The original ‘Bzallin’s Blacksphere‘ was written by Chris Perkins in the September 1997 issue of Dungeon Magazine (#64). The original art was done by Bradley K. McDevitt and the Cartography was by Rob Lazzaretti. I’ve since converted it to Fifth Edition for educational purposes.
Part Two: Bzallin’s Citadel
Several years ago, while researching a powerful spell, Bzallin accidentally summoned an Abyssal lord named J’zzalshrak to his citadel. Rather than take offense, this horrifying fiend commended the wizard on his conjuration skill and tried to sway Bzallin to join her forces in the never-ending Blood War. Bzallin declined and eventually found a way to send J’zzalshrak back to her layer of the Abyss. However, J’zzalshrak needed strong allies, and over the years she tried to sway Bzallin with rare spell components and magical items taken from poor souls who perished in the Abyss. Bzallin gave each of J’zzalshrak’s messengers the usual brush-off, although he kept many of her “gifts” for further study.
The pit fiend overlords of Baator caught wind of J’zzalshrak’s generosity and, believing an alliance had formed between the tanar’ri and the wizard, sent a detachment of baatezu to destroy Bzallin’s citadel. The baatezu wanted to send a clear message to other mages who would dare take sides in the baatezu/tanar’ri Blood War. Thinking the attack was unprovoked and cursing the loss of several potent spellbooks and magical items, Bzallin swore bloody vengeance against the baatezu, escaped via his plane shift spell, and accepted J’zzalshrak’s offer. Using his magic and knowledge of spellcraft, Bzallin helped the tanar’ri wage war against the baatezu. Gradually his alignment shifted from neutral to neutral evil to chaotic evil. He returned to Horizon briefly to reclaim some possessions he had left behind. After officially resigning as Horizon’s wizard-protector, Bzallin relocated to the Abyss. By this time, he had devoted all his energies to fighting the Blood War.
To eliminate every shred of his past (and to satisfy some twisted sense of pleasure), Bzallin has chosen Horizon as a test site for his new “weapon.” Once he was a benevolent wizard, but now Bzallin wants to erase that aspect of himself and prove to his new allies that he is wholly committed to chaos and evil.
One of the “gifts” that Bzallin obtained from J’zzalshrak was a necromancer’s spellbook titled The Book of Vile Death. Although necromancy was little more than a passing fancy, he decided he would use this book to turn himself into a lich. This decision was based on a plan that would give J’zzalshrak a decisive edge in the war. Bzallin’s research into spheres of annihilation suggested that they may, in fact, be portals to the Quasi-elemental plane of Vacuum. His research also proposed that one could increase a sphere’s size by infusing it with energy from the Negative Energy Plane. To this end, Bzallin crafted a special talisman of the sphere connected to the Void and “fueled” by negative energy. Only as a lich could he provide the amulet with the necessary supply of negative energy to expand the sphere. The “blacksphere” could be used to wipe out baatezu outposts and lawful evil portals throughout the planes. Bzallin could even place the ever-growing sphere in Sigil and use this planar city as an example of what happens to those who oppose the tanar’ri.
The ruined citadel is located in the heart of the Ruvean Forest atop a small hill. The citadel consists of five squat towers, four of which were destroyed when the army of vengeful baatezu besieged the structure. The fifth and northernmost tower remains intact due to powerful magic cast upon it.
The northern tower is shielded against transportive spells such as passwall, phase door, teleport, and dimension door. Such spells do not grant entry into the tower, nor do they function inside the tower. The teleporter in area 5 is the only exception. Astral and ethereal characters may enter the structure, however, and portable holes operate normally. The tower is protected against scrying (crystal balls, clairvoyance spells, and the like) and is magically protected against a spell that might be used to damage it (such as disintegrate). Bzallin no longer resides in his citadel. However, characters who explore the north tower thoroughly discover the secret teleporter (area 5) which can transport them to Bzallin’s current lair (see “Part Three”).
Others who have visited the ruins in recent years believe the citadel is haunted. That is because Bzallin has commissioned a necromancer named Zhargaunt to guard the ruins against intrusion. In exchange, Bzallin has promised to give Zhargaunt The Book of Vile Darkness, which the lich no longer requires.
Zhargaunt and Company
The necromancer Zhargaunt is hidden in a glass coffin of timelessness buried under a layer of earth 50 feet north of the citadel. Time moves very slowly in the coffin, and each hour is equivalent to 1 day in the “real world.” This enables Zhargaunt to maintain his watch for an extensive period of time. With his ring of sustenance activated inside the coffin, the necromancer can go for months without food. His dread wolves lurk in the woods around the hill. (Any closer and their rotting stench would be detectable.) Any humanoid creature approaching within 50 feet of the citadel triggers a powerful alarm spell that alerts the necromancer and his wolves to the presence of trespassers.
Zhargaunt (NE male human necromancer) is a vile, emaciated figure with dark eye sockets and a twisted, black-toothed grin. He uses his cloak of the bat to fly about at night, spying on intruders from above. He uses his rod of terror to frighten away less threatening trespassers.
Zhargaunt first tries to scare away trespassers with a dissonant whispers spell, telling them in a sinister hushed voice to “Leave this cursed place, or face death!” If they fail to heed his warning and enter the ruined towers or courtyard, Zhargaunt rises from his hidden coffin and mentally beckons his wolves to emerge from the woods. He also casts create undead (summoning two juju zombies) and/or his summon shadow spell. PCs may mistake the necromancer for the lich Bzallin, and Zhargaunt does nothing to dissuade this perception.
Zhargaunt and his twelve dread wolves attack anyone outside the citadel or inside the ruined towers. The necromancer does not concern himself with intruders in the courtyard (area 1), or the north tower (areas 2-5), as these areas have guardians of their own.
Against more dangerous foes, he employs his dreaded bonewand. He attacks without mercy or remorse, using his most devastating spells first (circle of death, cloudkill, blight, ray of enfeeblement). His bracers of invincibility protect against non-magical weapons.
Zhargaunt’s dread wolves continue to fight until they are destroyed. They cannot be turned while Zhargaunt is controlling them; if he is killed, the wolves may be turned as normal. If Zhargaunt is attacked, held or cornered, the wolves ignore their current targets and rush to their master’s aid.
Around his neck, Zhargaunt wears a black claw-shaped iron key with a black gem clutched in its talons. This key deactivates the avoidance spell cast on the secret door to area 5, and the characters will probably need it to reach the teleporter dais. Zhargaunt will not give up the key, not even in exchange for his life. More than anything, he desires Bzallin’s Book of Vile Darkness and will not let the characters intimidate him.
Zhargaunt’s spellbook is hidden inside the coffin of timelessness. The necromancer will not voluntarily divulge its location, although detect thoughts and similar spells or effects may pry the information from him. A detect magic spell cast in the vicinity pinpoint the magical coffin. Any character who opens the book releases a specter that fights until turned or destroy. If the book is opened in broad daylight, the specter remains non-corporeal until nightfall, at which point it materializes and attacks. The book contains all of Zhargaunt’s memorized spells plus detect magic, detect scrying, insect plague, see invisibility, and true seeing.
Approaching the Citadel
If the characters allow Amazzar to teleport them to Bzallin’s citadel, they materialize inside the courtyard (area 1) and are promptly attacked by the earth weirds within. If the characters approach via their own means, they must either enter the citadel by flying into the courtyard, walking through the open entrance, or climbing over the rubble. The following description may be used regardless of the party’s method of approaching.
Bzallin’s ruined citadel is contained by a high circular wall of mortared stone. Five towers are evenly spaced along its northern perimeter. The southwest tower has been reduced to a pile of rubble, while three other towers suffer from collapsed ceilings and gaping holes. The northernmost tower stands taller than the wall and remains perfectly intact. The tower’s entrance is blocked by a pair of scorched bronze doors.
1 – Courtyard
This circular courtyard has a grassy floor, and its perimeter is lined with debris and rubble from the collapsed towers. The thick wooden doors which one secured the south courtyard entrance have been badly scarred by fire and knocked to the ground.
Characters who stand in the courtyard for more than two rounds arouse four earth weirds. The weirds are hostile toward all intruders save Zhargaunt the necromancer and residents of Bzallin’s Cube (see “Part Three”). A detect magic spell cast in the courtyard reveals something amiss, but nothing specific can be determined until the weirds begin to take shape. Intruders have one advantage: the weirds take a moment to assume their fighting form, giving them disadvantage on their initiative checks. The weirds to not pursue foes beyond the courtyard’s confines.
2 – Tower Entrance
The bronze double doors leading to the tower are arcane locked (DC 19 to dispel). If the characters manage to bypass or dispel the arcane lock, they must still contend with a magical trap. Inside the tower, positioned on either side of the entrance, are two wizard statues. Each statue is carved in Bzallin’s human likeness and appears to be gesturing as if to cast a spell. Any character passing between the statues is struck by two spells: feeblemind and confusion. Two separate saving throws are required (DC 19).
The statues are immovable and positioned 3 inches from the outside wall. Avoiding the trap requires the characters to enter the chamber without flying over or passing between the statues. Characters who can assume gaseous form can slip around the statues by staying close to the outside wall. Stoneshape spells may be used to move the statues further from the wall. Duo-dimension spells will also work, but transportive spells such as blink, dimension door, and teleport spells do not (See “Citadel Features” for details). A charge from a wand of negation can permanently dispel the magic of one statue, while a transmute rock destroys a statue while simultaneously nullifying its magic. An anti-magic shell provides complete protection against the statues. Each statue has an AC of 17 and 175 hp.
Save for the statues, the chamber beyond the double doors is empty and unfurnished. The door leading to area 3 is unlocked.
Bronze Double Doors. 2 inches thick, AC 19, 250 hit points. Requires a successful DC 25 Strength check to force open or a successful DC 25 Dexterity check using thieves’ tools to pick.
3 – Undead Garrison
The floor of this chamber is littered with the remnants of broken shelves, shattered glass, and smashed furniture. A dusty spiral staircase ascends to area 4.
A see invisibility spell, gem of true seeing, or similar magic reveals the presence of several invisible creatures in the area. In fact, Bzallin has placed ten juju zombies. These juju zombies obey the flameskulls in area 5 and Zhargaunt the necromancer. Thanks to Bzallin’s greater invisibility spell, these zombies remain invisible even when attacking. If intruders enter the room and no alarm has been sounded, the juju zombies do not attack until one of them is touched or wounded.
Each juju zombie carries a heavy crossbow loaded with a magical bolt. Any creature hit by the bolt must succeed on a DC 15 Constitution saving throw or be paralyzed for 1 minute. A creature can repeat its saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself with a success. Once the bolts are fired, the zombies discard their crossbows in favor of attacking with their slam attacks.
4 – Bzallin’s Old Study
Bzallin stripped this chamber bare when he withdrew to his new lair. The only remaining furnishings are two cracked work tables, a pair of dusty hanging lanterns (positioned above the tables), and four 5-foot-long iron tapestry rods mounted along the outer wall.
A secret door leads to Bzallin’s teleporter chamber (area 5). However, the secret door has an avoidance spell cast upon it. Any character carrying the iron key formerly in Zhargaunt’s possession can approach the door safely, and once the door is pushed open the avoidance spell is temporarily deactivated. There is no other way to approach the door unless Bzallin’s ward (DC 19) is dispelled or the door is utterly destroyed (the effects of disintegrate and transmute rock within the tower are outlined in “Citadel Features.”) A portable hole allows characters to pass through the nearby wall without having to approach the secret door. Note that passwall, phase door, and similar spells do not function inside the tower.
5 – Teleportation Chamber
The only permanent fixture in this curved chamber is a circular stone dais nine feet in diameter. Painted on the surface of the dais is a purely decorative pattern, although the dais does radiate alteration magic whenever a detect magic spell is cast upon it. To activate the teleporter, a character need only speak Bzallin’s name while standing on the dais. Doing so teleports the character to a similar dais in area 1 of the “Lair of the Lich.”
Guarding this chamber are five flameskulls. Four of these flying skulls are fashioned from human heads. The fifth skull is much larger and once belonged to a horned baatezu named Kraldrac, a fiendish flameskull.
While Kraldrac uses his shriek, the flameskulls use their fire rays to attack, keeping plenty of distance. They all use blur on themselves and save castings of their shield spell to prevent magic missiles and other attacks that would otherwise hit them. When pressed, they’ll use their fireball spell or use their 3rd-level spell slot for an upcasted magic missile.
If the flameskulls are fighting a losing battle, one of them moves to the dais, teleports to Bzallin’s abode, and warns the lich of the party’s impending arrival. Another flameskull tries to fetch the juju zombies in area 3.
Thumbnail art by Alexander Henry.