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November 12, 2007, 1:45 pm

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Cheka Man

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Deaders - a different take on Zombies


Recycling the dead for the greater good since 1704

In Locastus, City of Mirrors, the Deaders are a valuable commodity. In fact, the very foundation on which the Locastrian economy is built is the cheap, uncomplaining laborers and soldiers provided by using a very abundant source - the city´s own dead. Bands of these silent, shambling figures are visible all over the city, usually under the command of a (living) human foreman, doing roadwork, sweeping the streets, cleaning the sewers or unloading ships in the harbour. The vast, cathedral-like lumber mills, tanneries and forges of the City´s industrial districts are powered primarily by these automaton-like abdead, working day and night. Militarized versions guard public buildings and patrol military installations with great vigilance and unbreakable loyalty. The rich use the more refined versions as couriers and bodyguards. The dead of the city´s poor and its executed criminals are taken by the wagonload to the necrologic production plants to be turned into unthinking, unquestioning workers. These are the silent downtrodden masses of Utopia. These are the Deaders.

Deader physiology

Deaders (as they usually are created from human corpses) are humanoid, but covered in a thick layer of an asphalt-like substance. For aesthetic reasons, the bitumen is usually thickly applied on the face area, leaving their features blunt, anonymous and dehumanized. They smell faintly of tar and weird alchemy, but never (unless incorrectly cured) of decomposing flesh. The matte-black protective asphalt is inscribed with glowing Power Sigils, stamped deeply into the tough, resin-like surface. The design and placement of these animating glyphs may vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but their numbers and sophistication are always a good indication of the Deader´s intended purpose. While military Deaders are usually dressed in some kind of uniform (sometimes with armor permanently affixed to their bodies) and kept clean and presentable, street-working Deaders are not uncommonly covered in gang-sign graffiti or otherwise vandalized by the city´s street kids. Missing fingers, toes or whole limbs is not uncommon a Deader is not repaired unless its damage prevents it from doing its job. Even though Deaders are quite durable, older specimens usually sport numerous repairs, where tissue has been roughly stitched together and daubed with fresh asphalt. Unless an injury affects the structural integrity of a Power Sigil, a Deader can continue to function indefinitely. The common worker Deader - the most abundant type - is usually unclothed, barring tool belts and other items it might need for the task at hand.

The creation of a Deader

The first item needed to create a Deader (obviously) is a reasonably fresh corpse that has not yet started to decompose. The process starts with the corpse being drained of bodily fluids and cut open, whereupon the viscera, genitalia and eyes are removed. The cranium is opened, and the brain, medulla and spinal cord removed. Usually all orifices are sewn shut or plugged with wax. Once this grisly business is finished the body is marinated for several weeks inside a rune-carved glass-and iron tank through which a fluorescent green alchemical cocktail is circulated. The strange fluid preserves the muscles and skeletal structures, and a puissant current is run through the tank, galvanizing the dead tissue back into a semblance of life. Once the alchemical processes have run their course, the Deader is removed from the tank and coated in a sticky black asphalt to protect it from the elements and to further preserve the tissues. The body is then inscribed with the mystical, glowing Power Sigils that provide locomotive and intellectual power, enhance performance and inhibit decomposition.

Deader Psychology

Depending on the sophistication and number of the Power Sigils on its body, a Deader can be more or less intelligent. Deaders tailored to perform simple tasks (factory worker, cleaner, toxic waste handler etc.) are no more intelligent than a simple insect. Their actions are dictated by a handful of simple response/action cues, and they have only a few, primitive Sigils on their bitumen skin. More complex tasks (military Deaders, personal servants, couriers etc.) with capacity for simple threat/response analysis, inductive/deductive response capability and so on demands more sophisticated and numerous Sigils. The most advanced military models (that are covered from head to toe in brightly glowing, incredibly intricate Sigils) are even able to act as officers for other, lesser Deaders, although even these are without true self-awareness.  The level of sophistication of Power Sigils that are allowed on a Deader is strictly regulated by the Guild of Sigil Scribers to prevent Deaders from gaining true sentience. Other edicts prevent Deaders from being equipped with any form of vocal communication, or indeed any form of response other than following orders. One can assume that military research has delved into the possibility of creating a truly self-aware Deader, but if so, the outcome remains unknown to the general public.

Deader Senses

A Deader perceives the world though the resonance its puissant emanations cause with the surrounding world, almost like a sort of magical echolocation. The magical output of a Deader is determined by the power invested in its Sigils, which in turn determines its perceptional acuity. Even though a Deader is effectively deaf and blind, its powerful interferometry cannot be fooled by camouflage, darkness or spells of invisibility.

Controlling a Deader

The rudimentary sentence residing in the interconnected Power Sigils on the Deader´s body can be manipulated by anyone with any level of psionic Talent. For people without such capabilities, there are controlling devices (usually a ring with green crystal stone) that enhances their mental acuity to the point of where the Deader´s puissant field can be manipulated at a thought. The level of autonomy of a Deader varies, but usually leaves enough marginal for the Deader to do its task efficiently, as well as to avoid hurting others or itself. Military-grade Deaders are of course allowed a greater autonomy, but are keyed to only obey orders from the correct command structure. They are always protected from unauthorized access by incredibly tough firewall spells. Even so, there are stories of powerful psionists hacking into military Deaders to circumvent security and to cause mischief.

Destroying a Deader

As mentioned above, a Deader is hard to damage. The only sure-fire way of destroying one is to target its animating Sigils. A Deader with a damaged Sigil will slow down, become clumsier and less intelligent. This effect accumulates as more and more glyphs are destroyed. An irreversibly damaged Sigil will release its stored puissance in a bright flash, throwing red-hot sparks, and, if the glyph was especially powerful, a small lightning bolt. A Deader with too many Sigils destroyed to remain active will become inanimate, burst into flames or explode. Military models, although this remain unsubstantiated, seems to have a self-destruct mechanism built in, causing a massive detonation upon taking heavy damage.

Plot hooks

A powerful psionist has developed a method of hacking into security Deaders, enabling her to walk into banks and the mansions of the rich to grab whatever she wants. If the PC´s corner her, she will set her hacked Deaders to fight and delay them while she makes her escape.

The Locastrian Workers Movement, unhappy with the way Deaders are replacing human workers in the factories, have started to systematically destroy Deaders on the streets. They have learnt to use Molotov cocktails and alchemical bombs to take out entire crews of the slow, stupid road gangs. The PC´s are hired to infiltrate the Movement, and to take out its ringleaders.

Semi-magical street graffiti placed on a regular worker Deader has caused an arcane cross-reaction with its Power Sigils, which in turn has given it true self-awareness. Unfortunately, it has also developed a great rage and a taste for the flesh of the living. Even more disturbing, it can alter the Power Sigils of other Deaders to create more of its kind. The PC´s are hired to investigate a number of murders with cannibalistic overtones in the poorer parts of town, and must eventually confront the hive of mutant Deaders that hides there.

The City´s Deader population is being decimated by a plague of zombie-eating vermin, tiny scarlet ants that build hives inside the hollow bodies of the Deaders and consume them from the inside out. The fact that the ants can thrive in the toxic, cured tissues of the Deaders is an indication that this plague is not a natural one. Is this a biological experiment gone wrong, or the Worker´s Movement´s new angle of attack? The PC´s are hired to investigate.

The state-of-the-art Military Deader that protects the vault of Locastrian gold reserve has malfunctioned and now cannot be deactivated. Until such time as someone can either work out a way of repairing it, or destroying it outright, the Locastrian stock exchange have to remain closed. (This scenario, I think, work best with a more intellectual group of PC´s that will have to try to find a way to solve the problem without just hacking the Deader to bits.)

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Comments ( 26 )
Commenters gain extra XP from Author votes.

October 31, 2007, 9:00
Zombies of a steam-fantasy setting - Obviously inspired by the Remaking the Undead and Undead Economy subs. Plot hooks and some minor detail still to be added. Enjoy! /David
October 31, 2007, 9:45
Updated: Some spelling errors corrected
Voted valadaar
October 31, 2007, 10:00
Well well, an excellent take on a steam-punk zombie - I do like it.

How do normal human workers react to these 'machines' stealing their jobs? Are there Luddites out there who try and sabotage the zombies by damaging the sigils?
October 31, 2007, 10:01
Nice idea for a plot hook, valadaar...Thanks!
Voted Cheka Man
October 31, 2007, 11:57
Are the bodies of the rich cremated to avoid that fate?
Voted manfred
October 31, 2007, 20:19
An interesting take on the economically usable undead. Linked to the Economy post now. It's also interesting to note that they are not actually undead... more like golemic creatures; guess that should make them safer. :)

Based on their very thorough way of preparation, they are not necessarily cheap, but should make a good long-term investment. The economical side in particualt is well explored, I like that!

(Oh, and: don't be afraid to use some bold on the titles.)
Voted Michael Jotne Slayer
November 1, 2007, 4:44
Bold headlines, and plot hooks are really missed. And perhaps a few lines more to wrap it up after the destroy paragraph.
Other than that... AWESOME!

This is a really great idea that is splendidly executed.
How did you come up with it? Any inspiration? I have never heard of anything similiar. This I will use in a game! Count on it!
November 1, 2007, 6:52
This is one of these ideas that pop out at 4 o´clock in the morning.... I´ve been kicking it around for a while, used it a bit in my stories, but never really expanded the idea before now. I believe it all started when I watched a show about mummies on Discovery, where the poor were preserved not by regular mummification, but by simply covering the body in tar.

November 1, 2007, 6:45
Updated: Added "Plot Hooks" and corrected some minor spelling errors. If anyone knows how to make boldface, please drop me a PM. I'm still learning....:-)
November 1, 2007, 8:02
Angle brackets are the magic - I can't type then in here, but replace ( with them and it will work.

(b)Stuff to make Bold(/b)
(i)Stuff to Italize(/i)
(small)Stuff to make small(/small)

There are other HTML tags supported, but some are hit and miss :P
Michael Jotne Slayer
November 1, 2007, 7:00
I can suggest Manfred's The Art of Linking. Other than that there is a HTML help to your right when you create a new submission, just click on that.
November 1, 2007, 8:11
Updated: Boldface headlines added (Thanks valadaar..)
Michael Jotne Slayer
November 1, 2007, 8:56
Looks much better!
Voted Murometz
November 1, 2007, 10:09
Great sub! And welcome to the Citadel, Worm of Worms!
November 1, 2007, 10:11
Oh, and I for one, would LOVE to see a location submission on Locastus, City of Mirrors!!!!
November 1, 2007, 11:08
Hi Murometz, and thank you. Locastus (as Im sure you´ve figured out) is the central setting for my submissions. I feel I sort of have to work my way up to that post of posts. But its coming... I just need to set the stage for myself a bit first. Next up is the Bloated Moon, persona non grata and inofficial ruler of Locastus...
Voted Stephie
November 1, 2007, 11:20
This is great! I love zombies! Well done!
Voted dark_dragon
November 7, 2007, 12:34
Zombies and various undead are cool, but the deaders Rock! An excellent take on undeads, which makes sense. The plot hooks are great too.
February 13, 2008, 16:10
How could I have missed this one? We have robots/undead that have a well defined process and a place in their society.

It seems that these things were accepted into the world without a fuss (mostly because these undead are not grusome). Bodies are used as a resource. It does have a magi-punk and steam punk sort of vibe. This world is moving into modernity.

Plot Hook:
Someone creates a crown/ helmet that allows one to "project themselves" into a deader. Using a specially created Deader as a remote drone, new and dangerous places can be explored by the human operator. So now "armchair exploration" is now in vogue.

Someone sets up a set of deaders for you to take "vacations" in scenic places, with the deader moving around for you.. controlled by someone thousands of miles away. Thus you could walk around the Grand Canyon one afternoon, and never leave you home.

Now, the remote concept allows for tourbots. It also could be used for "entertainment purposes". Thus we could have "funny events" with deaders tap dancing and so on. If you make them asthetically pretty (Sorajama-esk) or like a statue, you could use them as exotic dancers, singers, and so on, with people controlling them remotely (or just getting better glyphs). However, how about steam car races (which are probably too dangerous for real drivers)? Gladatorial combat is possible to? Now you can experience real combat, from the comfort of your own lounge chair.
February 13, 2008, 16:11
Plot Hooks
Someone invents a yellow crystal that allows you to override most people's control over a deader. They now use them for some criminal activities. Perhaps they will just take over the city with an Deader army of hijacked Deaders.

A malific being has come to the world. In the begining, it can only "possess" a single deader. Thus it creates mayham as it can.

1+1=2: The malific being (or a horde of them) have come to the world. They take over the Deaders and begin making the world into a charnal house of horror.

How do you stop this?

(My favorite sci-fi plot, robot revolt)
Voted Grey
July 27, 2008, 0:14
I HAVE to use this. It's just bloody fantastic. Everything else has pretty well been said, but that's the bottom line.
January 15, 2010, 15:16
BUMP. How apropos with the current Quest being what it is

Steampunk Zombies, attack!
Voted Mourngrymn
September 23, 2012, 16:19
I found this entertaining and has made me find and reinstall Planescape - Torment for a whirl.
Voted Chaosmark
September 23, 2012, 20:44
Augh! This is one of those subs that I've always enjoyed, but apparently never commented on. It definitely captures the idea of an undead-driven economy, and fits nicely into the overall setting.
Voted Gossamer
April 17, 2013, 8:58
A beautifully executed submission. The only thing that is giving me pause is; by coating the undead in asphalt, you are removing all visual aspects that would identify them as undead. And so they might as well just be golems, why use dead bodies in the first place, unless golem technology is unavailable in this setting.
April 17, 2013, 9:23
The thought behind this comes from the original zombie idea of an undead servant (which is not unlike the original Golem idea). I thought, why construct something with complex articulated joints and hinges when the perfect starting material, ie corpses, are already available in large numbers (especially in a Dickensian London-like setting). Adds a nice twist of cynic utilitarianism too, I think... "Your body belongs to the State, even after you stop inhabiting it"


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