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drunkonduty

A world building exercise

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A new campaign I'm about to start has the evil nation next door relying heavily on skeleton labour, both as menial labour and cannon fodder for the armies of darkness.

 

I haven't really fleshed out the economics. (There's a skeleton/zombie gag in there somewhere.) So I thought I might do so here and get any feedback

and suggestions people might have.

 

Kemet (The Black Land)

 

Why yes, I have decided to make the necromantic kingdom fantasy Egypt. Think a wide, terrible desert

with one life-giving river flowing through it.

 

There's still plenty of live subjects in the kingdom. They still carry out some of the menial work. But I see most of  them as doing more complex work, including overseeing gangs of skellies as they work the fields, dig the mines, and drag huge blocks of sandstone to build pyramids, etc. Any sort of skilled labour still requires living people.

 

I figure there's plenty of people who, wanting to advance themselves in society, study necromancy. I envisage whole schools set up for the study of it. Many of the graduates will never amount to much more than middle management roles, overseeing work gangs, and helping make wands of skeleton control. There's also embalmers and doctors for the undead. The large number of low level necromancers allows for economy of scale when it comes to these minor, yet crucial, necromantic industries. So (living) people make a vital contribution to the economy this way.

 

Another crucial thing the living contribute to the realm is death. After all, the best source of dead people is live people. All citizens can look forward to being rewarded with some form of extended life after they die. Those who just did their job but no more can expect a few centuries as skeletons before shuffling off to their afterlives. Better service in life leads to better rewards in undeath.

 

Up to a point Kemet is a meritocracy. There is still a royal family. One cannot become a member of the royal family unless one is born into it or marries into it. But any office lower than that is open to anyone qualified. The very best necromancers will go on to rise into the ranks of the nobility. Naturally the nobility are all necromancers and/or undead.

 

As for the royal family, all members can expect to be mummified and get to live eternally within the many palaces (necropalaces?) that dot the hills overlooking the river valley. Obviously there's been attrition over the centuries but there's still thousands of undead making up this family. The royal family is headed by the Eternal Pharaoh, the many times ancestor to the current, living generation. He or she (no-one is sure any more) rules over the kingdom from deep within their Great Pyramid, handing out decrees that are enforced by the bureaucracy of liches, vampires, and mummies.

Any suggestions or just random musings welcome.

(I've cross-posted this from the GitP world building forums)

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This set up isn't inherently evil, although it would be easy to see how it could come into conflict with its neighbours. Much of the resulting flavour would depend on who the neighbours are.

 

It could work as an "Ancient World" (Bronze/Iron Age) setting, or something more medieval. In the former case, there are a bunch of published sourcebooks for various systems out there. An interesting one is Testament, by Scott Bennie. The old Campaign Classics series from ICE included both Mythic Egypt and Mythic Greece, with the latter providing a natural "Good" rival culture (and was written by Aaron Allston to boot).

 

The medieval case could have a more Crusader-ish feel. I'd probably add some (living?) cavalry to the undead hordes.

 

The composition of the undead would have an impact on the feel of things. At first glance I would tone down the presence of vampires, especially in the Ancient World setting - their predatory habits would tend to compromise an orderly ancestor worshipping society. Then again, they, like ghouls, could be an unruly outside force.

 

(I think I've just defined the difference between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil.)

 

Naturally, you have already read Terry Pratchett's Pyramids.

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This suggests that cremation is an empire-threatening felony, unless the low-level undead are far more durable than is commonly attributed to them.  Otherwise anything that reduces the undead cohort becomes a direct threat to the realm.  Environmental susceptibilities could matter, also; if e.g. running water dissolves them, then work on and around the river is riskier for those with an investment in dead labor gangs. Also, I think an important hanging question is how long the undead do last, what it takes to maintain them, as well as what they do when uncontrolled.

 

Another issue is whether a maximum age is laid down for the living.  I could very easily see mandatory "recruitment into the labor pool" at, oh, age 50 or so, with people being allowed to literally buy another year each time their birthday comes up.  A more predatory ruling caste might push it down to 35.

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19 hours ago, drunkonduty said:

Another crucial thing the living contribute to the realm is death. After all, the best source of dead people is live people. All citizens can look forward to being rewarded with some form of extended life after they die. Those who just did their job but no more can expect a few centuries as skeletons before shuffling off to their afterlives. Better service in life leads to better rewards in undeath.

 

 

The implication here is that the people of Kemet still believe in an afterlife. Hence being preserved after death isn't the only form of reward they can expect for their labors. Moreover, being forced to continue their labors for centuries doesn't seem like that great a reward.

 

If you want to make Kemet an "evil" antagonist for your PCs, I would suggest that the skeleton/zombie-type undead they use are essentially mindless automata. The souls of the Kemet-folk (Kemetians? Kemetites?) move on to their next existence, leaving their bodies as empty husks to be used as the state sees fit. They could think of those creatures as less than slaves -- the equivalent of industrial robots. The living people of Kemet might not be able to supply all the kingdom's labor and military needs through their own deaths. That would lead them to kidnap their neighbors, like the European/American slave trade... except those captives would be promptly executed so they could be turned into obedient undead.

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20 hours ago, drunkonduty said:

As for the royal family, all members can expect to be mummified and get to live eternally within the many palaces (necropalaces?) that dot the hills overlooking the river valley. Obviously there's been attrition over the centuries but there's still thousands of undead making up this family. The royal family is headed by the Eternal Pharaoh, the many times ancestor to the current, living generation. He or she (no-one is sure any more) rules over the kingdom from deep within their Great Pyramid, handing out decrees that are enforced by the bureaucracy of liches, vampires, and mummies.

 

 

I see a potential danger in automatically mummifying the members of the royal family, similar to having real-world people staying in the labor force to a later age: succeeding generations will have fewer opportunities for advancement. This becomes a greater problem if members of the nobility also have access to mummification -- how does one inherit titles, lands, etc. if one's elders never die?

 

I can suggest a couple of ways to approach this issue. For one, mummification may not be everyone's choice. If you want such unlife to be anything like fiction, there would be a number of common pleasures of the flesh which such beings may no longer be able to enjoy, e.g. eating, sleeping, sex, bathing/swimming (mummified flesh probably won't handle immersion well). Many may prefer the afterlife to that kind of prolonged existence, but some undoubtedly would want to retain their power and prestige in the material world as long as possible.

 

However, a sizeable body of essentially-disenfranchised younger nobles/royals would probably be eager for wars of conquest, to establish their own dominions. That has real-world historical parallels, of course, but the incentive to do so would be far stronger in Kemet. That would also lend itself to an antagonistic role for the kingdom in your campaign.

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1 hour ago, assault said:

This set up isn't inherently evil, although it would be easy to see how it could come into conflict with its neighbours. Much of the resulting flavour would depend on who the neighbours are.

 

It could work as an "Ancient World" (Bronze/Iron Age) setting, or something more medieval. In the former case, there are a bunch of published sourcebooks for various systems out there. An interesting one is Testament, by Scott Bennie. The old Campaign Classics series from ICE included both Mythic Egypt and Mythic Greece, with the latter providing a natural "Good" rival culture (and was written by Aaron Allston to boot).

 

The medieval case could have a more Crusader-ish feel. I'd probably add some (living?) cavalry to the undead hordes.

 

The composition of the undead would have an impact on the feel of things. At first glance I would tone down the presence of vampires, especially in the Ancient World setting - their predatory habits would tend to compromise an orderly ancestor worshipping society. Then again, they, like ghouls, could be an unruly outside force.

 

(I think I've just defined the difference between Lawful Evil and Chaotic Evil.)

 

Naturally, you have already read Terry Pratchett's Pyramids.

 

Naturally. ?

 

Well, I agree that the society isn't inherently evil in the way it is set up. Frankly it's more its foreign policy (to whit - conquer the neighbouring realm!) that seems to be making it "evil." I certainly want it to be plausible for the citizens of Kemet to see their kingdom as a fair and decent place. I actually want vampires (and now that you mention them, ghouls) to be members in good standing of this community. For this reason I'm happy to avoid alignment restrictions. I mean, I hate the DND alignment system in any case and ignore it any way. But even more so.

 

How's about this:

Vampires could be kept fed with regular donations from ordinary folk. You know, blood banks.

Ghouls... well someone has to strip the meat from the bones of corpses so they can be skeletonised thereby keeping the ghouls fed.

 

Obviously in both cases there is plenty of opportunity for abuse of the system and outright murder. These are crimes and there are police and law courts to deal with them when they occur.

 

I considered going for a bronze age feel. But I couldn't be bothered doing all the additional work and research needed to make that work. ? I'm a bad person. So in a way it's a mediaeval Ancient Egypt. I hadn't considered living soldiers but YES!  It makes perfect sense. Especially if you want someone who is better at obeying orders than a ghoul but not as stupid as a skellie.

 

For the record their neighbours, the good guy/girl kingdom that the PCs come from, is going to be Sumerian-ish. The sun god Utu is a very important deity.

 

thanks for the suggestions.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Cancer said:

This suggests that cremation is an empire-threatening felony, unless the low-level undead are far more durable than is commonly attributed to them.  Otherwise anything that reduces the undead cohort becomes a direct threat to the realm.  Environmental susceptibilities could matter, also; if e.g. running water dissolves them, then work on and around the river is riskier for those with an investment in dead labor gangs. Also, I think an important hanging question is how long the undead do last, what it takes to maintain them, as well as what they do when uncontrolled.

 

Another issue is whether a maximum age is laid down for the living.  I could very easily see mandatory "recruitment into the labor pool" at, oh, age 50 or so, with people being allowed to literally buy another year each time their birthday comes up.  A more predatory ruling caste might push it down to 35.

 

Oh yeah, cremation is a big no no. It's all mummification, organ removal, and preservation for all. ?

 

Mandatory recruitment... dark. I like it.

"In times of national crises the Eternal Pharaoh requires that all persons aged 50 and over attend their local temple and take place in the drawing of lots. 1 in 10 shall be given over to the service of the Black Land."

 

thanks.

 

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36 minutes ago, Lord Liaden said:

 

The implication here is that the people of Kemet still believe in an afterlife. Hence being preserved after death isn't the only form of reward they can expect for their labors. Moreover, being forced to continue their labors for centuries doesn't seem like that great a reward.

 

If you want to make Kemet an "evil" antagonist for your PCs, I would suggest that the skeleton/zombie-type undead they use are essentially mindless automata. The souls of the Kemet-folk (Kemetians? Kemetites?) move on to their next existence, leaving their bodies as empty husks to be used as the state sees fit. They could think of those creatures as less than slaves -- the equivalent of industrial robots. The living people of Kemet might not be able to supply all the kingdom's labor and military needs through their own deaths. That would lead them to kidnap their neighbors, like the European/American slave trade... except those captives would be promptly executed so they could be turned into obedient undead.

 

Yeah, I've been trying to decide if the spirit of the person resides in the corpse or if it is animated by some sort of "dark energy."

 

At this juncture I should point out that the game is pathfinder and the official rule is that it's negative energy animating the corpses.

But I'm unsure if I want this or not.  In fact, the more I think about it the more I like the idea that some part of the person's soul, the ka, resides in the corpse. So maybe skellies aren't so mindless after all...

 

You're right - demand for undead could well outstrip supply. Someone on the GitP forums mentioned that the number of people dying in any given period is going to be a lot less than number of people living in the same period. Given attrition from accidents, wear and tear, and war the needs might well outstrip supply. I think this gives me a good reason for the Kemetites to attack the neighbouring Akkadians*. A reason other than "for the evilz."

 

As for whether or not people see a few centuries of additional labour as being bad or not...  I reckon it comes down to the marketing.

 

"You get to spend more time among your family and friends. Watch your great, great grand children grow up."

 

"Working hard for the glorious motherland provides for the future of your children, and your children's children, and your children's children's children."

 

"Service in this world means freedom in the next."

 

Okay, not everyone's going to believe it. But many will. Especially if it's what they've always been told.

 

Thanks for the ideas.

 

*Autocorrect wants to change this to Canadians. lol

 

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52 minutes ago, Lord Liaden said:

 

I see a potential danger in automatically mummifying the members of the royal family, similar to having real-world people staying in the labor force to a later age: succeeding generations will have fewer opportunities for advancement. This becomes a greater problem if members of the nobility also have access to mummification -- how does one inherit titles, lands, etc. if one's elders never die?

 

I can suggest a couple of ways to approach this issue. For one, mummification may not be everyone's choice. If you want such unlife to be anything like fiction, there would be a number of common pleasures of the flesh which such beings may no longer be able to enjoy, e.g. eating, sleeping, sex, bathing/swimming (mummified flesh probably won't handle immersion well). Many may prefer the afterlife to that kind of prolonged existence, but some undoubtedly would want to retain their power and prestige in the material world as long as possible.

 

However, a sizeable body of essentially-disenfranchised younger nobles would probably be eager for wars of conquest, to establish their own dominions. That has real-world historical parallels, of course, but the incentive to do so would be far stronger in Kemet. That would also lend itself to an antagonistic role for the kingdom in your campaign.

 

 

Actually, fractious younger (for a given value of "younger") undead was something I wanted. Nobles wanting more lands, servants, wealth, and an opportunity for some self-fulfillment through war. And all for the reason you mention - it gives Kemet a reason to invade others. It also gives the PCs an option to start a palace coup and potential allies of convenience.

 

As to why this would happen.

 

I'm thinking that the Eternal Pharaoh loves their family. Truly and jealously. Pharaoh cannot abide the idea of the youngsters going into the afterlife and abandoning them. Oh, to be abandoned by one's children, how awful. How pitiful. So Pharaoh keeps them here, forever. Forever clutched tight to the ancestral bosom.

 

As to where they live, er that is stay, necropalaces. Or tombs if you prefer. The building of monumental tombs in the desert is a major industry. The tombs are larger and more open than the ones here the real world. There's no need to seal any of them off. Trespassing in a noble's palace is a serious offense and the noble is allowed to eat you if they want.

 

I agree, mummification is not to everyone's preference. Some take the road of lichdom. Not all that different in terms of pleasures of the flesh but in DND land you at least get to keep your marbles. (Officially mummies take a big INT penalty. And as I write this I think I'll simply get rid of that. Means there's precious little difference between liches and mummies now, but I'm okay with that.) Others prefer the idea of vampirism. Vampirism allows for enjoying the pleasures of the flesh on a whole new level.

 

Thanks again for the ideas Cancer, Assault, Lord Liaden. It really does help to have some great ideas to bounce back off of.

 

 

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I've come to think (in that smug top-down simulationist thought pattern I'm wedded to) that in order to create a good fantasy world you have to think about economics for the world to hang together.  If magic is too strong and too common (and "too common" is probably a pretty small number ... a couple percent of the population), then all the average joes (the men without magic) starve, or run for the nearest magic-poor land. 

 

If magic is cheap, then there's no reason for a non-magician to get any opportunity to breed.  Everything they can do, magic can do better, faster, cheaper; therefore no one wants them around.  So nonmagic joes can't pay the rent: Got no money and you got no car/Then you got no women as the song goes, and that's fundamental to human thought patterns.

 

That's an unstable pattern, and any civilization with that sort of situation will end up testing their boy-children for magic ability as early as they can, and if a boy tests negative, they get drowned.  I will say this for the necromantic state: it does give citizens a reason to raise their nonmagic boys up to adulthood, even if you off 'em and turn them into zombots on their 17th birthday.  You certainly don't bother educating them.

 

If the only magic-capable people are females, I can't imagine how that society works.  I don't think it does.

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I agree that a good bit of world creation should consider economics.

 

The way I want to go in my game is that necromancy is a skill that can be learned by anyone with sufficient INT. No special magic sparks required. Just diligent study. In Kemet at least it opens up better career opportunities for the people who study it. It doesn't make too many other fields redundant and does create new ones, as I outlined in my OP.

 

And I just don't allow the big economy breaking spells like Fabrication and Wall of Iron. Well, I limit them so they can't break the economy.

 

But if you did have a society in which magic was the be all and end all, like the typical DND world, yeah. The average joe and jane are in trouble. I won't go into it here as there's whole threads dedicated to how badly you can break an economy with a moderate level wizard. But you probably know that.

 

As for a society in which only women can do magic - I don't see why that wouldn't work; or would have any more problems than another society with high level magic. They keep a few men around for breeding purposes, the rest get to join the zombie work squads at age 17 or whenever. Actually the breeders also get to join the zombie squads by 25 or so. Of course this set up assumes a complete lack of empathy by mothers for their own sons. Unlikely but possible for a fantasy setting.

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As for an unmentioned evil: necrophilia could create some niche economic markets. And a reason for both murders of passion and conquest of other nations.

 

 I think with a country stuffed full of necromancers that one of the country’s prime exports would be disgruntled necromancers. Why work a mid-level management position when you can move away and set yourself up in a place where there’s no competition and potentially take over a city or country?

 

But in any case, I agree that the greatest evil would be war on neighboring countries in order to generate bodies. Wars would even be popular in the management economic classes because managing more bodies means more opportunities for advancement.

 

 I could also see the government, and perhaps the dominant religion, either gently or forceably, encouraging pregnancies. More bodies means more long-term laborers and soldiers.

 

Rights of women (who are of breeding age) to travel or otherwise risk themselves in public might be curtailed. Leaving such women with the ability to exit.the county would be catastrophic so there’d be a human trafficking underground taking women out (for financial gain, humanitarian reasons or both). I like the plot hook idea of a criminal ring, or government agency, which collects money from upscale women to smuggle them out of the county but which then sells the women into pregnancy slavery elsewhere in the county.

 

There might be a brisk slave trade to bring in women to forceably work as breeders.

 

Foreign sailors in port might be at risk of being shanghied and next appearing as a zombie in some work camp. Merchants and caravan guards would likewise be at risk.

 

For some reason, my post started off dark and kept getting darker: I blame the subject matter....

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War is an interesting element here.  If soldiers are undead then you are destroying the labour backbone of the country if the war does not generate more undead than it consumes.  The undead army is also going to want to utilise weapons that do not break, rend and tear opponents, you do not want to spoil potential future labourers.  Other nations might find it difficult to drive its soldiers to war, they are not just risking death but unlife...

 

The driver for the campaign might be a new technology that allows the Kemeti forces to disable their opponents at range, thereby tilting the balance to war being almost certan to deliver more undead than it consumes...

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Just after I finished my last post I remembered reading a novel recently (Battle Mage by Peter Flannery).  Despite lots of good reviews I did not enjoy the books but the battle scenes are relevant - the enemy are called the Possessed and defeated foes become Possessed.  Might be worth scanning if you can do it cheaply (library or borrowing - I cannot in good conscience recommend spending money on it).

 

Doc.

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11 hours ago, archer said:

As for an unmentioned evil: necrophilia could create some niche economic markets. And a reason for both murders of passion and conquest of other nations.

 

 I think with a country stuffed full of necromancers that one of the country’s prime exports would be disgruntled necromancers. Why work a mid-level management position when you can move away and set yourself up in a place where there’s no competition and potentially take over a city or country?

 

But in any case, I agree that the greatest evil would be war on neighboring countries in order to generate bodies. Wars would even be popular in the management economic classes because managing more bodies means more opportunities for advancement.

 

 I could also see the government, and perhaps the dominant religion, either gently or forceably, encouraging pregnancies. More bodies means more long-term laborers and soldiers.

 

Rights of women (who are of breeding age) to travel or otherwise risk themselves in public might be curtailed. Leaving such women with the ability to exit.the county would be catastrophic so there’d be a human trafficking underground taking women out (for financial gain, humanitarian reasons or both). I like the plot hook idea of a criminal ring, or government agency, which collects money from upscale women to smuggle them out of the county but which then sells the women into pregnancy slavery elsewhere in the county.

 

There might be a brisk slave trade to bring in women to forceably work as breeders.

 

Foreign sailors in port might be at risk of being shanghied and next appearing as a zombie in some work camp. Merchants and caravan guards would likewise be at risk.

 

For some reason, my post started off dark and kept getting darker: I blame the subject matter....

 

Woo. There's dark. And then there's dark.

 

I'll be honest, I was just not going to to delve into necrophilia. Unless both parties are consenting, adult, and undead.

 

But this does remind me of something I saw in a doco recently. In ancient Egypt it was common for families to keep a dead relative with them a for a few days before sending them to the embalmers. This was because of the fear (justified or not, I don't know) that the embalmers would get all necrophiliac. Keeping the body at home for a time would allow it to rot a bit and thus, hopefully, deter any sort of lovey dovey stuff. This was a show on History Channel; so facts may have taken a back seat to squick; I'm not sure.

 

Re. sexual slavery... I see your point. But I'm not going to go there.

 

As for encouraging breeding many children, yes. Hell, Kemet wouldn't be the first place to encourage breeding more healthy children for the good of the  fatherland.

 

I hadn't thought about shanghaiing sailors but yes. There would be a brisk, but technically illegal, trade in sailors et.al. who came to the country on legitimate business. I will use that.

 

Thanks.

 

 

 

 

 

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4 hours ago, Doc Democracy said:

War is an interesting element here.  If soldiers are undead then you are destroying the labour backbone of the country if the war does not generate more undead than it consumes.  The undead army is also going to want to utilise weapons that do not break, rend and tear opponents, you do not want to spoil potential future labourers.  Other nations might find it difficult to drive its soldiers to war, they are not just risking death but unlife...

 

The driver for the campaign might be a new technology that allows the Kemeti forces to disable their opponents at range, thereby tilting the balance to war being almost certan to deliver more undead than it consumes...

 

Good points. Maybe Kemet should start investing in weapons of mass destruction. Gas. But also wide area of effect Unholy Smiting and negative energy effects. This could have a major effect on the opening scene for my game.

 

Thanks.

 

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I'd completely avoid all of archer's squicky suggestions, and make Kemet into a kind of Utopia. The kind that looks good until you look closely enough.

 

After all, the economy involves both the living population and multiple generations of the unliving. That's a recipe for prosperity right there.

 

Under peacetime circumstances, the undead population will increase "naturally". It doesn't have to be forced. Wartime is a different matter. In that case, raising the corpses of your opponents is necessary to make up for your losses.

 

Basically Kemet doesn't have to be nastier than any other society around it. It might be, but it doesn't have to be.

 

Kemet could quite easily be a society of free men and women, living and dead. One where family matters, and ancestors are revered. It's just that the ancestors are still walking around... Everyone is at least distantly related to everyone else, and descended from the Eternal Pharaoh, who is really just the family Patriarch/Matriarch.

 

A lot of the population of the neighbouring countries are probably descended from the EP too.

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