Saturday, April 18, 2015

N is for Necromancer

Necromancy has come a long way from it's humble origins.

In a historical context, it's about communicating with the dead. I won't say that's it, but yeah, pretty much, that's it.

In those terms, the old Martha Wells novel, Death of The Necromancer, plays with its original function as well as what it's later become.

While it's long out of print, the Kindle version is only $2.99 so it makes an interesting read and Martha is a hell of a writer.

In role playing terms, especially in the grand father of RPGs, Dungeons and Dragons and it's sibling, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, Necromancy is a school of magic. It's also, depending on the edition, a sphere of priestly studies. The effects tend to go well beyond merely speaking with the dead.

But not only necromancy as a school, but as a character archetype. So fascinating is the subject, that even 'back in the day', TSR was able to get a DMR (Dungeon Master Reference) out of it with The Complete Book of Necromancers. This was a fun little book with its own island setting making it useful for almost any standard setting that TSR was publishing back in the day.

The book isn't available in print anymore but you can buy it at nowadays for $9.99. If you want Necromancers that are more than game stats, it's a solid book. Don't misunderstand me, it includes a lot of gaming information for AD&D 2nd edition but unless you're playing that edition, the game mechanics might be a little dated.

When thinking about Necromancers, there are a lot of subjects to think about.

What happens to dead people? This isn't a question of people rising as zombies after death but rather, a question on what happens to a person's corpse. In a fantasy setting that is known to have magic that can raise the dead, what purpose would not burning the bodies or at the very least, binding the bodies have? "Well, I know that necromancers are real and that the undead can be created through their magic, but hell, let's not actually do a single thing to prevent that."

Is Necromancy Inherently Evil? Necromancers are often portrayed as evil individuals from their dealings with all of the negative energy they handle. The Complete Necromancer's Handbook plays against type with some options, and Kobold Press has a book, New Paths Compendium, with a White Necromancer. Nat Russo has his own take on it in his series starting with the Necromancer Awakening.

Thinking about the role of necromancer in the setting can have a huge impact on how the entire setting works. Are there famous necromancers? Some that are 'fated' to return?

One of my favorites in that region was Nagash in the Warhammer Old World. There was something appealing in a 'normal' person who creates the whole concept of Necromancy. Who creates the first  vampires. Who undergoes a physical change to such a point that his own body becomes engorged with the power and he becomes a giant.

If you've followed me on Twitter or over on, you'll note that I've wanted Nagash to return to Warhammer for a long time. When Games Workshop was doing their yearly story lines, I had hoped for a 'Summer of Nagash' where they would release new sculpts of old figures with new stats and have one of those campaigns where the players would determine the fate of the world!

Mind you Games Workshops efforts in this endeavor had failed to a certain extend in previous years thanks to the ham fisted writing of the Games Workshop staff who seemed unable to accept that Chaos was stomped into the ground so soundly when they should have been posed for victory...

But Games Workshop in an effort to invigorate the Old World, went a step further. Nagash was the first to have his 'End Times' book published and it literally was the start of the end for the Old World of Warhammer.

But other companies, like En World Publishing, have their own versions of a powerful necromancer. In this case, it was a book called Necromancer's Legacy, Gar'Udok's Necromantic Arts. A book designed under the OGL and d20 license for 3rd edition of Dungeons and Dragons. It was filled with monsters, prestige classes, spells, and magic items with it's own story of Gar'Udok. Good stuff for those looking for a name less famous than Nagash.

Necromancers have long been a staple of fantasy games as the villains. How have you used Necromancers in your own campaign? One shot use? Campaign villain? Individuals who have challenged the likes of Orcus for their throne?