Five Moons RPG: Souls, Undead Evolution, and Cravings

Mummy

I’ve always enjoyed working out the ecology of a dungeon and adding creatures and features that suit and sustain that ecology, and I like the idea of even undead having an ecology–it adds some flavor to the monster concept.

In Five Moons RPG, living creatures have souls–the energy of life that leaves the body upon death. There are willful souls who, despite their body dying, persist in some way. and retain some aspect of their living consciousness. In refusing to accept their death, they seek out a corpse (their own or another’s) in a desperate attempt to emulate life. Most of these are too weak to animate more than a skeleton, and the process takes most of their will and intellect, leaving only a painful existence dominated by anger and violent urges. Thus, the most common undead is a skeleton who instinctively attacks other creatures.

However, by consuming other creatures*, these wretched undead can regain some of their physical power and intellect, and become closer to human–but still agonizingly inhuman and wanting more.

A skeleton lacks flesh and craves it. Once it consumes enough of the right flesh, it becomes a zombie.

A zombie has flesh but is still nearly mindless, so it craves brains; once it consumes enough of the right brains, it becomes a ghoul.

A ghoul has regained most of its human intelligence, and its flesh is no longer rotting, but its bones are still dead, so it craves marrow. Without its own marrow, it carries diseases (because its body cannot eradicate infection) and lacks vitality. Once a ghoul consumes enough of the right marrow, it becomes a vampire.

A vampire has a human-level intellect and pallid a human-like form, but its metabolism is poor at recycling its blood, so it must rely on the fresh blood of others and craves it. After feeding on fresh blood, a vampire looks and feels nearly indistinguishable from a human. Perhaps, if it consumes enough of the right blood, it becomes something greater than a vampire–such as a vampire that can walk in sunlight, or a human with full vampire powers.

Of course, there are ways to shortcut, bypass, or alter some of these steps. For example, a necromancer could empower a dead soul and bind it into a type of body that they want for it, creating a zombie instead of a skeleton. Some preservation techniques might allow a soul to bypass earlier stages, such as reanimating its own body as a mummy (which, as an intelligent rot-causing undead, bridges the gap between rotting-mindless zombies and cohesive-intelligent ghouls) or lich (a deliberate preparation of the flesh to house its own bolstered spirit after death). Unusual individual undead might luck upon the right combination of “food” and bypass a step, jumping from mindless skeleton to an intelligent skeletal champion. A vampire, nearly human in its form, leaves its victim’s corpses in a nearly-human state and ready for possession by the newly-departed soul to form a new vampire. Sometimes the process might go wrong (like a mutation or a cancer) and instead form a mohrg or wight instead of a ghoul, or a nosferatu instead of a vampire. But most unexceptional undead are on the simple path, and most never advance more than one or two steps.

(Also, just exactly what are the “right” flesh, brains, marrow, or blood might be different for each individual undead; this keeps it from being a simple process where you can feed a “pet” undead a certain number of corpses and have it transform into a more powerful type. Some undead might spend centuries searching for the “right” thing to eat, and never find it.)

If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!

* Early on in the 3E development process, the designers thought about adding a “need” concept to undead, appropriate to each type (zombies need brains, vampires need blood, and so on). But they ended up not using that idea.

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24 thoughts on “Five Moons RPG: Souls, Undead Evolution, and Cravings

  1. Pokevolving Undead, where skeletons are “evil” and therefore would totally tear-up people’s gardens? I can dig it! Your mentions of skeletons being ” leaving only a painful existence dominated by anger and violent urges” reminds me of this old article:http://dungeons.wikia.com/wiki/Tome_of_Necromancy_(3.5e_Sourcebook)/Morality#Skeletons
    (Details notion of Necromancy =Evil, or just another energy source, seems yours is option 1 basically)

    “this keeps it from being a simple process where you can feed a “pet” undead a certain number of corpses and have it transform into a more powerful type.”
    This sorta sounds like a call out to Players, not wanting Necromancers to actually raise armies/squads of Undead, despite that’s part of the perk of playing one. Whereas a flavor justification isn’t necessarily needed when the rules can provide a more fair limiter. Basically, I’m hoping this doesn’t mean you’re going to be against Necromancer PC’s having Undead minions, as 4th edition got flak for doing that.

    “jumping from mindless skeleton to an intelligent skeletal champion.”

    Oooh, Does this mean that Skeletons will be a playable race in Five Moons?? Though I’ve always wanted to play a skeleton (& D&D could support it), it’d be cool to see in this game as well.

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    • I personally don’t consider necromancy as a power source to be evil, it’s just the manipulation of life energy. But Necromancers tend steal bodies and turns them into murdermonsters. If a conjurer jammed angry human souls into stolen statues to make murdermonsters, then I’d consider them evil.

      It’s a callout to players and GMs that it’s not just a matter of turning loose some weak undead on a village and *guaranteeing* you can upgrade them to better undead.

      I can see a skeletal champion being something you could build with the RPG (in the same way that you can play a Forsaken in World of Warcraft), and even in the setting book, but it prolly won’t be a default option in the Corebook.

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      • “It’s a callout to players and GMs that it’s not just a matter of turning loose some weak undead on a village and *guaranteeing* you can upgrade them to better undead.”

        I don’t see why not that could be something PC’s could do. I feel all this “exception basis” kinda hurts the consistent Zombi-volving metaphysics you sorta set up for the setting. As I think you have a very interesting framework here for that, and I know few of my players would adore you going in a “pokemon” lite direction with that. Looks like to me, putting some exception basis would up the tedium factor, as eventually they could just raise a Zombie with the arbitrarily right parameters, so that it can evolve into a ghoul or what have you. Which, you may translate that as a PC being abusive, but really they’re just interacting with the game world, doing only what a Necromancer would naturally do (doesn’t have to be villagers, could be criminals, or other monsters nobody cares about).

        From a balance perspective, you put some type of Level limiter in place(3.5 had HD), so that if Ghouls are level 6th+, then noone below that can control a Ghoul, or what example have you. I think there’s better limitations you could place in the game that would be more organic. I also understand you want “exceptional undead” so we can have other cool undead too (which some seem to have their processes explainable as well).

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      • Why should the necromancer get free upgrades on his pets by letting them eat 100 dead people, when the druid, ranger, or summoner (or their Five Moons equivalent) can’t?

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      • “Why should the necromancer get free upgrades on his pets by letting them eat 100 dead people, when the druid, ranger, or summoner (or their Five Moons equivalent) can’t?”

        Because they’re the Undead Metaphysics you set up for your game, so naturally people roleplaying in that world would want to interact with it. That notion sorta sounds like it’s just something that would be “NPC’s only”, which…would be rather lame, that players being locked out of the world like that (especially since PC’s can become shapers). That said, I wouldn’t necessarily want one option to have an unfair advantage like that.

        For the rest of the classes, I don’t know their summoning metaphysics, but just as easily you could have similar system like this for the others, consuming monster meats (ela FF Legends 1-3, Lufia 2, Pokemon-ish), souls, or whatever. Like the Necromancer, you could have other rules limitations that’s not vague, and encourages tedium, or worse Red Herring behavior (zombi-rouletting to get the right zombie that can eat flesh conventionally, only to find out it wasn’t made clear to be disallowed).

        Lastly, you mentioned “Pets”, does this mean the Necromancer class will have access to more than one type of Undead “summon” at a time?

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      • All the “you can’t feed 100 people to your skeleton and guarantee that it’ll upgrade to a zombie” means that the necromancer PC has to focus on quality, not quantity. It’s more efficient to figure out what kind of people your skeleton needs to upgrade, find 10 of those people, and let the skeleton eat them, than to turn the skeleton loose on 100 people and hope for the best.
        In the same way that PCs can’t just kill 100 random creatures and expect to level up; some of those creatures aren’t suitable for that purpose (for example, they’re friendly targets, or they’re too low level). You have to find creatures that are especially for leveling (not too easy that they’re worth piddly XP, not too hard that they’re going to kill you before you can kill them). Quality, not quantity.

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      • Which then, I imagine is represented in the rules by the Necromancer Leveling up? Since Leveling up is much faster in this game, by the time the Necromancer would desire to do such a process, he would’ve actually leveled up, to “upgrade” his pets anyway?

        Otherwise, if it’s a separate zombi-volve system to eat quality specimens, then I think I can understand, and get behind that. I liked how the “Zombi-metaphysics” created stories, like of Necromancers eradicating settlements to procure a zombie army (within his capability), and/or cities taking criminals to feed their Zombie pets, so awesome.

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    • I ran a campaign for about 4 years. I was running in the Forgotten Realms and was inspired by a trilogy of novels that took place over by the Dragon Sea area. There was a magic plague that essentially turned everyone magically into zombies and such. If you got bitten by a zombie, you turned into a zombie. So I had a very powerful mage from the area survive. With magic, instead of turning into a zombie, he was able to turn into a Lich. And he needed a group of heroes to adventure for him, so he cast true resurrection on a bunch of souls that died. Basically at character creation, I had the players tell me how their character had died. And they came back and were told that he had summoned them forth, given them life again, to go on a very important mission. The side effect of his curse, however, was that they returned as intelligent zombies. They had to figure out how to get rid of the curse or eventually devolve entirely into mindless zombies.

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      • If I get off my ass, like I intend to some day, and stop procrastinating… my plan is to write it similarly to an adventure path. But I had a whole flow chart drawn up on how I wanted things to go based on what choices the characters made. Sorta a ‘choose your own adventure’ path. The idea is, I’d write up the core beginning with all the fluff and what not (probably a gazetteer of the world I’ll set it in), and probably the path that my players took. But then I’d write all the other paths as plug-n-play modular pieces that could totally lead in different directions. I mean what if the characters chose to work with the dude instead of work against him?

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      • I like that solution. Nowadays, adventures really go out of their way to spell out EVERYTHING, and although that’s handy for some GMs, others are much more comfortable “winging it” or plugging in their own modular pieces as needed.

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      • Exactly. And the idea is, as I write this, it will probably start out in some sort of flux. And those who actually choose to purchase the adventure, could request certain modular pieces based on the direction their characters are going. Not sure how that would work though, as I doubt I could write something of good substance quickly enough to handle a constant play group. But taking requests for particular directions is certainly an intent.

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      • Yeah, you’d have to be pretty fast on your feet about that. OR you’d have a bunch of options planned and available, and you’d only have to write (or repurpose) new sections if the groups go off in a weird direction.

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      • True enough. My original flow chart had 5 separate paths that I felt the players could take. So I could write the first “book”, so to speak, with each of the 5 modular options ready to go. Anyone requesting something along a particular path will likely know the path right away, which would give me probably a few months (unless they are playing crazy amounts) to write the next modular option. Definitely something to think about.

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      • Correct. This blog entry was focusing on the physical undead, but there’s a similar progression for bodiless undead: near-helpless spirits who can barely interact with the material world, to weak creatures only capable of physical interaction (like poltergeists and Slimer-type ghosts), to more powerful entities that reject bonding with a corpse and feed on heat, life energy, or thoughts.

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  2. I really like monsters with motivational existences. Here, the undead feel incomplete and constantly strive to develop a body that crudely mimics a living one. But in trying to become more human, they’re ironically becoming more monstrous. Of course, by killing living, they create more undead.

    What if some of the unusual cases come as a result of an undead degrading from lack of consumption? What if when degrading, they retain some they had when they were a higher rank of undead. That would explain why skeletal champions are most common in ancient tombs.

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  3. I think this is awesome… except for a skeleton regaining muscle and becoming a zombie. I think the baseline undead would be a zombie, which is the closest thing to a corpse. Speculating here, but if my dead body were to animate, I don’t think all my flesh would fall off.
    I love the reasons for zombies craving brains and maturing into ghouls.
    I think a skeleton would be a de-evolution of the zombie–if a zombie can’t eat enough flesh to sustain its own (or enough brains to brome a ghoul before all of its own flesh decays), then it becomes a skeleton.
    I also don’t think a skeleton to eat flesh to regain zombie status. Once a skeleton, it’s stuck as a basically mindless undead.

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