Thursday, October 5, 2017

Daemons of Dreams and the Dead: Part Two

Today's two-part Portcullis entry is from guest author, Dave Folger, for which we are both honored and grateful.

The Restless Dead

A question was once posed to me, with the threat of the dead becoming undead, wouldn’t cremation make more sense than burial? Of course, cremation would also shut down any possibility for resurrection in the future. On the other hand, a proper burial is also something we’ve heard before in the game, something that we have to pretend, as role-players, has some value to it even though it has no mechanical effect. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Bodies that have been given a proper burial are generally rendered safe by the ritual from rising (or being animated) as living dead. There are exceptions to this. First, a skilled necromancer could have some magic to profane the dead. Something as simple as a reverse Bless spell might suffice. Another exception is the dead (unbeknownst to the clergy) may have been an especially evil individual. Even though the proper rites are performed, they have no influence over the evil corpse. Such a being might later rise as a vampire.

The latter might be prevented through yet another possible application for a Bless spell. Good clerics, or possibly clerics of any alignment, are able to confer righteousness. That is, if the subject of the bless is of a different faith than the cleric, for the duration of the spell, the subject is considered to be of the same faith for purposes of further spells and rituals. So if the deceased was highly evil, a cleric of at least equal level using Bless would make it so death rites begun within the duration of the bless and completed without interruption would effectively keep the body from rising as a vampire or other wicked creature.

NPCs who perform burial rites generally don’t confer this blessing as a usual thing since they are typically burying members of their own faith. And even if they did perform the blessing, it is generally lower level members who perform the ritual, so the blessing would not be sufficient to match the evil power of likely candidates to come back as vampires. Consequently, if such is a concern, either a PC cleric will have to cast Bless or else pay a high level NPC cleric to use bless in exchange for the appropriate donation.

There are additional protections for those buried in a cemetery. When a cemetery is first founded, there will be a ceremony to sanctify the place. Often this will include the sacrifice of an animal. The spirit of this animal will then act as a protector (see “Grim” pg 72,  MM2). If animal sacrifice seems strongly antithetical to the religion in question, gargoyles may be employed instead (pg 42, MM1). Guardian gargoyles will generally be Neutral in alignment with only tendencies towards the alignment of the deity or cleric blessing the place--its only purpose being to protect the cemetery from defilers, graverobbers, and necromancers. The sanctity of the place bars undead and malign spirits from entering into (and prevents the creation thereof within) its sacred precincts. Such holy protection requires periodic maintenance, so abandoned burial grounds have only the grims or gargoyles to protect it, if those have not already been dealt with.

Here again, normally we would not spend game time or emphasis on burial rituals or the necro-economy. These practices are simply assumed to be running in the background and serve to explain why in a world where necromancers exist people still bury their dead, why bringing back a companion for a proper burial is a worthwhile effort, and why even in a world where everyone is doing all the right things necromancers can still find opportunities to practice their craft and rare, unique, and powerful beings can still return in the unlife.


Dave Folger runs the Myths & Legends blog ( His personal campaigns are heavily influenced not only by the Dungeons & Dragons game but by the later fantasy RPGs of Gary Gygax. He played his first game of Dungeons & Dragons at the age of 6 and was co-authoring a module for the Lejendary Adventure RPG with Gary at the time of his passing.

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