Necromancy? Laws?

Hey folks,

So I'm sure I'm not the first person to ask but it's been a couple months since my last Ars Magica game and I'd like to dive back in when I find a group. The only issue is that it seems to take a somewhat liberal Storyguide to allow my character build. Oddly enough, the book mentions necromancy (even having a focus for it) but it doesn't really give any of the mechanics for how it should be setup. So I've run a few tries at a "necromancer" and usually people give me a number of reasons it can't or shouldn't be done. So I have a couple of questions for the community and they follow:

a) How do YOU do necromancy, or WOULD do it?
b) Do you think that it's really impractical or that it brings a lot of trouble from the council?
c) How do you normally interpret the laws of magic in your game and how plausible is it to have a criminal covenant? Do others know instantly when you do something bad?

I ask this because I really doubt that there are no big magi wars in this universe and it seems silly to think that the council is all-powerful. If they were, they would Ascend to challenge God (which as we know is another animal entirely). So there must be blind spots for those who enforce the laws, right? I also find it strange that the book seems to go back and forth on necromancy, first it says that there is a focus for necromancy, but at the same time Storyguides don't seem to like me using the spell creation rules to create a spell that can raise a field of undead and it DOES say in a particular spell's description (Rego Corpus Mentem?) that a soulless husk is as far as magi have come to "raising the dead". So there seems to be no definitive answer on raising dead bodies to serve you beyond Rego Corpus, but to field 20 bodies would take an immense amount of power, correct? And unless it was concentration based, one would need to give it some sort of intelligence, so we always end up house-ruling it.

So, does anyone have suggestions on the best way for going about it and the best ways to have some more freedom in game? Or is the latter part more of a Story guide's discretion thing?

  1. Necromancy, from a Hermetic standpoint, is the use of re-animating dead bodies, and dealing with magical ghosts. As a focus, it ends up being almost entirely on Rego Corpus effects that control the creation of magical zombies, as well as some Mentem spells for summoning, controlling, and dispelling magical ghosts. (EDIT -= and Perdo Corpus, I suppose - for getting rid of failed experiments... as well as the Animal equivalents of all those effects.)

  2. From a Hermetic Law perspective, there's absolutely nothing wrong with either of those things; corpses are just decaying meat (as the soul has left), and magical ghosts are just mental fingerprints left behind due to a traumatic death (and/or a lack of a good Christian/Islamic/Jewish burial). Some Houses explicitly delve into these practices: The Cave of Twisting Shadows for the Criamon, and I think the Tremere get into it a bit as well.

The actual rules against necromancy would be someing more akin to "don't mess with the Church" - which is a specific implementation of "don't bring ruing upon your sodales" - as Crusades are only fun for historians. It's also arguably a "don't deal with demons," depending on the magi's area of research - although most magi can distinguish between necromancy and Infernalism. As such, there isn't anyone who is enforcing these rules in particular other than the general Tribunal itself. As such, while necromancy is vicereally distasteful, it's "just" a focus on certain Corpus, Animal, Mentem effects. If anything, a Rego Vim (Summoning and Warding) specialist would be watched more carefully for signs of Infernal corruption, as they are straight-up spirit summoners.

  1. The command you give to instruct the zombie can be modified or changed after casting, as per the description on pg. 135:

So you can give any zombie a verbal order, or give a group of them orders, and then change those orders later.

  1. To raise a field of zombies, you'd probably want to shorten up the Zombie spell from Year to Day, and make it larger. So:

They way to increase the size of a spell is to make it a Group (which affects x10 the number of Individual targets), and then add +1 for every increased order of magnitude. Yes, this means you could animate 10,000 corpses for a day using a lvl 50 version of the above spell. (+3 size, rather than +1)

More generally, Zombie spells are probably better cast at the Month duration: you don't need to spend Vis on it, and re-casting it really doesn't affect much. Alternately, you could create a Ring/Circle version of it for labwork - which would animate the bodies inside the circle at the time of casting, and would end only if they left and/or the circle was broken.

The most important thing about playing with others is to be "on the same page" as them - to have everyone have the same implicit understanding of what the game is and within what boundaries player and character behaviors can roam. It sounds to me like the groups you met didn't want to have zombies and necromancers around, and you did. This argument shouldn't be something the rules decide - you should figure out, as a group, the kind of game you want to play. If you sit down with them and talk it over, you might find a middle ground: maybe they don't want to have necromancy be easy and common and/or Infernal, for example, and you'd be fine with playing within such a paradigm.

Now, on to your specific questions.

It depends on the group, and how willing they are to add supplements and/or deviate from the rules. If the group wants to stay within the standard core-book rules, I would build a character with Second Sight and specialize in Rego Corpus and Mentem, with an assortment of ghost and zombie related standard spells. I would later create "Greater Zombies" as enchanted items made out of human corpses, bind ghosts to them (probably using Ring-duration Hermetic Rego Mentem spells), and have Intellego Mentem and Rego Corpus effects in the item to allow the ghost to intelligently direct the Greater Zombie and activate its magical powers.

One thing you need to be aware of is that Church burial means the ghost is out-of-reach. So I would try to incorporate some pagan graveyard or somesuch into the character's background or future plots - he needs to, somehow, access ghosts.

Now, I personally love Mysteries (ArM5 p. 92 gives the basics; but see The Mysteries Revised Edition (TMRE) for the real deal), and if I can then I would rely heavily on those and related mechanics. I'd probably try to convince the group to let me tweak the rules to create new or change existing Mysteries, and join a necromantic Mystery Cult.

One way I once did a necromancer of-sorts was through the introduction of a Major Mystery that allowed for the creation of undead as Magical Characters (as per Realm of Power: Magic) via Rego Form rituals, with an appropriate ghost or remains needed to cast the spell. Thus, for example, one could create a Magic Might 5 "Skeleton" with a Rego Corpus spell cast on the body of a soldier; or a Magic Might 40 "Dracolich" with a Rego Animal spell cast on the body of a dragon; a Magic Might 20 "Banshee" by ReMe-ing a restless female ghost; and so on. But that was an NPC, and an NPC necromantic cult.

A more standard way would be to climb up the ladder of a more "regular" Mystery Cult. I'll try to convince the group to build a Mystery Cult with a progression somewhere along the lines of:

  1. (Outer Mystery) Second Sight
  2. Minor Magical Focus / Potent Magic (TMRE) in Ghost Necromancy (a subset of ReMe)
  3. Spirit Familiar (TMRE)
  4. Major Magical Focus / Potent Magic (TMRE) in Necromancy (ReCo and ReMe)
  5. The Living Ghost (TMRE)
    This is similar to the "Disciples of the Worm" (TMRE), and that cult can be used.

I would also try to go through the "Canaanite Magic" story/integration presented in Ancient Magic. And I would at least consider making the character a Tremere, for the Leadworker virtue.

No, not really. In terms of practicality - well, being practical isn't the point of doing necromancy. Necromancy isn't particularly powerful, but it can have its uses in making "insta-grogs" and, even more-so, using ghosts for intelligence-gathering. You may not be as powerful in the battlefield as the Flambeau, but that's fine with me. Your reputation and minions may disturb mundanes, but you can often disguise yourself or just participate in other stories. So overall - I think it's practical enough and can lead to / contribute to interesting stories, so that's good enough.

In terms of acceptance in Hermetic society - I can see some group / nemesis bringing you trouble as a story-line, but generally speaking I don't think being a necromancer will lead to trouble. Your actions are distasteful, but Hermetic society knows they're non-Infernal and as long as this remains clear and you don't anger the Church or disturb the spirits of dead magi or so on your disgusting habits shouldn't be an issue.

In terms of the Tribunal knowing everything about you - well, they won't. Magi are generally secretive and protected by the Code from investigation, plus they can use various spells and effects (including Muto Vim) to disguise themselves and obscure their magical sigils and identities. If you're part of a Mystery Cult (and you really should be...), learning such magic and/or gaining magic items that produce it are part of being in the cult.

I tend to see most Quaesitors as law-experts admired for their advice and character rather than professional investigators. There are some who are investigators, but far less than the book would have you believe - which is why junior investigator-Guernicus player characters can have pivotal roles. If you do attract the attention of a professional Hermetic investigator, he'll probably figure out what you did unless you took magical precautions. Even if you did take precautions, a powerful Quaesitor-investigator may be able to ferret your secrets out, but he'll also be as-likely to keep it to himself as a card to play in some high-level dark game of politics and intrigue.

So bottom line - other magi aren't instantly aware of the bad things you do. Hermetic investigators may uncover your misdeeds, if their attention is drawn to you, unless you took sufficient magical precautions; but they don't automatically know. Even if you did take precautions, exceptionally powerful investigators may still discover the skeletons in your closet, but at this level of play they would be playing a complex game of intrigue so are just as likely to extort or manipulate you as they are of ratting you out.

It's entirely plausible to have a covenant heavily invested in criminal activity, even Hermetic crimes. There are indeed several such covenants in the official books - I can think of two in the Rhine, one relying on piracy for their income and the other engaging in human sacrifice which, while arguably legal, would certainly bring the wrath of other magi upon then.

Right. There were several big wizard-wars (the Schism being the largest; the Corruption in House Tytalus and the Sundering in House Tremere being two more big ones; and the founding of the Order was one big wizard-war too). The way these are described makes it clear that the Tribunals are not all-knowing nor all-powerful. This is doubly so if you pile on the Mystery Cults and secret societies introduced in the various supplements, which would be impossible if secrets were impossible to keep.

Now, no one can challenge God. Not in this game. No matter how powerful. But keeping secrets from other magi - sure, that seems to be possible.

Again - the most important thing is the implicit "game contract" between you and the rest of the group. If the SG doesn't like you raising an army of undead, perhaps it's because it's too easy, or perhaps it's because he doesn't want you to play that kind of character, or maybe he just doesn't want to do all the work of figuring out the game stats and rules on how your zombies and skeletons work, or... Talk to each other, and see how you can find a way for everyone to have fun.

Note that you can only raise the undead if there are dead to be raised. Do you always fight at graveyards?

Raising the dead is quite different from necromancy. Similar, but different.

Necromancy is not banned per say in the Order. Except that:

  • it carries a social stygma and that people (including Quaesitores) believe that once you start to deal with dead spirit and corpses, you are only one step away of dealing with demons.
  • more than any other form of magic, raising dead is perceived as evil-doer practices by mundanes, thus directly in conflict with "dont' mess with the Church" and "don't bring ruin upon your sodales" if there is any witness (grogs might feel uneasy with such practices and who knows what they might say when they go to confess on Sunday).
  • most dead are buried in cemetery which may or may not been consecrated. Collecting "items" to perfom experience is unlikely to go unnoticed (empty graves and such) and will immediately triggers a witch hunt or at least attract unwelcomed attention of the Church.

All of this make that to be on the safe side, necromancy is passively if not actively discouraged. It will vary per Tribunal and House, depending if you belong to certain traditions or had an infamous master.

So all in all, it comes always to this, discuss with your SG what is his position regarding the Saga he is running and if it will fit or not. Discuss also with the other players, just to make sure that you do not make a "snow flake" (nickname for very special character) that does not integrate with the troup.

For some older discussions and thoughts about necromancy and necromancers, have a look at these threads perhaps.

Or have a look at the Disciples of the Worm (p. 129-131 of TMRE) or even chapter VI of Hermetic Projects.

In most games I have seen necromancy is restricted by the following more than regulations:

availability of spirits: those who have gone on to Heaven are unsummonable. The growth of Dominion has made it harder to find spirits who can be conjured
availability of corpses: Sure there is a graveyard full of bodies down at the next town. Going in and digging them up will be considered interfering with the mundanes. It is also an issue if you animate an uninterred corpse whose relatives then try to retrieve it for proper burial.

There's a lot of good advice in this thread. I'll contribute what I can.

Necromancy might arouse some wariness on the part of Quaesitors, but House Tremere is well established as having a strong tradition of necromancy. If you have not picked up Houses of Hermes: True Lineages, there is much there for you. Tremere necromancy focuses on ghosts, and the more you look into it, the more you see why: corporeal necromancy has some practical challenges.

For example, animating a dead body when it's there in front of you is easy. But how do you cast a ReCo spell on a body buried six feet underground? If you can't see it, you can't target it. An Arcane Connection solves this problem, but raises the level of the required spell, and you'll probably have to invent it yourself since established ReCo spells are Voice range. Your GM may allow you to handwave this, but it's an important question. An alternative, adding a Terram requisite to the spell, makes sense but infuriates players who are focused on Corpus.

For the game statistics of walking corpses, see Realms of Power: Magic. Hermetically-animated corpses are specifically addressed here.

Ghosts are just so much easier and more powerful. You need a level 40 spell to summon one, but once you do, you can keep it bound and serving you forever. It is invulnerable to mundane weapons and can kill mortals with impunity. They are great spies and can even provide transportation, if you get a ghost who brings his own vehicle. As the Tremere chapter in HoH: TL makes clear, you can even get a single arcane connection to multiple ghosts, using it to summon up and command a ghostly army.

Incorporeal necromancers have a higher "buy in" because the basic spell to summon a ghost is high level, but once you can do that, they beat corporeal necromancers in literally every sense.

We have a technical necromancer in our group, in that he works with dead bodies and occasionally animates them to do his bidding.

He even does so with his fellow magi occasionally. He hasn't been marched because A) they gave permission and B) he uses a spell to copy their body via an arcane connection, which he then 'ssurects', (can't be ressurecting, the copies were never alive :stuck_out_tongue:) in order to help him identify which bits are mind, and which bits are body. He's hoping there's some left over afterwards to be clearly identified as soul.

But he's a creo corpus specialist with a decent rego score as a result.

Note that you can still take Leadworker if you belong to other Houses. Just explain how you got it.

Tremere and Tytalus (the founders) were both Necromancers, having both been apprentices of Guorna the Fetid, one of the most powerful necromancers of her time. The Tremere still have a strong tradition of necromancy.

I've played a necromancer (search this forum for my earlier posts, there are loads of necromancy related ones where wise forumites have answered all kinds of necromancy related queries). I've also created (but sadly not had a chance to play) a spirit based necromancer who would focus almost entirely on the spirit side of it and not at all with the zombie/living dead side, making him much less blatant for passing churchmen (who generally can't perceive clouds of servitor ghosts).

Maybe think about the characters background. Were they trained as a necromancer? Did they choose themselves to focus on it? If so, why? What do they intend to use this magic for? Do they have any moral qualms about messing with dead folk?

Necromancy has its place in Ars Magica, but what kind of necromancy are you wanting to do? As has been mentioned, spirit/ghosts are easier and create fewer issues. The kind of necromancers who handles cadavers and dead bodies can turn people off. I'm not necessarily a fan of that vision of necromancy that involves Zombies, Ghouls and Skeletons (Oh My). This is certainly a your troupe may vary issue, and it is a personal preference, that can't be solved except for some extensive discussion amongst the members of the troupe.

This isn't Dresdenverse, there is no council. There is a tribunal and the Order of Hermes, and practicing Necromancy doesn't violate the Oath, so long as you don't do anything to interfere with mundanes (thereby bringing ruin upon your sodales). So discretion is necessary. Be aware that raising the dead from those in a Christian cemetery isn't going to work, but I think that's a good thing.

A Criminal covenant does exist in canon, Waddenzee. As with most of the things in the Order, as presented, it's only a crime if you are caught AND convicted in a Tribunal of your peers. Being convicted is a political process and not necessarily a legal process. The legal process happens prior to the case being published at Tribunal, with Quaesitores. One can take the deal that the Quaesitors offer, or risk greater punishment by going through the Tribunal.

And probably half of the Normandy Tribunal. No witnesses = no problems! :smiling_imp: