Messiah of Ashes

Those that spend time with the weird undead halflings known as the dødelig know that there is a lot of mirth in their communities. Beyond their ability to see the bright side of even (un)death, as they often comment with a whistle, they seem to almost be suffused with an unwavering optimism that borders on irreverent disrespect to the countless horrid threats lurking in the Underworld.

There is more to this than the cosmic joke of their own creation—every dødelig, to a degree, seems to understand that there is power in laughter and song, far beyond what more serious or dour races would ever dare to believe. Among the dødelig, this philosophy is known as the grand Joke of Ashes and there are dødelig that understand it better than others—these rare dødelig move through the Underworld with the express purpose of bringing mirth and salvation to their fellow undead, whether they like it or not. These dødelig call themselves, with a dash of characteristic irony, messiahs of ashes, and they invariably find themselves surrounded by the most mellow living dead you’ll ever see.

The tradition of the messiah of ashes is unique to dødelig culture and works slightly different than other clerics.

Channel Divinity: Mellow Undead

As an action, you present your holy symbol and recite an excerpt of the Joke of Ashes. Each undead that can hear you within 30 feet of you must make a Wisdom saving throw. If the creature fails its saving throw, it is mellowed for 1 minute or until it takes any damage. A mellowed undead creature usually just stands around and chuckles eerily (or whatever would be the equivalent for the respective undead creature—detached, animated claws, for example, have been known to “applaud” with the floor or other adjacent surfaces…or people…). It won’t attack you or your allies and, subject to GM’s discretion, may be bargained with, provided you can communicate with it. Mellowed undead creatures can’t take reactions. However, the undead creatures can still hear and see and don’t suddenly turn oblivious: Surrounding a lich with swords drawn or beginning an array of buff spells will result in the mellowed creatures reacting appropriately. Overtly threatening behavior allows the undead to reroll their saving throw to shake off being mellowed. Mellow undead is not subject to turn immunity. This form of channel divinity replaces the cleric’s Channel Divinity: Turn Undead class feature. Why would the messiah of ashes scare away the undead? They’re such nice folk once you get to know them…

Black Humor

Starting at 5th level, you have further refined your talent as a comedian for the dead. When an undead fails its saving throw against your Mellow Undead feature, the creature is paralyzed by a paroxysm of morbid laughter if its challenge rating is at or below a certain threshold, as shown in the Black Humor table. Paralysis incurred by Black Humor ignores the condition immunity to paralysis the undead may have. Undead creatures in a paroxysm of morbid laughter can’t see or hear anything over their own amusement and are effectively blind and deaf for the duration. They remain paralyzed for 1 minute or until they take damage. If an undead creature in a paroxysm of morbid laughter takes damage, it may immediately attempt to reroll the 21 saving throw against your Mellow Undead feature.

On a success, it shakes off the paralysis. This feature replaces destroy undead—why would you want to destroy these funny folks?

Black Humor
Messiah of Ashes Level Paralyzes Undead of CR…
5th 2 or lower
8th 3 or lower
11th 4 or lower
14th 5 or lower
17th 6 or lower

Messiah of Ashes Domain

Lead the Merry Dead

At 1st level, the messiah of ashes is a kind of liaison between the living and the undead. Undead creatures affected by your Mellow Undead class feature lose the extra spark of hatred for all living beings that the undead state usually conveys, making them open to negotiation. A remnant of the undead creature’s former personality surfaces, allowing you to negotiate a relocation, an end of the undead state, release of hostages, etc. While the undead will not act against its nature or motivations (an undead seeking to bring justice to its killer will still want to do that…just, possibly, with fewer casualties…), and it no longer is immediately hostile to the living.

In some communities in the underworld, the arrival of a messiah of ashes is celebrated, as they march into cemeteries to lead the undead in a merry, final parade out of town, allowing the living to say their final thanks. This reasonable state does not override control exerted by e.g. necromancers and other evil entities and is, alas, only temporary and lasts for 1d6 + your proficiency bonus hours.

You also become proficient in your choice of one of the following skills: Deception, Performance, Persuasion, Sleight of Hand. Your proficiency bonus is doubled when for any skill check made with one of those skills against an undead you have made temporarily reasonable.

Just Give a Whistle

Dødelig should, by all accounts, be incapable of whistling.

Starting at 2nd level, you become the not-quite-living rebuttal to that thesis. The Joke of Ashes lets you whistle, a merry tune that disrupts the necrotic energies that hold the undead together. When you whistle, you cast the eldritch blast cantrip, save that it affects only undead and inflicts psychic damage.

Additionally, you add your Charisma modifier to the damage it deals on a hit.

Sidebar: Warlock-y Clergy?

The Just Give a Whistle feature makes the messiah behave more like an anti-undead warlock. Since this ability is very potent, the domain does not grant any other domain spells.

Just Before You Draw Your Terminal Breath

Beginning at 6th level, your merry mien and positive attitude allow you to save your allies from certain doom. As a reaction to an ally within 60 feet that you can see making a death saving throw, you can sing a brief, merry tune, granting the ally advantage on the death saving throw. The ally must be capable of hearing you. You may use this feature again after finishing a long rest.

Life Is Quite Absurd

At 8th level, you have internalized a core tenet of the Joke of Ashes and benefit from its potent protection—a protection you can extend to your allies. As an action, you may start singing an excerpt from the Joke of Ashes. This grants you protection from the forces of entropy:

Whenever you would take necrotic damage while you’re singing, roll 1d8 and add your Charisma modifier. You reduce the amount of necrotic damage you take by that amount. You can take your bonus action to keep singing on subsequent rounds to maintain the effects of Life is Quite Absurd.

Additionally, allies within 60 feet that can hear you can join in by expending their bonus action on their turn. If they do, they gain the same protection for as long as you sing and they continue to sing along. Singing does not require Concentration, but prevents you from casting spells or from otherwise speaking. While this feature is in effect, the first time anyone singing along would drop to 0 hit points as a result of taking damage, the creature instead drops to 1 hit point and the song ends for all affected. You get to decide who is protected thus if multiple creatures drop to 0 hit points at once as the result of a damaging effect. Once you have used this class feature, you can’t use it again until you have finished a long rest.

And Death’s The Final Word

Beginning at 17th level, you realize the irony of your abilities, of the state of the undead and the living— you truly get the Joke of Ashes. This is very bad news for pretty much all undead troublemakers.

When you defeat an undead that can survive destruction of its form via a curse, phylactery or special required condition to end its existence, you may use an action to attempt to start telling the full version of the Joke of Ashes. This process takes 10 minutes and requires Concentration (as if you were casting Concentration spell). Upon completion, the undead must succeed a Charisma contest against you. On a success, it can inhabit its phylactery or pursue its usual means of reconstituting itself.

On a failure, you permanently destroy the undead creature, as it is forced to accept the truth of the Joke of Ashes. This telling of the full Joke of Ashes is extremely taxing on your form. Upon completing it, your exhaustion level immediately increases to level 5. As this power stems directly from channeling the cosmic truth of the Joke of Ashes, it ignores immunity to exhaustion.

Too Funny to Die

Also at 17th level, you become literally too funny for the multiverse to let you die. If you would die due to any circumstances, including a third failure on a death saving throw, you may attempt to tell a joke. Make a Charisma (Performance) check against DC 30. On a success, you are fully healed.

On a failure, you die. You may only use this feature once per year.

Sidebar: Too Funny to Die

A more rewarding way to deal with this ability, particularly if your group is mature and fair enough to handle this, is as follows: Give the player up to 5 minutes to prepare and then, let the player tell a joke—if even one player or the GM has to guffaw, laugh, etc., the ability works. This obviously requires players being genuine about their reactions and the group to have a somewhat similar sense of humor.

It’s not a solution for every group, but it’s the one I prefer.

Section 15: Copyright Notice

Occult Secrets of the Underworld Copyright 2018, AAW Games, LLC; Thilo Graf and Jonathan G. Nelson.