Sunday, November 22, 2009

[Elf Bait #1] Diseased and Dead For Good

It seems to me that in most fantasy settings the dead or more specifically the undead and the diseased are almost always treated as forces of evil. This is understandable as such things fall on that side of the fence for most people and cultures. There are, however, many cases in the real world where such things are looked at in a different light.

I am aware that fantasy is not devoid of good undead or undead being used for good. The Bale Norns, of Forgotten Realms fame, are a good example being a type of elfin Lich that serves to protect their communities. My point here is to share some of my ideas that came to mind when asking myself about how these basic themes could be turned into something new and fresh.

The undead are the ones who are most often given a break. Modern fiction likes to paint pictures of the undead as tragic figures rather than villains but they still usually ride the fence. Ghosts have often been used as omens or agents for good such as in the timely tale of “A Christmas Carol”. Still though, these are more plot elements rather heroes in their own right.

The subject of plague, disease, infirmity doesn’t get cut so much of a break. Other than being a motivator or plot or the background of characters, disease is usually the realm of plague demons, evil wizards, or the byproduct or direct mechanism of evil that sweeps across the land.

There is no problem with this, but does it need to be so? I don’t think so and you may not as well. Though I have not used had a chance to use them in my games, I offer up to you a couple of ideas that I have had.

Leper Knights
An ancient and monastic order of warriors who are all possessed of various illnesses and maladies. These men believe that they have all been afflicted due to some misstep in their lives or for faults and/or crimes against their people and their deities. They have all vowed a life of service to the sick and rededicated themselves to their gods. In time of peace, they heel and look after those who have fallen ill and in times of war they take to the field, drawing on the strength of their resolve and in some cases the abilities granted them by their afflictions.

GM Notes: My idea here was for an order or holy or at least religious knights who take to the field in splendid armor and livery. Though they still carry a stigma among their people, they persevere and have decided to turn their maladies into a positive force. As this is a fantasy idea, I also figured that these ailments might grant them some bonuses.

Some madness and illnesses can provide enhanced physical capabilities. In addition, there are some of them who may have become numb to the pain either due to damage to their nerves or having become so used to it. Other cool effects could also come up such as berserker rages, damage reduction, and death frenzies. Then you can get into more arcane or magical afflictions – lycanthropy, magical curses or effects such as boiling blood or whatnot.

Municipal Undead
This is a simple idea in which a populace views its dead as a beneficial resource. They are not used for evil or for malice but to benefit their communities. These people likely see the bodies of their loved ones as mere vessels for their souls and, once emptied through proper ritual and observance of their rights of death, are perfectly usable for the benefit of the community.

Well, it was a short one, but I do hope you have enjoyed this first installment of Elf Bait. Keep looking for more and, if you'd like to see an idea of yours appear in Elf Bait then throw me an email and I'll throw it on up (subject to approval of course). 

Take care,



  1. when I get around to doing miniatures armies for my D&D worlds, I will be adding these to the army of Ralencia and Valderia.


  2. Chello!

    A bit of thread necromancy, but in th ereal world there was the little-known Order of S. Lazarus during the Crusades. It had amongst its members "leper knights."

  3. Thread necromancy seems appropriate for diseased knights. It was a vague memory of the Order of St. Lazarus that touched off this idea as a fantasy setting element.


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