Design Notes on Runic Necromancy

Quoted from the context post:My goal is to have evocative, cinematic, awesome possibilities unlocked by relatively simple rule sets that repurpose existing mechanics rather than creating new layers of system.I intend the necrodwarves to be monsters for the intrepid characters to confront. If devious Dungeon Masters think they need to allow player characters access to this evil stuff–well, I suppose that’s fine too.

Each piece of the system is designed to be simple, and it is also designed to be a buffet. If the DM wants an evil wizard, they’ve got the spell list and the progression in place; choosing what spells are prepared is the main thing you’ve got to do to make the wizard playable.

 The runic necromancy is supposed to be similar; choose one or more runes, add them to a standard dwarf, subtracting from attributes. That’s really all you need! No dwarf is going to have all this stuff and be functional, and if the DM is restricting it to evil foes, then it’s pretty easy to track. The spell system is either automatic, based out of hit points, or using saving throws. No new point system or other esoteric element is added.

 At the same time, the DM is encouraged to work out tactics. Maybe the leader has two lesser runes and a greater rune, supported by five other dwarves who each have one lesser rune. Maybe the leader is using “Impart Undeath” to create reinforcements, and as an 8th level dwarf, creating 4 skeletons or a wight with an extra power, etc. But not leaving the protection of the chamber, and instead, sending the undead with lesser necrodwarves, alone or in pairs. One could use “Death Armor” to make the wight tougher protecting that doorway, and the other could use “Charm Undeath” to manage the rest of the troops. (Necrodwarves can create far more undead than they can manage.) Necrodwarves using powers fueled by hit points are much scarier when supported by clerics or healing potions! The death god has clerics too.

 After facing this level of opposition (and wiping out the leader) the DM still has room to escalate, and also a reason—the structure here is designed to motivate player characters to trace the contagion back to the dwarf with the Empty Rune and kill that one, the leader, to stop others from gaining the runic necromancy. The leader is the only one that can impart further runes. That affects the internal politics of the cult, and also the tactics of those fighting the cult.

 Experience points are treated as a kind of life energy, hit points as another kind of life energy, and ability scores as a third kind of life energy. The necrodwarves can use each of them somehow.

 None of these abilities are designed to be the “win button” in combat, but you do have a way to create necromancers who can animate, equip, and bolster the undead in concrete, useful, (eventually) transparent ways. And the necromancers are still dwarves! That means they get weapons, armor, good saves, lots of hit points, and a mean disposition in addition to their other advantages. This is designed to really help the DM have scary necromancers with a minimum of hand waving.

 Will there be other necromantic powers revealed for other races? Possibly. My focus here was to choose something finite, capable of driving stories, and deliciously creepy to face. I wanted minimal rules that would be easy to track in game. I hope I have succeeded.

 As a final note, the necrodwarves were designed to be monsters. But! I do not like the idea that monsters have access to magic and technology that players can never get. So the system is designed for players as well, if they are sick and evil deviants who want to muck around with undead.

 To that end, it costs experience to impart the runes, and ability scores to receive them—losing ability scores seriously matters, and it’s hard to fix in B/X. While the runes will reward smart play, they require it too. None of these powers will win a fight that has not been tactically arranged to advantage the necrodwarf.

 So… what do you think?

"Death Delver" from WotC "Heroes of Horror"

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