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Impact of the Undead

Discussion in 'World Building' started by Aldarion, Nov 26, 2020.

  1. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Appearances

    The undead – zombies, revenants etc. - typically appear at night, but also sometimes during the day. They most frequently appear around and at the sites of satanic and/or magical rituals. Frequency of appearances is significantly increased when skies turn purple, leading to full-blown invasions.

    Types

    Revenant

    Revenants do not decay in the ground, and look (and behave) exactly as they did in the life. Only people who return as revenants are those that dabbled in magic and satanism. Koschei the Immortal, a revenant from north-east, has separated his soul from his body, hiding it in a needle hidden in an egg placed inside a duck hidden within a hare kept inside an iron chest buried under an oak tree planted on a mobile island roaming the ocean and frequently changing place by teleportation. This made him immune to swords, unlike any other revenant known in existence.

    Lich

    Lich is a sapient type of undead, much like revenant. Unlike revenants, they are created from decaying or decayed corpses, and thus have bloated or rotten appearance. They hold power over lesser undead creatures, using them as soldiers and servants.

    Dracolich is a revenant or a lich created from a dragon corpse.

    Draugr

    Draugr or wight is a mindless undead type, relying on direction from more advanced types to be tactically effective. When not under control, they either wander aimlessly, or more often, return to place of their death or else their tomb. They may use weapons or attempt to devour their target. Wandering draugr will attack any living being they come across, either human or animal. Draugr prefer to be active in darkness, and large groups of draugr can cause localized darkness.

    Skeleton

    Skeletons are mindless undead. When not directed, they wander aimlessly, attacking anyone they meet on sight. They may use weapons or attempt to devour their target.

    Strengths and weaknesses

    All types of undead can only be killed by swords. Any other weapons cannot stop them except through total destruction – unless magic animating them is broken, even severed or shattered limbs will keep moving and attempting to kill, or even reconnect to the original body.

    The undead, unless freshly killed – with all the muscle remaining more-or-less intact – are somewhat slower and stiffer, less agile, than living people, with walking speed limited to around 0,5 – 1 meters per second. They also cannot pass streams of water that come to above their waist.

    Combating the threat

    General

    The war against the undead is permanent and total – there are no truces and negotiations. Any person killed may be raised as an undead. As a result, war of attrition always favours the undead side. Casualties have to be kept to minimum.

    The undead do not need to sleep, eat or rest. They are not restricted by logistics or pack animals, though slow marching speed of some types of the undead as well as need to avoid water does restrict mobility.

    They are also immune to fear. Unlike peasant armies, they will not break in the face of heavy cavalry charge. Neither will they retreat if pitched battle does not go their way. However, unless controlled by a necromancer or a revenant, they do not have any battle tactics – approach being to simply blindly rush at the largest nearbly concentration of living humans.

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    Given the above, what would be the umpact of the undead on the society? Keep in mind that threat is permanent, but unstable: it waxes and wanes, with high and low points separated sometimes by centuries.
     
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  2. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

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    What's the downside of becoming a revenant? It sounds like it's a ticket to immortality and without a downside I think it would be very common to see. If not for everyone, then at least for everyone who can afford it. A lot of people dislike dying. So I would imagine that a society where such a thing exists it would be very common to turn 25, die and return as an immortal revenant, 25 forever.

    And I don't think "frowned up by society" is a good downside. The benefit is too big to be hold back by "my neighbours won't like it." Your neighbours will be dead in 25-70 years and you've got all eternity to laugh at them.

    Other ways in which it would impact society:
    Burial rituals would be very different. Unless ghosts are a thing (and worse than other undead), everyone would be cremated. I always wondered why in societies where vampires are an issue (like the buffy-verse) people are not simply cremated. No remains = no more problems with undead rising.

    I can imagine death would be viewed very differently from our society. We assume we're not going to come back as a monster to hunt out family. It will have religious consequences then. No "peaceful sleep" but "If you're not careful you're going to eat your loved ones".

    And I can imagine that war in general would be a less common solution to problems between nations. A battle is basically creating a time bomb where a potential invading army can simply appear at the least convenient time. You'll be very careful before you create something like that.
     
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  3. Queshire

    Queshire Auror

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    Is this for a fictional setting? If so calling it satanism throws me out a bit.

    Otherwise, my go to question when it comes to this stuff is what about good necromancers?
     
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  4. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    Well, the impact depends on how long this has been going on. If it's been going for a long time then people will have got used to it. They'll be taking the necessary precautions, and living their lives around this. A bit like people do during wars, as they did in the UK during the Blitz. It becomes a routine, something you live with, something that you have to accept and work around. Sure, people will want something done about it, particularly those who remember what things were like before the undead. But if the inconvenience isn't too large they may also just accept it and get on with their lives.
     
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  5. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    1) It is mostly evil people who become revenants (and so most revenants are murderous psychos)
    2) Even if person is not evil, dabbling in magic required to become a revenant would cause person to become evil and/or murderously insane (definitely post-resurrection, but in some cases even before resurrection) - sometimes only towards specific targets (in which case a person dies upon murdering them), sometimes towards living humans in general
    3) I am not certain whether I would include this, but in a lot of mythology revenants are only active during night
    4) They are still dead. As such, while they cannot be infected or poisoned, any physical injuries they may have accumulated either shortly before death or after dying will never heal - so a broken leg will be forever broken. Normally they do not need nutrition, but an aspect I was considering would make them closer to Romero zombies: fact that they are dead means that they are continuously rotting, and have to eat the living to repair the damage.

    Ghosts are a thing, but they usually cannot interact with the living, and even when they do interaction is not physical - so they can mislead you, scare you or draw you away, but unless some sort of curse is involved, a ghost cannot physically affect its surroundings.

    Also, undead are not a general appearance. Under normal circumstances, they only appear at places of magical rituals and similar, though they may wander farther afield. But there is a phenomenon when skies turn purple, and undead rise from basically everywhere.

    They exist and can control undead to form basically a private army; though size of such armies would be rather limited.

    Well, that is what I am asking about - what would that routine entail.
     
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  6. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    I can't see why anyone would fight a war of attrition with the dice loaded so heavily against them?
    Shock and awe would be the way to go.
    I think I'd have developed something like flame-throwers or Greek fire pretty fast to burn the pesky undead to a crisp.
    And then surround every village, town and city by a wide deep moat and very narrow bridges with swinging rotating swords on the go all the time. In the film The Great Wall [lots of fun but very silly, I mean stylised], they have a great wall [of course] where rotating blades can be spun up and poked outside to slice the opposing force to messy chunks.
    Also if there is magic that can raise the dead, there has also to be magic that can put them back in the ground. Every village [or maybe town] would have a magician like that as they would a Blacksmith or Baker.
    Also when is a sword a sword? Does a sword shaped letter opener count? What about a fine bladed lochaber axe or scythe?
     
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  7. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    Sword would basically be a bladed weapon with blade longer than the handle. So a swordstaff would count (maybe), but pike would not.

    As for fire, swords work by basically cutting off magic which animates the undead - and are the only weapon that can do so. Anything else would require pretty much complete destruction of the body - severed limbs for example can still move. Can fire destroy bones?

    As for cities and villages, there is no magic as such - but a solid body of water (not rain, but rather a lake, a river or a moat that goes over the waist) cuts off the magic which animates the undead.
     
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  8. CupofJoe

    CupofJoe Myth Weaver

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    Yes, Fire can destroy bone... It has to be really hot. Big fire or Cremation Hot. Somewhere north of 1000C / 1800F. A charcoal fire would do it.
     
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  9. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    That rather depends on how widespread the undead are. With the description you've given they should be almost all-conquering since they have very few weaknesses. Your original post and your comments after that imply that this isn't what you intend. So my answer to you would be that the "normal" people must have learnt what those weaknesses are and how to use these weaknesses to their own advantage.

    For example. If the undead can't cross running water then an obvious thing to do is live on a large island in a river or lake or the sea, and then concentrate on wiping out all the undead on the island. John Wyndham used something like this in The Day of the Triffids. Another thing to do if you have to travel or live or work in an area with unead is to carry a suitable weapon and only go out and around during the times of day when the undead are at their weakest. It wouldn't take very long for people to work out how best to fight the undead - you might for example aim to cut off their arms and legs so they can't move or grab you, given that the undead can't heal. Then all you have to do is throw some lamp oil over them and burn them. So you always carry a good sword, tinder and few bottles of lamp oil when you're out and about. People would also learn which areas to avoid, so they wouldn't go near places where magical rituals took place - they'd be sort of unclean. People would also learn about those purple skies and stay inside even more at times like that. A lot of this would get handed down between generations in the form of lore and stories.
     
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  10. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    They cannot cross water, period. So I am thinking that all settlements are surrounded by moats. As for how widespread they are, I clarified that in the reply:
    And yeah, I am thinking of (eventually) writing a few legends connected to the "purple skies" phenomenon.
     
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  11. Mad Swede

    Mad Swede Minstrel

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    That might not be enough if the undead can build simple bridges. At that point you'd need a fairly wide moat to stop them.

    The other thing that people might do in such situations is identify those areas where the undead usually appear. Then all they'd need to do is build wide moats around those sites where the undead appear, so keeping undead penned in rather than letting the undead pen the people in.
     
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  12. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    That might work for the cases when areas of appearance are fixed, but... well, witches are also a thing. I am still working all details out, mind you, but there will be definitely some Warhammer 40 000 flair here*: demonic possession, demonic summonings, witches, warlocks and so on. And that means that you cannot identify all areas where undead appear, as some are connected to people, not to places. Solution for that is... well. And this as well.

    Good thing however is that such "random resurrections" would be mostly small-scale: few dozen to few hundred, but definitely no more than that.

    *Though to be clear, I am drawing things from mythology; just using Warhammer for comparison.
     
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  13. S.T. Ockenner

    S.T. Ockenner Auror

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    About the whole sword thing.... why is it that undead can only be killed by swords? It makes no sense, thinking about it.
     
  14. Aldarion

    Aldarion Inkling

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    It is magic. It doesn't have to make sense. But basically, swords in Middle Ages had social and even religious significance which many more useful weapons did not have. I was basing it on that. Another reason was that I had to have something which can cut off the magic animating the dead:
    1) fire would not work as many of the walking dead are walking skeletons
    2) blunt weapons would not work as you would have to reduce entire skeleton to fragments or even dust to stop it from moving - and I am still on fence about giving the healing ability to the undead (or rather, whether they heal automatically or only when eating people).

    That being said, silver weapons would work as well. Silver symbolizes purity and holiness, and is thus natural counter to anything cursed - which would include the undead.
     
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