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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Question Why is necromancy "evil"?

    One thing I've wondered for a while is why is necromancy so often considered evil in games like dnd and PF.

    It seems unfair that a character is "evil" just for sucking some bandit's soul out to kill them instead of just blasting them with a scorching ray or creating undead to fight.
    And it doesn't make sense that every single necromancer in the world has to be evil alignment, there's not even one single lich out there that's used their vast knowledge for the betterment of society?

    Can anyone explain and give me a good reason why necromancy is so abhorrent?

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    It isn't. There's just a legacy of the designers being all like "ew dead bodies gross icky evil". Most of any sensible argument is about respect for the dead, but this isn't a golden bullet argument. For the most part, unless a creature's soul if directly damaged (which is a bit more cruel and intimate than necessary), which most necromancy doesn't do, it's just as neutral as a vitriolic sphere.
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    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Because, throughout history, it has been deemed to be abhorrent. This is not a D&D rules decision.

    Whether because it was considered heresy not to dispose of dead bodies respectfully, or because those powers were believed to come from devils, or because "necromancy" actually originally meant "black magic", necromancy has virtually always been considered evil, for hundred of centuries, in most cultures around the globe.

    Fantasy games didn't invent this. They simply passed it on.

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    Similarly, game writers didn't make that call. They just didn't argue with the culture that did.

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    GnomePirate

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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Gyro89 View Post
    One thing I've wondered for a while is why is necromancy so often considered evil in games like dnd and PF.

    It seems unfair that a character is "evil" just for sucking some bandit's soul out to kill them instead of just blasting them with a scorching ray or creating undead to fight.
    And it doesn't make sense that every single necromancer in the world has to be evil alignment, there's not even one single lich out there that's used their vast knowledge for the betterment of society?

    Can anyone explain and give me a good reason why necromancy is so abhorrent?
    I think it's largely campaign dependent. I would agree that there is nothing immoral about causing 2d6 necrotic damage vs causing 2d6 fire damage.

    With creating undead, though, you get into "Evil" territory. Are you creating mindless constructs or does a bit of the person's soul reside in each skeleton soldier? Does it pull the soul from whatever afterlife exists in that setting? Even if it doesn't, what about the religious beliefs of surviving family members? Who legally owns that dead body?

    I think the current debate on the use of CGI to create dead actors is relevant.
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    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Because necromancy predates good magic. To be extremely general for a minute, in old stories magic pretty much always brought ruin, with exceptions for really old wise men and things directly connected to the gods. And one of the common types of magic even back then was necromancy. More getting information from ghosts and less commanding zombies back then, but not that far off from its modern form. Throwing lightning bolts weren't really a thing so when they got added they escaped that limit. Necromancy did change a bit, but still had that linage and with all the negative connotations of death normally has never been able to escape it.

    For the in fiction view, some settings never really justify it, other attach it to other nasty things, like damage to souls. I know one where ethical necromancy might be possible, but it is irrelevant because the only group that has taken necromancy far are a bunch of immortal liches out to take over the world and they are not ethical and to not practice ethical necromancy. And there are some where necromancy or some other variant of death flavoured magic isn't evil, so sometimes the question doesn't even apply.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Trafalgar View Post

    With creating undead, though, you get into "Evil" territory. Are you creating mindless constructs or does a bit of the person's soul reside in each skeleton soldier? Does it pull the soul from whatever afterlife exists in that setting?
    Personally, I like the OOTS interpretation of "You treat them like people when they're nothing but bits of skin and bone and dark energy glued together by magic into the shape of a man."
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Hi all!

    Well, Phhase, Jay R, and Trafalgar, almost nailed it. However, let a Greek guy tell you more: "necromancy" literally means guessing (the future) by means of the dead and that equals to having the dead be used by you. Now, death is supposed to be the perfect equalizer and no matter whether a dead one's soul (or ka or ...) gets to Elysium (heaven, ...) or Tartarus (hell, ...), or purgatory (Christian Catholic belief) forever or for some time, that soul is supposed to be left alone. In joy or regret. So, 'necromancy' is evil because it alters the most basic of a religious culture belief; death is the end of a living being soul's burdens in life. Now, since Gyro89 also brought the case of good liches, yes there're, only that for game purposes they aren't useful. Liches are supposed to be powerful adversaries, not allies. However, should you want to find some, read about when Mystra and Kelemvor, as gods, fought together to exterminate all undead life; they 'finished' some good liches too.

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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Historically, autonomous ghosts were assumed to be malevolent and dangerous, and rituals were practised to keep them out of the way. This, I think, is the main reason. There was no one who ever was helped by a walking skeleton, but the fear of being persecuted by bloodthirsty ghosts was very present. People harnessing such spirits, who are, by default, angry against the living, cannot be part of society, and are most likely just as dangerous.

    To go back to D&D, I remember some long articles talking about this, and how bad an evil the undead could be. The evilest version of RPG necromancy was similar to these old depictions of the undead, constantly hungry for life. The result was that the unintelligent undead, if left unattended, would have spent their whole time tirelessly killing everything alive they found nearby, from children to sqirrels to patches of moss (the model I call "lawnmower skeleton").

    Btw, necromancy doesn't mean black magic -- it's from nekros = dead and mantis = diviner, so the meaning is that of "divining through the dead". The meaning later became very wide, and I've seen it used in a medieval work e.g. for people who played around with the flow of time.

    Necromancy stricto sensu, instead, was telling the future by forcefully summoning the spirit of a dead who knew the future. This is very different from e.g. Odysseus or the pious Aeneas who personally travel to the Underworld. It's generally seen as a grave misdeed, because the dead are elders, and deserve peace, respect, and veneration, or they are under custody of a higher power which must be respected instead.
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    IMHO, there are three possible categories of harm that could stem from creating undead: One where Necromancy is a cause of acute harm, another where it introduces danger to the world, and a third where it is a gradual environmental harm.

    It is possible in a setting that creating certain sorts of undead always cause direct suffering to the dead creatureís soul or spirit. Certainly this may be the case with malevolent and twisted beings, like wraiths, which seem to be corrupted ghosts. In order to create this form of undead, someoneís mind and personality may have had to be warped beyond recognition and brought into a state of constant agony. Itís not a thing a well adjusted person would wish on their enemies, and doing something like that Ďfor good reasonsí canít balance out how intrinsically awful it is.

    The next category would involve creating things like skeletons and zombies: bodies animated by controllable but malevolent spirits. Creating such undead may not involve hurting sentient beings, but if you are not careful to keep such creatures under your control, they are inclined to hurt innocent people. In a setting where this is true, creating such undead isnít necessarily evil, but it may be considered reckless or dangerous if done without caution.

    The last category is less clear cut. If the use of Necromancy causes some form of magical pollution or contamination, it can be tough to say how much is justified. If every time you create undead or use offensive necromancy, thereís an increasing chance of spontaneously creating uncontrolled undead, creating rifts into the Shadowfell, or attracting other dangerous entities, then the longer you stay within a city the more you put others at risk. This may lead you to being exiled if you are discovered practicing black magic.
    Last edited by Kvess; 2021-11-27 at 01:46 PM.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kvess View Post
    The next category would involve creating things like skeletons and zombies: bodies animated by controllable but malevolent spirits. Creating such undead may not involve hurting sentient beings, but if you are not careful to keep such creatures under your control, they are inclined to hurt innocent people. In a setting where this is true, creating such undead isnít necessarily evil, but it may be considered reckless or dangerous if done without caution.
    Even if undead aren't inherently dangerous or harmful, there's a fairly obvious societal problem with having a guy who benefits from having lots of dead bodies.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Phhase View Post
    Personally, I like the OOTS interpretation of "You treat them like people when they're nothing but bits of skin and bone and dark energy glued together by magic into the shape of a man."
    Not all undead are just the body, some do still have something more; Vampires, Ghosts, Ghouls, Wraths, etcetera. Just saying, so the "... they're nothing but bits of skin and bone and dark energy glued together by magic into the shape of a man." thing does work when talking about some undead, it does not when discussing other undead created by the Necromancer.
    *It isn't realism, it's verisimilitude... seeming to be true within the context of the game world.

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    Orc in the Playground
     
    GnomePirate

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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    I can imagine a society where a dying poor person can sign over use of their body after death in exchange for their next of kin receiving money. Kind of like an organ donor card for gold. Here, lower undead like skeletons and zombies could be the result of a financial transaction.

    I can also imagine a fantasy religion where the faithful willing give their bodies after death to the priesthood to be used as temple guards.

    So I think whether a necromancer is good or evil depends the willingness of the person or next of kin to have the body used in this way AND what happens to the person's soul when they are turned into a skeleton. So if a necromancer pays a person for their body but the person's soul is tormented for eternity, that necromancer is evil.
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Religion, some consider having a chat with your dead ancestors to be bad and others think its nice. End of discussion (by board rules).

    Now, one historical info nugget: In AD&D necromancy was the school of manipulating life force and interacting with the afterlife. Therefore Cure Light Wounds and Raise Dead are necromancy spells in that game.

    Also, this is in general RPG so it needs to be noted that many games make no moral disrictions between types of magic or ways of murderizing. I think it may be unique to D&D to consider instantly blasting someone to death with Power Word Kill to be a worse thing than using several fire spells to incrementally burn them to death over a couple minutes.
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    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Necromancy involves taking something that doesnít belong to you, someone elseís body and/or soul, and making it do your will. In D&D this is in a society where your body and soul can be put brought back together again by resurrection spells. Necromancy that involves corrupting the soul also prevents that soul passing to the afterlife where it naturally should reside.

    Classic necromancy involves theft, just because the original owner isnít using it doesnít make it yours, and prevents healing. Both of which are natural harms and thus it is evil. Preventing a soul passing on, which is present in some necromancy, is another natural harm. That is all before we start getting into religious/societal taboos.

    If you are talking a scenario as described by Trafalgar where the original person agrees to the process of their own free will, I can see that as not necessarily being evil.

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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Necromancy, the school, is not evil by default. At least in 5e. Necromancy the practice of creating undead is not a good act, and not one that good people will do frequently. At least in 5e. The exact details of why this is are left to the setting designer.

    My particular setting says that undead created by animate dead and create undead are powered by summoning jotnar, which are effectively entropy-spirits, the anti-matter equivalent of the nature spirits. They exist to destroy everything and reduce it to nothing. Jotnar consume life for their fuel--the presence of undead (or demons, to which they are related) literally drains the life out of the surroundings. Leave enough undead somewhere long enough and you get a sterile environment incapable of housing life. The summoning of jotnar from the Abyss also contaminates the liminal world, Shadow, making it easier for demons and undead to spontaneously arise. Thus, while the setting doesn't have cosmological good and evil, it does say that summoning jotnar is dangerous and not a friendly act. Which makes it banned at the "kill the necromancer on sight, no trial" level in most of the world.
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    Default Re: Why is necromancy "evil"?

    Sheriff: This doesn't seem to be something that can be discussed without bringing real world religion into it. Thread permanently closed.
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