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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Troll in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

    Join Date
    Jan 2009

    Default Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    I'd like advice on world-building, on the natural consequences and cultural shifts that would come from deaths and undead happening as below. Notably thoughts on ancestor worship, death cults, and cremation as burial/undead-prevention.
    Inspiration is Exalted and the Kuei-jin from oWoD.
    System is TBD.

    --------

    When someone dies, their soul divides into the rational soul and the animal soul. This generally means the part of the mind that thinks, cares, and acts rationally, verses the part that acts on emotion and instinct. The latter, when divided from the former, tends to be ravenous for the energy of the living.

    For most people (around 90%), both aspects of the soul simply move into the afterlife. (It's not completely known what happens there, but that's not relevant here.)
    For others, most often the animal soul stays around. The chance of this increases from violent deaths or deaths involves undead.
    For a very few, other things happen. These tend to be souls that had strong attachments or unfulfilled obligations.

    Traits of Undead

    All undead have to feed on energy from the living, as they cannot make their own spiritual energy like the living human body can.
    For corporeal undead, this takes the form of physically eating flesh or blood. Corporeal undead that don't feed enter a comatose state, but can reawakened by feeding them blood. Corporeal undead are noticable from the living in that they tend to be paler and don't breathe, can't digest food, and don't generate body heat.
    For incorporeal undead, this takes the form of draining emotional strength and willpower. This can kill a person. Incorporeal dead can do this via touching the living. Incorporeal undead that don't feed fade away.

    Undead don't have any universal weaknesses (e.g., sunlight, running water) and aren't necessarily evil. Incorporeal undead can be hurt by magic or certain weapons (details TBD--but it's something available or trainable to most people. Like, a village might only have one or two people/weapons able to handle a ghost, but even a poor, rural village wouldn't necessarily be destroyed by one.)

    The Types of Undead
    If both aspects move on to the afterlife, no undead form.
    If both aspects stay in the body, a vampire forms.
    If the rational soul stays in the body, a mummy forms.
    If the animal soul stays in the body, a zombie forms.
    If both aspects materialize as a ghost, a true ghost forms.
    If the rational soul materializes as a ghost, a guardian spirit forms.
    If the animal soul materializes as a ghost, an angry ghost forms.
    Statistically, 90% of dead leave no undead. 8% leave a zombie or angry ghost. 1% leave a mummy or guardian spirit. 1% leave a vampire or true ghost. The body is not healed by becoming undead, and it's more likely to leave an incoproreal undead with how damaged the body is. But it's possible a decapitated person would leave a zombie that's just a snapping head or a stumbling headless body.
    It is possible, and seems to be independent, what each part of the soul does. So it's possible to get a zombie and a guardian spirit from the same dead person.

    • Vampire - they are much like the person before death, except they have to feed on energy.
    • Mummy - indistinguishable from a vampire, except they tend to be overly rational and (generally) act as guardians. These usually try to fulfill some task, then let themselves starve to comatose, serving as guardians to be raised in times of need.
    • Zombie - a ravenous animal that seeks to eat the living. They can be stupid to cunning, depending on the original human, but act on instinct and hunger.
    • True Ghost - they essentially are the person who died, except they have to feed on energy and don't have a body anymore.
    • Guardian Spirit - similar to mummies, they usually have a task to fulfill or some person or organization/family to protect. These tend to let themselves fade once their purpose is fulfilled or rendered moot
    • Angry Ghost - basically an incoproreal zombie

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Ogre in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jul 2015

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    So, 10% of a population is roughly full military mobilization - as in all capable men of fighting age drafted for combat. If 10% of all people who die come back as some type of predatory horror, the undead are mostly likely the greatest threat civilization faces. Consequently anything that works to reduce the undead threat is likely to be universally adopted. If there's some funeral rite that reduces the chances that a person comes back by even 1%, society adopts that. If there's some method of burial that makes it likely that they come back a less threatening form, then society adopts that. For example, if entombing bodies in stone cairns or vaults means that any resulting zombies are trapped under a pile of heavy rocks for eternity and unable to harm the living, then people will do that. If cremating the body and then placing the ashes inside a salt circle traps any hungry ghosts until they fade, people will do that. Whatever works.

    Society will also almost certainly try to minimize any sort of mass casualty events that would produce a large number of undead at once - because it would probably be nearly impossible to control such an outbreak. This probably serves as both a huge anti-urbanization impetus - because mass death by fire and plague are essentially urban scenarios - and a major influence to avoid mass mobilization for war. Societies probably settle violent disputes by contests of champions instead.

    Additionally there is almost certainly some kind of militant sacred order, probably connected to the primary religion, dedicated to hunting down and destroying undead. These are probably wilderness-adept individuals who are good at locating bodies that die unattended and dealing with the problem. If funeral rites can mollify the undead, then they are probably priests or otherwise religious authorities as well. Whatever religion does exist is probably extremely focused on living out your life in such a way that you don't leave a hungry ghost behind when you die. If there's a method that works, it becomes universally adopted. If there isn't, then it's all virtue signaling and the faiths compete, but society is going to be oppressively religious regardless.
    Resvier: a P6 homebrew setting

  3. - Top - End - #3
    Barbarian in the Playground
    Join Date
    Feb 2016
    Location
    Earth and/or not-Earth
    Gender
    Male

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    Even though the undead aren't inherently evil, they are inherently inimical to the living, as they need to feed on the living. Additionally, the formation of an undead means some or all of the soul isn't going to the afterlife, which is probably bad, especially when only part of the soul lingers. Thus, I would expect most societies to have funerary customs that are designed both to reduce or prevent the creation of undead (if that's possible) and to minimize the damage any undead that do arise can do. This might not involve cremation; unless fire has some relevant metaphysical property cremation strikes me as simply guaranteeing you'll get incorporeal undead. It seems more likely there would be sanctified burial grounds or some sort of funeral rite that discourage the formation of undead, as well as dedicated undead slayers to contain any undead that do arise. Alternatively, if preventing the rising is impossible or unfeasible, you'd see an emphasis on containing the undead instead. This could take the form of coffins that the undead can't escape from, or it may take the form of catacombs or necropolises, places which are easy to deposit corpses into but hard for the undead to escape from. Given that the undead fade or become quiescent without sustenance, they won't become too numerous - though the possibility of a vampire lord leading a horde of zombies out of the necropolis to take revenge against the living does seem like a potential problem/interesting adventure scenario.

    Alternatively, it would probably be possible for a society to coexist with the undead, at least for a while. It depends on how frequently the undead need to feed and how large each meal must be. The ways in which the living and the dead could coexist are numerous. A society that venerates its ancestors might end up being ruled by the undead. Alternatively, you could have an empire forged with armies of zombies, which are kept comatose most of the time and awakened with drops of blood when it's time to fight. Maybe the undead are seen as having a greater understanding of the supernatural, leading them to serve as a priestly caste. Or maybe you have a society where thinking undead are just another kind of person, with no special privileges or responsibilities.
    I'm making a webcomic, featuring absurdity, terrible art, and alleged morals.

  4. - Top - End - #4
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Dec 2019

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    I have a couple of questions about the premise.

    First, who counts as "the living"? Can I feed my undead subjects pigs and goats like the rest of my civilization, or do they have to eat people? Is feeding inherently fatal, or can I give vampires donor blood? Do people recover from getting emotionally drained by ghosts eventually?

    Second, can animals rise as undead, or just people? If animals can rise, is there any kind of size threshold, or is every ant potentially coming back is a tiny little zombie?

    Third, how much of a power boost does being undead give you? Is a vampire a Buffy-ish guy who's pretty strong, a D&D-ish undead mastermind who sits at the center of a web of thralls, or something else? Similarly, how much of the personality is retained in undeath?

    Depending on the answers to those questions, you can get a wide range of outcomes. If undead can get their life essence from animals, they're just people who happen to be obligate carnivores. If undead are sufficiently badass and can be reasoned with at all, empires will likely have elite undead war-cadres who are feed a steady stream of slaves or prisoners of war to keep them fighting fit. Though since the majority of undead are apparently rising as angry monsters, society probably has a funerary practice like sitting shiva, except instead of mourning your loved one, you wait to see if they come back as a mindless monster to put down, or the newest member of the blood-drinking elite.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Orc in the Playground
    Join Date
    May 2009

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    Quote Originally Posted by JeenLeen View Post
    I'd like advice on world-building, on the natural consequences and cultural shifts that would come from deaths and undead happening as below. Notably thoughts on ancestor worship, death cults, and cremation as burial/undead-prevention.
    Inspiration is Exalted and the Kuei-jin from oWoD.
    System is TBD.

    --------

    When someone dies, their soul divides into the rational soul and the animal soul. This generally means the part of the mind that thinks, cares, and acts rationally, verses the part that acts on emotion and instinct. The latter, when divided from the former, tends to be ravenous for the energy of the living.

    For most people (around 90%), both aspects of the soul simply move into the afterlife. (It's not completely known what happens there, but that's not relevant here.)
    For others, most often the animal soul stays around. The chance of this increases from violent deaths or deaths involves undead.
    For a very few, other things happen. These tend to be souls that had strong attachments or unfulfilled obligations.

    Traits of Undead

    All undead have to feed on energy from the living, as they cannot make their own spiritual energy like the living human body can.
    For corporeal undead, this takes the form of physically eating flesh or blood. Corporeal undead that don't feed enter a comatose state, but can reawakened by feeding them blood. Corporeal undead are noticable from the living in that they tend to be paler and don't breathe, can't digest food, and don't generate body heat.
    For incorporeal undead, this takes the form of draining emotional strength and willpower. This can kill a person. Incorporeal dead can do this via touching the living. Incorporeal undead that don't feed fade away.

    Undead don't have any universal weaknesses (e.g., sunlight, running water) and aren't necessarily evil. Incorporeal undead can be hurt by magic or certain weapons (details TBD--but it's something available or trainable to most people. Like, a village might only have one or two people/weapons able to handle a ghost, but even a poor, rural village wouldn't necessarily be destroyed by one.)

    The Types of Undead
    If both aspects move on to the afterlife, no undead form.
    If both aspects stay in the body, a vampire forms.
    If the rational soul stays in the body, a mummy forms.
    If the animal soul stays in the body, a zombie forms.
    If both aspects materialize as a ghost, a true ghost forms.
    If the rational soul materializes as a ghost, a guardian spirit forms.
    If the animal soul materializes as a ghost, an angry ghost forms.
    Statistically, 90% of dead leave no undead. 8% leave a zombie or angry ghost. 1% leave a mummy or guardian spirit. 1% leave a vampire or true ghost. The body is not healed by becoming undead, and it's more likely to leave an incoproreal undead with how damaged the body is. But it's possible a decapitated person would leave a zombie that's just a snapping head or a stumbling headless body.
    It is possible, and seems to be independent, what each part of the soul does. So it's possible to get a zombie and a guardian spirit from the same dead person.

    • Vampire - they are much like the person before death, except they have to feed on energy.
    • Mummy - indistinguishable from a vampire, except they tend to be overly rational and (generally) act as guardians. These usually try to fulfill some task, then let themselves starve to comatose, serving as guardians to be raised in times of need.
    • Zombie - a ravenous animal that seeks to eat the living. They can be stupid to cunning, depending on the original human, but act on instinct and hunger.
    • True Ghost - they essentially are the person who died, except they have to feed on energy and don't have a body anymore.
    • Guardian Spirit - similar to mummies, they usually have a task to fulfill or some person or organization/family to protect. These tend to let themselves fade once their purpose is fulfilled or rendered moot
    • Angry Ghost - basically an incoproreal zombie
    So I have this story idea that involves the long term consequences of non-contagious undeath in a conflict zone--bodies just get up and perform a limited loop of behavior--and the kinds of cultural adaptations that would result, so I've been thinking about this a great deal.


    Culture is about adapting practices to the environment to increase survival as individuals and a collective, so the overarching question is...how does this impact survival, and thus would how would culture be shaped?

    So a culture experiencing these conditions would have to come up with a series of judgements about the norms of undeath, make them part of the traditional knowledge of the culture, and create ways of reinforcing those norms--rituals, institutions, laws. And if multiple cultures were living under these conditions, they probably wouldn't hold the exact same beliefs, and over time other factors might shift their understanding.

    I'd propose that culture operating under these conditions would have to answer certain questions, and thus have features in common, but would differ because they would answer with different levels of intensity and emphasis. Sort of like sound mixing while altering the volume of separate parts of the track.

    1. Is undeath abnormal/normal

    2. Is undead existence moral/amoral/immoral

    3. If undeath has utility, can it be socially acceptable and under what conditions

    5. Is an undead still the person they were in life, whole or partly

    6. Can undead be counted as ancestors or agents of ancestors

    7. Are any of the above questions' answers conditional on the kind of undeath


    Answers to these questions would then inform cultural norms about ancestor worship, death (mortuary) cults, and cremation...and not everyone would have the same answers.

    Ancestor worship is often about worshiping a gestalt concept of the preceding generations, so actual undead dudes running around may not disrupt general practice. However, if it's viewed as normal and moral for a person to die and move on to being part of that gestalt, then the society will view undead as a disruption of order and be more harsh and more rigid about undead existing. An undead family member that seen as still a person is thus a tragedy, but if undead are not seen as people then they're an offense to the memory of that person. But even if undead as still the people they were, they might not be treated well: if it's Right and Normal to pass over, undead might destroyed for their own good. But another culture might view undead as people still, but emphasize that they have to find and resolve whatever thing keeps them here as part of the natural transition through death, creating a situation in which interfering with the undead is taboo for most people precisely because that undead needs to become an ancestor/part of the ancestor spirit gestalt.

    However...one can imagine how societies could attribute usefulness and benevolent meaning to undead that have utility, such that ancestor worship could bend to incorporate a concept of "this person has stayed behind/left something behind because they want to help us" into the idea. A smart/famous/respected/loved person turning into a mummy or guardian spirit could be seen as a intercessor figure, or a kind of martyr who forgoes the Right and Normal afterlife to aid people. But...consider if you have a society that's ripped up, desperate. If you've been in a multi-generation war, the idea of angry spirits and zombies as "my relatives and ancestors are still fighting for us, they deserve veneration" is something that people could easily justify. A group of people that are desperately impoverished or starving might view coming back as a hungry spirit as...understandable and tragic manifestation of the ancestor's suffering rather than a breach of the normal course of the afterlife.

    Another notable thing is that status and hierarchy among the living would probably leak into cultural understandings of what any particular person becoming undead meant. The average person becoming an angry spirit is just a social hazard, and the "reason" they became undead is individualized; when an emperor becomes an angry spirit, it is attributed larger meaning and is not just seen as a hazard. "The emperor's spirit is angry, it must be appeased...who screwed up" seems like something could happen particularly in societies where rulership is holy.

    Which carries to the subject of mortuary cults, because undeath and mortuary cults would blend together quite well...individual undead who had some degree of clout and/or mystery in life would absolutely be available to be revered, and for special-circumstances explanation of why this particular incidence of undeath is okay and beneficial could be built upon their living-days reputation. In its purest form, such undead are running a protection racket--you feed me and I grant you my talents--that's only a touch more materialistic than the divine protection racket.

    Cremation as a cultural norm for body disposal is more likely to happen if a culture views undeath as wholly abnormal, and the presence of undead as bad for society/immoral. If undeath is seen as the end product of individual actions in life--"they wanted something too much, so this happened"--it could be seen as a moral hazard, and thus the mortuary culture emphasizes destruction of the body as part of social hygiene: it cuts down on the types of undead possible, but also represents that bodies are not people, that it is wrong to mistake a moving body for the person that once was, or to think that it is good/normal for a relative to continue undead just because they seem like the same person. Same side on a different coin, though--a society that just accepts that X% of people will become undead might arrive at cremation from a strictly practical view of the matter--the dead have to pass on.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    GreenSorcererElf

    Join Date
    Dec 2016

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    The first thing that I immediately think of is that you're going to see a lot more burial, and a lot less cremation, to prevent ghosts. Burial handily solves the zombie problem, assuming they're as strong as normal humans. Harry Houdini, despite being the master of escape, only barely made it out of his one attempt at being buried alive, and he wasn't even put into a casket. I'd figure most zombies would end up going comatose way before they reached the surface, and the large mound of earth that will be pushed up as they dig upwards will give anyone watching the graves ample warning. Then they dig out the sucker, kill the zombies, and do what they want with the mummies or vampires. Gravedigging and such is absolutely going to be a more prestigious career then it ever was in real life, and we're going to see proper burials been giving out way more egalitarianly. A hastily dug grave or potsfield could run the risk of something breaking out.

    Depending on how long it takes for a body to become undead, I can see a common technique being to take newly dead bodies and put them into locked room, probably with the door barred and boxes placed in front of it. Then you'ld only need to wait as long as it takes to rise, and then starve. After that you can drag it out and pulverize any zombies.

    Executions are probably going to change too, you'll likely see less of them in general, and way less beheading and quartering, anything that causes body destruction. Depending on whether dehydration is classified as violence you'll probably see a lot more immurement, that is locking someone in a room with no exit like before, but done to the living.

    Vampires and mummies could potentially be useful, but still difficult all the same. The lower classes probably won't have an easy way to feed them, and will just kill them so they can move on. Depending on the time period and how stratified the setting is I can see a lot of vampires and mummies surviving if they're from the upperclass. Slave holding societies could potentially just feed slaves to the richer vampires, or perhaps condemned criminals. I'm not certain even this would necessarily become too common though, since you said deaths involving undead produce undead more often, making too many undead nobles a dangerous gamble at best. An immortal king or two though would definitely happen.

    By far I think the biggest issue for society would be from incorporeal undead, especially angry ghosts. Anything that still has a human body is ultimately pretty easy to take down or trap through mundane means, especially the ones that have lost human intelligence. Considering how many megafauna even cavemen drove to extinction, something human sized probably isn't all that big an issue. But something incorporeal is a whole different beast. Imagine the terror of a society where for all you know a ghost can drain out your life energy while you sleep and nothing can be done about it. A zombie will at least make noise trying to break down a door, but a ghost can't be stopped by any wall. Whatever means are needed to take down ghosts will be likely be spread as far as possible, depending on how easy it is to teach I can imagine everyone being taught it in their childhood. If it's something that requires a lot more time or specialization, then anyone that learns it is going to be absolutely revered. If it's a special material, then areas with a lot of that material could easily become very wealthy.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Ettin in the Playground
    Join Date
    Aug 2009

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    Quote Originally Posted by InvisibleBison View Post
    Even though the undead aren't inherently evil, they are inherently inimical to the living, as they need to feed on the living.
    Most animals, including humans, have an inherent need to feed on the living. Why do you think undead are more "inherently inimical to the living" than humans?

  8. - Top - End - #8
    Bugbear in the Playground
    Join Date
    Dec 2019

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    Quote Originally Posted by flyinglemur View Post
    Then they dig out the sucker, kill the zombies, and do what they want with the mummies or vampires.
    I agree that you probably won't see a lot of cremation, as it seems like an invitation for ghosts. But I don't think people will get buried before they turn into undead. It seems much simpler to wait around for the guy to come back, then do whatever you do before burying him. And if you're going to try recruiting some of your undead (which I think you probably are), having them come back in their house, rather than under a pile of dirt seems like a much better way to start that relationship.

    Vampires and mummies could potentially be useful, but still difficult all the same. The lower classes probably won't have an easy way to feed them, and will just kill them so they can move on.
    That depends on a lot of factors. Only something like one in two hundred people are rising as vampires, so even with fairly high blood requirements you can probably feed them on voluntary donations. Beyond that, if mummies and vampires are sufficiently hard core, the nobility will happily recruit any they can get their hands on as personal guards. They may even be the nobility under some assumptions.

    Quote Originally Posted by 137ben View Post
    Most animals, including humans, have an inherent need to feed on the living. Why do you think undead are more "inherently inimical to the living" than humans?
    It depends what that means. It's true that as written, it doesn't really imply anything problematic (maybe the undead need to eat meat, but that's arguable). But I think from the bit about ghosts, "the living" is supposed to specifically mean people. Of course, that's not even necessarily a deal breaker in some cases, as many depictions of e.g. vampires leave them perfectly able to feed non-lethally, but it's a lot closer. Particularly if we're postulating mindless zombies that will aggressively attack the living.

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Troll in the Playground
    Join Date
    Jun 2015

    Default Re: Social Consequences of Undead naturally occurring

    Roughly 20% of the undead are intelligent.
    So if one intelligent undead is sufficiently advantaged to defeat 4 non intelligent ones(individually or as a group thanks to their intelligence allowing cooperation) then statistically in a huge war-zone with lots of dead the intelligent ones might still hate the unintelligent ones and organize themselves to kill the non intelligent ones then after that they might go back to their side(and possibly start attacking the people which were former members of the other side immediately) if they are more of the guardian kind(mummy or guardian spirit) or do whatever seems the best idea at the time to survive if they are more of the dual essence kind(vampire or "true ghost") since survival instinct is the main part of the animal consciousness and they are in a war-zone so if they got the animal consciousness part and did not get survival instinct for some reason it might mean they are only partially a dual essence undead or something.
    A truce where people waits for the intelligent undead to kill the non intelligent one might be an interesting concept as could be the post mortem rescues of formerly alive soldiers (you can get back that way up to 2% of your soldiers (half guardian and half dual essence) if your army contains a lot of people considering their duty as going beyond death and that they can beat non intelligent undead without causalities)
    getting back 2 percent of the causalities might not be worth losing more soldiers thus making the truce for waiting out the result of the smart vs dumb brawl make sense (unless a scout spots some of the most important soldiers under an intelligent undead shape)
    Last edited by noob; 2020-09-07 at 04:21 PM.

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