Jonathan @ The Core Mechanic has put forth the idea of having an RPG Carnival. An RPG Carnival would entail several blogs, such as members of the RPG Bloggers Network, writing up articles on a topic specified by the current host blog. The host blog would rotate between participant blogs after each topic comes to a close. When the time for the topic ends, the host blog would then post a synopsis of all the participant’s entries. More on the RPG Carnival’s guidelines can be found on Jonathan’s initial post at The Core Mechanic.The first topic is entitled: Character Death, Resurrection, & the Undead. The Undead is by far my favorite type of monster/creature. Many of my favorite movies have Undead as the antagonists and even the protagonists. I will briefly answer the questions connected with this topic, but then I want dedicate the majority of this article to the discussion of the philosophies behind how the primal forces that animate the Undead are implemented.
How do you handle character death in your game?
Well, it depends on what system and setting we are using. If we are doing the D&D thing in the Forgotten Realms, character death is less tragic than if we are playing All Flesh Must Be Eaten or Werewolf: the Forsaken. In the Forgotten Realms, high magic is easily obtained and resurrection does not pose a problem other than forcing the characters to take time and resources. If your actor dies in AFMBE, there is no coming back (except as the Zombie Master’s minion!). I never really try to avoid character death, but I have fudged a
few die rolls…
What about character resurrection?
Again, it depends on the setting. In the Forgotten Realms, if they have money… then sure, go to the local temple of Lathander and pay their price, done. However, my ideal take on resurrection is to have it far more difficult to obtain.
I have a custom setting I call the Dead Wastes (which features zombies of course) and it is a relatively low magic setting. Powerful magic can be obtained, but resurrection is pretty rare.. In fact, no such spell appears on any character’s spell list. To resurrect a character, it would require a monumental quest/story arc of its own accord, to obtain 1) the physical written ritual, 2) the very rare, but necessary components, and 3) a possibly unique focus for the ritual.
This quest would mean certain death for at least another party member
but since the ritual would be consumed in the process, the players would have to choose which character to resurrect, if at all.
Have you ever had characters come back as the Undead?
Yes. I have had characters become wights, vampire spawn, ghosts, and zombies; all as antagonists that their former comrades had to deal with. I have also had players begin play with Undead characters. I can remember one instance in particular where we had a mummy in the group.
How have you incorporated the Undead in your adventures?
I think about 80% of my adventures have undead in them. Did I mention they’re my favorite? I have used the undead as brilliant masterminds, stupid minions, player characters, victims, and allies. If there is role for
an NPC, I am sure I have had an Undead fill it.
What are some new Undead monsters, diseases, or other Undead afflictions of your game world can you share with us?
I’d like to share one of my creations for the Dead Wastes. I just give the concept, then anyone can adapt it to their own game:
Fossilifungus – Fossilifungus is a fungus that has evolved into a near symbiotic relationship with the undead, specifically zombies. When a fossilifungus spore attaches to flesh animated by necrotic (or negative) energy, it will take root and begin to grow.
Fossilifungus draws nourishment from enzymes produced when flesh decays from necrotic energy. Over time, the fungus will spread to cover the back, head, and upper torso of its host. Fossilifungus has a defense mechanism triggered by the movement of warm bodies. This mechanism involves the discharge of five to ten tiny barbs in a cone that is ten feet wide and fifteen feet long. When a living creature is struck by a barb, it causes paralysis for up to one minute.
This paralysis gives the host enough time to reach this immobile food source and begin devouring its flesh. There are many horror stories from the fringes of the Dead Wastes about victims being eaten alive by fossilifungus ridden zombies, only to be able to call for help once it was too late.
Well, that wasn’t quite as brief as I wanted it to be, so much for brevity!
Necrotic/Negative Energy Origins & Implications
Since I started role-playing, there seems to be two primary views on Negative (3.x parlance) or Necrotic (4e parlance) Energy. The first view is that Necrotic Energy is fundamentally evil, and therefore everything it touches is evil (necrotic spells, undead, etc.). The second view is that it is merely a primal, natural force, which can be dangerous if abused (much like fire and electricity).
I find myself gravitating towards the camp that says Necrotic energy is natural, in that death, decay, and entropy are a part of nature. However, I think that it if too much of it seeps through the cracks, an unnatural corruption can occur, and that corruption can become evil, because evil is attracted to such things.
I also find myself in the primal camp because I extremely dislike pigeon holing monsters into alignments. Reading “Always Chaotic Evil” really pisses me off. Needing to feed upon the blood of the living is a curse that all vampires must deal with, but it is their nature, and all vampires need not embrace it. I think it makes for a more dramatic story to have such creatures conflicted between what is in their nature and how they would like to really be. Anyone remember Jander Sunstar?
Are there zombies that must mindlessly chase the living down and consume their brains? Yes, the key word is mindless. I think that you have to have the capacity to choose in order to be evil. In my world, Necrotic energy is not evil, in and of itself, but it is a multiplier of evil. When someone commits an evil deed using Necrotic energies, it makes the act that much more heinous.. Necromancy doesn’t kill people; evil Necromancers kill people (and then re-animate them).
And while playing with Necromancy is definitely worthy of a lynching in the views of the majority of the people inhabiting game worlds, it is because of their ignorance, not because Necromancy is inherently evil. I have changed many spell descriptors, alignments, and requirements in my 3.x wrld to reflect this.