Undead - how do they work?

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Undead - how do they work?

Post by johndh »

This is in response to something that was brought up in the Ancient Lich Development thread, here: http://forums.wesnoth.org/viewtopic.php ... 26#p451126

Rather than clutter that thread with something only tangentially related, I've made a new topic for it. Since it's about fluff, I figured Writer's was the right place for it.
Simons Mith wrote:I think a lot of these examples are crossing the line from liches into what I'd call 'bone golems'.

As a piece of background information, undead leaders can often be assumed to have extensive ossuaries; an 'armory' of skeleton parts that can be used to assemble their Bone Shooters, Skeleton Archers, Draugs and all. Just look at the recruitment animations for these units. Maybe in order to have a sketelon warrior, you have to have a mostly complete set of bones from one person. Or maybe bones can be treated as interchangeable components, I don't know. So, what do you do when, thanks to recent combat, you've got an excess of ribcages, skulls and humeruses, but a tibia and fibula shortage? How about, summon a shapeshifting demon spirit of some kind, instead of the ghost of a human/dwarf/elf warrior, and give it some sort of bone spider skeleton construct to inhabit? Result: some of the distorted monstrosities in this thread, many of which will be unique.

Yes, there may well be liches that use this technique too, but I think these could make an interesting new class of monsters in their own right. Possibly split to a new thread if you want to explore this area.
Darker_Dreams wrote:
Simons Mith wrote:How about, summon a shapeshifting demon spirit of some kind
relatively minor fluff quibble (I generally agree with the rest of what you had to say), but why does it have to be a demon or spirit of any kind? Aside from religion concerns with demons, fantasy is just as rife with examples of animating objects without any sort of recognizably pre-existing external spirit as with animating things through grabbing a spirit and stuffing it into the object. I, for one, like the idea of not requiring this sort of thing being "auto-evil." Sure, in general it's not a good (or sane) thing to do, and will offend the heck out of people, but it seems worthwhile to stay out of that sort of two-dimensional "always chaotic-evil" land. Then again, there are examples of characters working with demons that aren't automatically chaotic evil (dresden files, ethshar).... I suppose my concern is it's already easy to have that paintbrush on hand when you start with "necromancer."
Are there any examples of animated objects in Wesnoth thus far? :hmm: I can't think of any, but I'm quite possibly wrong. Anyway, the only "animated" things I can think of in Wesnoth are the undead, which are bound souls, so I think it might be reasonable to say that this is the only way to animate something, which would explain why there are so many liches and necromancers but nobody trying to conquer the world with animated furniture. Even if you wanted to make some kind of golem, I don't think casting a spell would give it intelligence or autonomy. If that were so, you could create life out of anything. You'd need some kind of mind/intelligence/soul/spirit/whatever to do that, I think. Frankenstein's monster needed a human brain, after all. :wink:

When it comes to the "always evil" debate, I don't see Malin (from DiD) as being evil at all in the beginning. He's animating corpses out of desperation to save his own people and wipe out the imminent threat to his home. Sure, he's maybe a bit extreme in his methods and his desire to basically make orcs extinct, but he's not the typical megalomaniac undead lord. He did what he thought was the right thing to save his people, and they spit in his face and shunned him for it. Always chaotic evil? Hardly.

Now, if we want to say that the process of animating a corpse or summoning a ghost requires you to bind a soul in some agonizing way, then maybe that's roughly the same thing as slavery, which is generally regarded by certain cultures in certain time periods to be evil.

Basically, I think it would be good to hammer out the following question: Undead, how do they work? Specifically, what is involved in the process of animating a corpse? What about summoning a ghost? Etc.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Sapient »

I like the fanfic in this forum called "the white lich"... you should really read that.

He puts forward some interesting explanations for these things.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Simons Mith »

My partial answer; we do know from the unit descriptions that creatures like skeletons need an animating spirit, ideally from a once-great warrior. I presume some once-great warriors would be willing to come back voluntarily to fight some more. Liches, again from the unit description, need the animating spirit of a willing individual, in that case the spirit of a powerful dark mage. Walking Corpses advance into Soulless, so I think it's reasonable to infer that these really are mindless constructs; i.e. you can get a workable zombie just with the right magic spell, but things with the combat skills of skeletons need animating spirits. (Or maybe they're just cheaper if you create them that way (!)) Ghouls are hideous mutated monsters, but are alive in their fashion. (c.f. Descent into Darkness, where Darken Volk implies they are the reincarnations of depraved and evil men.) Ghosts of all flavours, clearly you need a restive spirit.

We've also had creatures becoming undead by 'accident'; Lionel, the Lost General, for example. So, being trapped and bitter and betrayed, you can die and come back as a ghost, or you can die, presumably animate your own skeleton, and become a death knight. So the right curses can do it, and so can the right emotional state at the time of death. You can also become undead deliberately, if you are strong-willed enough.

The stated game intention for units like necromancers is as far as possible to avoid typecasting them as automatically evil. A good example of how anther game handled a similar problem is given by the EarthDawn Nethermancer class. Yes, they do deal with the dead and other related icky stuff, but they can also give restless spirits their final peace, guide them to the afterlife and what have you. After all, dealing regularly with the dead helps them fight them effectively too. Nethermancers do all tend to be creepy, but they don't have to be evil.

What else? There are also various other undead units, such as the vampires in TROW. Don't know much about them, and they're a rare custom unit.

I have an unfinished campaign idea called Mage War where the various wizard factions fight it out. It stalled because I haven't got balanced forces for all the factions. Undead are easy, but what would the standard mages use if the rules of engagement effectively prohibited them from calling on their living (but non-mage) allies? My eventual idea was that they could create things like dancing swords, swarms of animated arrows, hollow infantrymen (i.e. animated suits of armour) and the like. These are roughly as effective as their undead equivalents, but because they are spells, not sentient creatures, they degrade over time. Thus: relatively powerful but costly units with negative AMLAs. This explains why they are not normally used, and why standard lawful mages generally fight alongside living forces. But things like dancing swords and golems could be available in Wesnoth, and that fact that that technique is theoretically possible might have a bearing on the techniques used by the undead-summoners.
 
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Feufochmar »

About animated objects, appart from the magical quintain in the tutorial, I haven't noted anything in the mainline campaigns. Maybe related to undeads in their creation, there are the dawarf, the crab man and the flesh golem in UtBS. The flesh golem is not an undead, but the description says it is created from the bodies of fallen warriors by powerful necromancers. The "elementals" seen in UtBS (mudcrawler, dust devil, fire guardian) and in UMC could also be considered as animated objects, but they are usually not seen as animated objects.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by thespaceinvader »

I quite like the idea that mudcrawlers could arise as the by-product of the over-use of necromancy in a particular area - the animation magics leaching into the ground until it crystallises around a mindless beat of mud and glop. Or at least, that would be one origin for them, they'd occur in naturally high-magic areas, too, to explain their presence in tRoW when no necromancers have got there yet.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Skrim »

johndh wrote:Basically, I think it would be good to hammer out the following question: Undead, how do they work? Specifically, what is involved in the process of animating a corpse? What about summoning a ghost? Etc.
I wrote a lot about this matter once a long time ago, here.

As for animated creatures in Wesnoth, Undead are not the only ones. There are also Mudcrawlers, which are present in several campaigns. In TRoW, the Undead cultists and the Saurians both have Mudcrawlers in their army, which indicates that they're raised by dark magic or augury - basically the same field of magic that gives access to cold spells. Like magically-reanimated Undead (Skeletal-types, Walking Corpse-types, Ghost-types), they have a significant Arcane damage (anti-magic) weakness. Their description also says that they're "magical constructs of soil and water".

Ghouls are not reanimated. They're just extremely warped and twisted, but nevertheless alive, humans. They never died. They therefore also lack the telltale Arcane weakness that all magical creatures (Elves, Woses, Drakes, Trolls, Undead) have.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by johndh »

Sapient wrote:I like the fanfic in this forum called "the white lich"... you should really read that.

He puts forward some interesting explanations for these things.
Should I take that to mean "and the explanations put forward there are more or less how things work in Wesnoth"? Either way, I'll be sure to check it out at some point.
thespaceinvader wrote:I quite like the idea that mudcrawlers could arise as the by-product of the over-use of necromancy in a particular area - the animation magics leaching into the ground until it crystallises around a mindless beat of mud and glop. Or at least, that would be one origin for them, they'd occur in naturally high-magic areas, too, to explain their presence in tRoW when no necromancers have got there yet.
Yeah, I can certainly imagine that places where there is a lot of magic would give rise to things like that. I'm sure all sorts of interesting things go on in the magical "fallout" around Alduin.
Skrim wrote: I wrote a lot about this matter once a long time ago, here.
Simons Mith wrote: <snip />
Okay, so here's what I'm getting so far:

WC/Soulless - No soul, no real mind to speak of. They just follow orders or, sans master, wander around looking for living creatures to slap into undeath (like the Soulless in TSG). I think this goes along well with what we know from DiD. Darken Volk was only in town for a little while, and in that brief time (maybe over the course of an afternoon) Malin learned from him how to make a corpse stand up and fight. Thus, it must be a pretty trivial thing to do if someone with no background in necromancy can do it.

Skeletons - They have a little bit of a mind left over from their former lives, so they still remember how to fight. They also have a soul, but it is perhaps only partially there (and partially passed on to the Great Beyond) or is suppressed/bound/enslaved. There doesn't seem to be much to go on other than unit descriptions.

Ghouls - Not undead. The impression I get is something akin to the wendigo. A person's greed, gluttony, and evil pollutes their mind so much that it corrupts their body into something other than human. This brings up the issue of how they are controlled. Maybe they're mindless (or nearly so) and dark mages just sort of "hijack" them, or maybe they're aware and just follow in promise of succulent living flesh to eat. I tend to favor the former, because it seems more consistent with the nature of necromancy, and fits more with Darken and Malin's conversation in DiD (Malin felt bad about enslaving them).

Ghosts - The physical manifestation of a soul. Most of them that we see are bound/enslaved by dark magic, but there are also wild ones such as in UtBS, which tend to degrade over time, becoming little more than mindless killers. They tend to dislike being enslaved and can break free of the mind control of weak-willed mages, like in DiD.

Liches and Death Knights - They retain sentience and full use of a soul. Liches die on purpose.

I'd like to offer an alternative explanation for characters like Lionel, since (it seems to me) we don't really know what happened to him in the intervening years between being alive and being undead, only that he was vengeful about something. Instead of the "he died and brought himself back" idea, maybe he didn't even realize he died. If his rage and vengeance was the only thing keeping him going, then he could have been killed and just kept on fighting and going about his daily business (á la The Sixth Sense) without noticing that he no longer hungered or thirsted, and his flesh gradually rotted away until he was a skeleton. Being dead and fully sentient, he has a strong connection with both the living and the dead, and this allows him to call upon the dead to fight for him.

Is this good so far? Did I miss any? I haven't played DM, so I have nothing to say about the "land of the dead".
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Simons Mith »

johndh wrote:
Liches and Death Knights - They retain sentience and full use of a soul. Liches die on purpose.

I'd like to offer an alternative explanation for characters like Lionel, since (it seems to me) we don't really know what happened to him in the intervening years between being alive and being undead, only that he was vengeful about something. Instead of the "he died and brought himself back" idea, maybe he didn't even realize he died. If his rage and vengeance was the only thing keeping him going, then he could have been killed and just kept on fighting and going about his daily business
Dying without noticing could also happen to wizards. Picture some old fellow working away in his tower, studying. Too busy to go for a meal, so he casts a food spell to tide him over. Too busy to sleep, but a quick restorative spell will soon deal with that inconvenient tiredness. Then just let this habit of using magic to override natural needs happen more and more...
 
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

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That makes sense. It seems to me that the animating spirits of physical (i.e. non-ghost) undead are more transient than the souls of the living, so I suppose a wizard constantly using magic to keep him/herself alive might weaken the bond between body and soul, to the point where the soul is separate from the body but still present and calling the shots. I guess what I'm trying to say is that, with undead, the soul is the animating force but it's not so much an inextricable part of the being, like it presumably is with the living. :hmm: Another interpretation could be that although the body is wasting away, the mind/spirit is still striving away, completely consumed in its task (vengeance, pursuit of power, etc.), so it keeps on trucking regardless. This ties in with the concept of ancient liches being able to add and exchange body parts, or have a more ghostly appearance like someone suggested. I can certainly imagine a point where a lich might decide that its body (or what's left of it) is nothing more than a burden anymore, and shedding it would be advantageous. Who needs limbs when you can boil someone's brain with your mind? :twisted:
Simons Mith wrote:Dying without noticing could also happen to wizards. Picture some old fellow working away in his tower, studying. Too busy to go for a meal, so he casts a food spell to tide him over. Too busy to sleep, but a quick restorative spell will soon deal with that inconvenient tiredness. Then just let this habit of using magic to override natural needs happen more and more...
Dying without noticing could also happen to wizards gamers. Picture some old unkempt fellow working away in his tower mom's basement, studying pwning n00bs. Too busy to go for a meal, so he casts a food spell microwaves a Hot Pocket to tide him over. Too busy to sleep, but a quick restorative spell caffeinated beverage will soon deal with that inconvenient tiredness. Then just let this habit of using magic junk food to override natural needs happen more and more...
It's spelled "definitely", not "definately". "Defiantly" is a different word entirely.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

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johndh wrote:Ghouls - Not undead. The impression I get is something akin to the wendigo. A person's greed, gluttony, and evil pollutes their mind so much that it corrupts their body into something other than human. This brings up the issue of how they are controlled. Maybe they're mindless (or nearly so) and dark mages just sort of "hijack" them, or maybe they're aware and just follow in promise of succulent living flesh to eat. I tend to favor the former, because it seems more consistent with the nature of necromancy, and fits more with Darken and Malin's conversation in DiD (Malin felt bad about enslaving them).
I think it's important to note that, whilst ghouls are made somehow from living, evil men, possibly ones who were already cannibalistic, I would object to the idea that they just become that way themselves. To my mind, there would have to be some intervention from the magician. It could even have originated as a punishment gone horribly wrong - how better to punish someone than to transform them into somethign almost mindless, retaining just enough sentience to realise how horrific they have become?
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Sapient »

I think in order to explain Lionel you have to reflect back on ghost stories of our own world. The idea where it derives from is that belief that a particularly tragic, painful, and untimely death can result in a haunted place inhabited by the spirit of the dead person. Normally in the story this would just result in a ghost but in his case it is more extreme. And the evil of the haunted place itself from their accumulated suffering is enough to sustain him and his skeletal warriors for eternity, without the need for an outside source of dark magic. If they were to leave the place, though, they would collapse into lifeless bones and dust.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

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Or who knows, maybe there was an influence of dark magic in Lionel's case. Maybe some random wandering Dark Sorceror stumbled upon the bones of Lionel and his army, and tried to raise them. Not having enough power to keep their souls enslaved, though, the sorceror lost control, and they promptly murdered him. After that the undead just followed their old leader, Lionel, who had enough will, and leftover loyalty from their living days, to keep them under control.

It could be anything really. Nowhere is it explained, AFAIK, exactly what happened between Lionel's departure and his final defeat by Konrad.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Feufochmar »

johndh wrote:Is this good so far? Did I miss any? I haven't played DM, so I have nothing to say about the "land of the dead".
In the scenario "Houses of the dead", there's two interesting dialogs.

One by a ghost about skeletons :
Beware the skeletons! They are not the spirits of dead men, but the creations of evil magic.
The other by a ghoul :
Do not fear me, Delfador. It is my doom to appear as you see me. I was a serf of a cruel lord. He demanded great taxes to fight many wars... then plague came... my family were starving, and we were forced to eat the flesh of those who had died.
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

Post by Simons Mith »

Feufochmar wrote:
johndh wrote:Is this good so far? Did I miss any? I haven't played DM, so I have nothing to say about the "land of the dead".
In the scenario "Houses of the dead", there's two interesting dialogs.

One by a ghost about skeletons :
Beware the skeletons! They are not the spirits of dead men, but the creations of evil magic.
That comes across to me as scenario-specific fluff for those particular skellies, partly because it contradicts the unit write-ups, which I would consider 'closer to canon' that the dialogue of any particular unit.
The other by a ghoul :
Do not fear me, Delfador. It is my doom to appear as you see me. I was a serf of a cruel lord. He demanded great taxes to fight many wars... then plague came... my family were starving, and we were forced to eat the flesh of those who had died.
Whoa, so in Wesnoth it's a pretty vicious version of kuru/CJD.
johndh wrote:Dying without noticing could also happen to wizards gamers. Picture some old unkempt fellow working away in his tower mom's basement, studying pwning n00bs. Too busy to go for a meal, so he casts a food spell microwaves a Hot Pocket to tide him over. Too busy to sleep, but a quick restorative spell caffeinated beverage will soon deal with that inconvenient tiredness. Then just let this habit of using magic junk food to override natural needs happen more and more...
Aha, yet another route for the creation of ghouls.
 
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Re: Undead - how do they work?

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thespaceinvader wrote:I quite like the idea that mudcrawlers could arise as the by-product of the over-use of necromancy in a particular area - the animation magics leaching into the ground until it crystallises around a mindless beat of mud and glop. Or at least, that would be one origin for them, they'd occur in naturally high-magic areas, too, to explain their presence in tRoW when no necromancers have got there yet.
It would follow that undead can appear in magically dense areas without being raised by a necromancer as well. I like that.
johndh wrote:WC/Soulless - No soul, no real mind to speak of. They just follow orders or, sans master, wander around looking for living creatures to slap into undeath (like the Soulless in TSG). I think this goes along well with what we know from DiD. Darken Volk was only in town for a little while, and in that brief time (maybe over the course of an afternoon) Malin learned from him how to make a corpse stand up and fight. Thus, it must be a pretty trivial thing to do if someone with no background in necromancy can do it.

Skeletons - They have a little bit of a mind left over from their former lives, so they still remember how to fight. They also have a soul, but it is perhaps only partially there (and partially passed on to the Great Beyond) or is suppressed/bound/enslaved. There doesn't seem to be much to go on other than unit descriptions.
Stone Remembers has it the other way around, because of the way I imagine the two types of undead in motion. Walking Corpses seem hungry and enraged, which suggests remnants of humanity, and skeletons are shells with motor coordination provided by the necromancer (which is why they're harder to make and control that Walking Corpses, who have some motor coordination of their own).
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