Undead Week: Introduction

Welcome to Undead Week at the Exchange of Realities!

Since my posting week (not counting Impractical Applications) ends with Halloween, I figured I’d celebrate. And what better way to hit up the spookiest time of the year than by taking a closer look at the undead?

Undeath is an interesting sort of state. Originally, it was viewed as an abomination and a curse, and the undead were mindless, damned, or otherwise not the kind of people you’d invite to a nice party. Veinglory had an interesting riff on this just a few days ago. Long story short, she summarizes how the vampire has gone from being a horror-movie enemy to being worthy of being protagonists. Similarly, ghosts have gone from something you sic a priest on and throw holy water at to as often allies and friends.

But now that these things are protagonist fare, they can be reasoned with, and hold exchanges of culture. And that being possible means that there needs to be culture to exchange.

For instance, I haven’t read too many vampire novels, but most of the ones I’ve had have shared a number of similar things. There have been references to the weaknesses Stoker mentions—staking, garlic, silver, sunlight, and so on, in just about all of them. Of course, there’s been the blood-drinking, but that tends to be more a nuisance than an impediment. …and then there’s the people whose thoughts as far as blood-drinking have been pretty much automatically “Find ways to make it like sex.” There’s way more that can be done with that; the sheer number of interesting social customs, rituals and similar features that can be drawn from that sort of feeding—or from any sort of blood-based subsistence—are staggering. (Needless to say, this is one of the topics I plan on covering this week.)

Or think about ghosts. There are a lot of things that can be done with ghosts; what sorts of events do they consider to be noteworthy? What’s their opinion of walls, and are there conventions by which they might choose to respect them or not? How do they interact with those who came after them? Are there things you just don’t talk about around them? How much of an insult is it to walk through one?

What about their effects on people? If an undead ruler of a place has some sort of weakness, what kinds of prohibitions might that result in for the people under him? If a certain sort of undead is particularly likely to prey on townsfolk, how might the burial practices be affected? What about their impact on the language?

Undead show up in a lot of places. Most RPG worlds have some place or another where you can’t kick a rock without hitting one. Vampires are practically a genre in and of themselves, as are zombies. And who here hasn’t at some point told or heard a ghost story? As a result, they’re a common plot device, and knowing how to use them with style can make your undead stand out.

So stick around. Ask questions. Make suggestions, particularly with regards to topic. Most importantly, don’t let the suspense kill you!

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