Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Why the Dead Walk in The Last Day Dawned

The Last Day Dawned is an apocalyptic setting. Not a post-apocalyptic setting where grubby losers dress in BDSM gear, but an apocalypse that is on-going, worsening. The alarm on the Doomsday Clock is ringing, and nobody has a clue about how to fix it.

Good luck pal.

In the world of the Last Day Dawned, undead just happen. You don’t need a Necromancer, or negative energy – sinners will rise to feed on the living unless this is prevented. The Last Day Dawned is a setting of ritual and cosmic rightness where the Great Wheel is broken, sure as the sun rises, the dead will too.

The greedy will claw their way out of shallow graves as Ghoulmen, wrestling with hungers forbidden. The depressed will resume their misery, and suck the vitae from those around them, a lethargic yearning that eats you, marrow-out. Those who died enraged will rip and rend and writhe and tear their way back into this world to punish the weak. For the denizens of The Last Day Dawned, undeath is a practicality of life.

Clerics, priests and druids might know the rituals that will pack your soul off right when the funeral happens. To the Steppe Elves of the East, a body must be left to the crows: they will consume it and carry it to the Sky God. If they died with honour, the crows will return them to the ever-blowing wind.

For Priests of the Thousand Temples, the rituals are intricate, byzantine, dazzling. The Wine God demands his chosen by dried, aged, drawn-out, pickled, then thrown into the fire of a great celebration, lost in laughter and smoke. The Toil God demands an elaborate sarcophagus of beloved-craft….to then be smashed to splinters and hurled into the earth, that Toil begin anew. The Wanderlust God would see them lashed to the front of ships as rotting figureheads, so that their dead eyes, salt-dry, can take in the world one last time. Licensed Priests may know a hundred rituals, Archpriests a hundred more. In any town without a priest, Clerics will be beseeched – bury my son! Lay to rest my aunt! Do you know the rituals of the Guard-God-Who-Never-Sleeps? Sometimes, a goodly Cleric can spare an hour, and set a soul down the river to the Thousand-Thousand heavens. Other times, there is no time, no knowledge, and he must pass on, ignoring the eyes boring into his back. The knowledge that the Dead always outnumber the Living.

Of course, charlatans are active in the funeral industry. Sure, they know the rituals. Wave the hands. Sing the songs. Pocket the gold. Laugh the last. And if a few Ghoulmen are loosed in the city? If a rage-ghast tears ships sails in the harbour? Not our problem. You paid up front.

The worshippers of the Iron Tyrant turn, as ever, to knife-sharp expediency. Burn the corpse, cast adrift any soul, scatter the animus, seal whatever remains in the catacombs and never think of them again. Ritual is weak and degenerate. Heaven is a lie. Supplicate, and be freed.

For characters in The Last Day Dawned, ritual obligations will be ever-present. If you slit a bandit’s throat miles from home, there is always a chance he’ll rise, a vengeful spirit, and haunt this wood. Do you know a ritual that might work? Religion checks can be employed, but I also would like to let players simply invent something: “I think the God of Hale Hearts would take him to the Thousand Heavens!” If players declare a psychopomp, and a convincing reason why their character might know an appropriate ritual for that God, they can attempt to send their soul on. Make an appropriate check. Give advantage for a good story. Failing that, they can cremate the corpse, cleanse the area with magic, and drive the soul out: casting it adrift between planes. An act of destruction you should telegraph as a cruel act of permanent destruction – that might prevent a monster being loosed. 
Battlefields, dungeons or other places of violence will commonly be haunted, and ghost-wracked regions are a geographical truth of the game-world. Crossing them should test the characters like any other dangerous region. In ages past, there were few such regions. Now, as a long history of violence, misery and woe is carved into the bones of the world, they are a pestilence. 

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