The Throne of Bones is a Mordheim/Warhammer Fantasy project inspired by the Brian McNaughton book of the same name. The book mainly revolves around the various grotesque activities of ghouls in its evocative setting – the vast ghoul-haunted graveyards and catacombs of the Crotalorn necropolis.
The thing I found most evocative was the descriptions of ghouls as always laughing, bullying, animalistic creatures. They are hideous and crude, and there is a lot of sex and violence: McNaughton’s book is one of the most graphic I have ever read. Not for the feint of heart, but also darkly funny.
This project is an attempt to bring some of that darkness to Warhammer and Mordheim. A vampire civil war in the catacombs, a hunt for a throne that was thought to be only a legend but that every vampire has heard of and wants for themselves – the Throne of Bones.
The Throne is lost deep in the ancient catacombs, tunnels, ghoul warrens and tombs of the Necropolis. In ancient times the Necropolis was a graveyard that became a monument to death and then a city, when the gravediggers and graverobbers set up homes and industries to exploit the wealth of corpses. But the tombs became labyrinthine as more elaborate buildings were raised on the ruins of older ones and the rotten foundations became infested with vermin. With the ascendency of the lore of Undeath in the Old World the necropolis attracted necromancers and, in time, became a home to ghouls.
Now the Necropolis is overgrown ruins, lost to all but the most intrepid explorers and students of history, a place as vile and dangerous as Mordheim. Below the surface the tunnels stretch for miles, occasionally opening into vast halls or caverns, or becoming the twisting, bone-filled lairs of the ghouls. The ghouls themselves are erratic and unhinged, perhaps due to living in relative isolation for so long, or perhaps it is the influence of the Throne of Bones itself. Their mad laughter echoes down the halls and through the rotten corridors. Among the ghouls are some who can raise the dead, perhaps with half-remembered necromancy. And there are some who fashion themselves chiefs and leaders and gather forces to wage small wars in the pitch blackness.
Though the term is often used to refer to strigoi vampires the self styled ghoul kings of the Necropolis are actually merely large ghouls – ghasts that through brute strength and and cunning have won themselves some measure of power and loyalty among the notoriously treacherous and fickle ghouls. The greatest of these kings was Vomikran, who sat upon a throne made of bones and skulls, and though he mind was as sluggish as one of the sewer tunnels of filth, when he was sat upon his throne, the ghouls would listen to him. And so the ghoul kings reigned for thousands of years, kings of worthless empires, until the vampires arrived.
Word of Vomikran’s strange influence reached the surface world and – like all things – in time became known to the vampires. The talk of the throne stirred up memories in their dusty malevolent minds, the legendary Throne of Bones, made from the bones and skulls of the first victims, those thralls that gave themselves willingly to the first vampires. Legend said the Throne would call out for more skulls, more bones, and all the night-kind would flock to obey. Whoever sat in the Throne could exert their will over all nearby undead, and the stronger the will, the further the influence would reach, until all the creatures of the night in the Old World would march to bring tribute.
The first to arrive were the Strigoi. Always drawn to the company of ghouls and perhaps arriving without a real knowledge of why or what influenced them, they made nests and began to search. The so-called Ghoul Kings were no match for the strigoi in terms of strength and brutality, but the strigoi – unlike all other vampires – had no desire to lead and conquer. Instead they carry out their frantic searches, attracting hordes of terrified, worshipful ghoulkin in their wake. They don’t understand what they are searching for only that they are drawn to it, and should a strigoi ever sit upon the Throne it is impossible to say what their fractured, hateful minds would do to those they would have influence over.
The slow, methodical search of the Necrarch belies their desperation to seize the power of the Throne for themselves. The Necrarch are too selfish to work together, instead withdrawing to secret chambers to plot and scheme. The Necrarch do not trust their ghouls, thinking them spies, nor do they tolerate the incessant laughter. Instead they slaughter then raise the ghouls as zombies, and flood the tunnels with mindless servants. Then, from their dark corner of the Necropolis they watch through the dead eyes of their minions. Though the search could take an eternity, the Necrach are as patient as death.
The Blood Dragons:
The Blood Dragon’s twisted sense of nobility has no place in the ghoul warrens. Whatever dignity these vampires thought they maintained in their undeath has been stripped from them by a lifetime of wading through filth, of endless black corridors and brutal short fights with screaming, laughing ghouls. Drinking the blood of ghouls and rats has damaged their minds, making them savage and ferocious, quick to anger or sometimes melancholy and morose. But the Blood Dragons know well of quests, and they are single minded and determined, perhaps believing a successful quest in death will make up for quests failed in life.
The Lahmian, the Von Carstein and minor households:
The rulers of the Van Carstein and Lahmian clans do not formally admit that their vampires are part of this search, or part of a civil war fought underground, but their representatives are present, cloaked in darkness or leading thralls by lantern light, unwilling to trust the ghouls or enlist their help unless they must. Whether they are there as secret emissaries or whether they have disobeyed the orders of their masters it is impossible to say, though there is little doubt that should one find the Throne, loyalties and treaties would be sorely tested.
Word of the Throne reached mortal ears too of course, though none paid it much mind. Most who knew of the Necropolis at all knew it was a place best left alone, for madness walked its corridors, beasts scuttled in its tunnels and only death was welcome there. But with the arrival of vampires, so too came adventurers seeking treasure, or heroes seeking to prove themselves.
The Throne of Bones is obviously largely inspired by the book, the setting and the character of the ghouls is very evocative. The main difference is that the book is almost farcical at times: when the ghouls eat too much of a single victim they can inherit that person’s persona and appearance, leading to extremely complicated situations when the ghoul forgets he was a ghoul at all. The other main influence is the anime/films/manga series Berserk (which I believe also inspired the game Dark Souls). Berserk is extremely dark fantasy of a kind I think is too rare. Most fantasy, even darker fantasy along the lines of Game of Thrones or the excellent Malazan series, is not especially dark, even though it is undoubtedly more mature than the bulk of the genre. Berserk has more in common with horror at times, specifically Lovecraftian existential dread and impossible monsters. This sort of horror is something I try to convey in all my projects.
The first stage is making the warbands and characters, some are linked below. The Necropolis scenery will be made from various tunnel tiles of the sort that Warhammer Quest was played on, except made of resin. The game/campaign exists in the far future for now, but I envisage Mordheim games mixed with some RPG elements, perhaps pitting a small team of adventurous souls against the horrors of the catacombs and the vampires. As always I am totally up for collaborations.