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Author Topic: Ecology of Undead  (Read 678 times)

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Offline Mourngrymn

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Ecology of Undead
« on: September 23, 2012, 05:22:16 PM »
After discussing this at length the other afternoon with Strolen, and now seeing as I am drug into the Guild Wars (pun intended), I wish to put forth what we discussed and see if other had similar like minded attitude, thoughts, or alterations to said discussion.

Lets take the use of undead and begin at the why.
  • Why are they here in every major fantasy, and some sci fi, genre games?
  • What is their purpose? Do they have a purpose or are they just mindful walls of encounters to throw at adventures mainly for an XP sink?
  • Are they related? Can undead beget undead? If so, how far down the tree can undead create their own?
  • Is it necessary to have dozens of undead roaming about your game world or setting? Can your world survive with a handful of undead? If so how many different types could still populate the world to be effective on the creep/scare factor?

1) Well the use of undead is a very popular genre to use. They are creepy for sure. I think we venture to say that as a culture the dead tend to be a taboo, to see them stand and walk, or attack for a need for food boggles the mind in a way that we can not comprehend. Perhaps it is our mortal view of what comes after death. If we stand up and begin life as a rotting corpse, how does one now look t life if in the end you die but come back as a monster?

2) The purpose of undead have been many, some misunderstood or misguided. George Romero zombies in Dawn of the Dead brought a new factor to the world of the undead that made a once shambling and slow movie unthinking beast, to a sprinting Olympian at a decathlon that had no other motive than to eat. While Sam Rami's undead were a ridiculous caricature hell bend on world domination controlled by a undead demon/ thing. Both of which work, however are very linear and difficult to use see working and thriving.

3) If you follow certain forms of undead rules by popular media, movies, novels, games, etc; we see that very few undead actually reproduce offspring. Most, if any, pass on a sickness or disease through a bite or scratch. While usually only a vampire can give birth to more of their own kind. In rpg media we see zombies, skeletons, and other such undead only being produced by magic spells, rituals, or from power beings with vampires creating more of their kind through a bite. (Sometimes ritualistic others just by happenstance.)

4) How many undead until you get to much? Unless you are running a game world that is influenced heavily with the undead, (aka Ravenloft-esque type worlds) you run into creating far more undead than the world can possibly function without mediation of an all powerful being. Should your world be filled with dozens of types of undead and make a frenzy of death and decay unaware of what the next corner brings? Or would a handful of possibly six or seven possibly be enough to create a foreboding world where the darkness is still frightful yet you still venture out into it with little thought?

Now these are basic points Strolen and I discussed, not in that specific of detail but the bare-bones is there. Here are our thoughts. It began on a discussion about revamping my world (Hewdamia) and its undead. I wanted to trace some undead back from one to the other. Instead of just a hodge podge of dead things milling about, I wanted a purpose. A life cycle for the dead if you will. With that I bring you the Souless. (An early sub of mine here that will be revamped in the near future.) They are the course of priests who have forsaken their Gods and turned to a dark god for promises of power, which he grants in the form of immortality. A sort of pseudo vampire if you will. They do not drink your blood but drain your very essence and soul and use that as nourishment. The reason being, they have no soul and can not function without one. Therefore they use the souls of others to survive.

Now doing this generally kills their chosen victim so they found a way to create a servant that allows them to feed off their spirit when needed. They did this for numerous reasons.
  • The need for daytime servants and guardians.
  • Continuous need of food that is easy to obtain.

Souless have an aversion to daylight, much like normal vampires in other fantasy settings. The reason, one suspects it is due to their previous God turning a hateful eye on them and burning their sins from their very skin. They then create Ghoules to act as their body servants to act on their behalf during the day and to supply them with nourishment when required. They do this for the simple reason that it does not kill the Ghoule to feed on them in this way, as they are already dead it inflicts no pain that is apparent. Feeding on a non-Ghoule will kill it once a feeding is complete, and since no undo attention is wanted they create these servants to make their feeding life simpler. It is beneficial only for a short time however, as prolonged extraction of their soul, the Ghoule begins to change. Always having been an undead since their creation, they begin to rot from the inside. The theory is that by losing their spirit their hold on their physical form deteriorates. This rot causes two things to occur.

  • The begin to change their physical form/makeup.
  • The begin to produce a disease that affects not just mortals but undead.

Their new form they begin to take is less than normal. As a Ghoule they looked much as they did before, just pale and gaunt with an odor of staleness about them that cloyed the mind. As they begin to lose their spirit they begin to change into what a typical undead would appear like. Rotting flesh hanging from bone, the smell of rot permeating from them that is unmistakably death. Once their turning is complete they are a completely new and different form of undead. They are now known as being d**ned. They look like a shambling husk of meat, torn and dirty. Filthy and decaying, followed by a mass of flies as they feed off the rotting flesh. In this new form, however, they are still carriers of this rotting disease and can affect the living with it, eventually turning them into the d**ned as well.

This rotting infects the Souless in a way the inflicts pain on their 'Soul'. While they do not have a soul, they do feed on them and this disease restricts their ability to feed thereby forcing them to rid themself of the now useless Ghoule and forcing them to make another one. So having more than one or two Ghoule at a single time is dangerous for the unwary Souless, while powerful and old Souless have been known to have up to six or seven rotating on an exact rotation.

The d**ned now become a problem and are driven off, often by would be adventurers unwary and unknown of the real reason behind their arrival. If not caught in time and taken under control an entire village can be corrupted by this rotting disease within only a few months time becoming more dangerous the more people who become infected. Often not realizing it until it is to late.

Once the rot has taken full affect on the undead it rots away their flesh and bone to nothing, collapsing them into a heap of ash and decay. What rises from the ashes is a permanent form of undead and no longer a simple transition.

Into what? I have no idea... hence why I have taken up this parchment and put ink to page using quill as my sword to fight the good fight.

I actually would just like to see what others think of this half hashed way of forming undead, having them form from one type to the next after a life cycle having different and various forms of attack and dangers that come with each.
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Offline Chaosmark

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Re: Ecology of Undead
« Reply #1 on: September 23, 2012, 09:07:28 PM »
Why are they here in every major fantasy, and some sci fi, genre games?
What is their purpose? Do they have a purpose or are they just mindful walls of encounters to throw at adventures mainly for an XP sink?


My interpretation has always been that there are 2 reasons for the appearance of zombies in our games (when they're consciously chosen by the authors and not just mindlessly included):
  • Acceptable Targets -- Some segments of society will get pissy about any video game violence, but most of the rest can be appeased by using a socially-acceptable group as targets in your shoot-em-up. To avoid offending anyone, your choices are pretty much limited to zombies, Nazis, or aliens. Since Nazis only appear in WWII games, and aliens immediately give the game sci-fi overtones, zombies are generally the safe bet for any genre and setting you might choose.
  • Horror Factor -- Don't forget, when done right zombies are scary as hell. They make for an excellent target-rich environment as well, adding elements of unending weariness to the player's plight.

Quote
Are they related? Can undead beget undead? If so, how far down the tree can undead create their own?


Until recently, the undead really weren't a "virus" that could spread and keep generating more of themselves. However, with the more modern conceptions of a viral origin, of course undead can beget undead. And even more scary, the undead can eventually evolve along with the virus. That's something that doesn't get thought about much. If it can reproduce and pass along changes to offspring, evolution can and will occur.

Quote
Is it necessary to have dozens of undead roaming about your game world or setting? Can your world survive with a handful of undead? If so how many different types could still populate the world to be effective on the creep/scare factor?


To be perfectly honest, I think that having less undead is better for preserving the horror aspect of the undead. Familiarity breeds contempt, after all. We personally have been so inundated with undead that we're desensitized to them, and even have people thinking up humorous ways to survive a zombie apocalypse. Likewise, in our fantasy games our clerics are ho-hum about banishing the abominations back to the afterlife, when they should be utterly horrified at something so unnatural occurring in the first place.

I don't want to say that there should be a hard limit on how many types of undead you can use, because it's all really related to how common they are, and how you use them. If they're rare, and you use them right, they keep the horror no matter how many types of them you have. But overuse them and even just a single type will become worthless as anything except an XP pinata.

Quote
*snip Soulless*


I'm honestly not sure about this. I think it could work, but the simplistic version laid out here really seems lackluster. It's probably a good start, but it definitely needs more 'oomph' to make it click as a true Undead Phylogeny in my mind.
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Offline Mourngrymn

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Re: Ecology of Undead
« Reply #2 on: September 23, 2012, 09:28:54 PM »
That is very similar to what Strolen and I were discussing, about limiting the number of different undead to keep the horror factor to a high, while keeping the simplicity of the horror at its best.
Acolyte Ysuron the Undying Grymn – Necromancer Cult – Level 1
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Offline Dossta

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Re: Ecology of Undead
« Reply #3 on: September 24, 2012, 02:13:50 PM »
Once the rot has taken full affect on the undead it rots away their flesh and bone to nothing, collapsing them into a heap of ash and decay. What rises from the ashes is a permanent form of undead and no longer a simple transition.

Into what? I have no idea... hence why I have taken up this parchment and put ink to page using quill as my sword to fight the good fight.

I actually would just like to see what others think of this half hashed way of forming undead, having them form from one type to the next after a life cycle having different and various forms of attack and dangers that come with each.

If you want to make a true "undead lifecycle", you'll probably want the end up back at the Souless at some point.  Otherwise, how do Souless reproduce?  It was my impression that the original Souless were all formed in one big batch.  If their former church still exists, I can imagine that they would have a lot of counter measures in place by now to prevent other priests from following their example.

How about something like this:  Souless ("adult form") -> Ghoulle ("egg") -> ????? ("larval stage") -> ????? ("cocoon/dormant stage") -> ????? ("juvenile") -> Souless ("adult")

Insects can eat very different foods during each of their development stages (caterpillars/leaves and butterflies/nectar, for example).  So the larval and juvenile stages don't necessarily have to eat pure souls.  Perhaps the larval stage feasts on dreams, or blood, or terror/negative emotions. 

The juvenile stage may not be necessary, really, but you could use it to make a less powerful kind of Souless.  Perhaps those who have not been ritualistically pledged to the Dark God yet?  Maybe they still have a soul of sorts, formed in the cocoon stage, and they haven't given it up yet so they still have free will?

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Offline Mourngrymn

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Re: Ecology of Undead
« Reply #4 on: September 24, 2012, 02:38:25 PM »
Having it lead back into a Souless state but still owning a soul I would think instead of feeding on the soul they would feed or possibly could feed on the life blood of their victim. Which is where you could get the more tradition vampire from. They would just not be able to reproduce further but the cycle went full circle and now ends.
Acolyte Ysuron the Undying Grymn – Necromancer Cult – Level 1
STR: 1 | END: 3 | CON: 4 | DEX: 2 | CHA: 6 | INT: 5
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Offline Dossta

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Re: Ecology of Undead
« Reply #5 on: September 24, 2012, 02:47:57 PM »
Sure, but perhaps then they could elect to give up their souls and join the ranks of the Souless, possibly through some ritual to their dark god.  Or something.  That way the circle can be repeated for some members, and the Souless have a viable way to reproduce.

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