Undead as a labour force (a BWG rules issue question)

My crew and I are starting a new BW campaign. The basic situation is the reestablishment of cross continental trade routes a generation after a major plague. One of the players (a PhD in modern socialist history) has proposed the idea of one of the far off coastal cities (a trade route terminus) using undead labour to power their economy. He wants to play with the economic and historical repercussions. This seems fun and I’d like to explore the idea. My problem is, I’m not sure how to do this in BWG. I have all the books (BWG, AdBu, MonBu, MaBu). I’ve read up on Death Art, and therein lies the problem.

As I read it, a powerful ‘Necromancer’ can’t effectively control much beyond perhaps a dozen undead, and each helper only adds one more. Am I right? 10 Risen would require a Ob 10 Will test, right? And Noobcromancers would be lucky to maintain a couple of undead. As such, a society would need a pretty steep ratio of Necromancers to labour force.

So, if I’m correct in my understanding of this, I need to find a way to circumvent this restriction to explore the ‘undead economy idea’. And I’d like to keep it rules legit and not just handwave it into existence. I’m wondering if some kind of enchanted gizmo could help. A collar? A whip of control? Something that allows mundanes to control a couple dozen undead? I’m open to suggestions!

What think you?

Well… if there is a heavy need for undead… then you get (by the rules) a heavy need for necromancers - thats going to up your education and literacy… :slight_smile:
Also necromancer will no longer be an “outcast” lifepath, and would probably be a lifepath in the city - ie replace sorcery with Death Art (or just add) in the list of skills.

First, I’d ask how serious the player is about this idea. As you note, BW isn’t really about the “hordes of undead who never decompose” thing.

If you wanted to proceed:

  • Where do they get the bodies from? What happens when a zombie needs to be replaced?
  • The living folks left probably will have fewer kids in general, if most manual labor is zombies.
  • Food production would be tiny, since zombies don’t eat. What is the basis of their economy?
  • Similarly, you don’t need house zombies other than maybe a shed. What do the settlements look like?


Using the rules as is, then, yes, you’d need some MAJOR artifact that powers the city’s undead. Which is totally legit!

And if something were to happen to that artifact… :wink:

Thanks for the replies!

I’m envisioning this as a port city and the surrounding region, perhaps a 30 mile radius. Necromancers would not be outcasts here. The undead would be an extra layer of labour beyond the living, supplementing them for certain tasks such as mining, galley slaves, digging, hauling cargo, etc… more technical skills would not be appropriate for the shambling worker. There would also be a cadre of undead enforcers/guards/soldiers. This is all based on the MaBu RAW. I’m also planning on using the RAW for corpse decay, that’s cool stuff, and in a society with this focus, yearly taxidermy tune ups is not a huge problem. As for the implications for society, that’s part of the purpose of including all this in the game; what would it look like in practice? And yup, the Player is serious about this idea. At this point it’s more about colour and setting… but you know how it goes when you let players into a game world; I want something in place in case they decide to go further into Necromancy with their characters.

Leaving aside the social implications and back to the mechanical issue. I’ll consider the Major Artifact idea, but that should probably limit the control sphere to a certain area. I’m leaning towards something that allows a small group of undead and a controller to head off on a trip (and yes, that would entail a whole host of side issues). But the Major Artifact idea helps with another thought.

I’m already considering having a mineral in the game, something that enhances sorcery. One of the cultures (a colonizer) only has Practical Magic. I’d previously thought of having said mineral act as way for non-Gifted folk to use Practical Magic, but at the cost of Corruption. I’m now thinking that perhaps incorporating the mineral into collar/swagger stick sets would allow mundane ‘supervisors’ to control small gangs of undead. These control sets would need to be charged by true Necromancers via Death Art, and they would cause the users to gain Corruption. Perhaps there is some Major Artifact that allows this process, like a fabrication station, or perhaps a stash of the mineral is under the city, and the Necromancers don’t know of any other available source. This allows for Novaniv’s Machiavellian idea to still be implemented!

So given this idea, what would be decent Obstacles for this to keep the idea both reasonable and usable? I’m thinking a Death Art test with a base Ob of 4 and +1 Ob for every two undead linked to the control set. The supervisor stick could be picked up and used by anyone, with the consequence of corruption. Of course there would be laws surrounding the use of swagger sticks as well. And I would restrict this to the Risen dead, it would not be usable on Reanimated undead (the more powerful versions) or Slaves to the Power of Death. And if the set is damaged the undead are set free. If an undead rots away due to poor maintenance that particular collar is useless. I’ll have to add some specific situational tests to the Corruption list that relates to this idea.

Given that this is ‘needed’ for my upcoming campaign, how does it sound in a mechanical sense? I’m still pretty green as a BW GM, so I may be missing some long term consequence I can’t even conceive of…

Your major artifact could be in the form of an ancient temple or shrine made from this mystery element, while those who are worthy use their symbols made of said element to empower their own shambling servants.

IIRC, the path to the army of undead is to raise them up and give them independence—and then convince them to continue to serve you. So they’re out of your direct control, but they’re still under your banner.

Woah! Mind blown! You’ve transmogrified my can of worms into a kettle of fish!

As you can imagine, it’s a dangerous game to play!

But this leads me back to something I realized in editing the Death Art rules—there’s enough material in that one chapter for an entire campaign…AND I WANT TO PLAY IT.