I'm trying to work out a design for an isolated monastery populated entirely by sentient undead, and having trouble working out what would need to be there. If the entire population is vitally challenged, that means no need to eat or drink, and maybe sleep. So you wouldn't need a dining room, and you wouldn't need to devote space or time to food production.

Some private space might be needed; alternatively, that might be seen as unnecessary in a heavily religious commune, especially if sleeping is unneeded.

The centrepiece of the monastery would likely be the chapel/place of worship of some description, but what else would there be? What would they spend their time doing, with no need to farm subsistence? What would that mean for the layout?

Assume a fairly standard pre-industrial fantasy setting as far as tech level goes. The head priest will be a mage, and a few of the others might also be. The place is totally isolated from other civilisation, no contact at all. Any thoughts?

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    $\begingroup$ I think you might elaborate a bit on your undead, how they live, if they have emotions... Also: If they cannot die, there is no afterlife, which makes a monastery, or any religion, come to think of it, a bit of a long shot :-) $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jan 13, 2016 at 9:07
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    $\begingroup$ Specifically, they're Elder Scrolls draugr, and the religion is the Dragon Cult - veneration of dragons as living god-kings. I'm trying to flesh them out a bit more from the two-dimensional sword-fodder they are in game. I wanted to leave the question a bit more generic, though. $\endgroup$
    – Tam Coton
    Jan 13, 2016 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ They may be totally isolated from civilisation, but are they aware of it? The distinction is important as one would have to consider how they view the outside world - an annoyance to be ignored or a threat to be guarded against. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 11:13
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    $\begingroup$ Note to Draugr: Do not build Word Wall nearby; may attract unwanted attention. $\endgroup$
    – Frostfyre
    Jan 13, 2016 at 13:05
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    $\begingroup$ I'm not too up to date on Elder Scrolls backstory. Are the dragon lords physically existing beings? If so, is there any chance, no matter how tiny, that they might want to pay this monastery a visit? $\endgroup$
    – Ellesedil
    Jan 13, 2016 at 18:42

7 Answers 7


I'm guessing that everything they do, they do to please their dragon overlords.

So it will all come down to a few simple things:

  • Worship
  • Read
  • Clean/Repair
  • Train in combat
  • Ensuring the above tasks can continue to be performed indefinitely


Pretty self-explanatory. They would likely have a place to gather and worship together, to honor their venerable deities. They may also have private worship chambers, that would have thick stone so that they can worship and/or meditate in silence.

I don't think there is much needed to ensure this task can keep going. So long as they are alive (sort of), they can worship.


If you're undead and going to live forever, you need someway to occupy your time. They will likely read a lot of material about how and why their gods are divine, and then re-read it, and then keep on reading it until they can dictate every word of it from memory. And then read it some more. This means that they will need some sort of library to store their books, which will likely be the largest room in the monastery. Also the head priest/mage will need to stay quite mentally sharp, so they might have books about casting magic too.

Books will eventually be worn out, so they will need to be copied onto new parchment/paper. This means they will need knowledge of how to make paper/parchment, as well as how to bind them into a book, as well as materials to write such as quills and ink. This supply may come from a small farm (containing whatever birds quills are made from, and goats to use their skin as parchment), or a garden with plants to make into ink (or however old ink was made) and trees to make paper. This means they will need to be proficient with gardening and shepherding etc.


This needs to be done, as if their dragon gods eventually visit them (that's the dream!) they will want the place to be presentable. And I'm guessing the dead produce a lot of dust, as they will consist entirely of dead cells. They will also need to make sure any of their tools for performing tasks (brooms, book binding equipment etc.) are repaired or replaced.

This means they will need some sort of workshop to repair/make tools. This will likely be confined to its own area, such as an external shed or a side room that is cut off from elsewhere, as the noise and waste such as sawdust will pervade the common areas for worship and reading. All their common areas will also likely be quite bare, in order to make their cleaning easier, and I can't imagine they're materialistic or sentimental enough to keep things around for decoration, they would only own practical things like tools and shelves (and possibly chairs?).

Train In Combat

There's always the possibility that others might try to invade their monastery, so they will need to be able to fight them off. This means they will need to stay honed on their fighting skills, and also they will need weapons in good condition. Again, they might be visited by the dragons who will want them to march off to pillage at a moment's, so they will need to be prepared for that eventuality.

This will require an armory, training grounds, and a smithy to make weapons. They will likely need to find the materials for weapons themselves, so perhaps also a mine of some sort to find iron.

That is everything that I can possibly think of that they might need rooms for, or have inside their home.

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    $\begingroup$ Specifically regarding books, many monasteries actually made a trade of copying books, and it seems that if they were willing to spread their religion again, copying (and selling/distributing) books or scrolls could help further their goals. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 18:28
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    $\begingroup$ They could have activities to support worship if the worship involves any component cost. Like incense, or wine and crackers. $\endgroup$
    – DCShannon
    Jan 13, 2016 at 23:10

They won't have to produce a lot of new items, just to repair or replace occasionally broken ones. But what they need, they have to craft from the scratch.

  • They'd better have some sort of mines and a smithy (making tools to repair the monastery, tools to protect themselves from wild animals, etc), and some communication line with the mines (maybe even a small settlement near the mines).
  • They need some wood for the tools, so there's some communication line with a nearby forest. Zombies also need wood in order not to freeze solid in the winter, so they might even have a lumber camp.
  • If they wear clothes (maybe ceremonial?), they have to farm cotton or linen, spin, weave and so on. So, there still are small fields around the monastery, and they need some rooms with clothes-making equipment.
  • If they are copying/writing books, they need to produce paper an ink by themselves. Again, some rooms with the equipment, and maybe a bigger cotton field.
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for this - very helpful. I hadn't thought about the fact that they'd still need to farm for things other than food! $\endgroup$
    – Tam Coton
    Jan 13, 2016 at 16:05

If the undead population of your monastery feels a need to worship, that will probably be the one thing the majority is doing, 24/7 on their "knees" in the chapel. With only a few of them taking time off to manage the place.

Standing guard is probably the second need, if there are nonsentient undead (skeletons/zombies) present, those will likely do this 24/7, not moving for weeks or years.

Finally, the mage and his apprentices if any may devote time to study and occasionally have to prepare or gather resources for spells.

If the monastery has been built to purpose by the undead, the chapel will dominate, the magical study will be close by (can be any size, depending on the requirements of magical studies) and finally there will be a general purpose storage/tool hall where all supplies are stored and repairs can be done. This also doubles as a place where any undead not engaged in worship can stay.

  • They are members of the group who ruled over men with the help of the dragons.
  • They were overthrown, the dragons were killed, and the dragon leader disappeared
  • They believe the dragon leader will return and resurrect the faithful, so they encase dragon remains in tombs

  • They go into hiding

The above bullets are points that already exist within the Elder Scrolls world. So, as a group who believes you will one day return to power with dragons that re-emerge, how do you prepare?

  • You stay faithful - continue worship of the dragons (makes sense for a monastary as well)

  • You remain ready to overthrow (convince? see comment) the men currently in charge. Given that the dragons granted power in the "voice" and the dragons are now gone, they can possibly continue to practice as the "Grey Beards" do. But perhaps they also remain prepared by continuing training in combat or magicka.

    1. a secondary part of this bullet is that, if they are continually training, accidents do still happen from time-to-time which may mean that they need ways to "fix" their wounds. Given that they are undead, the wounds will not heal themselves with time.

Other things they may do largely depends on the nature of the people who are there or their beliefs on what will be required to put the dragons back in charge. (Factions could emerge - those who remain "truly loyal" vs. the ones who "are loyal but slack off in certain areas", or differences between thoughts on how they should prepare may also create different factions)

If they believe that entire armies will need to be outfitted, they may be continually producing weapons and armor in preparation. If they have remain secluded all this time because they are just fearful followers, they may have done nothing more than worshiped the entire time while believing the dragons themselves will fix everything and put them in charge for remaining loyal.

  • $\begingroup$ These are actually a splinter faction of the main cult, that stayed true to the values and structure it had in Atmora. By what (very few) accounts are available, the Cult only became tyrannical when it came to Tamriel. So they split off during the Dragon War, believing that both sides were in the wrong, and hoping that when the dragons inevitably crushed the rebellion that they could sort out something more reasonable. Then the dragons failed to crush the rebellion. $\endgroup$
    – Tam Coton
    Jan 13, 2016 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ @TamCoton Do they not believe the dragons will return then? I'm trying to figure out how this changes my answer, but I don't think it really does - other than maybe not preparing for "war" but rather just trying to stay up to date on world occurrences so they can come back "peacefully" and with solid ideas on how to make it work for everybody. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 18:23
  • $\begingroup$ Pretty much, yeah. Yes, they'll be preparing for the dragons' return, but probably not planning outright war. $\endgroup$
    – Tam Coton
    Jan 14, 2016 at 10:19

Good Day,

Thinking about this, you could look up what real monks did in their... freetime (when they did not ora, but labora)

When your civilization doesn't know the... uh, whats the name... letter press (?), than your monks could copy books the old way. Seriously, thats a task that takes real long time if you want your books to look pretty.

In Germany something that does like a prime task for (male) monks seems to be brewing beer. There are dozens or monastery - breweries that still sell beer, and this isn't just a phenomena from Germany... all that once was holy roman empire or a hold of the knights from the german order (black cross at white ground) seems to embrace the idea of delegating the beer-production to some kind of monasteries. At least in the past.

They could take care of childs... well... uhm... how does an undead population make kids? Take them from other civilizations graveyards? Anyway, schooling siblings might something they could do.

Some monks actually did pretty well when researching stuff. At all, they did have the time for studies other might find to time-consuming. Mostly they discovered stuff that was themed around healing others. What plant does cure what disease. But whats a disease for an undead? Coming back to life? Well, to cure this not much research is necessary after all...

And taking a look to the far east, you could have your undead lerning how to maximize the power of their bodies. They wont feel any pain maybe, so its time to develop Bone-Fu, which is performed by using your other monks loose limbs and... ehm... no.

Its better I do not plot more about this topic...

I wonder if someone did answer the same stuff while I was typing this.

  • $\begingroup$ I like 'Bone-Fu'... BTW the word you were looking for is printing press $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Jan 13, 2016 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ This answer reads very horribly to me. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 16:37
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    $\begingroup$ Probably because it reads as a train of thought - Labor, Brew Beer, Copy Books, Schooling, Research, Develop Self-Discipline, are all good suggestions though. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 17:55
  • $\begingroup$ The suggestions should be fleshed out and expanded on. The grammatical errors should be fixed. The errant, broken sentences should read better. The rhetorical meanderings should be removed. This train of thought has had its operator jump out after it started its journey on the tracks. $\endgroup$ Jan 13, 2016 at 18:15
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    $\begingroup$ Monasteries brew beer as a form of sustenance. They can't eat when fasting, but they can drink beer. The undead don't need sustenance. $\endgroup$
    – DCShannon
    Jan 13, 2016 at 23:13

Monestaries are places of great internal reflection. Much of what you see on the outside derives directly from what the monks feel they need to do on the inside. You are going to need to get inside the minds of the undead.

In the comments, you say they want to venerate their dragon lords. What does that entail? Is that a massive expenditure of energy, such as the sacrifice of foods or burning effigies, or is that an inner activity that they could do for centuries simply standing still. In the case of the former, they still need resources. In the case of the latter, their needs will depend upon the precise nature of their undead-ness.

You may want to choose to decide how much of their past life shows up in their nature. In many oriental martial arts genres involving warrior monks, much of what they are doing is trying to grapple with the untold atrocities they did before they realized they needed to find peace. A monk who has attached a great deal of death to his sword may find it tremendously useful to be able to use the sword in a way which brings peace and wellbeing to others.

You could also choose to make them a bitter vengful group with a hatred for life. They would then become preoccupied with what it takes to keep life itself away from their core sacred temple. This could be a full time job, and have great implications for what sorts of structures are needed.


Well I myself also wasted a lot of thoughts on a topic like that. My undead community would have been a village not a monastery, but otherwise it was quite similar and I couldn't get it to work. Here are my thoughts on the subject:

(Sorry if they are a bit messy, I gathered them from memory.)

I assumed undead does not need to eat. That is kind of an important factor, since if they it they will almost surely be carnivores and - since no living being (sentient or not) would tolerate living beside an undead colony eating living flash, they would almost be a wanderer/nomad tribe. So no eating.

I thought if they are sentient, they would have some clothing and furniture needs. After all no sleeping does not mean you don't like to sit down from time to time. Also, if you need clothing and furniture you will surely practice some craftsmanship which requires tools and special furniture like benches, tables, forges, tools like hammers and saws and like, and materials like wood, cotton, ore and maybe skin of animals.

Since trading is out of question, they would need miners, agricultural workers, craftsmen and so, so they would have jobs to do. Also I assume they would need some protection from "heroes" roaming the lands, inquisitors and such, so having dedicated military is also a good idea.

Another factor is if undeads lives are eternal. If they are, I would assume nobody would do the same job for an eternity (I guess being sentient means you CAN go mad.), so periodically they would switch roles. If lives are not eternal, then they must provide replacements by "recruiting" living people - something that definitely requires some sort of a military.

Additionally I think an undead society also requires leader(s) who organize the work, but - since neither bloodlines nor wealth could not be a factor for obvious reasons - they would elect (by vote) or select (by some more radical way) their leaders. I would think sexual roles in an undead society would be more loose (because nobody gives birth, gender differences would be simply alternative body designs), so even a female leather - which is very rare in pre industrial societies - is possible.

  • $\begingroup$ Why is wealth obviously not a factor? Is there some reason the undead wouldn't value access to goods and services, or that there wouldn't be disparities in wealth? $\endgroup$
    – user243
    Jan 14, 2016 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @JonofAllTrades Because I couldn't imagine a scenario when undead have a stable business relationship with the living, so having wealth (like rare metals and such) will not change their "life" standards unless there is a huge undead society out there, but that doesn't seem to be the case here. $\endgroup$
    – mg30rg
    Jan 18, 2016 at 9:03

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