Since the dawn of the art, necromancers have faced a handful of universal problems. Firstly, though a skeleton may be unwaveringly loyal and will fight with no thought to it's own safety, they can often be dispatched with a simple club wielded by someone sufficiently brutish.
Also, zombies have the annoying problem of making a lair almost uninhabitable, between the smell and the occasional part dropping off. In answer to these and many other common problems, a number of solutions have arisen from a variety of sources, ranging from the almost deceptively simple to the flat out bizarre. These are some of them.
A common problem is that skeletons, the classic symbol of the necromantic arts, are simply kind of weak. Many Necromancers have become frustrated with laboring over the bones of the fallen and breathing life into them only to have some irate farmer with a shovel break their arms off. There are a few solutions to this problem.
One of the more straightforward solutions is to simply rivet metal bands on to the non-jointed parts. This is very easy in the case of limbs, and often hands are bound into a mitten form. With this method, the ribs and spine present the greatest challenge, the common solution being to only rivet the top, middle and bottom of a series of scales into place, thus allowing most of them to conform to the bending of the spine. The ribs are usually attached to a solid band that is slightly angled, so as to slide behind the one above it if the skeleton bends forward. This method has the advantage of being nonmagical and thus immune to being dispelled, the drawback being that poor craftsmanship can greatly inhibit movement and that the added weight usually slows the skeletons in question down.
A less common method but a growing favorite is to broaden almost all the bones, to the point where the skeleton looks almost like a person wearing full bone armor. This has the advantage of being quicker than the Steelshanks method, but it does take a more skilled Necromancer to accomplish. This is because the actual effect is really controlled explosive bone growth, a difficult task. If improperly done, this can completely ruin a skeleton. Correctly done, the end result will be just as fast, much sturdier and cut a more imposing figure to boot. Many who use this method add horns, simply for aesthetics.
One of the most difficult, but also so far one of the most effective is to enchant the skeleton in such a way that, when injured, the broken bones will actually knit themselves back together. A very difficult enchantment, it pulls ambient energy into the skeleton and reserves it for a time when it is needed. When activated by a break, be it a hairline fracture or a fully shattered limb, the energy will erupt and, in a method similar to Broadbones, cause controlled explosive growth. The enchantments also allow the skeleton to reincorporate a severed piece back onto itself, firmly reattaching a severed piece that is firmly held against the break. This is a good idea if the piece is present, as the amount of energy that can be stored at any given time is roughly enough to regenerate one severed limb, such as an arm or leg, or many smaller breaks. Despite attempts, this enchantment has so far proved unable to allow a skeleton to add pieces on to its own mass.
It is possible to combine some of these methods, though it is very difficult. With Broadbones and Knitting for example, if improperly cast, the skeleton will start to grow rampantly, as quickly as it is able to absorb sufficient energy for bone growth. If cast correctly though, you would wind up with a powerful armored servant who can take a cannon shell and keep on fighting.
Zombies, the other primary icon of necromancy. A horrifying being, it is limited somewhat by its lack of speed and made less attractive to necromancers by it's tendency to foul up lairs with it's rotting stench and the pieces of rotting flesh that occasionally fall off. Some necromancers attempt to get rid of the awful stench, but some have actually turned it into a feature.
Some necromancers have capitalized on the charnel stench that seems to radiate from zombies. A mixture of alchemical fluids can be poured into various parts of the digestive track, the section in question then being stitched shut. The end result is that, when struck hard enough for the bladder holding the mixture to rupture, a almost supernaturally horrid stench washes forth, often causing vomiting in those who are nearby.
Failed attempts at creating a rumbleguts zombie result often in leakers- where the fluid begins to leak out and surround the zombie with the stench at all times. One of the biggest problems here is that the fluid drains fully in a rather short period of time- often within a couple of days.
In addressing one of the big challenges facing zombies, their lackluster speed, a number of solutions have arisen. The most common one is to simply add a third leg, attached at the tailbone. This gives the zombies a bit of an odd gait, but they are able to move faster while retaining their balance.
The main problem with this is that roughly one in five zombies will be incapable of adjusting to the third leg, and it will just weigh them down while they lumber foreward on their two normal legs.
Worth noting is that some enterprising necromancers have even added a fourth leg, although it seems that the number of zombies that are capable of adjusting to this is extremely low.
Sometimes, when a town simply won't stop giving an honest necromancer grief, they are left no option but to slaughter the entire ruddy village. The problem with that is it takes a considerable amount of effort and minions, at least under normal circumstances. The Cancerous augmentation uses the natural plague carrying abilities of rotting corpses to deliver a potent payload. The result of the combination of alchemical fluids and enchantments is that, either when the master decides or when the zombie is so damaged that it can't hold together anymore, it bursts. This burst releases a large amount of very potent sickening agents, enough to often contaminate a small town. Generally, most are given orders to fall into the local well before bursting, which of course would cause a sizable epidemic.
Care must be taken while creating a cancerous zombie, it is frighteningly easy for hasty necromancers to infect themselves with the same plagues they are trying to deliver.
Wraiths, a less common form of undead, are very potent servants to those who can bind them. Whereas zombies and skeletons are the physical remains of a corpse, the wraith is, like ghosts and other incorporeal undead, the imprint of a soul on reality.
Wraiths are already powerful, but ambitious necromancers have found to improve them further.
A few useful traits that wraiths have is the abilities of invisibility and being incorporeal. A problem that necromancers often have is powerful louts who can trounce their minions coming after them. The answer is the Shiver wraith. Through select enchantments, the wraith becomes capable of causing a great deal of agony to someone who is sleeping, as well as giving them visions of it's choosing. A classic is to show the 'hero' entering the necromancers lair, only to be slaughtered in many creative ways by traps or minions that the necromancer does not actually possess. This generally leads the victims to either avoid the area all together, thinking it a glimpse of the future, or to bog themselves down with equipment to disarm these phantom traps. A warning to necromancers who would try this spell: an improper casting can cause the wraith to get sucked in to the mind of anyone nearby who falls asleep, remaining trapped and unable to do anything until they awake.
One of the greatest weapons that the undead have at their disposal is fear. The Shudderfog wraith capitalizes on this by being able to call forth a billowing blanket of unnaturally thick fog. Even while visible, the already insubstantial wraith is almost impossible to see in the fog. More importantly, it causes any to be trapped in the fog to be totally terrified, as the wraith could be anywhere and, as far as they know, everywhere. One tactic that some wraiths employ in these situations is to momentarily be spotted just long enough for the victims to attack before fading out of sight again. Continuing this long enough, they quickly build a terrified reflex in the victim to simply swing at anything they even slightly see. Many groups of would be heroes have butchered each other like this, not being able to see who or what a given shape is, but to scared to do anything but attack it. The lone survivor of such attacks is invariably weakened to the point where the wraith generally has little trouble finishing them off.
An uncommon augmentation, if only for the difficulty involved in creating it. This allows a wraith to attempt to counterspell the spells of a nearby mage. Unlike an actual spellcaster, the wraith (unless it was a spellcaster in life) has no knowledge of the interplay of magical forces, and its abilities must be trained and coached by the necromancer. The most skilled Scatterspell wraiths can reliably counter the works of novice mages, but even they can only counter the works of a moderately skilled sorcerer about half the time. More powerful spellcasters generally have nothing to fear from even the strongest Scatterspell wraiths.
There are some augmentations that can be applied to many types of undead, often any that are physical.
An augmentation that can be applied to almost all corporeal undead is the simple addition of extra arms. This allows the wielding of additional weapons, the lifting of heavier loads and other such tasks. Generally a simple augmentation, the only problems arise when hasty necromancers don't include enough of the shoulder structure, resulting in a maximum lifting weight of approximately zero.
Most necromancers who are capable of employing this augmentation do so whenever possible. When the corpse to be used is very fresh, having died within the hour, a skilled necromancer can imprint the personality of the deceased onto his new servant, granting it sentience. Due to the nature of the animating magic, the undead being is still unwaveringly loyal to the necromancer, but is also capable of decisions, conversation and planning. Many who have fought skeletons in the past make the mistake of thinking that they all behave the same at least, but a Blightmind skeleton will gladly set up traps, flank foes and make other tactical decisions that will completely catch these 'experienced heroes' off guard.
Applicable to all undead, the Tremblewail augmentation is the gift of a supernaturally frightening wail. The exceptionally strong willed or calloused will be able to mostly shrug it off, but lesser victims will find themselves assailed by chills, and the inexplicable urge to rock back and forth while assuming the fetal position.
Failure to apply this augmentation correctly can actually cause the precise reverse of the intended affect, creating a humorous wheeze.
This undead, if freshly made, looks just like a living person and can act like them too but is under the control of the Necromancer. It can act as a spy, lure people into traps, give bad advice, or stab people from behind/attack them. It is quite hard to make however, and only lasts with it's fully living look for two days. After day three the eyes start to decay, by day four the undead is stinking and by day five it is undoubtably undead and noone would be fooled by it in the least.
Failure to apply this augmentation correctly can actually cause the soul to come back into the body, causing an intelligent Undead that will at once attack the Necromancer.
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? Responses (17)
Being a fan of everything necromantic, I can say that this should be a staple for anyone looking to add a bit of spice to their generic undead controlling villain... a few of these, and the PCs will have their fear and respect for the undead kicked up a few notches!
Another of the very good submissions about the Undead that makes them scary. 5/5.
Very good Grey - I do like this one quite a bit! These modifications are cool and the presentation is good!
Remember, there's no point in going to all the effort of raising the undead if they aren't going to be lethal foot-soldiers. You want to make them more like the Terminator than brain-eaters. These augmentations are perfect for spicing up the undead your players face. It'll keep them on their toes.
Nice application, good execution. Some of the ideas are a bit off for my liking, mostly the explosive bone growth bit. I can hang with bone sculpting and grafting, but I personally draw the line at dead things growing at a cellular level, magic or not. The names are inventive and fun, I enjoyed them.
The idea is that the growth is actually new bone formed by the magic creating an identical material, nothing organic. The same concept could be applied to making a rock bigger, for example.
I see your direction there, but I would change the term growth to either enlarge, or replicate, as these are technical processes and not organic ones.
The main thing with that is that people in-game probably won't make that distinction. To them, growth is growth, whether it's organic or mechanical in nature. Heck, how often do we talk about the "growth" of other non-organic things, like viruses or systems? Why should the distinction stop at something that was once living, but isn't anymore?
Good thought path, can send someone down the right ways. Not really appropriate for the Extreme Necromancer makeover thread, but, reminds me of it.
Like cotton candy, and twice as sweet.
We should link our undead articles, that would be bitchin'.
If there isn't already a codex for improved undead, perhaps one of us should make one.
Always love a new and fresh idea for undead. Undead are some of my favorite toys to use and throw out. Slow shambling undead were never a fond pattern for me and this here helps flesh (no pun intended) out them even more so.