Socially Acceptable Necromancers?

dnd4vr

Adventurer
Necromancers are cool. How do you play one without getting drummed out of town by peasants with torches and paladins with pitchforks?

Comic for illustrative purposes.
Um... you don't? ;)

Most "good folk" aren't going to look kindly on necromancers. However, I suppose a lot would depend on the campaign, etc. We had a player trying to play one once, using animated enemies as a way for them to atone for their evil ways, etc. It never worked out well IMO.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
How people deal with death and the dead is a social construct, significantly influenced by the human psychology of loss. In an RPG, that construct probably depends in large part upon the metaphysics of magic and necromancy in the setting.

If you have a setting in which undead don't kill/eat/drain life from the living, and aren't stinky decaying horrors... maybe then necromancy can be socially acceptable.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It depends what you mean by “necromancer.” If you just mean a person who practices the Necromancy school of magic, well there are plenty of spells that fall under that school that are perfectly harmless, even beneficial. A “necromancer” could act as a medium for communicating with lost loved ones, and can even invite their souls back to the material plane, given access to the proper components. I think it’s even possible to construct a society in which the creation of undead is viewed as acceptable, or even plays an important role in their relationship to death - see, for example, the Mortalitasi of the Dragon Age setting.

If by “necromancer” you mean someone who exploits the bodies of the dead to serve their own ends, no, I don’t see any way that would be socially acceptable in any non-evil society.
 

bulletmeat

Explorer
I'd say you need a culture change! ;)
Think of ancient Egypt, or the Toraja of Sulawesi in Indonesia. If we're looking outside the modern western mindset, death was kind of a normal day thing (minus plagues, famine, or the like coming around) and dead bodies would not necessarily be cleaned up. There is a picture from the early 1900s of New York kids playing in the street next a rotting dead horse. Imagine the local necromancer came by to raise Ol' Besty back up so she could faithfully serve the family that took care of her for so long.
Or the necromancer brings long past family members back to life on the Day of the Dead so kin and revisit them. Of course, being raised from the dead isn't cheap and those that past will need to work off that debt if the peasant family can't pay. Remember, if the necromancer raised you on a good faith agreement, it would be unlawful to renege on that debt. But time once again with the kids, grand-kids, great grand-kids, great-great-great grand-kids is always worth it!
Anyway, you might also look at Scarred Land's Hollowfaust book. That might give you some further ideas.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Necromancers are cool. How do you play one without getting drummed out of town by peasants with torches and paladins with pitchforks?
Ask your DM if your character is going to have to deal with this problem on the regular and, if you are, you either come up with a solution (e.g. leaving the undead horde in a ditch outside of town) or you don't play a necromancer.

For my part, I generally try not to make it too big a deal and maybe in order to throw a wrench into things from time to time I make an issue of it. At that point it's just another intermittent challenge to overcome instead of a constant problem. To be honest, I don't really like doing much town/city stuff. The adventure in my games is found outside of these places, generally speaking. So it just won't come up much.

My main concern with necromancer characters is the same with summoners - how quickly can you resolve your minions? Because if a player slows down the game, it's going to be a problem and I let them all now this before they commit to such a character build.
 

Dausuul

Legend
Get proficiency with an herbalism kit. Embalm all your zombies so they don't stink, then dress them up in long robes and masks.

Alternatively, pick up the mold earth cantrip and bury your zombies in the woods before you enter any town or city.
 

mortwatcher

Explorer
Honestly, that depends on how your world views death and corpses in general. Maybe necromancy is common or not all that weird. After all, the corpse doesn't really serve any purpose once the spirit leaves it, so why waste a good skeleton that can work without having to be fed or complaining about how hard/tedious/repetitive the work is.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
I think animating only the dead monsters and enemies of the town would go over better than stopping by the graveyard to do some "recruiting." But depending on the locale and culture, there's probably going to be something unsavory about necromancy.

Hollowfaust is a setting where necromancy is normalized and not necessarily evil. As I've said before, it's one of my favorite city sourcebooks.

Ultimately, if a player wants a necromancer character, I'm going to try to make that work as best I can as a DM. I don't want to invalidate their character idea, and as long as they're not engaging in disruptive behavior (like digging up the mayor's dead spouse and animating them "for the lulz"), I'm going to try to make it work with the world we're crafting and be fun for them.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
Significant reflavoring of necromancy would be needed in many fantasy worlds for it to not be so bad, or as some have mentioned above, the view of undead by the society in that world would need to be different than what we're currently used to.

I could see a world where necromancers first speak with the dead, gain their consent in helping with some task, and then raising them to help with the task on a sort of contractual basis. Perhaps in this world, the dead are still anchored to their remains in some way, even if they are actually in some sort of afterlife realm.

On a vaguely related note, I dislike the "army of the dead" style necromancer. A third-party made a playbook for Dungeon World that instead of raising armies and being limited to skeletons and zombies and other named undead, could raise whatever dead things they came across but could only have one undead servant, usually. I actually really like that flavor and feel it's somehow more palatable than the mass raising variety. I could see this is a reworked subclass for Wizard in 5E that gets this ability outside of spell-casting.

EDIT: Maybe just also never take the undead into towns and only utilize them in fights outside of civilized society, such as in dungeons.
 

Bitbrain

Adventurer
I’ve got a level 5 necromancer Wizard PC in my Eberron campaign, and I explained at session 0 that certain nations will have big problems with undead (Thrane being the biggest), while others (like Karrnath) saw nothing wrong with it.

At this point, the player announced that his character wants to raise an undead army to bolster the defenses of New Cyre.

After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I explained to him that the Cyrans fought some really nasty battles against the undead of Karrnath, and aren’t big on undead.

To which he revealed his “brilliant” plan to disguise his undead as near-catatonic Warforged.

So now I’ve got a necromancer PC who walks around in his grandfather’s old military uniform, escorted by (at present) two zombies clad in super-tight plate armor designed to resemble a warforged scout’s body.

Oh, and he keeps spamming prestidigitation, to counteract the smell and not alert everyone in town.
 

aco175

Adventurer
I could see an isolated event like a town being attacked by orcs or something and the local mage raises the undead army to repel the orcs. The town may not like grandpa being raised, but should like it better than the orcs killing them. After the necromancer saves the town? Who knows how the folk will react to him.
 

Celebrim

Legend
You probably don't.

But if you are going to pull it off, it will be focusing entirely on destroying other necromancers and their works. You focus on spells that harm undead and counter-spelling every thing else. I just think that there really isn't enough in that concept to make it worthwhile.
 

RSIxidor

Explorer
I could see an isolated event like a town being attacked by orcs or something and the local mage raises the undead army to repel the orcs. The town may not like grandpa being raised, but should like it better than the orcs killing them. After the necromancer saves the town? Who knows how the folk will react to him.
I wonder if a society that worships their ancestors as warriors who protect them might see necromancy as part of their culture. Perhaps even to the point where remains are seen as tools of defense and not sacred as they are in many other cultures.
 

Hawk Diesel

Explorer
As Bitbrain mentioned, Eberron is a good resource to see ways in which necromancers can be tolerated within a society. I don't think anyone actually accepts them, but they can still be seen as a necessary evil or means to an end. Karrnath likely would have fallen in the Last War were it not for the undead created to bolster their depleted defenses. The citizens of Karrnath know this and so they accept it to a degree. They don't really want to see the undead and avoid interacting with intelligent undead. Even during the Last War undead battalions were separated from living battalions, only mixing together in battles when it was absolutely necessary. Outside Karrnath, there may be individuals that see the value a necromancer can bring through their undead creations, others that don't like them but respect them, others that are afraid or traumatized by their direct encounters with undead during the war, others that aspire to the power a necromancer can bring, and still others who are content knowing that should they fall in battle protecting the country they love, their body might be able to continue to fight on even after death.

Also in Eberron you have the elven continent of Aerenal, where the undead are not only integrated into society, but are held in a place of esteem and treated as a class of nobility. In their society, necromancers serve as the curators and custodians through which the ancestors may continue to live on, providing the means for the elders to continue to provide guidance and wisdom for far longer than their natural bodies would allow.

Within Eberron, there are many opinions about necromancers. But ultimately necromancy is a tool. A means to an end. Some see it as distasteful. Others as evil or abhorrent (such as Thrane and the followers of the Silver Flame). Others see it strictly for its utility. And still others see the act of necromancy as a sacred rite that is to be respected and protected as any other religious practice.

The difference between Eberron and other settings is that Eberron takes the time to establish a complex view of necromancer and morality in general. There are few things that are considered absolute good or evil. Thus it is up to society, culture, and taboo to determine how people may interact and perceive this practice. But Eberron is also different because the gods do not directly interact with the world. They are not concrete beings that can make statements about what absolutes may exist in the world.

So ultimately it depends on how your game world views morality in general and necromancy in particular. Are there absolute things that are clearly good or evil? Is the practice of necromancy one of them? If not, what are the cultural and societal taboos and mores that shaped your character, and how might they differ from those where the character ia traveling and adventuring?

Here's a couple articles by Keith Baker on Undead in Eberron in case it helps:



 

Larrin

Entropic Good
1) Respect the bodies. A zombie with flesh falling off isn't going to be seemly in polite society. Polished bones with tasteful ornamentation. Zombies with cured flesh and holy symbols tattooed upon them. A mummy is only as acceptable as its wrappings are fashionable. Make them look nice, make them look respected.

2) Have documentation for the bodies. Get written consent in life (I cure your daughters plague, maybe sign over the body of whoever in your family dies first?) , or perhaps approach a town magistrate for the corpses of executed criminals, purchase them with the intent to have them perform deathless restitution for their crimes and get a receipt.

3) Avoid evil colors. Black cloaks and glowing red eyes are signs you're up to no good to the common folk. You should be wearing white, or grey at worst. Make sure if their eye's glow its a friendly white light, maybe a gentle robin's egg blue.

4) Be a good person. help others, have your minions help others. If people remember how your skeletons walked into the flooding river and fixed the broken levy they're going be a little more forgiving of your sins against the finality of death.
 

gyor

Adventurer
I had an idea for a rich Necromancer who made deals with peasants, he'd buy their future corpse in advance, with enough gold to lift them out of poverty, then when they died turn it into a Skeleton labour who could say till a farm night and day or work in a mine.

Honestly why have slavery when you can get a Skeleton to do the work.

This was inspired by the Orzhov Guild,but with more of a social consciousness.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Same way you have socially acceptable Assassins: they're a known, if unpleasant, fact of life.

But IMO if they're to be playable as PCs then you have to allow evil PCs, as in my view Necromancers can't really be anything but Evil (to a greater or lesser degree).
 

TheSword

Explorer
You play this guy... Dr Byron Orpheus

Attorney: Dr. Orpheus, could you tell the court what it is that you do? You're a type of magician?

Dr. Orpheus: Well, if you must call me that, yes. But if you are after mere parlor tricks you will be sorely disappointed, for if I reach behind your ear, it will not be a nickel I pull out, BUT YOUR VERY SOUL!

72A87A76-3212-4D98-BDC9-E2B222D16570.jpeg


Venture Bros Wiki said:
“Dr. Orpheus is an expert necromancer... He is headstrong, tends to be unaware of the perils of most situations, and is quite melodramatic even in everyday situations. He has quite a large, extensive vocabulary he freely uses, though his theatrics tend to spill over into his more everyday activities, such as offering a snack of pizza rolls with an unnecessarily dramatic flourish, or warning people away from the bathroom because he had Taco Bell for lunch. Orpheus' actions and speech are usually accompanied within the show by overly suspenseful string music which adds to his campy, over-the-top presentation. Unlike some more conventional characters, Dr. Orpheus sometimes uses his great powers in very mundane ways; he can be seen using telekinesis to help prepare dinner in the episode Ghosts of the Sargasso. He seems to be somewhat self-conscious of the fact that despite his abilities, he leads a rather ordinary life. Perhaps this is best illustrated by his proclamation that although he only holds a Bachelor's Degree in communications from a community college (with a minor in women's studies), he has been granted a Doctorate from "a higher power than a mere college professor" - his master admits Orpheus is his "greatest student". Dr. Orpheus mentions in that he teaches "conjuring" at The New School.

Despite his initially imposing necromancer persona, Orpheus is actually one of the more benevolent and morally balanced characters in the series, as contrasted with the cynical and amoral Dr. Venture. He is helpful, pleasant, and genuinely cares about people. He also acknowledges his job is to help preserve the fabric of reality from supernatural forces, suggesting that he has given up a normal life (which he seems to desire) in order to serve others.
5BC1585B-154C-4339-912B-39AC886F15C4.jpeg
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
  • step 1 -- Stop introducing yourself as a necromancer with any related title along the lines of "master of death" or "lord of damned souls".
  • step 2 -- Stop using that skull associated anything as a spell focus.
  • step 3 -- Purchase spell books that are made of paper instead of human skin.
  • step 4 -- Refer to step 3 and apply that to clothing and any other personal items.

It's a bit tongue-in-cheek but how the character is portrayed affects how the character is perceived. A lawful good necromancer wearing white robes and casting gentle repose rituals instead animating the dead loved ones of the village is going to be perceived differently, especially if introduced as a mage or wizard instead of specifically pointing out being a necromancer. It's not like the people can tell by looking. ;-)

I used to play a white robed necromancer in second edition. I took spells like empathic transfer and Sybul's synostodweomer. He was a wizard healer. Portrayal is important.

Command undead can be used like turn undead, and inured to undeath can be used to combat undead. Spells like life transference, gentle repose, or astral projection don't exactly scream evil. Others like cause fear, bestow curse, blindness/deafness, eyebite, or false life don't necessarily seem evil either unless portrayed that way.

A person doesn't need to animate dead or create undead at all to be a necromancer. This is where one of the 5e mechanics can interfere with the concept because undead thralls becomes useless if the character doesn't animate dead. Change the name of the spell to "lasting punishment" and tell people you don't like doing it but it's required to complete sentencing on long term criminals until they pay their debt to society. Then only use it as punishment for those who really deserve it.

And if you don't want to deal with all that, just take the charlatan background for the false identity. ;-)
 

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