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Alternative Necromancy


Michael Hopcroft
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I was pointed to this comic a while back, which makes me think of whether the study of necromancy is always a source of horror and dread.

 

As an academic pursuit (and any academic pursuit can be a source of mystic power in fantasy) the study of death has interesting applications. Understanding the magical energy of living things can, for example, make one a potent healer. And the fear of death is so pervasive in all societies that someone who actually embraces the concept of life's end would be looked on with at least a little bit of fear and loathing.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Hero Games's Turakian Age setting often uses necromancers as evil foes for heroes, but also includes more grey regarding them.

 

The Black Guild of necromancers, and Sa'akiv the Red Necromancer, are mostly interested in being left alone to explore the secrets of death, and have no especial desire to harm the living, involve themselves in conquest or politics, or other such mundane concerns. Sa'akiv even plays a major role in the overthrow of Kal-Turak after his conquest of the world.

 

While Vabanak, the death-god of the High Faith (the age's most widespread religion), is presented as a typical "evil" god, the corresponding deity of the city-state of Eltirian, Gamarion, is a more benevolent figure, guarding the Eltiriani dead on their way to "an afterlife of bliss in his realm." He's worshipped openly in Eltirian, and one of his roles is as the patron of necromancers.

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The Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin revolves around the central character of Martris Drayke a Summoner/Necromancer. Able to summon the spirits of the dead and also possessing power over undead (has other magic also but this is a special gift). People celebrate the dead in certain festivals and the Summoner is a honored position. Vampires exist also defined as the chosen of the Dark Lady an aspect the the 3-fold goddess that the people worship.

 

Its and interesting take on Necromancy and did intrique me on the potential of player a good necromancer.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

I was pointed to this comic a while back, which makes me think of whether the study of necromancy is always a source of horror and dread.

 

As an academic pursuit (and any academic pursuit can be a source of mystic power in fantasy) the study of death has interesting applications. Understanding the magical energy of living things can, for example, make one a potent healer. And the fear of death is so pervasive in all societies that someone who actually embraces the concept of life's end would be looked on with at least a little bit of fear and loathing.

 

Actually I think it's more common to see death as passing of one's ancestors to some new existence. Ancestor worship is extremely common in ancient times.

 

Ancient Egyptian culture provides an excellent touchstone to ancient beliefs. Check out GURPS Egypt for info on their religion, but it largely revolved around communication with, and protection of, one's (dead) ancestors. A lot of shamanism can also be interpreted as ancestor worship, as can the Irish belief in Daoine Sidhe.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

GURPS default magic system addresses this, with their spell prerequisites. Resurrection in that system requires that the mage in question know how to summon the spirit of the deceased back to the material plane, which itself has a prerequisite of the Death Vision spell, so you're forced to dip your toes into the forbidden to gain access to the whitest of white magic.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

I was pointed to this comic a while back, which makes me think of whether the study of necromancy is always a source of horror and dread.

 

As an academic pursuit (and any academic pursuit can be a source of mystic power in fantasy) the study of death has interesting applications. Understanding the magical energy of living things can, for example, make one a potent healer. And the fear of death is so pervasive in all societies that someone who actually embraces the concept of life's end would be looked on with at least a little bit of fear and loathing.

A more recent issue revealed that the most feared and evil spell of necromancy in that setting, the Blight is actually

a twisted version of white magic. Life magic run amok = living death.

 

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

A fantasy world equivalent of this problem (how to help children deal with the concept and reality of death) could be a place where having an ethical necromancer around (someone who knows about these things) very useful. Since death is everywhere in fantasy worlds (the more so the lower the fantasy) these questions should come up fairly often.

 

One could easily build a cult around "good death" (as opposed to violent, horrible, premature death).

 

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Piers Anthony's novel On A Pale Horse took the unusual step of making Death the protagonist, and actually played up the merciful and compassionate side of death: as an end to suffering, a bringer of peace, a transition to another state. Violence and destruction can cause death, but death itself is not a violence, but a release.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Didn't old AD&D classify clerical healing spells as necromancy, too? Basically everything that's connected with life force, although the name itself is a bit badly chosen for that (what's the oppositive, "vitomancy"?)

 

I think apart from general creepyness, the big moralistic divide about actual shambling death would have to be the concept of the afterlife and how necromancers affect this. If you're e.g. a priest of some zombie-lovin' god and it's in his power to demand a few tasks before truly letting go of your mortal connections, then I guess most people would have to be okay with this. As opposed to someone ripping the very souls of people away from heaven to power his undead army…

 

If the soul isn't involved and it's "just" animating unliving matter, then there's still the matter of propriety. People generally don't like others abusing the remnants of their relatives, even if there's no spiritual reason not to (even atheists don't tend to condone the other popular word starting with "necro"). And you'd have to have a good excuse why you're not just animating statues or huge piles of lint.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Have to say that my first thought on seeing this thread was that alternative necromancy was like altenrative medicine. I had images of Necromancers who used herbal medicine, aromatherapy and dolphin music to summon the dead.

 

However, good or at least non-malevolent necromancers are a reasonable concept. They could simply be scholars seeking to learn the secrets of the afterlife or of the dead, they could also work to lay lost souls to rest.

 

To differentiate these practitioners from Necromancers as they are usually understood I would probably call them Spirit Mages or Ghost Mages. Actually raising the dead is likely to be looked upon as immoral by almost any society, unless perhaps the Necromancer pays the family of the deceased or a dying person signs a contract to 'donate their body to magic'. That could actually be a good way to pay off debts if the debtor dies before being able to pay them back, 'post-mortem indentured service'.

 

I believe that there is a kingdom in the D&D Eberron setting where Necromancy is accepted by the population. Undead even form part of the national army.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Of course in its real-world pre-Christian form, necromancy was merely a form of divination, acquiring knowledge through summoning and querying the spirits of the dead, not unlike shamanism. While in some places and times this was a forbidden practice, for the most part it doesn't seem to have carried any particular moral stigma. That really started taking hold under Christianity as inspired by Judaism, for which raising the dead without divine assistance was considered blasphemous.

 

This Wikipedia article gives a decent overview of the evolution of the modern conception of necromancy. Some of the permutations of what was considered "necromancy" over the ages suggest intriguing alternatives to the malevolent magic usually associated with it today.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Of course in its real-world pre-Christian form' date=' necromancy was merely a form of divination, acquiring knowledge through summoning and querying the spirits of the dead, not unlike shamanism. While in some places and times this was a forbidden practice, for the most part it doesn't seem to have carried any particular moral stigma. That really started taking hold under Christianity as inspired by Judaism, for which raising the dead without divine assistance was considered blasphemous.[/quote']

 

IIRC, Israelite Kings in the Old testament era (as early as the first, Saul) would go to all sorts of places for divination services that the writers bluntly did not approve of. The Witch of Endor, consulted by Saul, was a necromancer of a sort. In the divided kingdoms period kings who consulted spirits and foreign "gods" were regularly condemned in scripture.

 

In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the condemned sinner wanted to have the ghost of the poor man (who was "in Abraham's bosom", an early phrase for Heaven) sent back to deliver a message to his brothers and warn them against his fate. Abraham bluntly refused. The story must have offended the Saducees, a Jewish sect who explicitly denied that there was an afterlife and were never that fond of Jesus to begin with.

 

This Wikipedia article gives a decent overview of the evolution of the modern conception of necromancy. Some of the permutations of what was considered "necromancy" over the ages suggest intriguing alternatives to the malevolent magic usually associated with it today.

 

Many of the terms gamers use to describe forms of magic in games originated as methods of divination (such as "cartomancy", divination by the reading of cards) and were expanded by gamers and fantasy writers to include other types of mystic effects.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

The Dungeons and Dragons Setting of Eberron presented the concept of an elven society lead by The Undying Court. Death was a key aspect of their society with interaction with the spirits of the deceased aiding their House with advise and incite. Also a form of undead called the Deathless were introduced.

 

The Undying Court is a pantheon of Deathless Elves. The Elves despise Undead but venerate the Deathless, this is due to the Deathless being an embracement of life rather than the perversion of life like other undead (Positive Energy was benefical and Negative was harmful as with living creatures).

 

Spirits of the Past are chosen for an elf to act as their guide throughout their lives (This is usually ancestor) and the Elf is duty-bound to emulate the Ancestor Spirit as it is believed that a Spirit of the Past can live again if their deeds are recreated.

 

With this being the case many Elves can commune with the Dead and the method for creating the Deathless which is a form of Necromancy (They might not call it Necromancy, can't remember of the top of my head).

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Nethermancers in Earth Dawn deal with spirits and the dead but aren't inherently evil (many find them creepy). They are in some sense keepers of the past allowing contact with ancestors or great masters of various skills... in fact all of the diciplines (ED classes) can access a ghost master trainer and guess who invented that.

 

I've also seen discussion about (but can't quite place the origin) fantasy cultures that summon the dead to defend their land because "obligation does not end at death". These cultures see nothing wrong with raising their beloved uncle to help fight the orkish hordes because uncle would approve (and says so when you talk to him over tea).

 

For "day of the dead" celebrations you go hang out with the spirits and bring their favorite food and drink. Its a big old party and often lively and full of good humor regaling each other with the humorous antics of the family members who have past on. Just take the spirt of that celebration add in some warrior's code of honor and I can totally see necromancers having an honored position in society - not only in letting you talk to your favorite departed relatives but also helping them to continue to defend the living.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Some sources for consideration:

 

1) This is Anita Blake's bread and butter. When she isn't given a bounty to stake a rogue vampire, she's calling forth ghosts for frustrated relatives. "Fred! You never told anyone where the bonds were stashed before you kicked off!"

 

2) One of the Gods of Tekumel is the Lord of both the Dead, and Death itself. He allows his servants to stay in the world as undead priests, or just to worship him. Worshipers regularly visit the dear departed. "Why do you only come to my tomb on High Holy Days? It's not like I'm anywhere else any other day of the year!" Weird and creepy to other sects, but a pretty good deal to those who can accept the idea.

 

3) Lumley's Necroscope series. Necromancers force secrets from the dead, and raise them as slaves. Necroscopes simply talk to the dead, and ask for answers - and if the dead like the Necroscope, they will raise themselves out of their graves to lend a hand.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

I ran a PC necromancer once who, in a nutshell, had taken his ends-justify-the-means philosophy a little too far. Oddly, though, when I played him, I didn't really feel a lot of guilt about how he rolled. Any undead he animated, or summoned, were either soulless or coming from somewhere they didn't want to be anyway.

 

Incidentally necromancy is a fantastic special effect--you can use it for every single power in the book.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

I always enjoyed Morr, god of death and dreams, in Warhammer FRP. So much so, eventually, that one of my characters became dedicated to him as one of his few Knights Templar. There's nothing to spread more dread on a battlefield than being the target of the attack of 'only' a dozen knights in black-enameled armor charging you in utter silence - not even hoof-beats. And the silence spread as they came ... so many units would break from that ...

 

Granted, necromancy was still pretty much forbidden, but there are certainly 'good' elements to it.

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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

Regarding PCs relevant to this topic, our board colleage CrosshairCollie recently posted a request for a "not-evil" god of the dead in the Turakian Age setting, for a character concept he wanted to use:

 

Looked through my (5e) book, couldn't find one ... looking for someone more like Anubis. Someone who is opposed to the creation and existence of undead, wanting the dead to rest in peace and go ... wherever they go.

 

Is there such a god in official TA materials?

 

I'm trying to make a 'bog-standard' TA character' date=' so I'm sticking to the established stuff ... while at the same time trying to mimic an old D&D character (Necromancer/Cleric of Anubis who used his knowledge to destroy undead, not make them).[/quote']
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Re: Alternative Necromancy

 

When I used to play Sa'akiv as a PC' date=' I kept insisting to people that Necromancy wasn't inherently evil. All my undead servants and stuff still creeped out the other PCs, though. ;)[/quote']

 

Sa'akiv and the Harbinger of Justice as PCs... that Long guy's got a nasty streak. :fear:

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