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  • Death in Metal, Part 2: The Heart of Mortis – Steampunk Bunker Encounter for D&D 5e
← Part 1: Terror in the Trenches
Death in Metal, Part 2 - The Heart of Mortis - Large C

Mechanical undead encounter for parties of 3rd-level or higher, with stat blocks for use in D&D 5e.

Somewhere beneath the trenches is an expansive bunker thought to be abandoned. And it was, its halls left silent and empty after its occupying force lost territory, until an enterprising doctor sought to use it for his experiments. The maddened, reviled Robal Kellander was drawn by the ‘resources’ that the battlefield might supply for his work and the ample subjects for his creations to test themselves against. So he claimed the bunker for himself, retrofitted it into a laboratory, and used the first of the scavenged corpses to fashion loyal creations to assist him in his work.

Kellander’s horde of minions has only grown since then. He and his assistants have maintained a steady production line of converting injured and fallen soldiers into members of the Arma Mortis, constantly increasing their numbers. All the while, Kellander has been working to advance his research and create more and more powerful variants. He has seen many failures but also many successes, pushing the frontiers of his work ever forward.

If the Arma Mortis are to be stopped, their leader must be routed. Only Kellander’s death can ever put a permanent end to the attacks on nearby soldiers and the production of the monsters that hunt through the trenches. And with the army’s leadership unwilling to risk their already thinning forces against the Arma Mortis in a desperate search of the battlefield, the task may fall to a small group of adventurers to slip through the trenches, locate Kellander’s bunker, and slay the mind behind the Arma Mortis.

Death in Metal, Part 2 - The Heart of Mortis - Additional Banner 1

The Mortis Laboratory

The heavy doors grind open into the bunker’s central chamber, a sickly green light spilling out to fill the hallway. It glows from enormous cylindrical tanks at the room’s opposite end which raises to support them; one central larger tank and a smaller pair to either side, with another two closer to the doorway. Shadowed forms float suspended within them, while pipes of rustic metal flow into the glass cylinders, loose connections dripping with the fluid and spreading the thick stench of formaldehyde. The rest of the room appears to be designed in service of these tanks. The pipes connect through walls and into machines of unknown function that churn with perpetually turning gears, while small workstations, wooden containers, and unsettlingly humanoid-shaped sacks decorate the rest of the space.

The Arma Mortis originate from a bunker hidden below the trenches. The sprawl of concrete tunnels and retrofitted rooms have been claimed as the private playhouse of Robal Kellander, where he converts the soldiers brought to him and further develops his loyal constructs. These spaces include the necessary workstations, operating theatres, and supply rooms, as well as others dedicated to storing his work-in-progress exemplars in vats of preservative liquid, and the outermost chambers for disposing of the unfortunate remnants of failed experiments. Kellander’s most loyal minions populate these areas to expedite the production of other Arma Mortis, as well as patrolling the hallways in case of incursion.

These all center around Kellander’s personal laboratory. The largest chamber is equipped for his exact goals, with large tanks to hold his test subjects and the rest of the space prepared for receiving, operating on, and sending out the Arma Mortis that currently stalk the trenches above. It is here that Kellander spends his time, tirelessly working towards the perfection of his creations.

Release valves. Each of the tanks has a release valve attached to its base that can be turned as an action. Turning the valve causes the fluid to begin to drain, which takes until initiative 20 (losing initiative ties) of the next round to empty. When the fluid empties, any creature inside the tank awakens and rolls initiative.

Map & Asset Downloads

Our very own Steampunk Laboratory battle map acts as the centerpiece for this encounter. But Kellander’s laboratory is only one room in an expansive bunker, with myriad tunnels and rooms for the characters to explore before reaching him. Fortunately, we have several packs of assets that you can use to quickly and easily throw these spaces together…

Robal Kellander

(CE male elven mortis magister)

He turns, the mass of metal and cloth showing itself to be a robed man who hunches under the weight of mechanized augmentations. His footsteps are heavy and metallic, his movements are accompanied by the sounds of shifting gyros, and pipes weave across his body and into a mask that covers his mouth. And yet he shows no strain against these modifications. He moves easily and the modulated voice that sounds from his mask is clear and assertive.

A singular mind is behind the Arma Mortis: Robal Kellander. Kellander, likely a pseudonym, is a self-professed scientist who seeks the perfection of the physical form through mechanical augmentation. And though his own origin is unknown, Kellander is only too happy to describe that of his work. He proselytizes the virtues of the religion that drives his experiments: the pursuit of divinity through knowledge. His subjects are therefore his attempts to realize the furthest extents of this belief, by artificially perfecting the physical body through machinery born of generations of research and engineering. And while most would regard Kellander as a lone madman with access to far greater resources than he should ever have been allowed, the progress of his work and his description of his beliefs as a religion inspire fear that Kellander is only one member of a larger collective that shares his aspirations.

Interpersonally, Robal is a focused and abrasively stubborn individual. His dedication to his work has seen all other facets of his personality sacrificed alongside pieces of his own body, willfully losing what he deems unnecessary and adding only what might further his goals. This includes relationships. Kellander has no time for any connections or trivialities that do not pertain to his religion. This most often causes friction with anyone he is working for, or with, but leads to even greater friction when his work is intruded upon. He allows his minions to act largely independently, including seeing to any uninvited guests. Robal only confronts the most insistent of visitors and is quick to dispose of them, though he can be distracted should one ask him about his work or recent discoveries and feign a similar interest in the topic.

The Mortis Fidelis

Robal Kellander toils away in the depths of the bunker, pushing ever further towards his goal. He is assisted by some of his most loyal creations who aid in the conversion of new test subjects brought in from the battlefield. Though not all conversions and experiments are successful, even those that might be considered failures still show undying loyalty to their master. These animated remnants haunt the bunker, protecting their creator alongside his other favored creations.

Mortis Skull

CR 1/8

A damaged humanoid skull swims through the air like a fish in water. Metal plates have been used to repair where the bone is fractured and broken, and a circular lens is fitted in one of its eye sockets, glowing green. Where the spine would connect is instead a whirring device from which three metal tendrils extend, trailing behind like an eel, a small pincer at the end of each.

Kellander’s most basic assistants are the mortis skulls. The skulls are crafted from the eponymous cranial bones and the brains of any subjects with latent magical talent who are not converted into mortis harvesters or attendants. They are then equipped with basic appendages and set to work carrying out the most menial functions within the laboratory, often acting as extra hands for Kellander’s surgeries. Though it lacks the focus to cast anything beyond basic cantrips, their magical ability allows the skulls to levitate and attack with blasts of released magic. It also has a habit of violently discharging should a skull be destroyed.

Mortis Scorpius

CR 1/2

The clinking of sharp metallic feet heralds a disturbing creation. An upturned ribcage holds a tank of metal and glass, green liquid suspending a brain inside, with clusters of pipes and other connections piercing its flesh and stem. The ribcage is reinforced with metal and supports a sputtering engine on its underbelly. Six pointed legs grant it locomotion, while a pair of mechanical pincers extend forward and a tail curls from behind it, an augmented spine ending in a skull that peers around using a lens in its eye socket.

One step up from the skulls is a creature that Kellander treats as a personal indulgence: the mortis scorpius. The scorpii are a representation of Kellander’s goals in simple form, boasting the lowest ratio of man to machine while still being driven by a thinking mind. This mind is not perfect, however, as the process reduces them to little more than guard dogs and valued pets for their creator. Fortunately, this does not compromise their effectiveness. The scorpii wield enhanced forms of the skulls’ magic in addition to their physical enhancements, granted them an often unexpected edge over anyone who threatens Kellander or his bunker.

Mortis Exemplar

CR 1

A pale, hairless humanoid steps forward sloppily, its lumbering motions accompanied by the sounds of mechanized replacements for its limbs and organs. Crude yet intricate machine facsimiles make up large portions of its body, metal gyros and black piping working in concert with the creature’s biology. Yet they begin to sputter and strain. Thick green liquid bleeds from the connections between flesh and metal and the creature groans as its transplanted joints seize, flexing violently and twisting and bending in unnatural directions.

Many failures have paved the path toward perfection, each one a sacrificial lamb used to refine a singular aspect of the final product before being summarily destroyed. These exemplars are prototypes that are rarely designed to awaken. Their animation consists of little more than loyalty to their master, which pairs with the reckless, desperate rage that drives them. This enhanced rage can be attributed to their bodies rejecting being augmented to such an extent. Though Kellander’s experiments have enhanced the exemplars’ strength, agility, and durability, the strain of so many imperfect surgeries has had volatile results, with some even physically decaying at an alarming rate. Should they be awakened from their tanks, the exemplars spend their limited time hunting potential targets with such fervorous disregard for their own life that one might suspect the exemplars are pursuing their own deaths as much as their opponents.

Each of Kellander’s experiments is different and some are more successful than others. As such, we’ve included a decaying exemplar as a variant, allowing you to choose whether to include the Decaying Body ability or not. If you would like even more variety, you can have other tanks holding mortis drones or other mortis units, all of which can also have Decaying Body applied to them.

Mortis Attendant

CR 2

A slender form glides forward, carried by mechanized spider legs that whir and click as they step. They support an individual who stands perfectly upright in sodden white with a leather apron, all of which is blood-spattered and discolored. Pipes emerge from within these garments and connect to the creature’s head. They flow into a mask that covers its face and a set of mechanisms that are grafted into the back of its skull. Others curl around and through its arms, which extend inhumanly across multiple elbows to end in carefully sharpened claws, the left supporting bloodied syringes on its fingertips.

The mortis attendants are constructs designed with the express purpose of assisting Kellander in his work. They possess finer motor control than their closest counterparts, the mortis harvesters, deftly wielding the scalpel-like claws affixed to their hands. They also possess similar magical abilities which they use in the surgeries they are tasked with as a means of keeping their patients silent and still. But their skills are not limited to the operating table. The attendants are more than equipped for combat, using their dexterity alongside anesthetics and controlling magic to impede, paralyze, and then vivisect their targets, all while empowering their allies.

Mortis Magister

CR 3

Hooded robes are draped over the hunched individual, hiding much of the biomechanical horrors that might be seen beneath. Pipes are visible, dropping from the man’s masked mouth from beneath glassy, green-tinged eyes and disappearing into the garments covering his torso. They seem to connect to his back, where a mound of chattering machinery and tanks of putrid green liquid is grafted to him, weighing down his posture. A pair of mechanical arms emerge from this pack. They act in tandem with his own and hold a bident with similar enhancements to its wielder. What little flesh is visible of his limbs is similarly augmented, leaving only small sections of pale skin untouched between the myriad plates and servos.

Those behind the creation of the Arma Mortis, who uphold beliefs such as Robal Kellander’s, and who are responsible for inducting others into their sect, willing or otherwise, are known as the mortis magisters. These magisters live by example, converting and augmenting much of their own bodies with mechanical facsimiles. This enhances their bodies and minds to push them ever further in their pursuits while making them ever more dangerous to those who might oppose them. Adventurers seeking to fell a mortis magister must be ready to face a near-perfected combination of man, magic, and machinery.

Balancing the Mortis Fidelis

There are a few considerations to make while balancing the encounter beyond simply matching the Challenge Rating. The first is the specific abilities of individual creatures and how they might affect those around them. Mortis attendants are perhaps the clearest example of why this is important, as their ability to disable opponents while empowering their allies means that their effective CR extends beyond themselves and can have a multiplicative effect on the difficulty of the encounter. This likewise goes for the possibility of mortis exemplars overcharging multiple other creatures with their Overloading Instability. Fortunately, this is roughly balanced against their Berserk feature, which can result in the exemplars attacking their own allies.

Fortunately, the setting of a bunker and its many halls and rooms is the perfect place to spread creatures out in different groups and varieties. These should include patrolling units, rooms with smaller encounters, and even optional fights, such as rooms of inactive exemplars that the party can investigate and potentially awaken. Encounters such as these can help you gauge the characters’ ability to deal with the monsters, allowing you to better adjust the final encounter to your chosen difficulty, with Kellander’s mortis magister being the only unknown. They likewise provide opportunities for the party to learn about the Arma Mortis and how to deal with them, such as not using lightning damage, which can improve the group’s effectiveness in encounters that follow.

Finally, the creatures from Part 1 of the encounter can also be included alongside the Mortis Fidelis. The addition of the many field units provides more choices of CR values for fine-tuning each fight. These Arma Mortis could be Kellander’s recent creations, hunting parties that have returned to the bunker with their injured victims, or simply guards that have been stationed to protect the laboratory.

Here are some examples of creatures that you may use to achieve different CR values for the confrontation with Robal Kellander:

CR 4: 1 mortis magister, 1 mortis scorpius, 4 mortis skulls

CR 5: 1 mortis magister, 1 mortis exemplar, 1 mortis scorpius, 4 mortis skulls

CR 6: 1 mortis magister, 1 mortis attendant, 1 mortis scorpius, 4 mortis skulls

CR 7: 1 mortis magister, 1 mortis attendant, 1 mortis exemplar, 1 mortis scorpius, 4 mortis skulls

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About the author

Troy McConnell

Part-time DM and author of 2-Minute Tabletop's encounters, map lore, and characters. Basically, I write about all the campaign ideas that I don't have time to run. All with the assistance of my feline familiar, Wink.

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