Over at Nerdarchy the YouTube channel Nerdarchists Dave and Ted get wrapped up discussing the mummy lord for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons. I took a close look at this creature entry in the 5E D&D Monster Manual after watching The Mummy, a 2017 film starring Tom Cruise, Sofia Boutella and Annabelle Wallis. It blew me away! The classic monster’s representation in the game is spectacular and if I’m honest I couldn’t believe we don’t see mummies and mummy lords featured more prominently in adventures. They make incredible antagonists with built in features and flair practically begging to become an ongoing antagonist keeping adventurers on their toes.
Wrap your 5E D&D campaign up with mummies
The first thing to know when it comes to mummies whether you’re an accomplished 5E D&D adventurer or an action movie protagonist is they’re meant to be defeated and come back again and again and again. Run of the will preserved corpses animated by dark magic might collapse into a pile of grave dust and wrappings, put to their final rest but a mummy lord not so much. I’ve got a strong suspicion mummy lords are designed purposefully for relatively easy defeat. Returning none the worse for wear to strike terror into their adversaries is part of a mummy lord’s arsenal.
“In the tombs of the ancients, tyrannical monarchs and the high priests of dark gods lie in dreamless rest, waiting for the time when they might reclaim their thrones and reforge their ancient empires.” — from the 5E D&D Monster Manual entry for mummy lords
The time for a mummy lord in your 5E D&D game is right now! So many stories of mummies begin with the perfect scenario to translate into an adventuring party’s first quest. A giant can’t hurl a rock without hitting an ancient tomb in the landscape of D&D worlds and any one of them might hold an dormant mummy lord. All it takes is penetrating the deepest chambers of the tomb, unwittingly releasing ancient evil and a campaign is off to the races.
Confronting a low level party with a mummy lord can put the fear in characters and players alike if only through the regional effects caused by the dark presence of a newly risen mummy lord. Imagine the party in the final chamber where a complex arcane contraption contains the object of the quest. This could be whatever McGuffin your adventure calls for, preferably lucrative treasure for the adventurers along with the doodad their employer hired them to retrieve.
A clever plan to overcome the contraption succeeds! Unfortunately the contraption also sealed the mummy lord’s evil from the world and the heroes just released it. Give your frightening new campaign villain a few rounds to fully rise, during which all the food, water and organic material in the region instantly moulders. Roll initiative to illustrate the tension and make the extreme danger clear. The tomb rumbles and threatens to collapse. Steal a lair action like parts of the ceiling collapsing as the dark energy of the mummy lord’s rise shakes the foundations. Spellcasters who try to cast a spell of 4th level or lower in the mummy lord’s lair are wracked with pain. Escape is the best option.
Hopefully characters nabbed the object of their quest along with some treasure as the ancient tomb implodes behind them during their escape. This way the mummy lord continues to haunt them because of the terrible curse. And that object of their quest for the NPC employer? That’ll cause problems too since the mummy lord relentlessly tries to get it back.
In the movies mummies typical arise, wreak havoc and suffer defeat at the protagonists hands in fairly short time like days or weeks at most. Stretching this out over the course of a campaign isn’t too difficult though. Scaling down the mummy lord’s aggression from constant pursuit and devastation to more calculated plans gives you an opportunity to develop them in lots of ways.
One of the greatest examples of a mummy antagonist comes from Mumm-Ra, the primary villain of the Thundercats universe. From the Black Pyramid this terrifying servant of Ancient Spirits of Evil often manipulates the Mutants into doing his bidding and furthering his goals. He also takes a personal hand through several disguises and has no compunctions about calling on his dark masters to transform into a powerful version of himself to battle his enemies directly.
Building a 5E D&D campaign around a mummy lord
In the video Dave points out the evocative components of mummies in the Monster Manual, highlighting the Undead Archives one he particularly enjoys along with ways to weave those elements into a campaign. Here’s the other sections of the entry and how they might factor into your own 5E D&D mummy lord campaign.
Preserved Wrath. All of the canopic jars holding the mummy lord’s organs lie scattered across the land. Learning of their existence and tracking them down is a race against the clock as the mummy lord seeks to do the same. If they retrieve them all they’ll be invincible!
The Will of Dark Gods. Transgressions against things important to the mummy lord caused it to arise in the first place and seek vengeance. The mummy lord isn’t talking, so finding out what transgressions took place and making them right could be the key to stopping the rampage.
The Punished. The mummy lord played so fantastically in 2017’s The Mummy was created as punishment for her dark ways in life and sealed away with utmost security. Rising in the modern day she sought to reclaim all her power and what she possessed already made her a nearly unstoppable force.
Creature of Ritual. This kind of mummy lord makes me imagine a mortal with some sort of power over the undead, using something like the canopic jar to control or direct the mummy lord to do their bidding. Adventurers who begin to investigate a series of strange deaths involved a rotting disease that turns them to dust stumble upon a web of dark magic and darker deeds.
Ending a Mummy’s Curse. Discovering the means to put an end to the mummy lord once and for all can carry adventurers far and wide in search of knowledge, objects and methods for a complex ritual. But to keep it 5E D&D the final part of banishing the mummy lord’s dark presence for all eternity has gotta be casting remove curse.