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This is for a setting I'm slowly building up for my own writing / game creation needs. We used this setting as a background for (a sadly very short-lived) RPG campaign before and I was pleasantly surprised over how many good ideas the group came up with after just a cursory explanation of the culture, so I figured this place would be great for even more useful ideas.

First, some things about the setting:

The world: A fantasy world with a past apocalyptic event of uncertain nature. Each culture has a different and (even internally) conflicting version of what happened. All that is for sure is that there was a golden age, bad stuff happened, old gods were abandoned and new ones rose up to stave off apocalypse. Race-wise (mostly?) humans, but magical and weird creatures exist.

Nature of undeath: Undeath in this setting is built around the idea that living, animate things require three things: a cognition, a body and animating force. Undeath at its simplest is "just" replacing one or more of the three with varying means. For example, animating a corpse with magic and using it like a puppet, rather than creating an autonomous creature.

Practice of necromancy: The necromancy used by this culture focuses on separate preservation of both soul and body. Souls are trapped into gemstones fittingly called "soulstones", while bodies are preserved, possibly through methods similar to embalming. A soul is transferred from body to body by implanting the stone in a prepared area in the body. All of this is governed by laws and practiced solely by religious authorities. Both the bodies and soulstones require regular maintenance to preserve. All services are rendered for a price.

Flaws: Necromancy is always flawed in one way or the another in this setting: in case of soul binding the soul retains the personality, skills, beliefs etc. of the soul in question, but is very slow to change. As such soulbound ancestors are bad adapting to the changing world.

Ancestors: Ancestors are revered in this culture, but where a more mundane culture might worship them, this culture opts preserves them. Each family considers it a matter of honor to maintain a shrine for the ancestors, allowing the descendants to converse with their ancestors for guidance. The costs, however, mean that one's place among the ancestors needs to be earned. Ancestor may, at any time, decide to leave the shrine, although this tends to be seen as ghastly omen for the family if done for no reason --- or even more so if the reason is something the family has done.

The culture: Feudal society with heavy emphasis on family relations and especially ancestors. Think something akin to (early) medieval China. Emperor at the top, noble families below them, lesser families below them and so on. The emperor is an ancient ancestor who died without any heirs centuries ago, but still retains all power over the nation. His court consists of both the living and the undead.

Applications of necromancy: Beyond enshrining ancestors, there are other applications in this culture for necromancy: labor and warfare. Bodies suited for these purposes are preserved for use, while living warriors aspire for the honor of adding their souls to those of the ""immortal legion". Peasants on contrast sell their souls to decades of labor to enable their families to afford to maintain the shrines to their ancestor(s), bound to fitting body after death to keep repaying their loans in full.

Restrictions on necromancy: Since the form of necromancy used here requires a soul to control the reanimated body, souls strictly need to be cooperative ones. Similarly, bodies used are preferred to be at least nominally adapted to the work they're intended for. As such, there is very little incentive for enslaving souls of enemies and maimed bodies are worthless. The souls of the native population are coerced to honor their obligations by shifting the burden of debt to next-of-kin if a soul proves uncooperative.


So, as per the title: What kind of industries would legal and regulated necromancy spawn and require?

For example: I would imagine gemstones of the kind that are used for the soulbinding would require whole industry dedicated to procuring and preparing them.

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  • $\begingroup$ You give a lot of detail about your culture, but the question is extremely broad. If you could limit it to the implications on one particular issue, it would be a much better question. As it is, you could write a novel as an answer and still not cover every aspect. $\endgroup$ – user2727 Mar 28 '17 at 8:28
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    $\begingroup$ generally questions like "how will ____ affect society" are closed as too broad, voting to close $\endgroup$ – Alex Robinson Mar 28 '17 at 8:29
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Well for one your culture might be viewing all things a little more long term than others. Technically they are immortal once their soul is bound to a stone and it is regularly maintained. So they would try to amass riches and keep to it. Family businesses are less likely to close but are kept in control of the ancestors who initially started them.

Depending on the size of your country and the available space, you might have to face overpopulation. This could lead to your people wanting to expand, maybe that is a reason for them to be warmongering. Especially since they tend to view other cultures as young and uncivilized. This leads to a bigger weapon and armor industry.

To tackle this problem, you could also implement some kind of binding time. For example, your soul gets a certain time it may be bound to a body. If that time is over it is stored in a specialized vault, where soulstones are stored and maintained by maybe priests. Storing in this vault would require a monthly fee.

There would be another way your people would see history. Sure there are newborn all the time, but they can actually meet people that are ancient. Since those are only slowly adepting to change, that might lead to tensions between the generations. This would likely also lead to the ancestors being rich and the younger being poor(er). So the living are likely indebted to the dead.

As you mentioned, people could sell their souls for work after they die. This is a whole economy build upon undead. If they are more resilent or less easily exhausted than normal mortals they could make the bulk of the work force.

Throw some prisoners into the mix and you got undead slaves. If you only give them animating force.

I suppose the bodys decay, since you said they have to be embalmed. Poor people with good bodies could sell them to rich people who want an avatar for their ancestors. It could also imply body shortages.

This could be another reasons for the people to be warmongers. But since they need the bodies intact they might have a flourishing alchemy to create poisons/gases/etc that kill without severe wounds.

This would also make bodies a viable trade good. So people could get kids and hold them like cattle and train them to be ideal body donors. I know this sounds cruel but humans are not all nice.

Another interesting idea would be, the replacement of important (political) figures. Since you could kill a person and replace the soul, depending on how well you preserve the body and what the climate is like, you could get away with puppeteering key figures for a short amount of time. Might be an interesting plot.

Edit: You could also add a tax on lifetime. That sounds kinda odd, but to control the size of the people, it might ok.

So if you are rich you can keep you soul stone embedded in a body indefinately by paying the tax (and the new body from time to time). If you are poor, you get a predefined timespan you are allowed to wander around. Maybe half a year. then you either pay a tax or you are put in a shelf for the next half year.

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