The lowly Undead cannot be a true replacement for a living well-motivated workforce. But Undead do not tire, they do not have moods (well none worth marking), they do not require pay or lunchbreaks, and can work 24/7, if properly controled. So until activists start to fight for Undead rights, they are an interesting option.
(Note: in this article, it is mostly the 'lower' undead that are considered.)
For an undead worker, not only passive control is needed - so they don't start attacking all life - but also active control, to ensure high productivity. Undead are not very smart, and even if trained for a task, they must be instructed when to work, and when to stop, and where to work at all. Undead-Commander is therefore a highly sought skill, often filled by smarter undead the savvy necromancer will create.
The biggest problem is sunlight. While daylight-workers are completely covered to protect from sunburn, they still feel a bit unsure and work slower. Some pranksters have also the annoying habit of removing their hood and running away, damaging this valuable property. Fines are usually the solution, prison rarely.
So what are undead useful for?
- Undead make good miners and excellent carriers. To a certain degree they can be lumberjacks (though they lack finesse and sometimes fall a tree on themselves). Ironically, they also make good gravediggers. Their ability to stand on guard is notorious, their lack of understanding also. An executioner is a good choice. For those that are tolerant, even a personal servant is available. A little enchantment extra can produce a Skeleton Scribe, a very good investment.
- A messenger is an interesting possibility, but with lots of complications. A fisherman was tried out, endless patience with hook and line, with a low tolerance on water though. A bricklayer needs uninterrupted oversight, so the laid walls don't look crooked. Some can do pottery, but expect no art, only lots of similar pots. A smith can always need help, but being close to fire all day is no good for a fragile corpse. A coach-driver needs to be smart or have good imprinting, 'a horse' not. A barman is also possible.
- Undead are ill-suited to handle life and living beings. They cannot be farmers (except for plowing), as prolonged contact with plants guarantees a small harvest. For similar reasons, gardeners, herbalists, shepherds, hunters or foresters are not asked for. While smarter Undead could be cooks, it can be considered a disgusting idea. Also, any artistic job is out of question.
Some of the weaknesses can be overcome with additional protection, and magicked education, look for additions below.
'Legend has it, that a group of undead miners was lost at the beginning of the research for industrial purposes. Without control, the corridor they were in collapsed. Their lazy commander thought them dead. But they 'survived', and digged and digged and digged... and dig until now, for god knows how many miles deeper. And they will dig until they reach the end of the world, and fall into the emptiness. So did I hear that, don't know if it's true. But hey, you never know...'
I'm currently playing in a game in which the GM has a nation with an undead economy. Many of our party are from a stereotypically 'good' empire; many of our party are religious in some way (clerics, monks, etc.) who believe undead are anathema. However, an interesting twist is that we have recently been involved with an npc who has defected from the evil country (but still nevertheless has much sympathy for it: the defection was more for political reasons): this npc is proving extremely annoying by constantly talking about how much better off the peasants in the evil country are, how their wages and standard of living are higher; she points to beggars and says how they don't have nearly so many in the evil country etc. The trouble is that all this is true, due to the evil country's massive undead economy. We are being put in the position of having to defend our country's and religion's position to undead (which is especially difficulty as the good country has it's share of opulent palaces, cathedrals, etc.)
Might I suggest that all Undead are covered completely in a specific uniform that makes them easy to identify, without having to look at putrid flesh, and retards the decay process (or increases it if skeletons are more desirable).
Be it Zombies or Golems, magical constructs that are somewhat autoemous are a natural extension of a higher level of magic world. In the long run, they are vastly cheaper than any servant and trustworthy. As long as those who create the zombies/ golems do not allow the rich/ nobles to coopt them are use them exclusively, it will create an more egaltarian society where all the 'icky' and manually challanging jobs will be done by 'things'.
If you are looking for scenarios to run in such a world, might I suggest reading some Asimov or other science fiction that deals with robots. Except for the window dressing, magical constructs are just robots in a fantasy millieu (though there may be ethical issues (i.e. undead) that are not applicable to robots).
In fact, if you want to get a feel for how a robot economy might work, read the Asimov robot series, with an emphasis on Caves of Steel and others of the Robot/ Mystery (Eli Baily) stories.
We have touched upon these issues before in other thread...
Oh.. check out some of the bioethicist pages, if you want to get an idea about issues people have about using dead people for things they want/ need.
I could imagine that being rich enough, you could get a grave at a special cemitary, where you would be left to decay in the ground.
Others might feel forced to burn the dead, for them not to be formed into slaves in the afterlife.
Beggars and the poor would probably sell their dead for a small sum of money, instead of investing in a funeral.
After all, the undead do break down from time to time, (A broken bone does not heal again) so replacements would be needed from time to tome.
I think sometimes it 'pays' to not be a native english speaker.... I was wrestling with the language to get the right feel across and this sort of just came out. It did not feel very right for what I wanted to express, but when I read over the lines again, it did give a reasonable feeling of the intended message.
Back to subject......
I agree that at first sight, I would consider a economy based on undead slaves to be evil as well. However.... Why? As pointed out by Ian, the undead slaves may very well improve the quality of life. Using undead slaves just is 'tasteless', but when I think about it for a while, it need not be evil at all.
Because something is (a bit (?) ) out of the ordinary, that does not make it evil. I can very well imagine that very dangerous work could be carried out by undead... Perhaps one could think of a situation where you would use skeletons to retrieve the wreck of a sunken ship. Some of the work might require a 'manager' or 'work master' but still having the manual labour in such a hazardous enviroment done by undead might be a good idea.
(Think about sharks and other predators, but there are more dangers below the surface, air shortage... etc.)
Another area where I could think of employing undead (again the skeleton) is mining in a mine that is close to a vulcano with the risk of the mine being flooded by lava.
My personal preference for undead slaves in a enviroment where people meet the slaves would be skeletons at any rate. Think of the odur that would hang around a decomposing body.... Juck !! *shiver*
Not realy a appatizing thought I must say.
To be honest, I could not think of any enviroment where I would like to use zombies or any other dead body, that still is subject to decomposition, as a robot or slave.
You just need large anthills, order the newly-raised Zombie to stand there, then, after the ants have picked the skeleton clean, off to work!
As a whole, preserved flesh would be valuable for such things as mining, working a quarry, lumberjacking, anywhere there's a high potential for impact-based 'safety' issues. Bone, especially dessicated bone, is brittle, and easily broken. The flesh acts as a kind of protection for the more important things, though perhaps a mummification procedure is highly desired: Leave the useful 'protective' skin and muscle, but take out all those nasties.
For another literary reference, I suggest Fire Sea by Weis and Hickman, the third book of the Death Gate Cycle. Among other things, this posits a society where the undead significantly outnumber the living, and maintaining this population of undead has so sapped the power and even lives of the living that maintaining the dead is all they can do any longer.
One of the things that you are not considering is that back in the old times, slaves/serfs were nothing more than laborors. If there was an injury or many deaths the lords would think 'thats what serfs are for.' True the undead work longer with less requirements, but look at the magik that would be needed to sustain the undead. What necromancer would want to put himself under any lord? Unless he was using it as a guise and pulling the lords strings. The main point of being a necromancer is to have power, and once you have a force that large who cares about the living, he just need to take care of himself, and once he has enough power he would probably turn himself into a LITCH. great fun thoose. It is a good idea, but maybe you could try stone or wood golems. just as easy to maintain and could really take care of business without the STINK!
Actually, if there were many deaths, then the lords would have less serfs. The slaves were certainly tools, but even tools should not be wasted. And serfs had certain rights, even if often ignored.
Misusing labourers always produces problems in the end. Misusing Undead would not be opposed by anyone (except for those that reject the whole concept of using undead force).
Remember, Undead can be _repaired_, unlike humans, even from very hard wounds. Some talented Necromancers can put two unusable zombies together, and make it work again. Not to speak of replacing limbs, etc...
Plus, if a lord can appear more sophisticated, it is a great boon! And no matter how you detest those lowly peasants (and possibly make them suffer otherwise), you can always claim to be a good ruler, because they are spared from the hardest labours.
I think it feasible that skeletons and the like could have in effect 'simulated' flesh. ie a suit of padding made of leather, and padded wool, cotton or whatever available, it could have straw fabric or hemp as well, it need not be comfortable, it just needs to serve its purpose of protecting the skeletons. In addition it would give them the weight to carry out tasks such as serious field work.
In my campaign undead are many times easier to animate than golems or other constructs, as that aspect of life/death magic is sympathetic, things that were once alive can be made life-like again. Necromancers do not so much as animate the skeleton or zombie but command the remaining residue of the life-force that inhabited the body.
As far as wear and maintenance, I am sure a skeleton could be mended with minor magic, its bones could be glued or plastered together, and you could protect it with varnish or oils and waxes.
I like the suits idea for the smelly dead too, you could proably back the suit with pouporri or whatever as well, but you might as well drop a skelton in there, and pack it full of hay and then put the suit on top. I think the eyes would at least have to have holes so they could see. I think I would probably put a wood or steel mask with eyeholes. Then a full body padded jumpsuit.
I keep having visions of Woody Allen's Sleeper, where Woody is made up to look like a robot.
So if you make a uniform to cover up the unpleasantness that is an Undead creature, you can be sure that people are going to take those uniforms and use them as disguises.
With that said, I would think a covering of somekind would be used, both as protection AND as an identifier. Each area or owner might have their own covering, because nobody would want you branding the skulls of their dead relatives.
Now let's get down to the business!
First, a body is acquired. If there is to be peace in the society, there has to be a legal and (somewhat) accepted way of doing this. The poor sell their dead, and sometimes the children or mates of the deceased do this, usually out of hate (nowadays many reject this in their last will). Very few people commit their bodies willingly to help the society (the Necromancers themselves did it sometimes).
If the demand or need is larger, then more bodies are needed. It could be law that all dead bodies belong to the state, with notable exceptions of course, for people of note and wealth, that can buy or earn the privilege. Alternatively, after a certain time period of rest (say 5 or even 50 years), a body can be legally exhumed and used. Note that this would be mostly skeletons. Clerical services would be in high demand, if they promise the severing of the tie between a spirit and its body.
Import is also theoretically possible, but makes for very bad P.R. among the neighbours, whether the corpses are purchased or stolen. Unless there is by a lucky chance some culture that places no value on the dead...
Once there is a body, a decision is to be made: is it to stay a body, or become a skelet? If there are only bones, then a skelet it shall be. But as was noted before, skelets are better for public service, the bodies for harder work. Also, any serious damage is best repaired now.
A skelet, once clean, has few design options open. There may exist enchantments and mixtures for strenghtening the bones, but would be few and rarely used, as servicing of a skelet is easy. But as mentioned by Saemond, they could have 'simulated flesh'.
A body, in turn, is given a rudimentary treatment with conservation fluids, and depending on the customer and purpose, may recieve complete embalming, to be perfectly preserved for a long time.
Unless the Undead in question will work far from sunlight, they need a proper uniform, that may also work as an identifier of their owner and purpose. ('Hey, what is the Lord's miner doing here? We better catch him fast...')
Once animated and properly treated (whether before or after the animation itself, depends on the treatment), the Undead is imprinted, or programmed with the task it shall serve for. The basic command, 'Obey!', is already given at animation. Now it recieves knowledge it needs to know to work properly. This is by far the subtlest task of all, and requires the higest mastery of Necromancy, along with being familiar with the task performed. It is very prestigious to be an Imprinter.
Undead are in most cases ordered in advance, as their imprinting is hard to change once completed. For security reasons, this may be law, to prevent some ambitious Necromancer from animating a thousand Undead 'for the warehouse'.
Note that the whole industry will most probably be overseen by the state. Security reasons again.
I can't comment on how the undead economy would affect the crime rates (probably not at all), but it may be that the state appropriates the bodies of captured criminals after death- jails are a good source of dead labor, as it were. Those who commit such crimes as need to be hung may recieve extra punishment in having their corpses raised on the spot and put to work. Those decapitated may be put to work in places where heads are a liability- mines for instance (no head, no unsightly split faces, and no bashing against the ceiling), cleaning sewers (assuming they have them), and other low-ceiling stuff.
How could I forget that option? Criminals are a good source of bodies. Law could have it, that once certain crimes are committed (murder, etc.), the person looses the chance on a quiet afterlife.
As all know this, this would (probably) decrease the crime rates somewhat. BUT, once someone commits a serious crime, even if the sentence is over, there is no peace for the person. I find it likely he or she will flee the country, to not be turned into a worker Undead. Also, most prisoners will try to flee, too, at any possible moment. The society gets even more utopian then... the streets are cleaner and safer, prisons become fortresses, and some will flee from this paradise. As the fugitives are criminals, they may or may not be held at home. Wonder if this improves the image of this idyllic country...
Actually, if most crimes have a death penalty (and eventual conversion), then the crime rate will drop, but the few criminals they are will become wild and desperate. It is similar to the situation in Feudal Japan when anyone commited a crime, especially a Samurai. They would go to any lengths to escape including killing everyone in sight. The local 'police' would often let wild samurai go because they were not rewarded well enough for risking their lives against trained suicidal warriors. (Of course, if a 'Judge' had a possee of undead to capture criminals, the results might be different).
The Undead Army could be sent to invade nearby countries. The dead from those battles could be seen as spoils of war.
A simple change in tax laws would mean there would be no payment out. If the family received tax relief for one year if an adult family member dies, your death technically benefits the famly more than any simple payment would.
Eventually there may be a birth rate issue. There may be tax incentives for having children, and an extra bonus for them to grow to adult hood.
It would be advantagous for the government to promote nationalism and acceptence of undead. A little propaganda plus the total supression of religions that think necromancy as 'wrong', plus the eased work burden of people because of undead, and you can get a perfectly orderly and happy, evil, but lawful society.
Does it have to be an evil society? If people have lived with undead for millenia, they're going to be just as evil as people who haven't because they won't know any different. You tell them that having undead servitors is 'evil' and they'll look at you as if you're a madman (which to them you are) and run off as fast as their undead-horses - pulled carriages can take them!
Also, its likely to be a continent thing. Not just one country is going to have undead servitors - if it works then every country is going to want one. There could be 'modernisation' in 'backward' countries so that they had them too - a great way of creating rebellions. Raising the dead is a much bigger spark than rumours of pig/cow fat on rifle cartridges (see Indian Mutiny).
I have to say, I love the idea of Undead Economies. No more muttering from the postmen about never being in when parcels are delivered...
I can imagine some people would simply want to be cremated after death, and if the State wanted the bodies after X number of years, these cremations would be illegal.
Sorces of bodies:
Soldiers of other countries killed in battle
Stolen bodies used by *Backstreet Necromancers* 'Pssst, Guv, want to buy this zombie? It fell off the back of a cart'. :D
The trouble with this is in starting it. Once you have an Undead economy for a few generations, then people grow up not thinking of skeletal servants as being wrong. However, the initial reluctance to start this may be an overwhelming obstacle.
For most people, this is just 'icky,' if they are not accustomed to the idea from an early age. Also, one must remember that the Undead was once a living person. Even if only criminals and the very poor are used, people aren't going to be thrilled about having reanimated murderers & theives roaming about. And knowing that the masked zombie might be the beggar that you refused last week is an unsettling thought.
I have considered this issue with my game world, as reanimation of dead flesh is possible, under certain circumstances--reanimation must begin within a short time after death, and the flesh must be mostly intact for full zombies, other rituals have other requirements. In Midian, the bodily requirements, length of the involved ritual, and duration of the magic (before the body breaks down too far) limit the practicality of an Undead based economy.
Additionally, zombies are just stupid. Watching someone perform menial tasks is even more mind-numbing than the work itself. Finding enough capable overseers may be very difficult. Not only do you need someone who knows the job well, and can handle a supervisory role, but someone able and willing to work with the Undead.
There are also religious aspects to consider. Some faiths profess belief in life-after-death, and the concept of mass-reanimation may be disturbing to them on religious grounds. Some faiths feel that all corpses should not be molested in any way, even if that belief system does not have resurection or lasting-soul elements. Finally, there are religions--or cultural elements--where bodies are disposed of as a matter of course in ways not friendly to reanimation.
I bring this one back to the fore because -jacks and Golems are fantasy robots came up. Undead, if your society can deal with it, are a much more efficient form of labor than living people or golems. Yet, you have so much ick factor with undead. (There is a half humerous thread about Undead Cosmetics floating around). Though a simple preservation spell perhaps? Preventing the dead body from decomposings and perhaps even sculpting the flesh with a flesh sculpting spell/ item would allow you to create human looking slaves that don't smell and are not icky.
If you could do this, it opens a whole world of exploitations. If slavery, of some sorts, is allowable, you could create these things and insert them into the system.. probably generating money. They could be passed off as slaves from far away and a people who were bred to be slaves. A few greased palms, a little orration, and all of slaves except the 'bred slaves' could be freed. The slave trader having an exclusive trade agreement with 'far away' would become extremely rich. Of course someone would find out eventually (in a classic Solyent Green is people! kind of moment), but would people care?
The converse is also possible. A society that outlaws slavery, but allows for necromantic labour, may find an unscrupulous individual or seven that would try and pass slaves off as zombies. It may be much easier & cheaper to bring in living slaves, even with cosmetics to add a 'dead' look & possibly an odour of decay (but this may not be needed if the slaves are treated deplorably), than to bear the cost of reanimation. Slavers are also cheaper than necromancers, and easier to get rid of, should you no longer desire their services. Assuming that a living person--however poorly treated--will be more intelligent alive than dead, these imitation zombies can be given tasks that would be impossible for a zombie; assembly-line work comes to mind. If zombie labour is allowed, a slavemaster can abuse his or her slaves beyond even the vile extent of the US south, the Romans, or the Etruscans. After all, they're just 'zombies...'
I've been thinking of a region with an undead economy as a setting for a sub I have in mind, so I've been thinking about this issue.
A source of bodies is easy. Institute a high Death tax, and undead service required to pay back any unpaid debt. Families have the choice of paying the tax, or allowing undead servitude of the dead to pay it back. It could be the general means to recover debt from the deceased.
My biggest problem with the Undead Economy concept is the whole 'something for nothing'. You cast a spell, perhaps with expensive components, and poof, perpetual motion machine. Of course if this exists, it will dominate any economy. Sure, wear and tear will eventually cause the undead to wear out, but still. This concern of mine applies also to Golems.
If undead are used at an industrial level, then there should be some cost above and beyond the spritiual one - something akin to the greenhouse effect.
Or perhaps being raised as undead is traumatic to the soul of the deceased and the energy expended by the undead is drawn from it. Eventually very little remains and what's left lacks sufficent energy to pass on to the afterlife. As a result, any priests and their dieties are going to be highly against this practice, perhaps even evil ones which need intact souls for creating demons, etc.
Undead of course will attempt to gain replacement 'energy' and this could explain their virtually universal homicidal tendancies. I think this factor of undead is glossed over when creating 'mindless' undead such as skeletons and zombies. I think this should be dispensed with and that a lot of the work 'animating' undead is simply placing sufficent controls upon them to prevent them killing without orders.
So in short:
1. Magic - including undead and golems- should respect conservation of energy, though with a much more loose definition of energy - emotion, spirit, etc. Either create the being with sufficent energy to last for the duration, or have them drawn new energy in somehow.
2. Mindless Undead - No - if a spirit occupies the body then they are not mindless - heavily controlled perhaps giving the effect of mindlessness. If no spirit is present, then they are not undead - merely automations.
3. Undead are Psychotic. This should be a given and only under very unusual circumstances should be ignored. Using undead labour should be like using Monkey-paw type magic items. You get what you want, but the cost should eventually be well beyond the result.
My 0.02$(CDN) :)
More intelligent undead could become valuable as adjuncts to a realm's secret police. After all, what stalker could be as relentless as the dead? What watcher as patient?
Of course, even the undead aren't incorruptable: A realm that sends undead hunters after their fugitives would need to have firm control, lest they be tempted to strike at easier prey along the way.
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? Responses (18)-18
You know, you really should sub this one - its a great discussion!
Right you are. I have tried to tame its rambling nature, but alas, that is impossible.
Therefore, here comes another of the old forum posts... enjoy it!
Another great 5/5 post.
This submission has risen from it's uneasy slumber! Undead Posts rise from their graves!
And obviously, I should vote as well :)
There we go. This is truly a worthy submission that we all tend to forget.
People, Submissions like this one only get better if you add to them. So find something about this that we have not discussed and post it. And if we have discussed it, let us here your take on it.
A great discussion that's taken place here. Ties in those parts of worlds we may otherwise forget to bring together.
So much to read through. This put me in mind to a conversation Strolen and I just had about ecology of undead. I love it.