of dreadful events, then you will be best served skipping this article. The Screaming Column is one of the most vile and horrific artifacts on all of Oerth. Spawned from the madness of the Overking, this item personifies just how bad things got in the Capitol City of Rauxes just before it was consumed by magic and evil.
Note: The information presented herein details the city of Rauxes and the Screaming Column at a time prior to the magical conflagration and disjunction that plunged the Great Kingdom’s former capital into mystery and nightmare. Readers can draw what conclusions they wish from the material presented here and decide for themselves what role, if any, the Screaming Column played in the events befalling Rauxes and its inhabitants.
Atrocity: Gregory Hezrenen flinched as the leather hood was wrenched off his head; un-muffling his ears to the jeering crowds and exposing his squinting eyes to the gloomy illumination that served as daylight in Rauxes. It was the day of his execution, a day he’d been longing for over the last three months.
Gregory was marched forward by a pair of Hextorian clerics, each grasping one of his now-useless and atrophied arms. They carried the doomed man up onto a raised dais before the Imperial Pavilion. They had to; the fiendish inquisitors of the Overking had long since turned most of Gregory’s bones into meal. Gregory no longer cared; all that was left to him was the sweet release of death. The Overking, in a fit of rage and paranoia, had Gregory arrested and subjected to Endless Death for over two years. When Gregory’s will finally broke and he admitted to whatever they accused him of, his vile torturer gleefully informed him that his reward would be execution before the Overking. Gregory couldn’t wait.
The day was a typical one in Rauxes: the sky overhead was gloomy and filled with a sickly black-green cloud cover occasionally lanced by purple or green lightning. The air was dead and stagnant, filled with the reek of the decaying city and those perishing within it. The locale of Gregory’s execution was a reflection of the despair and corruption that gripped the once majestic capitol of the Great Kingdom. Oltary Park, once a place of beauty and quiet reflection, was perhaps the most violated location in the entire city. At one time a city park, it had been turned into a graveyard for the city’s dead; a place where you paid dearly to inter the departed lest they be claimed as property of the crown and reanimated to serve the will of a mad Overking. It became a place of fear and preying shadows, a place one would never venture during the day, let alone at night.
Then the Screaming Column came.
Placed into the heart of the Park at the behest of Overking Ivid V, the Screaming Column brought true darkness to a city already slipping into shadow. In the years since it first violated the ground of Oltary Park, the trees, shrubbery, and even the grass of the once beautiful park haven changed into twisted mockeries of what they once were. The trees now bore poisonous fruits and give off a reek like rotting flesh; the shrubs sprout wicked thorns that bring disease, and the very grass of the Park causes sores and irritation to bare skin it touches. Even the animals changed, becoming violent distempered versions of what they once were. Verily, Oltary Park now resonates with evil and corruption as strongly as anything in the Imperial Compound.
The clerics hauled their charge into position upon the dais and snapped to attention before the Imperial Pavilion and a hush went over the crowd. Viewed from above (if any were brave enough to tempt the foul skies over Rauxes), the scene was one filled with striking contrasts. On one side of a great clearing was the Imperial Pavilion, which was filled to capacity with the fawning (or terrified) members of the Overking’s Court. At the front and center of the Imperial Pavilion, seated upon a mock-up of the Malachite Throne, sat Overking Ivid V. The Overking was a slight figure, rail-thin and dwarfed by his enormous seat. He was dressed in finery and bore the regalia of the Great Kingdom, though his face was hidden from view; covered by a pristine white mask of porcelain. Only his eyes could be seen, though any who met the Overking’s gaze soon wished they hadn’t. Bottomless madness reigned behind those eyes, insanity so deep and all-consuming that it threatened to sweep up any who ventured too close.
At the Overking’s side was the tall and over-lithe figure of Karoolck, Court Wizard and the most feared man in Rauxes. It was whispered that Karoolck held the reigns of the Overking, and in so doing ruled the fate of all within Rauxes. To cross Karoolck meant death or worse, and he enjoyed wielding this power with fiendish abandon. Surrounding the Overking and his Court Wizard were the Fiend Knights of Doom, the bodyguard of the Overking. Resplendent in jet-black full plate armor gilded with silver and gold, each of the two-dozen Fiend Knights were a powerful force in their own right. Rumored to have once been human, the Fiend Knights were now something different, though altogether unholy. No normal beast of burden would go near them, and each member of Ivid’s elite guard took his food raw. Their prowess in combat was unmatched and their devotion to their Overking complete. Ivid was safe in the midst of his bodyguard, for none would dare raise a hand before the glowing red eyes of the Fiend Knights of Doom.
The other side of the great clearing was filled with those wretched and terrified souls that the city ‘guard’ could bully into attending the event. The mass of people was of one mind: do as they’re told and try to stay alive. It was well known that the Overking wished a grand audience when he made an example of traitors, and to attempt to flee Oltary Park before the execution was complete would have you brought up on treason charges as well. Soldiers, priests of Hextor, and even minor fiends prowled amongst the assemblage, ever alert for any who would attempt to do harm to the Overking. The assembled crowd, perhaps a thousand terrified and despairing souls, watched wide eyed as the drama unfolded at the clearing’s center.
“Gregory Herzenen, by your own admission you are found guilty of treason against his Celestial Transcendency, Overking Ivid V and the people of the Great Kingdom of Aerdy.” Patriarch-General Pyrannden, the highest authority of Hextor in Rauxes and advisor to the Overking read aloud, his voice magically amplified to be heard throughout the city. The figure of the Patriarch-General was a striking one atop the dais. Dressed in black robes decorated with white skulls, the high priest of Hextor was a tall and powerfully built man of stern bearing. His voice was crisp and commanding, though it was what he bore that commanded the most attention. Held in his left hand was a dark, roundly shaped object that could only be a shield, though it appeared (and smelled) to any around him to be shaped from coagulated blood with an unholy symbol of Hextor set at its center. Despite the shield’s appearance, however, it was the feeling that resonated off of it that drew all attention and set hearts into a terrified flutter. The Bloodshield of Hextor was known to many in Rauxes, for it was used at every execution in Oltary Park. An artifact of the bleakest evil, the Bloodshield feasted upon blood and pain with an insatiable hunger. The nobility looked upon Patriarch-General Pyrannden with fear and loathing, but the common populace looked upon the Bloodshield with a terror that could be felt. Pyrannden savored every second of it.
“For this crime you are to be executed before all the people the Aerdy, your punishment an example to any who would wish to do harm to our rightful ruler.” Pyrannden smirked wickedly as he looked upon the wretched figure supported between the two Hextorian clerics. “Your punishment will not end with death, as you may believe, but will be eternal and filled with agonies anew with each passing moment. Have you anything to say before your execution.” Pyrannden sneered at the limp figure of Gregory, not expecting the man to do more than blubber.
To his surprise, the broken shell that was Gregory Herzenen stirred. “As the Chancellor of the University of Rauxes I have naught to say in my defense.” Gregory wheezed. “My crime was the truthful detail of the rise of House Naelax to throne of the Aerdy in my writings, for that I am guilty.” Gregory then raised his head and stared defiantly at the seated figure of the Overking. “But if the truth be treason, then there is little enough of it left within the walls of Rauxes. I shall pass, and I curse you and all your line, including your unholy grandsires!” Gregory began to cough, the rigors of the endless death long since having ravaged his insides. The crowd seemed stunned at Chancellor Gregory’s words, none before had had the courage or strength to lash out at the power that condemned them. Gregory went on: “As the Dean of History I know this for you Ivid, your time is coming and this nightmare won’t last much longer.” He spat at the ground, not having the strength to hit the Overking. “Your fall is neigh, and I will be free.” Exhausted from the effort, Gregory hung his head and slumped further in the grasp of his escorts.
The Overking, by contrast, had sat bolt upright in his seat and was quivering with rage. “Do it now, Pyrannden!” The figure of the Overking hissed, his words muffled by his mask. “Rid me of this traitor; let him feel the folly of his words!” Ivid tried to rise from his seat but was restrained by Karoolck, who began uttering into his ear. Ivid ceased his attempts to rise, but continued pointing a shuddering finger at the doomed man, hissing and sputtering behind his mask.
Patriarch-General Pyrannden, mindful of the price of disobedience, signaled the headsman to step onto the dais. An ancient block of blackish wood, replete with deep gashes and dark stains, was placed at the dais’s center. Roughly, Gregory was thrust down to his knees and his head laid upon the block. Gregory, exhausted from his final words, sighed and prayed to Rao that the rumors of the Screaming Column were false. That his soul would be free once the headsman finished his gruesome chore.
Sadly for Gregory, that ‘chore’ lasted some time. Five times the headsman raised and brought down his dull axe upon the Gregory’s helpless form. The headsman, well aware that this man had invoked the wrath of the Overking, made great show of his actions and drew out the condemned’s suffering as long as possible. The first cut drew a groan of agony from the doomed man. The second snapped his neck, though the poor wretch continued to live. The last three chops had the look and sound of a man attempting to cut through a log with a hardened club. Finally, Gregory’s head came free in a spray of blood and gore that brought Ivid to his feat with glee. The Overking had snarled and cursed with each stroke of the headsman, his excitement growing with each fall of the axe. After the final stroke Ivid was on his feet, dancing before his thrown and howling against traitors and any who would oppose him.
With the execution complete, the priests of Hextor moved quickly. Gregory’s body was quickly discarded and his head taken up and handed to Patriarch-General Pyrannden. The vile priest took the head by its sparse hair and grinned into its eyes. “Behold the power and might of Hextor!” He bellowed at the crowed, which shrunk back at his words and the malice they carried. Pyrannden then touched the head to the Bloodshield and concentrated, his eyes rolling back into their sockets with his effort. The air around Pyrannden began to darken as he drew upon the unholy power of his god and channeled it through the Bloodshield and into Gregory’s severed head. All spectators of this gruesome right could feel the evil of the rite grating against their soul, and many commoners averted their eyes and began to wail against the malefic energy.
Ivid, however, was driven into a frenzy. He howled like an animal and climbed onto his throne, pointing at the head of the slain. “Yessssss!!!” The Overking hissed, his body trembling. “All traitors, all foes, this is your end!” Mad cackling followed these words as Ivid was overcome by a fit of insane laughter. Even Karoolck winced at the sound of it.
Then, at the height of the Overking’s mirth, there came a horrible keening wail from the center of the great clearing. The shriek was one of unbelievable agony and despair, and it grew in volume and pain moment by moment until it drowned out all other sound. All eyes went to what Patriarch-General Pyrannden held, the now aware and screaming head of Gregory Hezrenen. “Behold!” Shouted Pyrannden, his voice audible only due to magical amplification. “There is no escape from the Overking’s wrath, not even in death!” Holding the head in front of him at arm’s length, Pyrannden showed the screaming head to all within the clearing. Many shank back from what they say, some throwing up or feinting or both. Pyrannden then held the head before the Overking, who was overwhelmed with glee at the spectacle. “Your enemy, forevermore punished for his crimes!” Ivid went wild at this, clawing at the throne, shrieking, howling, and finally knocking his mask free.
The ghastly pale face of the Overking had nearly the same effect as the shrieking head of Gregory Hezrenen upon all spectators. Ivids eyes, already described, were set deep into the hollows of his eyes. His flesh, pasty and stretched tight across his facial bones, was marred with deep lines and gashes. His lips, so thin to be nearly non-existent, were drawn back to reveal a maniac grin at least half again as large as any a human should ever possess. The Overking’s hair, patchy and sickly looking, stood out wildly from his head, some falling over his face causing him to gnaw upon it occasionally, tearing out large clumps in his frenzy.
Patriarch-General Pyrannden knew the time had come to finish his task, lest the Overking become too caught up in the moment. More than once he had ordered random executions when the ceremony had gone too long, and Pyrannden had no desire to be on the receiving end of the Overking’s madness. With a snap to his right he turned and strode to the vile abomination set not a dozen feet from the dais: he made for the Screaming Column.
Standing some 30 feet tall and 8 feet in diameter and made of a un-Oerthly looking red-veined basalt-like stone. The Screaming Column looked utterly alien and beyond foul in an already dreadful environment. No grass grew within ten feet of the Screaming Column. No animal would willingly approach the malefic artifact. The surface of the column was textured with the images of hundreds of faces frozen into a perpetual scream of unbelievable agony. Light seemed to shy away from touching the Screaming Column’s surface, though the red veins within the stone seemed to have an infernal glow of their own, making the Column stand out despite the gloom.
Patriarch-General Pyrannden approached the Screaming Column purposefully, still bearing the head at arm’s length. The head’s screaming continued, the anguished wail telling all of the ceaseless agony Gregory’s soul was in. With a flourish Pyrannden showed the head to one and all a final time, then he touched both the head and the Bloodshield to the Column and concentrated once more, drawing upon the corrupt energies of his deity. There was a brief and breathless moment of utter evil that washed over the grounds and all sound from Gregory’s head ceased, as if the very eye of Hextor had looked down upon the clearing and silenced it. Dozens of commoners and several of the nobility were driven to their knees or knocked unconscious by the shock of such a feeling. Those who could watch had a moment of utter blackness overcome them as they watched Patriarch-General Pyrannden push the wailing head against the Column. When their eyes cleared they could the head was gone and the Patriarch-General was pulling his arm backwards. A shadow of black vapor could be seen wafting off of the hand that had held the head. In the place where he had touched the head to the Column there was now a perfect image of Gregory’s screaming visage, frozen in perpetual agony and horror.
“Make them sing Pyrannden! Make the traitors sing for me!” Ivid, driven to near-rapture at seeing an enemy brought so low, danced and babbled on his throne, jumping and shaking his fist at the Column and all it contained. “Let them make music!” Ivid shrieked again, his shrill voice making all around him wince.
Pyrannden set the shield to the Column one more time and another wave of negative energy washed over the clearing. Suddenly the entire surface of the Screaming Column was alive, each and every face thrashing about and screaming in an agony too horrific for any mortal to comprehend. The cacophony of agony was so great that the common folk could take it no more and fled the scene, the tortured agony of those trapped within the unholy embrace of the Screaming Column seeming to chase them as they fled. Ivid, now shrieked and howled with them, eventually frothing at the mouth and scratching at his clothing and body until restrained by Karoolck and several members of his bodyguard. The faces on the Column screamed on and on, as if there were no end to their torment with only Ivid, Karoolck, and Pyrannden seeming to take any pleasure in the spectacle. When the screaming finally began to fade, then eventually stop, the assembled court left the grounds in silence. Only Ivid, beyond giddy at the events, made any noise at all as the court made its journey back to the palace.
History: The Screaming Column was created by order of Overking Ivid V as a final punishment for traitors to the crown. This is a half-truth, however, for the idea of the Screaming Column was introduced to Ivid via whispers of ‘advice’ from then Court Wizard Xaene, the clergy of Hextor, and infernal visitors to Ivid’s Court. Each had a motive behind the Screaming Column’s construction, though the goal means to each end was the same: harvest the souls of the living to fuel their schemes. The construction of this malign artifact was undertaken via a rare cooperation between these three factions, for each envisioned turning the dark artifact to their own ends.
The stone for the Screaming Column was excavated from the Cauldron of Night and worked in secrecy by its creators for over a year. Powerful magics, fell summonings, and dread blood sacrifices were all used in the Column’s construction. On the day of its completion the Column was given a final infusion of power via a combination of epic magic cast by Xaene and infernal power channeled by Baalzephon itself. As a capstone to the Screaming Column’s creation it was touched by an avatar of Hextor, which allowed the Column to transcend mortal limitations of magic and become an artifact of god-like evil power.
The ceremony marking the Screaming Column’s placement within Oltary Park was as grisly a sacrifice ever officiated by the clergy of Hextor. A hundred captives, all imprisoned for political or religious purposes, were executed throughout a week’s time to a delighted applause of the Overking and his court. One by one their heads were re-animated and placed into the Column, becoming one with the fell object that violated the very heart of the city.
From that time the Screaming Column has been a blight upon Rauxes, its very name sending commoners and nobles alike into panicked fits of utter terror. Thousands upon thousands have been slain before the Screaming Column, their heads thrust into its confines for an eternity of torment. The Screaming Column has served to quash most rebellion against the Overking, though it is what the future holds for the Screaming Column and the ulterior motives for its creation that would truly horrify all who dwell upon Oerth.
Appearance: Located at the very blighted center of Oltary Park, the Screaming Column is anathema to all that is good and decent in the world. The Column itself stands 30 feet tall with an 8-foot diameter from top to bottom. The Screaming Column is made of a strange black basalt-like stone shot with reddish veins of crystal and glows dully at night and during Rauxes’ gloomy days. The surface of the Screaming Column is rough, as if the Column were gouged unwilling from the bowels of the Oerth. ‘Decorating’ the rounded surface of the Column are myriad anguished faces, each unique (and in some cases recognizable) and frozen into an eternal scream of horrific agony. The faces are of a slightly lighter hue than the rest of the Column, making them stand out all the more from its vile surface. Hand-in-hand with the Screaming Column’s appearance is the feel that it exudes. Any who venture within a half-mile of the Screaming Column can feel its presence, being able to pinpoint its direction and distance without hesitation or thought. Normal and domesticated animals refuse to go within a mile of the Screaming Column’s location, flying into an uncontrollable panic if anyone attempts to force them near. What is more, when seen from a distance, a vague shadow seems to flow upward from the Screaming Column and into the clouds that perpetually obscure the skies over Rauxes.
Corruptive Effects: The presence and use of the the Screaming Column (and the murders which make its use possible) has vilified the lands around it and violated the very spirit of Oerth. The column stands thirty feet high, but is also thrust thirty feet into the ground, thus allowing its energies to seep into everything near to it. This foul corruption of the land began as a small area of blight stretching 100 feet around the Column. After several years the foul influence of the Screaming Column had spread to all of Oltary Park. Now the taint is reaching out to consume all of Rauxes. Nothing exists within the city to oppose this, and its effects are accelerating.
In game terms, the Screaming Column is infecting the lands in and about Rauxes with a Lingering Evil (see Book of Vile Darkness page 35-36). At this stage the level of corruption directly around the Column itself (and all of Oltary Park) is of the Great and Powerful Malevolence category. This is manifested as follows:
-Good aligned creature feels a sense of horrific dread when they are within the confines of Oltary Park and within sight of the Screaming Column. All attack and damage rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and caster level checks are made at a –2 penalty. Creatures and characters affected thus feel a strong desire to get as far away from the area as possible, for the taint of evil is anathema to their very nature.
-Neutral aligned creatures sense the evil and have a chance to be corrupted and overcome by it. Any creature that spends more than an hour within Oltary Park or with sight of the Screaming Column must make a Will Save
DC: 20 or have its alignment shifted to evil. The taint of the area has seeped into the creature and it undergoes a personality change commensurate to its new alignment.
-Evil creatures feel at home amongst the dark energies and foul taint created by the Screaming Column. Such creatures gain a +2 bonus on all attack and damage rolls, skill checks, saving throws, and caster level checks while within Oltary Park or with sight of the Screaming Column. The evil within the Column reaches out to creatures with a kindred spirit and helps to empower them to commit further acts of atrocity.
-Lastly, good-aligned spells such as hallow, consecrate, holy smite, and magic circle against evil are impossible to cast in Oltary Park. The vile power infecting the place quashes any attempt to use such pure magics.
This corruptive effect is getting stronger with each act of atrocity that occurs. In time the entire city of Rauxes will be affected by this lingering evil. Worse yet, as time and atrocity compound, the category of the lingering evil will degrade into that of Darkness like the World Has Never Seen Before. If/when this occurs Rauxes will become a place where Hell and Oerth are indistinguishable. Good will be permanently eclipsed and all surviving denizens of this wretched place will take on the half-fiend or corrupted template (see page 186 of the Book of Vile Darkness for details). What is more, the very fabric of reality will begin to unravel in the lands in and around Rauxes, subjecting the entire area to a horrific cataclysm that will be certain to send forth ripples of evil sure to be felt throughout the world. The people of Oerth should pray this never comes to pass.
Magical Powers: The Screaming Column has many powers, many of which are unknown to one or more of the individuals who worked to create it. Each of the three factions who worked to create the Screaming Column had its own agenda, though the machinations of hell and Baalzephon have proved to be the subtlest and perhaps the most terrible.
- Absorb Soul: The poisonous whispers and council given to Overking Ivid V by his foul Court Wizard and emissaries from Hell led him to decree the creation of a symbol that would terrify his subjects into submission and loyalty. The result of that decree was the Screaming Column and its infamous ability to absorb the very souls of those who displeased the Overking. The process for doing this requires a sentient creature be freshly slain in the presence of both the Screaming Column and the Bloodshield of Hextor. The Bloodshield’s wielder, by virtue of a special resonance with the Screaming Column, can then cast a soul bind spell to entrap the soul of the recently slain into its head. No saving throw is allowed against this effect, the magical resonances of the two artifacts overpowers any ability to resist the spell.
The head is then touched to the Bloodshield where the draining blood washes over both. The Bloodshield’s owner then expends a rebuke undead attempt and channels negative energy into the Bloodshield (and thus through the head as well). This prepares the head for placement into the Screaming Column and has the side effect of making the head (and the soul within) sentient and able to feel pain. Heads typically begin to scream in anguish and despair at this point, for they can feel the dark hunger of the nearby Column and can sense their impending fate. Finally, both the head and the Bloodshield are touched to the Column and an additional turn/rebuke attempt is used to channel negative energy into all three at once. In an instant the head is soundlessly pulled into the Screaming Column, silencing all sound from the tortured soul no trapped within.
Heads so incarcerated are instantly driven mad by the malign magic of the Column. If any spell such as ESP or Speak with dead is used, the spellcaster has a 25% chance of becoming insane immediately. Whatever the case, attempts to communicate with a head end in failure. All a trapped soul knows is pain, horror, and despair.
In game terms several things happen when the Screaming Column absorbs a soul. These are:
- Any soul absorbed by the Column is trapped within it forevermore. Only the Screaming Column’s destruction (good luck) can free the soul.
- Absorbed souls are effectively masked from any sort of detection/divination abilities (even a Discern Location spell). Once absorbed, not even the gods can find where the trapped soul resides.
- Trapped souls are stripped of their energy, which is pooled and stored within the Screaming Column. A creature contributes 250 experience points for every character level it had in life. Theses experience points can be used in a variety of ways, more on that in a bit.
- Scream of Eternal Agony: This is another resonating power between the Screaming Column and the Bloodshield. Activating this power requires the expenditure of four Rebuke Undead attempts with a single roll against a DC: 20 required for success. This power can be used once every seven days and takes a full round action to complete. When this power is activated the entirety of the Column becomes one mass of writing, screaming, gibbering faces that can do naught but scream helplessly in agony and despair. During this time the malign energies of the Screaming Column reach out to a one-mile radius around the Column itself. The screams of the column can be heard clearly in this area of effect and all non-evil creatures who can hear must make a successful Will Save (DC 20) or be panicked for the duration of the screaming plus an additional five rounds afterward. The most horrible aspects of this power, however, are as follows:
- All good spellcasters within the area of effect must make a successful Concentration Check (DC: 20 + spell level) to successfully cast any spells.
- No healing spells of any kind function with the area of effect.
- All unburied corpses within the area of effect have a 50% chance of spontaneously animating into a zombie (50%), ghoul (20%), wight (15%), Ghast (10%), or mohrg (5%).
As Rauxes slips further and further into corruption the effect of the Scream of Eternal Agony will undoubtedly increase until it covers the entirety of Rauxes and the lands around it. This is just what the priesthood of Hextor wants, for it would leave them virtually unchallenged by their enemies amongst the ranks of Heironeous and Pholtus (traditional religious rivals within the Great Kingdom). While the screams from the Column delight the Overking and strike fear into any who would conspire against them, the priesthood of Hextor managed to gain what they felt to be a ‘trump card’ in any future conflict with an opposed priesthood. Hextor himself saw to it that the above effects were incorporated into the Screaming Column when he added his own power during its construction.
- Siphon Soul Energy: When Xaene the Court Wizard envisioned the Screaming Column he saw it as an opportunity to increase his own power by harvesting what he saw as his nation’s greatest untapped resource: life energy. Getting the Overking to consent to the Column’s construction was child’s play, he had but to play upon Ivid’s insecurities and speak of the merits of the fear such an item would bring to the populace. Xaene got exactly what he wanted when the Screaming Column was completed, for the Overking was only too happy to use the Column to make an example of his bitterest foes (or anyone he didn’t like, for that matter). This provided Xaene with an almost limitless supply of soul energy, which he used to craft items of great power, research epic spells, and quash any who might wish to supplant him as Court Wizard.
In game terms the Screaming Column functions as an enormous reservoir of experience points that can be used by those who understands the nature and functions of the Screaming Column. Please note that accomplishing this should NOT be easy, for the knowledge of how to use the Screaming Column in this fashion exits in the minds of only three beings: Xaene, Court Wizard Karoolck, and the Archfiend Baalzephon.
For all intents and purposes the Screaming Column contains several hundred thousand experience points that can be drawn upon to do anything the vile individual wishes (except for raising experience levels). This may seem quite a boon to corrupt individuals, but there’s a dreadful (and very subtle) catch that gave even Xaene pause: drawing experience points from the Screaming Column drains and then obliterates souls trapped within it. Once completely drained a soul is wiped out of the universe utterly, not even a Greater Deity can bring it back. Doing this is an act so vile as to invoke the wrath of even the gods of evil. What is more, exploiting the souls in this way enhances and further accelerates the effects and category of the Lingering Evil that the Screaming Column radiates and contaminates the land with. Thus, the lands in and around Rauxes, even the very fabric of reality itself, would quickly become so violated as to break down in a matter of months rather than years if souls are continuously destroyed in this way.
Xaene, realizing this only after tapping the Screaming Column numerous times, ceased using the Column altogether. The Court Wizard knew he’d been had by the wiles of Baalzephon and schemed to avenge himself against the foul pit fiend and its minions. Unfortunately for Xaene his falling out with the Overking precluded any such measures and the title of Court Wizard quickly passed to the archmage Karoolck. Baalzephon, who has claim to Karoolck’s soul, quickly instructed her minion in the use of the Screaming Column and has sat back gleefully awaiting the horrors to come. Hell, in her opinion, has a claim on Rauxes and its Overkings, and what better way to ensure that claim than to draw a bit of Rauxes into hell, and vice versa.
For the DM: What part, if any, the Screaming Column plays in your campaign is left entirely up to you. Some DM’s are content to have the Column be a mere object of intimidation (seeing someone’s screaming head placed within does wonders for keeping a populace in line) or it can be the potential campaign-altering artifact I described above. Honestly, it all depends on the intensity and nature of your campaign. the Screaming Column in either capacity opens up a variety of roleplaying and adventure ideas that could fill an entire campaign. Was the Screaming Column responsible for the magical disaster that befell Rauxes? How was it affected by the Crook of Rao during the Flight of the Fiends? Will the forces of good continue to suffer its existence? Or the forces of neutrality (namely, the nature-guarding druids?). What is the true plan of the Lords of Hell for Rauxes? The Great Kingdom? Oerth? The demons of the Abyss have several outposts on Oerth (Iuz, Pazrael in Medegia); will some of the lands of the former Great Kingdom become an outpost of Hell to counter this? Will the blood war spill over onto Oerth? Such an event could give rise to a truly epic campaign with the adventurers pitted against both sides while struggling to rid the world of both.