Monday, May 30, 2011

Mythic Monday: The Honored Dead

Before getting on to the post, let's take a moment and remember  the soldiers and members of our armed forces, deceased and living, keeping us safe.  My grandfather was in Normandy, my dad in Vietnam, and Memorial Day has always been an important observation for us.
…A moment of respect...

Now on to something gaming related-

Hellboy: The Storm.  The honored dead return.
I'm an avid Hellboy reader.  A recent storyline involved "the honored dead" of England rising up again to serve the once and future king, because the sword Excalibur had been returned to the world.  Crypts of ancient knights were found open and empty, as if the 800 year old corpses inside had gotten out and walked from the churches where they were interred…

This seems like a folklore theme where I should be able to recall other instances of the dead returning… if danger calls or the homeland is threatened, the honorable dead sworn to protect the homeland will rise to defend their wards once again.  The theme is a bit like the ghosts from the Paths of the Dead in Return of the King.  It certainly seems fitting for a fantasy game!

The closest series of stories I can come up with involve Medieval revenants.  The modern weird tale and all those EC Horror comics and the Cryptkeeper and the Tales from the Dark Side often featured the dead coming back due to unfinished business - the lifeless murdered spouse "takes care" of the cheating husband and the home wrecker, for instance.  The traditional revenant is a short term phenomena - the revenant returns from the grave with the single-minded purpose of avenging his own death.

Anyway, I like this alternate "oath fulfillment" approach to the revenant a bit more.  "An oath or promise sworn in life can be so strong that the oath-maker can return even from beyond death to see the oath fulfilled…"

As an aside, are you watching A Game of Thrones with me on HBO?  If so, we'll see some revenants (though maybe not this season).  Won't name names for spoiler purposes, but there are definitely a few characters coming up that blur the distinction between life and death while they take care of business.

Oathsworn Revenant (for Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: (varies)
Alignment:  Neutral
Movement: 90' (30')
Armor Class:   2
Hit Dice:   9
Attacks:   1
Damage:   By weapon
Save:   F8
Morale:   12
Hoard Class:  nil
XP: 1700

<Ack - apologies for the 4E style CompoundWord DoubleName - if someone has a better one than "Oathsworn", I'll gladly edit it.>

Some oaths are so powerful that the dead will rise again to see the oath fulfilled, becoming a type of revenant.  Regardless of age and composition, the bones of the revenant will reform and it will rise from the crypt to see its ancient promise fulfilled, returning to dust once the trigger has passed.

The Oathsworn can only be hit by +1 or better weapons.  Most Oathsworn were knights in life, and will appear in armor and wielding knightly weapons - two-handed swords or pole arms are favored.

Like other types of revenants, the Oathsworn cannot be turned and are immune to holy water, but otherwise share undead immunities.

DM Note:  obviously, an army of revenants would be over the top - I think I'd use one of these guys as a lone defender somewhere (like a knight that died protecting a sanctuary) or use them as a plot device, like the dead ghosts that served Aragorn in Return of the King.


  1. I like that. This is a commmon trope of genre fiction that's sort of missing from rpgs--I guess because in some ways its a plot device more than a monster--but still very useful, I think.

  2. Maybe the Hellboy reference touches upon the legend that King Arthur will return to England in her most desparate hour?

  3. Thanks for the stats. Will definately be using these guys in my games.

  4. I think the greatest advantage of these is the potential they offer for an intelligent, morally passionate undead who is very much 'on our side' in some way (the King Arthur myth is interwoven with emergent English and British nationalism, for instance) rather than being another monster to be cut down on the path to glory. I suppose I like reinventing monsters, particularly undead, to make them at least potential allies, albeit ones that will revolt characters and players.

    For other fun bits of British nationalist mythology, I suggest a look at Drake's Drum.

  5. I'm looking forward to the payoff in Martin's books of very subtle foreshadowing indicating we may be dealing with quite a few undead from potentially surprising sources in the next few books.

  6. As Desert Scribe referenced above, the King Under the Mountain story is very widespread: It doesn't get nearly enough use in actual roleplaying, though, probably because it takes the spotlight off the heroes if they're NOT that specific sleeping monarch.

  7. I like that King Under The Mountain theme, thanks for dropping the link. I stil like the idea of using it as a plot device - how do you stop unstoppable evil? By finding an unstoppable force for good and waking it up.