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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)