A History of Death
the Obtort Ward is all that remains of what was once an ancient battlefield that was afterwards converted into a mass grave. After the battles were over, the bodies of the dead were buried in trenches and covered with a thin layer of soil. As the township grew into a city, the value of land started to grow and rather than tie up a large swath of soil as a cemetary, the locals elected to keep Obtort as a communal grave. Things remained tolerable as mostly only the poor and the middle class were relegated to the cold embrace of the soil there. Most of the wealthy and the noble were able to utilize familial holdings, catacombs, or some other arrangement that kept their mortal remains from being mixed with the corpses of the common and the poor.
This situation started to change as the township grew into a small city, and then into a large city. The central region that would later become the Obtort ward was swallowed by the spreading working class and lower income residential wards. Only the poor and working class would have to settle with living in such close proximity to the dead. The ground kept up it’s original purpose, becoming a dumping ground for the bodies of not just the remains of humans but soon anything that died and was not eaten was dumped there.
A Rising Problem
Some argue that the ground become overly saturated with entropic energy, or that the number of dead located in such a small place created a node of negative energy. Regardless of the reason, after some years the dead in the Obtort started to develop the habit of rising and seeking out the blood of the living. At first it was considered a few isolated incidents, a few zombies shuffling out and into the working class bars and brothels in the late hours causing no small amount of horror and upset.
After the seventh zombie attack, thanatologists and geomancers determined that the problem would not go away, and that the graveyard would continue to produce random undead at irregular intervals. The problem could be remedied if the dead were exhumed and properly buried and the land cleansed and purified. It was later determined that the cost of such a venture would be excessive and rather, the nobles and the guilds decided that it would be cheaper and more expedient to simply wall in the ward with stone wall high enough to keep the undead from escaping. A cover story was tossed out mumbling about wandering necromancers being responsible and that the wall was to keep them out.
The Gates of Death
Business as Usual
The Obtort ward would also continue to serve as the communal mass grave for the poor unable to afford a proper burial. To this end, heavy gates were built that would allow restricted access to the ward. A small contingent of city guard were pulled, mostly from the lists of guardsmen who had angered higher ups, or were deemed less than capable. In most cases, a handful of trained guards are more than capable of handling a few shamblers. A toll was instated, usually a few pieces of silver to drop a body.
An Obtort Vacation
A dirty secret of the city is that the criminal elements have discovered that dumping bodies over the higher parts of the wall is a good way to dispose of the inconvenient dead. This is done in the dark of night while the tenders are resting and the feral undead are the most active. More sadistic thieves and such will dump an injured or just unconscious person over the wall and make a bit of sport as to how long they will last before being pulled down and eaten by the zombies and skeletons.
The Body Tenders
Working in the daylight hours only, while most of the undead are hidden and slumbering, the Tenders are a mortician’s guild/cult that handles most of the body work. They keep pathways through the heaps and generally keep the worst of the decomposition near the center of the ward and move the cleaned bones or dry and dessicated corpses towards the outside areas. The Body Tenders are dominated, both terms of numbers and leadership, by a single large and incredibly perverse family. While quite destitute, the Tenders are thick with necrophiliacs, amateur necromancers, incestuous relationships and riddled with both deformities and disease. For a visual imagine the cast of House of 1,000 Corpses but wearing robes and playing with dead people. Few people enjoy dealing with the family, but most have no other choice, and for the most part, the elder patriarch is able to keep the worst of the violations and desecrations out of public sight.
Hey Buddy, can you give me a hand?
As an increasing pile of body parts, necromancers are particularly drawn to the location. Some come to simply study the necromantic energies that saturate the soil, and increasingly the people who work the ward. Others come to steal parts for their own uses. As most of the gatewatch is on the outs and underpaid, a few gold pieces are more than enough to get them to turn their heads.
The Shattered Hand
Necromancers tend to have lairs cluttered with the broken corpses of their failed experiments and would be do-gooders who fell to their undead minions. While this makes for neat scene dressing, it would certainly be an annoyance to the working necromancer, and they could possibly welcome a dumping ground that doesnt ask too many questions. During the night time hours, these elder and more accomplished necromancers could bring the remnants of failed experiments and zombies and skeletons that are damaged, but not worth the time and effort it would take to fix them.
The Citadel is full of great ideas for filling out the zombie infested bowels of the Obtort ward. Here are some suggested resources for your necromantic enjoyment.
Captain Penguin’s Remaking the Undead is a tremendous resource for off-normal undead creatures. The Codex has links to more than a dozen variations of the undead theme.
Valadaar’s 30+ Walking Dead is a solid resource for filling out the ranks of the less exotic zombies.
Finally, my own 30 ZOMBIE FREAKS! was originally started as a small list of strange undead to place in the Obtort Ward.
The Augery of Skulls
Undead can spontaneously rise, but these feral undead have a significant difference from those undead created by the refined powers of necromancy. Unlike those sustained by magic, the feral undead must either consume the flesh of the living, or cannibalize the necromantic essence of other undead. Since the wall around the Obtort is well made on the inside to prevent any sort of climbing, the undead are left to prey on their own kind to sustain their tenuous and fading existances. The hideous aspect of this is that the undead eat each other, and often pick at the bodies of the mundane dead seeking for some sort of essence to fill them, but failing to find any.
Undeath in the ward is a Hobbesian ideal, short and brutal. Most freshly risen undead last less than a week. Most are caught and consumed by the larger and established undead who are somewhat like the undead bosses of the ward. Others that are able to escape are confronted with a lack of consumable essence, or run afoul of the city guardsmen or erstwhile heroes looking to test their mettle in a controlled enviroment.
The Heart of the Matter
The Obtort ward has a secret that it has kept since the first undead shuffled out of it. Near the center of the ward is not one, but three small hell pits. These pits, the largest being three feet across, are the source of the continually rising undead. At the current time, no one outside of the Ward knows about these burbling fonts of chaos and evil within the walls, otherwise much more serious action would be taken to stop their slow growth. Within the ward, there are a handful or advanced undead, zombies with fragmentary intelligence that understand that the pits are very important and at times drag corpses into their viscid waters, causing the corpse to rise as a zombie freak or necromutant.
Zombies in the Mist - A Nethermancer, also known as a white necromancer, has decided to study the spontaneous undead generated by the tainted soil of the Ward. As such, he has contacted the PCs to fetch him samples of soil, bodies, and return with zombies in as best condition as they can. After these initial forays, the nethermancer will decide to enter the Ward himself, setting up confrontations with advanced or exotic undead, assassins dumping bodies, necromancers in the process of either sumped their bodily refuse or stealing bodies and spare parts.
Oops, Wrong Casket! - The body of a wealthy and powerful noble has been dumped, quite by mistake, into the middle of the Obtort ward, after being looted of course. Now what would be a normal dash in and out with the shrouded body becomes a major problem when instead of being cold and dead, the noble has since risen as an exotic and powerful undead creature that must be subdued with a minimum of fuss and damage to the corpse.
For Priest and Faith - After many many years of pretending there is no problem and passing the buck, the dominant faith has made it an initiative to clean out and clean up the Obtort Ward. It will be no easy task, certainly nothing for the less than militant clerics and monks, but the special arena of adventurers-upon-return. PCs can expect moderate clerical support as they are hired to clear out the zombie nests, some of which are quite deep and thick with mangled and still crawling undead, as well as destroying the more powerful undead. After this, the PCs can expect a minimal payment and a pat on the back for participating in such a noble venture for so little in return.
Gatewatch - An assassin has killed several important people, their corpses being found days later dumped in the Ward. The PCs are hired to stand in as the Deathgate Watch to help discover who is behind these heinous murders, and have the entertainment of dealing with the necromancers, who are quite used to passing their coin with no questions asked. The PCs have to let the corpse-thieves go on with their grisly business or risk blowing their cover and perhaps becoming the assassins nect targets.
It’s All in the Family - In a horror-game, the PCs are low level characters who have been abducted for a bit of fun by the Body Tenders. They can be lured in by sexy jail-bait necrophiliac, and then encounter the more deformed and bestial members of the family as they are run through a night time gauntlet of horrors, pits of scrabbling zombies and left to face the master of the clan, armed with a brutish zombie on a chain and a large and nasty weapon. In the end, who will miss a few more sell-swords soaking up beer in the tavern?