“There is one AntiPhoenix and only one. It’s written on this page; there is no other. It came alive when you read these words. You can use this Black Phoenix in your game. It’s the only one you’ll ever get. When it dies, if it dies, tear out this page. Take it outside. Burn it. There can never be another AntiPhoenix in your game, or any of your games, ever again.”Veins of the Earth, p. 21
So of course my players killed the poor bastard tonight.
(Content warning: self-inflicted injury, and unprovoked violence against intelligent animals/personifications of your inevitable death.)
If the AntiPhoenix kills a character—which it can do instantly with one bite—not only does the character die, but they can never be resurrected, and can never be played again in another game. And this was in a larger setting inspired by Dark Souls, where PCs literally get resurrected automatically after death. When they aren’t killed by an AntiPhoenix, at least.
This is the tabletop roleplaying game equivalent of a video game deleting your save file when you die. The difference, in theory, is that as a TTRPG, I’m free to ignore the rules. I’m not going to ignore this rule, though, because this rule is awesome and hilarious.
They stumbled onto the AntiPhoenix purely at random, a lucky (or unlucky?) roll on a d50 random encounter table. It was their third encounter of the evening.
The first encounter of the session was planned: The group of regulars stumbled upon two new PCs, awakening from death for the first time in the underground cave the group was exploring in their attempt to find the Deepwasp. To help give them all a reason to work together ASAP (compensating for overly long character creation and a session that started late already), I gave them a free magic item I’d created for a table of curios some months ago:
Cryptic Prophecy. When an ally rolls a critical hit or maximum damage against a named enemy, you may utter, “Look! Just as was foretold!” The target dies. 1 use.
“You are all named in the prophecy,” I told them, including the names of the two PCs just met. (Everybody else already knew they were part of some prophecy, so that wasn’t news to them.) “And you see more names, unfamiliar ones, too.” (We keep getting guest players. So.)
It worked. Adventuring commenced.
The second encounter, rolled randomly from the pages of Veins of the Earth, ended in victory, but also tragedy: Ham the Sneak was permanently infected in a battle with creatures made of coral. Eventually, the infection would overtake his body and torture him with visions of Atlantis, unless he amputated his leg. He seriously considered it.
Their third encounter led them to the AntiPhoenix. I read the entry in front of them, skimming as best I could, loudly swearing in disbelief. Then I made it very clear to the players that they were looking at a 20-hit-die enemy that could kill them instantly and permanently, and it just so happened to be perched over a horde of priceless treasures.
Lavitz, a cleric turned quite possibly evil sorcerer, decided to take his chances. He remembered that they had the Cryptic Prophecy, and I had clearly described the creature by name, so it was fair game for an instant kill. All they needed to do was roll max damage against it. And hell, slinging a rock at it for d4 damage had a 25% chance of the biggest payday they’d ever seen.
They concocted a very weird plan. Using Void Edge, a blade that can cut through practically anything, they sliced off Ham’s infected leg. Then they threw it at the AntiPhoenix to distract it. Then Lavitz tried to poke it.
Lavitz did not roll well, but the AntiPhoenix was barely even aware of his presence. It snapped up the leg. I explained to Ham’s player that even after her character resurrects, he’s coming back without that leg. It was just eaten by the AntiPhoenix, and they were well aware of what that meant. That leg was gone. But the gambit had bought them one free round.
Jin, one of the new PCs, tried to yank some treasure through the AntiPhoenix with a magical lodestone bracelet. No luck. Other characters hid in a nearby cave. We’d been playing for four sessions. Permanently risking otherwise immortal characters may have been a little much to ask. But Lavitz was undeterred. He picked up a single gold coin and slung it straight at the creature.
He rolled a natural 20.
The AntiPhoenix opened a maw like a black hole at the farthest end of the universe, and the coin “went down the wrong pipe.” The creature died. The group claimed enough treasure to bring their quest to an early end, if they can figure out where to take it all. I skimmed some more of the AntiPhoenix’s entry in the book, and realized he was actually quite sad, and gentle, and a potential patron for further quests, if you take the time to learn a dead language and don’t bother to pick a fight with him. Too bad we’ll never play another game with an AntiPhoenix in it ever again. Everybody quite rightly pretty bad about that. Then they went back to counting their treasure.
In addition to claiming more money and priceless items than they could carry, everyone rolled once on a treasure table. Ham’s roll yielded another unique item I wrote for this game months ago, “The Hands of Saint Regulus.” I figured as long as Ham’s going to be severing even more limbs, I might as well throw in the saint’s legs while we were at it.
As the players, we’re the ones driving. But sometimes the dice remind you why you let them navigate.