The ongoing adventures of a group of new D&D players in their first game

Always Pay The Ferryman

“Papum? How does death find us?”

“A very penetrating question, Granddaughter. To understand the answer you must first know something of the many worlds beyond this one.”

“Other worlds besides Telisar?”

“Certainly, child. Imagine Telisar is an island in the sea. Now imagine the sea is itself an island, in a still vaster sea of blackest night.”

“The Sea of Chaos?”

“Just so. The Sea of Chaos is infinite, and upon its waves ride all the islands of creation. Some large, some small, some – like Telisar – home to life of boundless variety. Others are desolate, empty wastelands, or cages for terrifying evil, forever seeking escape. And all of it, everything that was, that is or that could be, brought forth by the will of the Gods. As many tell it, at any rate.”

“I want to see them, these other places.”

“Certainly you do, because you are a bright and inquisitive girl. But it is not for mortals to sail upon Chaos; you would be lost forever, unmade in the swirling energies of potentiality. Know this, Tiny Blossom, not even the Gods may travel safely across the Sea, not since the the Five brought an end to the Wars of the Sisterhood and placed between the realms the Celestial Gates, that neither the armies of the Nine Hells nor the demons of the Abyss might escape, for the Gates are shut to travel from either side.”

“How can you shut gates on an ocean?”

“Obviously you cannot. I am speaking metaphorically of course, but understanding the superposition of energy waves transferring sympathetic material vibrations across the event horizon of multifold spacetime is quite beyond you, at present.”

“What does any of this have to do with death?”

“Death, granddaughter, is not like us. She cannot be stoppered in a bottle, or closed shut behind a gate, trapped in the Abyss like some pathetic Demon Lord. Death goes where she will, and all of creation – every realm, and every being, God or mortal – must receive Her visit sooner or later. She sets Her kindly gaze upon us, and all our petty machinations are as nothing. Every tyrant, every hero of legend, the Five, the Sisters, The Queens of Night themselves bow to Her, in the end. It is why I have dedicated my life to understanding Her work. For Hers is the only work that endures.

But to return to your question: Death sails the Seas of Chaos, but for Her it is not a seething, roiling ocean but a gentle river flowing through every realm. Scholars call it the Ethereal Plane, but many call it the River Styx. And it is said that Death has a Ferryman, who drives Her ferry up the Styx, from Shore to Shore, and wherever the Ferryman stops, Death disembarks, collects the souls of the dead, and brings them back to the ferry for their final journey to whatever rest they have earned.”

“So Death finds us because the Ferryman leads Her here?”

“You cut to the heart of the matter. Scholars have spent considerable effort attempting to understand the nature of the Ferryman, and whether there might be some way to steer it away from someone that would avoid Death, and in so doing become immortal. All to nothing, of course, but that doesn’t stop the fools from trying. Anaraxus the Foul claimed to have met the Ferryman, in fact.”


“If you believe Anaraxus, he divised a way to predict where the ferry will come ashore, and found him. To quote: ‘A small, green-skinned creature was he, with round, leathery head and stubby tail. He wore a simple brown robe. In one hand he held a lantern, which swung slowly to and fro; in the other a wide-bladed dagger, curved on one side like a chef’s knife.’”


”‘The creature’s appearance was unassuming but for the two gold pieces it had in place of eyes. The Ferryman moved slowly, its head turning to regard me with those blank coins, and I felt my spine become as ice.’ An unusually dramatic passage for Anaraxus.”

“So what happened?”

“So long as the Ferryman’s gaze was on him, he could not will himself to move: ‘I was rooted to the spot in terror.’ It approached him, moving slowly, lantern swinging, and Anaraxus felt sure this creature would destroy him. But ‘My genius availed me at last!’, says he, and he turned out his coin purse, spilling his gold upon the ground at the feet of the Ferryman. The creature stopped, the gold seemed to disappear, and the Ferryman turned and began walking back to the ferry. As soon as its gaze left him, Anaraxus ran.”

“Is this why we leave coins in the Catacombs, and Nanam says ‘Always pay the Ferryman?’”

“Perhaps. Or perhaps the custom predates Anaraxus by millenia and Anaraxus was an invenerate liar.”

“So is the Ferryman more powerful than Death?”

“Nothing is more powerful than Death, child. Even the Ferryman must die, some day. But many feel it foolish not to keep back a gold piece or two, to pay for your passage when Death comes, as She surely will.”