Channeling mystic or elemental magic takes a toll on the body, but channeling death magic demands a higher price. Often referred to as black arts, necromancy is the study of and control over the forces that arise from death itself. Generally reviled in civilized lands as the lowest tool of irrevocable evil, its power is unmistakable, and for some, irresistible. Of the arcane arts, necromancy stands apart in its power, but because its corrupting influence on mind and body can begin at any time and the effect is permanent, it is by far the most dangerous to wield.
Some dabble in this type of magic seeking answers to life’s most basic questions, while others quest only for power. Whatever the intent, Death Eaters draw upon the realms of death to cast their spells. Regardless of how they are perceived, these casters prove that there is indeed life, of a sort, beyond the grave. Because these casters channel death energy through a living form to produce specific effects, there are additional rules that govern its use. This section includes the mechanics and effects of wielding death magic as well as the available spellbook.
It should be noted that a series of Scholarly background skills are required for both acquiring new spells and the basic ability to read from the spellbook. These include, but are not limited to, Archivist, (S) Bookbinding, (S) Scribing, Language – Magic, and (S) Literacy – Magic. Of course, some of this depends on the nature of the spellbook, Profession skills such as Artistry and (S) Tattooing, or Crafting skills such as Tailoring and (S) Weaving could be substituted.
Part of the lure of necromancy is that there it doesn’t require formal training, only a willingness to embrace death itself. Players may choose from any of the foundations, but because characters are limited to one spellbook during character creation, they must decide to begin play as a Death Eater or start down this path as they adventure. This decision will be a defining aspect of the character’s backstory and personality, as one who has already embraced death will be far different from one walking the path towards embracing it.
Unlike normal spells which use a focus object as the material component, necromantic spells have a more visceral material component requirement to spell casting. These vary from blood to bone to bits of flesh to other bodily fluids, depending upon the effect of the spell. Each component takes up .2 of a utility position, as either a specific object or small vial, allowing the caster to carry up to five of them in a single UP slot. Only objects and substances are consumed, as noted in the spell description, allowing containers, such as the small vials, to be reused.
Due to these components, the color and textures of the magic tend to be dark and foreboding. Over time, this aesthetic taint will affect any spell the Death Eater attempts, including those in other spell lists. These take the form of putrid colors, a rotting scent, and wails, unless the caster mutes these effects with casting skills.
Assuming that necromancy could offer a full and complete understanding of life, death, and what lies beyond, is a grave misconception. Those who use or study this magic learn how to call forth and manipulate the residual power left behind when a being passes from life. This energy, often referred to as death energy, is an antithesis of life and as such, has a pestilential effect on those who attempt to harness it.
Whenever a being dies, energy from life – thoughts, feelings, emotions, and experiences – are released and flow outward. This energy often disperses as the spirit passes into the afterlife, but sometimes it pools in or around the body or place of death, often because the spirit does not move on, whether willingly or unwillingly. Trauma, injustice, or simply an unwillingness to accept the end of life can cause this, and because death is inevitable, this death energy may mingle with other death energies to create caches.
It’s these caches of death energy, often the site of the great hero’s last stand, a bloody battle fought for jealousy or vengeance, or a place of multiple murders that Death Eaters seek. As these places are rare, most forced to call upon the sources of death energy that come from the more natural order in the cycle of life, harnessing residuals left after death.
Unfortunately, this is effectively providing a starving person with a handful of beans, often leading Death Eaters to collect bodies of the dead or commit murder to feed their lust for power.
Practitioners engaging in this unnatural art run the risk of succumbing to the very forces they seek to harness. Continuous exposure to death energy inflicts a terrible toll upon the body and mind, eroding the spirit and gradually destroying their life force. As these casters become ever more immersed in death energy, they will begin to take on qualities of the undead, acquiring seeming boons that progress until they finally succumb to that existence.
There is no set period for this to occur, of which the player is aware. At some point, the character will begin to manifest these traits, by which point it is already too late.
This insidious corruption begins with the benefit of shadow strength, a dark aura of protection that exchanges the Strength attribute for the Knowledge score in all damage saves and calculations for causing physical damage. This is not something that may be called upon, it is simply the first trait to manifest. Most of the Death Eaters see this as a minor boon, even as the flesh over their heart begins to turn gray, slowly spreading outward.
As the graying flesh covers the torso, but before beginning to spread to the limbs, the Death Eater gains corpse form. At this level of corruption, the caster becomes immune to critical hits, their Health score is increased by the value of their Knowledge attribute, while their Strength attribute is subtracted from their Body score. The graying flesh will eventually engulf the limbs, continuing until their features take on a fully pallid countenance.
With corpse body, the character becomes susceptible to bouts of madness. How this madness is handled depends on the player and GM. It can be roleplayed as a situation, i.e., ignore all else and focus on this, and let the player run with it. Alternately, the player can state their actions, and the GM counters with: you think that’s how you act, but actually you…, and the GM narrates maniacal actions. There are plenty of other ways to handle the madness, so long as the actions are not reasoned or functional during the bout.
The final stage of corruption occurs after the dark magic has consumed the Death Eater. With corpse body, when the character takes body points, they do not heal, no matter the care or treatment. When all Body points are lost, the character passes into the realm of the undead.
The study of necromancy is a consuming practice, literally and figuratively. This may be roleplayed in numerous different ways, but usually involves a quiet intensity, lack of patience, growing degree of irritation, and superiority complex. Additionally, those who wield death energy will carry the aura of it, causing people and animals to react badly to them, a reaction which will often extend to companions. Because of this, these characters will often have a distaste for animals, children, and the elderly, as they tend to react the harshest.
Feelings of paranoia or persecution are common as those discovered in this practice are reviled and will be shunned if not outright hunted. In a group, the Death Eater is reclusive, yet driven, they may not always have their own agenda, but it will seem they do. Harvesting their spell components from the bodies of enemies will make the people around them uncomfortable, and attempting to hide it will make them seem untrustworthy.
Perception is reality, every action that they take is colored by their devotion to the dead, i.e. donating money to an orphanage might be viewed as a payoff to ignore missing kids. It doesn’t matter how polite or generous they are, Death Eaters will be viewed as a blight on society.
Those who delve into the world of necromancy do more than animate the dead and speak with spirits of those departed from the mortal world. Whatever their original intentions, tapping into that energy causes them to view all matters of death as their personal domain. This inevitably leads to a desire to further manipulate the forces of death and undeath, which puts them at odds with society as a whole.
It’s unfair to say that all those who wield magic from this domain are strictly evil or power-mad beings seeking a sort of immortality in undeath. In fact, many casters have pursued and dabbled in necromantic magic seeking only those spells which might be useful in specific situations. Because it typically takes quite a few castings to draw the corrupting influences, most who dabble remain ignorant of the dangers this path takes. The material components involved in necromantic spell casting is enough to keep most from an in-depth pursuit of these spells, shying away from the more powerful secrets more due more to morality than a lack of interest.
Those few who embrace the use of necromancy beyond all else, shroud themselves in it. Surrounding themselves with corpses, often stolen, and raising undead minions for companionship. As a result, the domain is cloaked in mystery, with very few secrets or lore passing from one Death Eater to another. It’s not a domain that encourages apprenticeship, which often leads to a loss and subsequent rediscovery of the magic, a painful and arduous process, requiring dedicated research outside the realm of mainstream magic.
As previously mentioned, because casters begin with access to one spellbook, players must make a choice. Starting as a Death Eater provides access to numerous powerful spells, whose use will draw undue attention. At low levels, there is an inherent danger to that type of exposure. The other option is to begin with another, more accepted spellbook and pick up necromantic spells as they advance. But spells are expensive, will be slow to acquire, and then there is the matter of where to find them.
Regardless of how the casters begin down this path, there are two ways for a character to get access to these spells. They can seek out a Death Eater and apprentice to them – which brings a very powerful and very corrupting influence into the party. Or they may seek out individual spells or a spellbook while adventuring, encouraging party members to assist them. In addition to the dangers of locating these, there is the research required to learn them, which means a lab of some type and corpses to practice on.
Because the practice is generally abhorred in civilized lands, either way they go, the character will need to work in secret, and find a way to manage that secrecy. Corpses being dug up or the murder rate in an area increasing will not go unnoticed, and the first time someone sees the character pour a vial of blood into her open palm to cast a spell, it will be questioned. There’s only so much that can be explained away as just caster stuff.
Lastly, casting these powerful spells is going to give the character a reputation and those who enthusiastically practice it are going to draw a lot of attention to themselves, from both the living and the undead. Add to this the corrupting effects that have been outlined, and those who are reckless about necromancy will quickly find themselves back in character generation.
One of the effects included in the Death Eater’s spellbook is the ability to raise and/or control the dead. Because of the potential consequences o this action, from both an attention drawing and control perspective, makes it imperative for the character to understand the differences between the two primary types, Rotters and Feeders.
The transition from life to death to undeath typically drives rotters mad. They wander without direction and continue to decay as time passes, eventually finding release from the mortal world when their corpse is destroyed by weapon or time. Those few who continue on as incorporeal apparitions are typically anchored to a person or place and tend to drive the living as insane as themselves. It is these undead that Death Eaters are most likely to enslave because they can be given a purpose and directed, which can alleviate some of that wandering madness while their mortal shroud continues to decay around them.
Alternately, feeders are able to avoid the ravages of death and time by feeding on some aspect of the living. The most common feeding is some type of vampirism – including the consumption of blood, flesh, organs, or life energy, among others. Feeding is typically done to maintain some aspect of the body or mind. It’s these clever, and most often determined undead who pose the greatest risk to the living, as they subtly seek the sustenance they crave and are clever about hiding their nature. While they can make for powerful servants or allies for a Death Eater, their nature makes them extremely dangerous to keep around.
There is always a risk to raising the dead, whether from the potential of public exposure or the undead turning on the caster. In addition, not all parties will be accepting of undead minions.
For those who pass into it, undeath is just another state of being. They remain aware of their surroundings and are capable of thought and expression, though their perception of the living typically undergoes a dramatic change. To some, the concept of death and undeath is maddening causing them to lash out, but for others, it’s exhilarating, usually viewed as a victory over death that puts them above the masses. In either instance, undeath has its benefits and curses for the Death Eater to exploit.
Serving as a bridge between life and the world of the undead, Death Eaters are balanced on a precarious edge. As their links to this power grows, the undead will be drawn to them. Whether this drive is motivated by hunger, power, or the instinctual desire to be close to that which they lost makes a difference.
Where there are those who practice necromancy, the undead are always near.
Speak with Dead
Aura of Unease
Stench of Death
Visage of the Dead