Lord Mortis of Balthor is the primary villain and final enemy of the Fighting Fantasy gamebook The Keep of the Lich Lord, later rewrote into the Fabled Lands gamebook series. He is a powerful necromancer warlord slain long before, who rises again as an undead lich and tries once more to take over the Arrowhead Islands archipelago, only to be destroyed for good by the playable character, labelled as the Chosen of Lhyss in the Titan canon.
Mortis was the ruler of Stayng Island, in the Arrowhead Archipelago off the northeast coast of Khul, one of the three continents of the world of Titan and a sort of counterpart to medieval Asia. Little to nothing his known about his origins, but Mortis most likely inherited his title of Lord of Balthor.
What is known is that he trained heavily in both Dark Magic and the art of war, and that he was a gruesome tyrant, who married an equally evil woman called Lady Lotmora of Balthor. Mortis of Balthor was famous for his silver armor and his black banners in tatters, symbols of Plague.
200 years before The Keep of the Lich Lord, the evil warlord set out to conquer the entire archipelago, which may have been the first step of his plans of conquest, perhaps including the entire continent.
Given Mortis' enormous army, strategic skills and practice of necromancy (with which he raised fallen soldiers from both his army and the opposing ones) he posed enough of a threat for every kingdom in the Archipelago to form an army led by the hero Qadarnai, helped by many elven tribes.
Mortis sent powerful living-deads to kill Qadarnai in his sleep, but this plan was thwarted by priestesses of Iatro the Goddess of Healing. Qadarnai ended up duelling Mortis one-on-one while their armies clashed, using the powerful Ivory Spear crafted through elven sorcery. Qadarnai threw the spear at his enemy, killing him at the very same second when he got struck and killed by a dark energy blast.
Mortis was buried in a crypt near the place where he fell, and peace returned. Yet, the necromancer's magic was so strong that he was bound to return under the shape of a Lich, and only the Ivory Spear, which was never removed from his dead body, prevented him from rising again.
Mortis of Balthor is a highly talented warlord and strategist, able to threaten an entire alliance of kingdoms with his sole armies, and a considerably dangerous warrior, who wields a mace in battle with great strength and proficiency. Mortis' military talents are displayed throughout the gamebook, through the description of his different squadrons of undeads and the strategic alliances he makes with the equally evil Chaos Pirates.Despite the fact that Mortis is referred mostly as a powerful wizard in the gamebook, it is his warlord aspect that is primarily displayed in the story. He is poised and regal, yet cruel, merciless, cold-blooded, oppressive, sadistic and taunting. Like many other powerful villains, is overconfident, which sometimes prompts him to brag his strategies before his enemies, though he acts with caution even with enemies he deems inferior.
Magically speaking, Mortis of Balthor is a formidable master of necromancy, able to raise the deads from the grave as undead soldiers, but also to cast a Living-Death spell that kills people and turns them into undeads immediately after. He can raise the classical zombies and skeletons and fearsome specters, wights and even vampires, and summon powerful Skull Beasts that reside outside the lands of the dead and the living. He even created an elite squadron of the fearsome Knights of Alptraum, powerful undead souls bound to a suit of armor.
The Lich Lord is also able to attack with bolts of dark energy, ghostly smoke or summoned phantom hands, to set magical traps, to magically seal entrances, among other things. It must be noted that Mortis only raises undead for warring purposes, and as such, his undeads servants can do nothing but fight.
Mortis and his undeads exude an Aura of Fear that can weaken even the most determined warriors. Fortunately, being undeads make them all weaker during daytime, unable to go outside before twilight or to cross rivers and water ponds, and highly vulnerable to running water.
In The Keep of the Lich Lord
The playable character is a famed mercenary, whose enrolment in the prestigious White Tiger regiment is coming to an end. They are then summoned by the Triumvir, the Council of Three ruling the Varradian Alliance: the common government of the Arrowhead Archipelago near the Continent of Khul. The Triumvir needs their help against a threat returning from an ancient era. They just received a report from Lord Braxis, the wise governor of Stayng Island, informing them that his castle, Bloodrise Keep, is besieged by an undead army led by a knight in a silver armour, and is about to fall.
The knight is none other than the dreaded Mortis of Balthor, risen from the grave, who is about to strike an alliance with the Chaos Pirates from Blood Island, who wage a continuous war against the Alliance but who are no match for the powerful Varadian fleet. With both his undead army and the Chaos Pirates' fleet, Mortis would be able to take over the entire archipelago. With the Varradian fleet busy repelling a high-scale attack from the Chaos Pirate, the Chosen of Lhyss must venture alone on Stayng Island, guided by General Chaideshu, who keeps in touch with them through a Communication Ring.
Very early in the game, the Chosen can head to Mortis' Crypt and discover that a foolish grave robber awoke the Lich Lord by taking the Ivory Spear, whom they gain. The spear is a very powerful weapon dealing a loss of 4 stamina points (life points) instead of the regular 2 for each strike at an undead. When facing an undead, the Chosen must test their resolve to avoid being weakened by their aura of fear during the fight.
At some point, the Chosen halts in an inn where they can meet Kandogor, a surviving soldier from Bloodrise Keep and a vile traitor who swore allegiance to the Lich Lord, who offers to follow them (in order to better backstab them). Avoiding contact with him is the best solution.They can also meet the female Elf Elindora, who asks for their help to destroy Lady Lotmora, Mortis' wife whom the Lich Lord resurrected as a Vampire Lady and who is terrorizing the nearby town. If the two of them are followed by Kandogor, the traitor will try to dissuade the Chosen to listen to Elindora, and might even kill her before killing them in their sleep.
If the Chosen agrees to help her, they search for the vampire's vault in the local cemetery. If they head to the northeast part right away, they will find it during daytime and slay Lady Lotmora and her vampire minions without resistance.
- If the vampires are faced in the evening, the powerful Vampire Lady has 9 in skill (level of power) and 11 in stamina, (life-points), and fights alongside two weaker vampires, while Elindora deals with her last two thralls. They must be defeated in less than 9 attack rounds, or else night will fall and they all gain 2 in skill and 5 in stamina. If the vampires are found at night, Lady Lotmora will have 11 in skill and 18 in stamina.
- Lady Lotmora and even her minions put up quite a challenge, even with the Ivory Spear. Before fighting, she always hypnotises the Chosen, forcing them to win a test of resolve to overcome it. (If the test is failed by night time, the game is over. Otherwise, it "only" weakens them.) Moreover, if Lady Lotmora wounds them, she can cause a temporary loss of 1 skill point.
- If Kandogor followed the Chosen and Elindora, he will make sure that they only find Lady Lotmora by nigh time and will fight alongside her, further worsening the battle, and trying to flee upon the vampires' demise. Only throwing the Ivory Spear can kill the cowardly traitor.
Elindora rewards the Chosen of Lhyss with a powerful magic ring and directs them to the elven tribe who shelters many denizens of the island in their forest, protected from the undeads by their powerful magic, and can give them precious information and items.
They will fight then the Chaos Pirates invading villages all around the island to take slaves for their warships. They can sneak into the pirate ship and kill the wretched and cowardly Captain Jarmesh, freeing every slave. Jarmesh has 8 in skill and 11 in stamina, who begs for mercy twice when wounded to much, only to backstab the Chosen.
If they visited the Temple of Lhyss, the Chosen may also go to the menhir of Whistlestone Tor, where they will face an ordeal by Lhyss (the local name for Sindla Goddess of Fate and Luck). If they defeat a dangerous four-armed golem with 9 in skill and 17 in stamina, who can fire huge fireballs if they get struck, forcing the Chosen to win a test of luck or lose 5 stamina point. If they win, they add 3 to their luck total, 4 to their stamina and 1 to their skill.
- The Chosen can also venture in a town plagued by a Skull Beast, summoned from the Land of the Dead by Mortis: a dangerous enemy with 9 in skill and 10 in stamina, who only loses 1 point of stamina when struck with anything but a mace.
Near Bloodrise Keep, the Chosen of Lhyss notices that Mortis has made a dam of bones and corpses to block the Scort River, emptying the moat around the fortress and enabling his undeads to go in and out. If Kandogor fought alongside Lady Lotmora and survived, he will attack them with a ballista and only Elindora's magic ring or successfully throwing the Ivory Spear at him and can avoid a gruesome demise.
Because of daytime, neither Mortis nor his undeads can leave the fortress, but they remain active inside and the Chosen gets an Alarm Value, which rises depending on how stealthy they are while sneaking into the fortress. The higher the Alarm Value is, the more dangerous the fortress becomes. They can interact with human servants whom Mortis kept alive to do the chores that his undeads are incapable of.
The Chosen can also meet Lady Iola, the noble mother of Lord Braxis and a priestess of the goddess Iatro, who is protected from the undeads as long as she remains near the goddess' altar. Lady Iola can teach the Chosen the Charm of Unbinding, a powerful holy spell that destroys every nearby undeads and proves extremely useful.
- The Chosen must avoid the powerful Knights of Alptraum, who have all 10 in skill and 9 in stamina. Fighting the 200 of them at once is outright suicide.
After meeting Lord Braxis, whom Mortis kept alive but imprisoned in a far too small cell, the Chosen can decide where to confront the vile Lich Lord, a major innovation in a Fighting Fantasy game. They can either exit Bloodrise Keep towards the dam (the easiest path), or enter the dungeon to reach Mortis' throne room (the hardest path).
With Mortis gone, his undead army collapses, enabling Lady Iola to free Lord Braxis, while peace returns to the island. General Chaideshu congratulates the Chosen of Lhyss through the Communication Ring, assuring them that the Triumvir will repay the debt the entire Archipelago owes them with full interest.
Battle at the damUpon climbing the horrid dam of bones, Mortis of Balthor himself exits the Keep horseback with a phalanx of skeleton warriors, to get rid of the Chosen of Lhyss despite daytime. If they can use the Charm of Unbinding, it will destroy the dam and free the river, engulfing the Lich Lord and his warriors and destroying them without fight. (As being immerged in running water is lethal to undeads.)
The remaining undeads will then set fire to Bloodrise Keep in order to destroy themselves and escape their cursed condition. The sun sets upon their liberated souls flying away towards the other side of the Veil, under the shape of countless white birds.
If the Chosen owns the Ivory Spear of Qadarnai and launches it at Mortis, they must win a test of skill. In case of success Mortis will be destroyed once and for all without fight, otherwise the only option is a battle to the death. Mortis is not at his maximum, but he remains a powerful enemy with 10 in skill and 20 in stamina.
The Lich Lord's potent Aura of Fear forces the Chosen to test their resolve. In case of success, they lose only 1 skill point for the battle. In case of failure, not only do their skill decreases but their blows can only cost Mortis 1 stamina point (2 with the spear), greatly worsening the battle.
Battle in the throne roomReaching the throne room can prove quite dangerous, as the higher the Alarm Value is, the more powerful the undead guards will be. If the Alarm Value is too high, the Chosen of Lhyss gets spotted by Mortis and killed by a magical traps, summoning otherworldly mist and ghastly hands when they enter the throne room.
If the Chosen wields the Ivory Spear of Qadarnai, they can once again throw it at the Lich Lord to destroy him without fight, should they win a test of skill. Given that night falls when confronting Mortis, he will be fought at full power. The Lich Lord is a powerful enemy with 11 in skill (only one point below the maximum) and 20 in stamina. Oddly enough, nothing is said about his Aura of Fear and there is no test of resolve, so the Lich Lord is not much harder to defeat than when fought on the dam of bones, though much harder to reach.
- Mortis of Balthor shares similarities with Voivod the Waster and Belgaroth, two other Fighting Fantasy villains who are also powerful dark knights defeated long ago, who rise again and must be defeated with a magical spear.
- The authors Jamie Thomson and Dave Morris rewrote the gamebook as the stand-alone first volume of their series Fabled Lands Quests, relocating the adventure into the titular Fabled Lands of Harkuna. The gamic system is more complete, offering a selection of character classes and a total score balanced between several characteristics, including magic.