Skeletons and Zombies

The lowest in the hierarchy of the undead are the zombies and skeletons. Some skeletons are simply magically animated automata, and are not truly undead as they retain no connection to the spirit of the original owner of the bones. They could just as easily be a bunch of sticks and would still work well enough, but a skeleton has a certain morale effect which a scarecrow – even an animated one – does not. Zombies, on the other hand, have the spirit of the creature still trapped within the slowly decomposing corpse. They have just enough self-awareness left to know that they are dead, and they desire life more than anything. This is usually translated by the unfortunate creature as a physical hunger . . . they try to obtain life for themselves by eating things which are alive, and since they sort of remember being people they eat people. Simple really.

Zombies are not really very useful as servants; they smell appalling for one thing, they start falling to bits and leaving slime-trails after a while, and they must be firmly controlled to keep them from trying to snack on any of the living about the place. Though they are easily dominated, having little ego remaining, it is difficult to keep them to a task if anyone with any mind-control powers tries to distract them. They are constantly cold – the chill of the dead and all that – and are attracted to the warmth of a fire. If left to their own devices, zombies will happily walk into the middle of a raging bonfire in an attempt to get warm again; this trait makes them less useful than they might otherwise be on the battlefield if the foe has time to prepare a warm reception for them. (Ho ho, that’s a joke, get it?)

Zombie warrior 1Zombie warrior 2
Zombie factory

As a zombie ages, it loses its flesh and the last remnants of its ego. The resident spirit is usually completely insane by the time the fleshy zombie is transformed into a boney skeleton, and a skilled necromancer (or psychotherapist) can manipulate it during the transition period into an obsessive compulsion to obey him or her. This process is not without its dangers; the obsession can easily become a homicidal compulsion if the manipulator is careless or inexperienced. If successful though, the skeleton becomes a terrifyingly obedient slave to its master, and while requiring a little maintenance to keep its sinews from drying out and shrinking, the skeleton is a very useful servant indeed. A properly imprinted skeleton is very difficult for an unauthorized person to sway from its allotted task, and doesn’t have the body-odor problem of a zombie. And what’s more, they can be painted in attractive shades to match the necromancer’s decor. Skeletons retain the life-hunger and desire for warmth of their earlier form, but if soundly conditioned will keep their lusts in check at the orders of the master.

The enchantment which keeps these two forms going is applied to the skeletal framework of the body. The flesh then becomes surplus baggage; it is, after all, just a hundred or more pounds of dead meat. For this reason, zombies are very slow and sluggish in their movements, and though they don’t actually get tired, each step and movement is a great effort for them. Once the flesh is gone, the animated skeleton becomes quite nimble. It magically retains the physical strength of its living form, but has considerably less weight to carry around. It is common for necromancers to leave their new zombies in rat-infested dungeons for a while to strip them clean, but this can have a deleterious effect on the imprinting of the resulting skeleton since the process ideally requires constant contact with the wretch during its slide into insanity. If the process of being eaten alive (or un-alive) pushes the zombie too deeply into psychosis before the imprinting can properly begin, the resulting monster becomes useless as a slave and must be destroyed or discarded. Creating these undead servants is not generally regarded as the act of a nice person.

Zombies and skeletons do not perceive the real world in the same way as living creatures. They are very sensitive to temperature, and posses a sort of infra-red “vision”, but their most important sense as far as their masters are usually concerned is an ability to detect the presence of living creatures regardless of whether or not they are actually visible, or for that matter, material. This “life-sense”, coupled with the fact that they never sleep and never get bored, makes them excellent guards. They are quite difficult to disable since they don’t bleed or go into shock, and in fact the only way to finally destroy a zombie or skeleton is to burn it to ash and scatter the ashes. They can be neutralized by breaking them apart so that they are unable to move, but unless they are completely obliterated the spirit stays with the bones and the skeleton can later be reassembled, as good as new.

Skeleton warrior 1

These lowest undead have no real discernment or initiative of their own except when it comes to feeding their hungers. This means that they must be instructed carefully and literally; they will carry out instructions to the letter, no more and no less. The complexity of the instructions successfully given them can be quite high as long as they are precise and logical; if a later instruction opposes an earlier one which has not been canceled, the creature will do nothing at all. Whether or not obedience to detailed instruction can be defined as “learning” is a matter for philosophical debate. In any case, skeletons can not extrapolate from previous experience and are incapable of adjusting to an unforeseen change in circumstances. They do keep a limited memory of conditions, people and objects with which they were familiar in life, so not every single thing in an instructional chain needs to be closely defined as long as it is recognizable to the skeleton. For example, the zombie of a warrior will recognize a sword and will understand the concept “fighting”, and will probably remember basic combat technique so that it need not have every move and counter-move spelled out for it.

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Skeletons and Zombies

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