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How long would a fresh Undead last before decomposition?

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Chekaman, Jun 26, 2018.

  1. Chekaman

    Chekaman Scribe

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    I'm imagining a person who found a spell that said it would make him immortal but instead it made him Undead without him knowing it, and rigor mortis got him outside. Flies and the like laid eggs on him for hours before he could move again. How long would it be before his sight went and his mind rotted in his skull? (Until that happens, he is an intelligent undead rather then a mere zombie.) How long could he pass as a living human for?
     
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  2. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    As soon as you add magic in to the mix, then [as the song says] anything goes...
    That said. Human bodies can look remarkable unchanged for a few days if not longer if a few steps are taken. One of those steps would be to evacuate food from the body. The body does a lot of this on it's own. When you die all your muscles relax and things flow out of you from the nearest orifice. Getting rid of the stuff already rotting inside of you would be a good start. So would a good wash [to get rid of any thing laid on you. Keeping dry and cool would be of help too, at least in the short run.
    Soft tissue like the brain would probably start to decay in a few hours and almost certainly in a few days. Muscles would last longer, maybe even several weeks [we hang game and beef for weeks to make it tasty with out actually damaging how it looks that much]. But any injury would not be healed and ever the normal wear an tear on things like the skin from clothes, opening doors etc would have an effect.
    The film Death Becomes Her may actually be of use to watch. It is about people "who drink a magic potion that promises eternal youth."
     
  3. You could prolong the process of decay since there's magic involved?
    I always liked the idea of people who were transformed into Undead where the decaying process is halted but only if you're able to sustain the spell/state of life/being/blabla by fueling it with magic or something. And that once you can't fuel it then the process of decay just goes like natural. So in a way, it would be immortality but you'll have to work for it.

    I think in world of warcraft there were short articles and in-game lore that explained how the Forsaken and the death knights took care of their bodies to slow down the decaying process, and I think one of them was indeed to regularly wash yourself to get rid of bugs and fungus and whatnot.
     
  4. K.S. Crooks

    K.S. Crooks Inkling

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    For real life decay the amount of sunlight and water exposure plays a role, but the biggest determinate is temperature. The warmer it is the faster the decay.
     
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  5. elemtilas

    elemtilas Inkling

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    Very much will depend on the nature of the spell your character has found, and also the nature & laws of the magic system the spell operates under!

    There are various thaumic processes used by the zombification industry in The World, but regardless of which specific process is used, they all boil down to three essential components:
    1. Selection of the choicest, least damaged corpses, for zombification work. Of course, no mad witchking or power hungry warlord wants to wield an unalive army with most of its bits missing. Sure, the rakish gash here or missing finger there gives any zombie fighter that dashing joie d' morir they're known for, but missing feet or hacked off arms or wings, no, that's no good! Battlefield fresh warriors who are intact but for reasonable killing wounds fetch the best wholesale prices at the grey markets and will result in the sturdiest and hardest to rekill and therefore more valuable end product.
    2. The issue of decomposition is critical. Getting the harvest in before the flies and crows set to work is key. Time is also key as far as brain decomposition is concerned. Most wizards who deal in the unliving markets prefer the raw materials be gathered in before dusk on the day of battle and, preferably, before the dazed survivors have a chance to start looting & burning the corpses. The non-thaumic processes involve stripping the corpses (of valuables, of course, and clothing) plus a good wash down (soap, if available, otherwise, a cadre of slaves with buckets, brushes and cloths will do). The thaumics begin with the actual spells & rituals of revivification. This should be understood under no circumstances whatsoever to be the equivalent of resurrexion. That's not even remotely possible even with the best of dwimcrafty healers, unless applied literally within ten minutes of death (kind of like CPR/AED use). Revivification simply replaces the former warrior's "life force" with an animating magic. It's not a soul, not a spirit, but there is a power source that resonates with the naturally occurring thaumic fields of the planet itself and keeps the zombie warrior, um, undead. This will allow his (or her) body to remain in a kind of stasis of very slow decomposition. Of course, there being no input of raw materials, there can be no healing or repair. Some magics and techniques exist to reattach bits that fall off, but the expense is not really worthwhile compared to the price of simply using the damaged zombie until it is destroyed or utterly falls to pieces and then just replace with a fresh unit.
    3. The third component is the tricky part, and is that of timing. A very fresh corpse, quickly pre-processed and revivified within about eight hours will have a sufficiently intact brain that its instincts, motor memories and neural pathways are not ruinously degraded. Also, enough of the neural network remains intact that the warrior's former training should hopefully still reside in memory. Lastly, the final series of rituals and spells will "imprint" upon the revivified mind-brain new sets of instructions --- whatever the new owner chooses for the particular zombie's task suite to be. Some may be chosen for camp duties (towel & cup bearers, statuary (pleasing young men and women alike, don't inquite any further, please!) But most will simply become army grunts, shock troops, spear fodder, & unalive shields for the real warriors waiting in reserve. Zombies are good at "softening up an enemy" by performing repetitive manoeuvres like "hack and slash whatever is in front of you!" If what's in front of the zombie fighter is an enemy warrior, so much the better! If he gets turned around, of course, that will simply be either another zombie fighter or perhaps one of the warlord's own living troops! Not so good, but you really can't expect too much. They can't really think for themselves and are heavily reliant on their thaumic "programming" for all their actions.
    Most of the adverts and informational tracts you'll find in the trade indicate that, again depending on which actual thaumic process is used, a zombie warrior can expect to surmoure perhaps but a single campaign season at normal rates of use. The rate of attrition, of course, is high, but replacement is relatively easy. In optimal storage (a cool dry chamber built near an ice house, for example), zombie warriors can be stored for perhaps a year before crippling degradation sets in. (Just don't store them in the icehouse! Freezing conditions will destroy a zombie.) Some wizards claim of their products successful use in battle after two years in cold storage, but I personally would be rather wary of such claims. The dwimmery is sound, of course, but the raw material just isn't up to those demands!
     
  6. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

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    IRL, Time, temperature, relative humidity, hydration levels at death, digested content, bodily fluids retained (blood, plasma, spinal fluid, gastric enzymes, etc) microbial agents (bacterium, fungi, viruses, cysts, spores, parasites) scavenger/ carrion activity and environment/location all have wildly different effects on decomposition. ( I believe 'the Body Farms' have studied and published these differing parameters at length if you really want to explore this further.)

    The first Rigor Mortis is not as severe as the final. Which is why there's the possibility of 'open casket' funerals and modern poseable bodies through chemical embalming. Final rigor mortis, not intercepted chemically or by temperature, can literally rip muscles and tendons, stretch skin to the ripping point and warp bones. Final rigor is also affected by ambient conditions. Most corpses found in final rigor... well... they have to ahem.. basically break them physically and with chemicals in order to pose (or even fit inside) a casket. The point from "final rigor" to bloating, active decay is a very fine line.

    Ideally, your 'magical process' would happen within moments after initial clinical death. I've heard of IRL miracle medical cases where doctors spent several hours ressucitating (winter) drowning/ hypothermia gun-shot/stabbing victims *nearly 12 hours or more* after 'clinical death', and successfully reviving patients with little to no brain damage. The water/temperature/wound damages still existed, but they lived and functioned.

    Your 'zombiefication' process is fictional. Without a heart pumping blood around and electrical activity transmitted through neurons in the brain to the central nervous system... there's zero chance of movement in the body, regardless how clean or intact it is. You can act upon it externally, like a marionette or zap electricity to hot wire muscle groups, but otherwise... I would say internal embalming to kill all the living intestinal flora and neutralize acids in the digestive track (including the mouth) is essential. These microbes are still alive... if you don't feed them from the external world, they'll eat their host (your body)... and because your hormonal and cellular activity (red blood vells, white blood cells, t-cells, etc.) ceases at about 12-48 hours after death due to lack of oxygen or direct exposure to oxygen/oxidizing, there's nothing to stop said microbes. Thwart these microbes, (and stave off anaerobic/ external microbes) and you might pass for... kind of living... for a few days. Once cellular functions stop, you can't hydrate yourself without destroying the tissue (think wet brineing a big roast... osmotic pressure, the univeral solvent that is water, and the additives act on the fibers of the meat because the meat isn't alive to actively resist this process).

    So, a corpse would need supernatural levels of hygeine, ideal temperatures and humidity levels, and something acting as a substitute 'electrical system' to move the body and stimulate nerves.

    That's why my undead are basically the medically plausible scenario of extreme ressucitation shortly after clinical death; and only for wounds that would be survivable if they hadn't gone into shock.

    If a magic spell can ressucitate a person, it might as well fix the neurons/nerves ...and if that comes back online, might as well make the lungs breathe and heart pump; the whole body *might* be able to actually regenerate itself. Maybe not perfectly. They would likely be weak/sickly for ages and wish they were still dead.
     
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  7. Not sure how to answer this, since what death is is basically your brain giving out.
     
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  8. All this basically.

    A book I read once had undead be people infected by parasites that repaired their tissues and used their bodies.
     
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