Sunday, September 27, 2015

Life, Death, and What Comes After

An idea from a nascent but now defunct older campaign that has found a new, and more proper, home in the Pathfinder campaign I started last week...

A concept that works itself into many of my games is that the Undead are not somehow inherently evil, nor abominations out to destroy the living by default, but rather, an acceptable and socially useful extension of life. As the church of Yevon says in Final Fantasy X, "Enlightened rule by the dead is preferable to the misguided failures of the living." Sure, there are the occasional vampires or liches out to conquer the world, but these are the remains of beings who were evil to begin with. Non-intelligent undead often appear as free labor and less-harmful forms of intelligent undead may be integrated into society.

This campaign takes it one step further. Undeath is so common as to be considered a natural part of life, and the transition to undeath is preferable to the loss of a loved one. Everyone who dies in the water comes back as undead with full memory of their lives among the living, and, knowing this, most people seek out such a death...

Waters of (Un)Life...

All beings die, and, when they die their are only two options: Rot or Drown (or so people say). Any sentient being that perishes while submerged in the strange waters of the world will return as one of the Drowned. The only intelligent beings that do not become one of these undead are those poor souls who breath their last breath on land. Thus it is common practice for those that are near death—those with critical diseases, mortal wounds, or suffering from advanced age—to be thrown into the nearest body of water. Most religions in the world recognize the existence of the Drowned as the only afterlife.

While even the Drowned do not exist forever (their bodies continue to decay and their minds degrade over the centuries), this second existence allows most individuals to complete any unfinished business, allows parents to continue to protect their young, and ensures that wars are almost never won by attrition.

Death and Dying works exactly as described for "Injury and Death" in the Pathfinder core rules. However, any creature that dies while submerged in a body of water immediately comes back as one of The Drowned, 1 minute after death occurs, so long as enough of their body still exists to animate. Raise Dead, Reincarnate, Resurrection, and similar spells with a casting time of 1 minute or longer do not function in the world of Beyond the Shore. Spells such as Breath of Life still function if they can be applied before the minute it takes for the character to become undead lapses.

If you chuck a sentient creature at negative hit points into a body of water and let them bleed out there, they will come back as one of The Drowned. Otherwise, if you die you are dead and have to hope someone is willing to sell their soul to Dormin to get you back. If Drowned creature dies, it cannot be brought back by any means short of a Wish or Miracle spell.

Pirates find this metaphysical trait of the world particularly troubling. Battles at sea can often last for hours as those knocked overboard and slain soon crawl their way back on deck to resume the conflict. Likewise, drowned victims have a high probability of reporting to authorities. For this reason, they will often chum the waters to attract sharks before an engagement (to dispose of the bodies), coup-de-grace downed enemies before they can be shoved overboard by a friend, and almost never employ drowning as a method of execution or intimidation (no sane person really fears walking a plank).

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The Drowned

The Drowned are a diverse lot, being drawn from the deceased of all of the many intelligent races that have walked the world. The one consistent feature of the Drowned is that they are dead. They may appear as skeletal humans, rotting elves, salt-mummified dwarves, or any other form of sentient corpse the player wishes.

It is considered polite for a being that becomes one of the Drowned to remain in their watery graves until their flesh has dissolved, so that they do not offend the living with their smell. Unless they have some extremely pressing unfinished business (such as those that die mid-conflict) it is considered good form for them to pay their immediate respects to the Kraken King in the underwater city of Venit and remain their in his service for 3 to 5 years. Thus, most Drowned encountered will be their race's equivalent of a walking skeleton. Truly vain individuals may return to land immediately and seek out someone to embalm their remains, so as to preserve their flesh for as long as possible.

Society & Relations: The Drowned are the one constant in the ever-changing politics of the world. Raised with the knowledge of their former lives and professions, the Drowned are what keep society running. They may be smiths, sailors, bakers, soldiers, merchants, bureaucrats, or anything else. Regardless of their former race or profession though, they perform their tasks tirelessly.

The Drowned are most numerous in sub-aquatic polities, but can be found in all land-locked cities as well. Regardless of their former lives and current station or nation, all Drowned recognize The Kraken King as their nominal lord and pay their respects to him in his sunken capital of Venit, alongside any living leaders of their current homeland.

Despite their undead nature, most people in the world treat the Drowned just as any other beings. The Drowned have existed for time immemorial. Everyone grows up around these walking corpses, and many children have Drowned caretakers: a deceased grandparent or sleepless nanny. In fact, the only dead truly pitied are those that do not make it to water before they perish, and therefore never pass into the afterlife as one of the Drowned.

Racial Traits
The Drowned are Undead (with all that implies). They have the same ability scores they had in life, save that they have no Constitution score. They lose any race-specific abilities of their former selves (infravision, finding secret doors, etc.) and replace them with the following traits.

  • Slow Speed:  The Drowned have a base speed of 20 feet. Regardless of their original form, the loss of fins, wing membranes, and connective tissue limits them to walking with a slow shuffling gate. A Drowned's speed is never modified by armor or encumbrance.
  • Water Sense: The Drowned are so attuned to their watery graves that they can sense vibrations in water, granting them blindsense 30 feet against creatures that are touching the same body of water.
  • Focused Study: The Drowned have ages in which to perfect their craft. At 1st, 8th, and 16th level, members of the Drowned gain Skill Focus in a skill of their choice as a bonus feat.
  • Shards of the Past: The Drowned retain the memories of their mortal lives. Each Drowned picks two Knowledge skills. The Drowned gains a +2 racial bonus on both of these skills, and those skills are treated as class skills regardless of what class the Drowned actually takes.
  • Claws: Members of the Drowned can make two attacks per round with their bony claws (or caratinous equivalent). Each attack deals 1d4 points of damage.
  • Resurrection Vulnerability: A Raise Dead  or equivalent spell cast on one of the Drowned can destroy it (Will negates). Using the spell in this way does not require a material component. Luckily such spells are extremely rare.
The Drowned retain full memory of their former lives among the living. They retain their former alignment, all class levels, and can speak any languages they knew in life.


The Drowned are the same height they were in life, but, due to loss of body mass (either from injury or decay), weigh only half what a living member of their species would. Despite their undead nature's their continue to decay over time. The Drowned lose 1 point from Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma for every 100 years that they exist as their bodies and minds continue to degrade. A Drowned who reaches 0 in any stat (save Constitution) falls apart and ceases to function. Only the most truly remarkable individuals can extend their existence by more than a millenia by becoming one of the Drowned.