Bring back the necromancers

| Tuesday, January 7, 2014
I have a rather paladinish perspective on things. I believe in helping those who need a hand and beating the crap out of the undead. Yet today's undead are so... dull. All the zombies now are essentially just humans that have ended up on another team. That certainly has some interesting implications and comments to make on tribalism and paranoia, but the zombies themselves are still dull. Part of the problem is realism and the misguided attempt to have it. We end up with diseases of some sort, which can only do so much to distort the human form. What ever happened to good old fashioned necromancy? It gives so much more possibility.

Of course it can bring up your usual dead people walking around, and even use some mundane chemical or biological explanation for it. That can get the scientists in the story and reading very excited. Think of when the Plague of Undeath first appeared in Warcraft 3 and it seemed to be just that, a plague, to be contained with quarantine and inspections. It turned out to be more. In the modern telling it starts as some disease that turns out to be much worse than we thought and then society collapses. But that's just "bad thing gets worse". That's not a story, that's a physical process, like fire, or plate tectonics.

Necromacy allows for a villain: the necromancer, or his cult. Now you have the story of the people who created it and spread it. This isn't just "scientist was reckless and made a big oops." This is evil, and toward what ends? Maybe it is power, knowledge, revenge. There can be an even greater power behind it. This also helps reduce some of the nonsense about how every time someone dies it's another enemy, since raising the corpses does take some effort on the part of the necromancer. If it isn't much effort, well then that's terrifying. It's one thing for a recent graveyard to wake up again, quite another for the ancient kings to arise with a wave of the hand.

These undead aren't stupid; they are mindless, being controlled by another intelligence. This means that a zombie survival story isn't a glorified version of "stranded in the wildness surrounded by really stupid wolves". Killing one means that your presence is noticed. You can sneak around, but you have to truly sneak, totally unseen and unnoticed. If you fight, you fight them all.

These undead don't have to be plain humans. They can be rearranged and rebuilt into other terrifying creations. They can be joined by other evil things, such as gargoyles, or reanimated t-rex. Who wouldn't want to see some evil wizard go into the museums and after a lot of weird yelling and lights a herd of skeletal dinosaurs come rampaging out?

The classic line in the zombies movies is that you can't join them. The book (good) version of World War Z had quislings, insane people who tried to join the zombies, but that was literally impossible. But people can join a necromancer's cult. Bandits cannot compare to the evil of the person who helped create the problem in the first place. The societal exploration can be expanded further when people can join the evil. What could make them turn their backs on society? How did they even find out about the possibility? Why didn't Twitter shut down @evilnecromancer? How will the courts and legislatures handle soul stealing?

Bring back the magic and get all your ridiculous scienceish zombies out of here.


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