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In most stories regarding movies, games or books, the art of necromancy is often seen as a "dark" and/or "evil" type of magic. I've not really come across any characters using this type of magic for the greater good, instead villains/antagonists are often associated. A few examples are:

I'm currently trying to create a world for my video game where the protagonist/good guy is trying to master the arts of necromancy. For example, he will be raising skeletons from the grave to fight other evil beasts that oppose him. Since this concept is kind of "unique", I'm trying to understand the reasoning why this type of magic isn't ordinary to be mastered by the good guy, or maybe even get some tips how I could make this work.

Protagonist abilities

  • Raise multiple corpses to fight for him (without permission from the dead).
  • Communication with the recently departed.
  • Manipulate souls.
  • Reanimation.

World rules

  • Takes place in a medieval era.
  • Religions are present.
  • The protagonist is a necromancer that needs to save the world.

So my ultimate question is:

How do I make society not consider this as an type of "evil" magic and will leave him alone or even help him to save the world?

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    $\begingroup$ Can you expand on the power to "manipulate souls"? That doesn't sound very friendly. $\endgroup$ – Kat Mar 27 '17 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Can't answer, but have you looked at a Viking approach ? A world where being raised from the deads to fight one last time for your gods/king is an honor ? Only the fierciest warriors are allowed such prestige, and are reborn and remade for a shot amount of time, through a Berserker Rage, they get to unleash their anger one last time. Necromancers could participate in the funerary process of the depart of the kings, allowing them to save their soul from disappearing in the flow of death, and so, call them forth to give advice to the future generations of kings. $\endgroup$ – Saffron Mar 29 '17 at 9:13
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    $\begingroup$ Necromancers in the Earthdawn universe are a normal party of the game. They are not evil, only kind of scary and respected. It is not usual what they are doing, but part of the society. Unfortunately I can't find any open source for this, maybe you find someone who lents you the source book or you buy the PDF $\endgroup$ – Fabian Blechschmidt Mar 29 '17 at 11:59
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    $\begingroup$ A common trait of necromancy that is overlooked in most of the answers to the ongoing cost to the practitioner to maintain the animated corpse, or at least control of it. Raising an army may be possible, but keeping under the direction of the necromancer is to much effort to be worth it once the current task is complete. In several works the "evil" is that the necromancers raise the dead for some purpose, and then turn them loose to prey on the living when no longer needed. Having your protagonist de-animate their servants would help in this respect. $\endgroup$ – Rozwel Mar 29 '17 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ Just want to add a reference to the excellent series by Garth Nix that starts with Sabriel en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sabriel. The protagonist is a "good" necromancer, with a slightly different take on what necromancy is. Great series if you are looking for new perspective on fantasy tropes. $\endgroup$ – intrepidhero Mar 29 '17 at 20:18

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It all really depends on things like how does necromancy work in your world, what are the historical implications of necromancy and how common is necromancy in your world.

Firstly, how does it work:

  • If necromancy requires something others have and takes it by force (soul, life force, body), it will be very hard to justify it as "not evil" for the society at large.
  • To contrast: if the undead warriors can choose to serve him, it's a whole different matter. Hell, you could have expansive side story lines where the protagonist goes to great lengths to get ancient heroes to join his cause. I know you included the line about raising "without permission from the dead", but I'm just covering other possibilities here.
  • If necromancy has no cost to others and possibly comes at personal cost to the the main character, it becomes easier to justify.

Second, historical implications:

  • If the setting has an ancient hero / deity who raised the dead to combat some ancient evil, well you have a precedent for your protagonists actions. Obviously, the opposite is equally true: an ancient evil who focused on raising the dead makes is less plausible for people to hail him as a hero.
  • Necromancy being seen as evil has a lot to do with how people have historically viewed corpses as. In our modern culture we have ceremonies to send the people to afterlife and all that. If your culture has similar rituals, well, bad news for your hero.
  • As en exception to the above, consider warrior burials where the corpses are preserved, possibly for some future cataclysmic event, well, your hero can argue he is just there to raise them for the righteous fight, possibly in name of some deity or another.

Lastly, how common is necromancy:

  • If necromancy is unheard of or practiced only by enemies of the culture in question, you're going to have hard time justifying it, especially if we're talking about literal half-rotten zombies and skeletons.
  • If necromancy is more common though, possibly even legalized and regulated, it is much easier to temper natural fears over it. Many of the the things we consider common place today would be seen as dark and evil sorcery just a few hundred years ago.
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There is one interpretation I do not see here, simply that the undead brought back are not directly linked to the individuals who died. An an Online Novel called the Great Demon King, Necromancy magic is not inherently evil. Now, the main character is a necromancer, and is kind of evil, but that is him personally. His soul was "reincarnated" with all the knowledge a demon king had, and he became both a Necromancer and followed the Demonification path, which does mean he gives into lust and does plenty of killing. Besides that, He does have people he will protect, and he mostly follows the law, but when killing people is convenient or will make him stronger, he does it happily.

So then, how is Necromancy magic not so inherently evil in this world, how is it not directly linked to the dead. Well, its simply because the bodies of the undead creatures do not come from the ground, but are summoned from a different linked realm. There is a near endless supply of undead in this realm, which necromancers summon. In that respect, there is no desecration of human bodies, directly at least. Now, that's not to say that there is no relation between the undead summoned and our own dead, but if there is a link, its not obvious. So while you could cast a spell to raise the dead bodies around you, you have to get them to move to where they are needed. If their bodies are made of magic, and are summoned in instead, then there is no desecration to worry about, and you can summon your undead army anywhere so long as you have enough magic to do so.

Now, of course in GDK, Necromancers can kill half an army, and then resurrect them to fight the other half, and that is generally looked down upon, but its not required to have undead fighting for you. They also have other spells that affect the soul, or summon bone spikes to attack/defend. With all that, there is no need to use actual bodies, and so Necromancers are not considered evil.

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How about this:

Create some sort of religion. The details don't really matter for this case. But: All the priests are capapable of necromancy.

This human had too many sins weighing on their soul. They need to work for us (the priests), in order to get to heaven.

Do you want your dead grandfather to go to heaven? Too bad, too many sins! But you'll be able to help him out with that NOW! Just consult the priest of your trust and he will take the remains of your grandfather and let him work... When there are no sins left (never, probably), he'll be released and can finally go to heaven!

In order for your main character to be able to resurrect people without being a priest, you can introduce some kind of holy badge which grants him the privilege to "free souls of their sins" anytime and anywhere they want.

Maybe there still are some people who are against your religion. Fools! Of course this is a very big sin. And because they won't free themselves volunteerly, why don't we do them a favor, kill them and resurrect them right after? Once they're in heaven, they will thank you...

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Does the hero needs to create unthinking undead? If he can speak to the dead, he could ask the dead to join him.

In Brian Lumley's Necroscope series, the hero talks to the dead and the dead teach him skills and when things get bad, the dead raise themselves and fight for him because he is the link between the living and the dead and he hunts down necromancers that prey on the dead.

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Also consider a culture where bureaucracy is supreme. Anything is allowable as long as you have the proper paperwork and permits.

Different kinds of necromancy have different forms required, of course. Certain forms would allow someone to hire out their mortal remains or departed soul after death but be paid before they died or they could arrange to have their heirs paid.

  • An animated corpse with no connection to the soul of the deceased would be the cheapest since you were hiring only the mortal remains, not the soul.
  • An animated corpse with the soul attached would be more expensive since you were hiring both body and soul, with the soul diverted from its afterlife.
  • A soul that hangs around without its body could require special considerations, such as a vessel to which it must return periodically.
  • Pay rates could vary depending based on the physical capability of the corpse.

Temporary summonings would be different than long-term ones.

There would (of course) be multiple forms for every conceivable situation. Some examples:

  1. The deceased gave permission before death.
  2. The deceased's next of kin gave permission after death.
  3. Convicted criminals could be required to work after death.
  4. Forms could grant permission to contact the dead and ask permission to raise them.
  5. Forms could grant permission to summon the dead without asking first.
  6. Forms could even grant permission to summon those who forbade it.
  7. Debts could be discharged by post-mortem work.

There would be government inspectors whose job was to guarantee that all paperwork was followed and all agreements with the deceased (or their heirs) were followed.

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Nothing about 'raising the dead' is inherently evil, however it tends to use objects (dead bodies) that have emotional connections to people and hence society views it in a negative manner.

In your medieval society, people are more pragmatic and can distinguish between a living person (that they care for) vs his dead body (its just a husk); they don't have rituals to send off the dead either. About the only action when someone dies is for the trash collector to pick up the body and throw it in the dumping grounds, before it starts stinking and bothers the living.

The local religions are focused on guiding people in their daily lives - worshipping gods of harvest, hunting etc. There are also gods for fertility (they do value the living, and need more people to offset losses to evil beasts) and medicine (not letting people die is very important).

What if there are no souls?

There is no god of death or underworld, the population has no concepts of souls or afterlife. This is only if your condition (3) of manipulating souls is not a must. As for talking with the recently departed, it may be that this communication is possible only for the first couple of days after death - and people just treat that as the final phase of existence, throwing the bodies only after this time has passed.

What if souls are not sentient?

Someone dies, and their family know that the patriarch had some important information he didn't have time to impart. Luckily, in this world its possible to communicate with the recently departed - but this is actually limited to simple questions that the 'dead' answers without any lies or subterfuge.

Role of Necromancers

In the above case, necromancers are important people allowing for interrogation of the dead about their attackers, hidden valuables (society can't just ignore resources), results of work (scouts who die as they return from dangerous areas didn't labor in vain) etc.

Also, remember that living people are valued. A power that calls forth allies/minions that can be sacrificed in place of actual people getting crippled or dying is a great asset, and society recognizes it as such.

If anything, a necromancer who refuses to raise the dead, forcing villagers to fight, would be heckled or despised by society. Collecting the dead bodies nearby may reduce the mana cost of animating them, which allows people to actively help necromancers in battle by transporting bodies of the fallen.

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In one of Larry Niven's stories from the millieu of 'The Magic Goes Away', Necromancy is described as involving the generation of magical power through murder, with zombie creation a useful application of the resulting power. In this interpretation, the evil is pretty clear.

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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, PMar. Please note that the Worldbuilding SE is not a discussion forum, but rather a Q&A site dedicated to detailed answers to specific problems. The anecdotal evidence you've presented here does not appear to satisfy the concerns of the question with regards to general opinion of necromantic magic as evil. If you could edit your post to indicate how it applies, the community would appreciate it. Otherwise, this may be deleted as inadequate. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Mar 27 '17 at 16:56

protected by JDługosz Mar 28 '17 at 6:55

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