Previously I talked about fantastic governments. Reading over them, my favorite was definitely the mortocracy, in which I talked about a government ruled by the undead. Of course, this is not one hundred percent original, but I do feel that it is not very explored in most campaign settings. So the first thing to explore is, what other options are available for ruling such a government? And how would mortocratic governments differ based on the type of undead in charge?
Note: Modern interpretations of these undead lords can be either good or evil, but for the purposes of this article, they will be assumed to be evil.
The power-hungry sorcerer who desires life after death, the monarch who refuses to relinquish his kingdom, or the magic using advisor who usurps power from the throne can all be liches. A lich in charge of a nation or kingdom seems like pretty standard fare in many campaigns and settings. They often have hordes of undead at their disposal – whether these undead are reasoning creatures that live within the society, or just festering pits of zombies, ready to be thrown upon enemies, would be up to individual liches. Liches would not have much interest in seeing other liches – or any magic-wielding undead, for that matter – living within their territory. The same goes for extremely powerful magic users of any sorts. The lich would perceive these kinds of beings as a potential threat to its power, and would most likely have all such threats neutralized, exterminated, or at least removed from the area, as soon as was possible, thus making it very dangerous for magic-using PCs to hang out in lich territory.
Living in a Lichdom
The lich most likely came to power as part of the progression from the previous ruler. Said ruler may have been a studious practitioner of the arcane arts, or may have just been a power-hungry ruler who had no intentions of giving up his kingdom at the end of his natural life. For either the reason of advancing his agenda or studies, or for domination, he became the lich, and just continued holding onto power in the kingdom. The lich would possibly persecute academic studies in its kingdom, specifically those that would lead to powerful beings that could threaten its hold on the nation. Pursuit of lichdom by anyone other than the lich would probably be punishable by death.
The people living in the kingdom would probably have little reason to fear the lich, as he would be just another monarch to most commoners eyes. However, depending on the lich’s stance on undead and their place in society, it could lead to factions and certain forms of a caste system where the upper caste are various thinking undead creatures, a lower caste could be well-to-do mortals, and the lowest caste would be filled with the poor, destitute, and mindless undead.
Strange Customs or Rituals in Lich-based Mortocracies
Graveyards may have a special importance in this type of mortocracy, as the lich would want to ensure that all his fodder and components for a defending army would never be in a threatened state. They would possibly set up magical defenses and security measures at all entrances and exits to cemeteries. Perhaps they would even have powerful animated or undead guardians patrolling cemeteries. This definitely makes grave-robbing much less of a threat.
The borders to the nation are probably not necessarily heavily patrolled – at least, not any more so than standard borders – as the lich has little to fear from most people. However, all “adventurers” and “holy men” must register in any city visited, and will be the subject of close scrutiny to assure they mean no ill will towards the lich.
According to older D&D lore, part of the lich’s creation comes from drinking a poison-potion on the night of a full moon. Therefore, full moons probably represent the time most likely for the lich to use his power in public, either in celebration of conquests, or for showcasing his power of authority.
The cadaverous revenant skulking through the night for blood, the sinister and charming aristocrat whose victims seem to beg for his embrace, or the goth clans and tribes of blood-drinkers who just want to be accepted can all have a role in a society. Vampires have amazing amounts of pure power, and can easily be seen as the potential leader of a nation. In most history and mythology, vampires have quite a bit of sorcery in their repertoire of power and abilities, and can definitely use that to their advantage.
Living in a Vampiredom
The vampire overlord probably inspires a good bit more fear than other undead monarchs, simply because the vampire can only sustain its un-life by consuming the life essence of mortals. There is, of course, no reason to assume the vampire would feed on his own servants – perhaps he outsources (“The Northern Kingdom’s blood lines are thinning sire, should we perhaps starting looking towards the desert kingdoms?”), or has simply found some other way to survive. However, the fact remains, much like a farmer guarding his cattle from wolves, the vampire’s main interest in individual mortals’ protection is probably first as a food source.
One could probably easily see that mortals living in the vampiredom would have many reasons to fear being on the vampire lord’s bad side. Perhaps all criminals in a vampiredom get put on an “Eat List,” depending on the severity of their crimes? That would definitely be a form of crime prevention – those of criminal mindset are much less likely to do heinous acts if they know their last act will be as preparation and/or garnishment for a vampire’s meal! There would probably even be “Street Teams” of vampire servants who would report back to the vampire on criminal activities. All of this, of course, would not be for the betterment of society, but simply as a way to keep the population in check.
Night time would be daytime in a vampirocracy. Many business transactions and activities would likely go well into the night, and those who worked in close proximity to the vampire and his staff would most likely always be up through the night, and sleeping during the day (other than, of course, the vampire’s personal guards who guard him as he sleeps during the day).
Strange Customs or Rituals in Vampire-based Mortocracies
Since vampires in mythology are typically born of special earth, dirt, and soil that was used in their burial, it is highly possible that vampire lords would protect and nurture the earth. They probably wouldn’t be druid-like in this regard, but they would have a reverence – and thus demand similar reverence from their servants – of the ground from which they were born.
Holy symbols are very likely to be banned and outlawed in a vampirocracy, since they can actually cause harm to vampires. It’s very probable that silver and rosewood would likewise be banned, due to their close proximity in many vampire deaths of yore. Newcomers into the kingdom would probably be required to give up all items of silver, rosewood, and holy status upon their entry into the kingdom – possibly under the provision of regaining them upon leaving, but possibly not!
Spiders, wolves, and bats may have a place of respect in the religions and customs of vampirocracies as well, due to their close association with many vampire myths and legends.
The Death knight
The powerful warrior king who sold his soul to demons to survive one final quest, the paladin who fell from grace and must redeem himself, or the generals of other undead sorcerers who have gained power of their own can all become death knights. Becoming a death knight is a choice (must like becoming a lich), and it is a choice that is doggedly pursued while the individual is still alive, so that he can accomplish some goal that is unattainable in life. Death knights are known for their sheer, brute power, and any nation that can accept a general or tactics-savvy king would probably acknowledge the benefits of a death knight monarch as well. Not to mention, once again, death knights often have mystical powers at their disposal which can help their case.
Living in a Death knightdom
Death knights most likely run a nation much like a military leader, since all their previous life experience would come from martial warfare and the like. However, they will tend to have a mission or goal to accomplish (thus their reason for becoming undead in the first place), and all their actions lead towards accomplishing that goal. A death knight in charge of an entire nation will most likely not flinch in the slightest at using the subjects of his kingdom as pawns in the pursuit of his goal.
Death knights have typically had power over other lesser undead – in particular, skeletons, zombies, and ghouls – and will most likely use these beings as the peon workforce in a nation. It would not be uncommon to see these undead acting as simple slave labor throughout a society. More powerful undead, such as wraiths, wights, mummies, etcetera, would probably not be welcome, since they could conceivably challenge the death knight’s power. In fact, death knights would probably destroy all information to the ritual that led to their own creation, as they would not want more death knights roaming around the area. Anyone seeking such information would be hunted down and killed, to be risen as a slave in the death knight’s workforce.
Higher studies such as philosophy, arcanology, theology, etcetera, would most likely not be offered within the society, unless these studies would help the death knight in his single minded pursuit. Those who studied such works would likely not be tolerated either, since those studies could lead to knowledge of how to supplant the death knight’s power.
Strange Customs or Rituals in Death knight-based Mortocracies
Being more battle-driven than the previous undead lords, death knights are likely to have interest in accomplishments of martial prowess. Most likely, gladiatorial-type fighting would be permitted – even enforced – in major cities, with powerful warriors fighting powerful undead. Those who rose high enough in the ranks could even have a chance to face the death knight or his lieutenants.
If the death knight were ever to accomplish the goal he was pursuing when he made the choice and pact to become undead, it is likely said event would be celebrated. It could be annual – or even daily – celebrations, in which the death knight would force all people of his empire to pay homage to his success.
That’s about as far as I’m going to go with this, but have you guys ever had any mortocracies in your campaigns, and if so, how were they run? I would love to hear about them.