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Supreme Serpent

Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

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OK. Developing a declining country that's not terribly nice, but pretty structured. Over time the use of the undead has become more and more prevalent, at first for military uses, then in more and more areas. With the changing attitudes, prominent and wealthy individuals began extending their time in power by taking the path to Liche-dom.

 

Assuming two basic kinds of undead - one, the standard relatively brainless but subject to direction skeletons that can be used for simple labors that can be created after the death of the person and two, the sentient Liche-type that is consciously prepared for by the person prior to death.

 

To ensure a regular supply for military and other state purposes, the bodies of any dead must be turned over to the government for processing. The families of the deceased (or owner of a deceased slave) may elect instead to pay a certain amount and keep the body. In the case of families, it is mainly a status point, in the case of the bodies of slaves it is to have them raised as undead servants for their own use.

 

With this sort of system in place over time, what secondary effects would you expect to see? Would inheritance laws need to change in case of Liche-dom? Would the ambitious living plot to break out from the hold of the undead oligarchy? Would overall standards of living rise with lots of tireless simple grunt labor available?

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

I can see such a society reaching the point where the lower classes have been almost entirely zombified, because they're so much less trouble that way. Those that aren't dead are so thoroughly marginalized that they're seen as annoying vermin.

 

Eventually, if liches are in power they might end up zombifying anyone they consider possibly physically useful and eliminating everyone else, resulting in an entire kingdom where there are no living inhabitants. After all, you don't need agriculture or trade in a society in which nobody eats or spends money. Remember, even intelligent liches have none of the physical needs or drives they had in life, so even if their intelligence survives it will be warped and twisted by this. The only drives the have left would be self-preservation and an insane love of power (insane because they do not gain any benefits from it in a sense we would understand it because all other pleasures would be forever denied them), leaving them only with unyielding, unreasoning hatred that even they themselves do not understand.

 

If you can experience neither pleasure nor pain, then what conceivably can be left?

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

What happens to the regligiouis aspect of the society as the underclass is slowly replaced by skeletons? What kind of burial rites are suddenly usurped in the name of the state.

 

And just how do surrounding countries react to this. In any wars that this country wins, are the losers fallen warriors suddenly made part of the invading army? Adding insult to injury.

 

--

As a complete aside I went off on a random tanget trying to figure out how to properly pronounce "liche" (litch in modern parlance); and found some neat history on it. The origin of the word itself comes from Lich-Gates of churchyard's (pronounced lic in this instance) and is an Old English word for 'body.' The origin of the concept may go back a bit further to mimicing Egyptian burial practices (the mummy being the vessel with which the Pharoah's soul can return to the land of the living) and an old Slavic legend about Koschei the Deathless. Though more directly from the writings of Clark Ashton Smith who used the word in his novels when refering to the undead a lot.

 

All really cool and has nothing to do with anything.

--

 

Back to the topic. As slaves are eventually turned into skeletons, and quite possibly family members as well who don't make it to lichedom, does the economy slowly stop and die? What then of the merchants who traffic in such things. Eventually all the rich will become liches and there will be a dwindling economy preventing any further social climbing, indeed almost any form of social movement until death when you become a tool.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

It could lead to the same economic issues mechanization and automation have led to in our world (from a strictly economic point of view). You would have a tireless labor-source capable of doing repetitive work, and hard-labor, without getting tired. You would see common laborers displaced, which would lead to higher unemployment and poverty in the short term. On the other hand, you would need more overseers for the undead (to correct commands and alter "glitches" in the system), and presuming raw materials and food production was increased, you might see a shift to higher productivity, with former laborers being taught to produce goods with the raw materials. On the other hand, it might also lead to higher rates of indentured servitude as the prime producers require fewer, if any, resources, and the prime recipients no longer have to share the wealth.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

 

Back to the topic. As slaves are eventually turned into skeletons, and quite possibly family members as well who don't make it to lichedom, does the economy slowly stop and die? What then of the merchants who traffic in such things. Eventually all the rich will become liches and there will be a dwindling economy preventing any further social climbing, indeed almost any form of social movement until death when you become a tool.

 

I foresee a balding pinch-faced, bookish scion of a noble family with wire rimmed glasses and a penchant for economics just as bad as those he's trying to do away with starting a revolution in the name of the people...

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

It could lead to the same economic issues mechanization and automation have led to in our world (from a strictly economic point of view). You would have a tireless labor-source capable of doing repetitive work' date=' and hard-labor, without getting tired. You would see common laborers displaced, which would lead to higher unemployment and poverty in the short term. On the other hand, you would need more overseers for the undead (to correct commands and alter "glitches" in the system), and presuming raw materials and food production was increased, you might see a shift to higher productivity, with former laborers being taught to produce goods with the raw materials. On the other hand, it might also lead to higher rates of indentured servitude as the prime producers require fewer, if any, resources, and the prime recipients no longer have to share the wealth.[/quote']

 

This is what I was thinking. I could see this actually turning into a kind of Dune-esque extended high gothic rennaissance, sort of a Moorcockian take on an alternate baroque with an upper elite of Liches tending their "gardens" of family lines and occasionally upraising a particularly talented mortal to their ranks. Necromancy would be a strictly hoarded secret, as a vital tool of Empire yet the only real threat to the Liches, and thus might me confined to an Acoylte class, those who are in consideration for Lichedom. Theres only so far an Undead powerd Empire can expand by conquest... once you run out of land, you can't convert the dead of your enemies any more, so you turn the automaton undead to production and create a huge happy middle class to breed you up good recruits. You get hobbits in the Shire and Towns 1 day apart from each other each with thriving Village of Hommlet downtowns (You know..multiple Inns, weapon shops, every craftsman under the sun, ostler, chandler, red light district).

You'd probably also have witch hunters, heretics, cults, revolutionarys, crime, poverty and potentially massive macheavellian schemes.

 

Thats probably where I'd go with it, anyway. The whole "Dark land of the Dead" thing is overdone on occasion. I kinda like the Bright Cheery dystopia instead.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

It could lead to the same economic issues mechanization and automation have led to in our world (from a strictly economic point of view). You would have a tireless labor-source capable of doing repetitive work' date=' and hard-labor, without getting tired. You would see common laborers displaced, which would lead to higher unemployment and poverty in the short term. On the other hand, you would need more overseers for the undead (to correct commands and alter "glitches" in the system), and presuming raw materials and food production was increased, you might see a shift to higher productivity, with former laborers being taught to produce goods with the raw materials. On the other hand, it might also lead to higher rates of indentured servitude as the prime producers require fewer, if any, resources, and the prime recipients no longer have to share the wealth.[/quote']

 

I still think the moral and psychological issues should not be overlooked in this discussion; namely, that we are going to be dealing with an overclass of immortals who see no point to behaving ethically -- people who are practically the definition of selfishness, whose desire for immortality in unlife has been fulfilled and must now face the curse of all who get what they wish for. An overclass that is not merely evil but, by any standards we would understand, insane as well.

 

For those not of the overclass, this would be about the worst situation imaginable. Not even a ruling class of vampires would be as bad; at least vampires would need humans around as a food source if nothing else.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

OOOh....

Here's a neat bit.

 

Where do you store your extra Undead when they're not in service? :nonp:

 

Necropoli. Strategic reserves, if you will. Might even be the center of a sort of District system, where the dead from the local towns villages and tennant farms are sent to be enshrined against their possible future service.

 

If you're not at war on any fronts, you still need a good supply of fresh corpses, presuming wear and tear. Not a huge supply...the normal death rate of an overcrowed neo-industral culture should provide a good steady supply. A huge middle class can practically keep it's self amused with its own cleverness, especially if you add in lots of diversions and dissipations. Revolutions are expected, but as long as Necromancy can be kept suppressed, merely mundane uprisings are unlikly to penetrate the Iron ceiling on society...Immortality.

I like real pressure cooker settings :eg:

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

I can see such a society reaching the point where the lower classes have been almost entirely zombified, because they're so much less trouble that way. Those that aren't dead are so thoroughly marginalized that they're seen as annoying vermin.

 

Eventually, if liches are in power they might end up zombifying anyone they consider possibly physically useful and eliminating everyone else, resulting in an entire kingdom where there are no living inhabitants. After all, you don't need agriculture or trade in a society in which nobody eats or spends money. Remember, even intelligent liches have none of the physical needs or drives they had in life, so even if their intelligence survives it will be warped and twisted by this. The only drives the have left would be self-preservation and an insane love of power (insane because they do not gain any benefits from it in a sense we would understand it because all other pleasures would be forever denied them), leaving them only with unyielding, unreasoning hatred that even they themselves do not understand.

 

If you can experience neither pleasure nor pain, then what conceivably can be left?

 

I wouldn't necessarily see it as that dark.

 

The skellies can only do pretty basic tasks. There's still room for people who can do more complex things. Over time, the lower classes might even become more skilled and prosperous as there's less need for living manpower for street sweeping, ditch digging, rock-breaking and the like.

 

The Liches won't have overwhelming inherent power - just a continuation of the power they had in life, through wealth and leadership of extended family, followers and the like. Liche-Julius Caesar would promote the interests of the Julii and his living supporters like Marc Antony, not just turn them into oxen-equivalents.

 

Due to the unnaturally extended time of their influence, they would certainly make tempting targets for assassination, both from outside enemies and from the ambitious within their influence group. Not to mention it might be unhealthy to be a powerful person on the verge of Lichedom - if the process is interrupted/person is slain before complete, too bad.

 

The going insane over time is definitely something I've considered though. How much damage would one do before forcibly removed? Perhaps some realize the writing on the wall and flee to other lands, becoming the typical Liche, complete with bizarre trap-and-monster stocked underground refuges?

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

I imagine that intergenerational warfare would become the norm in such a society. Junior Nobleman can't get his hands on his inheritance, because Daddy has decided to live forever. Disenfranchised, the younger generation will see the undead as evil, and try to move the peasants into an uprising.

 

Perhaps some enterprising revolutionary will invent a machine designed to remove captive liches heads from their bodies...

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

What happens to the regligiouis aspect of the society as the underclass is slowly replaced by skeletons? What kind of burial rites are suddenly usurped in the name of the state.

 

I imagine that the church/god of the underworld would need to be OK with it. If the process of skellie-hood only animates the body and doesn't interfere with the spirit going to its rightful place, might not be an issue. Even Liche-dom can be seen as just a delay, not a denial.

 

And just how do surrounding countries react to this. In any wars that this country wins, are the losers fallen warriors suddenly made part of the invading army? Adding insult to injury.

 

Yup. Could even be part of negotiations, with enemy dead treated as bargaining chips like prisoners. I would think that those in extended conflict with them might change their own burial practices. Assuming they don't adopt similar tactics with raising their own dead first, cremation might become much more popular in border areas.

 

Back to the topic. As slaves are eventually turned into skeletons, and quite possibly family members as well who don't make it to lichedom, does the economy slowly stop and die? What then of the merchants who traffic in such things. Eventually all the rich will become liches and there will be a dwindling economy preventing any further social climbing, indeed almost any form of social movement until death when you become a tool.

 

I don't think the economy would stagnate. As for social climbing, it would be harder to get to the top of the pyramid, but the pyramid itself would be constantly growing and widening, and at times would splinter as some sub-groups break off on their own, as Cousin Larry decides to break free of Great-Grandpa and form his own family, etc. I'd see relationships and power relationships as likely pretty complex, but with room for jockeying. And when big openings come about, a lot of jostling could be expected.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

There is a very practical consideration working against this land becoming wholly a realm of the dead - the need to continue to replenish the work force. Even assuming that skeletons are unaging and don't "wear out" from constant labor, there'll be accidents, losses in war or just border conflicts, that will thin out the available supply. However, if the dead do come to outnumber the living, the nation will have to look outside its borders for fresh bodies.

 

Raids to capture foreigners for "skeletization" are possible, but not practical as the primary source of supply due to the losses incurred in battle. I would instead foresee a thriving slave trade, with the products of the nation being exchanged with its neighbors for slaves to kill and then revive. In that case the relationship among the country's neighbors may evolve similarly to that of sub-Saharan Africa during the height of the European slave trade: the various kingdoms raiding each other for captives to sell.

 

Many historians hold that the drain of manpower in Africa as a result of slave-taking and losses in raids weakened the black states, facilitating the European takeover. Perhaps your land of the dead could begin to expand as the strength of its neighbor states starts to fade.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

It could lead to the same economic issues mechanization and automation have led to in our world (from a strictly economic point of view). You would have a tireless labor-source capable of doing repetitive work' date=' and hard-labor, without getting tired. You would see common laborers displaced, which would lead to higher unemployment and poverty in the short term. On the other hand, you would need more overseers for the undead (to correct commands and alter "glitches" in the system), and presuming raw materials and food production was increased, you might see a shift to higher productivity, with former laborers being taught to produce goods with the raw materials. On the other hand, it might also lead to higher rates of indentured servitude as the prime producers require fewer, if any, resources, and the prime recipients no longer have to share the wealth.[/quote']

 

Indeed, could go a couple of different ways. Also assuming that this isn't a completely closed system, the displaced living could be employed in occupations feeding trade with other countries. With the basic level taken care of, more people can be used for more value-added processes.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

Indeed' date=' could go a couple of different ways. Also assuming that this isn't a completely closed system, the displaced living could be employed in occupations feeding trade with other countries. With the basic level taken care of, more people can be used for more value-added processes.[/quote']

 

There could be a two-tiered economic benefit. On the one hand, with manual labor dominated by undead, the remaining living would logically develop a thriving middle class. With lots of skilled craftsmen the Empire could produce many high-quality items. OTOH the undead, being tireless and capable of endless repetitive action, could start "mass production" of goods for export, probably of inferior quality but priced far more cheaply than if living workers were used.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

OTOH the undead' date=' being tireless and capable of endless repetitive action, could start "mass production" of goods for export, probably of inferior quality but priced far more cheaply than if living workers were used.[/quote']I think this would be likely, especially when a substantial percentage of the empire's population is undead. I think an empire like this could become a trade powerhouse.

 

Living people require vastly more space than unliving people do. Not only living space (whereas undead can simply stand packed together in a warehouse when not in use), but also space required to grow food, raise domestic animals, etc. If most of the population is undead, what are you really going to do with all that land?

 

Food could be grown for export. Mining could be vast. In short, the undead empire could continue to make things the living need, but produce them for export rather than internal consumption.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

I foresee a balding pinch-faced' date=' bookish scion of a noble family with wire rimmed glasses and a penchant for economics just as bad as those he's trying to do away with starting a revolution in the name of the people...[/quote']

 

I can see it now . . .

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

I still think the moral and psychological issues should not be overlooked in this discussion; namely' date=' that we are going to be dealing with an overclass of immortals who see no point to behaving ethically -- people who are practically the definition of selfishness, whose desire for immortality in unlife has been fulfilled and must now face the curse of all who get what they wish for. An overclass that is not merely evil but, by any standards we would understand, [i']insane[/i] as well.

 

For those not of the overclass, this would be about the worst situation imaginable. Not even a ruling class of vampires would be as bad; at least vampires would need humans around as a food source if nothing else.

 

While I agree in principle (dealing with the potential moral and social issues should not be overlooked), you're imposing your own view of what that over-class will be like, or what their outlook will be. There is more than one possible way to take such a scenario.

 

Its possible (though unlikely based on common memes) that such a class might look upon those coping with the mortal coil with a certain amount of noblesse oblige. Perhaps they take on this eternal curse in order to look after their descendants throughout time, or to build the fortunes of the empire and the living (as a cast of pseudo-aristotalean priest kings), or to maintain ancient knowledge or tradition (an oral tradition that doesn't die). It could also be a caste issue, with the liches restricted by caste rules or various taboos and traditions that clearly define the respective rights and roles of living and dead?

 

Yes, evil undead masters who care not for the living are one way to go (and the most expected), but its not a straight-jacket the GM has to wear if he doesn't want to. What about the undead gods of lankhmar who seldom venture out, but have done so to protect the city's living inhabitants, or to right some metaphysical wrong, in the past? Could not these lich's serve as defacto overseers undead labor that free up their mortal charges (and cultivating the priests and rulers of the realm as their pupils) - serving as shepherds of a sort?

 

What about this (an idea I'm using in a story): the absolute ruling priest-king (always the husband of the scion of a matriarchal "royal line" who chooses the king via marriage - and dismisses him if necessary via divorce (or death, which keeps him from killing her in order to remove her as a check on his power)) is alive, but when he dies or is widowed without suspicion being on him, he is turned into a lich-warrior and entombed in the chamber of kings with his predecessors.

 

These "lich kings" provide augury on royal marriages, serve as a crown council and court for ritual matters, and serve as as advisers to the current king, as well as expounders and arbiters of tradition and ritual matters. They also sally forth to defend the royal line, or kingdom, in times of need. Their power is rooted in, and limited by, the traditions they protect. If dragons can be seen as the ancient teachers and protectors of man in some fantasy, why not man's own ancestors?

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

OOOh....

 

 

If you're not at war on any fronts, you still need a good supply of fresh corpses, presuming wear and tear. Not a huge supply...the normal death rate of an overcrowed neo-industral culture should provide a good steady supply. A huge middle class can practically keep it's self amused with its own cleverness, especially if you add in lots of diversions and dissipations.

 

Yes, I can see lich's trying to avoid bread riots in the cities by making sure grain is delivered on time, and keeping the living sated with bloodsport and chariot races... uncouth heathen breathers.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

Expanding a bit on Von D-Man's thoughts...

 

Forming a kind of mystical religion about themselves these Lich-Kings can also removed themselves from public view with a caste of priests to give their word to the people, and enforce their laws.

 

This can allow for interesting political intrigue as sometimes the Lich-Kings (if there are multiple) pit various factions - or even sects - of the church against each other. This can also work to keep the living populace occupied.

 

A few generations of this and maybe even the Lich-Kings themselves have become a legendary Shadow Behind The Power of the Religion in place. Possibly even rumor as the macabre religion spreads through other kingsdoms. Now adventurers aren't tempted to immediately go after the Lich-Kings should their kingdom or personal view abhore such a Necropoliptic Kingdom.

 

And, as Von D-Man said, it doesn't have to be outright evil. Could be just squiky. In fact, the living inhabitants (this was mentioned above somewhere first) can now concentrate on arts, exporting some of the finest works through the lands.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

One of the greatest bad guys in my very old campaign was an emperor who became a lich because he saw undeath as the only way to protect his people. He was constantly upset at the predations of people on people, starvation, disease and felt that if he could turn them all into the undead, then they would never suffer.

 

He wasn't a bad guy, just misunderstood. :)

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

I see two immediate consequences:

 

1. Those who really, really don't want their deceased loved ones turned into undead slave labor will resort to cremation (in secret, no doubt). "What? Uncle Bob? He didn't die. He recovered fully--and then went on a, uh, a long...sea voyage. Yeah. That's it. THAT's the ticket!"

 

2. Zombies would invariably be transported to areas of the empire far from where they lived, so that the bereaved family did not have to see poor, dead Grampa laboring around town every day.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

If you want to limit some of the potential power of this nation, make its food production less than ideal.

 

Honestly, how healthy is it for a corpse to farm for you? Just say that the magic doesn't stop the spread of disease, so food needs to be imported, or living humans need to handle it themselves.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

If you want to limit some of the potential power of this nation, make its food production less than ideal.

 

Honestly, how healthy is it for a corpse to farm for you? Just say that the magic doesn't stop the spread of disease, so food needs to be imported, or living humans need to handle it themselves.

 

Good idea. Perhaps a mountainous region where the undead labor can (more) safely mine for minerals, but food must be mostly imported.

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Re: Social Effects of the Undead in the Empire

 

There is some mention of an undead kingdom in The Scar by China Meiville (one of the main characters comes from there- Uther Doul) but not much detail is gone into.

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