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I started to write this as a comment to Johnn’s post “Undead Are Taking Over. What Happens?”, but realised that my comments were so extensive as to require a post of their own. Note that this is an extra post, my usual blog entry for the week will follow in a day or two. Here’s my analysis of the situation in Johnn’s Carnus campaign:

This is now the Defining Event of the campaign. It will affect everything and everyone in some way. Many of the suggestions other readers have made are excellent, but present an incomplete picture. In terms of the populace, there are 4 different relationships with the event, between them defining many sub-populations, each with its own reactions to the event.

1. Religious orientation:

Individuals of strong religious orientations will react in one of four ways: offensively, defensively, altruistically, and corruptly.

  • Offensively: Religious bodies that are so inclined will ignore the upheaval generated by the arrival of the undead and strike at the heart of the problem – the undead themselves, and the Shadowfell opening that is spewing them forth. On the other side of the equation, there will be the occasional undead of greater ability and sentience and evil that has his own plans – be they for revenge, or conquest, or even redemption!
  • Defensively: Others will seek to strengthen protections against evil in general. That includes blessing a lot of city walls, and preparing seige-engine sized vats of Holy Water to rain down on approaching undead, and so on. But human nature has always been a little dark at times like this; some will blame the PCs (quite rightly), some will blame their patron (who was fool enough to trust a mission of this importance to such imbeciles), some will blame adventurers in general, but most importantly, some will blame whoever they already have an axe to grind against. Witch-hunts will be commonplace, and puritans and holier-than-thou religious zealots will be coming out of the woodwork. It is quite likely that Wizards and strangers will be amongst the first to be singled out, followed by the old and infirm, the diseased, the criminal, the morally ambigious, and only then, the evil and corrupt. All in total sincerity, of course! These include C Rader’s marvellous Death Cults.
  • Altruistically: A third subgroup will want to protect and shelter and rescue the victims and those displaced by the on-rushing hordes. There will be safe corridors set up and maintained, way-houses, checkpoints, etc.
  • Corruptly: And then there will be those who will seek to take advantage of the situation – to settle old scores, to elevate their personal power, to drive people back to the church, to fleece the flock, and so on. Johnn’s Con Men also fall into this category. I can also foresee a number of Devils and Demons popping into local throne rooms promising to protect the city or Kingdom in exchange for a tythe of souls – a trifling one in four… (whether they can or not!) And a bunch of lesser devils and demons offering personal protection. Especially with so many of the religion-oriented heavyweights who would normally oppose them being busy elsewhere.

2. Political orientation:

Individuals of strong political orientations will react in one of four ways: offensively, defensively, altruistically, and corruptly. This group includes traders and professionals of all kinds, who are usually bound together in guilds (ie political bodies), and other special interest groups. Of course, at least initially, ignorance and disbelief will be the order of the day. Then, there will be considerable debate amongst the advisors and members of each political body about how to react. Coordinated efforts will arise only slowly, and probably long after the magnitude of the disaster becomes fully aparrant (more on this later). At least one kingdom/barony/whatever will probably declare war against another that has been overrun, thinking that the flood of refugees constitutes an invading army.

Mundane authority reactions will parallel those of the religious types. Laws will be passed. Armies will be moved into strategic positions to redirect the flow of undead into an enemy nation just as a dam can redirect the flow of a river. Defensive civil works will suddenly become top priority, just as everyone gets conscripted to build walls of sandbags when a town is threatened by floods. Unproductive labour will be banned. Minor criminal offenses will result in the equivalent of being sent to ‘the russian front’. At the same time, some kingdoms will prepare shelters to protect their leading citizens – the equivalent reactions from all those “something from space is coming” movies, from Armageddon to Independance Day – they are all analagous to the situation.

More militant kingdoms might mandate a state religion, or attempt to nationalise the churches (and churchMEN). Long-forgotten treaties will be reactivated, and negotiations will commence aimed at forging new ones, even with old enemies. All the old power balances will be disrupted.

At the same time, you can consider the flood of refugees as something akin to a horde of locusts. Some kingdoms will open their borders, some will close them. At least one will probably be more generous than they can afford to be and will experience mass starvation from drastic and sudden overpopulation. At least one will turn away all but the able-bodied and will build itself an army the likes of which no-one has ever seen before, ready to emerge once everyone else has exhausted themselves, but ultimately won the day against the undead. A major war of conquest will inevitably follow victory in the Undead Wars.

Ultimately, you will have the same four operative reactions as the church. All four will be given some weight, but each will be a different priority in different locations. Strategic position relative to the undead horde will be a decisive factor here.

3. The general public:

Individuals who do not fit either of the previous groups will react in one of four ways: heroically, fearfully, fervently, and dispassionately.

  • Heroism: Natural disasters bring out extraordinary heroes and heroism in the most unlikely places, and this is pretty much the ultimate natural disaster! Ordinary people will be placed in extraordinary circumstances, and some will rise to the challenge. At the same time, adventurers – those accustomed to heroic action – will flock to the challenge, probably underestimating the difficulties to be faced. As a result, characters like the PCs will abruptly decline in number, giving the GM licence to involve them in just about everything else that is going on. “You’re Fifth Level!? We are saved, a hero has come to rescue us!” (Everyone looks at the PC expectantly)…
  • Fearfully: At the same time, there will be wholesale fear. People will panic – a la HG Well’s War Of The Worlds. Rumours will be enough to depopulate whole villages. Mobs will form spontaniously, creating civil disruptions on top of everything else.
  • Fervently: The churches will experience a wave of newly devout citizens. At the same time, some will feel that the established religions have failed them, and will turn to heresies and form strange cults (this explains how the Devils and Demons get involved).
  • Dispassionately: Finally, there will be a few who will keep their heads where others lose them. These will tend to attract supporters and followers. In some Kingdoms, the ruler will be amongst the panickers, and there will be an abrupt change of leadership soon afterwards. Banana Republics will have stable political systems in comparison – at least one area should experience 15 coups in only a fourty weeks!

Of course, the ultimate level of dispassion will be reserved for the dead, and the undead. Don’t forget that they don’t have to rest – they may or may not have to hide during the day, but come sunset, they will be on the move…

Final Advice

If I were running Johnn’s campaign, I would try to map each of these reactions onto a timeline. That in itself gives the foundations for what is happening at any given time; the PCs can then be sent on “tour” as it were, always finding themselves in an appropriate position to be in the middle of an appropriate reaction.

To bring home the full scope of the disaster, nothing beats a completely displaced population. The percieved threat is proportionate to the capabilities of the population that has been overrun. Turning an entire kingdom Halflings or Gnomes into vagabonds might arouse sympathies, but doesn’t really scare anyone. Doing the same to Dwarves is more threatening, but less likely to arouse sympathy. Driving the entire Elvish Race from their forests, on the other hand, is closer to the mark. Follow it up by disposessing the Drow from their tunnels, and not only do you elevate the political problem of refugees to new heights, but you should strike terror into the hearts of anyone with two brain cells to rub together!

Of course, it goes without saying that closing the portal should be WAY beyond the PCs current abilities, and anyone elses, for that matter. That should be reserved for the big finish to the campaign. To be followed, of course, by a sequel campaign dealing with the aftermath…

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